The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched heaven he may invent for himself, or accept invented for him by others; he died to give him life, and bring him to the heaven of the Father’s peace; the children must share in the essential bliss of the Father and the Son. This is and has been the Father’s work from the beginning—to bring us into the home of his heart, where he shares the glories of life with the Living One. This is our destiny; and however a man may refuse, he will find it hard to fight with God—useless to kick against the goads of his love. For the Father is goading him, or will goad him, if needful, into life by unrest and trouble; hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do: can any need it more than such as will neither enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffer them to enter it that would? The old race of the Pharisees is by no means extinct; they were St. Paul’s great trouble, and are yet to be found in every religious community under the sun.
Question All Things
Anyone truly interested in the topic at hand ought to take the small time necessary to read the short Epistle to the Ephesians, the contents of which I shall not address other than to say that in the first half of the book St. Paul is reiterating what he had taught them over a two year period (see Acts 19) and in the second half is calling them to live accordingly. And to add this one thing, that this local church seems to have had an ongoing problem which eventually led to its dissolution. Here we have the Apostle objurgating what the Lord later, in His address to the seven churches says to the Ephesians; “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” Neither will I spend time sorting out the ramifications of the two admonishments.
Rather, let us leave the ancient setting and focus on our situation today. We may be entirely sure that the Apostle taught that which he had received from our Lord; we cannot have such confidence in what the ministers of our Lord have taught us in subsequent history, nor in our day. Paul makes a statement; we must turn it into a question; he says “But that is not the way you learned Christ,” whereas we must ask “Is that the way you learned Christ?” How did you learn what you know?
“The old race of Pharisees is by no means extinct,” says MacDonald; “they were St. Paul's great trouble, and are yet to be found in every religious community under the sun.”
Now think, brothers and sisters; what does it mean to you that the Ephesian church had “abandoned the love” which they had at the first, when St. Paul evangelized them? Do you think it what we call “backsliding?” I do not see it so; that is the furthest thought from my mind; theirs was no relapse but reorientation. It is the problem of a man who sees a fact one way and then learns to see it in another way, to maintain his focus on the same fact but to see it in shadows that have been cast over it by some intervening form such as may be the discourse of theologians. Whereas he first saw it in the light, it, then appears different to him in the gloom and he, forgetting what he saw in the light, begins over time to then forget the original and takes the distortion of truth to be truth.
As such, the Ephesians could be as fervent in their second love as in their originating first love; for, a man can be utterly sincere and still be sincerely wrong! He can have and hold to convictions to the point of dying for them, and still be wrong in his articles of faith (has not history and the world shown that abundantly?). If you would find “backsliding” among the seven churches, our Lord shows it to you: See what He says to the Thiatirians, “You tolerate that woman Jezebel;” or Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead;” or Laodicea; “You are neither hot nor cold.” I think there is a parallel, admittedly imperfect, between what the Lord said to the church at Ephesus and what the Apostle said concerning his brethren in the flesh; “...they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”
Good men come to hold wrong beliefs about their Christ for manifold reasons; I will here speak to but two among those. First, a man may misinterpret for himself the Truth even though it fall from the Savior's own lips! The disciples of Christ were guilty of that over and again and serve as a prime example. How many times in life have you said a thing with singular meaning and as clearly as you know how, only to see it received and interpreted contrary to your intent? But let me leave that reason, which deals with how a man hears not what is said but what he wills it to mean, and move to the second reason for spiritual blindness; in such case there is no misunderstanding at all, the thing said is received as the thing said was sent out. This is represented by the unquestioning dependence of the flock on their shepherd.
Here is the question, as I said earlier, for our day: “Is that the way you learned Christ?” How have you learned Him? What have you been taught about him by your theologians and preachers? You have hard core beliefs which are the things you've learned, following a paradigm centuries in the making; you are certain of your beliefs, never doubting; did it occur to you that you ought to doubt, to question every particular, and do so seeking to understand through the Lens which is Christ and by the guidance of the Spirit of God? It may be that though you've learned Christ, you've learned Him wrongly. And in such case the Lord will not use the same words to you He used to the Ephesians, but is saying “Will you not now learn Me as I truly AM, and find your first love; for I Am not at all like what you've been taught and believed Me to be.”
“The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched heaven he may invent for himself, or accept invented for him by others; He died to give him life, and bring him to the heaven of the Father's peace; the children must share in the essential bliss of the Father and the Son.”
It is that “first love” which is your only salvation, for it includes all there is in the relationship necessary between the creature and his Lord; men hold to false things concerning Him with their minds, and by their minds they are condemned—but in their hearts there is at least the spark, the small candle, of longing for something greater, larger, better, than all the doctrines of the preachers can supply; it is the innate, intuitive, longing to be truly brought into the essential bliss of the Father and the Son and be one with Them. If any man should override that child's cry from within himself and crush it by his theology, by his traditions, by what he has always believed, by his doctrines, by any thing whatsoever, then it is not his mind alone which condemns him, but his darkened heart as well; such man is, in essence, his own Pharisee. It is perhaps the hardest thing for me to say to good people; it is likewise the hardest thing in the world for them to receive—for has not every person of faith come to believe that what they believe is right? And how dare one challenge it?
“This is our destiny; and however a man my refuse, he will find it hard to fight with God—useless to kick against the goads of His love. For the Father is goading him, or will goad him, if needful, into a life by unrest and trouble; hellfire will have its turn if less will not do; can any need it more than such as will neither enter the Kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffer them to enter it that would?”
Let no man misunderstand my thought concerning the above quote; I hold to no literal Hell where those who “don't get it right” in this life shall burn forever in exquisite, conscious, never-ending torments; I hold to no such Hell myself—but of this one thing I am more than sure, that “Our God is a Consuming Fire,” and by the Fire (which is His Love shown in the sternest form) He will purge from every man's gold the dross in his thinking and living; that He will do it with Hell in this life or the next, but will in every case continue to burn a man as much as is necessary to purify him. And we have the expression “into every life rain must fall,” but I say that into every life at least a portion of Hell must come; and if you have not felt the flames licking at your feet, the goading of God for you, then you must be an extraordinary person! When you feel conviction, it is the Divine Fire working in you; when you reap what you've sown, it is that Fire for you; when for any sin which besets you, and takes you in its snare, and you are shamed within, know that it is the Consuming Fire burning at your dross, with the one goal of helping you “share in the essential bliss of the Father and the Son.”
There is no fire, earthly or Heavenly, which can consume that which is inconsummable; you are that gold of God, made in His image, created to be like Him in every way; He is pleased with any and every overture made by you to come into that great glory; He will never leave you nor forsake you; but He must have you clean. He will continue the good thing in you He has begun and will not cease from it till the Day of Christ, that Day when, finally, you see Him as He truly is and are like Him. Now let me continue with a thought congruent with all the above:
There are but two approaches by which we hold true what we believe; the one is from a “certainty base,” and the other is from a “doubt base.” The nearly unchallenged teaching by the theologians in their presentation of the common belief is that you “must (as says St. James) believe and not doubt.” And if you doubt you are, then, “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” But read the context of his remark and see that he speaks of how we ought to pray, not what we believe. And the entire culture of certainty grows up around what the preacher, who is himself certain he is right, is teaching rather than certainty that the Lord is something he may not yet understand. It is by being certain that all questions are excluded from belief, and the things taught are sacrosanct, to be simply accepted, and to first question will bring a look of condescension which says “he just doesn't understand;” but if your questions continue it won't be long ere you run the risk of being looked upon as a renegade, an apostate, perhaps a heretic, to finally be excommunicated and as though you aren't really saved.
The mind that is certain becomes closed, unable to contemplate any view differing from the one presently held. It is to be caught within a closed system, one of circularity, where a thing is proven true by its own proclamation—it is to begin with what one has already concluded as the end. But now let us consider a doubt based theology:
We find in Scripture that we are to be discerning, the word itself meaning to divide, distinguish, to perceive “this” from “that.” In 1st Thess. 5:21 the Apostle teaches “but test everything; hold fast what is good;” this is to discern. To discern is to question; it is to ask “is 'this' right, or is 'that?'” To question is to doubt; this and that cannot in the same instant both be right; one, and perhaps both, is wrong; if either is right, it alone is right. This is how a doubt-based theology operates.
You have a church and a preacher; you believe what your preacher teaches you, and do not question what he says. You attend another church and hear things taught which are contrary to what your preacher teaches; what occurs within you? You begin to consciously question, to doubt, what new things you are hearing—you are then listening from a doubt rather than certainty base, as you ought to do—you will, in such case, either reject or accept the new information you receive, based on how neutral you are, how open minded, what is your grid and paradigm, etc. Now, if you apply this method to what one man teaches you, does it not follow that you ought to employ the same method to what another man teaches you? How else will you ever be able to discern?
I began with this quote: “ The old race of Pharisees is by no means extinct,” and I'd like to end with a note concerning Pharisees. In the main this appellation is meant for leaders who are recalcitrant, hardened in what they believe, to say then that they are absolutely certain and rigid against any and all teaching which differs from what they believe and teach—I will leave that thinking in place and not disturb it, for it is a truth—yet, I will modify it somewhat according to observations.
Namely, to say that there are good men of God preaching and teaching who are not Pharisees yet have a strain of the “old race of Pharisees” coursing through them. Whereas the pure Pharisee is easy to spot, the fellow with but a portion of Pharisaism in him is often quite subtle and not so easy to spot, especially by those who are unquestioning, and therefore gullible—I am not saying such a man consciously attempts to deceive, but that he being deceived, at least in part, is honestly propagating the wrong thing he holds as true. You will not be able to determine the pseudo-Pharisee by his manner of speaking because he may be quite attractive and persuasive, nor by his knowledge and quotation of Scriptures (a thing the “old race” did quite well); you won't detect him by his logic, which may be or seem to be coherent; he may be a fellow who has gathered many thousands of devotees under his theological canopy, but you won't be able to discern by his popularity—no more so than could you if he was the only man speaking as he does; for truth is no province of any such features as these.
How, and by what then, if by none of these things which appeal to your senses shall you safely discern? It shall be by the one and only way that ever existed: It is by having Christ Jesus, and Him alone, as the corrective Lens for your otherwise misinformed understanding. You have Him in your heart by the Spirit Who speaks to you of Him and guides you into Him. You have also the four Gospel accounts which show him in glaring, naked, clarity—you know, if you study these Accounts of Him, that everything that is detectable in Him is likewise to be found in His Father and yours, and that there is nothing in Either that is not in the Other, nothing more and nothing less. It is by Him, and nothing that any man has to say (except the man's teaching is in harmony with what is found in our Christ), that you and I discern Truth; it is all in the Face of Jesus and nowhere else. Therefore, any thing which I say, or another man says, must be held up to the brilliant Light which is Him and in Him alone, and by that only shall we know. Question all things...
Fear Not, Neither Be Dismayed
by Dave Roney
"If, indeed, Him you have heard and in Him you have been taught..." (Ephesians 4:21)
Our man begins, “The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched heaven he may invent for himself, or invented for him by others.” We shall address that in a moment; for now I would speak to the opposite yet equal idea that The Lord did not die to provide a man with the wretched Hell he may invent for himself, or has been invented for him by others. It ought to be plain that if a man wrongly understands Heaven, he will also misunderstand Hell; more importantly, and the reason behind all his confusion, is that the man has first acquired, either by his own opinion or that imposed by others, a wrong idea concerning Who and What God actually IS. A wrong God concept leads inevitably to all manner of wrong interpretations and doctrines.
Of either Heaven or Hell we know but the scantest details, drawn from but few scattered passages and sewn together by men into doctrines, sometimes quite comprehensive, reflective of their various interpretations. Neither Heaven nor Hell is a place but a Person; the one is His presence, the other His absence; the place of either becomes insignificant: “He died to give him life, and bring him to the Heaven of the Father's peace.” I think of a woman who came to Jesus and, prostrating herself, began to weep her tears unto His feet, wiped them with her tresses, and poured on those soon to be nail riven feet her precious ointment: Where was Heaven to her but on that floor? Had she any thought of the men surrounding who sneered and condemned? Was she even in those moments aware of her surroundings? I think not but that, rather, Jesus consumed every fiber of her being; for her, in that place, it was Heaven. It was Heaven to her because it was where her Lord was, and He was with her.
Wherever God is, that is Heaven; the heaven that men look toward, a place, is but the abode of Him Who is Heaven. It matters not at all if He reclines at the Pharisee's table or sits the throne of God in the highest heaven, wherever our Lord and our Father and the Spirit are, that is Heaven; it is God and not the things of God which makes Heaven heavenly. Likewise of Hell; where and what is Hell? Is it in the bowels of the earth, a distant star, a place of fire and brimstone? I do not know, I think not. I believe Hell, whatever may be said of it, is essentially the actual, real, “Outer Darkness.” It is any place where God is not (“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”); it is that place where man cannot perceive any hint of His presence. It is the place where, to say, He still maintains His hand upon a man, but where His face is utterly turned away. Heaven is where God is and is perceived; Hell is where God yet is but cannot be by man perceived.
The gifts and calling of God are without revocation; this is for every person, for He Who wills that none should perish is Faithful and True, Mighty to Save, and will never abandon even one of His children but will, as the Shepherd of the sheep, search until the errant child is found and restore him. He will not accomplish this through force of arms, wills not that men should at the point of a sword submit under duress, with bows knees before Him bowed making hollow confessions, but will by Divine and unending love, through patience, allow the sinner to carry himself as far into Outer Darkness as he willfully sends himself, will allow the Darkness to intensify as is needful, will allow the man to remain in that seemingly hopeless estate for as long as necessary, even for ages of ages until the man comes to his senses. In that moment, I am quite sure, the scales of blindness will fall away from his eyes and he shall see the One Who loves him, and washes him in His Own blood, smiling, with open arms to receive, and saying in the voice of all eternity “Come, brother, I will take you to meet your Father!” For, though the man had not previously detected Him, God is never far away from any of us.
Think of what this Outer Darkness, this Hell, is: the man's body is mouldering in its grave, thus he has no sensual apparatus of perception; He has no eyes with which to see anything, no sense of touch or taste or feel, or smell; he is existing in absolute isolation and darkness far denser than that of a Helen Keller, more acute than any person in this life can even imagine. His mind is acute; he may at the first kick against the goads of God's love, but will give that up; he will begin to think of the things he ought to have dwelt on in his life but didn't; his pride and ego will suffer, then evaporate, his longing for the former things will give way first to despair, then to longing for what he truly needs. He may for a time fondly remember his harlotry, his lusts, his pleasures, his self-gratifications, may cling as long as he can to his hatred of God, his wrong thinking, his misplaced values, his religion; but he is inevitably caught in the jaws of a great transition. In his life he wanted no real part with God as is true God, preferring his idols, and the pursuits of his own way, and all the while God was there surrounding him with His good things: Now he is reaping what he has sown, God has finally at his death said “Go, then, your own way as you have been determined to do; see what it is like to be stripped of all My benefits!” This is the Outer Darkness; this is Hell; this is where even the smallest perceivable trace of the Goodness of God is withheld and hidden.
I said “Think of what this Outer Darkness, this Hell, is.” Now one must ask another question; “But WHY this Outer Darkness, this Hell?” It would be a very small god indeed, one who, by men, was made much in the image of men, were He to send a man into Hell as retribution, in darkest and most vitreous hatred of him, as though His supposed Justice, offended, could be set right by the eternal torture of a small and weak, fallen and broken, creature. Where then would be Love? If an earthly father who is as good as men can be would never by his will and power subject his child to such dismal fate, do you think an absolutely good God could do it? If the earthly father would always love his child, would forever seek to redeem and restore him, even though he might have to allow the child to suffer the consequences of his actions until such time as the child came to his senses, what do you suppose concerning our God Who is the source and fountain of our love, Who IS Love personified? It has been said that God created man in His image and from that time onward man has been busy creating God in his image. The purpose of God, relative to all things and in all situations and places, including the Outer Darkness, is to reconcile fallen man to Himself:
“This,” says MacDonald, “is and has been the Father's work from the beginning—to bring us into the home of His heart...”
There is in St. Matthew the parable of the “pearl of great price,” in which the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a merchant who, upon finding this pearl, sells all he has to purchase it; and we see in the metaphor the redemptive act of God in Christ. But do we notice that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a place but a person; it is the Merchant: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant” said Christ: God is the Merchant, you are the Pearl, and Christ is all God ever had, all which is His greatest possession from eternity, above and before all other things; Christ is the price He paid to purchase you from the slaver's block of sin and death. God has demonstrated clearly that He did, is, and will continue to go to any length, pay any price, suffer any humiliation, in order to redeem, reconcile, and restore his children, each and all, to Himself;
“This is our destiny; and however a man my refuse, he will find it hard to fight with God—useless to kick against the goads of His love. For the Father is goading him, or will goad him, if needful, into life by unrest and trouble; Hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do.”
Upon this last I shall close, but do so with a word of encouragement: When our loved ones die outside Christ and redemption, by what the preachers have oft times taught us, we can only despair, thinking them lost forever to a place of eternal torments. But I say to you that you should grieve for such, but never despair; they are in your Father's keeping; He is using Hell in such case, whatever Hell may be, to do His redemptive work in your loved ones. God reveals Himself by many features and facets, one of great import being is as the Consuming Fire of Hebrews 12:29. In this life that Fire burns us in varying degrees, but never in full force; its purpose is to heat our ore to melting so the scum and dross will come to the surface and be removed, leaving only our pure gold, which is to say those good things in us which are Divine, are the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. If, because of our willfulness and anarchy, God cannot accomplish this in our present life, He will continue His work in the next; “Hell-fire will have its turn if less will not do:” Your beloved, departing this world apart from Christ, will not forever be separated from Him; God will see to it; God will redeem His child. Your beloved will be restored to God and, therefore, restored to you.
There is a sense, I think, though it is only my speculation, that Hell, the Outer Darkness, is as to its location, which was earlier alluded to, centered in the very Heart of God. I see it somewhat as a mother sitting by the bedside of her fevered child, and though she cannot force him to health and vitality she nonetheless is there, constant, abiding, loving, waiting for the fever to break. And if she had one hundred children and one of them was sick unto death, it would be that particular child that would consume her passion and attention more than the ninety and nine others. So also I think that the most desperate of sinners, the most craven and wonton, those most estranged from God, are also the ones He holds closest to His heart. And that great Heart of hearts is, when necessary, revealed as the furnace of Divine Fire. Not a lamb will He lose, not a single child, but will in the end bring every soul unto Himself by so great a Love as is His. Grieve, therefore, at death which is but a shadow, yet do not despair; the Daystar is even now rising and will, at the appointed time, blaze in the fullness of midday sun, driving every cloud and shadow into nothingness. Death shall die, Life shall reign...