A thought conceived but not expressed is at best only an unborn child, not only without any influence on the world, but of whose very existence the world may be unconscious; but once brought forth it becomes part of the living working universe, to work there its appointed season, and possibly to leave its mark for good or evil on all successive time.
The thought which is now expressed in these pages has long been growing in the writer's heart. Hidden at first and unconfessed, during the last few years it has from time to time been brought forth in conversation with trusted Christian friends. But the time seems come to give it a wider circulation. Men's hearts, now perhaps more than in any former age, are everywhere moved to enquire into the nature and inspiration of Holy Scripture, and the destiny of the human race, more especially the future state of sinners, as taught in Holy Scripture. Many are perplexed, hesitating to receive as perfect and divine a revelation, which, they are told, in the name of God consigns a large proportion of those who in some sense at least are His offspring to everlasting misery. And while the conclusion, uttered or unuttered, in many hearts is, either that this doctrine cannot really be a part of Holy Scripture, or else that what is called Holy Scripture cannot be a perfect exposition or revelation of the mind of God our Saviour, few even of those who receive the Bible as divine seem able to solve the difficulty, or throw much light on those portions of the "oracles of God," which confessedly are "dark sayings" and "hard to be understood."
A friend, whose mind had been unsettled by this subject, lately expressed to the writer of these pages some part of his perplexity. The following letter was the result. The writer feels the solemn responsibility of dissenting on such a question from the current creed of Christendom; and nothing but his most assured conviction that the popular notion of never-ending punishment is as thorough a misunderstanding of God's Word as the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and that the one as much as the other conduces directly to infidelity, though both equally claim to stand on the express words of Holy Scripture, would had led him to moot a subject which cannot even be questioned in some quarters without provoking the charge of heresy. Truth is worth all this, and much more. If we will not buy it at all cost, we are not worthy of it. The writer has felt more the force of the consideration, how far, granting its truth, the doctrine of the Restitution of All Things is one to be proclaimed generally. Truth spoken before its time may be not hurtful only, but even most unlawful. The Christian truth, that "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek," and that "circumcision is nothing," would surely have been unlawful, because untimely, in the Jewish age. So even now there may be many eternal verities which are beyond what St. Peter calls "the present truth," and which may therefore "not be lawful for a man to utter." But the fact that God Himself is ever opening out His truth seems a sufficient reason for making it known as far as He opens it. Is not His opening it to His servants an intimation to them that His will is that they should declare and publish it? Age after age the day arrives to utter something which till the appointed day is come has been "a secret hid in God." The very gospel which we all believe once jarred on many minds as a doctrine directly opposed to and subversive of the law given by God to Moses. The doctrine here stated, therefore, though it runs like a golden thread through Holy Scripture, may, because as yet it has been hidden from many of God's children, be condemned by them as contrary to God's mind, just as Paul's gospel, when first proclaimed, was charged with being opposed to that old law of which it was but the fulfilment. In every age the man of faith can only say, "We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." Truth may, and indeed must, vary in form as time goes on,—Christ Himself, the Truth, at different stages appears differently,—for God has stooped to this, to give us truth as we can bear it; stooped therefore to be judged as inconsistent; because He is Love, and waits to reveal Himself till we are prepared for the revelation. But the end will justify all His ways; and some of His children can even now justify Him.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. And as in early dawn the stars grow dim, because the day is coming, so now the lesser lights which have been guides in darker days are paling before the coming Sun of Righteousness. And though those who go up to the hill-tops and watch the east may see more of the light than those who are buried in the valleys or sleep with closed shutters, all who look out at the glowing firmament may see signs of coming day. Men must be fast asleep indeed, if they do not perceive that a new age is even now upon us.
The writer would only add that he will be thankful for any suggestions or corrections on the subject of the following pages. Any letter addressed to him, to the care of the Publishers, will be duly forwarded and acknowledged.
March 25, 1867.
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