Page images
[ocr errors]

their new-born sense of the love of God, which drove them to make the future world of retribution darker, more hopeless, and embracing a larger class of souls, than any other prophets ever painted it. Christianity is nearly the only religion in the world which teaches that there is such a thing as eternal torture, and that it awaits ordinary sinners. The paradox that this should be the lesson of the creed which also teaches more clearly than any other that “God is Love,” is explicable only on the hypothesis, that with the fresh conviction of God's goodness came likewise to the early Christians a fresh conviction of the heinousness of human guilt. They could actually see no light through it at all. Christ himself never said a word implying that Dives would ever taste one cooling drop; that the worm” would ever die, or the fire of hell ever be quenched. But, then, there is no token in the New Testament that he or any of his apostles dreamed of composing a Scheme of Theology such as Calvin and Jonathan Edwards delighted to construct, each doctrine dovetailing neatly into the next, till the whole terrible “Puzzle” is square and complete. Had they done so, it could hardly have been but that most merciful heart which uttered such tender words of peace and pardon to Magdalen, and the adulteress, and the crucified thief,-or even his who wrote the Epistles to Timothy and to Philemon,—would have thrilled with horror at the thought that they were practically bequeathing to Christendom for eighteen centuries the idea of a God whose cruelty should exceed

that of all the tyrants of Persia or of Rome, and towards whom men should lift their tear-worn eyes, divided ever between natural filial trust and the abject terror of slaves awaiting their doom. Viewed from the side of man, and man's guilt, they could threaten limitless punishment of sin. Had they looked at it from the side of God, and thought what the character of the Creator involved and guaranteed, it would have been, I venture to affirm, impossible for Christ or his followers to have left this hideous dogma of a world of perdition, unrelieved by the assurance that even into the lowest pit of sin and suffering the Father's Love should penetrate and the Father's Arm lift up the fallen.*

But if, on the one hand, human guilt must remain for us, as for the greatest souls of the past, an abyss of darkness we cannot fathom; and, on the other hand, the goodness of God stands out rounded into such an orb that we know evermore that “in Him is no darkness at all,” nor in His universe any final evil,—how are the two truths to be reconciled ? How are we to avoid subtracting somewhat from our sense of the ill-desert of Sin, while affirming with fearless confidence that it is finite and evanescent? I believe this is a problem having a very practical bearing on the religious life of the time, and I doubt very much whether the common substitute for the doctrine of the eternity of future physical pain—namely, a definite period of such pain after death-will at all meet the requirements of the case. Whatever be the relations of Pain and Sin (and I am far from denying that they exist), they are not of a kind which wholly satisfy the mind. They seem to offer a form of Retribution and a method of Restoration, but not necessarily to constitute one or the other. Something different from mere suffering is needful to complete an

* A MS. sermon by an old divine, Archbishop Cobbe, affirms that the Greek words in St. Matthew signifying “Thou fool,” were probably translated from the Aramaic original, and might be rendered more accurately, “Thou reprobate." I know not on what authority the Archbishop made this statement, but if verifiable it would mark a very curious anomaly in the teaching of Christ. He condemned it as a mortal sin, deserving of hell-fire for a man to treat his brother as irreclaimable and morally worthless. Yet he taught that the Father would actually consign that brother, as such, to eternal perdition !

atonement” (or renewal of union) between the sinful soul and the Divine Holiness. Not every "fire" would be a “Purgatory." In fact, among the mysterious uses of Pain it is hardly possible to reckon it as a simple counterpoise thrown into the scale against guilt, and of itself adjusting the balance of Justice. Those who hold that there is no such thing as Punishment in the Divine order, and those who hold that a certain definite modicum of pain apportioned to each sin fulfils that order, seem to me equally to err.

Surely the clue to the truth must lie in some other direction ? Our bodies, with their pleasures and pains, are so much a part of ourselves now, that our moral lessons must necessarily come to us partly through them. Very naturally, that intimate union and its consequences

was transferred in the imagination of the men of old to another world, and the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh (which happened to descend to us with more valuable heirlooms in one line of our mental pedigree) has served to give some sort of colour to our persistence in their ideas. But looking at the matter from the standpoint of modern psychology, it is hard to see what we can have to do beyond the grave with physical pains of any kind.

kind. Of course it is possible to imagine that the new bodies with which we may or may not) be clothed should from the first be inlets of suffering. But as they can hardly be supposed to receive the taint of the diseases of the poor sin-stained frames left in the grave, whatever pains they may endure must be conceived of as purely arbitrary, and of a kind bearing no analogy to any order of the Divine government with which we are acquainted.

But though it is most difficult to conceive of physical suffering under the conditions of a new life (unless as the reflex of more sensitive frames with the sufferings of the soul), it is, on the contrary, almost saliently obvious that the disembodied soul must immediately pass into a state wherein mental pain proportioned to its moral guilt will be unavoidable. We have no need to imagine a burning vault, Pit of Devils, or any other machinery of the Divine Inquisition. The mere fact of disembodiment, it would seem, must adequately account for all that is needed to work out the ends of justice.*

* “When the portals of this world have been past, when time and sense have been left behind, and this body of death' has


In those rare hours when the claims of the body are for a time partially suspended,—when we are neither hungry nor thirsty, nor somnolent nor restless,—when no objects distract our eyes and no sounds play upon the ear, when we feel, in a word, neither Pain, nor Want, nor Pleasure, from our corporeal frames, we obtain in a few moments more self-insight than in weeks and months of ordinary life. A prolongation of such a condition under disease, wherein in some rare cases) the body's wants are reduced to a minimum without such positive pain as to occupy the mind,-in interminable sleepless nights, and days when in solitude and silence the hours go by almost uninterrupted by those changes of sensation produced in healthy life by food, ablutions and exercise,-then, it would seem (from the testimony of those who have passed through such experience), the soul becomes self-conscious to a degree quite inconceivable under ordinary conditions. The physical life falls comparatively into the background, the spiritual and moral life come forward ; and the facts of our relations towards God, our sense of past transgressions, and our hopes of existence beyond the nearly-opened

dropped away from the liberated soul, everything which clouded the perception, which dulled the vision, which drugged the conscience while on earth, will be cleared off like the morning mist. We shall see things as they really are, ourselves and our sins among the number. No other punishment, whether retributive or purgatorial, is needed. Naked truth, unfilmed eyes, will do all that the most righteous vengeance could desire.”—Enigmas, p. 260. The following two pages of this essay are among the most beautiful and striking in the range of literature.

« PreviousContinue »