I was just going into the Study when the idea struck me. And
the effect was to stop me in my tracks. There in the half-opened door I faced anew one of
the old, well-known verses of the Bible and from that day I have had a completely new
Bible, and an increasingly wonderful God.
Like Paul of old, I had thought that I ought to do many things
against this heretical teaching everything but to study it! But on that summer day
in 1940 just one verse from the Bible changed my attitude completely, and I was ready to
study. The verse was one that I had known by heart from boyhood and one that I thought I
understood perfectly. But on that day it struck me afresh, almost like a blow in the face.
With my hand on the knob I stood, almost spell-bound, and faced the most daring thoughts I
had ever entertained. It was some time before I could loosen myself enough to continue on
through the door and sit clown at the desk. But I have had a new vision in my heart and
mind ever since, increasingly beautiful and satisfying.
Then came the problem of how to go about the study of this
subject and convince myself from careful investigation whether these things were
so. A regular attendant of our church had tried to interest me in the matter a few
years earlier, but I had ignored it as heresy. I could have asked his help in study, but
decided against it. I would study alone. Also, I had a copy of a New Testament translation
which emphasized the idea, but I decided against using that, except for occasional
reference. I would use a Scofield Reference Bible in which the notes were bitterly opposed
to the idea. If this was a true Biblical teaching I could find it clearly alone
even using a Bible whose notes strongly opposed the thought. And thus I began.
What is contained in the folIowing pages is the result of that
study. If it proves as satisfying to the reader as it has to the writer we shall have a
delightful time rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death! This was
the well-known verse that stopped me in the half-opened door that day and started all my
thinking in fresh channels. What death? I queried. The first death, or
the second death? Is He able to destroy the first death, and not the second death? The
Bible says, The wages of sin is death! Is it the wages of sin that
is to be destroyed? Thus I began to grope for light and truth.
Of course, like all students of the Bible, I knew there were
three fates of the wicked taught in the Bible that is, if the verses are taken as
they read in our ordinary versions. No wonder some people believed in Eternal Torment! It
was clearly taught in the Bible. And I knew, also, that the doctrine of Extermination was
also in the Bible, for I had read it over and over! Then, while apparently not quite so
clear, the Bible taught the ultimate salvation of all men. Through all the centuries some
men had believed that! They had called their belief Universalism, or The
Restitution of All Things, or Final Restoration. For the last century
and a quarter those calling themselves Universalists have been quite generally
combined with Unitarians, which means that, in their ranks, inspired authority of the
Bible has been questioned, the deity of Christ has been denied, along with the necessity
for His sacrificial death for our salvation. More recently, some of those who believe that
all men will ultimately be saved have insisted on calling their doctrine by the term
Reconciliation. They believe in an authoritative Bible, the deity of Christ,
and a sacrificial atonement, but they believe, also, that all men will finally be
reconciled to God. Thus I remembered the general attitudes of different groups. But which
one was right?
It will be well at the outset of this study to get the Biblical
basis clearly in mind, and to recognize that all three fates of the wicked are taught in
the usual translations of the Bible. One set of verses tells us they are to be tormented
for ever and ever, another set tells us just as clearly that they are to be exterminated,
while a third set assures us they will ultimately be saved. Of course they cannot all be
right. Either there is some way to understand them, and to interpret them so they do not
conflict, or there is hopeless confusion. I see now that through most of the years of my
life I have been conveniently ignoring a couple of these sets of verses while holding to
the third set.
The first set of verses we shall consider teaches the doctrine
of Eternal Torment. I suppose this has been the generally accepted belief of most
Christians through the years. The Bible (that is, English versions in common use)
teaching is so obvious and definite: And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is
better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the
fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not
quenched (Mk. 9:43,44). Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand,
Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his
angels (Mt. 25:41). And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet
that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had the mark of the
beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into the lake of
fire burning with brimstone (Rev. 19:20). . . . If any man worship the beast
and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink
of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His
indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy
angels, and in the presence of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for
ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image,
and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name (Rev. 14:9-11). And the devil
that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the
false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev.
20:l0). These and other references, if taken as they read, clearly teach the eternal
torment of the wicked.
This is the teaching upon which I grew up. In fact I used to
teach it in no uncertain terms when I first began to preach. One family withdrew from my
old home church during my first pastorate because I taught eternal torment, as the
majority of the church also believed. But the time came when I began to think a bit more
deeply about the nature of God, and to study more carefully other statements of the Holy
Bible, and then I found another set of verses.
The following seem to teach extermination just as clearly as
the other verses teach eternal torment. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will
thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the
chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12). As therefore the tares are gathered
and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send
forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and
them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing
and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:40-42) . Note that chaff and tares are burned up, not
burned forever. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the
soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt.
10:28). Again, the wicked are to be got rid of, just as bad fish are to be thrown away to
decay and disappear, as Jesus taught in Mt. 13:47-50. But these, as natural brute
beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not;
and shall utterly perish in their own corruption (2 Pet. 2:12). Who shall he
punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of
His power (2 Thes. 1:9). Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them
in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are
set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7). Please
note that Sodom and Gomorrha are not burning today, though their destruction is spoken of
as an example of eternal fire. If the verses above are taken as they read, then the wicked
will be exterminated. And, remember, these verses are just as Biblical as any others.
Another set of verses seems to teach clearly that all men will
ultimately be saved. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent
not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be
saved (Jn. 3:16,17). Love never faileth (1 Cor. 13:8). Will Gods
love for the whole world fail? And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for
ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). All we like
sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on
Him the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:6). Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh
away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). For the love of Christ constraineth us;
because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead (2 Cor. 5:14).
And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all
things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in
heaven (Col. 1:20). And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all
unto Myself (Jn. 12:32 Gr.). Well, then, just as the result of a single
transgression is condemnation for all mankind, so also the result of a single deed of
righteousness is a life-giving acquittal for all mankind; and if, through the disobedience
of one individual, the mass of mankind were made sinners, so also through the obedience of
One the mass of mankind will be made righteous (Rom. 5:18,19, Weymouth). But
now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam
all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the
kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee (Ps. 22:27). All nations
whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and shalt glorify Thy
name (Ps. 86:9).
Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:
for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My
mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every
tongue shall swear (Isa. 45:22,23). He shall see of the travail of His soul,
and shall be satisfied (Isa. 53:11). Would His love, infinite in its reach, be
satisfied with just a fraction of those for whom He travailed in soul? If you paid the
purchase price for 100 acres would you be satisfied with a deed for only one acre?
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every
name: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in
earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ
is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). Would a confession wrung by
compulsion out of the lost, writhing in the torments of hell, be to the glory
of God, and could such tormented souls confess Jesus as Lord ? No man can say that
Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). And every creature which
is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all
that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him
that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever (Rev. 5:13).
Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the
Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must
reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed
is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith, all things are put
under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, Who did put all things under Him. And when
all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him
that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
For every verse in the Bible that seems to teach eternal
torment or extermination, one can find many verses that teach universal Reconciliation.
And remember that one is just as Biblical as another. Unless there is a way to explain
them we have hopeless confusion. Which one of the three sets of verses would you like to
How Long Is For Ever?
It is an interesting fact that every intelligent believer in
Extermination can answer the doctrine of Eternal Torment to his own complete satisfaction,
and without subterfuge or doing violence to the Scripture. He just takes Biblical usage
for his answer.
In all languages it is usage that determines meanings. The King
James version records Paul as writing to the Roman Church (1:13) that he had often
purposed to come to you, but was let hitherto. Today, we would say
hindered instead of let. In three centuries, usage has completely
changed the meaning of the word let. It may be spelled the same, and
pronounced the same, but the meaning has been changed to the exact opposite. It is always
usage that determines meanings.
So it is Biblical usage that determines Biblical
meaningnot even the English translation that is given to different words. Let us
The term for ever (and its equivalents, eternal and
everlasting) often occurs when it cannot possibly mean unending.
Later we shall study this matter at greater length, but for the present a few
illustrations will suffice. In the story of Jonah one is surprised to hear him say while
in the belly of the fish, I went down to the bottoms of the mountains: the earth
with her bars was about me for ever (Jon. 2:6). But he was in the fish only three
days and three nights. When a Hebrew slave loved his master and did not wish to go free at
the end of the seventh year, we read: . . . His master shall bore his ear through
with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever (Ex. 21:6). Of course, that
couldnt be longer than his life span. Again, when Solomon built the temple unto the
Lord, he began his prayer of dedication with the statement: I have surely built Thee
an house to dwell in, a settled place for Thee to abide in for ever (1 Kgs. 8:13).
And the Lord answered Solomon: I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that
thou has made before Me: I have
hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put My Name there for ever (1 Kgs.
9:3). But Solomons temple lasted for only about 400 years.
Here is something that ought to be clear to any intelligent,
honest man. A word that is used to mean in one case three days and nights, in another case
to mean a mans lifetime, and in still another to mean a period of about four
centuries, surely does not mean unending or eternal, no matter what English word is used
to translate it. Usage determines meaning. That is why a believer in Extermination laughs
at the doctrine of Eternal Torment. He knows that Biblical usage is against any such
Does Destroy Mean to Exterminate?
But the believer in Extermination may not see so clearly that
his own doctrine can be overthrown by the same appeal to Biblical usage. It does not
appear so clearly in the English translation as the use of the term for ever
does. One must study the Hebrew and Greek words in the Scriptures, and that opens the way
for folks to accuse one of trying to tear the Bible to pieces, However, there
are others who are anxious for the truth at any and all costs, and who do not accuse
honest, believing souls of handling the Word of God deceitfully. It is for
such that we are writing.
Youngs Analytical Concordance lists 45 Hebrew words and
10 Greek words that are translated destroy, while 31 Hebrew words and 4 Greek
words are translated destruction. But they have a variety of meanings, as is
evident to all who will study. Those meanings include to kill, to
mar, to bruise, to break, to cut down, to
put an end to, to abolish, to lay waste, etc., etc. In the
story of the flood it is written that God said, I will destroy man whom I have
created from the face of the earth. Does that mean that the antediluvians are
exterminated, and will never come to judgment for their sins. Jeremiah pronounced woe
against Jerusalem thus: For who shall have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? or who shall
bemoan thee? or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest.? Thou hast forsaken me, saith
the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out My hand against thee, and
destroy thee. Does that mean that Jerusalem is exterminated and does not exist? The
fact is that Jerusalem has probably been destroyed more frequently than any
other city in the world, but it still exists. Its people have been killed, its walls and
buildings have been broken down, its government has been changed again and again. But
Jerusalem still exists. It has not been exterminated. Sodom was more completely
destroyed than any other city of which we know. Jude 7 says it was set
forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. But Sodom is to be
restored again, so her people surely are not exterminated. Read Ezek. 16:44-63 and see.
Someone will probably say, Yes, that is clear enough, but
how about the statement of Jesus, fear Him Who is able to destroy both soul and body
in hell? (gehenna) (Mt. 10:28). Well, that does sound formidable, doesnt
it ? That is, until you know that the same word is used in the statement, He that
findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth (destroyeth) his life for My sake shall
find it (Mt. 10:39). If his life was exterminated it couldnt be found again.
Someone else may ask about the statement, punished with everlasting destruction from
the presence of the Lord (2 Thes. 1:9). That sounds unanswerable, doesnt it?
Well, maybe, until you learn that the Greek word olethros translated
destruction here, is used in other places where it cannot possibly mean
extermination. See 1 Cor. 5:5, and the verb destroy from the same
root in Heb. 11:28. Do you think that all the first-born of Egypt, including
the innocent babes, are exterminated, and will never have a chance to be justly judged,
nor receive any recognition from God that they ever existed ? Surely God does not deal
with anybody like that! Then the word destruction in 2 Thes. 1:9 is limited by
the word everlasting. And that is a misleading translation. We shall study the
Greek word more carefully later, but suffice it to say for the present that the idea of
the Greek word is eonian, or pertaining to the ages. It does not
mean unending. (See section How Long Is For Ever? and Concluding Section).
It is usage that determines meanings their usage, not
ours; the meanings that Biblical writers gave to their words rather than those that our
English translations may seem to give. Usage determines meanings. According to Biblical
usage there is not a single clear statement of the extermination of sinners in the whole
Bible, not one. The doctrine of Extermination is based wholly on inferences
meanings we insist on giving from our usages. And the doctrine of Eternal Torment is based
wholly on false translations. There is not a single clear statement, correctly translated,
entire Bible which supports either doctrine.
The Penalty For Sin
Jesus is the Savior because He bore the just penalty for sin.
Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that
He might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). Him Who knew no sin He made to be sin
on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree, that we, having died unto
sins, might live unto righteousness; by Whose stripes ye were healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the
whole world (1 Jn. 2:2).
Paul insists that Christs death on the Cross as a
propitiation for sin manifests the righteous judgment of God upon sin. Whom God set
forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to show His righteousness because
of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God (Ron
3:25). That is, for thousands of years God did not deal adequately and completely with sin
He passed it over. He did not deal with mankind on the cash
basis, where full payment is required immediately on each transaction; but He dealt
with the race on the credit basis, under which method payment in full is
expected at a later date. Now when God made Him to be sin on our behalf (2
Cor. 5:21) , and laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6), Paul insists
that God dealt fully and righteously with human sin in all its aspects; and that whatever
debt, or price, or judgment, or penalty should have been met (call it by any word you
choose), He exacted in full from His own Beloved Son. In the Crucified, God is
dealing with the whole sin of the whole universe in holy love, in righteous judgment, and
in redeeming grace. Recognizing this great fact, our Lord, hanging upon the Cross,
and ready to give up His spirit, spoke the word that, in His day, was regularly written
across every receipted bill, Tetelestai, Paid in full (Jn. 19:30).
Christ on the Cross demonstrates the love of God as nothing else ever did or can, but He
did more. The holy Son of Mankind was making complete reparation to the holy and
righteous throne of God.
But notice carefully what price He paid. If the just and
ultimate penalty for sin is Eternal Torment, then Jesus can never be the Saviour of
anybody! He is not being eternally tormented. Again, if the just and ultimate penalty for
sin is Extermination, then Jesus can never be the Savior of anybody! He was not
exterminated. BUT HE DIED FOR ALL AND IS NOW IN THE GLORY AS OUR ADVOCATE!
FALSE IDEAS OF GOD
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (i.e.
false gods, or false ideas of the true God) (1 Jn. 5:21). The most important aspect of the
three doctrines regarding the fate of the wicked is not what they might do to the wicked,
but what they do to God. The most important thinking in the world is the thinking men do
about God. True ideas of God lead to nobility of life; false ideas of God lead to the
Theology and philosophy mould the life of the world. The
principal cause of World War I was the philosophy of Nietzsche. It is belief in idols that
makes an idolatrous people. Catholic theology makes a Catholic land. Protestant theology
makes a Protestant land.
Do we have false ideas about God? I fear we do. We say that God
is all-wise and all-powerful, and then turn around and deny it. We say that God is
all-loving, and then turn around and deny it. We read Jn. 1:1-14 and say that the Creative
Word of God and the Redemptive Word of God are the same, but then turn around and deny it.
God as Creator, and God as Redeemer, the God Who acts
through the order of nature, and the God Who acts through the order of grace, God in the
law, and God in the gospelall are one and the same God! (Edwin Lewis, in
Philosophy of Christian Revelation). If only we held true to such a beautiful
Let us look a bit more carefully at our teaching. We say God is
all-wise and all-powerful, and then turn around and deny it. Is My hand shortened at
all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at My rebuke I dry up
the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness (Isa. 50:2). I have blotted out, as a
thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have
redeemed thee (Isa. 44:22).
Ferre, in The Christian Fellowship says:
Although faith is supposed to hold that He is both
all-wise and all-powerful, the point remains that either God is the Creator of this world,
who knew what he is doing, and who will, in his own way, accomplish a completely good end,
or else he is in some way limited. No matter what the nature of that limitation might be,
if God is to be thought of as a sufficiently wise and powerful, completely good Will, the
choice between a limited God and, ultimately somehow, a universal salvation stands. On
this point every theologian must make up his mind.
Also, folks who claim they are true to the Bible say that the
Word Who creates, and the Word Who redeems are the same Word of God, but they deny it in
their attitude toward the question of ultimate salvation for all men. They have an
infinite Creator, but a very little Redeemer. Their Christ is a comparatively helpless and
puny Saviour Who is going to lose most of those for whom He died. He can pay the price for
the sins of the whole world, but the stubborn will of man makes it ineffective. Mans
will is mightier than Gods will. God is infinite to create, powerless to redeem!
Again, we say that God is love, and then turn around and deny
it. We confidently affirm that God is going to do to His rebellious chiIdren what we would
imprison or hang an earthly father for doing to his children. We really make God less than
human. Let me quote again from Ferre in The Christian Fellowship:
We of the liberal tradition are still too empirical in
attitude, however, to define love in terms of a historical revelation which can make love
punish eternally the children of its own creation. Gods love to us must at least be
as good as the best love we know, and, we believe, much better. Punishment, hell, must be
the decree of Gods love. But it must be purposive, not punitive, in nature. If the
Christian love be sufficiently wise and strong, heaven can be heaven only when it has
Even so, beautiful as that idea may seem, some of us could not
accept it merely on the basis of human philosophy. Unless we can find the truth revealed
in Gods Holy Word we would still have to reject it.
Another factor in our problem is Gods relationship to the
introduction of evil and sin into the universe. Some of the theological contortions men go
through in order to relieve God of all responsibility in that field are pitiful. They are
not explanations, but evasions. We have not room here for an extended discussion of such a
subject but a few observations
may be in order.
Over and over in different ways the truth is stated which we
find in Ac. 15:18, Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the
world. And, of course, God knew sin would enter. He made preparation ahead of time.
The first Christian sermon says of Jesus, Him, being delivered by the determinate
counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and
slain (AC. 2:23). If God knew about it ahead of time then He could have prevented
its entry if He had not wanted sin to get into His universe. But He did know, and He did
plan beforehand for just that. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning
of the world (Ac. 15:18).
Without relieving man of one whit of guilt for sin, it can be
stated on the basis of the Bible that: 1. God provided a Saviour slain from
the foundation of the world. 2. God created Satan, the Tempter, and had him on the
door-step of the world when man first appeared. If God had not wanted Satan there, He
could surely have had him somewhere else, or restrained him. I have created the
waster to destroy (Isa. 54:16). 3. God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, and put it right at the cross-walk of Eden. It is folly to assume that Adam is to
blame for those factors. 4. God, in His infinite wisdom, wanted sin and salvation to
operate in His universe. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own
will, but by reason of Him Who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall
be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children
of God (Rom. 8:20,21) . Otherwise He could have planned it differently. When we
attempt to introduce sin into Gods world by an oversight, or a slipup, or a weakness
on Gods part, we are just destroying any kind of Sovereign God Who is worthy to be
But what we teach about the fate of the wicked is our
understanding of Gods solution of the Sin Problem. The Eternal Torment doctrine
gives us a fiendish solution, to say the least. Such a God might well be feared, but could
never be loved. No wonder the little girl who heard her father preach about such a God
wished that God were as kind and good as her father!
And the extermination doctrine is a childish solution, at best.
If you planned a house and by some chance, no matter whose fault, a door was put in the
wrong place, or a partition left out, would you burn down the house? Only children would
solve the problem that way!
Yet we confidently affirm that God is going to do such
unGodlike things, in spite of the many places in the Bible which plainly show That
in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in
Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him (Eph. 1:l0).
See also Col. 1:20, Phil 2:9-11, and other clear statements in the Scriptures that all
realms of intelligence will ultimately be brought under the sway of Christ.
One other factor should be noted. In the Eternal Torment
doctrine God is supposed to let the lost suffer in the brimstone for all eternity without
His feeling any concern over their suffering. That would be a God displaying great
interest in His creatures! And according to the Extermination doctrine He would burn up
the greater part of His creation, and then go on for ever in perfect peace and heavenly
bliss, with no sense of pain or emptiness of heart over the loss of countless millions of
the souls for whom He sent Christ to die! Little children, keep your selves from
false ideas of God!
Either God is all-powerful, or He is not. Either God is
all-wise, or He is not. Either God is all-loving, or He is not. Either Gods will is
sovereign, or it is not. Either Gods grace is infinite, or it is not. Isnt it
time for the Church of Christ to decide one way or the other, and then make her theology
fit her expressed faith? Little children, keep yourselves from false ideas of
PROBLEM OF THE AGES
The Hebrew word olam and the Greek word
aion both mean age or eon. For evidence of this refer
to Youngs Analytical Concordance, or any similar concordance. Incidentally, Robert
Young in his Literal Translation of the Bible always translates these words by
age and never once as ever, everlasting, or
eternal. The Hebrew olam comes from a root meaning
hidden. The word therefore means a period of time, but a period of unknown or
hidden length. The word was often used to mean a mans lifetime because it was an
unknown period. The adjective aionios is often translated
age-lasting or age-during, but would be more properly translated
pertaining to the ages, that is, something that occurs within the ages, but
not necessarily lasting even throughout one entire age.
We have already spoken of for ever in connection
with Jonah in the belly of the fish; of a Hebrew slave serving his master for
ever; and of the Lord accepting Solomons temple, to put My name there
for ever. Another illustration is the Aaronic priesthood. According to the King
James version, Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests forever. It says,
Their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their
generations (Ex. 40:15). Yet we read in Heb. 7:l1,12 that the Aaronic priesthood is
changed to that of Melchisedec. There would be no contradiction if the statement in Exodus
were translated as it should be, to the age throughout their generations. That
is, throughout their generations as long as that age lasted. In the Septuagint, the Greek
translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and His disciples used, the Greek word
aion was the word used for the Hebrew word olam. According to
Hebrew and Greek usage, therefore, these words mean a period of time, a period of unknown
length, the duration of which is determined by the fact or condition or person to which
the term is applied.
To show how confusing the whole matter is in the King
James Version New Testament let us look at the word aion a bit more in detail.
In the Greek text from which this version was prepared the noun form is used 128 times,
while the adjective form aionios is used 71 times. In the King James Version
aion is translated age only twice. Thirty-eight times it is
translated world. In the Scofield Bible we find 35 marginal corrections for
the noun and three for the adjective, leaving about 160 passages where the translation is
misleading and no corrections are made.
But there is still more confusion, as a little study of the
Ephesian letter will show. The word aion is used six times in the first three
chapters as follows: In 1:21 we read not only in this world where it should
read age; in 2:2 we read according to the course of this world; it
should be according to the eon of this worldnot the eon before the flood nor
the eon of the millenium, but the eon of this world (kosmos): in 2:7 it is translated as
it should bein the ages (pl) to come. In 3:9 we read which from
the beginning of the world, where it should read from the ages: in 3:11
we find according to the eternal purpose where it should read the
purpose of the ages: while in 3:21 we discover world without end for the
phrase to the age of the ages. To add to the confusion the word
genea, which means generations, is translated age
twice in the third chapterin 3:5 which in other ages, and in 3:21
throughout all ages. Is there any wonder that people do not know what the
Bible teaches about the ages?
In various places the American Standard comes nearer to giving
us the accurate understanding of the noun, but never once correctly translates the
adjective, either in the text or in the margin. Both the English and the American Revised
Versions correctly use to the consummation of the age in the margin, but leave
the wrong translation end of the world in the text. Neither one translates
Eph. 3:21 accurately to the age of the ages. We have no difficulty in
understanding King of kings or Lord of lords. Everybody knows that
they mean the greatest King of all kings, and the highest Lord of all lords. It ought to
be equally clear that the age of ages, means the greatest age of all ages, the
great consummation of the ages when God brings to completion what He has been busily
engaged in during all other ages. Of course, if you grew up in the age of Darwinism and
evolution, as this writer did, it may be hard for you as it was for him to accept the
Biblical teaching of Gods ages, but many things in your Bible will continue to be
confusing, and apparently contradictory, until you see this truth of the Scriptures.
God was before the ages. But we speak the wisdom of God
in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our
glory (1 Cor. 2:7). The accurate translation is foreordained before the
ages. Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to
our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ before
the world began (2 Tim. 1:9). But again, the accurate translation is, before
eonian times. In the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie,
promised before the world began (Tit. 1:2). It should read, before eonian
times. God was before the ages.
But God made the eons or ages through Christ. God, Who at
sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets,
hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all
things, by Whom also He made the worlds (or ages) (Heb. 1:1,2). Through faith
we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God (Heb. 11:3). But it
should read, the ages were planned by the Word of God. God made the eons
Christ reigns for the eons. And He shall reign over the
house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end (Lk. 1:33). That
should read, He shall reign over the house of Jacob for the eons, because the
time will come when Christ will no longer reign over this kingdom. Then cometh the
end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father (1 Cor.
15:24). But the kingdom will continue under the Fathers rule, and it will have no
The ages will end. A literal translation of Heb. 9:26 is,
But now once, (or once for all) in order to a conclusion of the eons (or with a view
to, or, unto an end of, the ages) hath He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice
of Himself . (Alexander Thomsons translation).
There are so many Biblical statements that come clear when one
grasps the truth of the ages. Many are called, but few are chosen, applies to
this age of the church. There seems to be a conflict between the statement in Joel 3:l0,
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears, and the
statements in Isa. 2:4 and Micah 4:3 where the swords are to be beaten into plowshares,
and the spears into pruninghooks. But when one sees that the first statement applies to
one age, and the other statements apply to another age, there is no conflict. When Jesus
was talking about the so-called unpardonable sin, He said, But whosoever
speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world,
neither in the world to come. The Scofield Bible translates age in the
margin instead of world, just as the American Standard does, and that makes
sense. He will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the millenium; he will carry his sin
still unforgiven into the coming age. Many other statements flash clear when one sees the
truth of the ages.
Throughout the eons there is sin and evil, condemnation and
death. (Rom. 2:1-16; Rom. 5:12; Heb. 6:2; Rev. 20:11-15, and others). At the end of the
eons death is to be destroyed, and all will be justified (Rom. 5:18,19, Weymouth). All
will be reconciled through Christs blood, (Col. 1:20), and all will be subject to
God, and God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:25-28). Only as one sees the Plan of the Ages
does he see the beauty of Gods Program for the redemption of the race.
But the question naturally arises, How many ages are
there ? Different Bible students might vary widely in their statement, and the
present writer would be the last to claim infallibility. The Scriptures speak often of
this present age. Again they speak of ages past, and ages to come.
There must have been an age, or ages, before the creation of
man when the order of angels was created (Job 38:3-7). According to the Bible, Satan was a
created being waiting on the doorstep of the world to lead men astray when man was first
placed on this earth. We read in Gen. 2:15 that Adam was placed in the garden to dress
(till) it and to keep (guard) it. That is, there was already a threatened danger which
must have been in existence before Adams creation. When Adam failed to keep (guard)
the garden the cherubim were set with flaming sword to keep (guardsame Hebrew
word as in Gen. 2:15) the way of the tree of life. When Adam was thrust out of the
garden the entire human family sank lower and lower into sin until God destroyed all but
Noah and his family in the Flood, and ushered in a new age. So there must have been two or
more ages before this present evil one (Gal. 1:4). Then in Eph. 2:7 we read That in
the ages to come, with the Greek aion in the plural showing that there
must be, at least, two ages after this one. Rev. 20:l0 speaks of ages of ages
after the millenium. It will pay you to give this careful study. When you perceive the
truth concerning the ages your Bible will become a new and more wonderful Book than you
knew you had.
WHAT HAPPENS IN JUDGMENT?
Those who object to the doctrine of the Ultimate Salvation of
All usually insist that those who hold that doctrine do not believe that sin will be
punished. That is a false criticism. Believers in Reconciliation are sure that every
transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward (Heb. 2:2). They
are certain that judgment for sin is inescapable. But they also believe that there are
more judgments than folks ordinarily have recognized. Some judgments are past, some are
continuously present, and some are future. It is misleading to speak of The
Judgment as though it were only one event coming sometime in the future. It may help
us to list a few of the Judgments of God upon sin. First of all there was the judgment
pronounced upon Adam in the Garden of Eden. That judgment has been operating ever since,
and will continue to operate till the consummation. Then there was the special judgment in
the Flood, and the special judgment on Sodom. There have been judgments upon Israel, such
as the Captivity, and the Dispersion. One terrible judgment known as Jacobs Trouble
is still to fall upon Israel (Jer. 30:7).
The average church member has the idea that there is only one
judgment at the great white throne; and that there everyone, good and bad, Christian and
non-Christian, will meet and be separated like sheep and goats. That is not Biblical
The Bible teaches three judgments to be faced by every
Christian. One is past; one is continuously present; and one is future. In one we are
judged as sinners; in one we are judged as sons; and in one we are judged as servants.
1. JUDGED AS SINNERS
This judgment is past for every Christian. Who His own
self bare our sins in His own body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24). But he did that 1900
years agoand I do not know that you and I can do anything to add to its
effectiveness except to trust in it! Do you? For He hath made Him to be sin for us,
Who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). There is therefore now no condemnation
(sin-judgment) to them who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:l) , Why is there no
condemnation NOW? Because He bore it THEN, 1900 years ago. So we do not have to bear it
now. We ought to thank Him that He has already borne it for us.
2. JUDGED AS SONS
Through Christ God accepts us as His children. For we are
all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). Beloved, now are
we the sons of God (1 Jn. 3:2). He gives us the STANDING of sons. But He desires
also that we become sons in STATE, or fact, as well, He wants His sons to be sonlike. And
in order to make us so He brings us into judgment, son judgment. The prodigal son was not
son-like, but he was still a son. So you, Christian friend, if you are in Christ you have
been born into Gods family, and so are His son. And God wants His sons to be
sonlike. If we are not, He judges us.
For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged.
But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with
the world (1 Cor. 11:31-32). That is, when we do wrong, if we recognize it, and
condemn it in ourselves, and confess it to God, that is the end of it. For all God wants
is for us to recognize and forsake all evil. But if we do not recognize it, or fail to
confess it, then God has to take us in hand and judge us Himself. That is, He chastises us
and chastise comes from a root word meaning chaste or pure. God wants us to be
Here is a clear statement of that truth from the Bible.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My
son (this is son judgment), despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when
thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son
whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what
son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all
are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our
flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in
subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened
us after their own pleasure: but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His
holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:
nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are
exercised thereby (Heb. 12:5-11). This quotation shows both the nature and purpose
of our son-judgment. But such judgment is going on here and now whenever we need it,
that we might be partakers of His holiness.
3. JUDGED AS SERVANTS
This is the judgment that is still future. It is a reward for
works, not a judgment on sin. Salvation is from sin, reward is for service. If the average
Christian understood that the future reward is to be based on the service he renders,
well, there wouldnt be so many of us sitting around twiddling our thumbs.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father
with His angels and then He shall reward every man according to his works (Mt.
16:27). For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus
Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, preciousstones, wood, hay,
stubble; every mans work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it,
because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every mans work (not
his sin) of what sort it is. If any mans work abide which he hath built thereupon,
he shall receive a reward. If any mans work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:
but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). The future
judgment is on service.
Then there is the Judgment of the Nations (Mt. 25:31-46), which
will be a judgment of the living at the Second Coming of Christ. At the close of the
Millenium will occur the Great White Throne Judgment, a judgment upon those who were not
raised at the Second Coming of Christ but were resurrected after the thousand years are
past (Rev. 20:12). The most important Judgment of all was the judgment of sin at the Cross
Every sin ever committed receives a just recompense of reward.
There is no escape. But it is a mistake to believe that every sin will be judged at one
and the same time in the future. For instance, Jeremiah pronounced the curse of God upon
Israel thus: For Mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from My face,
neither is their iniquity hid from Mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity
and their sin double (Jer. 16:17,18). The part of Isaiahs prophecy that looks
beyond the Captivity begins as follows: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your
God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lords hand
double for all her sins (Isa. 40:l,2). Now if her iniquity is pardoned, and she has
received double for her sin, do you think God will demand punishment again for that sin ?
No, God is not like that!
Nevertheless, every sin that has not already been punished, as
those of Israel mentioned above were punished, or sins that have not been forgiven through
Christ, will be punished. Some will receive their just recompense in the crises connected
with the millenial age, and some in the great age that follows the Millenium. This will be
the eonian punishment which is mistakenly translated in our ordinary versions
as everlasting punishment. It is not everlasting, but more
accurately, eonian chastening.
One hesitates to use the word hell in speaking of
the judgments. In the King James version the Hebrew sheol, and the Greek
hades, gehenna, and tartarus were all translated
hell, while popular usage makes the lake of fire mean hell. Any
careful student of the Bible knows that fact. So that, no matter how carefully one tries
to explain, he is sure to be misunderstood if he uses the world hell. For to
the average mind the word hell means a lake of fire and brimstone in which the
damned (condemned) will suffer forever. Incidentally, there is no Greek word in the New
Testament that can properly be translated damned or damnation.
While feeding hogs in the Far Country, the prodigal
came to himself. It was the lack of food that changed him. His body was made for food,
even as his heart was made for friendship and love, but he was destitute. No man
gave unto him. Then he remembered: How many hired servants of my fathers
have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! (Lk. 15:17). He was
suffering the results of his own selfishness, and lust, and profligacy. His body was in
agony without the sustenance it was created for. Rags, and filth, and the stench of his
surroundings were only incidental to greater facts: (1) His body was without the food for
which it was created; and (2) his heart was without the friendship and love for which it
was created. So it ought to be clear to thinking people that the reality of judgment will
be separation from Gods fellowship and the consequent recognition of Gods
wrath and condemnation, and not the incidentals of place or circumstances. To be
without God in the world is lifes ultimate in desolation and despair.
Of course, nobody knows just what judgment will be like, nor
will he know until he enters into it. But we ought to have a few trustworthy ideas, based
on the teachings of the Bible about the subject, and about the nature of God.
1. Judgment will bring punishment, condign punishment, but it
will not be meaningless torture. The Riverside Daily Press for Nov. 23, 1940, had an
Associated Press report from San Francisco as follows: A Fathers
Curse was the legacy left by Dennis Donohoe III, fifty-four, member of a well known
family here, to his two daughters by a former wife, in a will filed for probate in
And to my two daughters, Frances Marie and Denise
Victoria Donohue, he wrote in his own hand, by virtue of their unfilial
attitude toward a doting father, and because they have repeatedly thwarted my efforts to
see them, I leave the sum of one dollar each and a fathers curse. May their
respective lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness and poignant sorrow. May their deaths
be soon and of a lingering, malign, and torturous nature. May their souls rest in hell and
suffer the torments of the damned for eternity. Of course, such an attitude is not
that of a true father; it is only that of a fiend. But what may not be clear to all is
that, in this respect, he is a perfect example of the God of popular theology. Because his
children were unfilial he consigns them to the torment of hell fire for ever!
But that is being a true son of the orthodox God. We have all been unfilial
children of the Heavenly Father and only a handful of us have repented. Therefore this
God of orthodoxy consigns all the rest of us to unending torment! No more
terrible insult was ever given to the God of grace. He does bring judgment upon sinners,
but never meaningless torture.
2. Judgment will be just. The Lord will count, when He
writeth up the people, that this man was born there (Ps. 87:6). That is, God will
remember the heredity and environment of each individual. We read in Heb. 2:2 that
every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward.
Judgment will be just.
3. In order to be just, judgment will be graded to suit the
offense. In Lk. 12:42-48 Jesus taught us that the servant which knew His Lords
will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with
many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be
beaten with few stripes. This one fact about judgment rules out both Eternal Torment
and Extermination, for neither of them, by their very nature, can be graded.
4. All of Gods judgments will be purposive; they will
accomplish something. For when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of
the world will learn righteousness (Isa. 26:9). Lord, in trouble have they
visited Thee, they poured out a prayer when Thy chastening was upon them (Isa.
26:16). Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave
them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and
live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our
profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:9,10).
5. Judgment will destroy enmity and rebellion. For He
must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25). And when
enmity and rebellion are destroyed what is to hinder faith and trust?
The pity about this whole matter is that many folks who claim
to be missionary and evangelistic in attitude, and who insist that they want to see the
wicked saved, nevertheless tend to anger if they are told that God is going to do just
that for all the wicked. They are not willing for God to save the lost ultimately, unless
He does it according to their theological scheme. They are like Jonah, who was angry
because God spared the wicked city of Nineveh. Search your own heart and see if you really
want the wicked saved. Such a self-searching may do you good.
THE PLACE OF THE CHURCH
IN THE PLAN OF THE AGES
To see the place of the Church in the plan of the ages one
needs to remember a bit of history which will be readily admitted as historic by any Bible
First, sin entered the universe among the angels. Since angels
are an order of beings, not a race, each one obviously a separate creation, sin affected
only a part of the angelic order. When, through Adams disobedience, sin came into
the human race, according to the Bible, it brought mortality and death dying
thou shalt die (Heb. Gen. 2:17). Paul shows that the weakness and depletion
accompanying mortality and death are the source of our proneness to sin. A literal
translation of Rom. 5:12 is On this account, as by one man sin entered into
the world, and death by sin, and thus death passed through to all men, upon which all
sinned. Death passed through to all men by the process of heredity. And then because
we are all mortal and dying, all weakened and sapped and depleted, we sin. We are all born
with a tragic bent or tendency to sin. No child has to be taught to give vent to his
temper; he has to be taught to control it. No child has to be taught to lie; he has to be
taught to tell the truth. The pull of our natures is down and not up. No unaided mortal
has ever yet been able to resist every evil tendency in his hereditary weakness.
Here, then we have the setting or background against which God
puts forth His plan of the ages. Part of the angelic host affected, and all of the human
race affected by this virus of sin, the wages of which for man is death! What does God do
Of course, the fallen angels were cast out of heaven. (See 2
Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Then later man is cast out of Eden, and the whole earth is also
affected by mans sin. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and
travaileth in pain together until now (Rom. 8.22).
Until the time of the flood there was just one kind of man; all
sinners, but just mankind. In the age after the flood, beginning with Abraham, men were
divided into two groupsmen in general, plus a Chosen Family. Later we recognize
these two groups as Jews and Gentiles. Chosen Family or Israelites were selected to bear
witness to a wicked and idolatrous world of the truth of the One, True God. They
remembered that they were chosen, but quickly forgot what they were chosen for. Instead of
bearing witness to the Gentiles, they only hated them!
Beginning with Pentecost another group has appeared, a group
called the Church. It is a called-out group, composed of both Jews and
Gentiles, chosen especially to proclaim, not only the power and wisdom and righteousness
of God, but particularly his grace. They are to proclaim to the world Gods solution
of the problem of sin and evil, the solution God wrought out in Christ.
So far, what has been said in this chapter is proclaimed widely
in Christian churches. But what is not generally taught is what God is planning to do with
the Church in the ages to come. This is made clear especially in Pauls
epistle to the Ephesians. Let us look at it briefly.
First of all, the members of the Church were chosen in Christ
before the foundation of the world, predestinated unto the adoption of sons by Jesus
Christ to God, and accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:46). To the selection of that chosen
group the activities of God in the world are now devoted. It may sound like a startling
statement, but it is Biblically true to say that God is not now trying to convert the
whole world! He is calling out the Church! As recorded in Acts 15:13,14, James said,
Men and brethren, hearken unto me; Simeon hath declared how God at the first (or for
the first time, in the house of Cornelius) did visit the Gentile: to take out of them a
people for His name. The Scofield Bible has the following note in connection with
these verses Dispensationally, this is the most important passage in the N. T. It
gives the divine purpose for this age, and for the beginning of the next. ( 1) The taking
out from among the nations of a people for His name, the distinctive work of the present,
or church-age. The church is the ecclesia the called-out assembly.
Precisely this has been in progress since Pentecost. The Gospel has never anywhere
converted all, but everywhere has called out some. The whole speech of James,
however, is one which is generally overlooked in forming a Christian viewpoint. It is as
follows: After this I will return (the Second Coming of Christ), and will build
again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down: and I will build again the ruins
thereof, and wiIl set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all
the nations, upon whom My name is called, saith the Lord, Who doeth all these things.
Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:16-18).
That Christians can read these stirring words and have no idea of what God plans to do in
the coming ages seems to be past belief. Yet the writer read them for years before their
meaning dawned in his own mind, so why should he be critical of others who see no further
than he used to see ? But he does ask that you not only read about all the nations seeking
after the Lord, (following the Second Coming), but that you put with it the clear
statement in Rom. 11:26, And so all Israel shall be saved. God is not done
with humanity in this age! He has much still to do in the ages to come. And in
the doing of it He will make use of His church. the called-out assembly.
God not only chose the church, He not only predestined it to
the adoption of sons, He not only accepted it in the Beloved, but He also did for its
members exactly what He did with Christ. He has quickened us together with Christ
(by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the
heavenlies in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5,6). God has given to the church the highest
standing that it is possible for Him to give it. The Church is not only beside Christ in
its standing; it is to live and reign with Him (Rev. 20:6); best of all, it is to be like
Him (1 Jn. 3 2). But that is not just to honor the church. It is part of Gods
program for the Church in the ages to come.
What is that program ? Here it is: That in the ages to
come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ
Jesus (Eph. 2:7 R.V.) . Show it to whom? Not to those who already know itthat
useless nonsense. But to those who do not know it! That is, in this age to living men, and
in the ages to come to resurrected men. More than that! To the angels, also! That is
Pauls daring faith. Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this
grace given, that I should preach among the nations the unsearchabie riches of Christ; and
to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the ages hath been
hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the
principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the church
the manifold wisdom of God, according to the purpose of the ages which He purposed in
Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:8-11). To all on the earth the grace of God must be
made known; and to all in the heavenlies, also. This is the calling of the Church.
The plan of God for the ages has the Church in its center. He
has revealed in the Bible a progressive unfolding of those plans, principally covering
human history, but giving also glimpses of His purpose in the ages to come. In
the center of that purpose stands the Church. Christ, the Head of the Church, has been
given the place of highest authority in the entire universe, far above all
principahty, and authority, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not
only in this age, but also in that which is to come (Eph. 1:21). But to rule with
Him, to reign with Him, to demonstrate His grace in the ages to comethis
is the task of the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all
in all (Eph. 1:22, 23).
But the objection will be made that in the ages to
come men will not deserve an opportunity to accept Christ. Of course there will be
countless millions there who have never had an opportunity for salvation, who never heard
the name of Christ in Whom alone men find life. How much will the indifference of the
church be responsibIe for that fact? But there will be other countless millions who have
heard the message and have rejected it. So men say, Let them go to hell! They will
be getting just what is coming to them. They do not deserve the grace of God.
May the writer say that he does not deserve the grace of God.
And without any thought of being insulting, but just to state the fact according to Bible
estimate, you do not deserve the grace of God, either! All men are undeserving sinners.
That is why it takes grace (unmerited favor) to save.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph.
2:8,9). Why do these verses follow immediately the statement, That in the ages to
come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through
Christ Jesus? And why do those verses begin with the word for ? The word
for shows a relationship between what precedes and what follows. In the ages
to come He will demonstrate His grace, for He has already shown it to us, His Church, whom
He will use as the demonstration.
No member of the Church deserves to be saved by grace. Not one
thing can we claim that has any merit in it. Some will say that at least our faith is our
own. For by grace are ye saved through faith and surely the faith is
ours. But Paul will not have it so, for he adds, and that not of yourselves: it is
the gift of God. Yes, God gives to us our faith, according as God hath dealt
to every man the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3). And He gives it to us through
Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:12). Not only does He
give us grace: He gives us the faith to receive it. Otherwise we would still be in
stubbornness or unbelief For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might
have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32).
So God chooses a few undeserving sinners in this age through
whom He will demonstmte His grace to other undeserving sinners in the ages to
come. And the demonstration will be convincing, too. It will accomplish what God
intends that it shall accomplish. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times
He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which
are on earth; even in Him (Eph. 1:l0).
Oscar Lowry, in Scripture Memorizing for Successful
Soul-Winning tells us about George Mueller, perhaps the greatest man of prayer since
the Apostle Paul, and how this great man of God with all his spiritual power was not able
to bring his own father to faith in Christ. One wonders if God will use George Mueller
in the ages to come to accomplish what the same George Mueller was unable to
do in this age! For George Mueller is a part of the Church which God will use to
demonstrate His grace. All of us have dear ones who are unsaved. Will God give us the
privilege in the ages to come of showing the exceeding riches of His grace to
them personally ? There is no promise like that in the Scriptures, so far as I know. But
there is the definite promise that the Church will be used in the ages to come
to demonstrate both the grace and the manifold wisdom of God. And every born-again member
of the Church will share in that universal revelation of Gods infinite love. In the
end God will be all in all. For out of Him, and through Him, and unto
Him are all things (Rom. 11:36).
SOME OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED
There are many objections raised against the teachings of
Reconciliation, but the principal ones can be covered under five heads. One is that if all
are to be saved ultimately there is no need for preaching and teaching the Gospel; another
is that we shall have salvation by compulsion; a third is that Reconciliation teaches a
second chance gospel; the fourth is that Reconciliation would give to many men
a hell redemption; and the fifth is the problem of Dives and Lazarus. Let us
consider these briefly in the above order.
1. Why preach and teach the Gospel if all are to be saved
ultimately? This is one of the first objections made. The writer used to make it most
vehemently himself. But it just shows a lack of clear thinking, thats all.
First, the Christian life is so rich and worth while that it
would be the only life to live, even if there were no hereafter. Ask those who have really
tried Christ over a long period of years. Was it not Dr. A. J. Gordon who met an old
crippled man on the street, and asked him why, with all his handicap, his face was
nevertheless so bright and shining? And the old man answered, The Devil has no happy
|Let me grow lovely, growing old,
So many fine things do;
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks, need not be new;
|And there is healing in old trees;
Old streets, a glamor hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?
|K. W. Baker.
Ah, but it is those who keep closest to Christ
who grow loveliest, growing old. Wouldnt you be glad to tell someone of that
Then we have the additional reason of keeping people from going
into judgment. To be separated from God for a whole age, not merely three score years and
ten, is a terrible fate. If you could prevent folks from having typhoid fever, or
infantile paralysis, wouldnt you do it, even if the question of dying from such
diseases was not considered? Do you care?
Again, the ministry of reconciliation has been committed unto
men not unto angels. If men are taught the Gospel at all, other men must do it. And
those other men must be those who know our Christ. The angels of God would be happy to
proclaim the message we have to give, but they cant do it. We must do it. (See 2
Moreover, we are commanded to evangelize the world. That was
the last word the Master left with his disciples. We call it the Great Commission (Mt.
28:18-20). If we do not do that work we are disobeying our Lord.
Then we should witness for Christ because of the great honor of
being workers together with God. Some day we shall realize, as we may not now,
just how great that honor really is, and how much we have missed if we fail to share in
this task to which the Almighty has set His hand.
Not least of the reasons, possibly, from the standpoint of
personal experience, is the joy of seeing people accept Christ as their own Saviour. Just
ask anyone who has led some person to the Lord, what is the greatest joy he knows. He will
not be slow in telling you. Or try it yourself.
Lastly, there is the urge of reward. Salvation is a free gift
to be received by faith, and by faith alone. No one can buy it, or earn it. There is no
way to get salvation except to take it as one takes any other gift, and then say,
Thank you! But in addition to our salvation, the Lord offers us rewards for
the service we render after we have accepted His salvation. We may have salvation here and
now, and know it, too, but the greatest rewards for our service are to be given to us in
the future. And only God knows how glorious they will be. Dont miss yours. Share the
Gospel you know!
2. Reconciliation would mean salvation by force,
men say, and they are thinking about the freedom of mans will. They claim that when
God made man in the first place, He endowed him with freedom of will, the ability to
accept Gods love or to reject it, and that the decision he makes here and now is a
final choice. But our Lord Jesus says: No one is able to come unto Me unless
the Father Who sent Me draw him (Jn. 6:44). Some men interpret 1 Tim. 2:4, who
will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, as meaning
that God desires or wishes all men to be saved, but that it does not mean that they will
or must be saved. A little careful thinking will show that such an interpretation makes
the will of man more mighty than the will of God. God wills (or wishes) all men to be
saved, but He is not able to get His will (or wish) fulfilled. Man wills not to be saved,
and he is perfectly able to have his will fulfilled. That deifies man, and dethrones God.
Man is able to get his will done, but God is not.
Let us think a moment of just how free man is, how far his
freedom can go. A little observation and study will show that mans freedom has very
narrow limits. One is able to wish or desire or purpose as he pleases, but when he comes
to carry out his wish or desire or purpose, he finds that he faces a problem. One is not
free in the physical realm. Just let him try to jump off the earth and land on Mars, for
example. One is not free in the social realm. Not every man can marry the woman he wishes.
One is not free in the moral and spiritual realm. He may desire with all his being to free
the world of drunkenness and vice, of greed and hate and war, but who has yet accomplished
If you will turn to the Bible, you will find some clear
teaching about the limits of mans freedom. Oh, Lord, I know that the way of
man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jer.
10:23). Mans goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own
way? (Pro. 20:24). These seem to teach that man is not free at all. How much freedom
does he really have? A mans heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his
steps (Pro. 16:9). That is, it is clearly within a mans province to believe
what he wants to believe, to desire and plan a certain way of action, but, unless God
permits him to carry it out, his plan will never be accomplished. The Lord drrecteth
It is a strange theory that obsesses men that the human being
is greater in power than God, and that, no matter what the plan of God for the world may
be, man is able finally to wreck it. But it is not given to man finally to overthrow the
will of God. Since God is God, His will must ultimately triumph. In Ephesians 1:11 we read
that God is One Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. God
is still God. I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can
be restrained (Job. 42:2).
We often forget that God not only allows sin and evil, but that
He also uses them. Again and again, when trouble stalks his path, a man turns back to the
God he has despised. When his wife dies, or his children go wrong; when loss and disaster
fall upon him, again and again he will seek the God he has neglected. Many of our men in
service are finding that danger and privation turn their minds back to God. Foxholes cure
atheism, they say. Probably not so generally as the statements lead us to believe, but
often. Weeks on a rubber raft in the ocean do something to a man, and he is a very
different person when he lands on shore again. That is not because God coerces the man,
but because God brings upon him such experiences as change his attitude. And God brings
such experiences upon men, not in anger, but in love. He is too wise to err, too loving to
And God knows that some men will need judgments to bring them
to their senses. He will see to it that ultimately all men will want Gods will to be
done, because they will see that His will is wisest and best. That will not be salvation
by compulsion, for love is the only ultimate power that is not coercive.
3. Again, people say that Reconciliation makes asecond
chance Gospel. No, no, no! We do not have a first chance Gospel, nor a
second chance Gospel. Salvation is not by chance, it is by grace!
There have been some people who accepted Christ as their
Saviour at the first chance they ever had. Three thousand did that on the day
of Pentecost. But I have asked many men if they accepted the Saviour the first
chance they had, and have yet to find that man! I had hundreds of
chances before I let Christ into my heart, and so have most of you.
One denomination, in an official publication concerning its
belief, makes the following statement:
Some people inconsiderately accuse us of rejecting the
atonement of Christ entirely because we dissent from the view that the atonement was made
upon the cross as is generally held, but we do nothing of the kind we object to the
view that the atonement was made upon the cross because it inevitably leads to one
of two great errors, thus, Christ on the cross bore the sins of all the world, John said,
Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away (margin beareth) the sin of the
world (Jn. 1:29). Peter tells us how he thus bore the sins of the world. Who
His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24). Paul says that
He died for all (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). ,That which Christ did on the cross,
therefore, was done indiscriminately and unconditionally for all the world, and if this
was the atonement, then all the sins of the world have been atoned for and all will be
saved but all men will not be saved; hence the sins of all were not atoned for upon
Little comment needs to be made about this quotation except to
point out that the writer sees clearly that, if the usual understanding of the cross of
Christ is accepted, all men will be saved. Hence, in order to maintain that not all will
be saved, as he thinks, he claims that the atonement was not made upon the cross. But the
Bible teaches clearly that the atonement was made upon the cross. All we like sheep
have gone astray: we have turned every one to hrs own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him
the imqmty of us all (Isa. 53:6). Who His own self bare our sins in His own
body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24). And in the Hebrew letter we read of the Christ who
by the grace of God should taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9). But He did
that on the cross.
Through the centuries the Christian understanding has been that
when Jesus hung on the cross and cried, It is finished, the problem of
atonement was settled for all time. We do not have, therefore, a Gospel of chance, either
first chance or many chances. We have a Gospel of grace.
Jesus gave a wonderful teaching in Matthew 11, one aspect of
which is often overlooked. He said that if Tyre and Sidon had only witnessed the mighty
works which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida they would have repented long ago in
sackcloth and ashes. That is, more knowledge and information would have brought them to
repentance. Do you think, therefore, that God will torment the inhabitants of Tyre and
Sidon forever because of their lack of knowledge? Again, He said that if Sodom could have
witnessed the mighty works that were done in Capernaum it would have remained until
this day. Do you think that the inhabitants of Sodom will be tormented forever just
because they lacked the opportunities of Capernaum ? Nay, indeed! God will not inflict
ultimate punishment on men who have not had ultimate knowledge. For this is good and
acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come
unto the knowledge of the trurth (1 Tim. 2:3,4). It is not just a matter of one
Just as God dealt with the writer until he wanted to accept His
grace, so will God do with all men, though it may take ages to accomplish His purpose.
Infinite love is not exhausted in three score years and ten! Of course our creeds insist
that mercy is ended when men die, but the Bible doesnt say so. It says the
mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everiasting, or correctIy, from eon
to eon (Ps. 103:17). Why do we not believe it?
4. The fourth objection is that the doctrine of Reconciliation
teaches a hell redemption. Chas. G. Finney opposed the teaching of the
ultimate salvation of all by ridicule. He said that those who were saved after this
age of grace would unceasingIy sing, Thanks be to the hell that saved us
by our own suffering! Just how much weight is there to that criticism ? Those who
accept the usual interpretation of Calvary believe that on the cross Christ dealt with the
guilt of the whole worlds sin. But there is one thing that the cross of Christ has
not yet accomplished, and that is the removal of mans rebellion.
In our chapter on judgments we pointed out that the flesh is to
be destroyed. The word flesh (Gr. sarx) is the word used for carnal. The
carnal (sarx) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither
indeed can be (Rom. 8:7). This carnal mind is enmity against God because it is
blind. Now when this carnal mind, which is enmity against God, and which is blind, is
destroyed, the enmity and the blindness will both disappear. The person will then be free
to choose according to the truth.
Judgment destroys the flesh, the carnal mind which blinds,
which is enmity against God, but judgment does not grant redemption. It only destroys
rebellion! Redemption was purchased on the Cross.
For instance, when the Prodigal was feeding hogs in the
far country he came to himself, according to Jesus. Did he have a
hogpen redemption ? Well, hardly. He got some sense in the pigstyit was
there his wilfullness and rebellion left him, but he was not saved till he got back to his
We are reading about men in the foxholes on the battle front
becoming Christian. Do we have a war redemption? Well, hardly. Men in the
danger and horror of war no doubt begin to think as they never thought before, but war
does not save. At best, it can only awaken, and turn men to the Christ they have ignored.
And if they are saved at all it is because they accept in all sincerity the Saviour Who
bore their sins on Calvarys cross.
Now the Prodigal didnt have to go home. He was not
compelled to do so, he wanted to. But he didnt want to until he got to feeding hogs.
The men in the foxholes do not have to become Christian. They are not compelled to, they
want to, but they do not want to until the horrors of war grip their minds and hearts. But
the point is that the Prodigal and the soldier both come to the place where they choose to
arise and go to the Father.
And yet even this is not completely the mans own doing,
any more than the good desires and actions of an earnest Christian are his own doings.
For it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure
(Phil. 2:13). And this gracious will of God is to be completely wrought out in Christ.
It is in Him and through the shedding of His blood that we have our
deliverancethe forgiveness of our offensesso abundant was Gods grace,
the grace which He, the possessor of all wisdom and understanding, lavished upon us, when
He made known the secret of His will. And this is in harmony with Gods merciful
purpose for the government of the world when the times are ripe for itthe purpose
which He cherished in His own mind of restoring the whole creation to find its one Head in
Christ, yes, things in heaven and things on earth, to find their one Head in Him
(Eph. 1:7-10, Weymouth). No we do not have a hell reremption. We have a
redemption of infinite grace and love, made known, and made effective for us, by the
sacrifice of our blessed Lord on Calvarys cross. It is a God-planned,
Christ-accomplished, blood-bought redemption sufficient for all creation.
5. One of the commonest objections to the doctrine of
Reconciliation is the insistence that the story of Dives and Lazarus pictures the fate of
the wicked and the righteous, and this makes Reconciliation not only impossible, but a
rank denial of the plain teaching of Scripture. What shall we say about that?
In the first place, the story of Dives and Lazarus is usually
considered without any reference to its setting, Near the close of Jesus ministry He
had eaten dinner with a Pharisee, at which time He not only healed a man with dropsy, but
gave some pointed instructions about how to give a dinner party. When He left the house,
great throngs accompanied Him (Lk. 14:25).
Many of this great company were publicans and sinners. In Lk.
15:1,2 we read, Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners to hear Him,
and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth
with them. It is against this background of criticism that the teachings of Lk. 15
and 16 are given. Those teachings are called a parable. And He spake this parable
unto them, saying, (Lk. 15:3). The Greek is very definite in making the word for
parable clearly a singular noun. It is the parable this. Five seemingly
separate stories enter into His teaching to carry the truth of this parable.
His regular method of teaching all but the inner circle of His disciples was by parable.
All these things spake Jesus IN PARABLES unto the multitudes; and without a parable
spake He NOTHING unto them (Matt. 13:34). But privately to His disciples He
expounded all things (Mk. 4:34).
Jesus loved the publicans and sinners and wanted to help and
save them. But these self-righteous Pharisees and scribes, whose business it should have
been to teach them the love of God and to invite them to love and obey God in return for
His grace, not only hated these publicans and sinners, but ostracized and excommunicated
them from all the privileges of Jewish worship and fellowship.
So, in the presence of both leaders and outcasts Jesus gave
this parable, part of it to bring hope to the outcasts and part of it to condemn the
leaders for their heartlessness and neglect. The first part consisting of three stories,
was for the encouragement of the publicans and sinners; the last part consisting of two
stories, expresses His condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes.
First came the story of The Lost Sheep and the
solicitude of the shepherd to bring it back to the fold.
Then Jesus told the story of The Lost Coin and the
eagerness of the woman to find it again.
The third story was about The Lost Son and the
yearning of the Father for his wayward boy to come home again.
These three stories all tell the same truth. God is anxious for
all the lost to return to Him, whether they become lost just through heedlessness like a
wandering sheep, or whether they are lost because of the carelessness of someone else as
in the case of the lost coin, or whether they are lost because of their own willfulness
and rebellion like the lost son. God wants them back. How these stories must have thrilled
the hearts of the publicans and sinners, who longed for fellowship both with man and God!
But this parable is not finished when Jesus has told of the
love of God for the lost. It contains also his condemnation of those who were supposed to
teach these sinners about the love of God, but who didnt do what they were expected
to do because their hearts were so full of self-righteousness and pride. They not only
hated the Gentiles, but they also hated all the sons of Israel who failed to keep their
man-made regulations. Through their influence and authority many of the chosen people were
permanently excluded from all public worship in Israel.
The story of The Unjust Steward becomes crystal
clear in the light of this historical background. Some details may seem puzzling, but the
story as a whole shines like the sun in the sky. There was a certain rich man who
had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods (Lk.
16:1). In this story the rich man stands for God; the steward represents the
leadership of Israel; while the rich mans goods seems to carry a double
meaning. First, Gods goods represent His Word, His truth, the message of
His love for a lost world; this was being wasted by the steward. Instead of sharing it
with all it was most selfishly kept for the favored few. Next, Gods
goods included His chosen people who were the custodians of His message to
men. A11 the Jews, including publicans and sinners, were called to be His witnesses to an
idolatrous world. But the Pharisees and scribes who were the steward, supposed
to dispense Gods Word and care for Gods people, not only ignored the publicans
and sinners, but actually excluded them from the worship of God and the privileges of
religion. Instead of being faithful stewards of Gods grace they were haughty
dictators actually withholding Gods message from those to whom it belonged, and
excommunicating many whose rightful place was within the religion of Israel. No wonder
Jesus called them Unjust Stewards. And in the story when the unjust steward
was caught he went further into deceit and trickery in order to protect himself. He
that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Did the Pharisees and scribes
recognize themselves in this story? And what did the publicans and sinners think?
The last section of this parable is the story of Dives and
Lazarus. In it Jesus changed His figures by using some of the traditions of the Talmud.
The idea of a place of torment under the earth is Talmudic; the concept of Abrahams
bosom is Talmudic. In fact, the whole story of Dives and Lazarus is an adaptation of a
story in the Talmud. But in it Jesus is still keeping in mind the Pharisees and scribes on
the one hand, and the publicans and sinners on the other. He is not describing the fate of
all the saved and all the lost, as so many earnest Christians believe.
From what you know of Jesus teachings, could you say that
He would use the figure of a rich man, well clothed, and well fed, to represent all the
sinners of mankind? Is that condition in itself representative of all iniquity? Again,
will you insist that a poor beggar, full of sores, is a proper representative for all the
righteous of mankind? Some of the beggars of our land, full of sores, are rotting away
because of loathsome diseases contracted in sin. Will you insist that all righteous men
could be properly symbolized by such a person as a beggar, full of sores ? The terms of
the parable are strange, to say the least, to be thus universally applied.
Another problem in this story is the picture of hades. It is
translated hell in some versions. This is a whole subject of study in itself.
Suffice it to say that the Hebrew word sheol means to ask, to
interrogate, and the noun form of the word refers to something unperceived, unseen,
or unknown. When a man dies there is a great question in the mind and heart of one who
looks on. Hence this word came to mean The invisible state of the dead, the place
and state of those qui in quaestione sunt (Cocceius), who are out of the way and
to be sought for, (Bate). In this view it seems nearly to answer to the Greek hades
(by which the LXX almost constantly renders it), the invisible place, and to our old
English word hell, which though now scarcely used but for the place of torment, yet being
a derivative from the Saxon hillan, or helan, or from holl, a cavern, anciently denoted
the concealed or unseen place of the dead in general. (In parts of England men still
say I plan to hell my potatoesmeaning to bury them in a hole or pit,
that is, a covered place. Formerly a lover would take his sweetheart into a
hell to kiss her that is, into a place where others could not see).
It does not mean the sepulchre, another Hebrew word & used for that. Sheol
signifies that which is common to all, the common receptacle of the dead.. When Jacob said
he would go down mourning into sheol to his son, it did not mean hell as the
place of the damned, for he never thought his son to be gone thither, nor into the grave,
properly so named, for he thought his son had been devoured by a wild beast; but into the
place of the dead. See Parkhursts Hebrew Lexicon, pg. 673. See also Gesenius,
Sheol is often translated hell in our common
versions. So also is the Greek word hades, which has the same meaning.
Sometimes these words are translated the grave or the pit instead
of hell. Then the Greek word gehenna, the place where everything
like refuse was burned up, is translated hell, along with the word
tartarus. In popular usage The Lake of Fire is also understood to
mean hell. There is no wonder that folks do not know what hell
really is. Now if you will check each and every occurence of the Hebrew word
sheol and the Greek word hades you will find that they are never
used to picture a place of torment except in this story of Dives and Lazarus. In only
three places is the idea of sorrow or pain used (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:5; 116:3), and there
it is used as synonymous with the pain of dying. Hades or sheol, the abode of the dead, is
sometimes described without being named. It is darkness (Ps. 143:3); it is
vast and never full (Pro. 27:20); it is not a place of torment (Job 3:11-19).
But to Dives, hades was a place of torment. Read the story and compare with other uses of
Again, it is difficult to be certain where literal and
figurative language are to be distinguished in this story. For surely some of it seems to
be literal, and some of it seems to be figurative. But just where the one Ieaves off and
the other begins may not always be clear. For instance, the description of their human
lives seems very literal, they lived thus and so and they died. When the beggar
died he was carried by the angefs into Abrahams bosom. That was the
title of the part or section of sheol or hades to which the righteous went at death,
according to Talmudic tradition. Did the beggars body go there, or only his spirit?
The rich man also died and was buried. That sounds literal enough to suppose
that his body was really put into a grave somewhere in the earth. But when he
awakened in hades, near enough to Abraham and Lazarus to converse with them, it was his
tongue that was tormented in the flame. Was that his literal tongue, or only his
figurative tongue? Was his literal tongue buried with his body. If so, what was suffering
in hades? Some reader will insist that I am sneering at the story of Dives and Lazarus. I
am not. It is the common interpretation of that story that I am calling in question.
Whatever it may mean, it is surely not a parable of the fate of all the wicked on the one
hand, and all the righteous on the other hand.
Another point that should be noted is that Lazarus began his
bliss, and Dives began his punishment, from the moment of death. There is no reference to
a resurrection on the one hand, or to a judgment on the other. Everywhere else the Bible
is consistent in teaching the necessity of resurrection before judgment, and of judgment
before penalty. Neither of these is even hinted at in the story of Dives and Lazarus. If
this is a parable of the ultimate fate of all the righteous and of all the wicked, how can
it be reconciled with general Biblical teaching?
The real meaning of the story of Dives and Lazarus is that it
is Jesus ironic adaptation of a story out of the Talmud which He applies to the
Pharisees and scribes on the one hand, and to the publicans and sinners on the other. The
one group constituted the favored class of Jewish society in that day; the other were
outcasts. The one had the enjoyment of political, social, economic, and relrgious
standing; the other was destitute of them all.
And so this parable is finished. It contains three stories
emphasizing the love of God for sinners and outcasts, and two stories portraying His
condemnation of those who should have been just stewards of the grace of God, but were
not; His condemnation of those who fared so sumptuously every day without sharing the
social and religious privileges they
enjoyed with those who had none of them. There is nothing in the story of Dives and
Lazarus to overthrow the doctrine of Reconciliation.
How Complete ls Redemption?
It would pay every Christian to ask himself the above question,
and turn to the Scriptures to find the answer. For it seems that very few folks have any
conception of how clearly the answer is given. Most of us have the tendency to confound
Gods METHOD with His OBJECT; to mix up His PROCESS with His PURPOSE; to confuse His
TECHNIQUE with His GOAL.
There are no less than seventy (70) clear statements of that
GOAL to be found in the Bible, besides many suggestions and allusions to it. Out of these
many statements, let us look somewhat carefully at only four. In them we will find the
answer to four aspects of the question at the head of this chapter. That is, we shall find
how complete redemption is: (1) in its extent; (2) in restored fellowship; (3) in loving
attitude; (4) in devotion to God.
1. How Complete is Redemption in Its Extent ? Probably no
clearer word regarding that question can be found in the entire Bible than Eph. 1:9-11,
which reads, Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His
good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness
of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven,
and which are on earth; even in Him: in Whom we also have obtained an inheritance, being
predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of
His own will. The purpose or plan of God is one which pleases Him: the secret of
that plan has been revealed to men; that plan is to gather together, or head up, all
things in Christ. Twice in the quotation above that expression all things is
used. The Greek words are ta panta, and they are literally the all
things. They are the common Greek expression for the universe. Paul
means that the entire universe is to be gathered together, or headed up, in Christ. And
that agrees with Rom. 8:21, Because the creation itself (not creature) shall be
delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of
God. Surely no part or parcel of that universe can permanently remain out of Christ!
2. How Complete is Redemption in Restored Fellowship? Let us
study Col. 1:20,21. And having made peace by the blood of His cross, by Him to
reconcile all things to Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things
in the heavens. And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked
works, yet now hath He reconciled. Here again is the expression all
things, the ta panta, Greek expression for the universe. And
God intends to do for that universe exactly what He has already done for the Colossians,
reconcile it. What chance is there for part of that universe to be held in Eternal Torment
and unending estrangement, if it is all to be reconciled? And how can part of it be
exterminated if it is all to be reconciled?
3. How Complete is Redemption in The Loving Attitude of the
Redeemed? Phil. 2:9-11 reads thus: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and
given Him the name which is above every name: that in the name of Jesus every knee should
bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every
tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. In
my early ministry I used to explain this as a sort of compulsory adoration by beings who
couldnt help themselves; a sort of Heil Hitler! from conquered subjects.
But how little I knew of what Paul wrote. The word translated bow is
kampto, found in the Bible only in Pauls writings, and means bow
in worship. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, wrote Paul in
Eph. 3:14. No compulsory adulation that! And the word translated confess is
also used to mean praise or acclaim. The same Greek word is used
to express Jesus gladness as recorded in Mt. 11:25 and Lk. 10:21. He said, I
thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven, and earth . . . . Now according to Paul, every
being in heaven, and in earth, and in the underworld is to bow the knee in the same
worshipful humility that characterized Paul himself, and every tongue is to thank or
praise or acclaim Christ as Lord in the glad spirit that characterized our Lord Himself.
The loving attitude of the whole universe is to be complete and perfect.
4. How Complete is Redemption in the Matter of Devotion to God?
Well, let us look at 1 Cor. 15:22-28. Here is one of the most remarkable statements in the
entire Bible. It tells us how and when all things in the universe are to be brought into
subjection to God. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made
alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are
Christs at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the
kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority
and power. For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy
that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He
saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, which did put all
things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also
Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in
all. What shall we say about all that?
First, the time element. This Scripture looks far beyond the
time of anything told us in the book of Revelation. Christ does not reign for
ever as the false translation tells us so often, but He reigns till;
till He hath put all enemies under His feet; till He has put down all
rule and authority and power. Rev. 20:4 says, And I saw thrones, and they sat
upon them, still rule and authority and power. Rev. 21 tells us of the New
Jerusalem, and at verse 24 it says, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory
and honor into it, still rule and authority and power. And Rev. 22:15 lists
the wicked people outside the city, enemies that are not yet under His feet. 1 Cor. 15
reaches far beyond Revelation in time.
Second, the life element. For as in Adam all die, even so
in Christ shall all be made alive. I used to say that it meant that all would be
restored to life just to be judged. But that is not what Paul wrote. There are two Greek
words for life, bios which always means physical life or the means to sustain
physical life, and zoe which means the principle of life, spiritual life, or
immortal life. Now the verb Paul used here is a compound which, I am sure, means to make
alive spiritually, or immortally. It cannot mean merely to make alive physically. The word
used suggests that, and the illustrations used sustain the contention. Christ is the
firstfruits. But He was raised immortal! Christ, being raised from the dead
dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him (Rom. 6:9). That is, He is
immortal. Afterward they that are Christs at His coming. And how are
they to be raised? Immortal, of course. Read the whole of 1 Cor. 15 and you will know. But
Christ, and they that are Christs, do not include all who died in Adam; they are
only a handful compared to the remaining ones. When are the rest to be raised to
immortality? Well, in the words, Then cometh the end, the word
cometh is in italics, showing that Paul did not use that word at all. It was
supplied by the translators, and, in this case completely changes the meaning. Paul is
talking about the order in which all are to be made alive. The word translated
order means a group, or rank, or band,
like succeeding groups or bands in a parade. Christ is the first order; they that are
Christs are the second order; and the rest constitute the third order to be made
alive when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
These three orders constitute the all who are to be
made alive spiritualy, or immortally. Some will insist that this is a mere assumption to
support an opinion. But there are two facts in the Greek of the passage that prove the
statement to be correct. In the first place, the Greek word hekastos,
translated every man, or, more accurately, each, is regularly used
to signify each one of several items. If there were only two items or individuals the word
meaning both would be used. This same distinction is also regular usage in the
English language, so that there should be no difficulty m understanding it.
In the second place, two other words are used which make the
conclusion inevitable. The adverbs epeita and Ma make
unquestionable the significance of three orders. They are words used to mark succession of
time or order, meaning that what precedes the statement they introduce is related in time
or order to what follows, and that what follows is related in the same way to what
precedes. So that the Greek words eita to telos meaning Then the
end just have to refer to the order or rank that is referred
to in the preceding verse. Paul is writing about three orders or classes of mankind to be
made alive, and these three orders constitute all of mankind. And all are to
be subject. In the 27th and 28th verses one verb meaning put in
subjection is used six times. It is variously translated put under,
subdues, and be subject. But it is the same word in Pauls
writing. He seems to pile up words to make clear his meaning that all things in the
universe are to be brought into subjection to God. In 1 Cor. 15:22-28 he uses the word
all twelve times, and in just the last two verses he repeats the idea of
subjection six times. One wonders what else he could have written to make men understand
his meaning. He is saying as clearly as words can say that the ultimate GOAL OF GOD is the
bringing into subjection of all beings in the universe, in heaven, in earth, and in the
underworld! If our theology, or our orthodoxy, or our church creed will not allow us to
believe the plain statement of Scripture, then we ought to throw away our theology and our
creed. Let God be true, and every man a liar. Christ will succeed in bringing
the entire universe into subjection to God. Praise His Name!
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1
Cor. 15:26). One of the thoughts that gripped me that day in 1940, and held me almost
spellbound in the half-opened door, was this: According to the Bible the first death would
be all past for the Church at the time of the Second Coming of Christ, and later it would
be all past for the wicked and lost. The only death left will be the second death! Will
the second death be destroyed, also ? Or will it be the means through which death itself
will be abolished (Heb. 2:14,15)?
Many people do very careless thinking about death and its
conquest. The writer used to believe, as many folks do, that death would be destroyed as
soon as the act of dying stopped. How partial a viewpoint that is!
This entire present earthly scene is under the condemnation of
death. Even our scientific definition of life confesses it: Life is the sum total of
the forces that oppose death, it says. And everyone knows that life here and now can
oppose death for only a brief time at best. The path of glory leads but to the
In one of his books Glenn Clark discusses the problem of why a
rotten apple in a barrel of good ones will spoil the whole lot, but a good apple in a
barrel of rotten ones is powerless to make the rotten ones sound. He says that the good
apple has the stroke of death in it. When the stem was severed from the tree its source of
life and health and growth was removed. Even a good apple is a dying thing.
He should have added that death was hovering near the apple
while its stem was still fast to the tree. Just let the wind swing the apple against a
limb near at hand and break the rind, immediately rot sets in. Let a bird pick a hole in
it, or a worm enter its body, at once the forces of decay and death have gained an
entrance, and the end is putrefaction. In the midst of life we are in death.
The first warning against disobedience, according to the Bible,
is In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. The words thou
shalt surely die are often translated dying thou shalt die, or
thou art dying to die. That is, dying is a process, and to
die is the final act or event in the process. When Adam sinned it was life and
vitality that he lost; it was death and dissolution that he received. The word
death means vastly more than the act or event of dying; it means not only the
state into which one passes in the act of dying but also the condition which makes such an
event and such a state possible.
For death is not only a condition or state which affects the
physical body; it is primarily the state or condition of the spiritual life in which
unregenerated men now live. Until men are made alive in Christ they are dead in
trespasses and sins, here and now. It will be the condition or state of the lost
in the ages to come, having no hope, and without God in the world.
Anybody apart from God in Christ is dead, whether in this life, or in any other. He
that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life, (1
Jn. 5:12). Physical death is only one of the results of a previous spiritual death. When
Adam sinned, fellowship was broken between himself and God in whom we live, and
move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). It was not merely his physical demise after
930 years that constituted his death, but his separation from God on the very day he
sinned was the inner reality of his death. That separation with its fear, its alienation
from Gods love and care and intimate fellowship, is the real death that is to be
destroyed (Lk. 15:24,32; Rom. 8:6,7; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2;13).
How silly it is to teach then, as the writer used to do, that
when the act of dying is ended death would be destroyed! He locked up the vast majority of
mankind in eternal torment, blind to the fact that he was just holding them in death
forever. In the economic realm we use the term freezing to signify static
continuance in financial immobility. So did the writer freeze the great
majority of men in the death of eternal fire!
And when he changed his thinking, in order to get rid of such
an awful God as eternal torment pictures, and accepted extermination, he did no better so
far as destroying death is concerned. If death is the absence of life, and that must be
true of anything that ever had life, and later on lost it, then extermination is only
another method of decreeing eternal death on the vast majority of mankind. In the case of
either eternal torment or extermination death would reign forever! Death will be destroyed
by putting life in its place. That nullifies the objection made by many that the teaching
of Reconciliation destroys the hope of everlasting life. They say that Jesus words
in Mt. 25:46 make punishment and future life the same length. And these (the wicked)
shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. If
the punishment of the wicked is only age-lasting, not everlasting, then the reward of the
righteous is also age-lasting, and not everlasting. This is their argument, and so far as
the above quotation is concerned they are correct. Now the promise of eonian
life is a marvelous offer. It is the offer to all who believe of the privilege of
living in Christ in this present life, and living with Christ, reigning with Christ, and
being like Christ in the ages to come (Eph. 2:7). During those eons when He is
bringing the entire universe into harmony with God the Church will share with Christ in
all that glorious activity. But the assurance of unending life is not in this offer,
wonderful as it is. For the eons will end! Rather, the assurance of unending life lies in
the promise that we shall be made immortal when Christ calls us into that fellowship of
service with Himself. Our alienation and separation from God are already ended in this
life, through Christ. But it is not until His Second Coming that immortality is conferred
through change for living saints, and through resurrection for dead saints. And
immortality is life over which death has no power. So it embodies unlimited life.
The only way that death will ever be destroyed is to put life
in its place. The only way to get rid of darkness is to obliterate it with light. The only
way to get rid of error is to supplant it with truth. The only way to get rid of sorrow is
to submerge it in joy. So, some glad day, Death will be swallowed up in
victory (I Cor. 15:54)! And He will do that by destroying for every being in the
universe all alienation and separation from God which is real death, spiritual
death, and the origin of physical death. But that can take place only when the Lord of
Life has proven Himself Lord over death! Not till then will the Son
deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father. When that joyous day comes men
will answer their own questions O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy
victory? (1 Cor. 15:35) by the triumphant shout, Thanks be to God Who giveth
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). For as in Adam
all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).