Immortality and the City Temple

Extracts from a Discourse by Joseph Parker, D.D [Bible Standard, No. 2, November, 1877, pp14-15.]

London boasts many able preachers, and among their number Joseph Parker, D.D., now of the City Temple, holds a conspicuous place. This gentleman long ago identified himself with those who believe and teach that pain is but an episode in life, and not of eternal continuance; and that righteousness alone has for its guerdon and crown everlasting being.

When we have sometimes mentioned the name of this celebrity as in sympathy with the doctrine of the non eternity of evil, we have had the question put to us, “Why, if such a man believes as you say, does he not preach it?” We have the pleasure this month of making some extracts from a sermon of his, printed in the Christian Union of December 31, 1875, by which it will be seen that he does preach it. The remarks occur under the text heading, “The City Temple Pulpit” being on page 833. They are as follows:-

“The doctrine of eternal torments, as popularly understood, was the next doctrine that used to give me much uneasiness. My minister – an honest and faithful man, well read in the letter of Scripture – wished me to believe that impenitent sinners, and all the heathen world, were condemned to the torment of literal fire. … I felt that it could not be true, yet I could not put into words the strong feeling which rose up in my heart against it. I saw, if this doctrine were true, that God had given to His creatures a power which he could not take from them, namely, the power of living forever, and defying Him to put an end to their existence. … The wicked man, shut up in fire and brimstone, would be able to say to God, “I am as immortal as You are! You cannot put an end to my being; I challenge, I defy you to destroy me; and in this pit there are millions upon millions like me, from every land under the sun; we outvote Your saved ones; in mere numbers we overwhelm You; hell is larger than heaven; and while hell exists it will be a memorial against Your supposed omnipotence.” I know these were horrible words, but I saw that there was no getting over them by fair and sound argument. I could have said, “Hush!” and I could have avoided the subject; but this was neither honest nor bold.

“If God had the power to put an end to the misery, by putting an end to the existence of these unhappy creatures, and did not exercise that power, I felt that the argument told against Him in a deadlier manner; for whilst in the first instance it might be a strictly logical necessity, it became in the second instance a moral purpose, a deliberate and absolutely worthless visitation of cruelty, I say, “absolutely worthless,” because it led to nothing, and was meant to lead to nothing. … The case used to show itself to my view in this way: – The man sinned for a period of seventy years; and then he spent seventy years in hell fire, and seventy more, and a hundred more, and a thousand more, and a million more, and was told in the madness of his agony that his punishment was only beginning to begin; and then he lingered a thousand ages more, and he was told he was as far from the end of his torture as he was at the beginning! As I thought this, I was filled with great distress; not so much on account of myself as actually on account of God; for I felt that it was not right that there should be a limit to mercy and no limit to punishment – that mercy should plead for a brief day, but that punishment should have the liberty of innumerable ages, I said in my young ardour, “This is not even-handed justice; it is utterly unlike God.”

So I gave up this horrible view of the destiny of the wicked because my moral instincts would not tolerate it. … I proceeded to open the Bible and consult the Revelation. I soon found relief. I saw that man was made capable of immortality; that God’s design was that man should live for ever, but that he should not do so by an arbitrary decree but by his own consent to the will of God; so that immortality should not be a burden but a blessing, – for a frightful thing it is to be what you cannot help being! Mark that doctrine clearly if you please, and see how carefully God has saved Himself from every reproach that might arise from its application. Has God given you a body? Yon can destroy it. Has God given you reasoning faculties? You can turn yourself into a madman. Has God sent you into a certain country? You can denationalise yourself. Has God made you susceptible of immortality? You may choose death rather than life. Tell me that I must be immortal, and you oppress me with a burden; tell me that I may be immortal, and you preach to me glad tidings of great joy. Such glad tidings I found in the Gospel. Christ asked me to live: He said He came to give me life; He said that He Himself was the Life.”

From other remarks made by Mr. Parker in the same discourse it appears that he would like to see his way clear to “final and universal restoration of the human race,” [who would not?] but is unable to do so. He concludes with the following advice-

“What I want you to do in this matter, however, is clear enough; do not un-Christianise any man who is trying to mitigate the awful gloom which accompanies the doctrine of the unceasing, undiminishing, and hopeless torture of the wicked. If any man thinks he can throw one ray of light on this dark problem, welcome him as a brother, and listen to him lovingly, if haply he may have a message from God; and whatever decision you may come to, hold it reverently, and modestly, being always ready to receive light and help from every quarter. Whatever darkness may rest upon the destiny of the wicked, it must be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; yet, seeing that His mercy endureth for ever, it is better to fall into the hands of God, than into the hands of men. One thing is certain; those who are in Christ can never die! [i.e. forever.] That is the blessed truth- that is the glorious gospel! Able and honest men may differ widely as to the destiny of the finally impenitent, but there can be no substantial difference of opinion as to the future of those who know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and the power of Christ’s resurrection. Do not be harsh with any man who differs from you; say in your hearts, the Judge of the whole earth cannot but do right. – Bible Echo.

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