To THE EDITOR. OF THE " SPECTATOR."
SIR,—As a reader of the Spectator, I beg to protest against the tone in which you sometimes think fit to speak of those who hold the common opinion as to the most awful of all subjects—the supposed nature of future punishment. Au opinion held and defended by Leibnitz, to mention no other name among philosophers, cannot, one would have thought, be treated with contempt by any man of common modesty. You evidently entertain the lowest possible opinion of the intelligence and honesty of the great body of our present clergy (and I presume, also, of those of past times, as their views were much the same); I will not, therefore, quote any of their names as authorities ; but probably a catena of the fathers and schoolmen who have believed in the literal eternity (in the popular sense of that word) of future punishment would contain several names which would command some little respect, even from you, on the ground of the intelligence as well as benevolence of their owners.
Now, for myself, let me say that I am not one of those who feel able to dogmatize as to that most tremendous subject. I have always clung with all my soul to the hope that the great and awful words of our Lord upon it may bear sonic interpretation other than that which has, however, been put upon them by the great majority of readers in all ages and all places. The common doctrine deduced from those words, as it is commonly stated, and as referring the existence of an everlasting Hell to the permanent vengeance of Almighty God upon sins that are past, seems to me hard—(to my mind quite impossible)—to reconcile not only with single passages of Scripture, but with its revelation of the character of God considered as a whole. I could hardly bear to think at all of anything above or beyond our present life, did I not entertain a hope that the common belief as to the end- lessness of the condition of the lost is a mistaken one, and that Origen, with his comparatively few followers, was right, and the immense majority of fathers and schoolmen were wrong. And I should be sorry indeed to shut out from our Church those who dog- matize, even vehemently, on his side. The facts stated by Mr. Wilson in his speech—(which every one who meddles at all in this controversy ought to read, however much he may disapprove—as I do most strongly—of his essay, and the principles therein pro- fessed)—and elsewhere, as, e.g., in the Guardian lately, appear to de- monstrate that the Universal Church during the age in which those
general councils were held, the decrees of which our Church allows as authorities, contained great bishops and teachers who not only openly held Origen's views, but provoked vehement controversy, and drew great attention by so doing, and yet were not condemned by those councils or by the Church in general. I should most deeply deplore any movement of which the effect would be to make our
Church narrower and less comprehensive in this respect than the Church Universal in those ages was. But it is one thing to hold
these views, and quite another to venture, as I deeply lament to see you do, to sneer at and throw utter scorn upon one who has so great a claim upon the reverence of us all, on account of his holy life, of his admirable gentleness of temper in controversy, of his almost unequalled learning, as Dr. Pusey, because he holds the opinion, which has been also undeniably that of hundreds of
thousands of the most loving men, as well as profoundest thinkers, among mankind—who have tremblingly believed, that the state of the lost is everlasting and hopeless, and that this must be some- how reconcileable with the goodness of God.
As you profess your belief in the Incarnation, by which, I presume, you mean the doctrine that Jesus Christ was no less than God manifest, you must believe that it was Very God who,
when clothed in our flesh, wept because something was happening before His eyes which He wished were not happening,—and among His words occur the very awful ones, "If it be possible." The as- sertion, then, that many souls will be lost literally for ever is not irreconcileable with this other assertion,—that, nevertheless, God wishes that it were not so, and that the profound sigh which goes through the hearts of all good and holy men--(the more pro- found, surely, the more good, or God-like, they become)—the
sigh, I mean, caused by the consciousness that many souls whom God willed to save are, nevertheless, not saved,—has its spring in the heart of GOD HIMSELF.
To those who believe in the Incarnation what do the tears of Christ over the lost mean ?—or what those words of His about a certain man, that "it had been better for him if he had never been born?"
You may feel able to dogmatize upon these tremendous possi- bilities, and you may think it not inconsistent with Christian earnestness and reverence to furnish the mockers of the world, the thousands who are ever but too ready to make a mock at anything like Hell, or the wrath of God against sin, with such a weapon ready to their hand as those vile lines with which you polluted your pages last week called an epitaph on that " eminent Christian," as they called him (I hope he is so indeed), Lord West- bury. I can do nothing of the kind. I cannot tell whether,
according to the inner and eternal constitution of things, it may not be the case that all spirits, angelic and human, must harden or stiffen, and become confirmed and settled, either in good or evil, till they become either God-like or the reverse, immoveably for ever —and that nothing, therefore could stop the existence of spirits settled in evil but their annihilation, if that is possible. From all such questions I shrink ; but of one thing I am sure, that it is a miserable and a most short-sighted philosophy which leads any one to mock at those who have been led in solemn earnestness to hold one opinion or the opposite on this tremendous subject.
But 1 am aware that you defend your opinion, or rather you defend yourself against the common answer to it, by an interpreta- tion, for which you plead the authority of our Lord Himself, of certain words of His.
Of this interpretation, as it has the earnest and even pas- sionate support of one to whom I feel I owe very much, and whose words ought, I think, to carry great weight, I mean Mr. Maurice, I should be sorry to speak disrespect- fully. But I must say that to me, and to very many other men of infinitely higher authority than I, this interpretation seems exceedingly, and to a very provoking degree, forced. I refer to
the notion that the Greek word atc:mo;,-, and, therefore, its English translation " eternal," cannot " have anything to do with time," but is meant to describe the inner and moral character or nature of the heavenly life, because our Lord says, " This is life eternal, to know," &c.
It is, I must say, to me a most provoking paradox to ground that opinion upon those words.
If I say " French fuel is wood, not coal," would any one dream of arguing that therefore the word " French" can have nothing to do with places or with races of men because " wood" has not?
I cannot see the slightest difference between these two cases. One out of ten thousand possible epithets may be selected and be attached to a noun in order to secure that hearers should under- stand accurately what the speaker means by that noun, and because it so happens that the quality described by that epithet is the one most usually, though it may be mistakenly, considered character- istic of the thing described, and then the noun with the adjective so attached may surely be made the subject of an assertion pre- dicating some quality ever so widely different in kind from that to which the adjective refers. This seems to me almost too obvious to be worth mentioning, were not this argument so often used by writers of great authority. The above argument would, I think, be applicable even to statements in books strictly scientific and intended to be understood with mathematical accuracy. Surely the
obvious meaning of our Lord's words is, " Herein consists that life which is also eternal, and of which you commonly speak as "the life eternal,' namely, in knowing," &c.
Precisely the same objections apply to your other interpretation, - that of the words, "This is the condemnation." The obvious
meaning of them seems to most of us to be, " This is the ground of the condemnation,"—the nature of it is not in question. Again, with reference to the former text, did any one ever maintain that the substantive alio', from which alone evidently the adjective cct6piog derives the whole of its meaning, means "heaven," or "life in God," or "the blessed and divine life?" But if it does not mean that, what sense do you attribute to it for the purposes of your argument?
To my mind, it appears perfectly evident that the words aitZly and aldouto; do refer to and have for their subject-matter
time. But it does not follow from this that the ordinary in-
terpretation of the latter is the true one. For that cchLyros sometimes means not an absolute, but a relative infinity of time
(if I may so express myself),—an extent of time which, as con-
templated by the mind of the speaker, produces upon him prac- tically the impression of boundlessness, is, I think, also unde- niable. Words, as used by men, can, of course, only convey to them, or be intended by them to convey, ideas which already exist in their minds in some connection ; and even inspired men had no words to use but such as they found ready to their hands; and could only really convey by them the ideas they were under- stood to convey.
If, then, the Jews in old time had not the notion of " infinity" (in our sense of the word), in their minds, no inspired word could be meant to express it. Who can venture to define exactly what " for ever," and " eternal," and " infinite" meant to them?
That they did mean something out of all proportion to earthly things, something vast and awful beyond expression, and that our Lord also meant something of that kind by the word, is, I sup- pose, also certain.—I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
Hagley Rectory, March 8, 1864. W. H. LrrrELrox.
[*** We assure Mr. Lyttelton that nothing could be further from our purpose than to " mock " at any serious conviction, least of all at one of which we entertain so profound a horror as that in question. When, however, an everlasting Hell is put forward freely as one of the most characteristic and prominent features of the Christian Revelation, in place of the Kingdom of Heaven, we do not see any occasion to ignore the humorous side of so mon- strous and horrible a perversion. As to the question of scholar- ship, we agree with Mr. Lyttelton that in the synoptic Gospels cdoipto; has a vague, partly intensive, and partly extensive mean- ing, such as he assigns it. But how any scholar can fail to recog- nize the very peculiar and uniform use of the word in the Gospel and Epistles of John, or that throughout that gospel and epistle states a visible and spiritual states e constantly contrasted as co- existing in a sort of " eter ow," into which the notion of duration does not enter, it is di cult for us to understand. Our Lord's own words, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet should he live," were really, we believe, intended in the spiritual no less than the physical sense, and to apply to all con- ditions of the human spirit in time or eternity.—ED. Spectator.]