“Religion and The Crisis”

This is the title of a new book by the well-known journalist and author, Mr. Harold Begbie.

Recent books of his, such as “Broken Earthenware” and “The Light of India” have had an enormous circulation, and will do much to give his latest book a wide circle of sympathetic and impressionable readers.

In reading “Broken Earthenware” one is struck by the phenomenon of an author describing spiritual experiences in others to which he is apparently a stranger himself; though his attitude towards the change of life induced by conversion is deeply sympathetic, and the language in which he describes it is vivid and picturesque and glowing in the extreme.

In the end Mr. Begbie interests us more deeply in the psychology of his own case than in the cases of those he describes, the effect of whose conversion he admires with such sympathy, whilst apparently remaining in complete ignorance of the cause.

“The Light of India”—a later book—we perused in the hope that it might disclose some progress in Mr. Begbie’s soul history. It seemed impossible for him to be alongside of such earnest, converted men as Commissioner Tucker, and not be affected. In India he was brought face to face with what is described in 1 Corinthians 10 as “the table of demons,” and was powerfully affected by observing with deep and painful interest the working of demoniacal possession, and in that way “tasted… the powers of the world to come” in witnessing the triumphs of Christianity in such cases. But the perusal of the book, whilst it raised hopes, alas! failed to satisfy them.

In “Religion and the Crisis” Mr. Begbie no longer describes the work of others, but is giving out his own view of religion, and the way the present crisis should be met.

Jude was anxious to write to the believers on the glorious theme of “the common salvation,” but found it needful to exhort them to “earnestly contend for the faith.” And the need has not, alas! decreased since those primitive days.

The writer believes he, too, may be doing a humble service in pointing out that “Religion and the Crisis” is a book that can only help on the crisis feared by the author. Indeed, the very means whereby he would avert it are the very means to ensure it.

Mr. Begbie says:
  “Life’s at a crisis. Not only in England but all over the world there is a feeling of some dread and awful thing approaching, some huge and catastrophic event, which will shake our human existence to its foundations, and leave everything altered, everything different. It may be a gigantic war, shifting the balance of power as we now know it; a revolution, shattering the immemorial institutions of civilisation; or a collapse of the spiritual instinct, plunging nations into animalism.”

Here he indicates in masterly phrases what is likely to take place in the near future. His forecast of such happenings we believe to be a true one, and further, we believe that not merely one of these things that he fears, but all of them together, will fall in overwhelming terror upon a disobedient world. But he has apparently no idea of the true cause of or the evil forces that be behind these coming events, nor how they will be precipitated. We learn both from the Scriptures; as to the latter, the Lord Jesus will first rapture His church to glory, then will follow the uprising of Antichrist, the Man of Sin, the son of perdition, and all that that ominous event will mean. “The collapse of the spiritual instinct will come about by the removal of the church from the world, to be followed by the great apostasy which will sweep all before it—“the strong delusion” will be believed on every hand (see 2 Thess. 2). Then will fall the judgment of God.

It is startling to read the accurate prophesying of what is imminent, and to feel that the writer gleans his knowledge from politics rather than from revelation.

Gathering our knowledge from revelations, it is possible to foretell the crisis when the sky is blue. But not holding the key of the situation in the hand, Mr. Begbie must see clouds well defined and ready to burst, if the consequences of their bursting can be so accurately described. Mr. Begbie is, indeed, looking at no summer sky.

Now let us look at his remedy. He says:
  “I think it would make a difference if the Church preached earnestly and with one voice the Scriptural doctrine of conditional immortality. I think men would be struck by the naturalness of its teaching, then interested in the subject, and then finally anxious to make sure of their eternal felicity.
  “Instead of ‘Hell,’ then, I hold that the Church should preach destruction according to the Scriptures. … In a word, the doctrine of eternal life is not merely indefensible; it has passed from the mind of humanity. It has ceased… These two evils are the consequences of sin: first, isolation, then annihilation. Such is the clear and emphatic teaching of Christ.”

Along with this denial of eternal punishment and the existence of hell is the usual denial of the fall in the Scriptural sense of the word; the confounding of immortality and eternal life, as if they were one and the same thing; the making of salvation a matter of human effort; the weakening and obscuring, if not the complete denial, of the atonement in its Scriptural meaning. For instance, Mr. Begbie gently scoffs at the presentation of the truth of the atonement in a letter, he quotes, written by the late Sir Arthur Blackwood.

But seeing Mr. Begbie quotes Scripture as authoritative, it will help the reader if we place short extracts of his beliefs, and scriptures bearing on the point, adjacent to each other.

  “I believe that the healthy child of healthy parents, living in circumstances which make it possible for humanity to love the world, and be satisfied with life, is by nature good.”
  “There is none that does good, no not one” (Rom. 3:12).
  “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).
  “Every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
  “God has ordained that man shall use his reason, and develop his understanding … by using the reason we become souls worthy of eternal life.”
  “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
  “We preach Christ crucified… unto the Greek foolishness” (v. 23).
  “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7).
  “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

“The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” How true it is that what commends itself to the natural man is not of God, but of Satan. Such an attempt to popularize the gospel will only popularize a movement with the gospel left out. It is in reality, in the hands of Satan, an insidious effort to strangle it.

  “To those who have won immortality the King says: ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat,’ etc.”
  “To those who have lost immortality, who have isolated themselves by lovelessness and egoism from the source of life, He says, ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat’.”
  “These [same two classes described above] shall go into everlasting destruction; but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46)

Our space forbids long and numerous quotations. But Mr. Begbie does not see that immortality is unending existence, and that eternal life is life lived for ever in the favour of God. Immortality is not conditional. Eternal life is conditional on believing in the Son of God.

God chose to confer upon man immortality; that is, soul-existence for ever. “God … breathed,, into his [man’s] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).

Scripture has in view man’s blessing. Judgment is God’s strange work. Blessing is essential, judgment, incidental. God willingly and of His own accord sits on a throne of mercy. Man forces Him on to the judgment-seat. We are therefore prepared to find references in Scripture to immortality largely, if not altogether, connected with those who are blessed—“children of the resurrection.”

But that does not weaken in the slightest that the wicked are immortal, i.e. they have an unending existence, as well as the just. Immortality has no converse. Eternal life has. Its converse to perish. But destruction is not annihilation. “Destruction AND misery are in their ways” (Rom. 3:16) could not be rendered, “annihilation and misery are in their ways.” You might have misery antecedent to annihilation—it would be impossible after. To experience misery along with destruction is to prove sentient existence capable of such experience, and therefore cannot mean annihilation. How careful is the wording of Scripture!

As to annihilation, a product of the conditional immortality theory, we learn from Revelation 19:20 that two men—the beast (the head of the revived Roman Empire, and the false prophet (Antichrist)—are seen as “cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone;” whilst in Revelation 20:10, more than a thousand years later, the devil is “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet ARE.” Here are two men ALIVE in hell after a thousand years of torment, and no hint dropped as to any change in their circumstances. Thus is shown up at one breath the false doctrine of annihilationism, and the denial of the existence of hell.

  “Here was opportunity for Christ to preach a new doctrine. Here was opportunity for a disquisition on sacrificial religion, on vicarious atonement, on justification by faith, on baptism, on the displeasing and sinful doctrine of good works done without faith. But Christ said to His questioner, ‘Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live.’”
  “The whole teaching of Christ from first to last is a teaching of action, a teaching of service, a teaching of ‘This do, and thou shalt live.’”
  “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
  “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
  “To him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

Mr. Begbie stops at, “This do, and thou shalt live,” and does not even allude to the wonderful teaching contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Surely his own case and that of every other sinner is illustrated by the man fallen among thieves, whilst the Saviour is presented as at hand to meet his sad and evil case under the figure of the Samaritan succourer. Now obviously the main point of Luke 10 is the presentation of grace in the Good Samaritan! How blind is the natural man, who fails to see its true meaning, and whose carnal mind would spurn grace and place in its stead effort that must fail and doom him to eternal despair!

  “I believe that any wild and unreasoning attempt to revive the medieval idea of hell is doomed to failure.”
  “The uttermost limits of isolation from God are destruction and death.”

  “Danger of hellfire” (Matt. 5:22).
  “Cast into hell” (v. 29).
  “Having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43).
  “Thrust down to hell” (Luke 10:15).
  “Power to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5).
  “In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23)

Mr. Begbie winds up one statement in his book by saying: “Such is the clear and emphatic teaching of Christ.” Will he bow to the equally clear and emphatic teaching as to the existence and torments of hell falling from the same lips?

Moreover, all Scripture is equally inspired and of equal authority. The difference between the words of Christ Himself and the inspired writings of Paul, Peter, John, etc. is the difference between a man’s words and his writings—a difference in form, not in essence, authority and value. For Paul, Peter and John were but the inspired pens by whom God wrote down His words. If Mr. Begbie will bow to the Scriptures, they will revolutionize his ideas completely.

As it stands, “Religion and the crisis” is a book that will only help on the present trend of things; an attempt to humanize the Bible by stripping it of all its spiritual force and meaning; an effort to popularize the gospel and to avoid the scandal of the cross by preaching the Fatherhood of God, which is Unitarianism, and the brotherhood of man, which is Socialism, as the panacea for all evils and the sure precursor of the millennium.

How utterly mistaken such ideas must be has been already proved by the first fruits of the harvest already gathered. The world is getting worse. Men’s hearts are failing them for very fear. They are husbanding their breath for the last plunge. The crisis is upon us—immense, portentous, gloomy, awful, beyond description.

The very title of the book, “Religion and the Crisis,” proves our statement.

The remedy in this crisis is not—

Salvation in every sense is found alone in Christ Jesus (Acts 4:12).