Elliot Stock, 62 Paternoster Row, London 1875Preface To The Third Edition
THE present edition of this work is not a mere reprint of the last, but has been revised with the utmost care, and represents the effect of the friendly and adverse criticisms to which the two former editions have been subjected. Of the adverse notices the foremost place belongs to the thoughtful article in the Church Quarterly Review. Since, however, the able and generous writer distinctly 'eschews textual criticism and detailed argument,' and prefers to discuss the doctrine set forth only in its 'general bearings,' and under what he terms 'comprehensive views,' I have been able to derive little advantage from his labour. This book rests the question of Immortality wholly on interpretation of Scripture; and with those who decline that line of thought, the author also must decline to enter into controversy. The British Quarterly and London Quarterly Reviewers have each advanced objections to previous statements, which I have here attempted to show are either founded on misconception, or else are suggestive of amended modes of representation. Archdeacon Garbett has published some papers in the Christian Observer for 1877, which I am compelled to say, after respectful and repeated perusals, seem to me to consist chiefly of authoritative assertions, or appeals to authority, on the immortality of the soul, and which wholly avoid the discussion of weighty objections even to that tenet. A very able and generally candid anonymous writer in the Methodist Magazine of the present year, has made the most of the case on the side of traditional opinion; but, while suggesting some valuable improvements in the argument, he has avoided the discussion of the most important exegetical and theological questions. From each of these writers, however, I have learned something; and I wish to explain in this place that in order to avoid encumbering a book, intended now for popular use, with numberless footnotes and references, I have without further comment either modified or withdrawn statements in matters of detail which seem to me to have been reasonably censured. Each of my critics who cares to examine closely this edition will discover in such modification the effect of his observations, and is at liberty to conclude that, in whole or in part, I have been convinced by his criticism. While desirous of rendering justice to all opponents, I have to regret that the main argument, scriptural and complex, for the doctrine here defended has been scarcely adverted to. Reviewers have nibbled at phrases and special criticisms, but have avoided the principal questions both of interpretation and of a harmonious theology. When they do theologise, as in the remarks of the Church Quarterly and London Quarterly Reviewers, on the question whether the existing human race owes its being to law or to grace, their mutual contradictions, as I have pointed out in the proper place, might suggest to each a less confident tone of exclusive 'orthodoxy.'
In this edition will be found a new note On Jewish and Rabbinical Opinion, affixed to chapter 17.; and the substance of my recent replies to the Rev. J. Baldwin Brown's Lectures on Conditional Immortality is incorporated with the text. In again offering to the public a work of which the wider circulation must needs be fraught with consequences of incalculable moment for spiritual good or evil, I can but repeat the conviction that although, as in other revolutions of religious opinion, some evil attends change, the ultimate result will be wholly for good. It was originally written, and has now again been revised. under a deep sense of responsibility to the Most Righteous Judge Eternal; and the persuasion of truth borne in upon my own mind by the study of the Holy Scripture has now been sanctioned, not only by the confirmatory faith of many of the most learned and able critics in our generation, but by the assenting voice of a great multitude of thoughtful and devout Christian people in Europe, Asia, and America.
If the reader who cares little for scientific opinion finds the opening sections not to his taste, he can commence the perusal of this book at the fifth chapter, without serious hindrance to the understanding of the general argument. The English reader will find the occasional occurrence of Hebrew and Greek type no obstacle to his ready comprehension of the discussion. I shall conclude this preface with four notable citations. The First is from an incisive reply to Canon Liddon's sermon On Conditional Immortality, in S. Paul's Cathedral, by my friend and fellow labourer, the Rev. Samuel Minton, M.A., who, by his works on The Glory of Christ in the reconciliation of all things, The Way Everlasting, and The Harmony of Scripture, and not less by his singular ability, judgment, temper, and self-sacrifice, has made the idea that immortal life is in Christ alone a subject of general interest throughout the English-speaking world. Mr. Minton thus expresses the drift of our joint contention :— 'Scripture is silent on man's necessary immortality. It is trumpet-tongued on the other side. From beginning to end it positively labours to impress upon man that he is not an immortal, indestructible, but a dying, perishing creature; who, if he desires to inherit eternal life, must accept it as the free gift of God in Christ, and seek for it by patient continuance in well-doing. The alternatives of life and death, immortality and destruction, are incessantly put before us in every shape and form. Dogmatic assertions, warnings, promises, arguments, illustrations, and necessary inferences, are massed together in such a way that it might have been thought impossible for any human being to misunderstand them. The very object of Christ's death is again and again declared to be, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life:" yet Scripture, we are told, pre-supposes that man is absolutely imperishable, and must spend an everlasting life of some kind, whether he believes or not. It teaches that" whosoever doeth the will of God abideth for ever;" but pre-supposes that every one must abide for ever "either in weal or woe!" It teaches that "if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever;" but pre-supposes that every man must live for ever, whether he eat of it or not,—pre-supposes the "unutterably solemn fact that each one of us in this cathedral must live on for ever and ever." It teaches that "the wages of sin is death;" but pre-supposes that man's spirit is essentially deathless, and that his body having been raised from its first temporary death, can incur no second death, but must "live eternally on in weal or in woe." It teaches that the" end" of impenitent sinners "is destruction," even "everlasting destruction ;" that "like natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed," they "will utterly perish in•their own corruption;" .that they will be "cast forth as a branch and withered . . . . cast into the fire and burned, "burnt up like" chaff" with unquenchable fire; that" a fiery indignation" will "devour" them; that they "shall be cut off," and" shall not be; "that "into smoke they shall consume away;" that they shall "lose their own souls,"—"lose themselves;" all of which pre-suppose-what?—why, something that would render it absolutely impossible for any one of these things ever to occur. In fact Scripture is tortured by this human philosophy into meaning the very reverse of what it says.'
The Second Citation is from a letter with which I have been favoured by Mr. Stokes, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, and Secretary of the Royal• Society; in which he deals with the objection often made that, according to us, 'the wicked are raised from the dead only to suffer,' and that this throws a dark•shadow upon the attributes of God Professor Stokes says :—
'I never could share in the difficulty which some seem to feel heavily, regarding the doctrine of life in Christ, on the ground that, on that supposition, the raising again of the wicked, which Scripture unequivocally teaches, would be an act of cruelty on the part of God. The difficulty seems to me to be based on the assumption that the sole object of their resurrection was that they might be punished. Even if it were so, I think it could be shown to be consistent with, or even conceivably required by, a scheme in which mercy and justice are blended together; but it appears to me that Scripture represents judgment (kriðsiv), the display to the whole rational creation of the justice of the ways of God, rather than punishment as such (kriðma), as the primary object, so to speak, of the resurrection of the unjust as well as of the just. (See for instance, 2 Cor. 5:9, 'For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, in order that each man may receive the things done in the body, according to the things that he did, whether it were good or bad.' See also John 5:29; Rom. 4:12). And though to the wicked judgment will issue in condemnation, and they will receive their final doom, it is surely as easy to regard this, and whatever suffering may either accompany (see Matt. 11:22) or follow the judgment, as a necessary result of the manifestation, as it is to regard it as a consequence of a supposed immortality of the soul.'
The Third Citation is on the practical working of the traditional dogma on future retribution, from a speech by the Rev. R. Suffield.—
At a meeting held in 1873 in Sion College, an interesting paper was read by the late Lord Lyttelton, which subsequently appeared in the April number of the Contemporary Review. In the course of the debate which followed, a remarkable statement was made by the Rev. Rudolph Suffield, formerly a Roman Catholic priest. He observed that no one knew so well as a priest what was passing in other men's minds on religious subjects; and that his own opportunities of ascertaining the effect of the popular doctrine upon the minds of those who really believed it had been very considerable. At the request of one who was present, he afterwards wrote out the following abstract of the testimony which he then gave from his own experience:—
'I am bound by honour now to observe faithfully the regulations to which I was pledged when a Roman Catholic priest. I am permitted by those to be guided by the knowledge of character and results obtained from the confessional, but so as never to point things to individuals. My extensive experience for twenty years as confessor to thousands, whilst Apostolic Missionary in most of the large towns of Ehgland, in many portions of Ireland, in part of Scotland, and also in France, is, that excepting instances I could count on my fingers, the dogma of hell, though firmly believed in by English and Irish Roman Catholics, did no moral or spiritual good, but rather the reverse. It never affected the right persons; it frightened, nay tortured, innocent young women, and virtuous boys; it drove men and women into superstitious practices which all here would lament. It appealed to the lowest motives and the lowest characters; not however to deter from vice, but to make them the willing subjects of sad and often puerile superstitions. It never (excepting in the rarest case) deterred from the commission of sin. It caused unceasing mental and moral difficulties, lowered the idea of God, and drove devout persons from the God of hell to Mary. When a Roman Catholic, I on different occasions conferred on this subject with thoughtful friends among the clergy; who agreed with me in noticing and deploring the same sad results. From the fear of hell we never expected virtue, or high motives, or a noble life; but we practically found it useless as a deterrent. It always influenced the wrong people, and in a wrong way. It caused "infidelity" to some, "temptations" to others, and misery without virtue to most. The Roman Catholics are very sincere and "real;" and we found it difficult to avoid violating the conscience, when we told them to love and revere a God compromised to the creation of a hell of eternal wretchedness, a God perpetrating what would be scorned as horrible by the most cruel, revengeful, unjust tyrant on earth.'
The Fourth Citation is from the contribution of Mr. W. R. Greg (author of the Enigmas of Life) to the 'Symposium' on The Future Life, in the Nineteenth Century for October, 1877. His words are surely among the most pathetic and mournful ever written in modern literature, and prove the necessity for some further discussion of that doctrine of Christianity which enables its believers to say, 'We know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens':—
I have of course read most of the pleadings in favour of the ordinary doctrine of the Future State; naturally also, in common with all graver natures, I have meditated yet more; but these pleadings, for the most part, sound to anxious ears little else than the passionate outcries of souls that cannot endure to part with hopes on which they have been nurtured and which are intertwined with their tenderest affections. Logical reasons to compel conviction, I have met with none—even from the interlocutors in this actual Symposium. Yet few can have sought for such more yearningly. I may say I share in the anticipations of believers; but I share them as aspirations, sometimes approaching almost to a faith, occasionally and for a few moments perhaps rising into something like a trust, but never able to settle into the consistency of a definite and enduring creed. I do not know how far even this incomplete state of mind may not be merely the residuum of early upbringing and habitual associations. But I must be true to my darkness as courageously as to my light. I cannot rest in comfort on arguments that to my spirit have no cogency, nor can I pretend to respect or be content with reasons which carry no penetrating conviction along with them. I will not make buttresses do the work or assume the posture of foundations. I will not cry "Peace, peace, when there is no peace." I have said elsewhere and at various epochs of life why the ordinary "proofs" confidently put forward and gorgeously arrayed" have no help in them;" while, nevertheless, the pictures which imagination depicts are so inexpressibly alluring. The more I think and question the more do doubts and difficulties crowd around my horizon and cloud over my sky. Thus it is that I am unable to bring aid or sustainment to minds as troubled as my own, and perhaps less willing to admit that the great enigma is, and must remain, insoluble.'
It remains only to add that in preparing the present edition I have been again much indebted to the revising accuracy of my friend Dr. Emmanuel Petavel of Geneva, the leading advocate of the same views on the continent of Europe; and also for some valuable suggestions to the Rev. Charles Byse, of Bex, Canton de Vaud, who has kindly undertaken a French translation of these pages, which will be published at Geneva in 1878.
E. W. December, 1877.