II. The Testimony of Scripture
I pass on now from the nature of Scripture to its teachings as to the destiny of the human race, and more especially of those who here either reject or never hear the gospel. I feel how solemn the enquiry is, not only because no subject can be of greater moment, but because what appears to me to be the truth differs from those conclusions which have been received by the majority of Christians. Believing, however, that the Holy Scripture, under God and His Spirit's teaching, is the final appeal in all controversies,—regarding it as the unexhausted mine from whence the unsearchable riches of Christ have yet still more to be dug out,—acknowledging no authority against its conclusions, and with the deepest conviction that one jot and one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled,—I turn to it on this as on every other point, to listen and bow to its decisions. And knowing, for by grace this Word is no stranger to me, that like Christ's flesh it is a veil as well as a revelation,—knowing that it has many things to say which we cannot bear at first, and that, if taken partially or in the letter, it may appear to teach what is directly opposed to Christ's mind and to its true meaning;—in this like not a few of Christ's own words, as when He said, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36); and again, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19); and again, "He that eateth me shall live by me" (John 6:57); and again, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth" (John 11:11); all of which were misunderstood by not a few of those who first heard these words from Christ's own mouth;—knowing too that the words of Holy Scripture, in many places where they seem contradictory, and in its "dark sayings" (Psalm 78:2; Prov. 1:6), and "things hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:16), ever cover some deep and blessed mystery, I see that the question is, not what this or that text, taken by itself or in the letter, seems to say at first sight, but rather what is the mind of God, and what the real meaning in His Word of any apparent inconsistency. If I err in attempting to answer this, my error will, I trust, provoke some better exposition of God's truth. If what I see is truth, like His coming who was the Truth, it must bring glory to God on high and on earth peace and goodwill to men.
What then does Scripture say on this subject? Its testimony appears at first sight contradictory. Not only is there on the one hand law, condemning all, while on the other hand there is the gospel, with good news for every one; but further there are direct statements as to the results of these, which at first sight are apparently irreconcileable. First our Lord calls His flock "a little flock" (Luke 12:32), and states distinctly that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 20:16; 22:14); that "strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life (εἰς τὴν ζωήν), and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14); that "many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24); that while "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον), he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36); that "the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:46; κόλασιν αἰώνιον), "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41); "the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29); "the damnation of hell" (Matt. 23:33), "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44); that though "every word against the Son of Man may be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world (ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι), nor in that which is to come" (Matt. 12:32); and that of one at least it is true, that "good had it been for that man if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24).
These are the words of Christ Himself, and they are in substance repeated just as strongly by His Apostles. St. Paul declares that while some are "saved" by the gospel, others "perish" (2 Cor. 2:15); that "many walk whose end is destruction" (Phil. 3:19); that "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον) from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day" (2 Thess. 1:8-10). To the Hebrews he says, "If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27); that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31), for "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). St. Peter repeats the same doctrine, that "judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God; for if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Pet. 4:17-18). He further says of "false teachers," who "deny the Lord that bought them," that they "shall bring upon themselves swift destruction," and, like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha, "shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Pet. 2:1-12). St. John's words are at least as strong, that "the fearful, and unbelieving, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their place in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8); and that "those who worship the beast, and his image, shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb, and they have no rest day nor night, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever" (Rev. 14:9-11; εἰς αἰῶνας αἰώνων).
Words could not well be stronger. The difficulty is that all this is but one side of Scripture, which in other places seems to teach a very different doctrine. For instance, there are first the words of God Himself, repeated again and again by those same Apostles whom I have just quoted, that "in Abraham's seed all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8); words which St. Peter expounds to mean that there shall be "a restitution of all things," adding that "God hath spoken of this by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). St. Paul further declares this wondrous "mystery of God's will, that He hath purposed in Himself, according to His good pleasure, to rehead (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι) and reconcile (ἀποκατάλλαξαι, to reconcile back again) unto Himself, in and by Christ, all things, whether they be things in heaven," that is the spirit-world, where the conflict with Satan yet is (Rev. 12:7), "or things on earth," that is this outward world, where death now reigns, and where even God's elect are by nature children of wrath, even as other men (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:20; Eph. 2:3). Further St. Paul asserts that "all creation, which now groans, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19-23). In another place he declares, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19), and that Christ "took our flesh and blood, through death to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14); that "if by the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many" (Rom. 5:15): that "therefore as by the offence of one, or by one offence, judgment came on all to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one, or by one righteousness, the free gift should come on all unto justification of life," while "they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17-18); that "as sin hath reigned unto death, so grace might reign unto eternal life," yea, that "where sin abounded, grace did yet much more abound" (Rom. 5:20-21). To another church he states the same doctrine, that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22); and that "the end" shall not come "till all are subject to Him," that "God may be," not all in some, but "all in all; for He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-28). So he says again, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, ... that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth, even in Him" (Eph. 1:3-10). To the same purpose he writes in another epistle, "that at, (or in—ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι: cf. John 14:13-14; 16:23-24,) the name of Jesus, (that is Saviour,) every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11); "for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom. 14:9). He further declares that "for this sake he suffers reproach, because he hopes in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those who believe" (1 Tim. 4:10); that this God "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;" that therefore "thanksgivings as well as prayers should be made for all," because there is "a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:1-6); and lastly that "God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32). The beloved Apostle St. John repeats the same doctrine, that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14); "for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world by Him might be saved" (John 3:17); further he teaches that the Only-Begotten Son "is the propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2): that He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), and "was revealed for this very purpose that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8), and that, as a result, "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, because all things are made new, and the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:4-5; and see Rev. 5:13). For "the Father loveth the son, and hath given all things into His hand" (John 3:35): and the Son Himself declares, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me. And this is the Father's will, which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:37-39). And again He says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
Now is not this apparent contradiction,—few finding the way of life, and yet in Christ all made alive,—God's elect a little flock, and yet all the kindreds of the earth blessed in Abraham's seed,—mercy upon all, and yet eternal punishment,—the restitution of all things, and yet eternal destruction,—the wrath of God for ever, and yet all things reconciled to Him,—eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and yet the destruction through death, not of the works of the devil only, but of him who has the power of death, that is the devil,—the second death and the lake which burneth with fire, and yet no more death or curse, but all things subdued by Christ, and God all in all. What can this contradiction mean? Is there any key, and if so, what is it, to this mystery?
The common answer is, that these opposing words only mean, that some are saved and some are lost for ever; that the saved are the elect of this and other dispensations, who as compared with the world have hitherto been but a little flock; but that, though as yet few have found the strait and narrow way, all nations shall be saved in the Millennium; further that though we read, "There shall be no more death," yet, since the wrath of God is for ever, there must be eternal death, (words by the way not to be found in all Scripture,) and that this death consists in never ending torments, so endless that after the lapse of ages on ages the punishment of the wicked shall be no nearer its end than when it first commenced; that therefore the words, "In Christ shall all be made alive," only mean that all who are here in Christ shall be made alive; that the Lamb of God, though willing to be, is not really the Saviour of the world, but only of those who are not of the world, but chosen out of it; that instead of taking away the sin of the world, He only takes away the sin of those who here believe in Him; that all things therefore shall not be reconciled to God, and that "the restitution of all things," whatever it may mean, does not mean the reconciliation to God of all men.
This is the approved teaching of Christendom; this is the orthodox solution of the mystery; the simple objection to which is, that in asserting one side of Scripture, it is obliged, not only to ignore and deny the other side, but to represent God in a character absolutely opposed to that in which the gospel exhibits Him. Nor does it meet the difficulty to say, as some have said, that though a large proportion of mankind are lost for ever, the greater part will probably be saved, inasmuch as at least one-half of the race die in infancy, whose sin is perfectly atoned for by Christ's sacrifice. What is this but saying, that, if evil has fair play, it will overmatch all that God can do to meet and remedy it? Is this indeed the glad tidings of great joy? Is this the glorious gospel of the blessed God? Is it not simply a misapprehension of God's purpose, arising out of some mystery connected with the method of our redemption? But "the Scripture cannot be broken" thus (John 10:35). Not a few therefore have confessed that there is some difficulty here, which as yet they cannot solve or reconcile. Is the mystery beyond our present light? or is there any, and if so, what is, the key to it?
The truth which solves the riddle is to be found in those same Scriptures which seem to raise the difficulty, and lies in the mystery of the will of our ever blessed God as to the process and stages of redemption:—
(1) First, His will by some to bless and save others; by a first-born seed, "the first-born from the dead" (Col. 1:18), to save and bless the later-born:—
(2) His will therefore to work out the redemption of the lost by successive ages or dispensations, or, to use the language of St. Paul, "according to the purpose of the ages" (Eph. 3:11):—and
(3) Lastly, His will (thus meeting the nature of our fall,) to make death, judgment, and destruction, the means and way to life, acquittal, and salvation; in other words, "through death to destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil, and to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14).
These truths throw a flood of light on Scripture, and enable us at once to see order and agreement, where without this light there seems perplexing inconsistency. We should of course get deeper views, if, instead of starting from the fall, and merely asking what is declared as to its results and remedy, we began with God, and enquired what He has revealed as to His end in making man, and how far, if at all, His purpose in creation is or has been frustrated in any way. Did the entrance of sin change or affect God's plan? Was redemption only an after-thought to meet an undesigned or undesired difficulty? What was the object of the Incarnation? On what grounds, and for what end, is judgment committed to the Son of Man? What was intended to be accomplished by the first and second death? These are questions which must meet us, if we think of God and of His thoughts, and give Him credit for having had a purpose in creation. Christ is the answer to them all; and His Word contains, though under a veil, the perfect key to these and all mysteries; though in His Word, as in His works, the open secret is unseen, and His wisdom, as in the wondrous laws of light, may be all around us and yet for ages undiscovered. For God's sons still think it strange and even unbecoming to enquire "what is the breadth and length and depth and height" of their heavenly Father's purpose. But for our present object we need not ask all this. It is enough to begin with ourselves as fallen, and to enquire what Scripture reveals as to the results of our fall, and of the remedy. We shall see how God's will, as witnessed, first in the "law of the first-fruits" and "first-born," then in the "purpose of the ages," and lastly in the mystery of "death" and "judgment," as it is opened by Christ's cross and resurrection, clears away all that looks like contradiction between "mercy upon all" and yet "eternal judgment." By this light we see more fully God's purpose in Christ, and how He is "Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Tim. 4:10); how "to those who overcome He will grant to sit with Him on His throne" (Rev. 3:21), and make them partakers of all His glories; while others, not partakers of the first resurrection, are only brought to God by the resurrection of judgment, that is by the judgments of the coming age or ages. But till God opens all is shut. A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who knoweth the things of man but the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:9-11).
Let us look then in order at each of these three points:—
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