The question that lies at the foundation of all theological controversies, and which must be settled before Truth gets its rightful place on the throne of the human mind, is this: Have we a complete, unerring, revelation from God? If we confess that we have, and are assured that the Bible is that revelation, let us be true to our confession, and let us not negative the whole power of it by a process of reasoning that manifests a will at variance with the declarations of a God that cannot lie.
We are not allowed by the Scriptures, nor would it be wisdom on our part, to pick and choose among the communications God has been pleased to make to us, for it is very likely we would cast aside that which is vital to the health of our souls. If we do not believe all, what assurance have we that we believe anything? The things revealed cannot at present be proven by ocular demonstration: faith is not sight. The day that will manifest everything has not yet dawned. It would be very strange indeed if we could find nothing in the revealed will of an infinite Being that would be beyond the compass of our natural (not to say fallen) minds. Let us not forget the words of our Divine Redeemer, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” (Luke 18:17). Both in the natural and spiritual spheres there are things that seem contradictory and impossible of reconciliation, but how could this be otherwise when we contemplate the works of One infinite in wisdom?
A Way of Salvation
Nothing in Scripture is more clearly and simply declared than the fact that God in His unfathomable grace has through the death of His only begotten Son opened up a way of salvation for the whole human race, and that the force and virtue of this work was retrospective, the righteous basis upon which God acted in grace from the beginning (Rom. 3:25). But as in the wisdom of God it was necessary to place man under trial, in order that it might be demonstrated that there is no power in the creature to effect his own recovery, this work which was the intervention of God in the sinner’s behalf could not be undertaken until the trial was over. It was when we were manifested as without strength that Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). Hence it was not until the world had been four thousand years under sin and death that this mighty work was undertaken. But the ground upon which God always received the penitent was the blood of Jesus. Today this fact is declared, the love of God to all has been manifested, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to all, and the soul who believes the gospel is saved. But in all dispensations, and in every part of the world there was always enough to guide the seeking soul back to the bosom of his Creator.
Whatever the dispensation might be, and in whatever character it may have pleased God to address Himself to men His word was always the vital link between the soul and Himself. It might be a way of acceptance for the sinful creature pointed out by sacrifice, as it seems to have been before the deluge; or a testimony to the One True God rendered in an idolatrous world, wherein were lords many and gods many, all demons, as in the days of Abraham; or His merciful, and gracious ways with a rebellious nation, as in the case of Israel; or the testimony of the heavens and the earth declaring His glory and His handiwork, along with the countless manifestations of His goodness to the whole human race, as it always has been in all parts of the earth, or the gospel of His grace, as at is today: but whatever the testimony might be, faith in that testimony linked the soul vitally with God. This left at all times, and still leaves, the impenitent sinner without excuse.
Left to himself no man will avail himself of the blessings held out to him by God, and the testimony of God is always repugnant to the natural mind. The most favoured parts of the earth and the least favoured were alike rebellious. If anything the brighter the light, the greater the enmity against all that was of God. No nation wrought greater abominations than the nation of Israel, to whom God had showed such kindness and mercy, and in whose midst He had condescended to dwell. If there were those in all ages that turned to eternal profit the testimony of God, it was because of the sovereign operation of God in their souls, producing that which was ever indispensable to vital relationship with Him, for new birth was always a necessity if one was to know God in the grace of His heart. And though the necessity for this was not stated in plain words from the beginning, a spiritual mind could easily have seen it in the Scriptures; and for not having known it our Lord seems to have censured Nicodemus.
In this present dispensation the gospel is the means by which God is saving souls out of this world that lies under judgment. But if men will not believe the mighty testimony rendered to the goodness of God in the darkest parts of the earth (Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-28), what hope is there that they will believe the gospel when it is preached to them? That the light of the gospel is greater than the light of creation no one is likely to deny; but which is harder to believe—that God made the worlds, and that He is kind to the unthankful and the unholy, or that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for ungodly sinners? Surely it is easier to believe the former than the latter.
To this it may be replied, If this be so, why send the gospel to men at all? If they have all the light necessary to guide them back to God, they require no more, and therefore better leave them as they are. But such forget that it is by the gospel that God is saving sinners today, and not by any other means, and it is He that is saving. Old Testament saints were led to God apart from the gospel as we have it. Job was brought into the most blessed relations with God without much more than he might have gathered from the little light that was shining in patriarchal days. Elihu speaks of the righteousness of God, as it might be observed in his dealings with men, and the Lord out of the whirlwind speaks of His power as witnessed in creation, but in things not beyond Job’s own power of observation. And all this is most blessedly used for the recovery of the poor afflicted creature, and for his enlightenment as to his own sinful state by nature. But today it is by the presentation of Christ to men that He is turning sinners to Himself, and therefore His gospel must go out to the most distant corners of the earth. Men are saved in this dispensation by faith in the glad tidings of the grace of God (Mark 16:16; Luke 24:46-47; John 6:51-57; Acts 4:12; 17:30-31; Rom. 1:16; 10:9-18; 2 Tim. 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:7-9). It is by this means God is working. The report goes abroad by His servants in the power of the Spirit, men bear the good news of salvation, and where God grants faith the report is believed, and those that believe turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that have been sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18).
The Day of Judgment
But I will come to the day of judgment. I need scarcely remind the reader that the believer does not come into judgment (John 5:24), though he must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), but for this we have boldness, because “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). We are already in the relationships and grace and favour and eternal love, of which the Son is the worthy Object. Therefore the day of manifestation can have no terrors for us. It can but bring to light the perfection and glory of the workmanship of God in grace, of which we shall be witnesses in that day.
But the principles upon which God will judge all who come into judgment are those of righteousness and truth, for whether in grace or judgment He never departs from these principles. We are told in Romans 2 that He will render eternal life to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for “glory, honour, and incorruptibility,” but without the gospel men never heard of these things. The law set men to seek by the fulfilment of his obligations life upon earth. It is the gospel that sets these great objects before the soul (Rom. 5:2; 2 Tim. 1:10). Therefore apart from hearing and believing the gospel the conditions upon which eternal life is said to be granted cannot be fulfilled.
But indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish are to be visited upon those who are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness. The truth is whatever testimony may be set before men. In chapter 1 we see that the descendants of Noah so turned the truth of God into a lie, that God was compelled in righteousness to abandon them to their own uncleannesses. They disregarded the testimony of creation, and went on in their godless ways, heaping up wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. These had not the law, and will not be judged by it, but by the light which they had; and verse 12 tells us they shall perish: “As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law.”
But the Jew has had greater privileges. He has had the law, but like the Gentile he made no saving use of the light given to him, and will be judged by the law; but by the deeds of the law shall no man be justified in the sight of God, “for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). Surely those with the light of the gospel are very much more responsible, and their condemnation consequently greater.
But is it absolutely necessary to be forced by Scripture into the conviction that to come into judgment is to be condemned? Do we not know that innocent people are always immune from judgment. In this world of maladministration and lack of wisdom the guiltless may be dragged before the judge, and even condemned; but such a thing is impossible in the dealings of God with His creatures. No one can be brought into judgment unless he is guilty and no one can escape when brought into judgment. Therefore the Psalmist says, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Pa. 143:2). The justified can never be brought into judgment; the judged can never be justified.
Every soul of man has always had, has now, and always shall have while upon earth, sufficient light to guide him to God; but of that light no man left to himself has ever made any saving use; he has always sinned against it, for the light has always been hated. All who are saved owe their salvation to the sovereign operation of God. Men may find fault with the ways of God, and that because of their innate enmity against Him, as well as their want of understanding, but we may be perfectly sure that He will be justified when He speaks, and clear when He is judged by His creatures (Pa. 51:4).
The Myriads of the Lost
A great deal is said regarding the myriads of the lost, because when disasters take place the human mind is always appalled by numbers. But what difference can it make to the person who suffers (and of whom else need we take account) whether it be himself alone, or whether he have a million along with him in his woes? And have all the myriads of angelic beings who shall perish for ever no feelings to be considered? What the number of such may be we may have some feeble idea if we consider that a legion of demons could be concerned with one man.
To contemplate the judgment of God is surely appalling to poor creatures like ourselves; though at best we have very little sense of the terrible nature of that judgment. Think of what it was to our Lord when in the Garden that bitter cup was presented to Him. He who best knew the terrible nature of that judgment feared it most (Heb. 5:7). It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God in the day in which He takes vengeance upon the evildoer (Heb. 10:31).
The judgment of the living and that of the dead, in harmony with every other scripture that speaks on the subject, declare plainly that there is no hope for the man who has been disobedient to the light given to him of God (2 Thess. 1:6-9; Matt. 20:25; Rev. 11-15). We may rest assured, however, that the Judge of all the earth will do right. Men in their natural and evil minds are ever ready to attribute cruelty and carelessness to God, but when the day comes that will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts, the day in which God will vindicate Himself concerning all His ways with His rebellious creatures, it will be seen how just and true those ways have been, and in his own defence no creature will be able to lift up his voice.
No, my reader, there is no opportunity for man but the present, and today the saving testimony is the gospel of the grace of God. If you are appalled as you contemplate the awful doom of the impenitent show it by a life in which your neighbour may find no stumbling-block over which he might stumble and for ever perish. You will not persuade everyone to believe the gospel, but it may please God to use you to the blessing of many, and in this you will have your present and eternal joy.
In spite of the best tidings that ever fell upon the ears of mortal men, in spite of the terrors of eternal wrath, in spite of the most faithful preaching and pleading by servants of God filled with His Holy Spirit, men will waste their precious threescore years and ten in pursuit of things that can never satisfy the heart, and they would go on doing so if they had a thousand years, as was almost reached by the antediluvians, the thoughts and imaginations of whose hearts were only evil every day (Gen. 6:5). The answer of the human heart to every testimony on the part of God is, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job. 21:14). No one will come to Christ except the Father draw him; but everyone that is drawn by the Father comes (John 6:44-45).
We can well leave God to safeguard His own glory. He is well able to vindicate Himself, and He will do it to the confusion of all His enemies. He has in unfathomable grace given us a revelation of the thoughts of His heart, and it is our salvation to believe it in the very way in which He has given it to us, neither adding to it, nor diminishing from it, nor mixing it up with our own carnal thoughts. Let us therefore sit down in His own presence, and in the distrust of ourselves, and let us ponder that revelation by the aid of the Anointing that He has given to is. If we do this we shall be set free from all uncertainty and error: for the meek He will guide in judgment, and the meek shall He teach His way (Ps. 25:9).