Others Who Have Died, What Can We Certainly Know About Them
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A Painful Story
There are others who have died. This distressing fact, but clearly it is a fact.
This is a painful story. I shall attempt to point out the bad swings of the pendulum, both ways, and then to point out the truth lying in between. It'll be a painful thing to do.
It should be keenly noticed in the start why there are others. It is not because of anything that God does. It is because of something that some men do. And it is because, further, of something that they don't do in response to God's repeated wooing. It is by this action, and lack of other sort of action, that they constitute them-selves the others.
It was clearly never intended that there should be others. It is a break in the original plan. Man has in him the power to break God's plans so far as he himself is concerned. God gave him that power, the highest of all human power, namely, full freedom of choice and decision and action.
There are two fundamental points in the original plan ; first, that man should be like God, like Him in fullest freedom of choice and action. And second, that the two, God and man, should always be, and keep, in full touch with each other.
Clearly the second hinged on the first. The full touch could be only through man's choice to have it so. God will not take away that right of free action, even though it be used to break His own heart. He is true to man, and man's highest power, clear to the endless end.
This is a hard story to tell. On one hand to tell it true and straight, and yet not be hard, nor seem hard in the telling. And, on the other hand, to let human feeling have its true full human sway, and yet be true to the man in danger,-it's a hard story to tell. It calls for a rare blend of human feeling and yet of fidelity to facts. One must be both- tender and true.
It is not at all surprising that the pendulum has had such a time of it swinging back and forth. The common teaching of the Church from, say, the fourth century up to the Protest-ant revolt was quite definite, with a natural intensifying tendency.
Loyal membership in the Church was taught as essential to salvation from hell. And there was no awed hushing of the voice in pronouncing that fearsome word nor mincing of words nor imagination in picturing its fiery terrors. No account was taken of the vast numbers who had never heard of the Church nor of Christ. One flat statement covered the subject for all.
The Protestant Movement took over the same sweeping positiveness in the teaching on the subject, with one marked outstanding exception.
The emphasis on the one essential saving thing was changed from membership in the Church to a saving faith in Christ. But much of the harshness that had characterized the common Church teaching persisted throughout the Protestant Movement, and was quite set in its hardened and ever hardening form. A common reference has been made to a certain well-known French-Swiss leader of the Protestant Movement, picturing infants burning in the flames of the lost world.
Ian Maclaren, in one of his stories of Scotland, pictures a small Scottish lad sitting in the country church listening. It was the evening service. The little church was lit with candles. A candle sputtered on the pulpit desk. The subject of eternal punishment was being discussed. All the boy remembered was the tall lean stern faced preacher, in silence, holding a piece of paper in the flame of the candle till it was quite consumed, and then in awful tones describing that as what happened to the impenitent.
And the boy, terror-stricken, shrank smaller and tighter into the corner of the hard-seated pew, trying to get away from such a God as was being pictured. That may well be reckoned an extreme instance. We'll hope so. But it points distinctly the general trend.
Bad Pendulum Swings
It was quite the natural thing that there should be a decided swing away from such teaching.
The human heart naturally revolted from such a picture. And almost always when the pendulum of teaching starts the other way it goes to the extreme. This swing-away took three forms.
Universalism "taught that all men would be saved finally._ There would be no others. A proper retribution for wrong would be disciplinary, and corrective. And when the discipline had done its work the man would be saved. By a skillful swinging into view of some Scripture statements, mingled with suitable logic, a strong case is made out, especially for those who want to think that way.
The fair criticism of this teaching is that it takes what statements of scripture suit its purpose, and ignores the -rest. fhat's rather a favorite method. Anything can be proven from the Bible by that method. There's another theory that has had wide swing, and has had many exponents. It is called conditional immortality. It teaches that only those in touch with Christ have eternal life; the rest simply cease to exist. Annihilationism is another term for the same general teaching.
This is built up chiefly by a skilful playing on the language of Scripture. The plain common meaning of certain words is ignored or slurred over, and the words are restricted to the meaning preferred. Much is made of certain Greek words which are used in the same restricted way as English words.
The bother with this teaching is that it is unphilosophical, illogical, and un-Biblical. It is unphilosophical because spirit cannot cease to exist. It is of the essence of God. It is illogical because it twists and plays with the plain accepted meaning of common language. It is un-Biblical because it plainly ignores certain Scrip ture statements not suited to its purpose.
A third sort of teaching has had a wide swing. It is called final restorationism. It teaches that at some time in the far future, after certain stages of retribution are passed, disciplinary, corrective, and so on, there will be a complete full restoration of all, men, angels and even Satan himself, all restored to perfect touch with God again.
Like the other two, this teaching is based on certain statements of Scripture, certain skilful playing with the meaning of words, certain at-tractive use of logic, and a careful ignoring of other Scripture statements ; a rarely compounded blend of all four of these.
But the commonest idea since the war is what might be called, the continuance teaching. That is, there is said to be no real difference, morally or inregard to character, as one crosses the line of death. Death itself, of course, makes a certain radical difference. But apart from that there is no difference, it is said.
The untold thousands who have died in the war, are pictured as wandering about the earth, disembodied, floating through space. They continue the old habits of this life, smoking, drinking, using the same sort of profane, and semi-profane and vulgar language. There is no radical moral change, no suffering connected in any way with their former life. And there's no change of attitude toward Christ, or good, or sin. This is the commonest teaching of the present day in the vast cheap literature of books and magazines that the crowds are devouring.
Let it be noted carefully that the first and third named are very attractive teachings. A very plausible case can be made in each instance. There is a tremendous emotional appeal in them. One could most earnestly wish that they were full true.
May I say, very reverently, that I have no doubt it is the devout wish of God that they might be true. For anything else is a break in His cherished plans. But they all fail to take account of two fundamental things, man's utter freedom of choice, and the real character of the thing commonly called sin.
We all laugh at the ostrich for hiding its small head in the sand so as not to see the danger threatening. Yet to ignore any facts, and to ignore plain teaching of God's Word, clearly is as much playing the fool as does the poor small-brained ostrich. One fact, just one, left out of reckoning, completely changes the conclusion. Such conclusion, however skilfully and logically worked out, is quite worthless, and worse yet, dangerous, because misleading.
As a result of the wide spread of these and like teachings, there has come a most marked swing away, among adherents of Protestant churches of all shades, from the old teaching. And the loosening hold of the Catholic Church upon its people comes to much the same thing.
The boast of certain so-called liberal axiominations is that they have not increased in numbers, but that their teachings have permeated all the other Churches. And all observation tends to confirm their contention.
Some War-time Teachings
Without doubt the common feeling to-day in all our churches is that a man will "pull safely through somehow." Regardless of his belief or lack of it, regardless of his manner of life, he will finally get safely past all danger of this thing called punishment or hell ; things will go "all right" with him.
Of quite recent years a certain type of evangelist has had a swing throughout our American cities, truly remarkable for some features of such, effort. They are widely endorsed as preaching "the old Gospel." Their frequent reference to future punishment has been one of the prominent features.
But blunt plainness of speech has run into a usage of the words "hell" and "damned," and, the like, that is such an imitation of common vulgar profanity as to be really blasphemous, and to make one cringe.
And the common attitude of the crowds toward the subject itself is quickly and painfully revealed in the peals of laughter and the applause greeting all such references. It seems plainly a matter of merriment to them, so far has the pendulum swung the other way.
The war has intensified tremendously some good tendencies, and a great many very bad ones. And certainly this matter has not escaped its evil contagion. On both sides the water the teaching has been common that if a soldier made his so-called supreme sacrifice in action, that that would absolutely secure his salvation. This has been repeated so commonly and so positively as to have been accepted by the crowds.
Certainly no loyal Britisher nor American would wish to diminish one whit recognition of the splendid sacrifice made by thousands of soldiers during the war. But it is surely a great unkindness, a grievous wrong, to those men, not to say more just now, so to deceive them, and that on the very edge of possible death.
A minister friend told me of an experience he had. He was visiting one of our great soldier camps. He was trying to tell the real Gospel story, tactfully, winningly and fully. A soldier with serious face came to his quarters one night after service.
He said, "We men have been discussing this thing down our street, and we had it settled that if we die in action, our salvation's secured. That's what we've been told. Now, you say there must be something else to fix things for us. We men are all mixed up. And my friend tried in his brotherly fashion to make things clear.
Recently at an international convention of rescue mission workers, it was the common agreement among the delegates that this idea was so inbred with ex-service men that it immensely hindered efforts to win them to a simple faith in Christ.
Very thoughtfully it can be said that everywhere this is the commonplace of belief regarding any such thing as punishment in the after life for wrong doing. It simply isn't so. That's the common thought. It is the extreme swing of the pendulum from the other extreme teaching of the Church in earlier centuries and even recent years.
These are two extremes. At one extreme hell is practically the biggest thing in the universe, with heaven a small affair, comparatively. At the other extreme there is no hell at all. It is quite rubbed out.
You say, "that's putting it too strong isn't it ? Hell the biggest thing?" No, that is the simple direct logical conclusion of the common teaching for centuries. Those who have been in the membership of the Church in pre-Protestant days, and the members of the Catholic Church since, are a distinct minority of the whole race, even reckoning, as was done, that all subjects of Catholic countries were, and are, members of the Church. Indeed it would be quite fair to say a small minority, as one thinks through the gradual spread of Church authority in European lands during early centuries.
And then, recalling the common Protestant qualification for salvation, which, of course, is the Scriptural one, all those who have heard of Jesus Christ since He was on earth, in any way, would be a somewhat less-small minority, and all who have accepted Him even nominally are a distinctly smaller minority. And beyond that point we won't push just now.
Now, think around the earth, and think through the long centuries. Quite clearly, ac-cording to the common interpretation of both qualifications, the vast majority must be reckoned outside, consigned to endless woe. That's the plain logical conclusion. Is it surprising that the swing has been so strong toward the no-hell extreme? We shall find the truth in between these two extremes.
Now we want to turn to this Book of God. And we want to get all of what it says, and fit together in one simple clear story. Clearly this is the only sane thing to do, get all the Book says, take its statements at their plain common meaning, and let that tell the story, regardless of how it may send our theories and ideas helter-skelter. Any thing else is clearly a fool's job.
Have you ever watched a skilful bricklayer at work He has a delicately constructed instrument called a spirit-level. The instrument is so constructed as to indicate if a surface is quite level, or, is out of the level. As the brick-mason lays his bricks, layer-by-layer, he is constantly holding the spirit-level to the work to test its being level or straight.
He puts it on top of the bricks, and in front, and up and down, constantly testing. He would tell you it's the only safe thing to do. All surveyors and builders use such a device, a standard gauge for determining levels accurately. They must. They have no choice. Otherwise they and their work would be rejected.
Recently I watched a sort of scrub bricklayer at work on the foundation of a small frame house that had been moved. He had no spirit level. He went "by his eye." That was quite satisfactory to him. But the work he did was anything but satisfactory. It was painfully out of level, though as it happened, in this small unimportant case, apparently, not dangerous.
But as I watched him I thought of other builders, builders of character, who go "by the eye," or by what they prefer to think is sufficient standard. And pretty wobbly work they do in character-building. And the bother is, there's serious danger to life, in their inefficient standardless work.
Happily there is a spirit-level by which to test all human teachers and teachings. And there's only one, as with the brick-layer and surveyor. And whatever work is not done by the standard spirit-level, is worthless, and worse yet, may prove very dangerous to human life.
This is a three-part spirit-level: the Holy Spirit, in the Book, and that in the hands of a man strongly yielded to the Spirit's sway. The Spirit Himself is the standard. He speaks in this Book. And so it becomes the standard. And its teachings can be fully and clearly grasped only by one in touch with that Spirit, naturally. Though any one may read and get the general drift of teaching.
And so, now, we want to turn and try to find out just what the teaching of this Book is, the rounded-out, poised, full, teaching, on this most vital subject. This talk and the last one of this series, "Another Chance," belong together. They touch two phases.
They are put separately as a matter of teaching principle, to get a clearer look at each phase and so a clearer grasp of the whole thing. This talk gathers up the facts in the case. The last talk touches the principle and process underlying the facts.
Truth Makes a Clean Cut
Turning now to the Book, the first thing one notes is this, there is a sharp distinction drawn between those not in touch of heart with God, commonly called here "the wicked," and those in touch of heart with Him, commonlly called here "the righteous." In these talks these two alternate phrases are taken as exact equivalents. That sharp distinction is markedly prominent in the Psalms, and the Gospels, but indeed runs clear through, from end to end, of the Book. There is none of the slurring over so familiar among us today.
A second thing that stands out clean-cut and sharp is this, that distinction plainly extends beyond the line of death. The same moral differences noted in this life persist beyond the grave. I had almost said that it is on every page, so common is it. These are two most striking things to note at the outstart. The spirit-level marks a difference at once, and a persistent difference.
Now, note the language used in the Old Testament for the place where the wicked dead are said to go. For instance, "Jehovah hath executed judgment ; the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. The wicked shall be turned into hell, even all the peoples that forget God."
The Hebrew word under that English word "hell" is "sheol," so translated literally in the revised versions. The word "sheol" itself means literally, the underworld, a cavity, or a hollow subterranean place. It has two distinct meanings in the common usage of the Bible times, a neutral meaning, and a positive meaning.
In its neutral meaning it refers simply to the world of departed human spirits, regardless of what their condition there is. In its positive meaning it is used for the place of punishment. The wicked are spoken of as having gone to "Sheol," but they are not in God's presence, but instead they are said to be in torment and anguish.
Those who have died, being in touch of heart with God, are spoken of as being in sheol (the world of departed spirits), but they are also spoken of as being in the immediate presence of God. The word, neutral in itself, gets its positive meaning front some words added, to make the meaning quite clear.
For instance, "a fire is kindled in my anger, and burneth unto the lowest hell (sheol)."2 Here it is associated directly with fire, and with punishment on evil. Speaking warningly of the adulterous woman and those in fellowship with her, "her steps take hold of hell" (sheol) ; "her house is the way to hell" (sheol) ; "her guests are in the depths of hell" (sheol).1
Speaking of the arch-enemy of God and of all good, "hell (sheol) from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming." "Thou shalt be brought down to hell" (sheol) .
About half the number of times the word is used it is translated "the grave," in the old authorized version; the other half (roughly), "hell" ; a few times, "the pit."
In the New Testament there are two Greek words translated, in the common version, "hell". These two are "Hades" and "Gehenna". They cover the same ground as the one word "sheol" in the Old. The word "Hades" is neutral. It means simply the world of departed human spirits, where all go who die.
The other word, "Gehenna," originally was the name for the valley outside Jerusalem where in earlier days little children were thrown into fire in idolatrous worship. When this horrible practice was abolished, the place was used for all sorts of refuse, for dead animals, and the unburied bodies of criminals. Its fires continually burned with an intense burning.
Now this word is clearly used by Christ as a name for the place of punishment for wicked men. For instance Jesus says of certain ones. "shall be in danger of the hell (Gehenna) of fire." Here plainly it cannot mean the Gehenna burning outside the Jerusalem walls. It must mean something else, something for certain men corresponding to this fire for the refuse.
Then it is noted that toward the close, in the Revelation, other words are used in the same sense as Gehenna is used earlier, "abyss," "the lake of fire," and "the second death". These last two are said to be the same thing.
Thither are said to go, Satan, his human leaders in the last great warfare against God, and all men not in touch of heart with God.1 There is the distinct intimation that this is the final disposition of these, as though the final permanent form which things take for these mentioned.
Now turn to Jesus' own teachings. Shall we remind ourselves of the outstanding character of Jesus, His humanness, His sympathy with suffering, His tenderness of heart and of speech, His self forgetful unselfishness in relieving suffering? These are among His most characteristic traits, admitted and admired by all. All this makes certain teachings stand out in bold relief.
Look at some of these words of His. "Enter ye in by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction . . ." For narrow is the gate and straightened the way that leadeth unto life." Here "destruction" is put in contrast with "life". There are two ways and two radically different ends to them.
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in thy name," and so on. "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from nie, ye that work iniquity."1 Here the absence of touch of heart is hidden under religious pretensions. And the result is put as absence from Christ's presence in the future life.
More vigorous language is used a little later in the same connection, where those not in touch of heart are "cast forth into the outer darkness; there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth". Unmistakeable talk, that! And under the guise of a parable the same dread language is used twice again for those found lacking in the final settlements.
The fact of a settlement day for all men, with a most studious fairness in taking account of all modifying facts and circumstances, and a dreadful result for some, is plainly taught in these thrice repeated words, "it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah (who were visited even in this life with such terrible judgment) in the day of judgment, than for you."
Listen again : In the end of the (present) age, "the Son of Man shall . . gather out . . all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire : There shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth."."' Could words be plainer or more heart-breaking?
With a triple variation of language, he says that it is better to suffer some in this life in the decision to be true and keep true than to suffer immeasurably more in the next life. "It is better for thee to enter into life maimed rather than . to go into the Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire." Then is added the terribly graphic rhetoric "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
In the close of His talk on Mount Olivet, He pictures the adjustments of the final settlement time in terrible language : "Then shall the king (pictured' in verse thirty-one as Himself) say unto them on His left hand, depart from me under a curse into the eternal fire." And, "these shall go away into eternal punishment."
And again listen to this word : "He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on Him.' With these quotations from Jesus' own lips, can there be any question as to the impression He meant to give in these teachings?
A Hard List to Quote
Let me add only a few others to this list of heart-breaking quotations. Paul tells the Athenians, "(God) hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath appointed."
He speaks plainly in the Romans epistle about the impenitent : "after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man what is due to his deed. . . unto them who are men of guile, selfishness, cunning, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation; tribulation and anguish upon every spirit of man that worketh evil."
"The Lord knoweth how (i. e., fairly in justice) to keep the unrighteous under punishment, unto the day of judgment." And this bit, "the heavens that now are, and the earth by the same word (of God as in creation) have been stored up with fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men". Jude's intense little letter has this, "angels. . . he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."
It is most striking that in the midst of that final description of rarest beauty of the heavenly world, which has so taken hold of the human heart, right in the very heart of it, in sharpest contrast with all the surroundings, stands this bit : "But the cowards, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and dealers with demons, and worshippers of anything and any one else than God, and all sorts of liars, their part shall be in the lake of fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
And the last word is this : "without are the mangy scavenger dogs, and the partners with demons. . . and everyone that doeth a lie." What a world of meaning packed into one word "without". It stands in contrast with the vision of rare beauty of God's homeland. Could more be said? Could anything be worse? Without!
That ends the list at present. And I am personally glad. It has been a task of suffering to gather them out, and go over them, word by word, and pile them all up together. I'm glad the heart-breaking task is done for now.
It will be noted that there seem to be two stages in point of time, in the place of punishment. At the present time these others are somewhere separated from God, and in mental and spirit anguish. The words used are "Ge-henna", "outer darkness", "unquenchable fire", and the like.
There seems a second stage indicated, a final stage; called "the lake of fire", and "the second death", which are indicated as the same thing. Satan himself is now not in hell, but somewhere in the lower heavens below God's throne, and above the earth.' He is to be cast down to the earth, and later is cast into the abyss, or the lake of fire. This is the phrase used for the final place for both Satan and some men.
There seems to be a-program of events outlined, with which this is connected. There is to be a different order of things on the earth some day, running a long time. At its close there is a short moral crisis on the earth, And then follows the final disposition of things. The final settlement with Satan and any preferring Satan's way, comes in this final disposition.
The Meaning of "Torment."
But there is one outstanding bit of Jesus' teaching that deals explicitly with this matter of the life beyond the grave. And I want to bring it in here. It is the remarkable story of the rich man and poor beggar in the Sixteenth of Luke. The story is drawn out by the criticism of the Pharisees, and is aimed directly at them.
The Pharisees were the dominant party in Jewish politics. They were the official religious leaders. For church and state were one thing. They posed before the crowds as saints. And it was notorious that they were as bad in their lives as bad could be. Their criticism of Jesus for His friendliness to the poorest classes drew out the three matchless parables of the Fifteenth of Luke, and that of the unjust steward in the Sixteenth.
The Pharisee leaders were in the crowd listening. The money parable stirred them. They scoffed openly. For they were "lovers of money." Then Jesus touched another sorely sensitive spot with them by speaking of the easy divorce so common among them.
Then at once He begins on this story of the rich man and the poor beggar. Their conditions in this life are touched first. The rich man was not simply rich. He was notoriously selfish. He lived "in mirth and splendour every day," a constant round of lavish selfish pleasure-seeking.
The beggar was afflicted in body as well as being a pauper. He was carried by some kind friend of his class to the rich man's gate daily, depending on scraps for subsistence. But even the dogs were kinder to him than his selfish rich brother-man whose servants threw out the crumbs.
Then there's the swift sudden change. The beggar died. That was the earthly end for him. The rich man died, and was buried. The splendour of life lingered over his remains. That was the earthly end for him.
Then comes the second picture, in the next life. Again there's the same painful contrast between the two, but with places exactly reversed. The beggar is tenderly carried by angels up into Abraham's bosom, the Jewish statement for utmost bliss. Not because he is a beggar, of course. He simply goes by natural spirit gravity to where his spirit kinsfolk are.
The rich man is in Hades. That tells us nothing of his condition until the phrase is added, "being in torment." That last word tells the story for him. It is so not, of course, because he is rich. He simply goes by natural movement to his center of spirit gravity.
That word "torment" is the significant word. Let us look at its meaning. It is used four times in this story, in our common authorized version. There are two different words underneath. The Revisions translate one of these, "in anguish." The rich man says, "I am in anguish in this flame." And Abraham says, "thou art in anguish."
This word translated anguish occurs four times in the New Testament. It occurs twice here. It is the word used of Joseph and Mary's distress over the absence of the boy Jesus,' and by Paul's Ephesian friends over his farewell words.' In both cases it is translated sorrowing.
Thayer's Greek Lexicon indicates these as the only occurrences. Its original meaning is to cause intense pain, to be in anguish, to torment or distress one's self. The. word clearly refers to one's mental and spirit condition, simply that.
The other word translated here "torment," occurs in varying form twenty-two times, in thirteen instances.' It is translated "vexed" once, "pained" or "in pain" once, "distressed" twice, and some form of "torment" eighteen times. Once the alternate phrase "have no rest" is added, and once "sorrow," where torment is used. Its original meaning has reference to the testing of metals by a touchstone. It came to be used for testing by torture to compel one to tell the truth. The meaning of all words grows and changes with usage. Note the usage in the Scriptures of this word,
Twice it is used of intense suffering through disease, once for the pains of child-birth, once for the difficulty of rowing in a storm, twice for persons distressed in mind and spirit by the con-duct of others, once as a name for a jailor, once by demons of their suffering, once of pain inflicted upon men by demons, once of Satan's suffering in the future state, once of suffering in the future state by men, once of the doom of Babylon, and twice of the suffering of this rich man in the story we are studying. That is to say, omitting the story in Luke, and omitting the use as a name for a jailor, six times it is used for pain or suffering wholly within one's self connected with the common experiences of life, and two of these six times the suffering is wholly of mind and spirit.
Twice it is used of demons suffering. Three times it is used of punishment inflicted in judgment. But whether, in this last the suffering is of mind and spirit only, or through some positive act of God in punishment is not specified. Judging by this usage it would seem usually to mean pain growing out of one's actions or through common experience and not through arbitrarily chosen punishment inflicted by God. Turning back now to the story of this man, he says, using this word, "I am in anguish in this flame." And his pain, as of being burned by fire, is further stressed in this plea to .Abraham "that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue." The language intimates that it is a terrible thirst that is burning him up.
It will be noticed that there is no change of spirit or of heart in this rich man. The only thing that is bothering him is his suffering. There's no thought of regret nor of remorse for the intense selfishness of his former life.. And his plea, while a perfectly natural one, is still simply to get some ease for himself.
He is sorry to be in such an awful fix. There's no suggestion of anything beyond that. Clearly his attitude toward God remains as before. The life there in that regard is merely an extension of the life he lived here. He is the same man in spirit as he was. That's clear, and that seems the decisive thing.
And in Abraham's reply to his plea, two things stand sharply out. There can be no alleviation of pain by the method the rich man suggests.
And the added words take hard hold of one's eye and ear and inner being, "between us and you there's a great gulf fixed," an impassable gulf. What that gulf is will be touched upon in our last talk, on "Another Chance." Just now it's enough to let the terrible fact stand out, naked and gaunt and real.
This is the most outstanding teaching on this matter from the lips of the tender-hearted, tender-spoken Jesus. There's another life beyond the grave. There's a distinction made between men in that next life. That distinction is shaped up, down in this life.
It continues beyond the grave as started here. There is a place of intensest pain of some sort over there. The language used here suggests simply pain of spirit. That of course is the in-tensest kind known. There's also a place of happiness. Some are in each. There's an impassable gulf between the two.
In Their Own Shoes
Now, let me try to gather up a few conclusions from all these and kindred passages. There is a sharp distinction drawn between two classes of men. It is based wholely on their voluntary continued attitude of heart toward the good and right and pure.
At the present time God is not acting in judgment. He is letting things work out their natural course. But he is keeping close watch, and there's a day of settlement surely coming.
There's a place of punishment in the next life. It passes through two stages. There is the present stage, running concurrently with the history of man on the earth. There is the final stage, beginning with the completely new adjustment of heavens and earth.
That place of punishment is a place of intensest pain of mind and spirit. It is not clear that there is anything in addition to that intensest of all suffering. The inferences are against its being so.
That place is not made by God. It is the creation or product of those who stubbornly set themselves against God. It seems that their accumulated action carried to its logical extent, with an increasing momentum, produces the condition that is called hell. That is the word used for the place where all such will go by the natural movement of their spirit gravity.
God does not send any one there. Whoever goes there, goes on his own feet, in his own shoes, by the use of his own free action and only so. And it seems quite clear that he stays there in the same way as he goes.
Hell has, and will have, no such huge population as would be logically concluded from much teaching on the subject. But there is un-mistakeable evidence that there is a group of incorrigibles. The language of Scripture leads one to say, a small minority of incorrigibles.
Note these words used at the very close, "and if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire."1 Those words "if" and "any" are very suggestive. It is not the language we commonly use for a great crowd, but rather of exceptional instances.
That all this is so is utterly heart-breaking to God. It is wholly against His will and plan. But, with the utmost reverence be it said, that God Himself cannot change the thing without infringing on man's utter freedom of action. The only possible way of removing utterly any even remote possibility of hell would be by destroying man's freedom of action.
It is objected that, if all this be so, it is a de-feat for God. And so, it is said it could not be, for surely at the last God will be completely triumphant. And that has a very very strong appeal in it.
It is to be noted however, that such reasoning is not based on God's revelation, but on logic, our reasoning processes. Logic is very subtle. The least slip in the process spoils the conclusions. And logic is a very slippery thing. One item left out, even though unconsciously, knocks the conclusion out.
On the other side, there are two things to be said. God will be victorious, even under such circumstances as outlined in this talk, in this : He will have held unflinchingly and unfalteringly, to the original high standard for man, namely that man shall be in His own very image. He will have held to it against the utmost to swerve Him from it. Man is as free in his will as God is in His.
Man retains his high estate in being free to use his will as he will, even while he is damning himself in using it in a bad way. It is full victory for God's great love-purpose in creation. And meanwhile there is clear inferential evidence that the door of right choice is always open, even though it is never used by some. This is the reasoned-out reply. It is the logic process. And again it is recalled that a single flaw in logical reasoning, even though undiscovered, a single factor omitted, quite changes the conclusion.
There's something better, more conclusive, on the other side. That is the revealed fact of truth in God's inspired Book. A single citation here contains enough if there were no more. It is from the final view given of earth's affairs. It deals with the racial climax. It is the description of God's ideal at the very culmination. Evil has been judged finally.
Satan is disposed of. The old earth is displaced by a new or wholly regenerated earth. Our language seems almost used to the full in the attempt to picture the beauty and bliss, the peace and happiness, of that ideal, now become really real.
In the very midst of this glowing highly-colored picture comes the bit to be quoted here. It could not stand in sharper contrast with its immediate surroundings than it does. It is like a spot of blackest ink on whitest paper, like a mangy cur among thoroughbreds. It's a thing a man, of himself, would never have done, put this statement in that setting of bliss and purity and beauty.
Listen to the words so out of keeping with their surroundings : "But" but, what a tremendous but !—"for the fearful (or cowardly) and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers (partners with demon spirits) and idolaters (worshippers of anything and any one rather than of God), and all (sorts of) liars, their part is in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
That doesn't at all mean that these people are commonly known as murderers and sorcerers and liars and so on. Some of them may be. It is the language of the Holy Spirit. It is describing things as He sees them.1 His eye looks through to the motives as well as the common trend of life. Many of these are what would be called cultured persons, moving in church circles.
But the Holy Spirit, looking down into their motives and lives, sees that this man is using some power he has against another to the degree of shortening the other's life or worse. That man is unclean in his thoughts and imagination and acts. This other one is having communication with evil spirits, which is commonly called spiritism ; and that one yonder is living a lie, or practicing deception.
And in the epilogue the same note is struck again. And it is most significant that this time it is directly connected with that highest of all human powers, free choice, God's best gift to man. Listen : "He that is set on being unrighteous, let him be free to follow his choice and do unrighteousness, and it will be with a constantly increasing momentum.
"And he that is set on going to the passionate depths of evil doing will be free to follow his bent, with the slant down getting steeper." And then the same thing, in the same two degrees, is spoken of those choosing the right way.
And when Jesus comes to get things straightened out, He will give to each man as his choice has been.1 And then blessing is pronounced on those who insist on choosing the right regardless of difficulties and opposition, and so do the thing that goes with right choice, go for cleansing to the Blood of the Lamb.'
Then immediately comes the terrible "without" sentence. "Without are those whose choice takes them there, those who do not go to be washed." And the Eye that sees things just as they are, sees that underneath whatever veneering may be used, they are in spirit as the mangy scavenger curs of the Orient, they are those having touch with demon spirits, the unclean, those who unfeelingly use their power to crowd others to the shortening of their lives, those that put self and its interests above God, and the climax is reached in those who love and practice deception of any sort.'
Who shall speak after God? Who shall give contrary opinion after the Book has spoken? This is the last word on the subject. And the ostrich shutting its eyes to danger becomes a surer victim of the danger. We'll do well not to see an ostrich if there's a mirror at hand.
That is all for now. We take the matter up again from a totally different angle, in our last Talk. This Talk deals with the facts in the case. The last one deals with the principle and the process that underly and go with the facts.
It's been a hard story to tell. It's been told with an aching heart. Yet the truth must be told simply, clearly, and in due connection with related truth. To be tender-hearted without being truthful is not loving. It is unkind. It is cowardly.
To tell such truth, without being broken-hearted by the awfulness of it, is to be hard hearted, inhuman, un-Godlike. Jesus' most terrible denunciation of the Jewish leaders ends in a great sob.' And a few days later that sob of grief broke his heart. He made the one great solitary sacrifice, that no man might ever be left outside because of his sin score ; that so the man who chooses Him as Saviour may have the full right in the Father's house.
I recall sitting one evening as a guest in the big dining room of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Mr. Moody himself was sitting at the head of the faculty table. And after the meal there was a little informal speaking. A member of the faculty told a witty story, the point of which was regarding future punishment. It was greeted with a general laugh.
Instantly Mr. Moody was on his feet. "Well," he said, "whenever you do talk about hell, let it be with tears in your voice." There was the rare blend of tenderness and truth that always marked Moody, and Moody's Master.