Salvation After Death?
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This is a question of chances. This talk will be a sober thoughtful study of chances. We say that every man should have a fair chance. That is ingrained in us.
The Britisher prides himself on his proverbial insistence on "fair play." And the American likes to think that that is one of his strongest traits, too. Underneath everything else, that is really the question here. Will every man have a "fair chance"? Will he get "fair play"?
That is to say, is God fair? Will he be fair with us when settling time comes? There've been some vigorous things said on the other side. Are these fair to God? God's good name has been slandered quite a bit. They say He will not give a man a fair chance. Are "they" right or wrong?
A chance is an opportunity. This is a question of opportunity. If you dig under that, it is really a question of a man's use of opportunity. Or rather, dig in just a bit deeper, it's a matter of keeping hold of our ability to use the opportunity.
For this touches directly one of the automatic laws of life. That is to say, what we don't use we lose. That is an inexorable law. What we can do, and don't do, by and by we lose the power to do. That "can" is lost. Failure to do steals away the power to do. If you refuse to use your eye, if you stay in the dark, by and by you can't use your eye. The seeing power is gone out of the eye. If you don't use any given set of muscles they go bad. You can't use them when you would.
The real question is this, will the man who has had full opportunity of making right choice here, and who has not used it, will he have an-other opportunity? Will the present opportunity be lengthened out beyond the grave? Or, digging deeper, if a man hasn't used his opportunity here, will his using power stick by him over there?
For, be it keenly marked, every man is master of his own destiny. He makes his own life. His present action controls his future. Every man is a prince in his own right. God said at the start, "have dominion" or mastery. Man is a master. He is masterful in his own action. He was made so. He is made so.
And so it can be said thoughtfully that life opportunity. I mean to say this, and say it as strongly as I can, this : the biggest single thing in life is that it is an opportunity. If a man is alive, he has opportunity, opportunity to pick and choose, to decline and refuse, to go up or down. The earth is peculiarly the place of opportunity. Life is an open door to every man. The earth is an open door to every one on it.
Is this the reason why there is such a terrific moral battle on here? Is this why the Evil One seems to be massing all his forces now and here? For it is clear enough that the earth is a battlefield, above all else, a tremendous moral battlefield. Every man's life is a battlefield. For the battle of earth is fought out and settled on the human battlefield of a man's life.
The black pencil mark is under that "another". Is there another chance? All life is a chance, as long as it may be, always long enough to use the opportunity it is. Is there another chance after this?
There are four common answers to this question. That fact of four shows how folks don't agree. Some say that one doesn't need another chance. No matter how we've used or not used our chance here, the thing goes only one way. We'll all pull through on the other side past any threatening dangers. And lately they have been adding, "We'll all pull through easily." Then there is an increasing number of those who say, quite positively, "Yes, there is another chance." Different groups gather here.
Strange to say, there are two separate "no" answers. And they come from two groups aggressively opposed to each other. Some say, "No, there's not another chance because if you haven't used your chance here, that's the end of you. You simply . cease to exist. There's no other chance for you, because there's no "you" left to have another chance. This teaching is called "conditional immortality." Immortality or continued existence is conditioned on one's relation to Christ, these teach.
The second "no" group puts the same general answer, but from a radically different angle. This is the old so-called orthodox group. In-stead, of another chance there is a ceaseless time of sleepless remorse over the unused chance. The tooth of pain never ceases cutting into your increasingly sensitive spirit, they say. The flame never burns out. It's a plain blunt "no," unadulterated, unmitigated, sometimes uttered in harsh forbidding tones.
What is the true answer? Is there an authoritative answer? Yes, there is. There is an authoritative Book. And it gives the one authoritative answer. It is the one source of reliable information. For we must have here not opinion, nor theory, nor wish. The thing is too serious. We must know authoritatively, if that's possible. Happily it is possible. The Book of God gives clear positive answer.
Let me at once give the Book's answer in a single sentence. Then we'll turn to the Book for its own specific statements. And the startling thing to note is this, that it doesn't agree directly with any one of these four answers. Though its answer comes to be practically the same in effect as one of them.
The Book's answer is this. Yes and no: so far as the character of God's love is concerned there is another chance, that seemingly never runs out; so far as a man,s decision is concerned there is no other chance. And man's decision is the decisive thing there, as here. That seems undoubtedly to be the Book's own authoritative answer.
Now turn and look into the Book, for its detailed teachings. And the first question, that comes up for its answer is this: Is death the dividing line of opportunity? Life is opportunity. When does that opportunity close? At death? Certainly death is a radical turning-point. When is the final decision rendered?
Listen to this word of Jesus: "If thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off ; it is good for thee to enter into life (that is, the life beyond) maimed, rather than having two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire."
And then follows the emphasis of a repetition twice over, with variations of "foot" and "eye". And then this terrific underscoring, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."' Quite plainly our Lord teaches here that death is the decision time. It is the dividing line of opportunity. Life is opportunity; death is the close of opportunity.
Then there is another very decisive and explicit passage. It is the story of the rich man and the poor beggar in the Sixteenth of Luke. That story is taken up rather fully in the third of these talks, "The Others." Clearly here death is the settlement time. At death each case is closed. And it is settled on its merits as it stands at that point. The award decided upon begins at the turning-point of death.
Yet on the other hand, there's something else. This is not all the Scripture teaching. We want to be careful to get all, and then strike the balance. There is the striking passage in First Peter. There are two bits here that connect and run together. First comes this, speaking of Christ, "being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit ; in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, that aforetime were disobedient, when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, and so on.'
Note a few things about this passage. These spirits clearly were of men, human spirits, who had been disobedient to God's voice during their life on the earth, while Noah was building the ark. They had been swept away in the great cataclysm of the flood. And they are spoken of in the spirit world as being "in prison!' This is the only place that that phrase is used for punishment in the next world.2
Now, it plainly says that Jesus went and preached to them. The word preached is that commonly used for preaching the Gospel. The plain inference of the connection is that while Jesus' body lay in Joseph's tomb, His spirit went on this gracious errand of mercy. He preached the message of the Father's love, and of His own sacrifice on Calvary, just made, The first preaching of the Calvary message was by the Calvary Man.
Then Peter picks up this thread again, a few lines further down. "For unto this end was the Gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men who are still in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."
Here is stated the purpose of the preaching. It was with a view to the coming time of judgment. It was to insure perfect fairness in the judging. There was to be full fair opportunity in order to a fair impartial judgment. The supposition at once is that these had not had that full opportunity essential to a fair just judgment in their cases. In the race-wide sweep of the terrible flood catastrophe that came, they had not had that fair chance.
And, at first flush, it would seem at once that these did have another chance for their salvation, after death. But a moment's thinking quickly indicates that it was not another. It was apparently their first opportunity. The whole swing of the connection makes that seem quite clear. It was the exquisite fairness of God giving them a chance which seemingly they had not had.
And, note further please, very keenly, this is the only passage of the sort in the whole Book of God. It stands out as the solitary lonely exception. This is immensely suggestive and significant. Thousands of passages, literally, urging right choice, and urging it now; one, just one, speaking by inference of a possible opportunity in the future life.
And the reference is incidental. For the main thing Peter is talking about is God's fairness in judgment. Teachers and educators will be keen to note the teaching principle here. Incessant repetition makes the essential thing stand out. The incidental drops practically out of view under the continued emphasis on the main point.
The Bible is an intensely practical book. It is a model in practical psychology, as well as in applied pedagogy. It is aiming continually at an immediate practical impression that shall influence one's decisions and life. It doesn't tell all the truth. It does tell all we need to know for right decision. And its whole insistent plea is this: Choose; choose the only right; choose it now, now.
God's Fixed Principle of Action
Take another look at the Book. There is a principle underlying God's treatment of men who set themselves against Him. It is a settled principle. He never varies from that principle by so much as the narrow width of a slender hair.
It is not a principle of punishment, primarily. Though the fact of punishment is tied up with it. It is not a using of God's superior power against these men. And it. is not an arbitrary imposing of His will upon those unable to resist or get away. Indeed it is not an arbitrary principle in any way.
I use that word arbitrary in the good sense, of course. It may mean capricious or unreasoning. But in law it means such action or decision as is properly settled upon by the personal judgment of opinion of a judge or tribunal. It stands in contrast with decisions settled by certain established rules or equities. It should be noted that' arbitrary action is recognized as quite proper. And God might act in what would be called an arbitrary way, with full justice and right.
Yet the principle that controls him is not arbitrary. It goes deeper. It has more of the heart element in it. I might say it has more of the good human element in it. I mean the sympathetic fellow feeling element, that feels with a man in his difficulties and surroundings.
It is not on the level of law and right, merely. It is not merely what God might properly do. No, the controlling principle is up on the level of love, a strong controlling love. It is a matter of what He prefers to do. It is not the principle controlling a severe judge, perfectly proper in itself. It is rather the principle that controls a wise father.
Some one thinks here of that Twenty-fifth of Matthew. In the judgment scene depicted there, the King on the throne, who is the Son of Man Himself, acting as judge, says to some, "Depart; under a curse," and so on. That does indeed seem like a properly arbitrary judgment of the King.
Yet as one fits it in with all other passages dealing with the same matter, it is seen to be simply the judge's statement of how the scales swing. The judge holds the scale steady and true. The man's action tips them this way or that. The judge announces which way the scales tip. His action is recitative rather than arbitrary.
That fixed principle that controls God in His dealings with the man who sets himself against God, as with all men, is this: every man shall be utterly free to think ,and act as he chooses. That was the dominating principle in Eden. It is the dominating principle as God breathes creative life and spirit being into every babe born. It will remain in absolute control in the future, wherever a man may choose to go. God has never taken that gift of free choice back. He never will.
To appreciate keenly how finely true this is one must brood over the character of God. He is not a judge, merely. He is that indeed, in the finest sense. But He is more than that word makes us think of. He is indeed, as the old phrase goes the moral Ruler of the universe. But with God the whole thing is on a higher, deeper, tenderer, humaner, level.
It will help get at the thing to recall some of the earlier ideas of the word "father". There are ideals inherent in the word which we westerners have lost, in some measure. The father was the head of the family. He ruled. There was no exception possible to his rulings. He was the priest of the family. He led its worship. He stood to the family for God, and stood to God for the family.
He was the teacher, instructing, disciplining, training and moulding. And with these, mingled inextricably was the tenderness of the father for his own child, companionship with the child, devotion to the child, an intense ambition and pleasure in. the future of the child, and in an emergency any sacirfice needed for the sake of it.
That old idea carried to its fullest degree, re-fined to the utmost, is the one word for God. He is peculiarly the Father. And be it keenly noted, He retains that relation creatively toward every man regardless of how that man treats God. He can't, of course, do all He would do except as the man voluntarily, gladly lets Him.
It will surely help here to make a contrast. Black put beside white looks blacker, or shows how black it really is. In contrast with the true meaning of father as seen in God, look at a weak human father.
David let his son, Amnon, go unrebuked and unpunished, though his wrong was as bad as bad could be. David let his favorite son Absalom also go free of rebuke or discipline or punishment. Yet Absalom was a murderer as Amnon was an adulterer. So lust and violence, two of the worst demons, were let loose in his kingdom.
Yet David was a wise ruler. But the father in him overcame the king in him. His emotion blurred his judgment. He knew full well as king, how evil the thing was, and how disastrous to his rule and kingdom. But the emotion in him dimmed his eye, and unsteadied his usually shrewd judgment. The result was that lust and blood ran riot. In the bad mix-up, he actually let the weakened fatherly traits in himself de-throne him as king. That's an illustration of weak fatherhood.
Two Flaming Proclamations
It will clear the ground, too, and help to sharper thinking, to remember the meaning of a phrase like "the wrath of God." It does not mean that God is angry in the common usage of that word. May I use a very homely phrase simply to make things clearer? It does not mean that He is "mad at you," in the common use of that term. Merely to put the thing that way makes it clear at once to thoughtful people that, of course, it does not. Yet may I remind you that the unthinking crowd unthinkingly has just that idea, especially when under the sway of some gifted religious demagogue.
Now, a little thinking into the character of God reveals the fact that the wrath of God is His purity blazing out against impurity. It is his fine sense of justice flaming out against rank injustice, His honesty burning as a fire against all dishonesty, deception, and trickery of every sort.
His wrath is never against man, except as the man gets so tangled up in the bad to which he's committed himself that the two are inseparable. "The wrath of God is revealed . . . against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men."
Now, look at the Scriptures on the principle that controls God in this matter. On the very first leaf of the Book man is entrusted with the power of free choice and action. His continued good fellowship with God is conditioned on his own choice. Not to eat of the tree would keep him in touch with God. He is told not to eat. Yet it is a matter of choice. He can eat if he will. He has the ability.
Yet if he do, the break fellows at once. "Dying, thou shalt die"; a beginning, a process, a finished result. The worst result is plainly stated at once as a help and a warning. God Himself, man's Fellow in the garden, is the wooing by His mere presence, the pleading, that he do not eat of the tree. There would be separation. It would naturally be heart-breaking to God. There at the very start, is the statement of the fundamental principle of free choice.
On the last page of the Book is the same identical thing. It is connected with that most winsome picture of the future life in the presence of God. But there's a bit of ugly black coloring in the picture. Then comes the bit emphasizing this unchangeable principle of God's great love for man, the principle of utter free choice.
Listen : "He that is set on being unrighteous, let him be wholly free to follow his choice, even here, and do unrighteousness." And the faithful warning word is graciously added, "and it will be with an ever increasing momentum."
"And he that is set in his choice to go on to the unrestrained depths of lustful passionate indulgence shall be left utterly free to follow his choice, and it will be found that the slant down gets steadily steeper and sharper."
Then the other side is put in the same two degrees. "He that is set in his choice to follow only the right and pure and good will be wholly free to follow the bent of his choice, with an ever increasing ease of movement upward."
"And he that chooses to climb the hill toward the highest peak of personal purity and holiness or wholeness, perfection of character, will have the fullest freedom in following his bent or choice. And he will find, too, the steepest heights more easily climbed as he goes up."
And when Jesus comes to straighten things out, He will give "to each man according as his choice has been." And his blessing is given those who have insisted on right choice in spite of difficulties and opposition. These now do the thing that goeth hand-in-hand with right choice. They go for cleansing to the blood of the Lamb.' And "without" are those whose choice leads and leaves them there.
Those two passages stand like two flaming proclamations at the beginning and end of this` Book of God. He means that there shall be no ignorance nor mistake nor misunderstanding on this unwavering principle that controls Himself, this highest rarest gift of God to man, of free choice.
Now, all the way between, the Book is simply crammed with statements and illustrations of this same thing. Open almost anywhere, at random, and you will find pleadings to choose the right, warnings against persistence in wrong choice, and illustrations of those who do, and those who do not, make right choice.
Here then is the clear unmistakeable rare principle of strong love that controls God in His dealings with the man who is set against God's way of things. It is an unvarying principle. Love never faileth. It was so at the beginning.
It has been kept up, unflagging, all along the way. It stays clear through to the unending end. Man's freedom of action is never interfered with by so much as half the breadth of a narrow hair.
Now it is fairly fascinating to find that with this principle goes ,a process. The two go together hand in glove. The principle of love is side by side with a rare process of love. I refer to the process by which a man goes to hell (the pen sticks with sheer pain at putting down the necessary words,) if he go.
He is not sent there. He is not put there. It is not a case of superior physical force taking possession of him, overcoming his resistance, and compelling him somewhere against his will. All human analogies, such as arrest by officers of the law, and enforced imprisonment in the penitentiaries, quite fail to tell the story here.
And further, it is not by any arbitrary action of God's, however fair and just it might be, by common consent. The process is simply this The man is left to himself. What God does is this : Ho does nothing. He leaves the man to himself.
Now, the look into the Book. In the story of man's being put out of Eden it says of God, "so He drove out the man."1 And the picture we have all had, pretty much is that of God in some forcible way driving Adam and Eve out, and they reluctantly forced to yield to a power they could not withstand.
The same identical word is used by Cain on the other side of the page, "Behold, thou hast driven me out this day . . . and from thy face shall I be hid."."' And one gets precisely the same picture as in the case of Adam and Eve.
But, mark thoughtfully, what it says a few lines further down in describing what actually took place: "And Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah." This at once throws light on the expulsion from Eden, as well. That last sentence would naturally mean that there was no physical force used, but only moral.
The whole probability, practically to the point of certainty, is that Adam and Eve were greatly awed by God's presence and words. They were conscience-stricken, humiliated to the very dust. And they went out even as Cain. The sense of God's love and goodness to them, and his purity, and the bitter sense of their shame, their awful failure, the terrible break that they had caused between themselves and God, that sense and that only, drove them out. The whole fair presumption is that the sense of the character of God was so strong upon them that they walked out of their own accorde, so far as any action on God's part was concerned, of the sort that we think of as physical.
This fits in perfectly with the very striking language Paul uses in that outstanding First of Romans. There is a terrific indictment of the whole race in its sin of going its own way clean against God's way. And then Paul clearly states God's treatment of them.
Three times over its says "God gave them up.' He did His best to restrain them. His love, His creative and sustaining and preserving care, His pleadings and wooings, were lavished on them. Then came the terrible words quoted, "He gave them up." He simply answered their tacit persistent prayer to be left alone. He left them, alone. He left them to themselves. The process is quite clear.
A few years later, writing from Rome to the Ephesians, Paul traces the steps in the process, on the human side, by which a man goes away from God to his doom.' He says, "Walk no longer as the outsiders (Gentiles) also walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling give themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness:"
The natural steps in the process are partially reversed here. He begins where the outsiders are at the time walking, or living the wrong sort of life. Then he traces the steps backward toward their starting-point, and adds the climax. Let us put them in the order in which they naturally happen. First, there's the "hardening of the heart," or setting one's will against God. This results in their being "alienated," that is, cut off from God. Their action automatically cuts them off from God, but in their wilful ignorance they don't realize what they are doing.
Then quickly follows their being "darkened in their understanding." The whole mental processes are affected. The moral vision blurs. They call good evil, and evil good ; darkness light and the reverse, and so on.1 With this is joined naturally "the vanity of their minds." In failing to get things straight, they easily get full of their own ideas spun out of the fancy of their colored imaginations.
And this of course controls their "walk," that is, the practices of their daily life. And when this stage is reached, it quickly gets to the sad "past feeling" stage, morally. They give them-selves up to unrestrained passion and lust. And the last, hardened stage is where lust is traded in for sordid gain. The whole movement, it will be thoughtfully noticed is automatic. It is the natural logical staircase downward. And that is describing things in this life. It is like that here. What will it be there? Here, now, grace still influences, even though resisted. There, then, it apparently is quite kept out, shut out.
Jesus' treatment of Judas that betrayal night sheds a flood of light here.' There was the utmost effort to keep Judas in. The plain-spoken warning Judas instantly recognized as meant for himself. Then there's the bit of tender personal love-touch in handing Judas the tid-bit, the first morsel from the dish containing the simple evening meal.
But Judas hardens his heart against warnings and tender pleadings alike. That hardening, which was a shutting out of God, was a letting in of some one else. Then Judas, bent on carrying his purpose, rises and goes out. And it was black night out where he had gone.
A Dramatic Illustration
It will be noticed that these passages all have to do with the present life. And we are talking about the future life. But these reveal God's habit in dealing with men. And at heart, this is a question about God. Will God be fair? In the common talk of the crowd, "will God play fair?"
These passages show how God does now. They do more. They show the principle that controls Him in his dealings. We see His unvarying insistence of man being free to choose. And they show the process that works out under that principle. Unless there are some specific statements in the Book regarding a change of principle and process we would naturally look for this treatment to continue beyond the grave. And, be it carefully noted, there are no such specific statements.
But, now, we turn to another sort of passage. It is the story of Pharaoh in Egypt. And it should be keenly noted that here God is dealing in judgment. That is, He is acting to settle-up long-standing wrongs, and to straighten them out.
The Hebrews had been wronged in the most grievous way for several generations. The Pharaohs had oppressed them with increasing heartless severity. There had been a long period of long-suffering by God toward the Pharaohs. Now a settlement time has come. That is what judgment, in principle, is. °
There are now specific warnings and requests and pleadings with Pharaoh before action is taken finally. Then comes a carefully graduated series of transactions that constitute a visitation of judgments upon Egypt. They grow steadily from less to greater, from bad to worse. And there's always an interval between times to give Pharaoh opportunity to make the changes needed.
There is a significant word here. It seems to be used about nineteen times in a brief space. It's the word "harden," in varying forms. God says, "I will harden his (Pharaoh's) heart."Nine times it says, with some variations, that He hardened Pharaoh's heart.' And five times it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, or was stuhborn.
That hardening was, and is, an unnatural thing, though so common. Man was created to live in touch with God. Out of that touch he is out of his native environment. And he doesn't act as he naturally would. Pharaoh had persistently shut God's pleadings with his inner heart, and God's presence, out. He cut himself off from that influence which would have made him act in a true human natural way. The result is expressed in this significant way. His heart was hardened or heavy. It was stubbornly set. And it says distinctly that he sinned in this very thing of hardening himself against God.'
He had been doing this for long. Now the decision time has come. God purposes to let the Egyptians and the Hebrews and the world know directly of His rejected scorned power. He simply now withdraws some of the creative touch He has been keeping on Pharaoh. Some of his gracious restraint is withdrawn. That is all. He doesn't do anything except to stop, partly, what He has been doing.
The visitation of judgment runs through plagues or pests, disease, storms, the death of every Egyptian first-born son, and the drowning of the Egyptian army. In each case it is quite possible that the action came simply through the withdrawal of divine restraint. And every-thing of the sort in the Book favors the supposition that that was the way it did come.
In the case of the first-born dead there was nothing that the Egyptians could see that happened to kill their heirs. They simply knew that the babe or boy or young man was found lying dead in his bed.
In the case of the army drowning the wind blew back the waters. It was a special act of God's power on behalf of His people. He held the waters back. When they were safe, that power was withdrawn. The law of gravity pulled the waters back again. The Egyptians in their headstrong rage put themselves in danger. The danger materialized. The waters swamped them. The process was wholly a natural one.
Now, this is more than history. It is teaching, picture teaching. It's a triple picture. It's a picture of God's patience, the most marked trait of His character in the whole story. It's a picture of the obstinate headstrong stubborn will of a man, out of his native element, God's gracious presence. It's a picture of the principle and process in judgment.
There are certain apparent partial exceptions to this law of action. It seems like- arbitrary action on God's part in the flood that destroys the whole race, except eight persons ; and in the terrific lightning-storm that wiped out Sodom and the other cities of the Plain.
But it is not at all clear that there was arbitrary action.. Ít is impossible to know. And if so, it extended simply to the time element involved. Sin left to itself burns itself out. There seems here simply a shortening of the time involved in the natural process.
And maybe not even that, for there may have been a patiently extended restraint that prevented disaster from coming earlier. Then the restraint withdrawn, nature's process worked out naturally, and maybe faster through the acceleration of long restraint withdrawn.
Let it be thoughtfully marked that God has hung up these and other danger signals in full view. The train I was on the other day ran by a large powder factory. And everywhere about the place I could read, even as we hurried by, the warnings in large letters against "matches" and the like. We ran by some out-buildings of the railroad company, with stringent warnings in plain view against inflammables because of the contents of these buildings.
God's danger signals are in big bold letters, hung up where all the race can read. The Dead Sea is a warning signal, known to all. It's the deepest ugliest scar on the earth's surface. No life can exist there, neither animal nor vegetable. It points out the fact of judgment on 'wrong.
But there's something closer by. Nature's common laws are inexorable, mercilessly inexorable, aye, because merciless therefore merciful, mercifully inexorable. The fire mercilessly burns your hand if you stick it in. Instantly you snatch it out. The pain mercifully leads you to keep your whole anti from the flame.
In contrast, man's laws are notoriously loose. And so the contagion of evil spreads. One murderer acquitted is followed by other murders. It never fails. Failure to uphold the dignity of law leads to a lowered moral tone in the community, inevitably. A king or a president, loose in his personal morality, always leads the crowd down the same incline. Nature's laws are merciful because they are so merciless. The warning signals are at hand everywhere.
This then traces the process of God's dealing with the man who sets himself against God. It is a process of patient strong love on God's part, and of reluctant witholding of what is being rejected. It is, a process of terrible de-gradation on man's part, gradation downwards.
A Study in Chances
And now we swing back to our starting point on this talk. It is really quite accurate to say that this is a study of chances. That is to say, technically, theoretically, the thing is not settled at death. It is never settled. The way is always open for another chance. That statement is logically technically, accurate. Underscore technically. Technically means so far as the points of logic are concerned.
But what about actually? The man on the street is impatient of theory. He is concerned only with the practical. And so now we will discuss the thing wholly from the practical, the common sense point of view. What are a man's chances who passes out of this life without taking advantage of his opportunity Godward?
And the answer to this is very plain and positive. You know that there is now a science of chances. At least it is reckoned a science for all practical, that is to say, for money-making purposes. The great life insurance and assurance companies have experts on chances. And the huge volume of business they transact, involving billions of dollars, is based wholly on the findings of these experts.
These men are called actuaries. An actuary is one skilled in the doctrine and practice of chances as applied to human life. They calculate your chance of life in the most critical impersonal dispassionate way. They have the whole subject of chances down to a science. That is, down to the point of definite knowledge of certain facts and tendencies. They have worked out a law of chances. It is with them purely a matter of money.
Now let me say soberly that there is here a study in the science of chances. And when you sift the thing down to the last word, the final word is not spoken by God. It is spoken by the man concerned. It is wholly a matter of his choice.
It can be said, very thoughtfully, that so far as God is concerned, judging simply from His character as revealed in this Book, that there is never a time when a man turning to God in true penitence would not find God's door wide open.
But, but, the probability or chance of a man changing his choice is so extremely remote that it can be said in the most positive terms that there is not another chance beyond the grave. The matter rests with the man. And he won't give himself the chance.
The man who doesn't do today, what he knows in his heart he should do, is are you listening very quietly? is, let me say it very quietly, but as plainly as English can put it, he is playing the part of a it's a hard word to say, but it's literally a true word, so it must be said, even though saying it gives sharpest pain, he is playing the part of a fool.
He is a fool, and not even a bright fool. He is playing a losing game. That means a lost game. He is still playing but the game is settled by the law of chance, and settled lost. That is not simply using strong language. It is really an understatement. The word fool is less than what the man is.
Why do I say that? Listen very thoughtfully, and I will tell you why. It is easier to make the right choice to-day than it will be to-morrow. It will be actually harder to-morrow. No, that isn't simply good Methodist exhorting. That's true, as a mere bit of pure psychology. It's a scientific statement according- to the fixed law of chances.
Let me explain why. You see the whole thing depends on the thing in the man that does the choosing. If he knows to-day, by the inner feel, that he should accept Jesus as his Saviour, with all that that means, and he doesn't do it, he is making a decision. He is choosing. He is choosing not to choose.
That act of choosing affects his choosing power. It becomes at once a bit more set in its way, the way he has set it. It's like a bit of cement, it begins to harden. You say, "O, yes, but it's very slight." Yes, but however slight, it is so. He has a tougher task to-morrow. That inner pull is offset.
And every tomorrow the thing gets more set. It grows unlikelier every day that he will do that bit of choosing, simply because, just now, the choosing power is harder set the other way. If you do a thing once you can do it again. And
you are likely to. You will do it faster and more easily, and better or more decidedly or more skilfully.
Now let that go on for years, and then keep going on beyond the grave. And it comes to the point where he can't change. Theoretically he can. So far as God is concerned the way is open to him. Actually he can't. The choosing power is hardened beyond change. When he could, he wouldn't. Now he can't. And note sharply, he doesn't want to.
It isn't to say that now when he would he can't; not that. He still can, so far as God is concerned, but he does not want to. He wants to get away from the suffering, working out of his insistent choice. But he doesn't want to get into normal touch with God, through the crucified Christ.
This is the "great gulf fixed," the impassable gulf. The rich man in Luke Sixteenth evinced no desire to change his choice. There was no change in his attitude toward God nor toward his own selfish life on the earth. The only thing distressing him was the pain he was suffering. He wanted to get rid of that. That was all.
For notice how that choosing power in a man is limbered up so it can reverse itself. It is not by some act of judgment, nor by pain, nor suffering of any sort. All evidence makes it quite clear that these things of themselves do not soften; they harden. It is only God's gracious softening mellowing touch that can unlimber that hardened stiffened rusted will. And that's shut out. The man has shut out the one thing that would normalize his choosing faculty and help him change his choice.
Love Never Faileth
And so this authoritative Book makes very positive statements about the terrible final result for the man who insists on leaving God out, or openly antagonizes His rule. The Book has a distinctive way of putting things. It is a popular book, in the best sense of that word. It is, of course, an Oriental book. And that is the same thing as saying that it is a book for the common crowd of men everywhere.
The Oriental mode of thought and expression is really photographic. That is, it catches a picture at one point only. It states final fixed results, but doesn't go to giving the process by which that result is reached.
The characteristic western way is different. I mean the cultured scholarly way. I could say the book way as distinct from the common way of the crowd. It goes to processes. It analyzes and. dissects the process by which the result is reached. It is more like the moving picture photographs, giving the story in successive steps.
There's a distinct touch of divine wisdom and insight in the use of this Oriental mode in the make-up of the Bible. For this is the common mode of thought and expression, not only of the Oriental world to this day, but, broader, the common method of the crowds everywhere, in west-ern civilized lands as well as in the uncivilized and half-civilized lands.
And so the Book in its rare wisdom puts the thing in the way that is instantly understood by the common people everywhere around the world, and by all others, too. It states the final result. And it is found to be the result which we have found here at the end of our study of the process. It is the result reached by the specialist in the law of probability. It makes a profound impression upon a man studying the process to find the rare accuracy and the profound human wisdom of the statements of this old
Listen to its simple, tremendously positive, language. "He that believeth not (or disbe lieveth) shall be damned (or condemned)." "He that believeth (or obeyeth) not the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." "These shall go away into everlasting (or eternal) punishment. " These are authoritative statements of this Book of God. And they are fully concurred in by the human law of probabilities.
And so very thoughtfully you repeat the answer to the question. Is there another chance after death? Yes, and no. So far as the character of God's love is concerned there is another chance, a chance that seemingly never runs out.
Sc, far as man's decision is concerned there is not another chance. And man's decision is the decisive thing. God Leaves the matter with a man's free choice. He insists that a man shall stay up on the original level of free choice and action.
And so the last word, on the last page in the old Book, is a pleading word. It is spoken by the Man who died. He cries out earnestly, "He that will, let him take the water of life freely."'
The legend is told of a French mother who loved her son with a tense unselfish devotion. But he was caught by the wildfire of lust, and the flames burned deep. He came under the fascination of a rarely beautiful but utterly heartless bad woman. The mother held on to her son with love's tenacity and pleadings. The evil woman was enraged that she was not able to wipe out completely the mother's influence. In an evil hour, when her spell was strong, she got the young man's promise to bring to her the heart of his mother.
The legend pictures him keeping the promise. He was hurrying to his appointment with the evil charmer, with the bundle under his arm that contained his mother's heart. He stumbled and fell. And at once the voice he knew so well spoke with tender solicitude out of the bleeding heart, "Oh, my son, are you hurt," There was no reproach ; only love ; love's concern ; undying self-effacing love.
A legend ; yes, but it is true to life. It pictures the true mother. He could kill her, but he couldn't kill her love, nor still her voice. The mother love is the greatest human love known. The true mother-heart comes the nearest to God's heart.
God suffers when any creative child of his suffers. He suffers more over any one going to hell than the man who goes suffers. The man's capacity for finer suffering grows less. The finer feelings grow gross. God's suffering increases. But he won't rob man of his highest power, free choice, even to lessen his own suffering.
God's love never faileth. It can't. It won't.