Last Words with Restorationists
Much of what has been said as to the doctrine of conditional immortality is true of the other form of the denial of eternal punishment. Especially the quarrel with Scripture is even more plain, and its authority as a consequence more directly attacked. There are those, as in the former case, who must be admitted as exceptions, whose arguments, however illogical, seek at least to preserve its authority. Yet even Mr. Jukes maintains, as we have seen, that "taken in the letter, text clashes with text upon this subject." And Mr. Cox quotes with approbation, from Dr. Littledale's paper already referred to, his averment "that no sufficient stress has been laid on the cardinal fact 'that the Scriptures of the New Testament contain two parallel and often seemingly contradictory statements as to the last things, one of which, even after being jealously sifted by hostile criticisms, DOES make for the popular theology, and another which more than implies a full restoration, and the final victory of good over evil.'" Still others speak thus of "irreconcilable antinomies" in Scripture. Canon Farrar more openly and boldly alleges that the "isolated texts" which seem adverse to his view may be "a concession to ignorance" or "reflect the ignorance of a dark age." Prof Jellett urges, "Even if it be conceded that according to the most probable interpretation of the texts which are supposed to contain the doctrine of endless punishment, they do contain this doctrine, it may still be asked — Does this decide the question? There is no infallibility attached to the process of interpretation. The reasoning by which the inspiration of Scripture itself is ascertained is not infallible. Probability is all we can attain to."
These testimonies might be indefinitely multiplied. They demonstrate not more the tendencies of universalism to a denial of the authority of the word, than they do the fact of that word being almost confessedly against it. They would not need to depreciate a testimony which was in their own favor. The counsel for a case does not brow-beat his own witnesses.
(2.) The doctrine of universalism, in whatever form, tends of necessity, though in another way from annihilationism, to make light of sin. It represents it as a thing capable of being reached and done away by a course of salutary discipline, and that in cases where all the riches of God's love and grace have been expended in vain. Sin is thus made the creature of circumstances, by a wise ordering of which it may be extinguished, and God as the Governor of His creatures becomes responsible for its continuance. It is His dishonor if evil continue, and He must at least share the blame of it with man. He is responsible to save. Man is perhaps as much sinned against as sinning. His life here is no proper probation. "What could have been done to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" admits of a plain answer. Man's ignorance, his feebleness, his manifold temptations, well-nigh balance his account with his Maker; and sin, as a matter of human responsibility or of divine judgment, becomes evidently diminished to an indefinite extent.
That full-blown universalism should be associated with loose morals is not, therefore, to be wondered at. Dr. Rigg affirms: "The same universalises who speak great words about the universal fatherhood of God not seldom also hold the doctrines of free love. It has been my lot to meet with some of these . . . who, in extraordinary rhapsodies, mixed up all these things, and whose practice corresponded to their principles." But the practical result of the belief is not to be measured by the mere open adherents. There are masses who readily take the license without caring to adhere at all. The theory, if true, renders adherence to it or to anything else of very little importance in the eyes of many who would accept the consequences very gladly. And it need not be doubted that the circle of influence which such views exert reaches very far beyond the number of its professed advocates. Just here, indeed, its ripest fruits will be found; man's will set free from the restraint of divine authority, openly lawless, and completely reprobate.
But those who cannot go the whole length of universalism, as, for instance, Canon Farrar, but who either attach no limit to probation, or at least prolong it beyond the present life, cannot be acquitted of ministering to the same unhappy end. The meaning of a "day of salvation" now proclaimed is lost, or at least the point of it. If it be said that only now is preached complete escape from the need of purifying fire, that to the mass of men is a very different thing, of almost infinitely less urgency; while souls praying, striving, agonizing to draw nearer to the light, may be quite unable at any rate (as they teach) to escape that. How many will think it worth while to pray and strive and agonize to so little purpose? How many will rather wait with closed ears to every warning for the fire that is at any rate to do its work, and which is but the aeonian fire of God's love! For such souls, Canon Farrar, and such as he, spite of his protest, must be content to be responsible; and if the "eternal hope" they would fain persuade themselves of be (as it surely is) a mere delusion, then are they responsible for the damnation of those who listen to and approve their teachings.
(3.) And where is atonement? where the value of Christ's blood-shedding? It is well known that universalism in its complete development denies atonement altogether; and to this denial all forms of it, however modified, necessarily tend. Mr. Jukes has no gospel; Dr. Farrar none. The "poor in spirit," the strivers after the light go down helpless to aeonian fire, because, if there be an eye to pity, there is no hand to save. And there men become their own sin-offering, for the worm and fire of Gehenna speak of that. They are saved by their own suffering, not by Christ's; and there will be souls in heaven by and by who can never join in the song of the blood-washed ones; if indeed there be any such song at all. For the many striving ever to get nearer to the light would no doubt gladly have washed their robes, but either it could not, or did not avail. Aeonian fire was their sharp and only remedy!
It is Scripturally certain that for those who count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." (Heb. 10:27-29.) And as salvation is the fruit of this sacrifice, and aeonian fire the alternative of salvation, and its opposite, its contrast, — those who go into it must find (if salvation at all) another than by Christ's work. This Mr. Jukes virtually admits. The sinner becomes his own sin-offering; and although under the law a spotless and unblemished offering was needed, he has discovered that in the antitype God will not require that. Nor is vicariousness to be insisted on. A sinner suffering for his own sins is purified sufficiently by the process. For him, therefore, there can be no such thing as that "the Son of Man must be lifted up." (John 3:14.) Atonement is for him unneeded.
Thus, as God is justified in doing, and certain to do, all that can be done for His creature, a purgatory is quite capable of taking the place of Christ and His work. And at any rate the mass will go to purgatory. Carry that out, and where is atonement gone? The denial of "eternal judgment" is thus the denial of the very "word of the beginning of Christ," (Heb. vi, 1, marg.) and is essentially antichristian. That some may be involved in it who are very far from meaning this is no doubt quite true, but the doctrine is Satan's lie to destroy the truth of Christ; and wherever it is fully developed it effectually does so. Witness the constant connection with unitarianism in the body that has adopted the name "Universalist" as its distinctive title.
Here let us close: it is useless to proceed further. Beloved reader, vicarious sacrifice is God's only means of blessing as surely as Scripture is true and "cannot be broken." The faith of a saved man is a faith which can say with the apostle: "Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree." "The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all." Jesus is now risen from the dead, and in testimony of the full acceptance of that work accomplished is gone into the presence and glory of God. The sins then that were laid upon Him are gone. Whose are they? Are they yours? Beloved, they are those of all, who in the consciousness of sin and helplessness, "have put their trust in Him" for their eternal salvation. Their peace is made. Their sins, borne by Him, are gone. And the coming of Jesus will put them, without question or challenge, into the blessedness of His Father's house, which He went to prepare as their abiding home. It is yours to choose, reader, whether you will have your "part" in the lake of fire with the devil and his angels, or with the "blessed and holy" of the first resurrection in the only really "Eternal City."
It may suit you, alas, to soften down the terrors of the day of wrath, but what if you should find God just in inflicting severer punishment than now your conscience, or your want of it, can allow as righteous? O, ponder those words of the very One who came to save! "Everlasting fire," "undying worm," are after all realities. They abide, the solemn figures of judgment to come. On the other hand, God's grace invites you — whoso comes to Christ, He will in no wise cast out.
Reader, if you be one of His redeemed, trifle not with that which undermines the reality of His blessed work, and with that the reality of sin, and of its judgment.
"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."