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Problems of the Spiritual


VII. Is there a danger, in regard to the Universalist belief, of making the Benevolence of God dominate His Holiness and Justice in such a way as to constitute Him the Tolerator of evil?

This is the form in which the question has been submitted; and although it is based on wholly illogical assumptions, it represents one of the most common, as well as easily-disposed of, objections which are urged against the view contained in the Bible—viz., that ultimately God will be "all in all."

Two false propositions are implied in the question—

(a) That the Benevolence of God could only compass the final salvation of all men, at the cost of lowering the claims of Divine Holiness and Justice.

(b) That God in finally saving all would be tolerating evil.

These are, assuredly, startlingly strange conclusions! Let us examine them.

First, with respect to the Benevolence—i.e., the Goodwill, the Love, of God. The question presupposes that there may be a danger of unduly exalting that. It is feared that God's Love may be assigned too predominant a position in regard to other attributes which pertain to Him. That if the Love of God be accounted too great, His Holiness and Justice may be reckoned as too little. But can we, we ask, over-estimate the Benevolence or Love of God? In the face of what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament said, we should have thought it impossible to do this. Christ represented God as loving all—"the world "; as being benevolent to "the evil and the good," to "the just and the unjust."

St. Paul wrote that he was persuaded "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God." St. John, whose Epistle is saturated through and through with the thought of God's Love, reached the highest point of Divine Truth, when in his definition of God he wrote—"God is Love " (1 John iv. 8 v.). If this declaration of the Apostle is true, it follows that Love lies as the essential Principle of the Being of God, and consequently must not only dominate all those other attributes and qualities and powers which go to make up the perfection of the Godhead, but is the root from which they all spring. Thus Love determines all that God is and all that God does. Is He holy, and hates sin and loves goodness? It is because He is Love. Is He just, and will reward the righteous and punish the wicked? It is because He is Love. Does He extend His pity and mercy and pardon? It is because He is Love. Is He "a Consuming Fire" that by judgment and discipline will "burn up the chaff" in men? It is because He is Love.

Thus, so far from agreeing with the Questioner, that the Benevolence or Love of God must not be made to dominate His Holiness and Justice, we assert, on the authority of the Scriptures, that it does dominate both; and that neither of those qualities in God will be rightly understood by us, until we realize that they are the offspring of the Parent-Principle of Divine Love. God Who is holy, is not Holiness; it is but a characteristic of Him; and God Who is just, is not Justice; that, too, is but a characteristic of Him; but God Who is loving, is Love; and therein is to be found the key which will enable us to unlock the door of Truth in regard to His purpose of salvation in Christ.

Now, it is owing to men having failed to perceive that the Love of God must dominate, and determine the exercise of all other qualities resident in Him, that has given rise in the past to those doctrines which have so misrepresented and disfigured the Religion of Jesus. I refer to the doctrines of Predestination and Everlasting Punishment. The former represents the Love of God as exercising itself only in the direction of a certain selected and privileged few; making all others not only of no concern to God in view of salvation, but even the objects of His hatred. It was an idea which commended itself to the narrow and exclusive mind of the ancient Jew, and found expression in those words cited by St. Paul,—who shows in his Epistle to the Romans a bias towards Rabbinical thought—" Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord. Yet I loved Jacob; but Esau I hated" (Mai. i. 2 and 3 v.). This is not the representation of the Love of God, as made by Jesus and by St. John, or even by St. Paul himself, after he had advanced to the full understanding of the Gospel of Christ.

The doctrine of Everlasting Punishment excludes, of course, all thought of God loving the wretched beings who will suffer that experience. The good earthly father may love his son, though he punish him for his wrong-doing. But that is because the punishment is viewed as remedial. It is a means adopted by the father for bringing his child into accord with himself and his love. But no such thought lies behind the idea of God's infliction of everlasting punishment upon His creatures. It is not an infliction of Love, but of awful and unmitigated wrath, we are told. It contemplates no betterment and no recovery of the victims. It is a final and irreversible act of Divine vengeance. Thus, the School which has propagated this teaching, has made what has been regarded as the Holiness and Justice of God to so dominate His Love, as to cause the latter to disappear altogether in regard to an enormous section of the race.

In reference to both these horrible dogmas, we ask—How can all the theological ingenuity in the world make them to harmonize with the statement of Christ that God loves all, and with that still more penetrative statement of St. John, that "God is Love"?

When will the Christian world understand that the Election we read of in the Bible is not the Predestination of the Calvinist; nor is the Hell of which Jesus spoke the Hell of Medievalism and Protestant Theology?

Such doctrines as these outrage the idea of Love. If countless millions of human souls are never in this world or Beyond to feel the movings of Divine grace, because the All-Father never intended that they should do so; if it be true that men will "without doubt, perish everlastingly, and go into everlasting fire," then alas! for the thought of God's Love. These things, if facts, would mean the disappearance of the Sun of the universe behind such lurid cloud-banks of horror and despair, as it would baffle the mind of man to conceive.

It may be asked, how could such dogmas as these have ever been accepted by men who accounted as true the words of St. John—that "God is Love"?

It was in consequence of mentally placing God's attributes of Holiness and Justice out of all true proportion to His main great attribute—Love. Those who have taught these doctrines, instead of accounting God's Love as dominating His other qualities, have accounted His Sovereignty, Holiness, Justice and Power as controlling, restricting and even extinguishing His Love.

So in answer to the objection against the Universalist belief, as to the danger of making the Benevolence or Love of God dominate His Holiness and Justice,—we reply, that that which some are pleased to call " a danger," we account as the most glorious fact pertaining to the Gospel of Christ; and that if what the believers in Everlasting Punishment teach were true—viz., that God's Holiness and Justice dominate His Love—it would be a catastrophe to the human race. There would be no salvation.

But there is another point in connection with the question which demands attention. It is that which implies the possibility of under-estimating the claims of Divine Holiness and Justice. The Universalist is charged by those who believe in the doctrine of Everlasting Punishment and Loss, with exalting the Love of God at the expense of His Holiness and Justice. It is alleged that not all men will be saved —in spite of that promise of Jesus to "draw all" to Himself—because it would be incompatible with the fact that God is holy and just. Those who accept this view adduce, as the main-prop of it, the argument that Divine Holiness and Justice demand the irretrievable ruin and misery of human souls; and that were the Love of God to avert this, the claims of Holiness and Justice would not be satisfied.

It is a terrible thought to suppose that two great qualities, which go to make up the perfection of God, should ever have been regarded as "the cause why countless millions of the creatures He called into being must suffer for ever and ever. But, thank God! the thought is as illogical, as it is dishonouring to Him Who is Love. Thank God! it is but that which a great pioneer of "Larger Hope"—the late Dean Farrar—once described it as being—"an ebullient flash from the glowing caldron of men's heated and perverted imaginations." It has arisen from an altogether untrue and exaggerated notion of what constitutes Divine Holiness and Justice.

We submit that the idea of creatures remaining for ever in a condition of ruin and alienation, is completely subversive of any true conception of God's Holiness and Justice.

The Holiness of God must presuppose God's hatred of and hostility to sin. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity," wrote the old-world Seer, Habakkuk. He did not, of course, mean that God was unconscious of the existence of evil. He could only have meant that it is impossible for God to look with complacency and toleration on it. It is this antagonism of God's Holiness to evil which constitutes the raison d’être of His Purpose of saving the human race through Christ. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John hi. 8 v.).

But, we ask, does not the acceptance of this doctrine that some—the great majority, according to the old Theology—will suffer everlastingly, involve the consequence that the Holiness of God will never be satisfied? God's Holiness desires the abolition of evil—does it not? But everlasting punishment involves the everlasting perpetuation of evil. Those who went into an unending Hell would remain unendingly evil; since to conceive of God perpetually punishing souls who had ceased to be evil, would be blasphemy. What, then, is the corollary? That if beings are to be punished everlastingly, evil will remain, and He Who is of purer eyes than to complacently behold sin, must contemplate it for ever and ever.

Which, we ask, is the more reasonable belief, and more consonant with the thought of Divine Holiness —that embodied in the Mediaeval notion, that sin has the potency of everlastingness; or that of the Universalist, who believes that sin will be finally annihilated, because God hates it, and God is supreme?

As I write these words, I am reminded of an incident which took place at a gathering of clergy whom I was addressing on this subject. One of them—a representative of the old school of thought —was so piously shocked at the idea of God's Purpose embracing any but the few, that he said to me —"I suppose, Sir, you would tell us next that the Devil himself might be finally saved." My reply was —"That, I think, is not improbable, if the Bible is true; for if you believe that the Devil is an immortal being, and that God will one day be (as St. Paul asserts) 'all things in all beings,' then it seems very unreasonable to suppose that the Holiness of God will tolerate immortal evil, even in the Devil."

We turn now to the subject of Divine Justice. The opposers of the Universalist belief allege that the Justice of God calls for the endless suffering and ruin of those who depart this life not in a state of salvation.

The stock argument is, that sin, being an offence against an Infinite God, is in itself an infinite offence, and therefore demands an infinite punishment. This line of reasoning is accepted by some as being very profound and conclusive. It is really inconclusive, and very illogical.

We grant, of course, that sin is an offence—a very great offence—against an Infinite God; but that does not constitute sin as being infinite. How, in the nature of things, can it possibly be so? The person who sins is a finite being—how can he wield a power which presupposes infinitude? How can his action be an infinite one? Sin is not invested with infinitude on account of its being an action directed against an Infinite God. Unlike Goodness, sin is not an infinite and indestructible Principle.

Goodness is of God; while sin is not of Him. We rightly predicate of God infinitude, and we may predicate of Goodness the same thing, because it is of Him. But we wrongly predicate of sin infinitude; for sin is not of God, and consequently lacks this characteristic of the Divine.

The idea of evil as a Principle which is infinite, i.e. boundless, endless, is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ. It is an importation into Christian Theology of the old Eastern Dualistic notion of rival Gods, or rival Principles, contending for the supremacy of the universe.

No; sin is a dislocation, a disarrangement which has taken place in the Eternal Order of the universe; a discord which has been struck in the orchestra of Divine Harmony, by beings who have wrongly used God's grandest gift of Will; but sin is no blighting curse which must remain for ever, no awful shadow which can never be lifted, no everlasting reproach to God for making man as man. Thus, it seems to us that the very Justice of God to Himself and to the universe over which He must reign supreme, demands the final abolition of evil.

On the other hand, the thought of Everlasting Punishment outrages every true conception of Justice. The ones who talk so glibly and complacently about an endless Hell, but little realize what it means. It is a mercy that this is so; for if all the Christians who profess to believe this doctrine really believed it, suicide would be rife and our mad-houses full. The doctrine is accepted without any appreciation of its awful import. I give as an instance of this, a remark made by one of the Congregation to whom I was preaching. I had been speaking of the "Larger Hope." After the Service, this gentleman was heard to say—"I don't agree with the preacher. I was always brought up to believe in everlasting Hell-fire: it was good enough for my forefathers, and it ought to be good enough for me."

If the remark had been made to me, I should have replied, that although this terrible conception of an unenlightened age may have been good enough for his forefathers, and may be good enough for him, it is not good enough for God, in view of Divine Love, Holiness and Justice.

It can produce no love of God in a human soul. How can it? Does the child love the parent whose principle is to punish, not in order to correct and bless, but to ruin and curse? There are those who assent to this doctrine, and still love and trust God in spite of it. But they can only do so by thrusting this article of their Creed into the background of their consciousness. They put the ugly thought away in one of the dark cupboards of the mind; and there the fearsome mummy remains as the bugbear of their faith, until God lets in the light and air of Truth, and the ugly thing crumbles into dissolution, and is buried with the mental errors of the past.

And further, this Mediaeval conception of Future Punishment is not accepted by the intelligent thought of the present age; and unless the Church of Christ can show that the Gospel of Jesus demands no such belief, men will betake themselves for spiritual guidance and comfort to other systems of Religion. As a matter of fact, many are doing so; and the fault lies with those teachers who take the limits of the ideas of men in the past as the standard of truth for men of to-day.

In the light of advancing knowledge, and with the growth of the Christ-like and humaner instincts, men cannot, and will not, believe that for offences committed against a God of Infinite Love and Holiness, during a brief earth-life, souls will be hurled into unending woe and irretrievable ruin.

There is no Justice of God in such a thought. Rather, is it an imputing to God of an implacability and an insensibility to suffering, as would amount to a slander, if alleged against the humblest Christian. Let it not be thought that we minimize the gravity of sin, or that we deny the fearful and awful consequences to those who wilfully persist in it. That is one of the favourite misrepresentations of the Universalist belief. We do nothing of the kind. We simply declare that the Justice of God—to say nothing of His Love—points not to the everlasting conservation of evil, but to its extinguishment, and also to the final abolition of the Hell into which it may plunge sinners—when the dark shadow of evil shall have been lifted from God's vast empire, and "the former things—all that is not of God— shall have passed away."

There is one other point connected with the question which remains to be noticed. It is that which sees a danger in the Universalist belief of accounting God as the Tolerator of evil. God, we are told, were He not to punish men everlastingly for their sins, but were, ultimately, by His judgments to deliver them from the power and consequences of sin, would thereby be tolerating evil. But why? Does anyone suppose that a judge is tolerating evil, who sentences a sheep-stealer to imprisonment with the possibility of amendment, instead of to capital punishment? That old savage law of the land, which set a greater value on property than on life, was seen to be inimical to Justice, and it was abolished. But the State is not accounted the Tolerator of the crime of sheep-stealing in consequence. Nor will the consistent thinker imagine that the God of Love is less opposed to sin, because He does not consign the sinner to unavailing misery for ever. Did not the Christ say—"The Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save"?

And lastly, it is not the teaching of the Universalist, but that of those who differ from him, which presents God as the Tolerator of evil. What could constitute a greater toleration of Evil, than that sinners are never to be saved, and that sin is to remain throughout the rolling aeons of Eternity a deathless Power, which even Omnipotence Himself cannot extinguish!

What, we ask again, can be more in harmony with the thought that God is non-tolerant in regard to evil, than that belief, which by the eye of faith sees the great accomplishment of the Mission of Christ— the drawing of all to Himself!

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Thoughts of the Spiritual" (1905 American Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle

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