Imatges de pàgina

to understand any remedial scheme which does not correspond to the full significance of the situation. The Love of God would not be enlightened by the Wisdom of God, the scheme of Redemption would not be continuous with and expansive of the plan of Creation, if the full meaning of sin were ignored. And it would seem that it is ignored, if a conscious and wilful separation, such as sin involves, is simply set on one side, and treated as having never occurred. God will intreat and plead with the will, but not compel it. The word separation has been used throughout this discussion rather than punishment, because the latter involves us in various forensic associations, whereas the word separation accentuates the fact that eternity in time is simply another way of expressing the permanence of the sinful moral temper.

We have now covered almost all the ground which we laid out as belonging to the question of evil in man. There is one more point which we must discuss shortly, viz., the use of evil. We have already hinted the explanation which we propose to offer in speaking of the Omnipotence of God. Evil, as we see it in the world, is the means of man's probation. Its presence enables him to declare his inner affinities. Every man has before him an alternative of good or evil; not the mere alternative of the two courses, but an alternative lying open in the circumstances and accidents of life. He has the natural animal desires, intellectual aims, and moral aspirations on his side, and without him a world offering various means of self-satisfaction. Evil takes advantage of this. It arrays itself in the outward semblance of good, and forms its fashions on those of good. It casts aspersions upon its rival, laughs at its

seriousness, exaggerates its sternness. And this is the form of man's probation. For no person who in himself has affinities with the good will be deceived for a moment by the pretences of evil, even though Satan himself should appear in the guise of an angel of light. The comfortable old doctrine that vice is merely lack of knowledge is not applicable to the conditions of the case. It is too abstract and simple to meet the concrete complexities of human life. Man gets the knowledge required for his probation, not by merely inquiring into the nature and consequences of virtue and vice, but by acting straightforwardly with his conscience; by letting it decide moral questions on its own grounds, however feeble its light, and however easy it may be to argue that there is much to be said for the course it condemns. This process corresponds to the conditions in which man is.

This probation, by which action reveals the inner character, is the meaning of the word judgment so frequently occurring in S. John. It ought not to suggest any machinery of judge and jury and evidence: it is the declaration on which side a man stands, whether for God or devil, and it is being worked out day by day in the things which he does. The Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, is the day when the principles at work in the world will be revealed in all their nakedness, when the probation of men shall be finally over, and the choice of men irrevocably made. By the day of death each man has decided the bent of his spirit, the success or failure of his life; but there intervenes a state before the Day of the Lord, in which the spirits of men await the fulness of the times. The Day of Judgment marks the close of the plan which we now see in

part-Creation and Redemption: it ushers in the consummation, when the Son shall yield up the sovereignty to the Father, and God shall be all in all.'

III. We have spoken theoretically of the existence of evil, and of its special significance in the nature of man. There is a third stage in our inquiry, the presence of evil in nature. This involves questions of peculiar difficulty, owing to the very narrow limits of our knowledge. We do not know the exact connexion of man with nature; we do not know fully how nature was organized before man came upon the world. But there is a general probability that the moral condition of man would have some effect upon the natural world as a whole. The difficulty is to say what effect.

The Scriptural view of nature marks this point firmly but not very frequently. From the day of the Fall the earth is said to be 'cursed for man's sake.' The prophets include in their picture of the Messiah's kingdom a renewed and peaceful nature. But the strongest statement of all is found in the Epistle to the Romans, chap. viii. Here we read that 'the creature,' i.e. the created world, was subjected to vanity'; that this was not in accordance with its own will, but was due to the act of another, 'by reason of him who subjected.' Its groanings and travailings, however, are not without hope; their explanation will be found when the creature is freed 'from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.' With this clear and definite statement other more obscure hints are in harmony; as, for instance, the statement in the Colossians (i. 19) that it is the good pleasure of God 'to reconcile all things unto Himself . . . whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens'; or,

later on in the same chapter (i. 25), the statement that the Gospel is preached 'in every creature under heaven.' S. Paul, then, clearly traced a relation between the entry of human evil and the existence of corruption and pain in the world. The idea would seem, however, to have lain rather on the fringe of his thought than in any central region of it; there is but one positive statement on the subject, and the scattered hints are few in number.

For us, the problem centres round the existence and meaning of pain and death. It would be an easier matter to settle if we were convinced that both had entered after sin-as a direct punishment for it. But it cannot be proved that it was so; the facts are, indeed, all in the other direction. The earlier strata of the earth's crust are full of the fossil bones of animals of various kinds, all of which must have lived and died before man came upon the earth, unless we are prepared to accept the unhopeful theory that the fossils were created in the strata. And we may fairly argue that these prehistoric animals did not like death any more than we do. It was pain to them as much as to any one else. Moreover, the succession of the specific types found in fossiliferous strata suggests that species died out under the pressure of the competition of others; so that there was war in nature, conflict of interest, murder. There are one or two considerations which may be urged by way of mitigation of this difficulty. One is that the horror of pain and death lies largely in anticipation, that, therefore, creatures which do not indulge, from their nature, in anticipations are free from this special horror. And further, pain is in many cases protective. It warns against the approach of danger, and serves to

lengthen life. But these are rather summary statements of advantages seen to result from pain, or mitigations of it while it lasts, than explanations of its presence. Still less do they account for its preceding the appearance of sin.

Leaving this for a while, let us return to the death and pain involved in the Fall. Man is, of course, a creature compounded of two elements-body and soul. That which is compounded may be resolved into its factors; its character as compound deprives it of any intrinsic right to immortality or permanence. We do not necessarily suppose, then, that man was destined to remain in the state in which he was started upon his course of probation that the conditions in which he found himself were to suffer no change. S. Paul, if our interpretation of his words be right, calls sin the 'sting of death,' as if there might be a mode of departure from the conditions of this world which would be without a sting. Nor again does it follow, even if death existed among animals before, that the same close would have been ordained for the career of the being in the image of God. A certain degree of additional confusion is added to our question by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. This proceeds upon the assumption that the body is a thing to be got rid of, and that only through deliverance from it will the soul realize its full powers and privileges. To this point of view death is necessary, and the death which we know, the death of corruption. But the additional difficulty which this doctrine brings with it need not weigh heavily upon us; for the immortality of the soul alone is not a Christian but a pagan doctrine. That is, it is a human speculation based on and governed by the facts of life and death as

« AnteriorContinua »