Is the Future Salvation Conditional?
Argument In The Affirmative.
1st. Man is a free moral agent. As such, he is a subject of law, of exhortation appealing to his interests and his fears, and of rewards and punishments. If his future safety is independent of his present conduct, I can conceive of no use that religion can be to him, why Christ should have died for his redemption, or why he should be so earnestly, and repeatedly, urged to attend to the important business of his salvation! Surely if he is not to be regarded as a probationer for eternity, there was no need for all this, religion is a mockery, and the means of grace utterly useless, if his future felicity is secure without them.
2nd. We are solemnly assured in the Bible, that "the soul that sinneth it shall die," -- that "he that believeth not shall be damned," -- that "he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption," -- that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive for the things done in his body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil." &c.
Universalists tell us that these threatenings, with the accompanying promises relate wholly to the present state, but for this we have but their assertion, and the strength of language which marks many of these texts, proves that assertion groundless. It is in the present world that "they who sow to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting"? Do universalists enjoy their everlasting life in this world? Christ is said to have become "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." Does this also happen in the present state? Is the eternal salvation to be realized here? Moreover, an apostle exhorts to "give all diligence to make your calling and election sure" -- "for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Now that in this passage the reference is not to Christ's kingdom here, is certain, for Christ's kingdom here is not everlasting. Here, then, is an insurmountable proof, that our condition beyond death is dependant on our conduct in life. But this is so important a point that it shall be proven further.
The momentous question was put to Christ -- "Are there few that be saved?" And what was his answer? Was it such as favored the universalian theory? No indeed. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many I say unto you shall seek to enter in and shall not be able -- for narrow is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Here we have a direct issue between the Savior and the universalian theory, the former affirming that but few will arrive at eternal bliss, and that few conditionally, and the latter affirming that all will arrive there, and that unconditionally.
But a still plainer case occurs, when the lawyer and the rich young man inquired each of Christ what good thing he should do to inherit eternal life. Instead of receiving an answer such as universalism would render, viz: Do nothing -- you will be saved at all events, they were both informed that to mere legal obedience they must add the charity of the gospel. To the rich young man was said, "sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." Here observe, by the way, that heaven is put by the Savior in apposition with eternal life, which implies that they are synonymous. Treasure in heaven, then, it seems, may be secured by acts of charity upon earth. I defy all the sophistry of universalism to fairly meet the argument, in this case, against their unconditional salvation! It cannot be done.
Finally, Let me caution you, my friends, against the vitiating and soul destroying dogma of universal salvation. Vitiating and soul destroying it must necessarily be, since it takes away from virtue all its encouragements, and from vice all its restraints, which encouragements and restraints are eminently yielded by the hope of future reward, and the fear of future punishment. This is the very theory referred to by the prophet, which "makes the hearts of the righteous sad," and "strengthens the hands of the wicked by promising them life." For must it not dishearten the righteous to be told, that in the future world God will make no distinction between them and the vilest sinners? Again then, I exhort you, my friends, to shun this doctrine, and pray God to guard you against a belief in it.
Argument In The Negative.
1st. Whether man is a free agent, and if so, to what extent, are questions which I will not here attempt to resolve. These subtleties have in all ages engaged the highest orders of intellect, and, if Milton's authority in these matters be considered as valid, they have engaged even the reasoning powers of fallen angels in their dreary pandemonium.
"Others apart sat on a hill retir'd,
The mist of uncertainty, nevertheless, still clings around these question as much as ever. I choose to assume that man is in some degree, master of his volitions, and the actions thence ensuing, that in many cases he could both will, and do, otherwise than as he does. But that he is not free, to the extent supposed by my opponent, is susceptible of both philosophical and scriptural proof. He surely is not at liberty to ruin himself past the remedial reach of his creator's grace. To suppose the contrary is an almost blasphemous arrangement of that creator's wisdom and benevolence! But if we even concede to man all the freedom contended for, it will not thence follow that he is a probationer (i.e. on trial) for eternity. That he is not is evident from several circumstances.
But, my opponent opines, that if man is not a probationer for eternity, there was no need of the Savior's advent and death, and that preaching, and the whole business of religion is useless! Really, I can see no force in this argument. Man is a rational being. He owes duties to his God and to his fellows. It is the office of religion to acquaint him with these and to prompt him to a discharge of them. He is subject to numerous trials and afflictions under which it is the business of religion to sustain him. He is destined to a higher station in Being than that which he at present occupies. To this, religion, with friendly finger, points his hopes. Jesus Christ came to expound to man the nature and claims of this religion. By his ministry, miracles, life, death, and ascension, to exemplify and establish it. No necessity for religion, indeed! It might as well he said that we shall not want religion in a future life, except it be to prepare us for another still beyond it! Truth is, if even there were no future life, religion would still be needful to guide us peacefully and happily through the present, and wherever there is rational existence, religion is indispensable to its happiness. I must decidedly protest against that narrow theory, which supposes religion only necessary as a sort of certificate of admission to the world of bliss! It is clear that such is the view of it which has practically obtained amongst the major part of Christendom.
The quaint, and Calvinistically orthodox John Bunyan, shall bear me witness to the truth of this remark. "When he was come up to the gate he looked up to the writing that was above, and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered to him; but he was asked by the men, that looked over the top of the gate 'Whence come you? and what would you have?' He answered, 'I have eat and drank in the presence of the king'. Then they asked him for his certificate that they might go in and show it to the king. So he fumbled in his bosom for one and found none, &c." I need hardly add, that he was denied admission. -- See Pilgrim's Progress, part first.
2nd. Let us now glance at the text, which my friend thinks sustain his views of a future conditional salvation. He says truly that universalist are in the habit of referring them exclusively to the present state. "The soul that sinneth it shall die". All acquainted with the language of the bible know, that soul is but another word for person or individual. "eight souls were saved from drowning", that is eight individuals were so saved. Now how many souls have sinned? "All have sinned (Rom. 3:23), therefore, in the sense intended, all have died. To say that this is an endless death, is not only to assume beyond what is revealed, but also to incur the absurd consequence that all mankind shall endlessly die?
"He that believeth not shall be damned". The Greek word here rendered damned is in other passages rendered condemned, and judged, and might with equal propriety have been so translated in this place. We have no warrant for saying that the damnation is to ensue beyond the grave. "He that believeth not IS condemned already" (John 3:18). My opponent, if he is not now, has been an unbeliever. While such, he was damned, or he was not. If not, the text in his case proved false. If he was damned, it must have been in this state of being and, thus, his view of the text is proven incorrect.
"He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption". Where? Not surely in a future world, for there, neither flesh nor corruption exists. We have Paul for witness, that in the resurrection "this corruption shall put on incorruption", and again, "for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Cor. 15). But my friend thinks the language of the latter clause of this text too strong, to apply to things of time. "He that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting". 'Do Universalists', he somewhat wittily asks, 'enjoy their everlasting life in this world?' I will treat him to a bible answer. "He that believeth on the son HATH everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but IS PASSED from death unto life" (John 3:36). You see then, (if the scriptures are to be the umpire between us), that Universalists, as well as other honest folks who believe in Christ, may enjoy 'everlasting life in this world'. It seems but reasonable, moreover, that the harvest should be reaped where the seed is sown. He would be a sagacious fellow who should think of going to the moon to gather a crop of turnips which he had planted on this earth! Equally sagacious is he who talks of going to a world of spirits to reap corruption of the flesh.
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive according to the deeds done in his body, whether they be good, or whether they be bad." Begging my opponent's pardon I must tell him that, in the sense of this text for which he contends, he does not believe it himself! Does he, for instance, believe that he will suffer in the future world for all his transgressions in this? Not he, notwithstanding that he will acknowledge to have sinned often, and greatly. Yet, he thinks that his post mortem state will be one of unmingled happiness! He does not believe that Moses, in the future state, will be punished for his murder of the Egyptian, whose body he buried in the sand. Nor that Samson will be held to a reckoning for his scandalous connection with Delilah. Nor Peter, for the denial of his Lord. Nor Thomas, for his obstinate refusal to credit Christ's resurrection without sensible demonstration. And yet he puts upon the text before us such a construction as requires him to believe all this! Let us now look for the true sense of this passage. Leaving out the words added by the translators it reads as follows: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may RECEIVE THE THINGS IN BODY, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad." Where is the judgment seat of Christ? Are we any where told it is in eternity? No, on the contrary. Christ himself says, "For judgment I am come into this world" (John 9:39). And as to the time of this judgment he says, "Now is the judgment of this world" (John 12:31). Indeed, it was long before predicted of him that he should "execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jer. 23:31). Another prophet said, "he shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law" (Isaiah 42:4). "The judgment seat of Christ" is a figure, implying that by the principles of his gospel, human actions are tested in this latter-day dispensation. Jesus, himself, explicitly sanctions this definition. "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Let these remarks suffice for the present. They sufficiently show that an application of the text in dispute to a future state is unauthorized and gratuitous.
Pass we now to what my opponent deemed his most invincible proofs. Perhaps we shall find them not absolutely insuperable after all. as a young lawyer, it seems, and a certain rich young man, inquired of Christ what they should do to inherit eternal life. Because they were directed to superadd Christian charity to legal obedience in order to the attainment of this object, my friend thinks it quite clear that future endless bliss is conditionally bestowed. Were I a logician I would whisper in his ear, "my friend, first prove, what you here assume, viz. that the Scripture sense of 'eternal life' is synonymous with 'future endless bliss.'" But this he thinks he has already done, by showing an instance in which this phrase is put in apposition with the word heaven. It behooves him, however, to show also that this last term always, or even generally, is used to signify the world of bliss. That it is not, I can establish past dispute. Yea more. I can establish that it does not in this very instance. For it is immediately afterward confounded with the "kingdom of heaven". "verily, I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." Now I know of no one instance in which this phrase signifies the future world of bliss. Its invariable reference is to the church, or the gospel dispensation. The same is likened to "a grain of mustard seed", to "leaven which a woman hid in two measures of meal", to "ten virgins", and numerous other things. This kingdom is a purely spiritual institution. It "cometh not", saith the Savior, "with observation, the kingdom of heaven is within you". Paul says it consists of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the holy spirit" (Rom. 14:15). It was truly difficult in Christ's day for a rich man to become a subject of this kingdom, opposed as were its unpretending and self-denying principles, to the pomp, and glitter, and ostentation of the world, and embracing only, as was then the case, a few unlearned, untitled, and obscure fishermen, as its denizens. Even many years subsequent to Christ's time, an apostle had occasion to say: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called" (1 Cor. 1:26). How hardly, then, would a rich man resist the blandishments of the proud world, and become a follower of the humble Nazarene! "It is easier", said Christ, "for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matt. 14:24). This led the disciples in apparent surprise to inquire, "Who then can be saved?" The answer given is strangely at variance with the doctrine of salvation by human agency: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." What is this but virtually saying that our salvation is not by any means of ourselves. That it is something over which we have no control, and which, therefore, cannot, in the nature of things, be conditional, but must come solely from God, who alone can secure it to us. And the same thing is elsewhere repeatedly affirmed. "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). Which indeed is avowedly the doctrine of all Protestant Christendom, and has been maintained also by some eminent lights in the Romish church, more especially by St. Augustine. And yet, with singular inconsistency, they mostly deny the fact, what they so clearly avow in terms!
The disciples next inquire (for I wish here to meet all the apparent difficulties of this passage) what they should receive, who had forsaken all and followed him. He answers them, "When the son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my name sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life." I know well the strength of educational prejudices, and I also know that these prejudices incline us to apply this language to a world beyond the grave. But let us scrutinize it carefully. Are the apostles to sit on thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel, in a future world? Is it in a future world that the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory? On the contrary, we have his own repeated assurance that this took place at the conclusion of the Jewish, and opening of the gospel aion or age. Expressly, and repeatedly, is it said by the Savior, when speaking of this very event, "Verily, I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 21:28; Mark 8:26, 38; Like 9:27). What was the precise idea meant to be conveyed by the expression, "ye shall sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel", I pretend not to decide. Certainly, however, it is not to be understood literally, and that the disciples themselves understood it to relate to things of time is manifest. On the very night before his crucifixion they were contending as to which of them should occupy the chief places in his kingdom, and when at length the reign of Christ commenced, we find them constantly, in their preaching and writing, alluding to this divine dispensation under the title of "the kingdom" (Acts 8:12; 20:25; 28:39), and as having a present existence, "who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and HATH TRANSLATED US into the kingdom of his dear son" (Col. 1:13; 1 Thes. 2:12). This is "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", concerning which my opponent dwelt so emphatically, and which he sagely supposes cannot exist in time because of its being termed everlasting! Pity for him that he should have read his Bible to so little purpose! For as the kingdom of Christ, if Paul may be credited, it cannot exist in eternity. He informs us that at the close of terrestrial things, or at the era of the general resurrection, Christ "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. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, the shall THE SON HIMSELF ALSO be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:24-28). My opponent's supposition then, you perceive, that the everlasting kingdom of Christ is in eternity, is quite wide of the fact.
I have already shown that everlasting life is enjoyed in this state of existence. Let me put this interesting point beyond all cavil. Christ himself says, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, HATH EVERLASTING LIFE" (John 5:24). He repeats the same in John 6:47. He also defines this life; "This IS life eternal, that men may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (John 17:2). So soon then as this knowledge is possessed is the eternal life consequent thereof enjoyed. The apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, says, "Being made free from sin, and become servants of God, Ye have your fruits unto holiness, and the end (or consequence) everlasting life" (Rom. 6:22). By supplying in the closing clause of this text what grammarians call the ellipsis, or the omitted words, it would read "and ye have the end(or consequence) which is everlasting life". John says, "No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). These instances will suffice to settle the fact beyond controversy, that the phrases, "eternal life", and "everlasting life", are often used in reference to present gospel enjoyment. I, however, do not thence infer that they never point to the immortal existence of the future state. Still I cannot positively say that they ever have such reference. But from the nature of this life, we cannot doubt that it is the same that is enjoyed by all pure intelligences in every department of Being.
But few words are necessary, methinks, in disposing of my friend's now only remaining Scriptural argument. I allude to the passage concerning the narrow, and the broad roads. The one leading to life and the other to destruction. The one but sparsely and the other populously occupied. And does my friend seriously deem that these represent the highways to bliss and woe unending? Is it the fact that the path to final happiness is so narrow, and difficult of access, that but few are so fortunate as to find it, while on the other hand, the numerous travelers to endless ruin are accommodated with a broad, M'Adamized road? How strangely in connection with this circumstance sounds the declaration, "The Lord hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that all should turn unto him and live!" If I could adopt my opponent's view of this subject, I would abandon all pretensions to a belief in the infinite goodness of God, or in his alleged disposition to save the human family. I should be at an utter loss how to discriminate between an all benevolent deity, and an all malignant devil! The meaning of the passage is briefly as follows: Christ confined his personal ministry to the Jews, but such was the bigotry, and so many and unyielding the prejudices of that people, that but few, and they with great difficulty, could be persuaded to become the subjects of his kingdom. Much the major part persisted in rejecting him. They would not come unto him that they might have life, and, as a consequence, they were involved in the destruction which ensued when their city and temple were desolated by the Roman army. The few among the Jews who did by faith in the Savior enter into life are designated by Paul, "a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom 11:8). Christ saith in the text, "many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." In agreement with this, the afore mentioned apostle says, "What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh after; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Rom. 11: 7). Thus endeth the examination of the texts relied on in the affirmative of this argument. Let us now glance at some additional considerations of the negative side.
Thus on every hand we meet insuperable difficulties in the way of a future conditional salvation, whilst on the other side I know of none that may not be easily obviated. Many are startled, it is true, at the idea, that even the deepest guilt into which a man my plunge himself, will not utterly sink him beneath the reach of divine grace, and shut the gates of future bliss against his soul. But let such reflect that even according to their own belief, the worst of sinners experience a free pardon upon repentance in this life, and that here or hereafter God's mercy is the same -- his love to his creatures the same -- the power of his grace, and the benevolent objects of his government the same, or all that we are told of the immutability of his nature must go for nothing. That the mere depth of human guilt will prove no barrier against the efficacious operations of divine grace, is obvious from his promises, "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). It is a most pitiful puerility to object that promises of this nature only indicate the divine dispositions toward man in time, for that implies that in eternity these dispositions will have changed, and that the reformation of sinful intelligences will have ceased to be an object with God!, which are most gross absurdities.
My opponent alleges that ours is the doctrine alluded to by Ezekiel, which "strengtheneth the hands of the wicked by promising him life;" and thereby "makes the hearts of the righteous sad." If the righteous are made sad by being told that all sin, and misery, and death, and disorder, shall eventually come to a period -- that the infinite purity and felicity will be transfused into all conscient existence -- that God's promises will be verified, his will accomplished -- the ends of Christ's death consummated, and their own prayers answered; if this, I say, is saddening to righteous hearts, I can only say it is pity for them, and that I most fervently pray to be delivered from a heart of the kind! But is it true that we strengthen the hands of the wicked? Do we promise him life in his wickedness? Nothing can be farther from truth than an affirmative answer to these questions. We insist that death -- certain -- present death -- death constituted of remorse, misery, degradation, and every kind of mental (and often) bodily) suffering, shall be the harvest of the sinner in proportion to what he sows. It were an easy thing to retort the charge upon the doctrine of my opponent, and to show that it promises absolute impunity to crime, however deep and long continued, provided that it be but repented of this side the grave! But as I have been already diffuse in my reply, I will not dwell upon this manifest advantage in favor of my theory.
I could say much relative to the restraining effects of his doctrine of post-mortem rewards and punishments. I might point to countries in which this belief is universal, (such is The case in Muhammadan and Pagan lands), and consider the moral and religious condition of those countries. I might point to ages past when no voice was lifted, nor allowed to be lifted, against this tenet, and expose the degradation and infamy of those ages. But let this pass. It will suffice to remark that in our own age and country, at least nineteen twentieths of the criminal offences committed, are by persons who believe and have been educated in that doctrine. When these dark and mystic fables shall have given place to manlier and more Scriptural views of God's character and government, there is every reason to think that the tone of moral feeling will be more pure and elevated.
In the conclusion, then, let me earnestly entreat you, my friends, to lay every selfish and party consideration aside, and search diligently for truth. Let no croaking menaces, dictated by craft, and in all times resorted to for their effect upon weak minds, discourage you from the pursuit, or repress your efforts for mental emancipation. Heed not my opponent's counsel by praying to be guarded against this or that belief. You cannot certainly know which, or whether either, is correct. It would therefore be a mockery of God to offer up a prayer of the kind. It would be virtually asking Him to keep you in your present faith right or wrong! This is the essence of bigotry. Rather pray to have your minds disenthralled from prejudice -- to have its educational mists dissipated, and to be guarded against the influence of selfish or party considerations in the search for truth. You may be told that this or that doctrine is not safe. Treat such suggestions with the contempt they merit. They have been used by every corrupt party, whether in politics or religion, in order to repress exertions toward reform. Not safe, is the monarchist's watchword of alarm against a change in government. The same is echoed by the Papist against reform in religion and it is reiterated by the advocates of an endless hell against an advance in divine knowledge. This watchword has, to some extent, accomplished its intended ends, but it is becoming trite, and is losing its power. Truth is safe, whatever that truth is, and its pursuit is safe, for should we even fail of the end we cannot but get the nearer to it for our exertions, and fail, if fail we must, with thousands of the noblest and purest of mankind who have failed before us.