Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity
By L. D. McCabe, D.D., LL.D.
But Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is a Necessity in its Far-Reaching Relations to Another Important Doctrine of Divine Revelation.
The doctrine of the endless separation of the wicked from the essential presence of God, in a state of conscious degradation and loss, has been more unfortunately presented than any other Bible tenet. Its opponents and adherents have been equally unfortunate in their statements of the proposition. These shocking misrepresentations of the revealed truth have wrought enervation in the Church and wide-spread deception and ruin to souls. The evils that have been wrought in this way all along the ages transcend the power of angelic computation. The world, said Jonathan Edwards, will be converted into a great lake of liquid fire, in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed, which shall always be in tempest, in which they shall be tossed to and fro, having no rest day nor night, vast billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall ever be full of a quick sense, within and without their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins and their vitals shall ever be full of a glowing, melting fire, enough to melt the very rocks and elements. Also they shall be full of the most quick and lively sense to reel the torments, not for ten millions of ages, but for ever and ever, with out any end at all. Such presentations of the endless wretchedness of the incorrigible really seem based on fiendish vengeance. They are so inconsistent with our intuitive conceptions of the goodness of God that we instinctively inquire whether such a doctrine can possibly be found among divine revelations.
As to the condition of the incorrigible after death, the first question is, Will they be annihilated? if the hypothesis of annihilation be true, it is one of the most important of all subordinate truths. It ought to be blazoned on the heavens and seen of all ages, and yet it is not even suggested by him who taught as man never taught. On the endless suffering of the wicked he gives frequent and most impressive lessons, but on their annihilation he is absolutely silent. The word which he uses to express the eternity of the Deity and the unending blessedness of the righteous, he employs to describe the changeless condition, the irreversible existence, of the incorrigible. A message from the Infinite to the finite must contain a largeness of signification which it is impossible for any finite messenger fully to comprehend. None but the infinite himself can so fully comprehend his own truth as to express it infallibly. Jesus, being Infinite, fully comprehended his own teaching. And this word aiwn is the word he uses to express the endless future of the wicked.
Those who were personally addressed by our Lord never dreamed that he taught the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked. If it had been his purpose to teach the doctrine of endless punishment he could not have found a word more perfect to express his meaning. No word in the Greek language so fully and so perfectly expresses duration without any limitation as this word aiwn. It is derived from that root whose complete formation is the adverb aei, forever. To aei we trace the English ever, the German ewig, the Latin æternitas, and our word eternity. Aristotle, believing the heavens were eternal, regarded them as the measure of eternity and he uses the word aiwn to express the full period which includes the existence of the heavens, and the existence of all things past and future, the existence of the infinite itself, and also the existence of infinite duration. Plato, believing that the heavens were created and not eternal, contrasts them with aiwn saying that long-enduring as are the heavens, they are the measures of time, while aiwn is absolutely without measure or movement or change. The wicked, says our Lord, shall go away into everlasting punishment. Kolasis the word translated punishment, does not mean annihilation, but suffering. It not even tinged with the not ion of annihilation. If Jesus does not assert the endless suffering of the wicked, be does not affirm the endless happiness of the righteous. And thus he has always been understood through all the ages of the Christian era. All uncritical readers, and ninety-nine out of every hundred who have critically studied Christs discourses for two thousand years, have believed that he clearly taught the endless separation of the wicked from the righteous in a state of conscious existence.
If the doctrine of annihilation be true Jesus fully believed it and if he did believe it, he made carefully studied efforts to conceal his real sentiments and convictions upon the subject. But he who came into the world to bear witness to the truth could never practice such unworthy concealments. And to show that Jesus taught the annihilation of the wicked is a task too Herculean even for an army of biblical critics. Indeed, it is difficult to see how God could have made the doctrine of endless separation from himself in conscious existence of incorrigible souls any plainer than it is presented in the holy Scriptures, without abandoning what Bishop Butler calls his chosen method of revealed instruction, which is not to make revelations so overwhelming as to coercethe belief of free agents. Certainly no other doctrine of the Bible is stated more clearly or more impressively. If a torturing exegesis can pluck this teaching from revelation it can explain into insignificance any other of Gods expressed thoughts.
When I find, says Bishop Foster, in his Beyond the Grave, that book of brilliancy and power, the doctrine of future punishment omnipresent in the whole scheme, from beginning to end, of the holy volume, an underlying cardinal implication throughout and expressly stated many times, I am compelled to give in my adhesion. The Book masters me as an authority. I cannot reject it. I have no skill to torture any other meaning out of its language. Even Canon Farrar, who exclaims, I am no Universalist, is compelled to say that the affirmation of annihilation greatly distorts the holy Scriptures. Two facts are manifest. God has in innumerable instances declared that the existence of the wicked shall be endless, and, secondly, he has nowhere hinted that he intends their annihilation. Why he cannot or why he will not annihilate the wicked he has not seen proper to reveal to us, and of this we have no right to complain, it may be that he could not do it without graver evils resulting to his other empires. It is possible that the annihilation of the disobedient would utterly prevent any such thing as probation at all. For in the absence of an atonement, annihilation must needs follow immediately on the occasion of any willful violation of Gods law. Because continuance in existence would only be to multiply violations and perpetrate further evils and examples to the moral universe. For an intelligent being to treat a God-given existence with such infinite contempt, as deliberately to prefer annihilation to the endless, blissful fellowship with his glorious Creator, may be a sin whose depth only the eye of the infinite could ever penetrate. A transgression of Gods moral law becomes a fact which he can neither annihilate nor render oblivious to his intelligent universe. Holy deeds are followed necessarily by an endless succession of benign influences. To interfere and prevent such necessary results would be an abandonment of fundamental governmental principles in both the nature of things and in the purposes of the Sovereign Ruler. So, in like manner, the nature of things, the purposes of God and the interests of the moral universe all require that deeds of wickedness be followed by an endless succession of disadvantages and depreciating influences, as illustrious warnings to all in probationary states, he who voluntarily sins introduces into the historic universe a new cause, prolific of evils, which must work its corrupting effects forever. As the evil effects of this newly created cause must be endless, so, in like mariner, the manifestation of the divine displeasure must also be endless. God owes it to his moral universe to counteract, as far as possible, the evils of sin, and to repair the damage and defeat wrought by the sinner. A temporary divine displeasure toward him, while the damaging results of his wickedness continue to be endless, would necessitate remediless injury to his moral government. For any procedure that could dim or diminish or question the certainty of the divine displeasure toward sin would be an unspeakable calamity. The necessity, therefore, of the eternity of the divine displeasure toward sin absolutely prohibits the annihilation of the wicked person who originated that sin and inaugurated its baleful effects. Innumerable evils, all inconceivable to us, might result to this world and all worlds from the enactment of such a statute as the annihilation of the disobedient. But, doubtless, there are factors involved in this subject beyond our knowledge or even our power to conceive, The idea, says Bishop Foster, of the endless conscious suffering of the wicked is the most unwelcome thought ever suggested to my mind. My whole soul revolts against it. There is no sacrifice I would not willingly make to get rid of it. It is the horror of all horrors. Such is the attitude of my mind to the question. But, against my wish and all the feelings of my soul, I am constrained to believe that God sees it differently, and with infinitely greater capacity to know what is best and proper, and with infinitely greater love and tenderness than any of his holiest children can claim, has incorporated the dreadful fact of permanent conscious suffering as a possibility in his plan. For some cause too deep for my comprehension he will allow souls to live forever that will not be happy, and to whom existence will be perpetual shame and everlasting contempt. I do not now see either wisdom or goodness in the plan, and possibly never may; I even doubt if I ever shall but my faith and confidence are not measured by my power of comprehension.
No doubt the annihilation of the wicked would take place and its announcement would be made in divine revelation if immutable rightness and the welfare of the moral universe did not present an abatis of opposing moral considerations if not of self-contradictions. For any teacher, therefore, sent of God, to inculcate the doctrine of annihilation without the slightest intimation of its truth from the teachings of divine revelation is certainly a hazard too frightful to contemplate. But a proper statement of eschatology hitherto has been impossible on account of our ignorance of the ultimate ground of right. A clear apprehension of that ground would conduct us directly to the heart of the subject and open it up to us in all its reasonableness and deep necessities. All philosophers up to this time agree that the ultimate ground of right has not been reached.
Unless there be an uncaused Creator of all things, all philosophical thinking must be barren of any valuable results. The recognition of the existence of Deity is necessary to all logical thought. We, therefore, say that God exists of necessity. He must possess all perfections and be destitute of every conceivable imperfection. Our whole nature, says Bishop Butler, leads us to conclude that Gods will and character must be morally just and good, and we cannot even in imagination conceive it to be otherwise. But while God exists from necessity, he does not act from necessity. Freedom is one of the essential perfections of Deity. If he is free he can volitionate concordantly or discordantly with the standard of excellences which are concreted in his necessary existence. This possibility, says the Calvinian, Mark Hopkins, must necessarily be allowed as a mental conceivability. God cannot volitionate in opposition to this absolute standard of excellence, and continue or preserve his absolute perfection. But if he continues to volitionate in harmony with that standard he will forever preserve in volitional perfection the absolute perfection that from eternity existed of necessity. To maintain the perfections of his nature, and to achieve absolute rectitude, he must ever volitionate in harmony with the absolutely perfect standard. He has no more right nor liberty to depart from that standard than I have. Absolute rectitude is the result of a perfect being volitionating in harmony with the absolute perfections of Deity as they existed from eternity and of necessity. The abstract quality of rectitude is immutable rightness. Immutable rightness, then, is the quality that is concreted into absolute rectitude. "Every philosophy and philosopher, says S. Baring-Gould, has failed to find an immutable principle of right which is of universal application.
But after the foregoing definitions of necessary self-existent perfection in nature, and of volitional absolute rectitude in the concrete Infinite, and of rightness, the abstract quality involved in absolute volitional rectitude, we need no longer nor deeper search for the immovable foundations of rightness, and the immutable principle of right, which is of universal application. To reach these ultimate principles, we need only to distinguish between the existence of infinite perfections and the free exercise of those perfections.
Rightness, therefore, is an intellectuality and an objectivity; it is neither a subjectivity nor a sensibility. It is instinctively perceived by all moral beings, and is perceived to be essential to the preservation of all kinds of excellence. Its perception is a necessity to accountability.
Right is intuitive and necessary, depending upon no will, but obligating all wills. Ultimate rightness, therefore, cannot rest on the arbitrary will of God. God is compelled to submit to the objective claims of immutable rightness, if he would preserve his own absolute excellence and achieve absolute rectitude. The perfection of the universe required the creation of accountable beings. But if God create free beings, he must not coerce their free wills. He cannot control the free in actions that are rewardable or punishable. Moral character is the result of freely volitionating in harmony with the standard of immutable rightness. An immoral character is the result of freely volitionating in opposition to that standard. God cannot create a moral character for one free agent, nor can he prevent another free agent from creating an immoral character for himself. God cannot prevent a good character from enriching and ennobling and emparadising the nature of its subject. Nor could he prevent an immoral character from degrading and distressing that nature. He could no more do this than he could make sin a blessing, or wrong to be right, or light to be darkness. He cannot force a free being to love him nor prevent a bad free being from hating him. Degradation, guilt, remorse, loss of self-respect, shame, weakness, unhappiness, and detestation of all holy beings, and the utter disqualification to enjoy God, flow inevitably from willful violation of immutable rightness. Every additional violation adds additional weakness to the conscience, darkness to the mind, hardness to the heart and perverseness to the will. In this process the soul finally reaches a state in which it is irredeemably fixed in its awfully shocking depravities. Observation, as well as philosophy, teaches us that persistence in wickedness tends to a state of being morally petrified.
Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption. These are the terrible announcements of infallible truth. Incorrigibility results from persistent volitionating in opposition to rightness, to the dictates of reason, and the monitions of conscience, until no susceptibility remains in the soul which could ever respond to the attractions of obedience and the delights of holiness. When the soul is thus thoroughly ruined it possesses no recuperative power by which it can stir itself to the task of self-reformation. The elements of soul regeneration are completely and forever exhausted. No thinker questions but that persistency in sin tends to endless fixity in moral nature. Prolonged dissimilarity of feeling with God ends necessarily in endless dissimilarity with him. None of his glorious perfections can ever be incorporated in such a degraded nature. From such a nature all the glorious endowments and possibilities have perished forever. The habits of disobedience deliberately fixed and settled, the incorrigibleness of a perverse will and the calloused, indurated sensibilities formed in the present state of gracious probation render worthless any future dispensations of mercy, hopeless to Deity, and useless to the lost soul.
No man would improve the present probation if one in the future were assured him. A promise of a future opportunity would be his charter for recklessness in this. If the present is misimproved its misimprovement will de-energize the soul of all those moral energies indispensable for entrance upon a future probation. Sin stupefies the moral sense; viciousness makes the soul insensible to appeal and impervious to light. The wicked are held by the cords of their sins, says the wise man. There is a dreadful coercion in our iniquities. "From the wicked, says Job, their light is withdrawn. To the incorrigible, even here, God says, let him alone, he is joined to his idols. The impenitent soul would enter eternity rifled of its susceptibilities, dernonized by its habits, and blasted in its whole nature. What ground of hope, then, can we have that a soul incorrigible here would seek the path of obedience there? He will find no more light, and no greater considerations for virtue there than he has here. Men see and feel the terrible consequences of sin in this life, but still persist in wickedness. They regret their indulgence in sinful gratifications, but sin on as with a cart rope. The ancients had our three-score-years-and-ten probation, a dozen times repeated, but, notwithstanding all, they persevered in wickedness to the bitter end; and today nothing is so welcome to the unholy as the flimsy hypothesis of a future probation. This groundless hope grants them license to indulge in unholy living now, and awakens in them a hope of reformation hereafter. But what ground is there for the belief that they will initiate holiness in a future state of probation? Any number of future states of probation could never be availing to restore to an incorrigible soul its lost moral capacities. There is nothing in mere consequential endurance of the wretchedness inseparable from wickedness to incorporate into the soul any love of holiness for itself, or any purpose of praiseworthy obedience, or any desire for those qualifications needed to enjoy God and the society of saints. Suffering may subdue obstinacy, but it cannot restore lost susceptibilities, or lift out of moral degradation, or transform a fiend into an angel of light. Where is the basis of hope when depravity has penetrated and pervaded every vein, nerve and fiber of the soul? How can the agonies of depravity root out depravity and repugnance to holiness?
No motives can be presented there greater than the motives presented here. Jesus clearly teaches that probationers are more likely to hear Moses and the prophets than they would any preacher commissioned from perdition. But the Bible nowhere hints that perdition is a probation. Suffering cannot recreate the soul in righteousness and true holiness. A second probation assumes that pain is more efficacious in the regeneration of a depraved soul than the unsearchable riches and resources of the Son of God, and the mysterious powers of the Holy Ghost in changing from glory to glory. If suffering could transform the fallen soul, the incarnation were needless and all the refining processes of the Holy Ghost could be dispensed with. But neither the bitterness of disobedience nor the indescribable woes of depravity can ever regenerate and sanctify a child of Satan. The problem of all the ages has been to exorcise wickedness out of a disobedient soul. The soul saturated in iniquity cannot stir itself to delight in any thing good or holy. Death can effect no changes in the moral nature of the incorrigible. There is no possibility of his ever freely choosing to achieve a moral character, after his nature has been fixed in a state of vehement wickedness and aversion to holiness and obedience. The conditions which render the achievement of moral character possible can never exist hereafter. There will be no possibility in the fathomless depths of the depravity of a lost soul for the choice of a loving, reverent obedience beyond the grave. Any theater where vice has not attractions and virtue difficulties, could not afford a legitimate arena for the achievement of moral character. A mere wish to escape suffering and despair furnishes no opportunity whatever for a choice between the attractions of vice and the difficulties of virtue, that could in any way or degree be creative of moral excellence and rewardability. The lost soul is incapable of any feeling but a desire to escape pain. It cannot desire truth, goodness, love, nor God. There is absolutely nothing in the soul of the lost that can ever respond to true holiness. Sin could never be forgiven until repented of. But even if there were something in the lost soul responsive to divine mandates and inclined to repentance, what evidence have we that the grace of repentance will be vouchsafed to the finally impenitent.
Men cannot repent, even in this life, without the grace of repentance being given to them by the Holy Ghost. It requires the persistent efforts of the Holy Ghost to bring any soul to the work of reformation. But has the lost soul the energies of the Holy Ghost to aid him in his most difficult work of penitence? Does the Holy Ghost, ignoring the awful declaration of Scripture that there is a sin unto death, and that the sin against himself can never be forgiven in this world nor in the world to come, continue his beseechings in the ears of the incorrigible in the place prepared for the devil and angels? God said to the inhabitants of the earth, "My spirit shall not always strive with man." Will he change his procedure in hell? But is the gospel of recovery preached in perdition?
There is a passage in the Epistle of Peter that has been thought to support such an affirmation: It is better that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing. For Christ also suffered once for all for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but having been quickened by the Spirit, in which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, having been disobedient aforetime (not were disobedient) when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah. Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind, for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin, that ye may live no longer to the lusts of men but to the will of God. One of the favorite studies of St. Peter was the writings of his brother Paul, in which he found many things difficult for him to comprehend. But he discovered that Paul had, humanly speaking, clearer conceptions of the deep spirituality of Christianity than any other one of the apostles. True, whatever any of the apostles uttered and presented as inspired was infallible, nevertheless they were strongly inclined to lay the foundation of the Church in the faith of Israel. Paul, however, had breadth enough to found a universal and permanent religion on Jesus Christ as chief corner-stone elect and precious. Peter, observing this depth of meaning in the preaching of St. Paul, was deeply imbued with its spirit and thought. Paul had taught the Romans that Jesus .Christ according to the flesh was born of the seed of David, but was demonstrated to be the Son of God by the power of the Holy Ghost in the splendid fact of his resurrection from the dead. In penning the passage under consideration, I think Peter had in his memory this teaching of Paul. When the Scriptures wish to speak of the putting forth of observed divine energy and power, they use the term Spirit of God. For example, it is said, Ye shal1 receive power, the Holy Ghost coming upon you. God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and with power. Jesus, having suffered even unto death, was elevated to glory by the Holy Ghost. In the Epistle of Peter four great thoughts seem to be constantly struggling for utterance. They tinge all trains of his meditations. These thoughts to which he makes such constant reference are, the sufferings of Christ, the power of the Holy Ghost, the spirituality of the Church, and the condition of the lost. In the passage above quoted he tells the Church, exposed to persecution on all sides, it is better to suffer for well-doing than to suffer for ill-doing. This thought he impresses by the example of Christ, the greatest of all sufferers. The suffering of the Church for righteousness sake suggests to his mind the suffering of the Redeemer for a lost and ruined world. The sufferings and death of the Saviour suggest his triumphant resurrection through the power of the Holy Ghost. The quickening, raising of Christ from the dead, naturally suggests his powerful manifestation under the preaching of the Gospel. The glorious manifestations of the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the apostles, bringing from darkness to light three thousand in a day, naturally suggests the smallness of his success under the preaching of Noah, that great preacher of righteousness, saving only eight souls out of an innumerable host through a period protracted for a hundred and twenty years. The antediluvians were notorious in Jewish history for their persistency of wickedness. They continued in this wickedness, says the Saviour, until the very day that Noah entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. The almost utter failure of the Holy Ghost in saving the antediluvians would naturally suggest to Peter the multitudes of the finally lost. In meditating upon those unnumbered multitudes, the place of their present abode would necessarily be suggested to his feeling heart. But there is nothing in the train of thought or in the connection that could naturally or logically suggest the descent of Jesus into the lower world, or into the place prepared for the devil and his angels, to re-open the doors of invitation and hope. The thought of such a descent is wholly foreign to the mind of Peter, and it is grammatically impossible to the Greek text. In the examination of I Peter iii, 19 and 20, two inquiries force themselves upon our attention: Did the disobedience that is spoken of, take place at the time of the preaching that is spoken of; or was the preaching at one time and the disobedience at another time? Were these two events co-existent, synchronous, or were they not? If the Greek language has not resources sufficient to answer these questions it would be an instance of its imperfection. If that language can determine these questions, it would be an imperfection in Greek scholarship not to perceive and know it. In the Greek language, a participle agreeing with a noun expresses an essential attribute of that noun, provided both the noun and the participle have the article.
But if the noun has the article and the participle agreeing with it has not the article, then the participle expresses not an essential attribute of the noun, but some accidental circumstance of the noun. Our authorized version as well as the new translation translates the participle apeisqhsasi as a finite verb with a relative pronoun, "who were disobedient. This translation would be correct if the participle were preceded by the article tois. If the article were present the participle would express the absolute general and habitual disobedience of the antediluvians to all Gods mandates, and it would not necessitate the co-existence of the two events. But if the tois article were not before the participle, then the participle would express the specific disobedience of the antediluvians to the specific preaching addressed to them. This would necessitate the co-existence of the disobedience and the preaching. The aorist participle apeisqesasi being without the article , and referring back to the noun pneumasi, which has the article, expresses not an essential attribute, but merely a contingent circumstance of the noun. Indeed, the participle has the sense of an adjective, and implies that the disobedience spoken of was co-existent with the preaching spoken of. It really describes the disobedient state of the spirits at the time of Noah, and under his preaching. This aorist participle, therefore, being without the article, demonstrates that the preaching spoken of and the disobedience of the spirits were synchronous events. And this demonstrates that the preaching spoken of was not performed by Christ, but by Noah under the special call and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who also strove mightily with the people of that generation. The rendering of this participle by a finite verb with the relative pronoun, is not allowed by the Greek language. There is, therefore, no basis for the hypothesis of Christs preaching his Gospel to the antediluvians in the under world or in the abode of the lost. Besides the grammatical prohibition of this rendering, nothing could have been more irrelevant in the logical train of St. Peters thoughts, than the going of Christ between his death and resurrection to offer to the lost, deliverance from the great calamity of sin. We thus see that there is no countenance given in the Scriptures to the hypothesis of a future probationary state. They uniformly represent the condition of the finally impenitent as a state forever irreversible. (See A. T. Robertson's "Word Pictures In The New Testament" for fuller treatement - WST).
But all this discussion is upon the hypothesis that the incorrigible possess the power of contrary choice. This hypothesis is, however, a groundless assumption. As soon as man sinned his will dropped from the law of liberty down to the law of cause and effect. Jesus was promised, and he restored to the will its lost power of contrary choice, its original freedom. This gracious power is vouchsafed to us through our probationary existence. If this power is used in choosing rebellion it will be forever withdrawn, and the being remains under the chains of necessity, forever bereft of all power of alternate choices.
Without an atonement restoration to the divine favor, after the fall, would have been impossible. This is unquestionable, if moral law has any signification or imperativeness, or if moral government urges any inexorable requisitions necessary to the weal of the universe. If restoration to the divine likeness and favor were impossible without an atoning sacrifice, it was because the will was incapable of choosing repentance and obedience. If the soul was incapable of choosing reformation, it was because the power of alternative choices was taken from it in its disobedience. This power of alternative choices, which was lost on the probation of works, was purchased back for man by the Redeemer. But if it be lost a second time, on the second great probation under a remedial dispensation of mercy and faith, then both revelation and reason inform, that it can never be restored or proffered through future probations. For moral government demands, and must demand, final settlements and adjudications with its moral subjects. If these settlements are indefinitely deferred through interminable probations, moral government must necessarily lose its signification, surrender its restraints, tear away its majestic imperiousness, undermine the foundations of the eternal throne, shatter the confidence of loyal millions, and wholly misrepresent its arbiter. There must, therefore, be a point in probation beyond which the power of alternative choices cannot be continued. At this point right, righteousness, justice, good government and the welfare of all worlds imperatively require that freedom be taken from the incorrigible. When this point has been reached the free-will ceases to be a free-will, and falls unto the plane of a constrained will. The fact that neither Satan, nor any who followed his lead into ruin, have ever returned to obedience and happiness and heaven, is overwhelming proof that their wills are now no longer free to choose happiness, but are constrained to act as by fate. If there is eternal hope, why has not some one of those who are suffering the vengeance of eternal fire been released, and, clad in angel robes, ascended to God's right hand? If there is eternal hope, why has not Satan climbed back into paradise? How mournful the vision of a soul bereft of its freedom! How grand, how splendid was Satan ere he lost his liberty and was bound in everlasting chains! For what high resolves was he once capacitated! What magnificent purposes, he once had power to perform! Once he could say, I will fathom the mysteries of the divine nature. I will soar up into the seventh heaven of moral purity. I will compass the outmost limits of my divinely-spoken destiny. I will lay out comprehensive plans, for carrying on the moral development of all worlds. I will travel through the universe, and quaff from all fountains sacred, high eternal joys. I will live forever in the presence of the Lord of hosts, rejoicing in his favor and illustrating his perfections. But now how changed! He cannot now choose the right, the just, the good, the beautiful, the glorious. As easily could I speak a new world into existence, and send it revolving into the heavens, as Satan could make the feeblest resolve in the direction of obedience or of benevolence. In him that godlike faculty has perished, and his once great and splendid soul stands forth to-day in monumental ruins, clothed in moral darkness and melancholy gloom, visible to all intelligent worlds, and paining God forever.
Thus we see that sound philosophy adds its testimony to that of inspiration, that a great gulf is necessarily fixed between the saved and the lost, the righteous and the unrighteous. Over this gulf there is no passage for saint or sinner world without end. There will be no possibility for the choice of a loving obedience beyond the present life. This is the inevitable consequence of incorrigibility. Even if God could prevent sin from degrading the soul, there could be no moral certainties any where in the moral universe. All would be eternal suspense and unutterable uncertainty. Better a thousand times annul gravitation and allow all material worlds to rush into conglomerate ruin, than to annul the indissoluble connection between wickedness and woe. Such a procedure could not fail to fill heaven, to fill the universe, and to all eternity, with night, chaos and despair. "If the light in us becomes darkness, how great is that darkness?" inquires our Lord. The question now arises, Are these inevitable consequences of sin to be regarded as divine penalties? Penalty is suffering inflicted by rightful authority for the violation of law. God does inflict penalties upon individuals and nations. He does this for punishment, for discipline, for correction, and for example for the warning of others. He does this to subserve his temporary purposes, and his great world-plans. But all such penalties are merely reformatory. They imply a capacity of improvement in those who are exercised thereby. But beyond the natural consequences of wickedness, there are no penalties beyond the grave. After probation, God never punishes a soul. He does not inflict endless penalties upon the incorrigible. They inflict them upon themselves. The punishment of the disobedient is the mere working out of natural and necessary law. Hell is the inevitable result of persistent wickedness. Banishment from God, is the necessary consequence of soul degradation. If a man is bad, he is miserable and degraded, without any wish or efficiency or interference of Deity entering into that wretchedness. The consequences of disobedience do not flow from the divine wish or the divine arrangement, but from the deep necessities of the nature of the case. Into the endless curses of sin not a single element of divine volition or of divine satisfaction can ever enter. That God is gratified over the agonies of ruined souls is self-contradictory. There is not a sting in the suffering of the lost, God ever voluntarily put there. The eternal consequences of sin, is not the dogma of divine arbitrariness. It need no divine intervention, to avenge in us violations of law. Sin, in its awfulness, has its revenge which never can be satisfied. "Every action," says Jean Paul Richter, "becomes more eternally an eternal mother than an eternal daughter." The soul disciplined in persistent wickedness, petrified in depravity, instinctively hides from God, and plunges wildly out into outer darkness, where she cannot hear the ineffably tender tones of his voice, or behold the glorious visions of her Creator. The sufferings of the lost, come moaning up from the depths of his own depraved and ruined nature. Omniscience cannot make a being happy who loves what God hates. Omnipotence cannot force blessedness into a soul that has lost its desire to be holy. If God cannot prevent the natural consequences of sin, his benevolence can in no way be impeached therefor. He cannot prevent sin destroying the nature in which it reigns triumphant. And the possibility of sinning is necessarily involved in freedom. Man has a capacity for decision, and decision is a necessity to him. But these are not penalties. Theologians have insisted that God inflicts positive suffering upon the finally impenitent. This is because the ultimate ground of immutable rightness had not yet been discovered. Any system of philosophy or theology that makes the ultimate ground of rightness either a sensibility or a subjectivity, or that makes the mere arbitrary will of God the foundation of a moral government, cannot fail to mislead as to the proper conception of the penalties of violated law. And the moment you conceive that the divine government rests upon the mere arbitrary will of an infinitely benevolent Being, you are logically coerced to pluck the final sting from all future suffering. You are forced by reason to open wide the doors of eternal hope to the incorrigible. But a clear apprehension of the ultimate reason of rightness dispels from the Bible and from theology all the positive inflictions of suffering upon the finally impenitent.
Moral government is the control of moral beings by rightful authority in the person of the ruler. But all moral government is pillared upon immutable rightness. Nothing, therefore, in moral government depends upon the mere arbitrary will of the infinite Executive. Benevolence, goodness, mercy can no more move God from rightness, on the one hand, than injustice, caprice, or favoritism could move him on the other. If God's benevolence could induce him to bless some persons unjustly, we could have no assurance that pure caprice might not incline him to blast others with an equal injustice.
The disobedience of moral agents puts to the test Gods justice, firmness, authority and devotion to immutable rightness. The disobedient must not be permitted to disturb the peace and work and missions of the obedient millions. They must be prevented from ever permanently disturbing the blissful devotions and employments of celestial worlds. They must be held, where they will injure the moral universe the least possible. God is required by his absolute perfect rectitude to see that the disobedient are held in everlasting chains, and that the obedient are kept separate and sacred from their demoniacal presence and influence. If the Scriptures in such expressions as Depart from me, ye that work iniquity, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, seem to attribute infliction of penalties to the mere will of God, it is simply because immutable rightness imperiously requires it of him as the administrator of his moral universe. "The Scriptures, says Bishop Butler, ascribe punishment to the divine justice which we know to be the natural consequences of wickedness. As immutable rightness and the consequences of its violation are independent of the will of God, the duty of its enforcement can never be optional with him. All that is positive in retribution is the execution of that which rightness inexorably requires. And all that rightness requires is that the incorrigible shall be held under restraint and kept from disturbing the devotees of holiness and obedience.
Gods procedure in probation is to encourage virtue by benefits and discourage vice by sufferings. He does this to discipline men, if possible, out of wrong-doing. Under a remedial dispensation there is nothing incompatible in this. But this procedure never obtains in perdition. God does by way of earnest warnings announce to men the inevitable consequences of persistence in sin which await the disobedient in eternity. The wretchedness of the wicked is just as natural and just as inevitable as the happiness of the obedient. There is no mystery about either. The two classes cannot occupy the same place because their characters are different, their experiences are different, their affinities are different, and they can have no possible sympathy with each other. Those who have degraded themselves by persistent, willful sin must, in the nature of the case, be separated and kept separate from all the pure and holy in heart. God must make a separation between him that serveth him, and him that serveth him not. Accordingly our Lord says, Matt. XIII, 41, The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Regarding the endless consequences of incorrigibility, as penalties inflicted by the arbitrary will of the ruler is the fallacy through which destroying angels are entering and paralyzing the Church of Christ. God cannot prevent perdition.
Many considerations render the doctrine of the future unhappiness of the wicked necessary for the consistency of the system of revealed truth. No other necessity can justify the incarnation of the Son of God, or put significance into the great atonement, or subjugate the depraved will to the divine will. The kingdom of heaven is never entered save through the violence inaugurated through a conviction of this awful truth of future and endless loss. Fear of perdition is really the incipiency of all holy lives. Belief in the unending consequences of sin is essential to persistency and earnestness on the part of the Church, in holy living and in evangelizing a ruined sin-cursed world. Nothing but this moving fear can perpetuate the militant church of Christ, antagonized as it is by the world, the flesh and the devil. Observation impressively and uniformly shows that those persons who embrace Universalism, annihilation, final restoration or aeonism, without the influence of early indoctrination in contrary religious teachings are sadly wanting in zeal in saving souls from sin. And as to their own spirituality they are alarmingly indifferent. The remarkable apathy of those who advocate eternal hope as to the salvation of a ruined world urges upon us the great importance of a theology, that shall make plain and obvious the inevitable and endless consequences of incorrigibility. But the essential scripture doctrine of the endless separation of the incorrigible from the presence and favor of God is completely overthrown by the dogma of absolute prescience.
Though it is as certain as divine revelation can make it, that God does not, for reasons known only to himself, annihilate the fallen angels; and though one of the most earnest of the Universalists, John Foster, affirms that the holy Scriptures are against Universalism, the Universalist affirms that an infinitely benevolent being could not create beings who he foreknew as a matter of fact would be eternally miserable. This argument has never yet been satisfactorily answered. I do not believe it ever can be answered, if absolute prescience be assumed. Universalism, with its variety of cognate errors, such as eternal hope, final restoration, aeonism and annihilation of the wicked, will certainly obtain and increase in the world, paralyzing Christianity and ruining souls, just so long as absolute prescience is believed and maintained by the Church.
The first living woman in the Protestant Episcopal Church advocates the ultimate holiness and happiness of all mankind. The woman who exerts more influence on all the Christian Churches of this Nation than any other believes in final restoration. And the tetanic rigidity of Andover Calvinism has just elected to one of its theological chairs Dr. Newman Smyth, who, the "Cincinnati Gazette" says, is not sure that the punishment of the wicked is to be unending, and who approximates to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Æonism holds that to affirm the ending of punishment is to fall short of Scripture, and to affirm its endlessness is to go beyond Scripture. I think it would be doing Dr. Smyth no injustice to classify him among this recent school of theologians. So long as he believes fore-ordination or foreknowledge, and traces logical links, eschewing absurdities, and keeps his intellect even tinged with the notion of mercy, he cannot escape this erroneous conclusion which is so dc-energizing to the depraved will. You are authorized to censure Dr. Smyths premises, but not his intellectual processes; they are inevitable if you admit the dogma of prescience. But upon this awful subject, how much wiser, more restraining and more energizing are the teachings of Dr. Orville Dewey, one of the serenest lights Unitarianism has ever produced, than are the hurried meditations of the gifted and excellent Canon Farrar. I read Dr. Dewey upon this subject many years ago, and his thoughts have exerted a most powerful influence upon my life and conversation. He says, The final suffering of a guilty mind wherever and whenever it comes must be great. This is the clearest of all truths, relative to the punishment of sin. Even experience teaches us this, and Scripture, with many words of awful warning, confirms the darkest admonitions of our experience. If sin is not repented of in this life, then its punishment must take place in a future world. Of all the unveiled horrors of a future state, nothing seems so terrific as the self-inflicted torture of a guilty conscience. It will be enough to fill the measure of his woe that the sinner shall be left to himself; that he shall be left to the natural consequences of his wickedness. There are no agents in the world to work out the misery of the soul like its own fell passions; not the darkness, the fire, the flood or the tempest. Nothing within the range of our conceptions can equal the dread silence of conscience, the calm desperation of remorse, the corroding of ungratified longings, the gnawing worm of envy, the bitter cup of disappointment and the blighting curse of hatred. The Scriptures were intended to leave on the mind the impression of some vast and tremendous calamity without informing us precisely what it is. They reveal our future danger, whatever it be, for the purpose of alarming us, and, therefore, to speculate on this subject in order to lessen our fear of sinning involves the greatest hazard and impiety.
There is a high moral use of the awful revelation of the powers of the world to come. It was intended and it is eminently fitted to awaken fear. And, after all that has been said, I hesitate not to add, that we are in no danger of really believing too much. I maintain that every man should fear all that he can fear, and I actually hold a belief that affords the fullest scope for such feeling. It is not of so much consequence that any one should use fearful words on this subject, or violently contend for them, as that he himself should fear and tremble. What the retribution of a sinful soul is we do not know, but we know that such terms and phrases as the wrath to come, the worm that dieth not, the fire that is not quenched, the blackness of darkness, the fiery indignation, the destruction of both soul and body in hell, import what is fearful, and were intended to inspire a salutary dread. We know not what it is, but we have heard of one who lifted up his eyes, being in torment, saw the regions of the blessed afar off, and cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, for I am tormented in this flame. We know not what it is, but we know that the finger of inspiration has pointed awfully to that world of calamity; we know that inspired prophets and apostles, when the interposing vail has been for a moment drawn before them, have shuddered with horror at the spectacle; we know that the Almighty himself has gathered and accumulated all the images of earthly distress and ruin, not to show us what is the retribution of a sinful soul, but to warn us of what it may be; that he has spread over this world the deep shadows of his displeasure, leaving nothing to be seen and every thing to be dreaded. And thus has he taught us, what I would lay down as the moral of these observations and of all my reflections upon the subject, that it is not our wisdom to speculate, but that it is our wisdom to fear, for as I have said we are in no possible danger of believing too much relative to the awful theme and doctrine of future punishment. If fore-ordination and foreknowledge do not abandon their ground, Universalism will wave her scepter in triumph over all the ramparts of the republic of theologic thought. When that occurs the redemption of the race will be abandoned, and Jesus Christ will weep over his great failure to redeem a lost and fallen world. Christianity is a system of stern self-denial, self-sacrifice, and earnest life-long activities. No one will ever submit to this uncompromising system, engrossing all energies, who questions the existence of that utter outer darkness down into whose awful depths Jesus Christ so often, so solemnly and so feelingly pointed his warning hand.
If Christianity would survive as a life, as an aggressive force and as a transforming power in the earth, the Church must never cease declaring that the wicked must be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power. Let the ministry cease preaching eternal death, as the necessary consequences of incorrigibility, and its conversions, if any at all, will be superficial. They will be without deep and thorough regeneration of soul, and without reformation of life. The membership enrolled by such preaching wi11 be inactive and worldly, and their piety will be easy and ineffectual. The doctrine of the eternal separation of the wicked underlies all the earnest piety and spirituality of the Church. Without it all is illogical in theology, and all is effeminacy in Christian zeal, endeavor and endurance. But absolute prescience, and endless sufferings of individual souls are propositions perfectly and notoriously incompatible. The creation of immortal beings foreknown to be wicked, and interminably wretched can never be justified by any process of thought, either human or divine.
Dr. Minor Raymond says that this great perplexity may be escaped by supposing that any condition of existence that infinite goodness wil1 permit is better than non-existence, or by modifying everlasting punishment to be something less than an endless consciousness of absolute unmixed wretchedness;" or by questioning "whether it were not better to affirm the total extinction of consciousness in the finally incorrigible than to deny the prescience of God ?" But all of these subterfuges are wholly without even countenance, in divine revelation. We had better leave a stalwart difficulty than to overthrow divine revelation in our efforts to remove it. Why God does not remove from the cradle to the grave one foreknown to be a desperado is a question, says Archbishop Whately, which has never been answered by any religion, natural or revealed. If God can foresee pure contingencies with absolute certainty, he now sees that that innocent being will become a wicked outcast, pile regrets upon itself, break the hearts of all its friends, and then be forever miserable. If he allow it to remain, how can we defend, or proclaim, his infinite benevolence? Gods moral character is infinitely dear to him, and hence he will not do, say, or teach any thing that would furnish a logical necessity for candid criticism upon his holiness. Were nescience of contingencies an imperfection, it would be infinitesimal to the imperfections prescience necessitates in the character of Jehovah. If we cling to prescience we must either surrender the moral character and goodness of Deity, or abandon the endless loss of the soul. If we abandon the teaching, that sin separates the soul eternally from its Creator in a state of conscious existence, Christianity cannot survive as a living reality for a century. And the human race will commit suicide, as it was ready to do on the advent of our Lord, in less than two hundred years after the annihilation of the Christian religion as a life and an aggressive power.
A theology that is fallacious in its fundamental assumptions, must inevitably lead to infidelity. Foreordination and foreknowledge render the irreversible eschatology of the Bible utterly indefensible and unbelievable. This fact overthrows prescience and demonstrates divine nescience of future contingencies to be a necessity alike to logic and to any admissible thought-system.