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STUDIES IN THE BIBLE.
IS THIS DOCTRINE PRACTICAL?
We began these discussions with the statement that, in the general drifting away from the old belief in eternal torment, the church was in great need of a good working doctrine of future punishment. By this we mean one that is true to Scripture, that commends itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and one that she can fearlessly and honestly proclaim. Such an one, we believe, is that to which these studies have conducted us. It makes a strong and rational appeal to the fears and to the consciences of men. At the same time it easily adjusts itself to all that we have learned of the nature of man, and of the character and purposes of God.
I. This doctrine appeals to the fears of men. It enables us to hold before them, in strict fidelity to the words of Jesus, the great danger to which they are exposed in the loss and utter bankruptcy of that estate in life with which they are now endowed. It makes death to be a deeper and more prolonged destruction than the dissolution of the body, reaching to a possible destruction of the soul in hell. It warns them that this peril is impending and not remote, that the tokens of it are now apparent in the debasement and ruin wrought in this world in the bodies and souls of men. It warns them that this ruin will be complete in death, and that no man can survive this crisis, ami save his soul alive, who does not submit to the Lord Jesus Christ as His only Saviour from sin and death. Hell in this view is not a figure of speech, but a veritable abyss of destruction, into which wicked men must be cast, not only by the sentence of the divine Judge, but by the law of nature and of life. And this doom does not await the issue of a remote trial at a distant judgment day. It is immediate. He, therefore, who would save his life, or save himself and not be cast away—as St. Luke phrases it (ix. 25), must fly for refuge to the hope set before him in the gospel. Here then is just the doctrine of hell our preachers need, who would be faithful to the Master's words.
2. It appeals to the consciences of men, in that it reveals this wages of sin to be the result of wrong-doing, and that it is only reached through a disregard of the warnings of natural law, the monitions of conscience, and by stemming the tide of those gracious and redemptive influences with which God is ever seeking to draw the sinner to himself.
3. It is also a reasonable and scientific view of man's future1. It is not rational to suppose that any organized form of life can escape destruction which is not in perfect connection with the source of its life, and which contains within itself the principle of lawlessness. Such a principle is sin (1 John iii. 4). Science teaches that all imperfect forms of life are cast into the furnace of nature's consuming forces which burn with an eternal fire. And science also holds forth a hope of resurrection in showing how even these unworthy and cast-off forms are wrought over again in this alembic of fire.
4. This doctrine appeals to the hopes and highest aspirations of men, in that it shows how they may escape this impending loss of life and of self. It gives the promise of the conservation of all the true elements of being through the crisis of death, and of a life emancipated, purified, ennobled, and transfigured into the likeness of the glorified manhood of the Lord on the other side of death.
5. It shows how in this way of life there is no respect of persons with God. If any are now called to enter into life it is only in that way of self-sacrifice which surrenders the old man of sin to destruction in His consuming fire. For it is not God out of Christ, as the passage is constantly misquoted and misapplied, but God in Christ, Our God, who is a consuming fire. Every one must be salted with fire (Mark ix. 43-49). It is not from judgment for sin, but through judgment that he saves. The whole doctrine of atonement and of the forgiveness of sins needs to be re-examined in the light of this great principle. The cross is not God's arrangement by which any sinner may go scot-free from deserved penalty. It is not a device by which a special class can slip through. It is not a bargain by which a certain number of souls have been bought off from eternal torments. It is God's way of condemning sin in the flesh, and of bringing the old man in us to the altar of sacrifice to be consumed by the fire. We are saved, not by escaping the fire of His anger against our sins, but by subrnitting to it. The Christian accepts the judgment against himself, rendered at the cross, and his death to sin becomes the way of life. The unbeliever refuses to submit himself to the righteousness of God, and must be overwhelmed in the fire that goeth before Him to burn up all His enemies. But the principle of His administration toward both classes is the same. Towards all that is evil in both He is a consuming fire. And without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
6. While this doctrine proclaims the terrors of the Lord, it enables us at the same time to hold fast to all the testimonies of His grace. It harmonizes the two parallel lines of Scripture teaching concerning judgment and redemption, and shows that God's terrible acts of righteousness are not inconsistent with his essential nature, Love. It shows that what He is in this world He will be in all worlds. His attitude toward sinful man is not changed by death. His judgments are never vindictive. Neither the law, nor the grace, of His administration is ever set aside. A resurrection awaits the sinner out of the pit of destruction into which his sins have cast him, as the result of the ransom paid for allRedeeming mercy does not forsake him. And yet judgment for his sins must first be satisfied. It must be intensified and prolonged, according to his desert of few or many stripes. These terms "few" and "many," however, imply a limit. The Lord does not say the greater sinner shall be forever beaten with heavier stripes, but with more in number, and the lesser sinner with less. But the stripes, in either case, are not immeasurable. There is an end to both. From the nature of the case, as well as from the teaching of Scripture, we know that all are not freed together. And the law of all • life must still prevail to make even resurrected life a burdened and a crippled one, if it be not freed from sin. There is a resurrection of judgment. To every seed his own body. This doctrine, therefore, does not encourage the sinner to take low or loose views of the requirements of God's law, or of the abatement of its claims. It does not open any other door than the strait and narrow one which leadeth unto life. Resurrection opens no other door. It re-opens to him indeed the door of hope, but then, as well as now, any other way than the right way will end in another death and a lake of fire. Here then is a doctrine of ceaseless punishment for the sinner so long as he remains a sinner, and of eternal death at the end, if he will not humble himself under the mighty hand of God;—but a doctrine also of recovering grace that is not foiled by death, that changes not from age to age, that meets and baffles man's enemies who have dragged him down to* death, by new displays of grace and power, and new conquests over death and him that hath the power of it, that is, the devil. Both these sides of truth, and both these aspects of the character and purposes of God are necessary to save us from wrong notions of His ways, and from a distorted conception of Him, in the knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life. What the world is aweary for, and what the Church is languishing for, is a right knowledge of God. No temporary success, or hold on men through their fears, can begin to compensate for the immense damage that must come to them through false or monstrous , ideas of God. These underlie everything in religious and moral life. Men become like the God they worship. No greater service, therefore, can be rendered them than • one which helps to remove the vail that obscures His face, and shows them that He whom they thought of as a tyrant or a pitiless judge, is the Father, whose pity for