The Gospel of the Hereafter - Part 11

Part 11



So we close our thoughts about the NEAR HEREAFTER, the life immediately after death. The FAR Hereafter--the great mystery of Judgment and h.e.l.l and Heaven belongs to a later section. Here we have been dealing only with the life going on to-day in the Unseen--side by side with our present life.

Ah! that wonderful Paradise land--that wonderful Church of G.o.d in the Unseen--with its vast numbers, with its enthusiastic love, with all its grand leaders who have been trained on earth. WE AND THEY together form the great continuous Church of G.o.d. We are all ONE LONG PROCESSION; they at the head in the Unseen. What a life it is! What a work it has!

Said I not well it was a Gospel of the Hereafter, a good news of G.o.d!

It will make you solemn as you feel that character on unchanged.

That is good; but it will do more. It will take away the sting and the horror of death. It is not the pain of dying that makes that horror when I come to die. After all, men bear far more pain without flinching. It is not merely the parting for the present with those I love. We have constantly to do that when they go to other lands without breaking our hearts about it. It is not even any doubt about a future Resurrection at the Second Advent. I may believe that, and yet get little comfort from it. That Advent seems so far away. It may be next week; but it may be 5,000 years hence, and meantime what of my life? Sleep, unconsciousness, darkness? What? No wonder I should shrink from that mysterious unknown.

But teach me the ancient Scriptural doctrine of the PARADISE life as it appears in the Bible. Teach me that in the hour after death I shall pa.s.s into the Unseen with myself, with my full life, my feelings, my character, my individuality, and in that solemn hour death will lose its horror. Is not that a Gospel?

In the awful days of bereavement it will bring G.o.d's peace, and it will bring elevation of character. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

"He is not dead, the child of your affection, But gone into that school Where he no longer needs your poor protection, And Christ Himself doth rule."

You think of your boy as serving at one side of the veil, and you at the other; each in the presence of Christ. You think how he is being lovingly trained and disciplined. How all his abilities are being used in self-sacrificing deeds for others. Not in a glorified selfishness in thanking G.o.d that he is safe, though his brethren be lost. Ah, no!

but in perfect self-sacrifice, even as his Lord. You think of him as learning to fight for righteousness--to help the weak, aye, mayhap, to go out--G.o.d's brave young knight--out into the darkness after some one who has missed of Christ on earth. Realize that and your whole life must perforce grow n.o.bler. And realize that you will not have to wait for the Resurrection or the Advent to meet him and learn all.

When your death comes, he will be waiting for you. He has been praying and watching over you. He will tell you of all that has been happening. And together in Christ's loving presence, side by side, you will work and wait, and help your brethren; and look forward to the glory of the heaven that is still in the future. Is not that a Gospel worth the preaching--a Gospel to stir our souls and to comfort our hearts for those "whom we have loved long since and lost a while"?

Thank G.o.d for the blessed doctrine of the Paradise life!

Thank G.o.d for all His poor penitent servants departed this life in His faith and fear!


The Far Hereafter



We touch lightly on the subject of the FAR Hereafter which is still away in the future for all humanity. One day the Intermediate Life will close. The end of this age will come at the Second Advent. And at this crisis our Lord places the great drama of the Judgment and the final decision of each man's destiny. Whether it will be a great spectacular event such as His picture suggests, with all humanity a.s.sembled and the Judge on the great White Throne, or whether His picture is figurative, we cannot affirm. We can only gather that it will be a final judgment and that it will be a judgment according to finally developed character, when men shall be clearly seen to belong to the right hand or the left, the sheep or the goats, to the wheat or the tares, to the good fish to be gathered up or the bad fish to be thrown away.

Then come the final stages in the history of humanity, h.e.l.l and Heaven.



Here we touch the awful part of our study. In Christ's great drama of the Judgment those on the left hand are pa.s.sing out into the darkness, and we see them no more. In that darkness there seems no ray of hope.

So far as we can learn, it means irrevocable ruin and loss. In spite of G.o.d's love and pain for them on Earth and in Hades, they seem at last to have destroyed in themselves everything of good, and so placed themselves beyond possibility of restoration for ever. The judgment has clearly the ring of finality. There seems nothing more to be said.

And so, with pain in our hearts responding to the pain of the Father, we are forced to leave them in the darkness and mystery in which Scripture enshrouds them.

This is, I think, all that can justifiably be said. The reticence and reserve of Scripture forbids any definite doctrine of h.e.l.l.

And this is all that would have needed to be said if men had kept to that reticence and reserve of Scripture, and to all further questionings contented themselves with the answer that the Judge of all the earth will do right. But they have not so contented themselves.

It is hard to blame them. For beyond the main facts about the doom of the impenitent there are here and there through the Bible many tantalizing hints perplexing and difficult to reconcile with each other, but very tempting to follow out. By emphasizing certain of these and ignoring or dwelling more lightly on certain others which seem to contradict them, men have formulated definite doctrines about h.e.l.l, differing widely from each other but each with apparently strong Scriptural support. This is only what may happen in any department of study. The strict rule of evidence in any enquiry is that _all_ the facts must be studied and that no theory shall be accepted as entirely trustworthy while any of the evidence remains unaccounted for.

There are three theories which hold the ground to-day, each of them seemingly with much evidence in its favour, but each of them seriously unsatisfactory as conflicting with other evidence.

(1) The theory of Everlasting Torment--that every soul which has missed of Christ shall be plunged into a h.e.l.l of torment and sin for ever and ever, growing worse and worse and lower and lower through all the ages of Eternity.

(2) The theory of Universalism--that in the ages of the far future through the stern loving discipline of G.o.d all men shall at length be saved.

(3) The theory of Conditional Immortality--that all souls who fail of Eternal Life shall be punished not by Everlasting Torment, but by annihilation and the loss of G.o.d and Heaven for ever.

At first sight it seems almost impossible that such conflicting theories could be formed out of the same Bible. But a little consideration of the evidence and of the power of prejudice and preconceptions in estimating evidence makes it easier to understand.

The main trend of all Scripture teaching is that it shall be well, gloriously well, with the good, and that it shall be evil, unutterably evil, with the wicked. That there is a mysterious and awful malignity attaching to sin--that to be in sin means to be in misery and ruin in this life or any other life--and that sin persisted in tends to utter and irretrievable ruin. No arguments about the love and power of G.o.d to save to the uttermost can cancel the fact of the free-will of man or the plain statements of Scripture confirmed beyond question by the loving Lord Himself as to the awful fate of the finally impenitent.

But running through all this dark background of Scripture is a curious golden thread of prophecy that evil shall not be eternal in G.o.d's universe. One turns to it perplexed with wondering hope. For however fully Conscience recognizes the righteousness of a terrible retribution for sin, there is in all thoughtful minds a shrinking from the thought that Evil shall be as permanent as Good in the universe of the All-holy G.o.d--that any evil power can exist unendingly side by side with Him and unendingly resist Him; that h.e.l.l and Heaven, Satan and G.o.d shall co-exist for all eternity. This is almost unthinkable to thoughtful men. It is a Dualism repugnant to all our ideals of G.o.d. And this golden thread, running through the Old and New Testaments alike, confirms this thought, in its dim vision of a golden age somewhere away in the far future--away it would seem beyond the dark vision of h.e.l.l--when evil shall have vanished out of the Universe for ever and "G.o.d shall be all in all" (1 Cor. xv. 28)--when there shall come "the times of the Restoration of all things which G.o.d hath promised by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts iii. 21).

Naturally there is danger of people emphasizing strongly either one of these trends of Scripture and gathering certain proof texts according to their own prejudices and preconceptions of what ought to be. "The way in which some people read their Bibles," says Mr. Ruskin, "is like the way in which the old monks thought that hedgehogs ate grapes. They rolled themselves over the grapes as they lay on the ground and whatever first stuck to their spikes they carried off and ate." If the grapes are of various kinds as are the pa.s.sages of Scripture we cannot judge thus of the taste of the vintage. To get the true taste of the grapes we must press them in cl.u.s.ter. To get the true meaning of Scripture we must study the whole trend of Scripture. Before we can accept any doctrine from separate pa.s.sages of Scripture we must a.s.sure ourselves that it is in harmony, not only with other pa.s.sages but also with the ruling thoughts which run through all Scripture, G.o.d's unutterable holiness, G.o.d's awful hatred of sin and stern denunciations of doom against the impenitent, G.o.d's love, G.o.d's unchangeableness, G.o.d's reasonableness and fairness, and the mysterious golden thread of hope which runs through all.

Now we glance as briefly as possible at the three theories referred to.


_The theory of Everlasting Torment and Everlasting Sin_.

This theory keeps with Scripture in a.s.serting the fatal and irrevocable result of unrepented sin--but it goes beyond the reserve of Scripture in defining that result and so defining it as to impugn the character of G.o.d. It teaches that all who are condemned in the Judgment are doomed to a life of endless torment, in the company of devils--forsaken of G.o.d. Millions of millions of ages shall see this punishment no whit nearer to its end. It must go on for ever and ever and ever.

It takes perhaps a child's or a woman's heart to realize the horror of that thought. I remember as a child reading a Sunday-school book that helped me to realize the meaning of this "for ever and ever in h.e.l.l."

I was to imagine a huge forest, and a tiny insect coming from the farthest planet and biting an atom out of one of the leaves, and carrying it away to his home, the journey taking one thousand years.

Then I was to imagine the ages that must elapse before that whole leaf was carried off. Then the stupendous time before the whole tree would be gone. Then, as my brain reeled at the thought, I was to look forward to the carrying away of the whole forest, and from that to the carrying away of the whole world. Then came the awful sentence in italics, _Even then eternity would but have begun_. I suppose G.o.d will forgive the people who wrote that book for children if they repent, but I don't feel much like forgiving them. I can remember still lying awake in the night and crying as I thought of the lost souls in h.e.l.l as my poor little brain reeled at the thought of the journeys of that wretched insect and of those whom G.o.d kept alive to suffer for ever and ever and ever.

Then as one grew older came the further horror that these "lost" are kept alive not only to suffer but to sin everlastingly. They are to go on increasing in sin for ever and ever and ever in the universe of the All-holy G.o.d. One tests this by the ruling thoughts of Scripture. One thinks of G.o.d's holiness. One thinks of the golden thread of hope.

One wonders what it means that Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil"[1] and to destroy the devil (bruise the serpent's head[2]) and how one day "G.o.d shall be all in all" if straight opposite for all eternity shall be Satan's Kingdom of misery and sin. Surely Christ has not failed! And yet--and yet--what shall we say? And what shall we say of G.o.d's fatherhood? Shall we say as some do that as Judge He must do cruel things which as Father He would shrink from? G.o.d forbid! The Judge and the Father are one. Men would never use such sophistry about the character of G.o.d if it were put into plain words. "Ye must ken,"

said a G.o.dly old Scotchman, "that the Almighty may often have to do in His offeeshial capacity what He would scorn to do as a private individual!" I quote this not with flippancy but with stern indignation. That is baldly what such sophistry means.

Clearly one who insists on this doctrine ought at least to be absolutely certain that Scripture leaves him no escape from it. Now the conclusion which a thorough study of the question leads to is this;--that Scripture nowhere definitely affirms that the sufferings of the lost _shall not be_ everlasting, and nowhere definitely affirms that they _shall be_ everlasting.