Fifth Edition - 1875CHAPTER X
IN the predicted extinction of evil we have another conclusive proof of the truth of our theory as opposed to that of Augustine. Evil is not to be eternal. We are told in God's Word that it had a beginning, and will have an end. Neither the Manichaeism of Manes, asserting for evil an eternal past and future. nor the Semi-Manichaeism of Augustine, asserting for it an eternal future, is true, God has pledged His Word and His power that it shall be abolished and destroyed. He has promised a "restitution of all things" by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. A time shall come when all things will be once more very good; when iniquity shall have an end; when the pure eyes of God shall no more be offended by its sight. A time shall come when they who would not glorify God shall be silent in darkness; and when everything that has breath shall praise the Lord.1
2. So plainly is the end of evil insisted on in Scripture that men of the most opposite opinions on the question of future punishment are forced to maintain that according to their system evil is truly and really brought to an end. It is one of the fundamental bases of the theory of universal restoration. It also forms one of the grand supports for our theory of destruction. "The day is at hand," says the Epistle of Barnabas, "when all things shall perish with the evil one;" when "he who chooseth other things (than the judgments of the Lord) shall be destroyed with his works.'"At the end of time," says Irenaeus, "Christ shall come to do away with all evil, and to reconcile all things, in order that there may be an end of all infirmities." Even the maintainers of eternal evil are fain to teach that their system brings evil to an end. Thus Tertullian reasons against Hermogenes, that for God "to bear with evil instead of extirpating it" would "prove Him to be the promoter thereof; criminally, if through his own will; disgracefully, if through necessity:" and he lays it down as beyond a question that "there is to be an end of evil." 2
3. But the system of Augustine, let its defenders argue or assert as they may, is here at direct issue with Scripture. The theory of eternal life in hell contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible upon this point. It denies the restitution of all things; it asserts that evil shall be eternal in God's world; and that iniquity shall never have an end. It tells us that God's eyes shall throughout eternity be offended with the sight of evil, and His ears pained with the sounds of blasphemy. It denies that the wicked will ever be silent in darkness, and that everything that has breath shall praise the Lord. It sets apart a portion of God's universe, not for the destruction of evil, but for its everlasting preservation. According to many of its advocates, evil will go on increasing throughout eternity in the continued sin and blasphemy of fallen angels and men; and according to others these will receive constant accession to their numbers from the ranks of other races; so that it may become doubtful whether good or evil predominates in a world over which an omnipotent and holy God is allowed by these men to reign. 3
4. For the theory of Augustine does not in any true or intelligible sense put an end to evil. It merely removes it from one part of God's world to another, and, as a direct consequence of this removal, intensifies it in its new habitation. "There is to be an end of evil," says Tertullian, "when the chief thereof, the devil, shall go away into the fire which God hath prepared for him and his angels." Strange end of evil! As if evil was terminated by its change of locality, or as if evil was no evil when it was in hell! This is no restitution of all things. It is not true that all things are once more very good while any portion of God's creatures are in rebellion against his will. Hell, wherever it lie, is as much a part of God's world as earth or heaven; and all would not be very good in God's world, if there were in any part of it, however remote, such a hell as Augustine has pictured, a fearful place filled with teeming myriads of fallen spirits and men throughout eternity blaspheming the God of the whole universe.
5. Our theory fully answers the requirements of Scripture. It teaches a restitution of all things, and an extinction of evil. To us it seems to do even more than this. It appears to afford a reason for what, after all, is the grand mystery in connection with evil, viz., its permission for any period in God's world. The origin of evil is accounted for by the freedom of will which belongs to all creatures of loftier nature and nobler destiny than the brutes; for wherever there is freedom of will there must be the possibility of a fall. On this point, the best thinkers have agreed. Again, the obliteration of evil is provided for in the restoration of some in their day of grace and the eternal death of all who have not thus been restored to God. The permission of evil for the period of time from the angelic fall to the final consummation of all things, is therefore the great problem to be solved in the history of evil. Faith in such a God as we have tells us that the permission of evil must have some wise gracious end in view.
"Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill."
We will now endeavour to show that such is the goal of ill, though our theory leads us to a different conclusion from that which Tennyson would fain arrive at in his exquisite "In Memoriam."
6. We must ever keep in mind the great object of punishment. With a just ruler, this object is never pain inflicted in a spirit of hatred, or pain greater than the offence deserves. With a just ruler retribution, no doubt, is an end; but it is the least end of punishment. His great end is prevention. In the punishment of offenders, he always has more regard to the law keepers than to the law breakers. Protection to the former in their lawful callings; warning to them against the imitation of crime; these are the great ends aimed at by wise and just rulers in the punishment of actual crime. Regard to these will be the great ruling motive in the regulation of punishment. Regard to these will operate most powerfully on the treatment of the criminal. At one time it will demand a sternness in punishment all but productive of actual injustice to the individual punished. Regard for society may, in another aspect, mitigate to a most serious extent the punishment, justly due to his crime. But regard to society, in all its branches and all its interests, is the grand aim in all wise human legislation on crime; and that legislator has shown the highest wisdom who, while never transgressing the limits of justice, has so arranged his penal code that it has had the greatest possible effect in protecting the law-respecting community in their minutest rights, and providing that they shall never degenerate into the condition of the law-breaking classes. All severity, short of injustice, is not only wise, but is most merciful, that has this effect.
7. Now it is in this light that we are to view future punishment, together with that long permission of evil, with all its attendant circumstances—its glitter, its pleasures, its supposed advantages, its delusiveness, its pains, which we have seen in the history of our own race; and which will doubtless in all their real bearing remain an eternal record in the annals of God's great world. To say that what we call the fall of angels was the first appearance of moral evil is to say what cannot with certainty be affirmed. All we can say with certainty is, that it was the beginning of that outburst of moral evil with which we are connected, and in which, as regards us, the redemption of Christ has interposed. Our opinion is that the outburst of evil which began with the angelic fall, and spread on to the fall of man, is positively the first, appearance of moral evil in the universe of God. But we cannot here dogmatise. What we are much more strongly persuaded of is that, if not the first, it will be the last. We know from Scripture that this outburst of evil will be obliterated and become extinct. We think we see, with almost equal certainty, that evil will break out no more.
8. But God, in dealing with the higher order of His creatures, is not dealing with lifeless matter, not with living things walking by a law of necessity, but with living creatures walking under the high and elevating, but also most perilous condition of a free will. No doubt there are difficulties connected with this question of free will; but men of the most opposite views elsewhere concur in admitting that it is the ordinance of God in His creation of the higher creatures, and that through it there is among them a possibility of the entrance of moral evil.4 Free to choose the good, and to rise on the wings of goodness to God its source, and to enjoy the immortality of God. As free, to choose the evil, and to sink beneath its weight to depths of utter darkness. Nor is this an imaginary evil, a theoretical possibility, to be discussed as a school problem, but never to be met with in reality. Angels, we know not how many, but we know that they are many, who once walked in holiness, used their free will to range themselves in opposition to God. Man, a weaker and a lower creature, yet inexperienced and unsuspecting, also uses his freewill to depart from God. And so, in these various ways, in these various shades of original guilt, sin entered into God's universe, and produced evil effects, of which we know something from what we daily hear and see, but whose full consequences are only known to God.
9. But this is not all. There is the very same possibility and danger of further fall that there ever was. It may be that the angelic world of a past creation are so fortified and strengthened by what they have already seen of the evil of sin that with them there is no moral possibility of further fall. But we have no reason for supposing that among the spheres are no creatures such as we. Nor have we the smallest reason for supposing that God has come to the limit of His creative energy and will. He is not the inactive God of an Epicurean philosophy, reposing in dreary self-satisfied contemplation. He is a God who delights to be at work; and the spirit He breathes into all is a love of work.5 Look at the earth: it affords innumerable evidences of His busy hand and brain. Look at the stars: doubtless they show the same ceaseless energy of God. But we know that He is not content with the creation only of the lower organizations. He delights to form creatures that know with a conscious love their Maker, and in this knowledge rise higher and higher; nearer and yet more near to their Source. Who can say, with any faint shadow of probability, that God will close His creation with man? Even while we write, or while we read, there may be reproducing in some distant planet, whose geological changes have come to their required perfection, the facsimile of the scene in Eden six thousand years ago. Nor can we say that it may not be ours as the ages of our blessed future roll on—our own days of marrying and giving in marriage existing only in the memory—to see what angels once saw here, a figure of noble front and faultless form rising from the earth in the majesty of perfect manhood, and God placing in his thrilling grasp the hand of woman, as lovely in face as she is innocent in mind, and saying in words that should cover with shame all who derogate from God's holy ordinance of marriage, "Increase, and multiply, and replenish the world I have given you."
10. But these races are made under free will. It may be that some of them in their beginning are no higher than we were in ours. Eve does not seem to have been before the fall much wiser than she was after it. A woman without guile, without suspicion, loving, curious, credulous. Do you reject the picture? It is not ours: it is what we see on the canvas of Scripture. Adam was apparently in much resembling many of his sons. Irenaeus calls him in the hour of his creation "as yet an infant." Ardent, hasty, impetuous, at a beautiful woman's solicitation, he threw away, with open eyes, duty and loyalty: without her he will not live; with her he will die. And what were the consequences? We read them—outside Eden, in the Deluge, at Sodom, in Potiphar's house, in the wars of Canaan, on the hill of Calvary, at the siege of Jerusalem, in the shouts of the Goths and Vandals, in the Crusader's wars, in the massacre of Bartholomew, in the snows of Russia, in the glittering scenes of heartless vanity, in the morbid passions and stunted affections of conventual imprisonment, in the gambling tables of Baden, in the lust markets of Paris and of London. We read them in our world's history of crime, and sin, and sorrow, and death.
11. Now the divine code of punishment—from the expulsion from Eden and the growth of the thistle down to the closing punishment of hell—has regard to the various, complicated, and universal interests of the higher creation, wherever it may now or will hereafter exist. It is not solely, we say it is not chiefly, for those to whom it will be said, "Depart into everlasting fire." We are by no means prepared to say that if fallen man, aye! and even fallen angels, had alone been in question, their treatment by God might not have been widely different. Had they alone been in question, we dare not confine the efforts for their recovery to those which have actually been made. Christ might in that case have taken hold of angels, instead of putting forth redemption only for the sons of Abraham. Man's day of grace might not in that case have been confined to his life here from the cradle to the grave, but grace might have followed him on from age to age, and world to world, ere it ceased to strive to win back those who had once offered to God the pure incense of a creature's praise, who had once felt the ennobling emotion of the heart's love and worship of God.
12. So it has not been. Angels fell. No saving hand was stretched from the throne to raise them up; no Son of God went forth to war for them. Man fell. The Son rose up from the place of honour, and said to His Father, "Here am I, send Me;" and He laid aside His majesty, and He emptied Himself, and He became a man, and for man He bore shame, and rejection, and the death upon the cross. "Not in vain" sounds forth the voice of grateful love, which has been growing and swelling from the small voice outside the gates of Eden, to the voice of many waters within the gates of the New Jerusalem. But, how many left behind! How many voices silent! How many pulsations of life stilled for evermore!
13. Our thoughts revert to Wellington as he saw the army of Spain crossing the Bidassoa after the retreating armies of France. By him went the flowing plumes, by him rolled the heavy guns, by him marched with dauntless breast the matchless infantry of Britain; in nobler array, in denser bands than had marched under their leader's eye at the great soldier's opening victory at Vimiera. But, few of those first soldiers are crossing into France under Wellington's eye. At various intervals they are left behind. On the first battlefield of the Peninsula, on the heights of Busaco, in the bloody struggle of Fuentes de Onoro, by the towers of Salamanca, on the breach of St. Sebastian, at Vittoria beneath the shadow of the Pyrenees, along the whole line of the victorious march, lie the bones of those who never gazed on French ground from the slopes of the mountains, or saw the spray of the waves as they broke in foam on the bar of the Bidassoa. So it will be in the great muster-roll of heaven. Many are called, few are chosen to eternal life.
14. Now, what we say is this. Doubtless with a merciful view to others—to others, perhaps, as far exceeding the number of the lost as the sands of all old ocean's shores exceed those of its smallest strand has the punishment of those consigned at the judgment to hell been decreed. In that of angels will be seen the danger of one irrevocable step, where no hand was put forth to save; where, perhaps, no wish was ever felt to return. As regards men, some in all ages, even the darkest, were saved from the effects of a step which, in their case, was not irrevocable; but how various the degrees of guilt and opportunity among others, all of whom yet endured one irrevocable sentence! To some, Christ was preached with all the circumstances that could win back the heart, with all the earnestness that could secure the love. No response came from that wilful heart; it closed up all the avenues that could lead to repentance, and went on resolutely to perdition. "But," it might be suggested, "at least there will be such an effort made; we shall not, if we fall, find ourselves ushered into a doom of which we know little beyond what some faint indistinct fears and misgivings may darkly insinuate." Yet even such, God's dealings with our race show us, may be the case. For ages, He left the generations of the world to themselves. A glimmering tradition, a darkened conscience—nature's indications of a Great Being in whom love, and justice, and judgment, and power, had each a place—these were all myriads had to guide them to the brink of that last step which each one must take, for himself and by himself, into the dark world beyond. We do not affirm or believe of the heathen that all are lost; but we do know from Scripture that as a rule their future is without hope. Light sufficient to condemn where it did not save; light so little as to reduce their guilt to its minimum but not to make them guiltless; and yet, with this small amount of light and of guilt, they endure the second and endless death. And who dare say, with Christ's words in his ears, that none of these lost ones would have heard and hailed to life eternal the words of Christ's Gospel if they had been addressed to them by Him who spake on the shores of Gennesaret and in the synagogues of Galilee? From Sodom and Gomorrha, from Tyre and Sidon, He tells us, souls would have sprung forth to the living call which was heard and unheeded by the callous hearts of Chorazin and Capernaum.6 But no such call was heard amid the vice of Sodom: no such call mingled with the din of the mariners of Tyre, or with the beating of its waves. They sinned without law, and they perish without law: for them it will be more tolerable than for others when they rise up to judgment; but they will not for all that escape its endless sentence.
15. We acknowledge that there is severity in this. Augustine's sentence against such is one of the blackest tyranny and injustice. Even in the scriptural sentence of death, there is severity. God tells us that He sometimes acts with severity.7†] If He had not told us so in His Word we should have known it from His other great Book of Nature, whose pages have been open to all eyes, and in which lessons of severity are read as it enters each age's records on its tablet of stone. Severity in the future world, if it be not unjust, is no argument against any religious theory. If any one will say it is, he must take his stand on atheistic ground. And poor, after all, is the assurance which Atheism can afford! Impotent to promise good, it is equally impotent to avert evil. To tell us that we are the children of blind, unreasoning, unfeeling, unhearing chance, is no Gospel. The blind power that flung us, without consent from us, on the bleak shores of this world's ocean, may fling us on bleaker shores in more inhospitable climes. If we live here without a God we may live elsewhere without one. Atheism cannot guard us from life, from misery, from evil. If here on earth are, as no doubt there are, places which may almost vie with any pictures of a future hell in their guilt, their misery, and their despair, will the Atheist tell us that such may not exist in the hereafter as well? Even for him, it is better to come back to a belief in God. But with the Theist we will allow of no argument against a theory which has in it the element of severity. Let him first eliminate severity from his Book of God, his inspired record, his infallible interpreter of Divine secrets—the roll of Nature through her mighty annals—before we will hear one word of complaint from him, that in the Christian man's book of God there is the record of severity past or to come.
16. And may we not even here see mercy beaming forth? In all judgment, we believe that God remembers mercy; and that mercy is kept full in mind in the judgment of fallen angels and reprobate men of every shade of guilt. God's higher orders of creation have all to walk along the perilous course of free will in order to attain each the end of their being. There are rocks, shoals, quicksands, in their way. Each rock has witnessed the wreck of some gallant ship; each shoal is strewn with fragments; each quicksand has swallowed up brave beating hearts. But straightway has risen up the beacon on the headland, the lighthouse on the reef, the deep-toned bell floating over the sands and sending its solemn warning across the treacherous waves; and fleets traverse in safety where now one and now another noble vessel had been dashed in pieces and gone down. We feel satisfied that we are not drawing on imagination for what we say. We know that in the path which race after race has to tread there is danger of falling. We know that called to go up higher, even to the top of God's mount, they may fall headlong. We are satisfied that in the Divine jurisprudence the welfare of the greatest number is its paramount consideration. We see the important bearing of future punishment, as it is revealed in Scripture, on this widely stretching interest of unbounded space, of eternal duration. We see how every shade of severity tells on some vast destiny of the future, from the severity which punishes where the hands had been vainly stretched out all the day long, and the pleading voice had been mocked at, to the severity which punishes where no clear voice had ever spoken, and where, if such a voice had spoken, it would have been heard. To none, no, not the least guilty, is wrong done, when God withdraws from the dim child of savage nature, or the as dim child of the dark circles which lies within the surrounding of our most vaunted civilization, the life He withdraws from the angel above Him, as from the beast scarce below Him. But to numbers without number may this act, to us bordering upon injustice, but never entering one hair's breadth within its domain, be an act of supremest mercy, love, and wisdom; for, surely, that conduct of God is most wise, most loving, most merciful, which, through a severity which the lost have ceased to feel, has made to countless others the ennobling path of free will to be as safe as to the lower creatures is their ignoble path of necessity.
17. Milton, in his "Paradise Lost," relates what he supposes may have passed in conversation between angels and our first parents before the fall. The mind of our great poet was traversing here the very line of thought which we have been endeavouring to pursue. He contemplated man, without experience, yet of necessity placed in the post of danger. Eden had its joys, its peace, its progress: it must have its peril. Among the trees yielding fruit, whose seed was in "themselves," which the earth brought forth, there were two trees of a peculiar kind. They grew together, side by side, in the midst of the garden. By the "tree of life," the emblem and pledge of safety, grew the "tree of knowledge of good and evil," the sign of a possible ruin. We know that this must be so; since man was made higher than the brutes, only a little lower than the angels. That tree of life, conferring God's immortality, could not be hung with its precious fruit unless the deadly fruit of its neighbour tree hung close by. It is only saying that Eden was to man the land of free will, and therefore of a possible immortality and of as possible a death. Under such circumstances, Milton brings before us Raphael relating to Adam the angelic fall. 8 It was the angelic architect building up before the sailor's eye the beacon on the rock. It was the ministering spirit telling one child of free will of the pitfall into which another and yet brighter child had fallen. It was without avail. As one race fell, so fell another: and down from that day to this, and from this day to the closing scene of earth's history, it has been seen, and will be seen, that the pathway of the higher creation is beset with danger. In life restored through Christ; in death incurred without Christ; this history of evil, in which the angelic and the human race are so blended and mixed up together, is concluded.
18. It may be part of our office in the coming age to point the moral of the marvellous parable to ears that will hear it with more benefit than Adam listened to the tale brought from heaven by Raphael. We can then follow out to its close what the angel could only begin. We can then intertwine with the history of the higher race the fortunes of the lower, and carry on both to their common termination. We can tell of a race that in its fall had no redemption. We can tell of a redemption that visited another fallen race, of its miracles of grace and its final victory; but also of its utter failure to save in unnumbered instances. We can tell them that not only obstinate guilt has its danger, but negligence also, inexperience, ignorance, descending as an inheritance from generation to generation, and all this is told to races rejoicing in the first flush of that life which beats tumultuously in the new-created. If the sinner's ruin is their safety, and his destruction their safeguard against loss, then even the sinner's ruin was not in vain: even his devious footsteps have not been aimless: and we can find a great and precious truth in a Scripture at which we are sometimes inclined to stumble, that "The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked, for the day of evil." The great stumbling-block, the existence of evil, will be a stumbling-block no more. Evil is seen to exist, not with Augustine to be perpetuated for ever; but to be, under the providence of the Great Sovereign and loving Father, its own eternal destruction.
19. And this conclusion of the matter will exhibit to us the limits of that free-will into whose bounds we have ventured with hesitating step to enter. We do not think we have done so without a guide more trustworthy than led Virgil through the realms of the shades or guided Dante through the regions of the lost and the saved. The free creature can defeat divine goodness for itself, but no further. His own good he may refuse, his own evil he may choose; and yet there may be designs in the great scheme of Divine Providence which in so doing he has unconsciously or unwillingly worked out. Such we know to be the case here. God maketh the "wrath of man," his sin, its end, "to praise Him." The sinner has, no doubt, defeated God's goodness for himself—thrust back the proffered hand that was full of blessing—like the sullen child retired into the darkness from the cheerful room where the fire blazed brightly, and brothers and sisters played and laughed; but he saw not a good glorious end which God brought about by this very conduct. Other worlds hear of us. Earth's drama—its gladness and its sadness, its sin and its holiness, its life and its death, its redemption embraced and rejected—is not an unconnected episode of a great poem, but is a mighty transaction of time, in which all worlds and all beings take a share— God, and angels, and men; and which is to bear with a mighty bearing upon the ages of the future. So it is represented in Scripture. The puny sceptic, blear-eyed and short¬sighted, may sneer at the thought of the trouble which our world is said to have occasioned in the councils of heaven. Not so they who stand near the throne. Angels desire to look into these things: the conversion of a sinner is joy throughout their ranks. Here, in this remotest sphere, things are doing and will be done which will tell on intelligences whose names and abodes will never reach our knowledge here. That fall of angels and men which free will made possible—that death among angels and men which the power of choice effected—may, working only by moral means, make in the glorious realms of freedom another fall and another death morally impossible. The loss of life to some, possible from their place in creation, just in the dealings of God's jurisprudence, may be pure unmitigated mercy to the greater number. The permission of evil—of evil leading to one sad result in death—may issue in another result, the eternal and undisturbed establishment of good.