« AnteriorContinuar »
Vol. III.] AUGUST, 1887. [No. 8
THE ISSUES OF THIS PRESENT LIFE.
It has been a painful thing to know that, in exposing the unscripturalness of the long-accepted dogma of eternal torment, and in insisting that all scripture teaching about retribution must be weighed alongside of its teaching that the provision to raise all is an act of grace toward all, there is danger that some will turn this grace of God into lascivousness. A great barrier to our brethren's reception of the truth at this point is the natural dread they have of conceding any hope for the future to men of sinful life. In all this, indeed, they underestimate the degrading effect upon men's lives of all false views of God, and show their want of confidence in His truth to produce the surest and best results in human conduct. And yet, conscious of the fact that sinful men always have abused the grace of the gospel, even when imperfectly understood, and that the grace of this full gospel may bring with it to some minds special danger, we have sought to press home upon our readers, in its full meaning, the tremendous import which Scripture attaches to the trial through which men are passing in this present life. And to this matter we now again invite attention.
What is the present life? What is man's opportunity and risk under it?
Man is a creature, endowed with life from the Spirit of God, and built up into a living image of God through the possession of a body and soul which brings him into relation to both sides of this created system, the visible and invisible, and marks him as its appointed heir. On the arena of this system there is a great struggle going on between powers of light and darkness, forces of life and of death. What we call the forces of nature are ranged on either side in this contest. Man is now under training and discipline on this battle ground. His present gift of life, with its boundless possibilities and heritage, may be saved or lost. This embodied being may sink down into corruption and consequent destruction, or it may be purified and made eternal. The ship that floats us on this boundless sea of being may be wrecked, and its precious cargo lost, or it may be safely guided into the eternal heaven. But victory in this conflict, safety on this voyage, can only come through vigilance, through self-mastery, through warfare against potent enemies within and without. And the only power of victory is the triumphant life of Christ, imparted to us by faith in Him as the Captain of our Salvation.
It is manifest, therefore, that, both for the Christian and the ordinary man, this life is fraught with tremendous issues. In the first place the Bible gives no countenance to that easy-going religion of our day which views entrance into life-eternal as the reward of a few pious impulses, or of a faith which rolls off, not only the burden of its sins, but of its righteous living, upon the Saviour as if He were a gift from God to make passport for men to Heaven easy, notwithstanding the obstinate sinful character which makes them unfit for that abode. Now, neither Jesus, nor His apostles, taught that salvation, the essence of which in their view is salvation from sin, was such an easy matter. He told men that they must strive to enter in—that severe self-denial, the sacrifice of hand or foot or eye—complete self-mastery, would be requisite. Nothing but the voluntary surrender of the old self to the cross would meet the case. Accordingly the apostles always address their converts as men who had accepted this view of the case—who had confessed judgment against the flesh with its affections and lusts, and who were therefore to continually reckon themselves as dead unto sin, and crucified with Christ to the world. That this position was one easy to maintain is contradicted by all they say, and by uniform Christian experience. And yet they view this death of self as the only gate to life. Paul speaks of how he always freely surrendered himself to death for Jesus' sake, and for the sake of His body, the Church. He kept his body under, that he might not be a castaway. He sought to have fellowship with Christ's sufferings, if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. And at the close, he looked for the crown of life because he had fought a good fight, and finished his course and kept the faith. And this corresponds with the risen Lord's warning to the churches through the Revelator, that He would give the crown of life to them who were faithful unto death, and an inheritance of glory to him that overcometh, and that He would infallibly give to every one of us according to our works. All this surely does not sound like our modern funeral orations which give all Christians alike, the lame, the halt and the blind, an immediate passport to a throne and a crown, and to the fields of glory.
Are there few then that be saved? Yes, we should say, few that enter into immediate and full salvation. This suggests that our Lord seems to speak of the possibility of partial and uncompleted salvation. He assumes that some may enter into life halt and maimed. St. Paul speaks of a present destruction of the flesh, that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Who shall say that, if the consuming fire of God does not burn the evil out of life and character here, this process of fire may not go on beyond? Paul at least speaks of some Christians whose life work upon the temple of God must be burnt up, because it is but wood, hay and stubble, and declares that such shall be saved "so as by fire."
This line of Scripture teaching shows us how important is the issue of this present trial in life to the Christian. It is no easy thing even for him to succeed in it. And complete success, immediate reward, would seem to be the prerogative only of such earnest souls, as Paul, who counted all things but loss that he might win Christ, and attain unto the resurrection of the dead. And yet all Christians have this immense advantage over other men. They are already quickened out of death. They are raised with Christ. His life has begun to struggle in them and through them on to final victory. They are at least born of God, and so have connection in life with Christ, which, whatever tribulations and hazards await them, must protect them from ever being separated from His love.
But those who are unbelievers—what shall we say of their future? Here Scripture is emphatic in teaching that this' present gift of life, which Christians save, even though as by fire, is by them lost. They "lose their lives." They " lose their souls," in exchange for which nothing can recompense. Their present estate in life becomes bankrupt. The barque in which they are sailing on this ocean of life from time to eternity is utterly wrecked, its precious treasures engulfed in the abyss. We need a revival in our day of the terrors of death, the wages of sin. We have little idea of what an appalling thing it is to sink in this abyss. The prophetic Psalms put upon Jesus' lips such words as this in view of it:
'' Save me, oh God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire where there is no standing. I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dried; mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. Deliver me out of the mire and let me not sink: Let me be delivered from them that hate me and out of the deep waters. Let not the water-flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up; Let not the pit shut her mouth upon me." (Ps. 69).
With such strong crying and tears did this Divine man, in the days of his flesh, "offer up prayers and supplications unto Him that was able to save him out of death, and was heard in that He feared." (Heb. v. 7).
Now this conflict with "him that hath the power of death, that is the devil," (Heb ii. 14) the unsaved man must meet alone. And he must sink under it to a destruction of both body and soul in hell. We have often alluded to the case of the rich man and Lazarus as showing that the torments of the soul in this process of de