THE decision of the will for or against Christ necessarily determines whether the subsequent evolution of the individual shall be an upward or a downward evolution.
If that decision be for Christ, there will result an ever increasing measure of knowledge, love, and spiritual power. "If any man willeth to do his will," says our Lord, "he shall know of the teaching" (John 7:17); the love of Christ for him will kindle new love in his heart (2 Cor. 5:14); and the reception of strength from his Master will enable him to do greater things in his service (John 14:12).
On the other hand, rejection of Christ will result in progressive deterioration, the blinding of intellect, the deadening of affection, and the weakening of will. The Christless man becomes " vain in his reasonings and his senseless heart is darkened" (Rom. 1:21). He comes to be " past feeling," either of his own depravity or of the love of God (Eph. 4: 19). His dislike for holy things becomes an open "enmity to God" (Rom. 8:7). Refusing regeneration, he becomes a prey to degeneration.
The Evolution of Sin and Death And so the ultimate fate of the wicked is suggested by our application to it of the principle of evolution. I have shown in my Miscellanies (2: 110-128) that neither annihilation, nor external and positive inflictions, are warranted by Scripture; while yet we read of an "eternal sin," and of a punishment worse than "fire and brimstone" (Mark 3:29; Ps. 11: 6; 32: 3, 4). As in joining himself to the will of Christ man receives divine life, joy, strength—the motor-elements of upward progress—so, in rejecting Christ's will, he loses even the natural strength with which Christ had endowed him. An evil and selfish will becomes more and more hostile to God and man; loses insight, fellowship, power; exchanges free-will for automatic subservience to impulses from without; in short, reverts to the animal type from which humanity has been by Christ's power evolved.
"Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49: 20). God does not punish him, so much as he punishes himself. He does not cease to be; but he lives, stricken and blasted by his own perversity. God "requireth that which is past" (Eccl. 3: 15), not by stripes or thunderbolts, not necessarily by any positive inflictions, but by the sinner's own memory, conscience, and character; and these are the essence of hell.
As man came up from the brute, so he can return to the brute; but "without are the dogs" (iom. 22: 15), forever excluded from God and from the society of the holy. Indeed, as even the animal creation arose from that which was inert matter, the spirit that will not drink of the fountain of life may become at last little more than mere matter, only active by pressure from without. He who is too proud to join himself to Christ and become lord of all, may end by losing all that makes his honor and dignity in the universe, and may only serve to all worlds and ages as a warning against sin. So God's love may utilize opposition to his holiness, and may make even the wicked to serve him. Refusing Christ, the sinner may himself become the refuse of the universe, scrapped and cast off forever (Systematic Theology, 3: 1035-1056).
The Evolution of Salvation What heaven is really to be, may also appear
from a consideration of this principle of progress. Joining ourselves to Christ, we determine an upward evolution, and participate in God's knowledge, love and dominion.
"In thy light shall we see light" (Ps. 36:9). "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father" (John 14:21). "We have waited for him, and he will save us" (Is. 25:9; 63: 1). "Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28). "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:3). "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). "For all things are yours" (1 Cor. 3:21). "Filled unto all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).
Thus is held out to us the prospect of an eternal growth in the wisdom, favor, and lordship of the infinite God. And this infinite God is none other than the crucified but now risen Savior, who begs us to admit him to our hearts (Rev. 3:20).
The Crowning of the Redeemer
As all things have been created by the power and for the honor of our great Redeemer (Col. 1: 16), it is no narrow service to which we give ourselves when we surrender ourselves to Christ. "On his head are many crowns" (Rev. 19: 12); the crown of literature and the crown of art, the crown of science and the crown of philosophy, the crown of unfettered industry and the crown of democratic government (Miscellanies, 1:210-219).
At the feet of him who was crowned with thorns shall be cast the crowns of all the saved, from all the continents and from all the islands of the sea. Mongolia and Polynesia and Patagonia shall join in stretching forth their hands with offerings to Christ. A multitude that no man can number shall praise him of those who have been redeemed from the earth.
But why should we limit the praise to the inhabitants of this little sphere? Is it not written that God will "sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens" as well as "the things upon the earth" (Eph. 1:10); that "to principalities and powers in heavenly places shall be made known his manifold wisdom" (Eph. 3:10); that "in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven" as well as on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2: 10)? May we not believe, with Mark Hopkins, that, in the great day of restitution, other intelligences will come in long procession from other departments of the universe, "great white legions from Sirius and Arcturus and the chambers of the South," to bow the knee and to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?
"When Shall These Things Be?"
Is that day near, or is it far away? We are reminded of the controversy between the premillennialists and the post-millennialists. I am persuaded that a careful study of Scripture will show that each of these views has its element of truth, and that with some qualifications we may admit both into our scheme of doctrine.
For a complete statement of my faith in this important matter I must refer to my Systematic Theology (3 : 1013-1014). But I venture to summarize what I there teach, and to preface that summary with three general remarks: first, that Christ's manifestations are primarily spiritual and invisible, and only afterwards are visible and physical; secondly, that Scripture and the history of the church show that this priority of the spiritual in Christ's manifestations was the faith of the early apostles and their disciples; and thirdly, that we may reasonably expect that Christ's final manifestation of himself will follow the same rule of spirituality first, and physical impressiveness afterwards.
Inward Realisations and Outward
In my book entitled "A Tour of the Missions," 2nd ed., 276-289,I have called attention to the oneness of human nature. Man is both soul and body, spiritual and physical. The redemption of one part of him is the guaranty of the redemption of the other. The prophet is lifted up to see in germinal spiritual life the certainty also of final spiritual perfection, in resurrection of the soul the resurrection of the body.
There are four separate instances in which this priority of the spiritual appears. There is, first, a spiritual death (" dead through your trespasses and sins" Eph. 2:1); but secondly a physical and literal death ("This is the second death, even the lake of fire," Rev. 20:14). First, again, there is a spiritual judgment (Is. 26:9; John 3:13; 12:31); but secondly, an outward and literal judgment (Acts 17: 31). First, there is an invisible and spiritual coming of Christ (Matt. 16: 28; John 14: 16, 18 and John 14: 3) ; but afterwards, a final, visible, and literal coming (Matt. 25 : 31). So also, first, a spiritual resurrection, already in some cases accomplished (John 5:25,—" the hour cometh, and now is "); but also a physical and literal resurrection (John 5:28, 29—"The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice"). So we may regard "the first resurrection" in Rev. 20:8 as spiritual and invisible, while the second resurrection, mentioned in verse 13 which follows, is clearly visible.
In other words, Christ's second coming is both of these: it is pre-millennial spiritually, but post-millennial physically and visibly. At the beginning of the thousand years of conquest and success, Christ comes to his church in mighty reinforcement of its spiritual energies. At the end of a thousand years of peace and progress, Christ comes to his church visibly and literally, in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, to reward his faithful followers and to put an end to the opposition of his foes.
The Priority of the Spiritual
This first pre-millennial coming by his Spirit seems needed, to make the second coming intelligible or possible. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son; for without spiritual preparation of the world in the knowledge of its sin, the first coming of Christ in the flesh would not have manifested God. So the fullness of time must come, before Christ can manifest himself literally and visibly in his second coming; for without spiritual preparation the church will not be able to understand his manifestation.
What would be the use of Christ's visible advent to a dead church? Unbelievers cannot understand a spiritual kingdom. When Saul was smitten to the earth on his way to Damascus, that light of Christ's manifestation/ brighter than the sun, came to a man already under the influence of the convicting Spirit and kicking against the pricks of conscience (Acts 26: 14). So he could understand Christ's manifestation. But those who were with him were perfectly blind to its meaning: "they heard the voice, but they beheld no man" (Acts 22:9). There must first be a believing church, or Christ's visible coming will be in vain.
So the visible coming is preceded by an invisible coming, and this is pre-millennial. When the church arises and shines because her Light is come invisibly, then he who is the Light personified will come in power and glory, and that coming will be post-millennial. Our duty, then, is not to expect a speedy second advent in the clouds of heaven, but to pray for a mighty coming of Christ in the hearts of his apathetic and slumbering people, rousing them to trust his promise and to conquer the world.
But the internal is not all. Body and soul go together. Christ is the Savior of the body also, and when he is manifested, then we shall be manifested with him in glory (Col. 3:4). But that shall be after, and not before, the spiritual victory has been won.
Pre-millennialism, when it means the immediate end of the present dispensation and the sudden dawn of the day of judgment, is often the cause of half-heartedness in Christian enterprise. Why work in the vineyard, when the Master may come before the harvest? But Pre-millennialism, when it means the spiritual coming of Christ, to refresh and strengthen his army for conflict and victory, is an incentive to the most vigorous and enthusiastic effort. Let us be pre-millennialists of the latter sort.
The Glorious Completion of Salvation Let us be post-millennialists also: I fear that many who object to Pre-millennialism have really lost faith in any literal and visible coming of Christ. The gradual spread of Christian truth is enough for them, and they give a purely spiritual interpretation to all promises of Christ's manifestation. I will not say that these brethren have given up all faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures, but their conception of inspiration is a very different one from mine. And when Scripture teaches of a coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven, of the changing of the body of our humiliation into the likeness of his glorified body, and of a new city of God in which dwells righteousness, I cannot think that it is to be interpreted figuratively.
Paul has no manner of doubt about the matter, for he says: "We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." "For our citizenship is in heaven whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20-21).
So I think that, with Paul, we may be postmillennialists also, expecting that, at Christ's final manifestation of himself at the end of the millennium, " we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Let us pray then for his coming and manifestation in our hearts, that we may be prepared for his coming and manifestation in the world.