This power has at times been misunderstood and misapplied. No human authority can bind the conscience, nor set rules and regulations for the soul of man. The prerogative of final direction belongs to God alone. No man may arrogate it—no pastor for people, no husband for wife, no wife for husband, no parent for child. The sadness of the world has been, that men have not always been spiritually free. Freedom has been a social growth—a phase of progress. It has taken wars and persecutions, revolutions and reformations, the blood of saints and martyrs, the sorrow of ages, to plant this precept in the mind of man.
The evangelist warns. He speaks of sin, death, hell, and the judgment to come. It is for these things that he is sent to testify. These are not the catch-words of a new sort of Fear King who uses oral terrors to affright the soul of man. Heaven and hell are not a new sort of ghost-land: retribution is not a larger way of tribal revenge.
No. The latest facts of science present this universe as not only progressive, but as retributive. There is a rebound of evil which makes for pain. Each broken law exacts a penalty. Each deed of sin is a forerunner of personal and of social disaster. The generation that sins shall be cut off, while the stock of the righteous grows strong from age to age.
The scientific vista opening to the eye of man is impressive and appalling. Each man has within himself a future of joy or sadness for the race. Do you remember the sermon of Horace Bushnell on the “Populating Power of the Christian Faith”? Do you recall the history of the infamous Jukes family? That of the seven devout and noble generations of the Murrays? The Day of Judgment is not only the Last Great Day—it is to-day and every day. “Every day is Doomsday,” says Emerson. Nature is unforgetful. Nature is accountant. Each iniquity must be paid for out of the resources of the race.
It is of these grave omens that the Man of God must speak. He dare not be tongue-tied by custom or by fear. He must proclaim hell in the ears of all mankind. For wherever hell may be, and we do not yet know, and whatever hell may be, and we cannot even imagine, Hell is; and the soul of man must be kept mindful of these great things.
The evangelist comforts and consoles. The heart of man is wayward and goes oft astray. No one can be belabored into righteousness. The true lover of souls allows for the hereditary weaknesses of man, for his infirmities of will and temper, for his excuses, wanderings, and tears, and presents to him Jesus, in whose sight no one is too wretched to be received, too wicked to be forgiven.
We must have forgiveness in order to know God. The most comforting thought in the world is that God knows all we do. There can be no misunderstanding between us: He cannot be misinformed.
The evangelist must come close, in sympathy and counsel, to the personal and individual life of those whom he would help. Perhaps the best way to emphasize this point would be to insert here words written by a woman who has been thinking on this subject.