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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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RESTORATION.—Round this word gather some of the most fascinating problems of our thought in regard to the possibilities of human destiny. Every lover of his kind, and everyone who has caught something of the spirit of the Lord Christ, is compelled, for his own mental and spiritual satisfaction, to ask, What is to be the issue of all this complex life of man, the beginnings of which we see on the earth, the final issue when the Divine purpose concerning the race is accomplished? And naturally the Scriptures of the NT are eagerly scanned to discover what declarations are there made, or hints given, respecting the issue. Above all, has the Master of Truth left us any definite teaching on which a fair and inspiring hope may be built? At first sight it must be confessed that to those who look for express statements of our Lord and His Apostles in regard to future destiny, the results of a restrained exegesis are disappointing. Isolated expressions and passages may be, and often have been, pressed into the service of preconceived hopes; but, on the whole, the statements of Scripture afford too slender a basis on which to raise a structure of dogmatic assertion, and do not throw light very far into the great mystery of the future. The disappointment, however, is modified by two considerations: (1) Many of the references to the future life are quite incidental, and occur in writings which are themselves obviously of the most occasional character, in which, therefore, the immediate doctrinal or ethical concern is paramount, and no intention of dealing with the problems of Eschatology was before the writer’s mind. (2) The mysteriousness which everywhere surrounds our human existence is an essential part of life’s discipline. If all the mystery concerning the future were dispelled, the race would be without one of its most refining and sanctifying influences, much of life’s interest would vanish and its finest essence evaporate. The Evangelists, the Apostles, and even our Lord Himself in His earthly life, were required to vindicate to themselves the Divine purpose in this mortal career without having all the future destiny of mankind revealed to them. Limitation of knowledge here seems to be essential to the very being of human nature.

In considering the Scripture intimations regarding the hope of a universal Restoration of humanity, it must be clearly seen that whatever hopes may, more or less distinctly, emerge in the expressed thought of the Apostles, are all clearly based upon, and inspired by, an enlarging thought concerning the Person of Jesus Christ, and the revelation given in Him and recorded in the Gospels.

The word ‘restoration’ (ἀποκατάστασις, Authorized Version ‘restitution’) is found only once in the Gospels, and in its verbal form, in Matthew 17:11, in connexion with a hope current in our Lord’s time of a moral renovation of the nation under the leadership of Elijah (cf. Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6), and declared by our Lord to be fulfilled in the great spiritual movement initiated by John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-12). The noun is employed in Acts 3:21, where it would be extremely interesting if we could believe that St. Peter, in his anticipation of the χρόνος ἀποκαταστάσεως πάντων, had in his mind any thought of the universal restoration of mankind, and its final upraising to the life of fellowship with God. His need of mental enlargement, given later by means of the vision (Acts 10:9-33), to enable him to believe in the possibility of Gentile salvation, is decisive against such an interpretation. We may well inquire, however, how far the expression, calculated to express so much, was due to the writer of the Acts, St. Luke, to whom such a pregnant phrase and such a large hope for humanity would naturally commend itself.

But the question remains, Does the larger idea of the restoration of humanity as a whole to obedience, and to the condition of blessedness for which it was created, receive a warrant from the words and thoughts of Scripture?

1. In examining, first, our Lord’s own teaching, which we take as fundamental in the consideration of the question, it must be clearly understood what we are to ask concerning it. We desire to know if we have any evidence from the words of Jesus reported in the Gospels, that He Himself held the faith of the final restoration of all men. Was it for Him included in the possibilities of the future? or have we any express declaration that in this life only is there a possibility of right moral decision being made, with the consequent attainment to a right and saving relation to God? The last question stands on the threshold of the inquiry; for if it be unmistakably answered in the affirmative, it must determine the whole problem for those who accept His authority as final; while, if no such declaration is found, the way is left open for a redeeming process beyond the bounds of this brief mortal life.

Our Lord is reported to have spoken of everlasting or eternal punishment (κόλασιν αἰώνιον), apparently as the opposite of life everlasting or eternal (ζωὴν αἰώνιον, Matthew 25:46). The use of the same term αἰώνιος of both life and punishment has inolined many to regard the passage as decisive on this momentous question; but the majority of modern scholars consider that the aeonian (literally ‘age-long’) life or suffering is to be understood as at least possibly terminable, and that the expression applied is qualitative rather than quantitative, referring to the relation of both life and death to God rather than to duration of time. ‘Eternal’ and not ‘everlasting’ is its true equivalent. It may also be said that even if the expressions are meant to refer to the endlessness of the punishment or of the blessedness, they may properly be understood as a very strong assertion of the undoubted fact that the suffering that comes of sin is eternally, endlessly bound up with the sin, even as the blessedness of the righteous is necessarily involved in their obedience. The hopelessness of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is summed up in the words ‘he is guilty of eternal sin’ (Mark 3:29). The latter possibility, however, is nowhere asserted of all who ‘die in their sins’ (John 8:24), and leave this world unrepentant. See Eternal Sin.

Similarly, the same fact of the eternal and necessary association of suffering with sin is expressed in Mark 9:43-48 ‘the worm that dieth not,’ and ‘the fire that never shall be quenched.’ But in neither case is it declared that those who are sent away into that searching experience are doomed to abide there endlessly. The fire of the Divine wrath against sin is essential to the Divine Being, and while God is God it cannot but burn. Both passages convey a most solemn warning to men against being caught into that holy wrath, the fiery trial of suffering and remorse that inevitably waits upon all disobedience, against that dissolution of the life which elsewhere our Lord describes as the cutting of man asunder, and as that terrible portion of the unbeliever or hypocrite which is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51, cf. Luke 12:46). Unspeakable horror of the world to come for the impenitent and disobedient reveals itself in all that He teaches us regarding it; in His sense of sin, and the mischief, corruption, and agony which it works; in His urging that it were ‘profitable,’ good for a man, to make the utmost sacrifice of all that makes life good to live, even to the plucking out of the eye or the cutting off of the hand, rather than to be cast into that loathly Gehenna which our Lord glances at, rather than depicts (Matthew 5:29-30); but of the duration of that state of woe He gives no hint. Although it may with much force be maintained that the images He employs—the worm, the fire, the salting with fire—are all most naturally interpreted as purifying and cleansing agencies, yet it is wiser to see that He leaves the Divine purpose in all that mysterious process of retribution to be inferred from the whole revelation of God which He had given in His earthly life. See, further, Eternal Fire, Eternal Punishment.

Due weight must be assigned to the remarkable reticence maintained by Jesus regarding the world to come, both concerning the nature of the blessedness of heaven, and the future destiny of the unrepentant. In His incarnate condition, under the limitations necessarily involved in the taking of a veritable human nature, much of that future was hidden from His view as from ours. The discipline of mystery concerning the future world, which is so salutary for our nature, was not without its value in the perfecting of the Redeemer. And therefore, while He possessed absolute knowledge of the moral conditions of that life, kindred as they were with the moral conditions of life here, He was not privileged to see all that future unfolded. And it is surely most significant that of the course of events in that ‘sequestered state,’ in that world to which the sinful pass at death, He speaks no word. And He nowhere precludes the possibility of moral growth and betterment in that vast Unseen; the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) speaks of ‘a great gulf fixed’ prohibiting a passage from either of the two contrasted states of being to the other, but it was not a gulf across which there could come no communication or redeeming influence, for Dives and Abraham can hold converse; and the parable hints not obscurely at some betterment of the selfish rich man who begins to have a genuine concern for his brethren (unless it must be interpreted as a subtle form of self-excuse).

The Gospels contain no word of this life as being absolutely and finally decisive of all human destiny, and remembering the complexity of life not for the heathen only, and for nations chosen to play another part than a religious one, in the great purpose of God, but for men living in full gospel light, yet doomed from their birth and before it to an almost hopeless incapacity for truth and virtue, our moral nature shrinks irresistibly from such a thought. On the contrary, we have certain indications, not beyond question and yet full of hopeful suggestion, that the mind of Jesus reached out beyond all the complexity and travail to a glorious issue and consummation worthy of being called ‘the glory of the Father.’ He speaks in Matthew 19:28 of a coming Regeneration (παλινγενεσία) in which those who have faithfully followed Him shall share His rule; but we have no clue as to whether His words are intended to reach beyond the definite establishment of His Kingdom as an actual fact among men. But in that Kingdom once established He placed His hope, and He taught us to pray for its coming as the equivalent of the Divine will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

In John 12:32 (cf. John 3:14) He declares that His ‘lifting up’ shall be the means of ‘drawing all men’ to Himself, and His words are naturally interpreted as expressing His hope and expectation of a complete redemption of mankind, and can scarcely be satisfied by saying that though this is the natural effect, it may never be the actual effect of His supreme sacrifice.

On the whole, while it must be confessed that we have no certain statement from our Lord as to the final issue of things, we have yet much to encourage a hopeful attitude, in harmony as that attitude is with the intuitions of the human heart, and with the whole disclosure of God’s love ‘in the face of Jesus Christ.’ The Son of Man and Son of God has ‘thrown light’ not only upon the intimations of immortality which existed in the heart of man, but also upon the problem as to future restoration, not so much by what He says as by His whole Personality, His revelation of and abiding relation to the unseen Father.

2. Upon that revelation in the actual Jesus of Nazareth, and upon their increasing sense of the infinite importance of the Christ who ever liveth, the Apostles found their thought and speculation, so far as these find place in their writings, regarding the larger and ultimate issues of redemption. Whatever hopes they permit themselves to express, all centre in His Personality and power. The vagueness which characterizes most of the references to the question is due to the fact that the writings are all casual. In no case are the authors specifically or systematically dealing with the problem, being not theologians so much as practical Apostles, dealing with the ethical questions of the Churches and with individual salvation.

(a) In the Johannine writings are found many principles of truth on which far-reaching inferences may legitimately enough be founded, such as the assertion that ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5); but there is no evidence that the writer had apprehended these logical inferences.

(b) In the First Epistle of Peter two important passages are 1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6, which, in spite of a considerable weight of adverse exegesis which forbids any dogmatic assertion based upon the words, may fairly be taken as suggesting that the scope of redemption is not limited to the present scene. The Apostle has the conception of an underworld from which a moral process is not excluded.

(c) In the Pauline writings the most conservative exegesis reads a clear declaration of the Divine purpose that all men shall be saved, but denies that any certain hope as to the final issue can be built upon the fact. Here many will naturally diverge in judgment, and feel that they can raise their hope so securely nowhere else as upon the expressed purpose and will of God (Romans 11:32, 1 Timothy 2:3-4, cf. 2 Peter 3:9). When once the holy will of the Father, in its might and energy and Divine persistence, is realized, the Christian man may at least ‘rest in hope’ of an issue beyond our farthest vision. Martensen (Christian Dogmatics, English translation 474–484) is a type of those who regard Scripture as presenting two sides of the truth respecting future destiny which are at present unreconcilable; but the antinomy which no doubt exists will largely disappear if the process of development in Apostolic and especially in Pauline thought be allowed for. In his earlier Epistles (1 and 2 Thess.), St. Paul is largely influenced by the apocalyptic ideas of traditional Judaism (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). But in the later stages of his writing a larger conception of the Divine purpose begins to find expression. In Romans 8:19 he anticipates a glorious ‘revelation of the sons of God’—and in Romans 11:32 he expresses the widest design in the Divine mind, determining all the mysterious process of redemption, as ‘that he might have mercy upon all.’ And, as his thought matures, his hope expands under an enlarged sense of the central position of the ever-living Christ in this world and in all worlds, and under his feeling of the larger spaces in the Divine purpose and working—the ‘ages upon ages’ (Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:21). In Colossians 1:16-17 the Son is declared to be the creator of all things visible and invisible. All things (τὰ πάντα) find their cohesive principle in Him (συνέστηκεν), and their final consummation (εἰς αὐτόν). In Ephesians 1:10 He is the Head of all, in which the whole creative and redeeming process is to be summed up (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα ἐν τῷ χριστῷ), and in Philippians 2:10 His is the Name at which the whole created universe is to bow with undivided acclamation. In Colossians 1:20 the blessings of redemption are extended to the whole system of things (cf. Ephesians 1:21-22) on, which Toy (Judaism and Christianity, pp. 407–408) says: ‘If we are to see here the conception of a final reconciliation between God and His creatures, a blotting out of evil in the sense that it shall be transformed into good, a complete harmonizing of the universe so that neither angel nor man shall be found to set himself against the Divine ethical order, then we must hold this view to spring out of a philosophical thought which does not find support elsewhere in the NT, and which did not afterward meet with wide approval in the Church.’ And though this may be conceded, and though we must not be blind to the fact that the issues thus gloriously expressed were not fully thought out by the Apostle or applied to the question of Restoration, yet, based as they are upon the Person of Christ and supplemented by the principles of His teaching and revelation, they may be taken to express a sober and restrained hopefulness for the ultimate issue, which shall never for a moment be suffered to lessen the evangelic urgency that ‘Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6:2).

The hope of a final completion of the Divine purpose in the restoration from sin’s dominion of all mankind must derive much of its force from a contemplation of the alternatives; from the difficulty of supposing a Divine purpose and will eternally active yet never attaining to its desire, or of conceiving of any human soul as eternally incapable of responding to the all-pervasive Love of God, or of thinking of any eternal felicity of the blessed which can be undisturbed by the knowledge of living souls abiding in a hopeless doom. Alleviations of the idea of eternal punishment such as that of ‘Conditional Immortality’ offend almost equally against the fundamental instincts of the human heart, which cannot think that the All-wise and All-loving has created any soul in His own image to prove but a waste and an abortion.

‘Which else He made in vain—which must not be!’

Such thoughts are in the human intuition, and they are based upon the nature of God as made known to us in Christ Jesus, and upon the eternal Personality of Him ‘who was dead, and is alive for evermore; and hath the keys of death and the unseen world’ (Revelation 1:18). They are reinforced by the human love for its own kind, which at its highest finds voice in Browning (Saul):

‘Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this man,

And dare doubt He alone shall not help him, who yet alone can?’

And on these rests the conviction that ‘faith in the exceeding grandeur of reality shall never be confounded’ (Sir O. Lodge, Life and Matter).

Literature.—The subject is treated, in loc., by the following: various works on NT Theology; Salmond, Christ. Doct. of Immortality; Petavel, The Problem of Immortality (1892); Toy, Judaism and Christianity, ch. vii. (1892); Row, Future Retribution; Maurice, Theological Essays; R. H. Charles, Eschatology, chs. ix. x.; J. Fyfe, The Hereafter (1890); Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, English translation i. pp. 364–408, ii. pp. 340–374. W. R. Alger, Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life10 [Note: 0 designates the particular edition of the work referred] (1880), is critical from the point of view of a past generation, but contains, amid much strained and perverse exegesis, and considerable rhetoric, many illuminating suggestions in favour of a final Restoration. On the same or kindred lines, but with truer exegesis, are Farrar, Eternal Hope (1878), Mercy and Judgment (1881); Cox, Salvator Mundi: Is Christ the Saviour of all Men? (1877); Jukes, The Second Death and the Restitution of all Things (1888); Plumptre, Spirits in Prison (see pp. 193–204 for citation of divines, ancient and modern, in favour of Restoration); Letters of Erskine of Linlathen—one on ‘Final Salvation of all.’

T. H. Wright.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Restoration'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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