§ 1. The General Resurrection. § 2. The Final Judgment. § 3. The End of the World.
§ 4. The Kingdom of Heaven. § 5. The Theory of the Pre-millennial Advent.
§ 6. Future Punishment.
THE events which according to the common doctrine of the Church are to attend the second coming of Christ, are first, the general resurrection of the dead; second, the final judgment; third, “the end of the world;” and fourth, the consummation of the kingdom of Christ.
§ 1. The General Resurrection.
That there is to be a general resurrection of the just and of the unjust, is not, among Christians, a matter of doubt. Already in the book of Daniel xii. 2, it is said, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as stars for ever and ever.” This prediction our Lord repeats without any limitation. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are it the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John v. 28, 29.) Again: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations.” (Matt. xxv. 31, 32.) Paul, in his speech before Felix (Acts xxiv. 15), avowed it as his own faith and that of his fathers that “there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” John (Rev. xx. 12, 13) says: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out ot those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead which were in them.”
The Time of this General Resurrection.
The uniform representation of Scripture on this subject is that this general resurrection is to take place “at the last day,” or, at the second coming of Christ. The same form of expression is used to designate the time when the people of Christ are to rise, and the time when the general resurrection is to occur. The Bible, if the doubtful passage Revelation x. 4-6 be excepted, never speaks of any other than one resurrection. The dead, according to the Scriptures, are to rise together, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. When Christ comes, all who are in their graves shall come forth, some to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of damnation. When in 1 Thessalonians iv. 16, it is said, “The dead in Christ shall rise first,” it does not mean that there are to be two resurrections, one of those who are in Christ, and the other of those who are not in Him. The Apostle is speaking of a different subject. He comforts the Thessalonians with the assurance, that their friends who sleep in Jesus shall not miss their part in the glories of the second advent. Those then alive should not prevent, i. e., precede, those who were asleep; but, the dead in Christ should rise before those then living should be changed; and then both should be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The parallel passage is in 1 Corinthians xv. 51, 52, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
In 1 Corinthians xv. 23, 24, the Apostle, when speaking of the resurrection, says: “Every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end.” This passage is often understood to teach that the resurrection takes place in the following order: (1.) That of Christ. (2.) That of his people. (3.) Then that of the rest of mankind. And as the resurrection of Christ and that of his people are separated by a long interval; so the resurrection of the people of God and the general resurrection may also be separated by an interval of greater or less duration. This interpretation supposes that the word “end,” as here used, means the end of the resurrection. To this, however, it maybe objected, (1.) That it is opposed to the constant “usus loquendi” of the New Testament. The “end,” when thus used, always elsewhere means the end of the world. In 1 Peter iv. 7, it is said: “The end of all things is at hand.” Matthew xxiv. 6, “The end is not yet;” verse 14, “Then shall the end come.” So in Mark xiii. 7, Luke xxi. 9. In all these passages the “end” means the end of the world. (2.) The equivalent expressions serve to explain the meaning of the term. The disciples asked our Lord, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world?” In answer to that question Christ said that certain things were to happen, but, “the end is not yet;” and afterwards, “then cometh the end.” (Matt. xxiv. 3, 6, 14.) The same expression occurs in the same sense, Matthew xiii. 39, xxviii. 20, and elsewhere. (3.) What immediately follows in verse 24, seems decisive in favour of this interpretation. The end spoken of is when Christ shall have delivered up his kingdom; that is, when the whole work of redemption shall have been consummated. (4.) It is further to be remarked that in 1 Corinthians xv. Paul does not make the slightest reference to the resurrection of the wicked, from the beginning to the end of the chapter. The whole concerns the resurrection of believers. That was what the errorists in Corinth denied; and that was what the Apostle undertook to prove to be certain and desirable. Christ certainly rose from the dead; so all his people shall rise; but each in his order; first, Christ, then they who are Christ’s; then comes the end; the end of all things. To make this refer to another and general resurrection, would be to introduce a subject entirely foreign to the matter in hand.
Meyer, althongh he makes te,loj in the 24th verse refer to the resurrection, nevertheless says1 “That it is the constant doctrine of the New Testament (leaving the Apocalypse out of view), that with the coming of Christ the ‘finis hujus saeculi’ is connected, so that the Second Advent is the termination of the ante-messianic, and the commencement of the future world-period.”
Luthardt says,2 “Then, not before the resurrection, . . . comes the end; the end, not of the resurrection, that is the resurrection of others than believers, but the absolute end; the end of history.” Whether the end of all things is to follow the resurrection of believers immediatly, or long afterwards, is, in his view, a different question. He admits that the common view is that the coming of Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, the end of the world, and the new heavens and new earth, are to occur contemporaneously. His own view is different.
That the New Testament does teach that the general resurrection is to occur at the time of the Second Advent appears: —
1. From such passages as the following; In the passage in Daniel, quoted above, it is said, that the righteous and the wicked are to rise together; the one to life, the other to shame and everlasting contempt. This passage our Lord reiterates, saying that “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John v. 28, 29.) In Matthew xxv. 31, 32, it is said, that when the Son of Man shall appear in his glory all nations shall stand before him. The same is said in Revelation xx. 12, 13. In 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, it is taught that when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, it will be to take vengeance on those who obey not the Gospel, and to be glorified in all them that believe. In all these passages the resurrection of the righteous is declared to be contemporaneous with that of the wicked.
2. There is another class of passages which teach that the resurrection of the righteous is to take place at “the last day,” and, therefore, not a thousand years before that event. Thus Martha, speaking of her brother Lazarus, said, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John xi. 24.) Our Lord, in John vi. 39, says that it is the Father’s will “that of all which He hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” This declaration is repeated in verses 40, 44, 54, comp. xii. 48: “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” It is true that the expressions “the last time,” “the last day,” “the end of days,” “the end of the world,” are often used very indefinitely in Scripture. They often mean nothing more than “hereafter.” But this is not true with the phrase evn th/| evsca,th| h`me,ra| as used in these passages. “In thelast day,” is a known and definite period. It is to be remembered also that what is predicted to happen on “the last day,” is elsewhere said to take place when Christ shall appear in his glory.
3. A third class of passages teach that the resurrection of the saints is to take place at the day of judgment and in connection with that event. According to the common representations of Scripture, when Christ shall come the second time, the dead are to rise, all nations are to be judged, and the present order of things is to cease. The heavens are to retain Christ, “until the time of restitution of all things.” (Acts iii. 21.) This avpokata,stasij “die Wiederherstellung aller Dinge in ihren fruhern vollkommnern Zustand,”3 the restoration of all things to their original perfect condition. “This consummation may be called a ‘restitution,’ in allusion to a circle which returns into itself, or more probably because it really involves the healing of all curable disorder and the restoration to communion with the Deity of all that He has chosen to be so restored. Till this great cycle has achieved its revolution, and this great remedial process has accomplished its design, the glorified body of the risen and ascended Christ not only may, but must, as an appointed means of that accomplishment, be resident in heaven, and not on earth.”4
The general resurrection is represented as connected with the final judgment, in Matthew xxiv. 30, 31, and xxv. 31-46, 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, and elsewhere. On this point Dr. Julius Muller says: “It is the plain doctrine of Scripture that the general resurrection of the dead contemporaneous with the transfignration of believers then living on earth is to occur at the end of the world (or of history), at the reappearance of Christ for judgment and for the glorification of his kingdom. . . . With this consummation of Christ’s kingdom, and the therewith connected avpolu,trwsij tou/ sw,matoj h`mwn avpo. doulei,aj th/j fqora/j, the Apostle, in the profound passage, Romans viii. 19-23, sets forth, as also connected with these events, the renovation of the nature of the earth and its exaltation to a participation in the glory of the children of God. As the body of man stands in intimate relation with nature, . . . it is scarcely possible to form any idea of the resurrection of the body . . . . without assuming a corresponding exaltation of the external world as the theatre of his new life. This renovation of nature, the new heavens and the new earth, takes for granted, according to the Apostle, the destruction of the world as it now is.”5 With these views, which accord with the common doctrine of the Church, Lange avows his entire agreement.6
The only passage which seems to teach that there is to be a first and second resurrection of the body, the former being confined to martyrs and more or fewer of the saints, and the latter including “the rest of the dead,” is Revelation xx. 4-6. It must be admitted that that passage, taken by itself, does seem to teach the doctrine founded upon it.
1. it is a sound rule in the interpretation of Scripture that obscure passages should be so explained as to make them agree with those that are plain. It is unreasonable to make the symbolic and figurative language of prophecy and poetry the rule by which to explain the simple didactic prose language of the Bible. It is no less unreasonable that a multitude of passages should be taken out of their natural sense to make them accord with a single passage of doubtful import.
2. It is conceded that the Apocalypse is an obscure book. This almost every reader knows from his own experience; and it is proved to be true, the few who imagine it to be plain to the contrary notwithstanding, by the endless diversity of interpretations to which it has been subjected. This diversity exists not only between commentators of different classes, as rationalistic and orthodox, but between those of the same class, and even of the same school. This remark, which applies to the whole book, applies with special force to the passage under consideration.
3. The Bible speaks of a spiritual, or figurative, as well as of a literal resurrection. This figure is used both in reference to individuals and in reference to communities. The sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, is said to be quickened and raised again in Christ Jesus. (Rom. vi. and Eph. ii.) Whole communities when elevated from a state of depression and misery, are in prophetic language said to be raised from the dead. (Rom. xi. 15; Is. xxvi. 19.) “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Ez. xxxvii. 12.) “I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” More than this, Elisa is said to have lived again in John the Baptist; and, according to a common interpretation, the two witnesses spoken of in the Apocalypse are Moses and Elias, who are to rise not in person, but as represented by men filled with the same spirit, endued with similar gifts, and called to exercise the same offices. It would, therefore, not be inconsistent with the analogy of prophecy if we should understand the Apostle as here predicting that a new race of men were to arise filled with the spirit of the martyrs, and were to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. According to Hengstenberg, the Apostle saw the souls of the martyrs in heaven. There they were enthroned. This was their first resurrection. “There can be no doubt,” he says, “that by the first resurrection we are here primarily to understand that first stage of blessedness.”7
4. John does not say that the bodies of the martyrs are to be raised from the dead. He says: “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.” The resurrection of the dead is never thus spoken of in Scripture. There is a sense in which the martyrs are said to live again, but nothing is said of their rising again from their graves. The first resurrection may be spiritual, and the second literal. There may be a time of great prosperity in the Church, in which it will be a great blessing to participate. It is said that there is no force in this argument, as the Apostle does not speak of a resurrection of souls. He simply says he saw the souls of the martyrs; as in chapter vi. 9, it is said: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God.” The prophet, according to xx. 4, first saw the martyrs in the state of the dead, and then he saw them alive. The argument, however, is not founded merely on the use of the word “souls,” but on the fact that the resurrection of the dead is never spoken of in the Scriptures in the way in which the living again of the martyrs is here described.
5. The common millenarian doctrine is, that there is to be a literal resurrection when Christ shall come to reign in person upon the earth, a thousand years before the end of the world, and that the risen saints are to dwell here and share with Christ in the glories of his reign. But this seems to be inconsistent with what is taught in 1 Corinthians xv. 50. Paul there says: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” It is here expressly asserted that our bodies as now constituted are not adapted to the state of things which shall exist when the kingdom of God is inaugurated. We must all be changed. From this it follows that the spiritual body is not adapted to our present mode of existence; that is, it is not suited or designed for an earthly kingdom. Luthardt admits this. He admits that the renovated, or transfigured, body of necessity supposes a renovated earth. He admits also that when the bodies of believers are thus changed they are to be caught up from the earth, and are to dwell with Christ in heaven. When Christ appears, his people are to appear with Him in glory. Bengel, and after him others, endeavour to reconcile these admissions with the theory of an earthly kingdom of glory, by assuming that risen saints are, to rule this kingdom, not from the literal Jerusalem, but from heaven. This, however, is to introduce an extra-scriptural and conjectural idea.
6. It has already been said, when speaking of the restoration of the Jews to their own land, that this whole theory of a splendid earthly kingdom is a relic of Judaism, and out of keeping with the spirituality of the Gospel.8
All this is said with diffidence and submission. The interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy experience teaches is exceedingly precarious. There is every reason to believe that the predictions concerning the second advent of Christ, and the events which are to attend and follow it, will disappoint the expectations of commentators, as the expectations of the Jews were disappointed in the manner in which the prophecies concerning the first advent were accomplished.
§ 2. The Final Judgment.
The Scriptures abound in passages which set forth God as the moral ruler of men; which declare that He will judge the world in righteousness. The Bible represents Him as the judge of nations and of individuals; as the avenger of the poor and the persecuted. It abounds also in promises and in threatenings, and in illustrations of the righteous judgments of God. Nothing, therefore, is plainer than that men in this world are subject to the moral government of God. Besides this, the Bible also teaches that there is a future state of reward and punishment, in which the inequalities and anomalies here permitted shall be adjusted. According to some, this is all that the Bible teaches on the subject. What is said of the punishment of the wicked and of the reward of the righteous is to be understood in this general way. This is the doctrine of the common school of Rationalists.9 Bretschneider10admits, however, that reason has nothing to object to the Church doctrine on this subject properly understood.
A second view uf the last judgment assumes it to be a process now m progress. In the Old Testament the Messianic period is spoken of as the “last day,” “the last time,” “the end of days,” “the end of the world,” and is represented as a time of conflict and of judgment. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came, the severest judgments would fall upon the heathen, and that the chosen people would be greatly exalted and blessed. This was the day of judgment. Those who give substantially the same interpretation to the Old Testam~et prophecies, hold that the day of judgment covers the whole period between the first and second advents of Christ.
A third doctrine is that the world in its progress works out all possible manifestations of God, so that according to the stereotyped dictum of Schelling, Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht; the history of the world is the judgment of the world. Premillenarians use precisely the same words, although not in the same philosophical sense. With them “to judge” is to reign; and when Christ comes to establish his personal reign upon earth, the last judgment will begin, and “the judgment of God is the administration of the government of God.”11
A fourth theory may be mentioned. There are certain immutable laws, either independent, as some say, of the will of God, or dependent on his voluntary constitution, which secure that the righteous shall be happy and the wicked miserable; and this is all that either reason or Scripture, properly understood, teaches of rewards and punishment.
A fifth doctrine is that the day of judgment is a protracted future dispensation, as just mentioned, to commence with the second advent of Christ, and to continue during the thousand years of his personal reign upon the earth. This theory is connected with the doctrine of the pre-millenial advent of Christ.
The Church Doctrine.
By the Church doctrine is meant that doctrine which is held by the Church universal; by Romanists and Protestants in the West, and by the Greeks in the East. That doctrine includes the following points: —
1. The final judgment is a definite future event (not a protracted process), when the eternal destiny of men and of angels shall be finally determined and publicly manifested. That this is the doctrine of the Bible, is proved by such passages as the following: Matthew xi. 24, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee;” Matthew xiii. 30, “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the taxes, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn;” verse 39, “The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels;” verse 49, “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just;” John xii. 48, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day;” Acts xviii. 31, God “hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness;” Romans ii. 5, “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” and 1 Corinthians iv. 5, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” It is true that the word “day” in Scripture is often used for an indefinite period; as “the day of the Lord,” is the time of the Lord. And, therefore, it does not follow from the use of this word, that the judgment is to be commenced and ended in the apace of twenty-four hours. Nevertheless, the way in which the word is used in this connection, and the circumstances with which the judgment is connected, show that a definite and limited period, and not a protracted dispensation, is intended by the term. The appearance of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of the nations, are not events which are to be protracted through years or centuries.
2. Christ is to be the judge. John v. 22, 23, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father;” verse 27, “And hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” Peter, in Acts x. 34-43, says that God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power;” had “raised” Him from the dead “and shewed him openly,” and “commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.” Paul, in his speech on Mars Hill, tells the Athenians that God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” (Acts xvii. 31.) And in 2 Corinthians v. 10, he says, “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Our Lord says that He will say to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. v. 28; Luke xiii. 27.) In all the graphic descriptions gives in the New Testament of the process of the final judgment, Christ is represented as acting as the judge. On this point it is to be observed: (1.) That He is set forth as acting on his own authority; and not merely as the “Bevollmachter,” or plenipotentiary of God. Everywhere in the New Testament, our responsibility is said to be to Him. We are to stand before his judgment-seat. He will say, “Depart from me, ye cursed.” It is He, who is to bring every secret thing into judgment. (2.) He is qualified thus to sit in judgment on men and angels; because He is omniscient, and infinite in justice and mercy. (3.) It is especially appropriate that the man Christ Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, should be the judge of all men. He has this authority committed to Him because He is the Son of man; because, although in the form of God, and thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He humbled Himself to be found in fashion as a man. This is part of his exaltation, due to Him because He consented to become obedient unto death. It is meet that He who stood condemned at the bar of Pilate, should sit enthroned on the seat of universal judgment. It is a joy and ground of special confidence to all believers, that He who loved them and gave Himself for them, shall be their judge on the last day.
3. This judgment is to take place at the second coming of Christ and at the general resurrection. Therefore it is not a process now in progress; it does not take place at death; it is not a protracted period prior to the general resurrection. A few of the passages bearing on this point are the following: In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. xiii. 37 43), already referred to, we are taught that the final separation between the righteous and the wicked is to take place at the end of the world, when the Son of Man shall send forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that offend. This implies that the general resurrection, the second advent, and the last judgment, are contemporaneous events. The Bible knows nothing of three personal advents of Christ: one at the time of the incarnation; a second before the millennium; and a third to judge the world. He who came in the flesh, is to come a second time without sin unto salvation. Matthew xvi. 27, “The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works.” Matthew xxiv. 29-35, teaches that when the sign of the Son of Man appears in the heavens, all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, and the elect shall be gathered in Matthew xxv. 31-46 sets forth the whole process of the .judgment. When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, all nations shall be gathered before Him, and He shall separate them as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats; and then shall He say to those on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father; and to those on the left, Depart from me, ye cursed. 1 Corinthians iv. 5, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” When Christ comes, the general judgment is to occur. In 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, it is taught that when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven, it will be for the double purpose of taking vengeance on them that know not God, and of being glorified in all them that believe. In 2 Timothy iv. 1, it is said: The Lord Jesus Christ “shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom.” In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the Apostle expressly teaches that corruption cannot inherit incorruption, that our present vile bodies must be changed before they can enter the kingdom of God; and this change from the natural to the spiritual, from mortal to immortal, is to take place at the last trump; and in Philippians iii. 20, 21, he says it is to occur when Christ comes from heaven, who shall fashion our bodies like unto his own glorious body. In all these different ways it is taught that the general judgment is to take place at the second coming of Christ.
4. The persons to be judged are men and angels. In several passages already quoted it is said that Christ is to come to judge “the quick and the dead;” in others it is said, “all nations are to stand before Him;” in others, that “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ ;” in others again it is said that “He will render to every man according to his works.” This judgment, therefore, is absolutely universal; it includes both small and great; and all the generations of men. With regard to the evil angels, it is said that God “delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” (2 Pet. ii. 4.) Satan is said to be the God of this world. The conflict in which believers are engaged in this life, is with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in heaven, evn toi/j evpourani,oij. This conflict is to continue until the Second Advent, when Satan and his angels are to be cast into the pit.
The older theologians speculated on the manner in which the judgment is to be arranged, so as to admit of the countless millions of human beings who shall have lived from the beginning of the world to the final consummation being so congregated as to be all gathered before the throne of the Son of Man. The common answer to that difficulty was that the throne is to be so exalted and so glorious as to be visible, as are the sun and moons from a large part of the earth’s surface at the same time. These, however, are questions about which we need give ourselves no concern; these descriptions of the judgment are designed to teach us moral truths, and not the physical phenomena by which the solemn adjudication on the destiny of men is to be attended.
5. The ground or matter of judgment is said to be the “deeds done in the body,” men are to be judged “according to their works;” “the secrets of the heart” are to be brought to light. God’s judgment will not be founded on the professions, or the relations of men, or on the appearance or reputation which they sustain among their fellows, but on their real character and on their acts, however secret and covered from the sight of men those acts may have been. God will not be mocked and cannot be deceived; the character of every man will be clearly revealed. (1.) In the sight of God. (2.) In the sight of the man himself. All self deception will be banished. Every man will see himself as he appears in the sight of God. His memory will probably prove an indelible register of all his sinful acts and thoughts and feelings. His conscience will be so enlightened as to recognize the justice of the sentence which the righteous judge shail pronounce upon him. All whom Christ condemns will be self-condemned. (3.) There will be such a revelation of the character of every man to all around him, or to all who know him, as shall render the justice of the sentence of condemnation or acquittal apparent. Beyond this the representations of Scripture do not require us to go.
Besides these general representations of Scripture that the character and conduct of men is the ground on which the final sentence is to be pronounced, there is clear intimation in the Word of God, that, so far as those who hear the Gospel are concerned, their future destiny depends on the attitude which they assume to Christ. He came to his own, and his own received Him not; but to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God. He is God manifest in the flesh; He came into the world to save sinners; all who receive Him as their God and Saviour, are saved; all who refuse to recognize and trust Him, perish. They are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. When the Jews asked our Lord, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? his answer was, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent.” In the solemn account given of the last judgment in Matthew xxv. 31-46, the inquest concerns the conduct of men towards Christ. And the Apostle says, If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema Maranatha. The special ground of condemnation, therefore, under the Gospel is unbelief; the refusal to receive Christ in the character in which He is presented for our acceptance.
6. Men are to be judged according to the light which they have severally enjoyed. The servant that knew his Lord’s will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew it not, shall be beaten with few stripes. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Our Lord says that it shall be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for Tyre and Sidon, than for the men of his generation. Paul says that the heathen are inexcusable, because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God; and he lays down the principle that they who sin without law, shall be judged without law; and that they who have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.
7 . At the judgment of the last day the destiny of the righteous and of the wicked shall be unalterably determined. Each class shall be assigned to its final abode. This is taught in the solemn words: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
How far the descriptions of the process of the last judgment, given in the Bible, are to be understood literally, it is useless to inquire. Two things are remarkable about the prophecies of Scripture, which have already been accomplished. The one is that the fulfilment has, in many cases, been very different from that which a literal interpretation led men to anticipate. The other is, that in some cases they have been fulfilled even to the most minute details. These facts should render us modest in our interpretation of those predictions which remain to be accomplished; satisfied that what we know not now we shall know hereafter.
§ 3. The End of the World.
The principal passages of Scriptures relating to the final consummation or the end of the world, are the following: Psalm iii. 25, 26, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed.” Isaiah li. 6, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment.” Isaiah lxv. 17, “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind.” Luke xxi. 33, “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” Romans viii. 19-21, “The earnest expectation of the creature (kti,sij, creation) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” 2 Peter iii. 6-13, “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. . . . The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up. . . . Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Revelation xx. 11, “I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” Revelation xxi. 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
1. These passages are not to be understood as predicting great political and moral revolutions. It is possible that some of them might bear that interpretation; but others are evidently intended to be understood in a more literal sense. This is especially the case with 2 Peter iii. 6-13, in which the Apostle contrasts tho destruction of the world by the waters of the deluge with the destruction by fire which is still future. If the fact be established that the Scriptures anywhere clearly predict the destruction of the world at the last day, that fact becomes a rule for the interpretation of the more doubtful passages. There is nothing in this predicted destruction of our earth out of analogy with the course of nature. Stars once clearly visible in the firmament, after a brief period of unusual splendour, have disappeared; to all appearance they have been burnt up. Scientific men tell us that there is abundant evidence that the earth was once in a state of fusion; and there are causes in operation which are adequate to reduce it to that state again, whenever God sees fit to put them unto operation.
2. The destruction here foretold is not annihilation. (a.) The world is to be burnt up; but combustion is not a destruction of substance. It is merely a change of state or condition. (b.) The destruction of the world by water and its destruction by fire are analogous events; the former was not annihilation, therefore the second is not. (c.) The destruction spoken of is elsewhere called a paliggenesi,a, regeneration (Matt. xix. 28); an avpokata,stasij, a restoration (Acts iii. 21); a deliverance from the bondage of corruption (Rom. viii. 21). The Apostle teaches that our vile bodies are to be fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ, and that a similar change is to take place in the world we inhabit. There are to be new heavens and a new earth, just as we are to have new bodies. Our bodies are not to be annihilated, but changed. (d.) There is no evidence, either from Scripture or experience, that any substance has ever been annihilated. If force be motion, it may cease; but cessation of motion is not annihilation, and the common idea in out day, among men of science, is that no force is ever lost; it is, as they say, only transformed. However this may be, it is a purely gratuitous assumption that any substance has ever passed out of existence. In all the endless and complicated changes which have been going on, from the beginning, in our earth and throughout the universe, nothing, so far as known, has ever ceased to be. Of course He who creates can destroy; the question, however, concerns the purpose, and not the power of God; and He has never, either in his word or in his works, revealed his purpose to destroy anything He has once created.
Many of the old theologians, especially among the Lutherans, understood the Bible to teach the absolute annihilation of our world. Schmid12 states as the Lutheran doctrine that the world is to be reduced to nothing (in Nichts sich auflosen). He quotes Baier, Hollaz, and Quenstedt in support of this view. Quenstedt13 says: “Forma consummationis hujus non in nuda qualitatum immutatione, alteratione seu innovatione, sed in ipsius substantiae mundi totali abolitione et in nihilum reductione consistit.” Gerhard14 takes the same view: “Formam consummationis dicimus fore non nudam qualitatum alterationem, sed ipsius substantiae abolitionem, adeoque totalem annihilationem, ut sic terminus a quo consammationis sive destructionis sit ‘esse,’ terminus vero ad quem ‘non esse’ sive nihil.” He admits, however, that many of the fathers and Luther himself were on the other side. He quotes Iremeus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom, as in favour of mutation and against annihilation. Luther was wont to say: “The heavens have their work-day clothes on; hereafter they will have on their Sunday garments.” Most of the Reformed theologians generally oppose the idea of annihilation. Turrettin certainly does.15 One of his questions is: “Qualis futuris sit mundi interitus? An per ultimam conflagrationem sit annihilandus, an instaurandus et renovandus?” He argues throughout in favour of the latter.
3. The subject of the change which is to take place at the last day is not the whole material universe, but our earth and what pertains to it. (a.) It is true the Bible says: “Heaven and earth are to pass away,” and by heaven and earth the Scriptures often mean the universe; and it would therefore be consistent with the language of Scripture to hold that the whole universe is to be changed at the last day. It was natural that this interpretation should be put upon the language of the Bible so long as our earth was regarded as the central body of the universe and sun, moon, and stars as subordinate luminaries, intended simply for the benefit of the inhabitants of our world. “Wenn der Tanz,” says Strauss,16 “zu Ende ist, blast der Wirth die Lichter aus.” The case however assumes a different aspect when we know that our earth and even our solar system is a mere speck in the immensity of God’s works. It is one of the unmistakable evidences of the divine origin of the Scriptures, that they are written on such a high level that all the mutations of human science take place beneath them without ever coming into collision with their teachings. They could be read by those who believed that the sun moves round the earth, without their convictions being shocked by their statements; and they can be read by us who know that the earth moves round the sun, with the same satisfaction and confidence. Whether the heaven and earth which are to pass away are the whole material universe, or only our earth and its atmospheric heavens, the language of the Scripture leaves undecided. Either view is perfectly consistent with the meaning of the words employed. The choice between the two views is to be determined by other considerations. (b). The a priori probability is overwhelming in favour of the more limited interpretation. Anything so stupendous as the passing away of the whole universe as the last act of the drama of human history would be altogether out of keeping. (c.) The Bible concerns man. The earth was cursed for his transgression. That curse is to be removed when man s redemption is completed. The kti,sij that was made subject to vanity for man’s sin, is our earth; and our earth is the kti,sij which is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption. The change to be effected is in the dwelling-place of man. (d.) According to the Apostle Peter, it is the world which once was destroyed by water, that is to be consumed by fire. But although the predictions of Scripture concern only our earth, it does not follow that the material universe is to last forever. As it is not from eternity, it probably will not last forever. It may be only one of the grand exhibitions of the wonderful working of God in the field of infinite space, and in the course of unending ages.
4. The result of this change is said to be the introduction of a new heavens and a new earth. This is set forth not only in the use of these terms, but in calling the predicted change “a regeneration,” “a restoration,” a deliverance from the bondage of corruption and an introduction into the glorious liberty of the Son of God. This earth, according to the common opinion, that is, this renovated earth, is to be the final seat of Christ’s kingdom. This is the new heavens; this is the New Jerusalem, the Mount Zion in which are to be gathered the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; the spirits of just men made perfect; this is the heavenly Jerusalem; the city of the living God; the kingdom prepared for his people before the foundation of the world.
5. It is of course, in itself, no matter of interest wkat polion of space these new heavens and new earth are to occupy, or of what materials they are to be formed. As the resurrection bodies of believers are to be human bodies they must have a local habitation, although it be one not made with hands eternal in the heavens. All we know about it is that it will be glorious, and adapted to the spiritual bodies which those in Christ are to receive when He comes the second time unto salvation.
§ 4. The Kingdon of Heaven.
In the account given of the final judgment in Matthew xxv. 31-46, we are told that the King shall “say to those on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom we prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
1. In the Old Testament it was predicted that God would set up a kingdom, which was to be universal and everlasting.
2. Of this kingdom the Messiah was to be the head. He is everywhere in the Old Testament set forth as a king. (See Gen. xlix. 10; Num. xxiv. 17; 2 Sam. vii. 16; Is. ix. 6, 7; xi.; lii.; liii.; Mich. iv.; and Psalms ii.; xlv.; lxxii.; and cx..)
3. It is called, for obvious reasons, in the Scriptures, indifferently, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of the Son of Man (Matt. xiii. 41) and the kingdom of heaven.
4. It is described in the prophets in the most glowing terms, in figures borrowed partly from the paradisiacal state of men, and partly from the state of the theocracy during the reign of Solomon.
5. This kingdom belongs to Christ, not as the Logos, but as the Son of Man, the Theanthropos; God manifest in the flesh.
6. Its twofold foundation, as presented in the Bible, is the possession on the part of Christ of all divine attributes, and his work of redemption. (Heb. i. 3; Phil. ii. 6-11.) It is because He being equal with God, “humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” that “God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” All power in heaven and earth has been given into his hands; and all things, ta. pa,nta, the universe, put under his feet. Even the angels are his ministering spirits, sent by Him to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.
7. This messianic or mediatorial kingdom of Christ, being thus comprehensive~, is presented in different aspects in the Word of God. Viewed as extending over all creatures, it is a kingdom of power, which, according to 1 Corinthians xv. 24, He shall deliver up to God even the Father, when his mediatorial work is accomplished. Viewed in relation to his own people on earth it is the kingdom of grace. They all recognize Him as their absolute proprietor and sovereign. They all confide in his protection, and devote themselves to his service. He rules in them and reigns over them, and subdues all their and his enemies. Viewed in relation to the whole body of the redeemed, when the work of redemption is consummated, it is the kingdom of glory, the kingdom of heaven, in the highest sense of the words. In this view his kingdom is everlasting. His headship over his people is to continue forever, and his dominion over those whom He has purchased with his blood shall never end.
8. As this kingdom is thus manifold, so also it is, in some of its aspects, progressive. It is represented in Scripture as passing through different stages. In prophecy it is spoken of as a stone cut out without hands, which became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. In Daniel vii. 14, it is said of the Messiah that to Him “there was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him.” So, too, in Psalm ii. 8, it is written of Him, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for the inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession; in Psalm lxxii. 11, “All nations shall serve Him;” verse 17, “All nations shall call Him blessed;” in Psalm lxxxvi. 9, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name;” in Isaiah xlix. 6, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth;” in Habakkuk ii. 14, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea;” and in Malachi i. 11, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles.” The Scriptures abound with passages of similar import. It is not only asserted that the kingdom of Christ is to attain this umversal extension by slow degrees, but its gradual progress is illustrated in various ways. Our Lord compares his kingdom tc a grain of mustard-seed, which is indeed the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs; and to heaven which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
9. Although God has always had a kingdom upon earth, yet the kingdom of which the prophets speak began in its messianic form when the Son of God came in the flesh. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, came preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand. Our Lord Himself, it is said, went from village to village, preaching the kingdom of God. (Luke iv. 43; viii. 1.) When asked by Pilate whether He was a king, he “answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.” (John xviii. 37). The Apostles wherever they went “testified the kingdom of God.” (Acts xxviii. 23.) Their business was to call upon men to receive the Lord Jesus as the Christ, the anointed and predicted Messiah or king of his people, and to worship, love, trust and obey Him as such. They were, therefore, accused of acting contrary to “the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” (Acts xvii. 7.) Men are exhorted to seek first the kingdom of God, as a present good. It is compared to a pearl or treasure, for which it were wise for a man to sacrifice everything. Every believer receives Christ as his king. Those who receive Him in sincerity constitute his kingdom, in the sense in which the loyal subjects of an earthly sovereign constitute his kingdom. Those who profess allegiance to Christ as king constitute his visible kingdom upon earth. Nothing, therefore, can be more opposed to the plain teaching of the New Testament, than that the kingdom of Christ is yet future and is not to be inaugurated until his second coming. This is to confound its consummation with its commencement.
10. As to the nature of this kingdom, our Lord Himself teaches us that it is not of this world. It is not analogous to the kingdoms which exist among men. It is not a kingdom of earthly splendour, wealth, or power. It does not concern the civil or political affairs of men, except in their moral relations. Its rewards and enjoyments are not the good things of this world. It is said to consist in “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. xiv. 17.) Christ told his hearers, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The condition of admission into that kingdom is regeneration (John iii. 5), conversion (Matt. xviii. 3), holiness ot heart and life, for the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God; nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10; Gal. v. 21; Eph v. 5).
11. This kingdom, in the interval between the first and second advents of Christ, is said to be like a field in which the wheat and tares are to grow together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. Then “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 east them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. xiii. 41-43.) Experience concurs with Scripture in teaching that the kingdom of Christ passes through many vicissitudes; that it has its times of depression and its seasons of exaltation and prosperity. About this in the past, there can be no doubt. Prophecy sheds a snificiently clear light on the future to teach us, not only that this alternation is to continue to the end, but, more definitely, that before the second coming of Christ there is to be a time of great and long continued prosperity, to be followed by a season of decay and of suffering, so that when the Son of Man comes he shall hardly find faith on the earth. It appears from passages already quoted that all nations are to be converted; that the Jews are to be brought in and reingrafted into their own olive-tree; and that their restoration is to be the occasion and the cause of a change from death unto life; that is, analogous to the change of a body mouldering in the grave to one instinct with joyous activity and power. Of this period the ancient prophets speak in terms adapted to raise the hopes of the Church to the highest pitch. It is true it is difficult to separate, in their descriptions, what refers to “this latter day of glory” from what relates to the kingdom of Christ as consummated in heaven. So also it was difficult for the ancient people of God to separate what, in the declarations of their prophets, referred to the redemption of the people from Babylon from what referred to the greater redemption to be effected by the Messiah. In both cases enough is plain to satisfy the Church. There was a redemption from Babylon, and there was a redemption by Christ; and in like manner, it is hoped, there is to be a period of millenial glory on earth, and a still more glorious consummation of the Church in heaven. This period is called a millennium because in Revelation it is said to last a thousand years, an expression which is perhaps generally understood literally. Some however think it means a protracted season of indefinite duration, as when it is said that one day is with the bord as a thousand years. Others, assuming that in the prophetic language a day stands for a year, assume that the so-called millennium is to last three hundred and sixty-five thousand years. During this period, be it longer or shorter, the Church is to enjoy a season of peace, purity, and blessedness such as it has never yet experienced.
The principal reason for assuming that the prophets predict a glorious state of the Church prior to the second advent, is, that they represent the Church as being thus prosperous and glorious on earth. But we know that when Christ comes again the heavens and earth are to pass away, and that no more place will be found for them. The seat of the Church, after the second coming, is not to be the earth, but a new heavens and a new earth. As therefore the Scriptures teach that the kingdom of Christ is to extend over all the earth; that all nations are to serve Him; and that all people shall call Him blessed; it is to be inferred that these predictions refer to a state of things which is to exist before the second coming of Christ. This state is described as one of spiritual prosperity; God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh; knowledge shall everywhere abound; wars shall cease to the ends of the earth, and there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord. This does not imply that there is to be neither sin nor sorrow in the world during this long period, or that all men are to be true Christians. The tares are to grow together with the wheat until the harvest. The means of grace will still be needed; conversion and sanctification will be then what they ever have been. It is only a higher measure of the good which the Church has experienced in the past that we are taught to anticipate in the future. This however is not the end. After this and after the great apostasy which is to follow, comes the consummation.
12. When Christ comes again it will be to be admired in all them that believe. Those who are then alive will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye; their corruptible shall put on incorruption, and their mortal shall put on immortality. Those who are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and come forth to the resurrection of life, their bodies fashioned like into the glorious body of the Son of God. Thus changed, both classes shall be ever with the Lord.
The place of the final abode of the righteous is sometimes called a house; as when the Saviour said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John xiv. 2); sometimes “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. xi. 10.) Under this figure it is called the new or heavenly Jerusalem, so gorgeously described in the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse. Sometimes it is spoken of as “a better country, that is an heavenly” (Heb. xi. 16); a country through which flows the river of the water of life, and “on either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve Him: and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there: and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. xxii. 2-5.) Sometimes the final abode of the redeemed is called a “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Pet. iii. 13.)
As to the blessedness of this heavenly state we know that it is inconceivable: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Cor. ii. 9.)
“We know not, O we know not,
What joys await us there;
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.”
We know however: (1.) That this incomprehensible blessedness of heaven shall arise from the vision of God. This vision is beatific. It beatifies. It transforms the soul into the divine image; transfusing into it the divine life, so that it is filled with the fulness of God. This vision of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, in whom dwells the plenitude of the divine glory bodily. God is seen in fashion as a man; and it is this manifestation of God in the person of Christ that is inconceivably and intolerably ravishing. Peter, James, and John became as dead men when they saw his glory, for a moment, in the holy mount. (2.) The blessedness of the redeemed will flow not only from the manifestation of the glory, but also of the love of God; of that love, mysterious, unchangeable, and infinite, of which the work of redemption is the fruit. (3.) Another element of the future happiness of the saints is the indefinite enlargement of all their faculties. (4.) Another is their entire exemption from all sin and sorrow (5.) Another is their intercourse and fellowship with the high intelligences of heaven; with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the redeemed. (6.) Another is contant increase in knowledge and in the useful exercise of all their powers. (7.) Another is the secure and everlasting possession of all possible good. And, (8.) Doubtless the outward circumstances of their being will be such as to minister to their increasing blessedness.
§ 5. The Theory of the Pre-millennial Advent.
The common doctrine of the Church stated above, is that the conversion of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist are to precede the second coming of Christ, which event will be attended by the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the end of the world, and the consummation of the Church. In opposition to this view the doctrine of a pre-millennial advent of Christ has been extensively held from the days of the Apostles to the present time.17 According to this view, (1.) The nations are not to be converted, nor are the Jews to be restored to their standing in the Church, until the second coming of Christ. (2.) His advent is to be personal and glorious. (3.) He will establish Himself in Jerusalem as the head of a visible, external kingdom. (4.) When He comes, the martyrs, as some say, or, as others believe, all who sleep in Jesus, shall be raised from the dead and associated with Him in this earthly kingdom. (5.) The Jews are to be converted, restored to their
own land, invested with special honours and prerogatives, and made the instruments of the conversion of the world. (6.) This kingdom is to be one of great splendour, prosperity, and blessedness, and is to continue a thousand years; which, however, as stated above, is understood in different senses. (7.) After the expiration of the millennium, the general resurrection of the dead, the end of the world, and the final consummation of the Church are to occur. Such are the general features of the scheme which., with many modifications as to details, is known as the pre-millenial advent theory.
The leading objections to this doctrine have been already presented in the discussions of the several topics included under the general head of eschatology. They may be summarily stated as follows: —
1. It is a Jewish doctrine. The principles adopted by its advocates in the interpretation of prophecy, are the same as those adopted by the Jews at the time of Christ; and they have led substantially to the same conclusions. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came He would establish a glorious earthly kingdom at Jerusalem; that those who had died in the faith should be raised from the dead to share in the blessings of the Messiah’s reign; that all nations and peoples on the face of the whole earth should be subject to them; and that any nation that did not serve them should be destroyed. All the riches and honours of the world were to be at their disposal. The event disappointed these expectations; and the principles of prophetic interpretation on which those expectations were founded were proved to be incorrect.
2. This theory is inconsistent with the Scriptures, inasmuch as it teaches that believers only are to rise from the dead when Christ comes; whereas the Bible declares that when He appears all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.
3. The Bible teaches that when Christ comes all nations shall appear at his bar for judgment. This theory teaches that the final judgment will not occur until after the millennium. It may be said that the judgment is to commence at the second advent and continue during the reign of a thousand years. But the general judgment cannot occur before the general resurrection, and as the general resurrection, according to this theory, is not to take place until after the millennium, so neither can the general judgment.
4. The Scriptures teach that when Christ comes the second time without sin unto salvation, then the Church shall enter on its everlasting state of exaltation and glory. Those in Christ who have departed this life shall be raised from the dead and be clothed with their spiritual bodies, and those who are alive shall be changed in a moment, and thus they shall be ever with the Lord. According to this theory, instead of heaven awaiting the risen saints, they are to be introduced into a mere worldly kingdom.18
5. It is inconsistent with all the representations given of the glory and blessedness of departed saints, to assume that at the resurrection they are to be brought down to a lower state of existence, degraded from heaven to earth. The millennium may be a great advance on the present state of the Church; but, exalt it as you may, it is far below heaven. This argument bears, at least, against the patristic doctrine of the millennium.
6. The view presented by pre-millennarians of the kingdom of Christ on earth is, in many respects, inconsistent with the Scriptural account of its nature. (a.) It is to be a worldly kingdom. (b) Its blessedness is to consist largely in worldly prosperity. Although the modern advocates of the doctrine have eliminated the grosser elements included in the theory of many of the fathers on this subject, nevertheless the essential earthly character of the kingdom remains. Men are not to be like the angels. Births and deaths are to go on, not only during the millennium, but without end. Not that the glorified believers who have been raised from the dead are to marry and be given in marriage, but the race of men is to continue indefinitely to increase in the future as it has increased in the past.19 (c.) The Bible teaches that the distinction between the Jews and Gentiles is abolished in the kingdom of Christ. This theory teaches that after the second advent that distinction is to continue and to be made greater than ever before. The temple at Jerusalem is to be rebuilt; the sacrifices restored; and all the details of the Mosaic ritual, as described in Ezekiel, again introduced. (d.) The Bible teaches that after the end of the world, as described in 2 Peter iii. 10 and in the Apocalypse, there are to be a new heavens and a new earth. This theory teaches the “earth’s eternal perpetuity.”20 “The dissolving fires of which Peter speaks,” we are told, “are for ‘the perdition of ungodly men;’ and not for the utter depopulation and destruction of the whole world Men and nations will survive them and still continue to live in the flesh.”21
7. This theory disparages the Gospel. “The more common opinion,” says Dr. McNeile, “is, that this is the final dispensation, and that by a more copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit it will magnify itself, and swell into the universal blessedness predicted by the prophets, carrying with it Jews and Gentiles, even the whole world, in one glorious flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord. This is reiterated from pulpit, press, and platform. It is the usual climax of missionary exhortation, or rather missionary prophecy.”22 “The universal prevalence of religion hereafter to be enjoyed,” says Mr. Brooks, “is not to be effected by any increased impetus given by the present means of evangelizing the nations, but by a stupendous display of Divine wrath upon all the apostate and ungodly.”23 Wrath, however, never converted a single soul, and never will. “The Scriptures,” according to Mr. Tyso, “do state the design of the Gospel, and what it is to effect; but they never say it is to convert the world. Its powers have been tried for eighteen hundred years, and it has never yet truly converted one nation, one city, one town, nor even a single village.”24 In the work of Rev. David Brown on the Second Advent,25 abundant evidence is advanced from the writings of Mr. Brooks, Dr. McNeile, and the Rev. Mr. Bickersteth, to show that those gentlemen teach that the Scriptures “are to be superseded” in the millennium. Other means, probably, as they say, other revelations are to be made for the salvation of men. Any theory which thus disparages the gospel of the grace of God must be false. Christ’s commission to his Church was to preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven; Paul says, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation; that, though a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God; that it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe; and he plainly teaches (Rom. x. 11-15) that there is no other means of salvation. Wrath, judgments, displays of visible glory, and miracles are not designed for the conversion of souls, nor are they adapted to that end.
8. Another objection to the pre-millennial theory is the want of consistency in its advocates and the conflicting conclusions to which they come. They profess to adopt the principle of literal interpretation. They interpret literally the prophecies relating to the return of the Jews to their own land; which promise to them as a nation dominion over all the other nations of the earth, the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of the Temple-service, the greatest worldly prosperity, and even the everlasting perpetuity of their nation in the highest state of blessedness here on earth and “in the flesh.” Yet they are forced to abandon their literalism when they come to the interpretation of the prophecies which predict that all the nations of the earth are to go up to Jerusalem every month, and even on every Sabbath. And more than this, they go to the extreme of figurative or spiritual interpretation in explaining the prophecies which refer to the end of the world. The Apostle Peter says in express terms: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” This they deny. They say that it is only certain nations who are to be destroyed; that the earth is not to be depopulated; that the final conflagration will produce less change or injury than the deluge did.26
The utmost confusion also prevails in the views of pre-millennarians as to the nature of the kingdom of Christ. According to one view Christ and his risen and glorified saints are to dwell visibly on the earth and reign for a thousand years; according to another, the risen saints are to be in heaven, and not on earth my more than the angels now are; nevertheless the subjects of the first resurrection, although dwelling in heaven, are to govern the earth; according to another it is the converted Jewish nation restored to their own land, who are to be the governors of the world; according to another, the Bible divides men into three classes: the Gentiles, the Jews, and the Church of God. The prophecies relating to the millennium are understood to refer to the relative condition of the Jews and Gentiles in this world, and not to the risen and glorified believers. Another view seems to be, that this earth, changed no more by the fires of the last day than it was by the waters of the deluge, is to be the only heaven of the redeemed. Dr. Cumming and Dr. Seiss say they wish no better heaven than this earth free from the curse and from sin. The latter says:27 “My faith is, that these very hills and valleys shall yet be made glad with the songs of a finished redemption, and this earth yet become the bright, blessed, and everlasting homestead of men made glorious and immortal in body and in soul.” Still another view is that there are two heavens, one here and one above; two Jerusalems, both to continue forever, the one on earth and the other in heaven; the one made with hands, the other without hands; both glorious and blessed, but the earthly far inferior to the heavenly; they are like concentric circles, one within the other; both endless. Men will continue forever, on earth, living and dying; happy but not perfect, needing regeneration and sanctification; and, when they die, will be translated to the kingdom which is above.
It seems therefore that the torch of the literalist is an “ignis fatuus,” leading those who follow it, they know not whither. Is it not better to abide by the plain doctrinal teaching of the Bible, rather than to trust to the uncertain expositions of unfulfilled prophecies? What almost all Christians believe is: (1.) That all nations shall be converted unto God. Jesus shall reign from the rising to the setting of the sun. (2.) That the Jews shall be reingrafted into their own olive-tree and acknowledge our Lord to be their God and Saviour. (3.) That all Antichristian powers shall be destroyed. (4.) That Christ shall come again in person and with great glory; the dead shall be raised, those who have done good unto the resurrection of life, those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation; and, (5.) That the righteous clothed in their glorified bodies shall then inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked be consigned to their final doom.
Did the Apostles expect the Second Advent in their Day?
The simple facts on this subject are: (1.) That the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom was the great object of expectation and desire for the people of God from the beginning of the world. It was the great subject of prophecy and promise under the old dispensation. The ancient saints are described (as Christians now are) as those who were constantly hoping for the coming of the Lord. (Eph. ii. 12; Acts xxvi. 6, 7.) The dying thief said: “Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The last question put to our Lord by his disciples was: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel.” (2.) As the Messiah came at first as a man of sorrows, to make Himself a sacrifice for sin, He promised to come a second time without sin unto salvation, to raise the dead and to gather all his people into his everlasting home. His second coming therefore was to Christians what his first coming was to the Old Testament saints; the constant object of expectation and desire. (3.) As the time of the second advent was unrevealed either to men or angels, the early Christians hoped it might occur in their day. The Apostles themselves no doubt at first cherished that expectation. (4.) To the Apostle Paul, however, it was revealed that the day of the Lord was not to come until a great apostasy had occurred. (5.) Nevertheless as the Apostolic Christians did not know how long that apostasy was to continue, their constant prayer was, O Lord come quickiy. The Apostles continued to hold up the second advent as an impending event, the moral impression of which ought to be to raise the affections of the people from the world and fix them on the things unseen and eternal. Those who urge the fact that the New Testament writers speak of the day of the Lord as at hand, and exhort believers to watch and pray for his advent, as a proof that the Apostles believed that it might occur at once, that no events then future must come to pass before Christ came, forget that what inspired men said God said. If God, who knew that Christ was not to come for at least eighteen centuries after his ascension, could say to his people: “The day of the Lord is at hand.” “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh,” then that language was appropriate even on the assumption that tnose who used it knew that the second advent was not to occur for thousands of years; for a thousand years are with God as one day, and one day as a thousand years. The Church waited four thousand years for the fist advent; we may be content to wait God’s time for the second.28
§ 6. Future Punishment.
Our Lord in his account of the final judgment says, that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
The sufferings of the finally impenitent, according to the Scriptures, arise: (1.) From the loss of all earthly good. (2.) From exclusion from the presence and favour of God. (3.) From utter reprobation, or the final withdrawal from them of the Holy Spirit. (4.) From the consequent unrestrained dominion of sin and sinful passions. (5.) From the operations of conscience. (6.) From despair. (7.) From their evil associates. (8.) From their external circumstances; that is, future suffering is not exclusively the natural consequences of sin, but also includes positive inflictions. (9.) From their perpetuity.
There seems to be no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm. The devil and his angels who are to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, and whose doom the finally impenitent are to share, have no material bodies to be acted upon by elemental fire. As there are to be degrees in the glory and blessedness of heaven, as our Lord teaches us in the parable of the ten talents, so there will be differences as to degree in the sufferings of the lost: some will be beaten with few stripes, some with many.
The Duration of Future Punishment.
On this subject the following opinions have been held: —
1. It is assumed that the design of punishment is reformation, and that it is effective to that end. The time will, therefore, come when all sinful creatures, whether men or angels, shall be purged from all corruption, and restored to the image and favour of God. This was the doctrine of Origen in the early Church. Other restorationists rest their hope of the ultimate salvation of all men, not on the purifying effect of suffering, but on the efficacy of the death of Christ. If He died for all, they infer, all will be saved.
2. Others hold that future punishment is only hypothetically everlasting. That is, the wicked will suffer forever if they continue to sin forever. But, if the Spirit continues to strive with men m the world to come, or, as others believe, if plenary ability belongs to the very nature of a rational creature, then we may assume that some, perhaps many, perhaps all, in the course of ages, will repent and turn unto God and live.
3. Others again teach that the sufferings of the impenitent are only relatively endless; that is, it will forever be true that their condition will be inferior to what it would have been had they been better men.
4. Others hold that the life promised to the righteous is immortality, and that the death threatened against the wicked is the extinction of life, or, the cessation of conscious existence. The soul will die in the future world, just as the body dies here. It ceases to act; it ceases to feel; it ceases to be. This death of the soul is called eternal, because life is never to be restored. The punishment of the wicked is, therefore, in a sense, everlasting. It is a final and everlasting forfeiture of all good. Thus Cicero29 calls death “sempiternum malum,” and Lucretius30 speaks of a “mors immortalis.” This second death may be very painful and protracted. The finally impenitent, may, and doubtless will, suffer for a longer or shorter period, and to a less or greater degree, before the final extinction of their being. And thus there shall be a future retribution, answering all the ends of justice.31
5. The common doctrine is, that the conscious existence of the soul after the death of the body is unending; that there is no repentance or reformation in the future world; that those who depart this life unreconciled to God, remain forever in this state of alienation, and therefore are forever sinful and miserable. This is the doctrine of the whole Christian Church, of the Greeks, of the Latins, and of all the great historical Protestant bodies.
It is obvious that this is a question which can be decided only by divine revelation. No one can reasonably presume to decide how long the wicked are to suffer for their sins upon any general principles of right and wrong. The conditions of the problem are not within our grasp. What the infinitely wise and good God may see fit to do with his creatures; or what the exigencies of a government embracing the whole universe and continuing throughout eternal ages, may demand, it is not for such worms of the dust as we are, to determine. If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, all we have to do is to ascertain what it teaches on this subject, and humbly submit.
1. It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it. There is no other way in which this unanimity of judgment can be accounted for. To refer it to some philosophical speculation which had gained ascendancy in the Church, such as the dualism of good and evil as two coeternal and necessary principles, or the Platonic doctrine of the inherent immortality and indestructible nature of the human soul, would be to assign a cause altogether inadequate to the effect. Much less can this general consent be accounted for on the ground that the doctrine in question is congenial to the human mind, and is believed for its own sake, without any adequate support from Scripture. The reverse is the case. It is a doctrine which the natural heart revolts from and struggles against, and to which it submits only under stress of authority. The Church believes the doctrine because it must believe it, or renounce faith in the Bible and give up all the hopes founded upon its promises. There is no doctrine in support of which this general consent can be pleaded, which can be shown not to be taught in the Bible. The doctrines of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirits the sinfulness of men, and others of a like kind, are admitted to be Scriptural even by those who do not believe them. The argument now urged, does not suppose the Church to be infallible; nor that the authority of the Church is the ground of faith; it only assumes that what the great body of the competent readers of a plain book take to be its meaning, must be its meaning.
It is unreasonable to account for the general reception of the doctrine in question on the ground of church authority. It was universally received before the external Church arrogated to itself the right to dictate to the people of God what they must believe and it continued to be received when, at the Reformation, the authority of the Church was repudiated, and the Scriptures were declared to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Any man, therefore, assumes a fearful responsibility who sets himself in opposition to the faith of the Church universal.
2. It is admitted that the doctrine of the perpetuity of the future punishment of the wicked was held by the Jews under the old dispensation, and at the time of Christ. Neither our Lord nor his Apostles ever contradicted that doctrine. They reproved the false teachers of their day for doctrinal errors on many points, but they never corrected their faith in this doctrine. They never teach anything inconsistent with it. Their recorded instructions give no ground for a belief either of the final restoration of all rational creatures to the favour of God, or of the annihilation of the wicked. The passages which are appealed to by Universalists in support of their doctrine admit of a natural and simple interpretation in harmony with the general teaching of the Bible on this subject. For example, in Ephesians i. 10, it is said to be the purpose of God to bring into one harmonious whole (or, as it is expressed in Colossians i. 20, to reconcile unto Himself) all things, i. e., all, who are in heaven and who are on earth. The question is, who, or what are the all, who are to be reconciled unto God? This question must be answered by a reference to the nature of the thing spoken of, and to the analogy of Scripture. It cannot mean absolutely “all things,” the whole universe, including sun, moon, and stars, for they are not susceptible of reconciliation to God. For the same reason it cannot mean all sensitive creatures, including irrational animals. Nor can it mean all rational creatures, including the holy angels; for they do not need reconciliation. Nor can it mean all fallen rational creatures, for it is expressly taught, Hebrews ii. 16, that Christ did not come to redeem fallen angels. Nor can it mean all men, for the Bible teaches elsewhere that all men are not reconciled to God; and Scripture cannot contradict Scripture; for that would be for God to contradict Himself. The “all” intended is the “all” spoken of in the context; the whole body of the people of God; all the objects of redemption.
Restorationists appeal also to Romans v. 18: “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” This is made to mean, that as all men are condemned for Adam’s offence, so all men are justified for the righteousness of Christ. The same interpretation is put upon the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians xv. 22: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In both these passages, however, the “all” is necessarily limited by the context. It is the all who are in Adam, that die; and the all who are in Christ, that are made alive. Restorationists limit the word to all men, or to all fallen creatures, in obedience to what they suppose to be the analogy of Scripture; and this is all that is done by the orthodox. The only question is, What do the Scriptures elsewhere teach? If they clearly teach that all men and fallen angels are to be saved, then these passages must be interpreted accordingly; but if they teach that all men are not saved, then these passages cannot be understood to assert the contrary. Of themselves they decide nothing. They may be understood in two ways; which is their real meaning depends on what is taught elsewhere.
The same remark may be made in reference to other passages which Universalists rely upon. Thus in 1 Corinthians xv. 25, it is said that Christ “must reign, until He hath put all enemies under his feet.” This may mean that He must reign until all sin and misery are banished from the universe; but this is not its necessary meaning, for Satan may be subdued without being either converted or annihilated. In like manner, in 1 Timothy ii. 4, it is said God “will have all men to be saved;” if the word will, qe,lei, here means to purpose, then the passage teaches that all men shall ultimately be certainly saved. But if the word means here what it does in Matthew xxvii. 43, to have complacency in, (eiv qe,gei auvto,n,) then it teaches only what the Bible everywhere else teaches, namely, that God is love; that He delights not in the death of sinners. It is to pervert, and to misinterpret the Word of God, to make one passage contradict another simply because the language used admits of an explanation which brings them into conflict. The question is not, What certain words may mean? but, What were they intended to mean as used in certain connections?
If Christ and his Apostles did not teach that all men are to be saved, neither did they teach that the wicked are to be annihilated Mr. Constable, in his work above referred to, lays down the principle that the language of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, is to be interpreted according to the “usus loquendi” of the Greek writers. We are to go to our classical dictionaries to learn the meaning of the words they use. From this principle he infers that as the word zwh,, life, in ordinary Greek, means continued existence, and qanato,j,death, the cessation of existence, such is their meaning in the Scriptures. Therefore, when in the Bible eternal life is promised to the righteous, immortality is promised to them; and when eternal death is threatened against tne wicked, annihilation is declared to be their doom. A Greek-speaking people, he says, could attach no other meaning to such language. In like manner as the words which we translate to destroy, or cause to perish, mean to blot out of existence, the inference is that when the wicked are said to be destroyed, or to perish, it can only mean that they are annihilated.
On this it may be remarked, —
1. That the rule of interpretation here laid down is obviously incorrect, and its application would reduce the doctrines of the Bible to the level of heathenism. If Greek words as used in Scripture express no higher ideas than on the lips of Pagans, then we can have only the thoughts of Pagans in the Bible. On this principle, how could the Gospel be preached to heathen? to the Hindoos, for example, if they were forbidden to attach to the words God, sin, repentance, and a holy life, no other ideas than those suggested by the corresponding terms of their own language? The Bible, so far as written in Greek, must be understood as Greek. But the “usus loquendi” of every language varies more or less in different ages, and as spoken by different tribes and nations. Every one admits that Hellenistic Greek has a usage distinguishing it from the language of the classics. The language of the Bible must explain the language of the Bible. It has a “usus loquendi” of its own. It is, however, not true that the words life and death (zwh, and qa,natoj) are in any language used only in the limited sense which Mr. Constable’s argument would assign to them. When the poet said, “dum vivimus vivamus,” he surely did not mean to say, ‘while we continue to exist, let us continue to exist.’ The Scriptures written in the language of men use words as men are accustomed to use them, literally or figuratively, and in senses suited to the nature of the subjects to which they are applied. The word life means one thing when used of plants, another when used of animals, and another when spoken of in reference to the soul of man. The death of a plant is one thing, the death of an immortal soul is something entirely different. That the words life and death are not confined to the limited sense in which annihilationists would take them, hardly needs to be proved. The Scriptures everywhere recognize the distinction, in reference to men, between animal, intellectual, and spiritual life. A man may have the two former and be destitute of the latter. God quickens those dead in trespasses and sins; that is, he imparts spiritual life to those who are in the full vigour of their animal and intellectual being. Therefore we are told that the favour of God is life; that to know God is eternal life; that to be spiritually minded is life and that to be carnally minded is death. The Apostle tells the Colossians: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” He says to the Galatians: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Those who “live in pleasure” are said to be “dead while they live.” No one believes that the word life in such Scriptural phrases as “the bread of life,” “the water of life,” “the tree of life,” “the crown of life,” means only continued existence. The word, when used of the soul of man, means not only conscious being, but a normal state of being in the likeness, fellowship, and enjoyment of God. And in like manner the word death, when spoken of the soul, means alienation or separation from God; and when that separation is final it is eternal death. This is so plain that it never has been doubted, except for the purpose of supporting the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked.
2. The same remark applies to the use of the words destroy and perish. To destroy is to ruin. The nature of that ruin depends on the nature of the subject of which it is predicated. A thing is ruined when it is rendered unfit for use; when it is in such a state that it can no longer answer the end for which it was designed. A ship at sea, dismasted, rudderless, with its sides battered in, is ruined, but not annihilated. It is a ship still. A man destroys himself when he ruins his health, squanders his property, debases his character, and renders himself unfit to act his part in life. A soul is utterly and forever destroyed when it is reprobated, alienated from God, rendered a fit companion only for the devil and his angels. This is a destruction a thousandfold more fearful than annihilation. The earnestuess with which the doctrine of the unending punishment of the wicked is denounced by those who reject it, should convince them that its truth is the only rational solution of the fact that Christ and his Apostles did not condemn it.
3. But Christ and the Apostles not only failed to correct the teachings of the Jews of their day concerning the everlasting punishment of the wicked, but they themselves also taught that doctrine in the most explicit and solemn manner. It is asserted affirmatively that future punishment is everlasting; in the negative form that it can never end; that there is in the future world an impassable gulf between the righteous and the wicked; and that there are sins which can never be forgiven either in this life or in the life to come. Thus if words can teach this doctrine it is taught in the Bible from the beginning to the end. In the Old Testament, the prophet says (Is. xxxiii. 14): “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites; who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings.” In Isaiah lxvi. 24 it is said of those who should be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth which the prophet had predicted, “that their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” “Hell,” however, “is of both worlds, so that in the same essential iense, although in different degrees, it may be said both of him who is still living but accursed, and of him who perished centuries ago, that his worm dieth not and his fire is not quenched.”32 The prophet Daniel (xii. 2) says of the wicked, that they “shall awake . . . . to shame and everlasting contempt.” In Luke iii. 17 it is said that Christ shall “gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.” In Mark ix. 42-48 our Lord says that it is better “to enter into life maimed, than, having two hands, to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” These awful words fell three times, in one discourse, from the lips of mercy, to give them the greater effect. Christ wept over Jerusalem. Why did He not avert its doom? Simply because it would not have been right. So He may weep over the doom of the impenitent wicked; and yet leave them to their fate. It is no more possible that the cup should pass from their lips than that it should have been taken from the trembling hand of the Son of God himself. The latter spectacle was far more appalling in the eyes of angels than the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The Judge on the last day, we are told, will say to those on the left hand: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” The same word is used in both clauses; the wicked are to go eivj ko,lasin aivw,nion; and the righteous eivj zwh.n aivw,nion; it must have the same sense in both. (Matt. xxv. 41, 46.) In John iii. 36 it is said: “‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Paul teaches us in 2 Thessalonians i. 9 that when Christ comes the wicked “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Jude (verse 6) says that the angels which kept not their first estate are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah . . . are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Of apostates, he says (verses 12, 13) there is reserved for them “the blackness of darkness forever.” In Revelation xiv. 9-11, those who worship the beast and his image or receive his mark, shall “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.” Nearly the same words are repeated in chapters xix. 1-3, 20; xx. 10.
It is objected to the argument founded on these passages that the word “everlasting” is sometimes used in Scripture of periods of limited duration. In reference to this objection it may be remarked, (1.) That the Hebrew and Greek words rendered in our version eternal, or everlasting, mean duration whose termination is unknown. When used in reference to perishable things, as when the Bible speaks of “the everlasting hills,” they simply indicate indefinite existence, that is, existence to which there is no known or assignable limit. But when used in reference to that which is either in its own nature imperishable, or of which the unending existence is revealed, as the human soul or in reference to that which we have no authority from other sources to assign a limit to, as the future blessedness of the saints, then the words are to be taken in their literal sense. If. because we sometimes say we give a man a thing forever, without intending that he is to possess it to all eternity, it were argued that the word forever expresses limited duration, every one would see that the inference was unfounded. If the Bible says that the sufferings of the lost are to be everlasting, they are to endure forever, unless it can be shown either that the soul is not immortal or that the Scriptures elsewhere teach that those sufferings are to come to an end. No one argues that the blessedness of the righteous will cease after a term of years, because the word everlasting is sometimes used of things which do not continue forever. Our Lord teaches that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting, in the same sense that the blessedness of the saints is everlasting. (2.) It is to be remembered, that admitting the word “everlasting” to be ever so ambiguous, the Bible says that the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. We have therefore the direct assertion of the word of God that the sufferings of the lost are unending. All the modes of expression used to set forth the perpetuity of the salvation of believers and the everlasting duration of the kingdom of Christ, are employed to teach the perpetuity of the future punishment of the wicked. If that doctrine, therefore, be not taught in the Scriptures, it is difficult to see how it could be taught in human language.
4. A fourth argument on this subject is drawn from passages in which the doctrine is implied, although not directly asserted. This includes those passages which teach that there is no repentance, no forgiveness, no change of state in the future world. This is done, for example, in our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which He teaches that there is no possibility of passing from hell to heaven. So, also, we are taught that those who die in sin remain sinful forever. And our Lord says, it would be better for a man had he never been born, than that he should incur the guilt of offending any of the little ones who believe on Him. This, at least, is conclusive against the doctrine of universal salvation; for if, after any period of suffering, an eternity of happiness awaits a man, his being born is an unspeakable blessing.
Rationalists say that it is very impolitic for Christians to represent the everlasting punishment of the wicked as a doctrine of the Bible. This is undoubtedly true. And so Paul felt that it was very impolitic to preach the doctrine of the Cross. He knew that doctrine to be a stumbling-block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. He knew that had he preached the common sense doctrine of salvation by works, the offence of the cross would have ceased. Nevertheless, he knew that the doctrine of Christ crucified was the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. He knew that it was not his business to make a Gospel, but to declare that Gospel which had been taught Him, by the revelation of Jesus Christ. It would be well if all who call themselves Christians, should learn that it is not their business to believe and teach what they may think true or right, but what God in his Holy Word has seen fit to reveal.
It is urged that it cannot be consistent with the justice of God to inflict a really infinite penalty on such a creature as man. It is very obvious to remark on this subject: —
1. That we are incompetent judges of the penalty which sin deserves. We have no adequate apprehension of its inherent guilt, of the dignity of the person against whom it is committed, or of the extent of the evil which it is suited to produce. The proper end of punishment is retribution and prevention. What is necessary for that end, God only knows; and, therefore, the penalty which He imposes on sin is the only just measure of its ill desert.
2. If it be inconsistent with the justice of God that men should perish for their sins, then redemption is not a matter of grace, or undeserved mercy. Deliverance from an unjust penalty, is a matter of justice. Nothing, however, is plainer from the teaching of Scripture, and nothing is more universally and joyfully acknowledged by all Christians, than that the whole plan of redemption, the mission, the incarnation, and the sufferings and death of the Son of God for the salvation of sinners, is a wonderful exhibition of the love of God which passes knowledge. But if justice demand that all men should be saved, then salvation is a matter of justice; and then all the songs of gratitude and praise from the redeemed, whether in heaven or on earth, must at once cease.
3. It is often said that sin is an infinite evil because committed against a person of infinite dignity, and therefore deserves an infinite penalty. To this it is answered, that as sin is an act or state of a finite subject, it must of necessity be itself finite. Men are apt to involve themselves in contradictions when they attempt to reason about the infinite. The word is so vague and so comprehensive, and our ideas of what it is intended to express are so inadequate, that we are soon lost when we seek to make it a guide in forming our judgments. If the evil of a single sin, and that the smallest, lasts forever, it is in one sense an infinite evil, although in comparison with other sins, or with the whole mass of sin ever committed, it may appear a mere trifle. The guilt of sin is infinite in the sense that we can set no limits to its turpitude or to the evil which it is adapted to produce.
4. Relief on this subject is sought from the consideration that as the lost continue to sin forever they may justly be punished forever. To this, however, it is answered that the retributions of eternity are threatened for the sins done in the body. This is true; nevertheless; it is also true, first, that sin in its nature is alienation and separation from God; and as God is the source of all holiness and happiness, separation from Him is of necessity the forfeiture of all good; secondly, that this separation is from its nature final and consequently involves endless sinfulness and misery. It is thus final, unless on the assumption of the undeserved and supernatural intervention of God as in the case of the redemption of man; and thirdly, it is also true that from the nature of the case “the carnal mind is death.” Degradation and misery are inseparably connected with sin. As long as rational creatures are sinful, they must be degraded and miserable. There is no law of nature more immutable than this. If men do not expect God to reverse the laws of nature to secure their exemption from wanton transgression of those laws, why should they expect Him to reverse the still more immutable laws of our moral constitution and of his moral government? The doom of the fallen angels teaches us that one act of rebellion against God is fatal, whether we say that all they have suffered since, and all they are to suffer forever, is the penalty of that one act, or the inevitable consequence of the condition into which that one act brought them, makes no difference.
The Goodness of God.
A still more formidable objection is drawn from the goodness of God. It is said to be inconsistent with his benevolence that He should allow any of his creatures to be forever miserable. The answer to this is: —
1. That it is just as impossible that God should do a little wrong as a great one. If He has permitted such a vast amount of sin and misery to exist in the world, from the fall of Adam to the present time, how can we say that it is inconsistent with his goodness, to allow them to continue to exist? How do we know that the reasons, so to speak, which constrained God to allow his children to be sinful and miserable for thousands of years, may not constrain Him to permit some of them to remain miserable forever? If the highest glory of God and the good of the universe have been promoted by the past sinfulness and misery of men, why may not those objects be promoted by what is declared to be future?
2. We have reason to believe, as urged in the first volume of this work, and as often urged elsewhere, that the number of the finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saved will be very inconsiderable. Our blessed Lord, when surrounded by the innumerable company of the redeemed, will be hailed as the “Salvator Hominum,” the Saviour of Men, as the Lamb that bore the sins of the world.
3. It should constrain us to humility, and to silence on this subject, that the most solemn and explicit declarations of the everlasting misery of the wicked recorded in the Scriptures, fell from the lips of Him, who, thongh equal with God, was found in fashion as a man, and humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the cross, for us men and for our salvation.