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Problems of the Spiritual


I. As reported in the "Church Times" of March 9th, 1906, the Bishop of London, in answering, in public, two letters which had been sent to him, made the following statement. "The writers have been reading the work—'Our Life after Death,' and ask what they ought to believe. That book teaches UNIVERSALISM. It leaves out the strong things Jesus Christ said. What is called 'the strong language of the Athanasian Creed' is our Lord's own teaching. Are we, His Church, to water down what He said? "

These are statements, sufficiently grave and important, to warrant me in dealing with them in the pages of this book.

"That book teaches Universalism," says the critic. Most undoubtedly it does so; and if the criticism had ended there, we should have had no reply to make to it; except that Universalism is most clearly taught in the Bible. But the following part of the criticism seems to imply that the Universalist belief is incompatible with the doctrine of the Church of England.

We subjoin the following facts, which, in our view, show that Universalism is not out of harmony with the teaching of the Church of England; however much it may be in non-agreement with the teaching of individual members of that Church.

(I.) It is not generally known that the Fathers of the early Eastern Church avowed their belief in Universalism, and emphatically taught that Christ will ultimately fulfil His mission as "the Saviour of all men." That Evil would remain for ever as the rival Principle to God and Goodness, presented itself to them as a thought inconsistent and intolerable. They regarded it as impossible, that an Almighty God, "Who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. iii. 9 v.), should, nevertheless, in the case of countless millions of the human race, be never able to accomplish His will. The exaltation of Satan to such pre-eminence and power, as to regard him as a being capable of everlastingly frustrating the saving power of God, and of perpetually usurping the rule over the greater part of the empire of human souls, was to them an idea akin to the old-world notion of rival Gods—a God of Goodness and a God of Evil.

A study of the Alexandrian and Carthaginian Theologies shows that it was the contact of the Christian Religion with the Latin race, which caused the adoption of a restricted view of God's Purpose and Christ's Saviourhood.

That race was proud, exclusive and cruel in its instincts, and when, under Constantine, Christianity became the State Religion of the Roman Empire, the characteristics of the race made their impress upon the teaching of the Church.

The Church of England, in matters of doctrine, commends the principle of appealing to the first three centuries of the Christian Era. She could hardly do this, if the Universalist belief, so widely held by the early Church Fathers, were incompatible with her teaching!

(II.) In the year 1552, a Body of Articles, known as the "Forty-two Articles," was agreed upon by the Bishops and other learned men of the Church of England. The 42nd Article was one which condemned those who asserted that all men would finally be saved. This Article was deliberately expunged in 1562. Surely the Church would not have done this, had she viewed the Universalist position as an inadmissible one! "The 42nd Article was withdrawn" (said a Bishop of Manchester), "because the Church, knowing that men like Origen, Clement and Gregory of Nyssa, were Universalists, refused to dogmatize."

Again, at one of the revisions of our Prayer-Book, a demand was made by the Puritan Reformers, to expunge from the Litany the words—"That it may please Thee to have mercy upon all men." The objectors asserted that as the Purpose of God does not embrace the salvation of all men, it was manifestly inconsistent to pray for mercy on all.

The Bishops' reply was that the clause was perfectly Scriptural, and that we have no right to limit the mercy of God. The retention of this all-embracive petition in the Litany is therefore, surely, another indication that a belief in Universalism is not incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England.

(III.) But we turn to other parts of the Prayer-Book in support of our assertion. Do we not, in the same Litany, twice address our Lord Jesus Christ as the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world"? Do we not, in Holy Communion, repeat three times in one prayer this same address to Christ? We ask, are these words not a solemn exaggeration, if for ever, in hell, the sins of any men are to remain not taken away?

In the proper Preface for Easter-Day, we say that Christ "by His death hath destroyed death." But to abolish death surely must mean to abolish all that sin has brought on man. Death in its Scriptural significance, stands for alienation from God. If souls are to remain everlastingly alienated from Him, is it true to say that Christ is the Destroyer of death?

In the Prayer of Humble Access, we say of God— "Whose property is always to have mercy." Can that statement be harmonized with the idea of a hereafter condition for many, in which there will be no exercise of mercy?

One of the Ember Collects has these words— "To those who shall be ordained .... give Thy grace—that they may set forward the salvation of all men." Either the words contemplate the salvation of all, or they formulate a prayer which it is believed will not be granted.

In the General Thanksgiving, we bless God for our creation. If creation, for a vast multitude of the human race, will mean, as we have been told, everlasting ruin and suffering, is there any cause for blessing God for the creation of these poor, wretched beings? And was not the argument advanced by a certain one against Marriage, a perfectly sound and logical one, from the standpoint of that theology which we reject?—"If I were to marry," said he, "I might beget children, and some of them might spend Eternity in hell. There could be no happiness for me in Heaven, if I had to reflect that I was the instrumental cause of the existence of irremediably damned souls."

In the Church Catechism, the work of God the Son is defined in these words—"Who hath redeemed me and all mankind." We ask, is this statement true, if all mankind is not to be redeemed? We must be consistent; if any, even one of the human race be finally and irretrievably lost, then Christ has not redeemed all mankind.

We might adduce many more statements of the Prayer-Book to show that that Book sanctions the teaching of the "Larger Hope" : but these will suffice.

My critic states—"What is called 'the strong language of the Athanasian Creed,' is our Lord's own teaching."

In the first place, the Athanasian Creed stands on a very different footing, as constituting an authoritative statement of Christian belief, from that of the other two Creeds—"the Apostles' " and "the Nicene." These latter received the sanction of General Councils of the Church; the so-called "Athanasian Creed" never received such sanction. It forced its way, with its "damnatory clauses," into the formularies of the Christian Church, in spite of no authority from a General Church Council, and in defiance of the stipulation laid down by the Council which authorized the use of the Nicene Creed —that nothing was to be added to this last-named Confession of Faith.

The contrast presented between the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and the "Athanasian" Creed is very suggestive. The Apostles' Creed ends with the words—"The Life everlasting," and the Nicene Creed, with the words—"The life of the world to come." The "Athanasian" Creed concludes with the awful words—"everlasting fire." That fact, in itself, gives a very good indication of its Western, rather than Eastern, origin. Without entering into the history of the "Athanasian" Creed, it will be sufficient to say that it is admitted by all scholars that it was not written by the man whose name it bears. It treats of heresies which had not arisen until long after his death. The origin of it is very obscure. The internal evidence points to the conclusion that it was probably composed by a bishop, in Gaul, about A.D. 420-430. It was first admitted into the Gallican Psalter, and was afterwards received into the Office of the English Church during the ninth century.

We mention all this, merely to show that the "Athanasian" Creed is not of the same authority as are the other two Creeds. There are many of us who experience a feeling akin to pain, at being asked by our Church, on the great Festivals of Christmas and Easter, to publicly profess our belief, that millions of our fellow-creatures will " without doubt, perish everlastingly," because, as yet, they are without Christ, or cannot see " eye to eye " with us in our conceptions of Him. An ever-increasing number is praying God that this antiquated " symbol," which " shuts the door of Hope " against nine-tenths of the human race, may soon be removed from our beautiful Service, and no longer jar on the spiritual nerves of those who come to church to bless God for His "inestimable love in the redemption of the world."

If the sweeping and awful words of condemnation in this " Creed " were true, they should call forth from the congregation a wail of pity and despair. Can anything, we ask, be more unseemly and more un-Christlike, than to feel jubilant and ascribe "glory" to God, at the prospect of wretched beings who will be doomed to the inconceivable horrors of "everlasting fire"? If we really believed these "damnatory clauses," instead of singing a Doxology, we should fall down on our knees, and with agonized heart and streaming eyes, cry,—"Spare them, oh! spare them, merciful God!"

There is something rather saddening, rather indicative of an insensibility to others' woes, in the fact that hundreds of thousands of Christians, on the birthday of the Saviour, glibly endorse the hopeless statements of this "Creed," and then go home with an unimpaired appetite for their Christmas-dinner !

My distinguished critic says that the teaching of this "Creed" is "our Lord's own teaching."

Let us examine this statement.

The "Creed" starts with the words—"Whosoever will be (i.e. is willing to be) saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith."

The Catholic Faith is defined—" That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance."

I pass over the fact that not one-half of Christendom understands the metaphysical meaning of this word—" Substance." That clause of the " Creed " is, therefore, unintelligible to them. Are they outside the " Catholic Faith " in consequence?

Again, there is a very considerable body of Christians who view Christ as the only possible manifestation of God the Father. They take the words of Jesus literally—" He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father " (John xiv. 9 v.) They believe that when our Lord walked this earth, the Father was incarnate in that human Body. We think they "confound the Persons." They love Christ, serve Him and worship Him, but, according to the "Athanasian Creed," they do not hold the Catholic Faith. Will they, "without doubt, perish everlastingly"?

We take another instance—a very common one.

A man of business, religiously disposed, comes to church, and says his prayers, because he sincerely desires to do the right, and to live in communion with God. We tell him, in this "Creed," that if he wills to be saved, he must believe that "the Father is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Ghost is God; and that yet there are not three Gods, but one God." That mystifies him. "Three times one are not one," he says. He does not understand it; but he goes on praying to the great All-Father, in the Name of Jesus Christ. He sets the mental subtilty aside; and, according to the "Athanasian Creed," he does not hold a foremost Article of the "Faith." Will he, "without doubt, perish everlastingly"? We do not think he will.

Further, this "Creed" asserts—"The whole Three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal." Here is a man who detects, or thinks he detects, a contradiction in these words and the words of Scripture.

He remembers the words of Jesus—"My Father is greater than all" (John x. 29); and the words of St. Paul—" Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God (the Father) may be all in all " (1 Cor. xv. 28 v.). He, honestly, cannot reconcile Christ's and St. Paul's words with the idea of co-equality. He is not "in tune" with the "Creed's "presentment of "Catholic Faith." Will he, "without doubt, perish everlastingly”? We do not think he will.

But we ask—did our Lord Jesus Christ ever teach, that in order to be saved, "before all things it is necessary to hold the Catholic Faith," as defined by the "Athanasian Creed"? Did He ever teach that a man's acceptance by God depends upon his assent to a number of metaphysical ideas concerning Himself? Many came to Christ for blessing, and received it, who had very imperfect ideas of Him as the Son of God; many whose conceptions of Him had risen no higher than the thought that He was a Prophet invested with extraordinary powers. One has only to read the Gospel narratives to perceive that the only pre-requisite He laid down for the obtaining of blessing from Him, was that men should have trust in Him. They obtained His blessing, because they relied upon His goodness and power. He focussed the mind of men upon Himself, as He stood manifested to them; not upon any particular abstract ideas which subsequent ages might form of Him. The "Athanasian Creed" makes the salvation of men to depend, not upon the glorious fact that Christ will "save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him" (Heb. vii. 25 v.), but upon the acceptance of definitions, not formulated by Jesus, but by a document drawn up by an unknown author in the long-ago.

So, in answer to our critic, we as positively deny, as he has asserted, that the teaching of this "Creed" —which rests the salvation of mankind upon the acceptance of certain Christological ideas engendered in the atmosphere of controversy—is the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He never defined the Trinity. He presented Himself as the Embodiment and the Manifestation to men of Divine Love and Compassion, and said—"I and my Father are one" (John x. 30 v.); "The Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John x. 38 v.); "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John xiv. 9 v.); "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me" (John xiv. 1 v.); and there He left it. Men looked at Him and recognized Divine Love shining through Him, and were drawn thereby to the Father-God. It was left to later ages to bedim men's vision of the beautiful Christ, by a cloud of metaphysical speculations; and this "Creed" substitutes, as a condition of salvation, for a simple trust in a Divine Person, the holding of a certain set of theological ideas concerning His Personality. We contend that our Lord, while He did teach that upon Himself depended the salvation of mankind, never taught that anyone would perish, unless he should keep "whole and undefiled" the mystifying doctrinal pronouncements of the "Athanasian Creed."

But it is in respect to "the strong language of this 'Creed'" i.e. the "damnatory" clauses—that we take a still greater exception to our critic's remark as to their being "our Lord's own teaching."

The clauses which come under this heading are these—"He shall perish everlastingly," and "They that have done evil (shall go) into everlasting fire."

The concluding paragraph of this "Creed" accounts these two clauses as a part of "the Faith" necessary for salvation.—"This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved."

Let us see to what this paragraph just quoted commits us.

We must "believe faithfully" that there will be some who will "perish everlastingly" and "go into everlasting fire." What do these pronouncements teach? There can be no doubt on that point. They teach, plainly and unequivocally, the doctrine which has lain for sixteen centuries as a dark shadow and an incubus upon the Gospel of Christ.—I mean the doctrine of an everlasting Hell of suffering and misery, and of awful and irretrievable ruin to human souls. These phrases connote the idea that there will exist for ever in the universe a discord, a horror, a condition of things utterly abhorrent to a Being of Holiness and Love; which condition will bear witness that Evil is so strong and permanent a Principle, that even God Himself, though He hate it, cannot abolish it.

These "damnatory clauses" teach the doctrine of unending pain and woe for all who do not hold this "Creed's" presentment of the "Catholic Faith."

That was the idea of the unknown author of the "Creed." He voiced the theological conceptions of Western Christendom at the time he composed it. 1 hen, again, these clauses have always been regarded as bearing the signification we have expressed. Romanists and Protestants alike have used them as main-props of the horrible dogma of everlasting Hell-fire. Those in the Church who have been the staunchest upholders of this dogma, have been the ones who have most resented any interference with the "Athanasian Creed."

We are aware that many recite, in Church, these awful words of condemnation, with a sort of mental reservation, which leads them to think that they cannot mean anything quite so dreadful and incredible as they seem to express. They are quite mistaken. The "damnatory clauses" do teach, and they were meant to teach, the doctrine of everlasting woe. Those who reject this doctrine are not consistent in reciting words in which that doctrine has been intentionally embodied.

But is it true that these awful clauses are "our Lord's own teaching"?

We submit that Christ never taught that souls will "perish everlastingly," or that they will go into an "everlasting fire." We admit, of course, that there are a few passages in the Authorized English Version of the New Testament, which, as they stand, give a sanction to the idea of unending perdition. But the words have been mistranslated, and made to express something they were never intended to express. Our Lord did teach that those who rejected Him and truth and remained impenitent should "die in their sins" (John viii. 24 v.), and that for some there should be terrible experiences, symbolized by the terms—"the Gehenna of Fire," "the Darkness without," and "the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth"; but He never said that souls should perish everlastingly. His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus shows that His view of future punishment was, that it is disciplinary and remedial, and not vindictive and final. Terrible as were the experiences after death of the selfish rich man, Christ represents him as developing, in Hades, the God-like qualities of sympathy, unselfishness and concern for others. Such a representation is compatible with the idea of the "saving so as by fire," and that these terrible experiences into which human souls may plunge themselves, are the "sterner resources of Divine Love" for the recovery and not for the final damnation of any; but it is wholly incompatible with the idea of perishing everlastingly. We can conceive of nothing more contradictory in regard to God's Almightiness and desire that none should perish, than that the judgments of God should improve a man, and yet, nevertheless, that he should remain everlastingly lost.

The texts, we suppose, upon which our critic would pre-eminently base his assertion that the "damnatory clauses" of the "Athanasian Creed" are ''our Lord's own teaching," are Matt, xviii. 8 v. and xxv. 46 v.

In their mistranslated form they stand—"To be cast into everlasting fire"—"These shall go away into everlasting punishment." The Greek of those passages is—"To be cast into the fire which is aionial, or age-long." "These shall go away unto an age-long pruning." There is an infinite difference between "age-long" and "everlasting," and "pruning" and "punishment”; and no intelligent person doubts that Christ used the word "fire" in a figurative sense.

But after all, the strongest argument we can advance for denying that "our Lord's own teaching" was identical with that of the "damnatory clauses" is, that if He taught that there is an everlasting Hell-fire in which human beings will perish everlastingly, He contradicted Himself, and set forth two teachings absolutely irreconcilable. He said—"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me" (John xii. 32 v.). There is no escape from the conclusion. If this statement of Christ is true, none will "perish everlastingly”; unless we commit ourselves to the inconsistency of supposing that some may be drawn to the Saviour, and yet remain perpetually lost.

"Are we, His Church, to water down what Jesus said?" asks our critic. Most certainly not; but at the same time, we are not so to mistranslate and misinterpret some of His utterances as to make them directly negative other of His utterances. This has been done, for the sake of bolstering a dogma which outrages every true conception of Love, Justice and Mercy.

A very few words will answer the critic's charge that my book—"Our Life after Death"—" leaves out the strong things Jesus Christ said." The statement is incorrect, as may be seen by reference to the book itself. The "strong things" spoken by Christ are quoted again and again throughout the work, and in particular, on page 239 and onwards, under the heading—"Passages referring to Future Punishments, as they appear in the Greek New Testament." No, it is not we who hold the Fuller Hope of Christ's Gospel, who "leave out" any of the "strong things" He said. It is true we strip His utterances of some of the Roman and Puritanical significances subsequently imported into them, and translate His words in accordance with the original Greek. We minimize no statement made by Him, as to sin, its judgment and its consequences; and moreover, we take into our survey of Divine truth (as those who differ from us do not), those surpassingly stronger utterances of the Saviour and His Apostles, than any words of condemnation spoken by them— e.g. "The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost;" "I will draw all unto Me"; "The Times of the Restitution of all things"; "That God may be all in all."

We find it impossible to think that our Lord and the men who received their teaching from Him, could have made exaggerated statements in regard to the final outcome of the saving Purpose of God. If the condemnatory pronouncements of the "Athanasian Creed" be true, the word "all" in the passages just cited must be taken to mean no more than "some." Whether that is in harmony with our ideas of Christ as the Divine Teacher, we leave our readers to determine.

Note.—It is only right that I should mention that when I wrote to the Bishop of London, and pointed out to him that his statement that my book—"Our Life after Death"— "leaves out the strong things that Jesus Christ said," was an inaccurate one, his Lordship replied—"It is a pity you went by the 'Church Times' report, which is so shortened as to be misleading. Here is the 'Guardian' report, and when you read it, you will see that I go a long way with you. The only expression I regret is 'left out.' Those questions had only reached me a few minutes before, and therefore had to be answered at once. But what I meant by 'left out' was—'failed, in my opinion, to give adequate weight to.' It is here that you do not carry me with you. Nothing was farther from my thoughts than to misrepresent you in any possible way." The Bishop subsequently embodied this qualification of his criticism, in a public statement made at Kentish Town.

In order to avoid any misrepresentation of the case, I append the following extracts from a work of his Lordship lately published—"A Mission of the Spirit." (Wells Gardner, Darton & Co.). It is the account of an important Mission in North London, during Lent, 1906.

On page 27 of this work, the Bishop writes— "The most serious question, in conclusion, is contained in two letters about the life after death. The writers have been reading a book which I know, but have not read myself for ten or fifteen years—'Our Life after Death.' They say that the book has made a great impression upon them, and has been a comfort to them in many ways, and they ask what they are to believe about the life after death. As to that particular book, I cannot say that I followed it in all its conclusions. What seemed to me to be left out—for it preached a kind of Universalism—were the strong things that Jesus Christ Himself said. It was He who used the strong language: it is not the Athanasian Creed: that hymn repeats in nearly all its statements what is in the Bible. It is Jesus Christ's words that are the difficulty; and if He speaks about 'the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched,' and with tears in His voice entreats us to beware, who are we to water down what He says? And therefore I would recommend you a book which I believe to be thoroughly sound, and which I have read to-day, called "The Life of the Waiting Soul," by Canon Sanderson. I would recommend this to the two questioners, and you will see there all the sound conclusions which there are in the other book, but it seems to me to be a more balanced statement of the truth."

The other statement of his Lordship, in which he qualifies the foregoing, is to be found on page 132 of "A Mission of the Spirit." He writes—"Here I will say that when I said that Mr. Chambers, who wrote a book called 'Our Life after Death,' leaves out the strong sayings of Jesus Christ Himself, I did not mean to say that he did not consider them, because he considered them very carefully, but I meant that in my opinion he did not lay sufficient stress upon them, although there is much in the book that I heartily agree with, and it is well worth reading."

As it is possible that some of the Readers of the Bishop's book may see the first of his statements, and fail to see the second, it appears to me that a damaging public utterance, acknowledged to be inaccurate, and which was subsequently amended, should not have been re-published at all. Its embodiment within the book of a distinguished and honoured man is likely to perpetuate the misrepresentation of my teaching.

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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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