THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS AND THE "LARGER HOPE"1
The doctrines of Calvinism formulated in the Westminster Standards are represented by many persons as destining the vast majority of the human race to an eternity of sin and misery. They are pessimistic, it is said; enveloping this brief human life in gloom and darkness. The elect are very few; and the non-elect are very many. Practically, the human species is lost forever, like the devil and his angels. Over this theological system they would write the Dantean inscription on the portal of Hell, "All hope abandon, ye who enter here." We shall endeavor to show that this estimate is utterly erroneous, and that "the system of doctrine contained in the Scriptures," and presented in the Confession, teaches that an immense majority of the human family will be saved by the redemption of the dying and risen Son of God and Lord of Glory, and that the "larger hope" has ample scope and verge enough within its limits.
Calvinism emphasizes the doctrine of regeneration: the doctrine, namely, that God by an instantaneous act imparts the principle of spiritual life to the sinful soul without its co operation or assistance, so that the new birth is not dependent upon, or conditioned by, man's agency. Men who are "born again" are "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of
1 In part, from the Methodist Quarterly Review, May, 1889.
God " (John 1: 13). This doctrine runs all through the Westminster Standards. It is closely connected with the tenet of election, for this regulates the bestowment of regenerating grace. Effectual calling includes it, for a prominent factor in this is that work of God whereby he "takes away the heart of stone, and gives the heart of flesh" (Conf. x. 1). In thus magnifying regeneration, the Confession accords with Revelation. For on looking into the Scriptures, we find that the salvation of the human soul is made to depend absolutely upon the new birth. Christ said to Mcodemus, " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This implies that every man who is born again will see the kingdom of God. Regeneration, consequently, decides human destiny. Whoever knows how many of the human family shall have been quickened from spiritual death to spiritual life, by the mercy of God the Holy Spirit, knows how many of them shall be saved. Regeneration determines human salvation, because it produces everything requisite to it. The great act of faith in the blood of Christ, by which the sinner is justified, is described as dependent upon it. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God" (1 John 5: 1). "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6 : 44). "Ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man " (1 Cor. 3 : 5). "As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed " (Acts 13: 48). "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him " (Phil. 1: 29). "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God " (Eph. 2: 8). "Christ is the author and finisher of faith" (Heb. 12 : 2). Faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification all result naturally and infallibly from that work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he "quickens" the soul "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), and by "enlightening the mind, and renewing the will, persuades and enables man to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to him in the gospel" (Shorter Catechism, 31). Regeneration is thus the root from which the whole process of salvation springs. The regenerate child, youth, or man, immediately believes, repents, and begins the struggle with remaining sin. The regenerate infant believes, repents, and begins the struggle with remaining sin the moment his faculties admit of such activities. He has latent or potential faith, repentance, and sanctification.
How extensive then is regeneration, is the great question. In Scripture and in the Confession it is represented to be as extensive as election, and no more so. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified " (Rom. 8 : 30). "All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of the state of sin and death, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ" (Conf. x. 1). In attempting, therefore, to answer approximately that question which our Lord declined to answer definitely, namely, "Are there few that be saved?" it is necessary, first, to determine the period within which the regenerating operation of the Holy Spirit occurs; and, secondty, the range of his operation.
Respecting the first point, revelation teaches that the new birth is confined to earth and time. There is not a passage in Scripture which, either directly or by implication, asserts that the Holy Ghost will exert his regenerating power in the soul of man in any part of that endless duration which succeeds this life. The affirmation, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Gen. 6:3), proves that the dispensation of the Spirit will not be everlasting; and the accompanying declaration, "Yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years,'" implies that it will be coterminous with man's mortal life. Accordingly, in the Old Testament, the death of the body is represented as the decisive epoch in man's existence, and this earthly life the period during which his endless destiny is determined. "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness [at death]; but the righteous hath hope in his death" (Prov. 14 : 32). "When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish" (Prov. 11: 7). "If thon warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity " (Ezek. 33 : 9). "To him that is joined to all the living, there is hope: for the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward" (Eccl. 9 : 4-6). "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave, who shall give thee thanks? " (Ps. 6: 5). "Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave?" (Ps. 88:10, 11). In the New Testament, the Saviour of man also makes death to be the critical point in man's history. lie says to the Pharisees, "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8 : 21, 24). This solemn warning, which he twice repeats, loses all its force, if to die in sin is not to be hopelessly lost. Christ teaches the same truth in the parable of Dives. The rich man asks that his brethren may be exhorted to faith and repentance before they die, because if impenitent at death as he was, they will go to "hell" as he did, and be " in torments" as he was. And he teaches the same truth in his frequent warning, "Watch, therefore, for ye know not at what hour your Lord cometh" (Matt. 24:42). The Apostolical Epistles declare the momentous nature of death, in their frequent assertion of " an accepted time," and of "the day of salvation " (2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 3 : 7-19; 4: 7). The closing up of the Word of God by St. John, affirms a finality that evidently refers to what man has been and done here on earth. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22 :11, 12).
Still further proof that death is the deciding point in man's existence, is found in those effects of regeneration which have been spoken of. Faith, repentance, hope, and struggle with remaining sin are never represented in Scripture as occurring in the future life. After death the regenerate walks by sight, not by faith; has fruition instead of hope; and is completely sanctified. Faith, repentance, hope, and progressive sanctification are described as going on up to a certain point denominated "the end" when they give place to sinless perfection. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved : " the end of this state of existence, not of the intermediate state. "We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." "Christ shall confirm you unto the end." "Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope unto the end." In all such passages, the end of > this mortal life is meant. And to them must be added the important eschatological paragraph, 1 Cor. 15 : 24-28, which teaches that there is an " end" to Christ's work of mediation and salvation, when "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins " (Heb. 10 : 26).
The large amount of matter in Scripture which teaches that the operation of the Spirit in the new birth and its effects belongs only to this life, cannot be invalidated by the lonely text concerning Christ's "preaching to the spirits in prison:" a passage which the majority of exegetes, taking in all ages of the Church, refer to the preaching of Noah and other "ambassadors of Christ;" but which, even if referred to a personal descent of Christ into an under world, would be inadequate to establish such a revolutionizing doctrine as the prolongation of Christ's mediatorial work into the future state, the preaching of the gospel in sheol, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost there. For the dogma of a future redemption for all the unevangelized part of mankind is radically revolutionizing. It is another gospel, and if adopted would result in another Christendom. For nearly twenty centuries, the Church has gone upon the belief that there is no salvation after death. All of its conquests over evil have come from preaching the solemn truth that " now is the day of salvation." It has believed itself to be commanded to proclaim that " after death is the judgment" of sin, not its forgiveness. But if the Church has been mistaken, and there is a " probation" in the future life for all the unevangelized of all the centuries, and it is announced, as all the truth of God ought to be, then the eternal world will present a totally different aspect from what it has. Heretofore the great Hereafter has been a gulf of darkness for every impenitent man, heathen or nominal Christian, as he peered into it. Now it will be a darkness through which gleams of light and hope are flashing like an aurora. The line between time and eternity, so sharply drawn by the past Christianity and Christendom, must be erased. A different preaching must be adopted. Hope must be held out instead of the old hopelessness. Death must no longer be represented as a finality, but as an entrance for all unevangelized mankind upon another period of regeneration and salvation. Men must be told that the Setniramises and Cleopatras, the Tiberiuses and Neros, may possibly have accepted the gospel in hades. Children in the Sabbath-schools must be taught that the vicious and hardened populations of the ancient world, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Babylon and Nineveh, of Antioch and Kome, passed into a world of hope and redemption, not of justice and judgment.
Such a doctrine takes away all the seriousness of this existence. The " threescore years and ten " are no longer momentous in their consequences. If the future world is a series of cycles, within any one of which the transition from sin to holiness, from death to life, may occur, all the solemnity is removed from earth and time. The "now" is not "the accepted time, and the day of salvation." One " time " is of no more consequence than another, if through all endless time the redemption of sinners is going on. And what is still more important, the moral and practical effects of this theory will be most disastrous. For it is virtually a license to sin. Should God announce that he will regenerate and pardon men in the next world, it would be equivalent to saying to them that they may continue to sin in this world. And, of course, if the Church should believe that all the unevangelized portion of mankind may be saved in the intermediate state, it will make little effort to save them here and now.
With these representations of Scripture, respecting the period of time within which the regeneration and salvation of the soul occur, the Westminster Standards agree. "The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory " (S. C. 37). "The souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell" (L. C. 86). The Confessional doctrine is, that death is a finality for both the saint and sinner. There is no extirpation of sin after "the spirit returns to God who gave it." At death, the nnregenerate man is left in sin. At death, the regenerate but imperfectly sanctified man is made perfect in holiness. The gradual process of progressive sanctification from the remainders of original corruption, is confined to this life. So the Scriptures teach. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth [i.e., from the time of their death]: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors" (Rev. 14: 13). "There remaineth a. rest to the people of God. Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest (Ileb. 4: 9, 11). This "rest" is total cessation from the temptation, the race, and the fight with sin which characterize the present imperfect state. "To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord " (2 Cor. 5:8); and to be present with the Lord is to " see him asheis;" and to see him as he is, is to "be like him," sinless and perfect (1 John 3:2).
The doctrine that gradual sanctification from sin continues to go on after death implies, not rest, but struggle, strain, toil, and conflict with remaining corruption. This would be a continuation in the next life of that severe experience in this life in which the believer " groans being burdened;" in which he is often worsted in the contest, though victorious in the main; in which he cries, "O wretched man, who shall deliver me." To suppose such a wearisome condition of the believer's soul during the long period between death and the resurrection, cannot be harmonized with the descriptions of the restful, joyful consciousness of believers when they are " with the Lord," and with the words of Christ, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
The notion that indwelling sin is to be purged away gradually after death, instead of instantaneously at death, is the substance of the doctrine of purgatory. The Romish purgatory is the progressive sanctification of a member of the Romish Church carried over into the intermediate state. If this theory is introduced into the Protestant Church, it will not stop here. For if regenerate but imperfectly sanctified men are to go on, between death and the resurrection, struggling with corruption, and getting rid of remaining sin, as they do here upon earth, it will be an easy and natural step to the kindred theory that the transition from sin to holiness may be made by unregenerate men also during this same period. Those who adopt this latter error, object to the Confessional tenet of complete sanctification at death by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit that it is magical, mechanical, and unpsychologieal. It is incompatible, they assert, with the spiritual nature of the sold and its free agency. But it is no more so than the co-ordinate and cognate doctrine of the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. The Holy Spirit instantaneously implants the new principle of divine life in the soul, when he " creates it anew in Christ Jesus," and "quickens it from its death in trespasses and sins." This lays the foundation, as we have observed for the whole process of salvation. From this instantaneous regeneration, 'there result conversion in its two acts of faith and repentance, justification, and progressive sanctification up to the moment of death, when the same Divine Agent by the exercise of the same almighty energ}' by which he instantaneously began the work of salvation, instantaneously completes it.1 Now, if the Holy Ghost works magically, mechanically, and contrary to the nature of the human soul in one case, he does in the other. If the completion of the work in the soul by an immediate act is liable to this charge, the be
1 For a fuller discussion of the subject, see the Author's Sermons to the Spiritual Man, pp. 317-325.
ginning of it is also. Any one who holds the doctrine of instantaneous regeneration, is estopped from urging such an objection as this to the doctrine of complete sanctification at death. In all the operations of the third Person of the Trinity, be they instantaneous or be they gradual, he contradicts none of the laws and properties of the human mind, but works in the human will "to will," according to its nature and constitution. There is nothing magical, mechanical, or unpsychological in any of them.
Another objection urged by the advocates of a future sanctification from sin is, that complete sanctification at death puts all souls, infant and adult, on a dead level, destroying the distinction of grade between them. If at death all regenerate souls are made perfectly sinless and holy, it is said that they must be all alike in the scope and reach of their faculties. This does not follow. Complete sanctification at death frees the soul of a regenerate infant from all remainders of the corruption inherited from Adam, but does not convert it into an adult soul, any more than the complete sanctification of an ordinary regenerate adult makes him equal in mental power to St. Paul or St. Augustine. Complete sanctification at death frees the infant's soul, the child's soul, the youth's soul, the man's soul, from indwelling sin, but leaves each soul in the same class in which it finds it, and starts it on an endless expansion of its faculties and its holiness, and not upon a long, wearing struggle with remaining corruption. In this way, "one star differeth from another star in glory," while all are equally and alike the pure and gleaming stars of heaven, not the " wandering stars" of sin and hell.
Such, then, is the period of time to which the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is confined. It is the life that now is, not the life that is to come; the present limited seon, not the future unlimited aeon. We proceed now to consider the second question, How wide and extensive is his agency during this period? How many of the hnman family, have we reason from Scripture to hope and believe, he will regenerate here upon earth?
Before proceeding to answer this question, a preliminary remark is to bo made. It is utterly improbable that such a stupendous miracle as the incarnation, humiliation, passion, and crucifixion of one of the Persons of the Godhead, should yield a small and insignificant result; that this amazing mystery of mysteries, " which the angels desire to look into," and which involves such an immense personal sacrifice on the part of the Supreme Being, should have a lame and impotent conclusion. On a priori grounds, therefore, we have reason to conclude that the Gospel of the Cross will be successful, and the Christian religion a triumph on the earth and among the race of creatures for whom it was intended. But this can hardly be the case, if only a small fraction of the human family are saved. The presumption, consequently, is that the great majority of mankind, not the small minority of it, will be the subjects of redeeming grace. What, then, is the teaching of Revelation upon this subject?
1. In the first place, we have ground for believing that all of mankind who die in infancy will be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The proof of this is not so abundant as for some other doctrines, but it is sufficient for faith, (a) Scripture certainly teaches that the children of the regenerate are "bound up in the bundle of life" with their parents. "The promise [of the Holy Spirit] is unto you and your children" (Acts 2 : 38, 39). "If the root be holy, so are the branches" (Rom. 11:16). "The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean, but now they are holy" (1 Cor. 7 : 14). This is salvation by covenanted mercy, concerning which there is little dispute, (b) The salvation of infants outside of the covenant, is plainly supported by the language of Christ respecting "little children" as a special class. "They brought unto him infants that he would touch them. And he said, Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God " (Luke 18:15,16). The reason here assigned why infants constitute a part of the kingdom of God is their infancy, not their moral character. They belong to it solely because they are "little children," not because they are sinless. Our Lord teaches that they are sinful, in saying, '• Suffer little children to come unto me ;" for no siniess beings need to come to a Saviour. This phraseology respecting infants is as all-inclusive as that respecting the " poor in spirit," and cannot be restricted to a part of them. When Christ says, " Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," he means that this kingdom belongs to them as poor in spirit, and because they are poor in spirit, and consequently belongs to all the poor in spirit. And, similarly, when he says, " Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God," he means that this kingdom is composed of such considered as little children, and because they are little children, and consequently is composed of all the little children. Had he intended to limit his statement to some infants, he would have said, e* r&v Toiovtcov earlv. Infancy is an age that is singled out by the Saviour by which to prove a membership in the kingdom of God from the very age itself, and is the only age. He does not say that youths or adults constitute a part of the kingdom of God solety because of their youth, or their manhood. Other Scripture proofs of the salvation of infants are, Matt. 18:10, 14, "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father in heaven. It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." In 2 Sam. I 12: 23, David is confident of the salvation of his infant child; but in 2 Sam. 18:33, he is not confident of the salvation of his adult son. In Jonah 4: 11, God expresses a special interest in the infant population of Nineveh.
The Protestant Church understands the Bible to declare that all who die in infancy die regenerate. Probably all evangelical denominations, without committing themselves to the statements of the Westminster Confession concerning "election," would be willing to say that all dying infants "are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth " (Conf. x. 3). But this is the regeneration and salvation of one-half of the human family. This of itself pours over human existence a mild and cheering light. "Whom the gods love, die young," said the heathen, without any knowledge of Cod's compassion for man in his "dear Son." Much more, then, may the Christian under the irradiation of the gospel expect that the infinite mercy of God, by " the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost," will bring all the "little children" into holiness and heaven. The gloom of Virgil's description,
"Continno audita? voces, vagitus et ingens
Infantumque animse flentes in limine primo,"
is changed into the brightness of that of the prophet, "The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" (Zech. 8 :10); and of the Redeemer's citation from the Psalms, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21:16).
2. In the second place, the Scriptures and the Confession teach the regeneration of a vast multitude, from Adam down, who come under the operation of the Holy Spirit in connection with the special revelation and the external means of grace, in the antediluvian, patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian Churches.
3. In the third place, the Scriptures and the Confession teach that the Divine Spirit exerts his regenerating grace, to some extent, within adult heathendom, making use of conscience, or "the law written on the heart," as the means of convicting of sin preparatory to imparting the new divine life; and that in the last day a part of God's elect "shall come from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13 : 29). These are all regenerated in this life. And since regeneration in the instance of the adult immediately produces faith and repentance, a regenerate heathen is both a believer and a penitent. He feels sorrow for sin, and the need of mercy. This felt need of mercy and desire for it is potentially and virtually faith in the Redeemer. For although the Redeemer has not been presented to him historically and personally as the object of faith, yet the Divine Spirit by the new birth has wrought in him the sincere and longing disposition to believe in him. 'With the penitent and believing man in the Gospel, he says, "Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?" (John 9:36). Such a man is " regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit," and belongs to that class of "elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word " (Conf. x'. 3).
4. In the fourth place, in addition to all this work of the Holy Spirit in the past and present in applying in these three ways the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, there is that mightiest and most wonderful manifestation of his power which is still in reserve for the future of Christendom. The Scriptures promise an outpouring in the "last days," that will far exceed in sweeping and irresistible energy anything in the past history of the Church. "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh," says God (Joel 2:28). "It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it" (Im, 2:2; Micah 4:1). A far more profound and all-reaching interest in the concerns of the soul and its eternal destiny than has ever been witnessed on earth, will mark the millennium. The then near and impending advent of the Son of man, "when he shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, and before him shall be gathered all nations" (Matt. 25 : 31, 32), will weigh heavily upon mankind. The end of the world and the approaching judgment will be facts of infinite meaning. This human life, now so frivolous, will become serious and awful.
"The clouds that gather round the setting sua
Do take a sober coloring from the eye
That doth keep watch o'er man's mortality-"
Vast masses of sinful men will be bowed down in poignant conviction, and nations will be born in a day. The Redeemer, " travelling in the greatness of his strength," will take unto him his mighty power, and turn the hnmiin heart as the rivers of water. Such is the promise and the prophecy of Almighty God.
Now this is a great salvation. "'Where sin abounded, grace has superabounded" (Eom. 5 : 20). The immense majority of the race that, fell in Adam will be saved in Christ, "by the washing of regeneration." Though some men and angels will freely persist in depravity, and be left in their persistence, yet this minor and mournful note of discord will only enhance the choral harmony of. the universe. The wrath of man shall praise God (Ps. 76 :10). The duty of the Church is to preach to every creature the law by which men are convicted of sin, and the gospel by which it is pardoned and eradicated, praying unceasingly for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, to make both law and gospel effectual to salvation. Instead of starting a false and delusive hope for the future redemption of a part of the human family, by daring to reconstruct God's plan of redemption and extending the dispensation of his Spirit into the next life, the Church should strengthen the old and true hope by doing with its might what its hands find to do, and crying with the evangelical prophet, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord" (Isa. 51:9).'
1 It should be observed that the "larger hope " that the Divine Mercy may save a part of the unevangelized millions of mankind does not require the extension of the work of redemption beyond this life. The "washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" cau accomplish this salvation here in this world, before the spirit leaves the body and " returns to God who gave it," as easily as it can in the middle state. Instead, then, of hoping that there may be a second period of redemption, for which there is no more Scripture foundation than for a second incarnation, let the hope rather be that the merciful Redeemer, who is "mighty to save," may here, and in this "day of salvation," save a part of the heathen world. He himself asserts his own sovereignty in this matter, and declares that some whose outward circumstances were favorable to salvation will be lost, and that some whose outward circumstances were unfavorable will be saved. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold there are last which shall be first, and there aro first which shall be last" (Luke 13 : 28-30).