DURING all the years of which I speak the Plymouth Brethren were, as I have said, among my principal teachers. But I began gradually to find some things in their teaching that I could not accept; and this was especially the case with their extreme Calvinism.
There have always been, I believe, differences of opinion among them in regard to this view; but those with whom I was thrown held very rigidly the belief that some people were “elected” to salvation, and some were elected to “reprobation,” and that nothing the individual could do could change these eternal decrees. We of course were among those elected to salvation, and for this we were taught to be profoundly thankful. I tried hard to fall in with this. It seemed difficult to believe that those who had taught me so much could possibly be mistaken on such a vital point. But my soul revolted from it more and more. How could I be content in knowing that I myself was sure of Heaven, when other poor souls, equally deserving, but who had not had my chances, were “elected,” for no fault of their own, but in the eternal decrees of God, to “reprobation”? Such a doctrine seemed to me utterly inconsistent with the proclamation of forgiveness that had so entranced me. I could not find any limitations in this proclamation, and I could not believe there were any secret limitations in the mind of the God who had made it. Neither could I see how a Creator could be just, even if He were not loving, in consigning some of the creatures He Himself, and no other, had created, to the eternal torment of hell, let them be as great sinners as they might be. I felt that if this doctrine were true, I should be woefully disappointed in the God whom I had, with so much rapture, discovered.
I could not fail to see, moreover, that, after all, each one of us was largely a creature of circumstance—that what we were, and what we did, was more or less the result of our temperaments, of our inherited characteristics, of our social surroundings, and of our education; and that, as these were all providentially arranged for us, with often no power on our part to alter them, it would not be just in the God who had placed us in their midst, to let them determine our eternal destiny.
As an escape from the doctrine of eternal torment, I at first embraced the doctrine of annihilation for the wicked, and for a little while tried to comfort myself with the belief that this life ended all for them. But the more I thought of it, the more it seemed to me that it would be a confession of serious failure on the part of the Creator, if He could find no way out of the problem of His creation, but to annihilate the creatures whom He had created.
Unconsciously, one of my children gave me an illustration of this. She waked me up one morning to tell me that she had been lying in bed having great fun in pretending that she had made a man. She described the colour of his hair and his eyes, his figure, his height, his power, his wisdom, and all the grand things he was going to do, and was very enthusiastic in her evident delight in the joy of creation. When she had finished enumerating all the magnificent qualities of her man, I said to her, “But, darling, suppose he should turn out badly; suppose he should do mischief and hurt people, and make things go wrong, what would thee do then?” “Oh,” she said, “I would not have any trouble; I’d just make him lie down and chop his head off.”
I saw at once what a splendid illustration this was of the responsibility of a Creator, and it brought to my mind Mrs. Shelley’s weird story of the artist Frankenstein, who made the monstrous image of a man, which, when it was finished, suddenly, to his horror, became alive, and went out into the world, working havoc wherever it went. The horrified maker felt obliged to follow his handiwork everywhere, in order to try and undo a little of the mischief that had been done, and to remedy as far as possible the evils it had caused. The awful sense of responsibility that rested upon him, because of the things done by the creature he had created, opened my eyes to see the responsibility God must necessarily feel, if the creatures He had created were to turn out badly. I could not believe He would torment them forever; and neither could I rest in the thought of annihilation as His best remedy for sin. I felt hopeless of reconciling the love and the justice of the Creator with the fate of His creatures, and I knew not which way to turn. But deliverance was at hand, and the third epoch in my Christian experience was about to dawn.
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