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Universalism the only Solution of the Problems of Moral Evil and Human Destiny.
The problems of human destiny, of the presence of moral evil, of the character and righteous moral government of God are as old as human thought. The theologies and philosophies of men have never given a satisfactory solution of these momentous questions. The absolutism of God, irrespective of the feelings and welfare of mankind, no longer satisfies the careful student of Nature and Revelation. The theologian and philosopher are beginning to see that creation, government and destiny must somehow be in harmony with the fact of a righteous God. Calvinism failed, and has gone down, because it recognized only the Divine Sovereignty, the right of the Almighty to save and destroy, as His own will should dictate. Perceiving the incongruity, not to say cruelty of such a conception of God and His government, Arminianism introduced the moral element of free-will, making destiny to depend upon choice. This was a great improvement upon the former system; but unfortunately for its own consistency, it violates its fundamental principle by limiting human choice and God's grace to the mere speck of time covered by this earthly state of existence. It does not admit that the mercy of God endures forever, but for time only, and that the invitation, "whosoever will may come," is limited to that period of human life which is most of all beset with doubt, ignorance, and sensuous things. It forces a decision of the question of eternal destiny before the evidence, on which human choice might turn, is all given. It fails to solve the problem by leaving out the love of God for souls, and the equal or better opportunity for the work of grace in the future.
Thoughtful minds are not content with either of the above schemes, but are free to confess to the awfulness and perplexity of the situation in which both God and man are placed
thereby. Rev. Albert Barnes said, "I never have seen one particle of light to disclose to me why sin came into the world, and why man must suffer to all eternity." Going back of the fiat of Calvinism, he was perplexed that God should make a world full of sinners and sufferers, and not save all the race, putting an end to sin and woe forever, instead of making a partial and arbitrary atonement for a chosen few. President Dwight considered the endless damnation of the wicked "immeasurably awful," and thought no man whose heart was not made of stone could preach or even "contemplate it without amazement." Even Calvin himself is said not to have been delighted with the results of his stern and merciless logic. Sometimes thoughtless zeal for sect or creed may lead one to applaud an argument or statement which seems to prove the consignment of the greater part of mankind to endless misery, but sober reflection, we have charity enough to believe, would correct such a heartless demonstration.
All profound thinkers have been perplexed with the above difficulties. James Mill called the religion and creed of christendom, the "ne plus ultra of wickedness." It was the "worship of a wicked God." "Think," he says, "cf a being who would make a hell-who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention, that the vast majority of them should be assigned to horrible and everlasting terment." W. H. Mallock, in his review of the above statement of Mill, confesses that, "If we believe in hell, we believe in something that our moral sense revolts at; for though hell may be nothing but the conscious loss of God, and though those who lose him may have made their own hell, still their loss, if eternal, will be an eternal flaw and disease in the sum of things." From these difficulties it is impossible to escape. He admits, however, that "we may get rid of the difficulty of eternal punishment by accepting the doctrine of final restitution." But this, he claims, involves another difficulty equally great, viz., "a fatalism that destroys our moral being, our free-will action in the choice of destiny." This latter difficulty is assumed. The doctrine of
final restitution is not founded upon fatalism, but under God, free will brings about restitution by choice, involving no coercion or fatalism whatever.
There are, then, these admitted difficulties in the theology of the past. But for the last quarter of a century a marked change has been taking place in the minds of religious thinkers. Science, improved scholarship, a more profound acquaintance with the human heart, have liberalized the conception of the character of God and His moral government. And whatever danger there may be to the Christian Church, faith in God, and the ethics of life depending thereon, by the rapid growth. of skeptical and materialistic thought, the old interpretations. of Revelation, Religion and Providence, have no perceptible power to arrest the tide in that direction. Atheistic rationalism began in a revolt at the irrational and cruel dogmas of the dominant theology. A reasonable, a correct interpretation of Christianity would have saved England and Germany from the Theism of the eighteenth century. And if anything will arrest the progress of atheism in the nineteenth century, it is that broad, philosophical view of creation and spiritual sovereignty which began in love, and will end in complete harmony and beneficence. John Mill derived his idea of a "wicked God" from a false and wicked theology. His son, J. S. Mill, pronounces the God of nature cruel and weak, because he fails to discern the benevolent design of suffering, and the infinitely larger good in existence than in non-existence, notwithstanding its inevitable evils. Infidelity and materialism are preferable to faith in a vindictive God, and immortality in hell.
What has the believer in partialism with which to meet the above charges that God's Word and Works proclaim Him cruel and unjust towards men, and compel to atheism rather than to faith? His own creed intensifies the difficulty. If a man rejects God because of physical evil, it is useless to undertake to win him by a faith which involves eternal evil. "Prove to me," says the skeptic, "that whatever is, is right, and for the best, that your God is infinitely wise and good, and I will
believe in and worship him. Make him lovely, and I will love him."
Now there is but one system of theology that makes any approach to the removal of this difficulty, and that is Universalism. We admit the fact and presence of evil, not as resulting from the malignity, or the weakness of God, but as incidental to creation and human freedom, temporal in duration, and beneficent in its final result. Take, for instance, the hardships and severities of nature, and they train men to sharpness of intellect, fosesight, self-help, and that energy of character which is the very essence of manhood. Its hardness makes men. The frosts of winter and the sterile ruggedness of the land necessitate that industry and care which nourishes the virtues, and kills out the vices. And on the ground that character survives material organization, the good of existence on this earth overwhelmingly outbalances its evils.
We dare not impugn Almighty Wisdom by supposing that He could have created a world to be inhabited by man any differently from what it is. To borrow an illustration from one of our philosophical writers: "you cannot build the Temple without making some debris." The rubbish is incidental to the completed work. It is no part of the temple, and yet it may serve to fill up the hollows and grade the grounds about it. So the operation of the laws of nature and creation involve many of the actual and possible evils suffered by man. But they are nothing in comparison with the good he gains by the gift of existence. And besides he is endowed with that superior intelligence which permits him to turn most of them to his own account. But in case this life does prove a failure, and in itself is not worth living, bringing to him more of evil and suffering than of good, his faith in a righteous and good God assures him that his light afflictions here, which are but for a moment, will work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory hereafter. In the gift and experiences of existence as a whole, he can claim that God is good to all, and that His tender mercies are over all his works. There is an almost infinite difference between the suffering of pain,
sorrow and disappointment as an end, and their infliction as a means, to higher and purer enjoyments pertaining to a more complete and perfect life. It is the end or purpose which God had in view when He created and subjected us to vanity, that determines His character for goodness. We have no right to judge him by the limited experiences of this short, disciplinary state of existence. We cannot see Him as He is is, nor ourselves as we are, in this imperfect undeveloped world. The fact of a continued spiritual life solves the difficulty of physical evil. A thing that we outgrow and rise above ceases to trouble us. The troubles of childhood and youth cease when we come to that estate where we put away childish things.
But moral evil is of a more serious character. Its origin and its destruction are more difficult to account for, without impugning the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty. In all our reasonings upon the nature and procedure of the Divine Being, we are compelled by the dictates of reason itself, in the face of whatever difficulties, to maintain His moral rectitude. "He can neither do nor be anything that is not morally excellent and beautiful, worthy of the admiration and veneration of all His intelligent creatures. His rectitude, paternity and goodness are first principles, immutable truths. Even if we are unable to comprehend their consistency with the phenomena of the universe, they are not therefore the less primary truths."
This is indeed true, because the moment our conception of God and his conduct drops to the level of human criticism, we have no God, but oniy a limited, imperfect being like ourselves. If He were capable of error, injustice or wrong, He would not be God. He must be perfect and altogether lovely, or He is nothing. And yet He has created, and presides over, a world where sin reigns, where violence, crime and misery exist. How are these facts to be accounted for and reconciled with those above? It is a problem inexplicable under the commonly accepted theology. It is both a temporal and everlasting disturbance. God did not introduce it, nor can he get rid 1" Creator and Creation," by John Young, LL.D.