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Could any words well quicken in us deeper perplexity and distress of spirit ? They seem to charge the Divine Providence with a double blunder. What would have sufficed to save one set of men was withheld from them; it was granted to another set of men, whom it did not suffice to save ! Why was this waste
—this double waste? Why were the works of Christ not done in the streets of those cities which would have repented had they witnessed them, instead of being thrown away on men to whom, since they did not bring them to repentance, they only brought a severer judgment ?
The usual answer to that question is true so far as it goes ; but does it go far enough to relieve our minds of the perplexity and distress in which the question inevitably involves them? It is reasonable to believe that, since men can only live as they come to know God and yet cannot find Him out for themselves, He should come and dwell with them, that He should disclose Himself to those who were groping after Him, if haply they might find Him. It is equally reasonable to believe that, if He came, He would come but once, once for all ; that He would not be for ever breaking through that veil of natural forces and sequences behind which He at once hides and reveals Himself; that He would not become incarnate in every race and in every generation, but that once, in
the fulness of the times, He would manifest forth his glory. But if that fit and selected time fell when Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum were full of busy life, obviously there was no room for a Divine advent in that earlier period in which Sodom, and Tyre and Sidon were filling up the cup of their iniquities. They could not see the mighty works of Christ, even though they would long ago have repented had they seen them.
So much we admit, or may admit; and yet, does the admission satisfy us? Is it just that a man's salvation should depend on the age, or on the moral conditions of the age, into which he is born, and which he has done nothing to determine ? If, for example, the citizens of ancient Tyre would have been quickened to eternal life by the presence and works of Christ, are they never to see Him ? are they to be damned for not having seen Him? If Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle, if Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, would have fallen at the feet of the Son of Man, and joyfully have taken Him for their Master and Friend, are they never to hear the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth ? Are they to be damned for not having heard them ? And if many a Hindoo would have been saved by that very Gospel to which we turn so cold and indifferent an ear, will that Gospel never be preached to them ? will they be damned for not having received it? And if they are, shall we say, “It is just ?”
Many do say so. They argue that every race and generation of men has light enough if only they will walk by it, even though the great Light should not have risen upon them. It may be doubted whether such an argument would carry much weight even with those who most insist on it, if they themselves had been born in one of the dark ages or dark places of the earth, instead of standing, as they assume, in the full blaze of the Sun of Righteousness. For those who are content with this argument are commonly those who defer most to the current opinions of their time and set; in all probability they would have remained whatever they were born-Jews or Mohammedans, Parsees or Buddhists, and would have been no truer to the light that was in them than they are now. That any man who thinks for himself, and ponders the facts of human life in a sympathetic heart, and is capable of coming to a conclusion for himself, should maintain that every man born into the world has an equal or even a fair chance of getting to heaven, nay, that he should affirm that vast myriads of men have had any chance at all, is simply incredible. There are multitudes here in England, among the neglected and criminal classes, who have never had any real opportunity of knowing God or Christ, or even the blessed
ness of a pure and honest life ; and there are multitudes more from whom the Light of Life has been concealed by the superstition, or the bigotry, or the immorality of the very Church itself. And who that knows the moral and spiritual conditions of these English multitudes will venture to affirm that in ancient Sodom, when Abraham himself was but stumbling through the first rudiments of religion, men had such means of knowing and loving God that they deserved to be damned for their neglect of them?
The conclusion to which we are driven when we really consider these words is, as I said in my last Lecture, that if the men of Sodom would have repented at the ministry of Christ, then this germ of life must, under the rule of that kind just God who suffers no vital germ of goodness to be destroyed, have been long since developed ; they must long ago have seen the works of Christ, and have been brought by them to that life of which He Himself pronounced them capable. But as this conclusion runs right in the teeth of more than one popular dogma, we must proceed to examine a little in detail the ground on which it rests.
These dogmas, which happily are losing force daily, and daily moving through a lessening circle, are, that there is no probation beyond the grave, that when men leave this world their fate is fixed beyond all hope of change; that if, when they die, they have not repented of their sins, so far from finding any place of repentance open to them in the life to come, they will be condemned to an eternal torment, or, at best, to a destructive torment which will annihilate them. And as these dogmas claim to be formulated interpretations of Scripture, it would be of little avail to shew that they are contrary to reason, that they offend against the plainest dictates of justice, that they distort and debase the very character of God. The appeal is to the Bible as the supreme authority.-as the only clear and indubitable revelation of the will of God; and to the Bible we must therefore go for any satisfactory and authoritative refutation of them. I, for one, however, cannot take this course without entering my protest against the assumption that Reason and Conscience are to have no voice in the determination of this, or of any other, theological question. Doubtless we hear the voice of God in Scripture, and in Scripture hear it most distinctly; but that voice also speaks within us, in our reason and in our moral sense. And he who has drawn a conclusion from Scripture which Reason and Conscience imperatively condemn should need no other proof that he has misinterpreted the Word of God. Still, as the appeal is to the Bible, we will go to the Bible,