So wrote a Bristol vicar, despondently, in his parish magazine some years ago. One can sympathize with his solicitude for the salivation of those unheeding parishioners. But — is this the right view of the matter? Is it true that the mass of unbelieving mankind is headed straight for Hell, or whatever the equivalent which modern times have substituted for the old-time fire and brimstone, and only a relatively few pious folk manage to escape to Heaven, as it were by the skin of their teeth? Are we to conclude that Divine wisdom and power is unequal to any more than this scanty fruitage of all that God has said and done since the dawn of history? Is this hopeless creed really what Christianity is all about?
In this skeptical age questions like these demand answers. Of those who do stop to think about the matter at all, a great many just will not accept that if there really is a supreme Deity who created all things, he could possibly be so petty and vengeful as our forefathers believed. If we truly do owe life and being and all that we are and have to an all wise and all-powerful Creator, such will argue, he must have brought us into existence for a purpose; we must have been created primarily for life and not for death. This is sound argument; there is such purpose, a purpose that will be achieved! So far from only two percent getting past the “pearly gates”, it is much more likely by the time the Divine Plan for mankind is fully effected that considerably less than two percent will have failed to respond to the appeal of Christ, in such failure proving themselves unworthy of continuing life. We may be sure of that.
The idea that only a relative few will win Divine approval and eternal life, and the greater part of mankind, at the close of a usually unsatisfactory and generally unhappy earthly experience, be cast off forever, has grown up and become a feature of Christian belief through the centuries, but it was no part of the message of Christ. he came to seek and to save that which was lost, to draw all men to himself, not to condemn the world but to save it. (Luke 19:10; John 12:32; John 3:16-17). One might reasonably expect, surely, that the return upon such an outlay of Divine love and power is going to be a lot more than two percent. The traditional Christian view is well-founded when it lays stress upon the necessity of faith in Christ and loyalty to God as the essential prerequisites for eternal life, but it is unnecessarily pessimistic in its estimate of the effectiveness of God’s methods in dealing with the consequences of sin.
It is likely that the present generation is able more readily to accept that man was created and intended for a definite purpose and place in the Divine scheme of things than were those of earlier centuries. People of medieval times thought of the future life mainly in terms of standing around the Heavenly throne playing harps and blowing trumpets to all eternity — occupations which must surely pall after a while! Our modern wider knowledge of the visible universe, and our deeper conception of the infinite Intelligence and Power that is God, logically leads to the realization that this present earthly life is but a stage — the first stage, a very important stage — in a continuing experience which will progress through constantly expanding spheres of development and achievement in eternity. Whether that destiny involves a future and everlasting life on this material planet, or upon another like it, or in a sphere of life based upon fundamentally different environmental conditions from the one we know, and involving a form of life which may be quite incomprehensible to us in our present state, does not affect that cardinal principle. The Apostle Paul declared that there do exist such different worlds and spheres of life when in the Fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians he spoke of a celestial world and a terrestrial world, celestial beings contrasting with human, a world whose life forms have little or perhaps nothing in common with the atomic structure to which terrestrial creatures over their organisms and environment. And our Lord is authority for the fact that there is no sin in that other, celestial, world, only goodness, harmony and order. He told us, too, to pray for the day when the same happy state shall subsist upon this earth (Matthew 6:10). St. Paul tells us, further, that in the “fullness of time” God will unite in Christ all things in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:10). That not only implies the eradication of sin, and of irrecoverable sinners, from Divine creation, but also points to the fundamental truth that only “in Christ”, by belief in him and acceptance of him and devotion to him, can any of God’s created sentient beings, whether terrestrial or celestial, receive and enjoy continuing, “eternal”, life. We are told plainly that Christ is to “fill all things”, “far above all heavens” (Ephesians 4:10), that in his Name will every knee bow, upon earth as well as in heaven (Philippians 2:9). Such tremendous words must certainly denote a stupendous Divine purpose within which the human race is assigned a definite place; the conclusion is irresistible that, despite the ignorance and lack of comprehension which is inevitable under the conditions of this present embryo life, that purpose will be accomplished.
Such high destiny demands prior training — a time of instruction and probation followed by final judgment as to fitness or unfitness, worthiness or unworthiness. That judgment cannot be passed on any man until he first has had full and abundant opportunity to learn of the Divine design, to appreciate its implications, to accept it for himself and by means of the transforming power of God to divest himself of all that is antagonistic to that purpose and so attain the moral stature which enables him to take his rightful place in Divine creation. Not until every man, woman and child of every generation back to the beginning has enjoyed such an opportunity and made his or her eternal decision for good or evil, for Christ or against him, will the great Day of Judgment come to an end and the human race enter its perpetual inheritance. And be it noted that the Last Judgment of Scripture is not confined to a moment, the moment in which sentence is passed; it covers a period, a period which includes the process of investigating and of distinguishing between right and wrong and of separating the two. Furthermore the purport and intent of the Day of Judgment is not for the condemnation and destruction of sinners without opportunity for conversion; it is for the reclamation and reconciliation of as many as can by any means be reclaimed and reconciled and it is only when this endeavor has failed in any particular case that the final condemnatory sentence is passed. Hence the Day of Judgment is depicted in Scripture, not as a time of unrelieved terror and gloom and despair, but one of joy and happiness and hope. The Psalmist is Psalm 96 depicts the Lord coming at this Judgment as at a time of universal rejoicing. “Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be glad . . . . the fields be joyful . . . . before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.” It is not always realized that the Day of Judgment is in some of its aspects a very joyous occasion, notwithstanding that it is also a time when, to sue the language of Isaiah, justice shall be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, the Divine law of retribution will operate and every man “receive the things done in his body”. None will escape the implication of the principle so clearly enunciated by St. Paul — “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Yet parallel with this somber but very necessary theme of disciplinary retribution there also runs the brighter one of conversion and restoration, for one very definite factor in the Day of Judgment is the presence of Christ with his Church for the express purpose of saving those of the unregenerate who can be saved. The whole Biblical presentation of the reign of Christ and the Church over the world prior to the culmination of all things in eternity has no meaning — and no conceivable purpose — unless that reign is for the conversion of the nations; the Bible is positive that in fact this is so. If the Millennial reign of Christ and the Day of Judgment are regarded as running in parallel, so to speak, over the same period of time, as being to a great extent synonymous terms, then a number of apparently contradictory Scriptural themes and statements are harmonized and a foundation laid for an understanding of the Divine purpose which will satisfy every instinct both of justice and love. It will go far to explaining the apparent enigma of the Divine permission of evil and provide a convincing answer to the question why, two thousand years after Christ appeared as the Light of the world, to seek and to save that which was lost, the greater part of mankind have not yet seen the Light, and the lost, although sought, consistently and persistently, not only by the Lord himself in person, but by his followers in every generation and land, are still not saved.
Be it remembered moreover that no man has life in himself and no man can save himself by his own efforts. The New Testament lays down as an immutable law that there is salvation only in the Name of Christ, that no man can be saved except through the channel of acceptance of Christ and his life given on man’s behalf, and unquestioning loyalty and allegiance to him in eternity. Christ is the medium through whom Divine life comes to man, and there is no other way.
This, then, is the task; to discern the Divine purpose for mankind in the light of all that is known about the Creator, his attributes and his works, under the guidance of his revelation in the Scriptures. There must be added, to some small degree, the words and writings of outstanding Christians of the past and present who have had laid on their hearts this concern for the triumph of good over evil, and the reconciliation of such proportion of men to God, and their triumphant entry into eternal life, that it can with conviction be claimed that our Lord Jesus Christ has truly and gloriously become “All in All”! (see Colossians 3:11)