Attention is drawn to the booklet "The Study of Human Destiny" by Mr. Otis Q. Sellers. His plea for a reconsideration of this matter is most timely. At this stage, that is, until his own full examination of it is available, there is nothing much to say about the booklet itself, beyond that it is worth study, apart from a few comments.
There is one statement which Mr. Sellers makes which is unfortunate, to put it mildly. This is: "I believe that whatever punishment the wicked dead receive at the great white throne will be eternal." On the contrary, Scripture most carefully avoids labelling anything as "eternal." In fact, this word and "eternity" ought to be expunged from our vocabulary; for the ideas are not only absent from Scripture, but it is impossible to define them intelligibly. There is in the churches far too much confused thinking about these matters.
Another statement which certainly requires elucidation is :—"I do not believe that the dead are either conscious or unconscious." If this means anything at all, it means that the dead have ceased to exist in any way; for anything which exists, whether it be a stone, a bird, a plant or a man, must at any given moment either be conscious or unconscious, must either be aware of itself and surroundings at least in some measure, or unaware of them. If he means that the dead have ceased to exist, what becomes of such statements as Ecclesiastes 12:7?
It should be added that there is this to be said on the side of Gaebelein, Scofield and Ironside (pp. 14, 15): that the text of the Hebrew Scriptures is so uncertain, and existing translations so discordant and imperfect, that it is extremely unsafe to base any doctrine on them alone. I would not care to build much even on Ecclesiastes 12:7 apart from a very full and careful study of the other relevant passages, and this is just what we lack the means to do. The vast new light which has come from the application of scientific method to the translation of the Greek Scriptures indicates that similar enlightenment would result from this being done for the Hebrew Scriptures; greater enlightenment, perhaps, for the older New Testament translations were mostly far superior to any we have of the Hebrew Scriptures. So I am not at all disposed to agree with the poor opinion of Gaebelein and others held by Mr. Sellers. It is not these gentlemen who are obscuring the light of the first 39 books of the Word of God, anything like so much as the generations of scholars who have failed to clear up, and often even to attempt to clear up, the abundant textual and translation problems which they present.
J. Gresham Machen's quoted remarks are hardly calculated to inspire our confidence. And if in 1. Thess. 5:23 Paul's vocabulary had failed him, that hardly commends him to US either. To "spirit, soul and body" he could have added other things, such as heart, mind or flesh—if he had needed to. To be entirely candid, I have no time for theologians who can believe that the writers of Scripture did not mean just what they said or were unable to express what they did mean. As his book is inaccessible to me, I would be interested to learn what his case is against "the threefold division of man's nature into body, soul, and spirit." I, at any rate, cannot follow him in finding anything to contradict this idea in 1. Corinthians 2 and 3. Why we should be expected to heed Machen's bare statement without a scrap of evidence being adduced in its support is a mystery indeed.
The quotation from Emil Brunner (p. 16) is true enough; but it belongs to the class of statement which can be most misleading unless its governing word or words are clearly defined. It is :—"It is a well-known fact that dogmatists and Church leaders often pay but small attention to the results of New Testament research." Quite so, but what did Brunner mean by "research"? Most of what is published and praised as the assured results of modem criticism is so unscientific and subjective in method and content that the less attention we pay to it the better. Any so-called research is worthless which bases itself on the postulate that the Scripture records are unreliable. No man can build on an inherently unstable foundation.
It is sheer folly to blind ourselves to the fact that traditionalists are not always guilty of false doctrine or that those who claim so loudly to improve on them are, far too often, very much worse. I know nothing of conditions in the U.S.A. or the other English-speaking countries; but I can affirm from experience that over here it is rare indeed to hear anything sound or significant in the "religious" broadcasts. If there be any great demand for accurate knowledge of the Word of God, which I doubt, it is singularly ill served by broadcasters. Quite often we are told such things as that "Jesus was quite convinced" about something. The "Jesus" of Modernism and popular religion no doubt was open to such conviction, for a stream can of itself rise no higher than its source; but the LORD Jesus Christ of Scripture was not a mere "elder brother" (another very popular cant phrase) but One altogether above that, Who had and has no need to be convinced by sinful men. This tendency to belittle the Lord Jesus and His saints is the brand mark of the heretic; and we would do well to avoid like the plague all who practise such things.
The weakness of the so-called Fundamentalists is their fear of sound learning. The movement under that name started, so I understand, with the circulation far and wide of a series of booklets entitled "The Fundamentals." The superficiality of much they have to say has to be seen to be believed. Take for instance the 13½-page treatise on "Justification by faith," by Bishop H. C. G. Moule in Vol. 2. It deals largely with the meaning and history of the word "justification" in English, the learned writer being unaware (for all indication he gives to the contrary) that the New Testament was originally written in Greek. A more trivial and misleading treatment of the subject can hardly be imagined, and this can equally well be said of his discussion of the word "faith." Bishop Moule was reputed to be a man of outstanding personal goodness and saintliness; but as a church leader in an hour of unprecedented intellectual attack, he was a great deal worse than useless.
During my lifetime I have seen the "Evangelical" movement in England decline from a force to be reckoned with to complete insignificance. Before my time, the latter half of the Nineteenth Century saw its decline from complete dominance in the Anglican Church. This utter failure is explained fully by the attitude displayed by Bishop Moule in his short and utterly inadequate paper. Having seen this decline in operation, I have made it my life's aim myself to do something of what they failed even to attempt. But the efforts of one or two, or even one or two hundreds, are futile unless Christians everywhere are able and prepared to support them; which means in practise, prepared to search for truth themselves. So far, the result has been far from encouraging. Let us hope that the efforts of Mr. Sellers will bring fruit; but let us also watch carefully to see that the findings from his researches shall be in full harmony with God's Word.
R. B. WITHERS Last updated 29.9.2005