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Thoughts of the Spiritual

CHAPTER VIII

OUR HOPE IN GOD'S JUDGMENTS

"I am afraid of Thy judgments."—Ps. 119: 120.
"I have hoped in Thy judgments."—Ps. 119: 43.

These two passages when put side by side appear contradictory and irreconcilable. The Psalmist was thinking about God as the Upholder and Vindicator of righteousness, and also of the consequences which must accrue to any soul, in this or any other world, who becomes out of tune with Divine Order. In view of those consequences he says— "I am afraid of Thy judgments." Almost in the same breath he has said—"My hope is in Thy judgments."

We ask—Is it possible for one to hope for that of which he is afraid? Yes; under certain circumstances. If we can regard that which inspires fear in us as a something invested with possibilities of remedy and ultimate blessing, we can hope in it. For example, the poor, suffering creature, whose condition calls for a painful surgical operation, is afraid of it—often terribly afraid of it; but he knows his recovery to health depends upon it; and so he can hope in it. Had the Psalmist a corresponding idea to this in respect to the judgments of God? We think he had; or else how could he have said—"I have hoped in them"? Had he regarded God's judgments in the way in which so many Christians have regarded them—viz., as manifestations of Divine wrath and vengeance, as means only to punish sinners, and as agents to bring upon human souls final ruin and overthrow, could he have entertained any hope in regard to them.? We think not. Nay more; we ask, If he held the popular idea that the judgments of God are vindictive and not remedial, for what could he hope? Surely, he was not so bad a man as to be able to experience any pleasure in the anticipation that millions of his race, by those judgments, will be engulfed in ruin forever and ever! For a man to hope for that would mean that he has the disposition of a demon and not that of a man. Any man who can believe the judgments of God to be what the theology of the past has taught them as being, and can then hope in them, is not the kind of being that any intelligent mind can connect with either goodness or true religion. We hold it to be inconceivable that any one with the spirit of Christ in him could be glad and expectant in regard to any ordering of God which is invested only with the awful characteristics of retribution and destruction. As a matter of fact, those who assent to the Western doctrine of an everlasting hell, which represents God's judgments as final and non-remedial, and thereby stamps them with unutterable horror, have to part company with the Psalmist in the expression of any hope in respect to them. They fear them; but you never hear them say—"I have hoped in them." The contrast between the high moral tone inculcated by the Religion they profess and the total absence of moral tone that would be exhibited in such an aspiration, is too startlingly glaring and anomalous. These persons are infinitely more pitiful and merciful than the God they imagine; and are too feeling and unselfish ever to bring themselves to say of the judgments of God (as they have been taught to understand them)—"I will sing of mercy and judgment (Ps. 101: 1). "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times" (Ps. 119: 20). "Let Thy judgments help me" (Ps. 119: 175).

We ask, can any one who holds the Mediaeval idea concerning God's judgments, endorse these utterances of the Psalmist? If those judgments be simply punitive and irremedial in their character; if they be, not the resources of Love, but the thunderbolts of dire and almighty Vengeance—is there not something very ghastly in Christians, commanded by the Christ to be pitiful and merciful, singing about them? Can there, for example, be anything more unsuitable for song than that embodied in the words of a hymn which thousands have sung—

"There is a dreadful hell,
And never-ending pains;
Where sinners must with devils dwell
In darkness, fire and chains."

The Christians who believe that, ought not to sing about it. They ought to speak of it with bated breath and with horror on their faces and tears in their eyes. And yet the Psalmist saw no incompatibility in singing about judgment, as well as mercy.

Again, in the light of what has been taught concerning God's judgments, can any Christian man or woman have a longing for those judgments "at all times"; believing that some of them, at all events, will involve the utter ruin of human souls? And yet the Psalmist could say that his soul "breaketh for the longing of them." If any supporter of the "eternal punishment" theory, convinced, of course, that God's judgments will fall not on him but on others, should tell us his soul was longing for them —we should reply—"Sir, your theology has benumbed your moral sensibilities. The Christ, of whose Spirit you are supposed to drink, once wept over a sinful city because He foresaw that forty years later temporal judgments would fall upon it. Are you so dead to pity as to long for that which, according to your cruel creed, will consign untold millions into irretrievable misery?"

Again, in the light of what has been taught concerning God's judgments, how can any one offer the Psalmist's prayer—"Let Thy judgments help me"? The doctrine propounded has been—(a) That God's judgments are His punishment of sinners, not to restore, but to condemn them. Many are intensely shocked at being told that Sihon, King of the Amorites, and Og, the King of Bashan, were slain "because God's mercy endureth forever" (Ps. 136: 19, 20). They have no conception of a judgment that can be a mercy to the one upon whom it falls, (b) That upon believers no judgments of God fall.

Well, we repudiate this doctrine in both these points, on two grounds. First, we believe, on the basis of what the Bible declares, that none of God's judgments are intended to destroy, but to save; and next, we also believe that no Christian, any more than another person, is exempt from judgment. Christ's saving of us is not, as so many have supposed, a suspension of God's great law of judgment in regard to us, simply because as Christians we have accepted certain Articles of Belief. It is a salvation which saves us into such a moral and spiritual condition as to make it unnecessary that some of the severer judgments of God which fall upon others should fall upon us. It is not true, as we are sometimes told by a certain class of teachers, that at one moment a person, because he is not a believer, is exposed to the direst judgments of God, and the next moment because he assents to certain doctrines, is entitled to immunity from them. No faith on our part secures us from the judgments of God, except by leading us to become of such a character and spiritual tone as not to require the disciplinings of judgment. The Christian man who lives badly and shapes his character wrongly, will not, on account of his religious ideas, escape the judgments of God. The Gospel of Jesus does not upset the eternal law of God's universe— "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A life lived in the perfecting strength drawn from the saving Christ will have to face no experiences of the "darkness without," and the "age-long pruning," and "the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth"; but there are other judgments which, like these, are instruments in the hands of God for the soul's betterment. The Christian may have to face some of these before his spirit shall stand "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." It was with a thought such as this that the Psalmist could pray—"Let Thy judgments help me."

We have seen, then, how by altering our conception of the nature of God's judgments, we may fear them and yet hope in them. Dark and fearful as is that cloud of judgment which must hang over every human soul that is not making for righteousness, we can see behind it the boundless and unfathomable expanse of Divine mercy. "Thy mercy," exclaims the Psalmist, "is great above the heavens." With a faith in the resourcefulness of God, far grander than that which has characterized the common belief of Christendom, he could see that even the severities of God are the outcome of Love. Goodness and righteousness must ultimately triumph in His universe. No devil as powerful as God, or, according to some, more powerful than He, will share with Him the honors of empire. God may have to put down evil with "a strong arm and an outstretched hand," but He will do it. His judgments may fall on souls before the stubborn wills be bent; and the fire of His painful discipline may burn unquenchably before the chaff of moral worthlessness be burned up in us; but, depend upon it, the God will triumph. He has said He will. By mercy, or by judgment, He will prevail. Is it not that which the Psalmist meant in those words—''Judgment shall return unto righteousness" (Ps. 94: 15)?

Unfortunately, the Christianity of the Western Church has lost this splendid conception of the meaning of God's judgments. The early Eastern Church believed it, but as the teachings of Jesus came into contact with the ideas and instincts of the exclusive, cruel and loveless Latin race, it was no longer believed. Only beings of Love can perceive Divine Love. Thank God ! the Christian Church is beginning to recover this lost truth concerning the remedial character of God's judgments. It is the key by which alone we can understand the Bible. Take it out of the Bible (as men have done to suit their theologies), and the whole Book becomes full of hopeless contradictions. Read it there, and the Gospel, indeed, becomes good news —the grandest message of a God of Love and Mercy to His sinful creatures. Even in His dispensations of severity we can hope. The thunderclaps of judgment are but the expedient of a Father-God to fling into sharper contrast the solemn silence that follows, from out of which "the still, small voice" of Love will speak.

The Psalmist was afraid of God's judgments. They are very real, and may be very terrible experiences. Many of those Christians who endorse the doctrine embodied in that fearful hymn we quoted, charge us, who shudder at so slandering God, with teaching that there will be little or no judgment of God on sin. They tell us our teaching removes the wholesome restraint of fear; that men will be indifferent as to how they live, if they believe that ultimately all will be saved. I know many clergymen who are Universalists, who would not proclaim their belief on any account, for the reason just stated. It might encourage men to continue in sin and irreligion, they think. To them we say—"If Universalism be truth, you ought to teach it openly and fearlessly. If the threatened judgments of God will not deter men from sin, no exaggerated representation of those judgments will do so." Tell men that the judgments of God are very real and very sure, and of such a character that a reasonable person can believe in them; and they will fear them. Tell men, on the other hand, that those judgments are so unutterably horrible, revolting and unjust, as to outrage every conception of goodness and mercy, and they will not believe in them; and consequently they become no deterrent from sin. Nor need we be surprised. If you, as a father, tell your little child that you love him with a great unchanging love, and then in the next breath inform him that if he is naughty and disobedient, you will most certainly burn him alive for the rest of his life—well, he does not believe you—does he? He would be a silly little child, if he did; and you would be a curiously inconsistent father. Yet that is the way in which Christian teachers in the past have placed the great Father-God before men. "He loves you," they have said, "with an infinite and unchangeable love; all the love in the world is but as a drop in the ocean in comparison with His love for you; but if you do wrong, and do not love Him, He will consign you to everlasting misery." Well, of course, the men and women who reason at all do not believe this. If what they have been told about His love be true, they have enough sense to perceive that what they have been told concerning His remorseless judgment must be untrue. To love such an inconsistent Being is an impossibility to them, and so they go on in their sin and irreligion. The preacher of such a doctrine has frustrated his aim. His exaggeration in respect to the Father's judgments, instead of developing a rightful fear, has removed it. The threatenings are considered too unreasonable and atrocious ever to be fulfilled. To go back to our illustration of the earthly father and the naughty boy. Suppose with calm and angerless face, and perhaps, with the tears in your eyes, you tell your child his disobedience and naughtiness must be followed by punishment and discipline—severe it may be—for his good. Suppose you tell him that to punish him hurts you; that it is not your anger nor hatred of him that makes you punish him; but your strong, unchanging love that cannot be satisfied unless he be good and happy. Oh! he will believe you then. Your threatenings are reasonable; they appeal to his sense of right.

Now we who believe both sets of statements in the Bible—those which tell us about the enduring Love of God, as well as those which tell us that God will triumph over evil, and not that evil will triumph over God,—say to men and women, not that they have no cause to fear the judgments of God because in their character they are remedial. We do not tell them that it does not very much matter what they are, and what kind of life they may lead, because all will come right at last. No, the teachers of the old-fashioned theology do this, by telling men that they may evade all the Divine judgments, and escape all the consequences of a wicked and misspent life, by a death-bed repentance. We say, that men must, if they be sensible, fear the judgments of God; that those judgments are very real and very sure; that it is an unalterable law in God's universe that beings must reap as they have sown; and that no mere acceptance of religious views will enable us to sow badly and reap well. "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus"—say our friends who differ from us on this subject, and generally forget to quote the rest of the passage—"who walk after the Spirit." "Quite true," we rejoin, "there can be no ordering of God that is characterized by condemnation in regard to any soul, who by the leading of the Christ-life is making for the goal of Salvation; but that does not do away with the fact that the judgments of God come to every soul—Christian or otherwise."

To the godless and sinful we say—" Be afraid; aye be terribly afraid of those judgments of God." They are not the acts of an irate Despot, furious that we have dared to set ourselves against His eternal law of righteousness. They are the calm, deliberate, angerless expedients of a Being of Love to bring us to blessedness and right. They are all the more to be feared because of that. There is a sorrow at the heart of the great All-Father, as He says to us, the creatures whom He loves—"For your sake I must judge; for your sake I must punish; and for your sake My law of consequences must be enforced. You may compel Me, by what you do, and by what you make yourself, to pass you through the ordeal of discipline and painful pruning, before I can bring you to Myself. On you; on the way you dispose your will, shape your character, and order your life—it must depend whether I save you by the gentle measures of grace, or by the severities of judgment; by the means that Infinite Love delights in, or by those means in which Infinite Love does not delight—the ''saving so as by fire.''

Depend upon it, if this reasonable, believable view of the judgments of God will not sober men to live rightly and serve God, no doctrine of a hideous and impossible everlasting hell will do so. This latter doctrine, because it is so outrageously appalling and unjust, may cause men to have no fear at all of God's judgments, and may, consequently, confirm them in their indifference and unbelief; it may drive weak-minded ones—as it has done—to religious hysteria and the madhouse; and it may breed in certain minds that sense of self-interest which deadens the perceptions of others' sufferings and others' wrongs; but it will never create in any thoughtful soul anything but that worst of all demoralizing and paralyzing feelings—the fear, not of a Father who punishes to bless, but of a despot who punishes to curse and to ruin.

Oh! no; it is just because we believe so intensely the statement of Jesus that "God so loved the world," that we say to those who are sinful and irreligious—** Be afraid of the judgments of our God. They are the severe and ultimate resources of a Love that will not be baffled. That Love will be unsatisfied until it has saved you into wholeness and perfection. Our God is 'a Consuming Fire.' His Love for the souls of men demands that the dross and chaff in them shall be burned up. Strong and awful may be the stroke of judgment on you, if you make it needful, because strong and awful is the Love that must save." "I am afraid of Thy judgments," said the old-world singer. Yes, and we who have caught the echo of the words spoken by the meek and forbearing Saviour when He walked this earth, may take up the cry. He it was, who has told us that there is for souls, who have fashioned it for themselves, a "darkness without," a "Gehenna of the fire" of mental pain and remorse, "a weeping and a wailing and a gnashing of teeth," and a binding hand and foot of the unadorned spirit. He it was, who spoke about the alienation, the loneliness, the wretchedness, the beggary, the hunger, the swine and the husks for the unarisen prodigals who have severed themselves from the good Father.

Yes, we have to remember this—to remember that our experiences Behind the Veil must answer to how we have been thinking, feeling and acting here. God's judgments come upon all—upon the Christian and non-Christian. They constitute His great and inviolable law of consequences; but those consequences, because they are the orderings of a Being who loves us, are pregnant with possibilities of recovery and blessing.

That leads us to the last point of our subject—our hope in the judgments of God. "I have hoped in Thy judgments," said the Psalmist. The words, although spoken by one who was living only in the twilight of revelation, invest the Gospel of God with enhanced glory. That which is so often preached as "Gospel," has not a glimmer of an idea of any hope in God's judgments—at all events as far as judgments after death are concerned. It is "good news" for some, if they regard only themselves, and think not about the lost. It is no good news for the many.

"As a man lives, so shall he die;
As a man dies, so shall he be
All through the days of eternity"—

were the words which a better conception of God and His Purpose of mercy has expunged from a well-known hymn-book.

Well, of course, if we can entertain no hope in respect to God's judgments on sinners after death, the statement, that a man will be all through the days of eternity what he is when he departs this life—is true. If the old idea be correct, there is no Gospel for any except a very small proportion of the human race. The unsaved ones die; and they are loved by God no longer. They are kept in waiting in Another World in prolonged dread of a judgment, which, when it shall come, will seal their doom forever as lost souls. There is no hope in such a view of God's judgment—is there? And yet the Psalmist could say—"I have hoped in Thy judgments." How could he do that, we ask —if judgment mean only blank, awful hopelessness for such souls?

How are we then to solve the difficulty that thus presents itself? There is no way of doing so, other than by regarding the judgments of God as remedial processes by which He works to save those creatures, whom, in spite of all their sinfulness and waywardness, He still loves.

The good earthly father only punishes his child to bless. Will the Heavenly Father's punishments be but the manifestations of implacable anger and destructive wrath in regard to any soul here or hereafter, whom an Apostle has described as "His offspring'' (Acts 17:28)? We think not. An imperfectly translated Bible has appeared to some to countenance such an idea; but a right understanding of the Scriptures removes the God-dishonoring notion. The truth about the remedial character of God's judgments brings hundreds of statements in the Word of God as to His dealings with sinners, into agreement with those other glorious statements which speak of the all-embraciveness of His Purpose of Salvation.

Without the recognition of this truth, it is impossible to reconcile the two classes of statements. The belief that God's judgments are not means to bless but to curse, shuts out the belief that the living God "is the Saviour of all men" (1 Tim. 4: 10), and that at the end He will be "all things in all beings" (all things in all beings—1 Cor. 15: 28).

No; when we can think of the judgments of God in the way we have indicated, Religion becomes a believable thing. The Bible presents itself to us with none of the contradictions which are presented to those who differ from us. The living God is "the Saviour of all men"; He will be "all in all"; and His judgments—severe and awful as they may be for some who resist His Purpose, are but a means to Salvation. A celestial light—the light of invincible Love—gleams brightly on those judgments. The " everlasting punishment " of the Romanist and the Revivalist becomes the "age-long pruning, or disciplining " of the rightly-translated New Testament. The " Gehenna of fire" becomes, not a torture-chamber in which a God of Infinite Love will aimlessly ill-treat His children forever and ever, but a merciful ordering whereby the worthlessness in us may be consumed. The "weeping and the wailing" become not the futile agony of unending woe, not the everlasting reproach on God that He ever allowed lost ones to come into being; but the tears that shall presently melt the hardened and stubborn heart, and the cry that shall later resolve itself into a prayer for pardon and recovery. The "darkness without" is not (as pictured by the Mediaevalists) that Cimmerian blackness, unillumined by even one tiny, twinkling star of hope, but the soul's midnight—awful as it may be—in which the spirit-man, by that very experience, shall learn to want the brightness and his God.

The experiences of the prodigal—his shame, his hunger and his rags—were not the attestations that he had "played the wicked fool," and so had irretrievably lost the father's bosom and the father's home; they were but the means that brought him "to himself," and restored him to his father's arms.

With such thoughts as these, we project our mind to the grand future.

"The end" of the ages, through which God has been working out His magnificent project of saving, has come. The "aeon of the aeons" (as St. Paul put it) has dawned.

Men's self-manufactured hells have disappeared. The darkness, the soul's insensibility to God—(the "death all through an aeon"—as Jesus called it— John 8: 52), the pruning, the tears, the painful disciplinings and the sin have all "passed away."

The judgments of the Father-God of Love have worked for His Purpose. Evil is no more. The last discordant note has been silenced in a Universe of Order. God has triumphed gloriously all along the lines, as Psalmist, and prophet and poet and seer and His Christ said He would.

See! every knee is bowing to Him and every heart is loving Him.

The "Restitution of all things" has come. The God is "all in all.''

Yes, and not before the Christian Church has enlarged her ideas of the omnipotence of a God who is Love, and fixed the eye of her faith upon this consummating "aeon of the aeons"—will she be able to say—"I have hoped in Thy judgments."

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)



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