On a sailing vessel which narrowly escaped loss with all hands on a voyage to America in 1832 there was a young medical man, John Thomas. Faced with death and taking stock of his religious beliefs, he realized how slender they were. He vowed that if his life was spared he would not rest till he had found truth.

After some years of Bible study and searching, he arrived at convictions which, in 1849, he put in a book called Elpis Israel. This book forms the effective starting point of the Christadelphian community.

The title, The Hope of Israel, is significant. It is taken from the words of the Apostle Paul: “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). The faith of the Christadelphians is grounded in history and looks forward to a fulfilment in history. It is rooted in the promises to Abraham of a permanent herit­age in the land which he looked on, north, south, east and west, of an everlasting covenant with God, and of blessing for all families of the earth in him and in his seed. It is therefore a hope bound up with events on this earth in the past and it looks forward to events on this earth in the future. In that sense it is not an “other worldly” hope, and it is not in the technical sense mystical.

The first foundation of the hope is therefore God’s act in creation; it is in the belief that “He hath estab­lished it (the earth), he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18). It is on this earth that to Him “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (v23). The earth itself is to be the scene of the consummation of God’s purpose with man.

Two implications follow from this. First, that God truly has a purpose with man which He Himself has declared, and which thus can be known only through His revelation. This means that He is a personal God, independent of man whom He has created. He has revealed Himself to men in many ways. He has spoken in giving promises, He has revealed Himself in acts of deliverance or of judgment, He has given His messages through prophets and apostles: and, having spoken “in many parts and in many ways” (Heb 1:1 YLT), He fully revealed Himself in His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. That rev­elation is known to us through the inspired Scriptures: the giving of the Scriptures is itself an act of God’s revelation. Christadelphians accept the Scriptures as fully inspired and the essential means of our knowing God today.

The second implication of the statement that earth is the scene of God’s purpose is this: that since the earth is the sphere where God’s glory is to be revealed, there cannot be any essential evil in matter. The creation is God’s and when His purpose is fully attained it will be sanctified by God.

Where then is the source of evil and imperfection? It is to be found in the wayward will of man: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights”; but “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14–15,17). Without free will man could not truly love God; yet with free will there must be the possibility of sin. Christadelphians therefore believe without any equivocation in the Fall of Man. They believe that moral evil has its source in man’s fallen nature; and consequently they do not believe in any principle or entity of evil outside of man and striving against God. It is man’s own impulse, his unregulated desire, his self-assertive pride, which is adverse to God and to man’s own good: and Christadelphians believe that the “Devil” and “Satan” are scriptural personifica­tions for this principle in man’s nature and its various manifestations in society.

As a necessary consequence of his nature, man is mortal, subject to death. In the universe of a holy and omnipotent God, who is also God of love, there is no place for immortal rebels or deathless sinners. Thus, when we read the words of Paul, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23), Christadelphians take these words simply and literally: death is earned, and in Paul’s words death “passed upon all men” (Rom 5:12); life is a gift granted through the chan­nel whom God has appointed, who is His Son. And the teaching of all the New Testament is that deathless life is given on the ground of faith in Christ Jesus – a living faith which bears fruit in obe­dience and which endures to the end.

A strong belief that life is only possible through God’s gift logically demands its opposite – an unflinch­ing recognition that death is death. By that I mean that death is dissolution, a ceasing to be, the end of consciousness. If, as the Psalmist says, in death there is no remembrance of God (Psa 6:5), it is hard to conceive that there can be remembrance of anything else.

From death so understood there can only be one way out, and that is through resurrection by the power of God: and this, and this alone, is the promised way to immortality for believers in Christ. The Christian hope is essentially a hope of resurrection, and not of the survival of death by inherent immortality. Life in Scripture is always bodily life.

Future life is made possible by God’s redeeming work in bringing men to Himself. For that end God gave His promises and took men into covenant with Himself. For that end He worked in history with Israel and spoke to them through the prophets. Above all, for that end He revealed Himself in His Son, and gave that Son to die on the Cross as the representative of men and for their sakes. For that end He raised Christ from the dead as the firstborn of a new creation, the firstfruits of them that are asleep.

Christ died on the Cross as the Sinless One, iden­tified with sinners, sharing their nature and heritage, bearing their burden. Such a death, in which sin was condemned, was a moral necessity to provide a way for God’s forgiveness of men consistent with God’s holi­ness; yet it was the supreme gift of God’s love.

Those who come to Christ in faith are called upon to identify themselves with Christ’s death in order that they may share in his risen life. This they do in the first place by confessing him, by being buried in water in his name and rising to new life in him with sins forgiven. Thus Christadelphians practise believers’ baptism by immersion as the appointed way to reconciliation with God.

Those who are Christ’s love his appearing (2 Tim 4:8); they look for his coming again, literally and bodily, to raise the dead, to judge those who are called to stand before him, and to grant immortality to those whom he recognizes as his own. His work then is to reign as King, establishing God’s Kingdom over all the earth so that all other rule and authority is brought into submission to him. Messianic rule is the last stage in the restoration of the world to God; and then the Son yields authority to the Father so that in a sinless earth God reigns all and in all.

Thus God’s work proceeds through creation, rev­elation, manifestation in Christ, and resurrection, to a creation fulfilled and consummated, so that it becomes a perfect expression of God’s will and a perfect vehicle for His glory.

It will be seen that this line of belief not only im­plies a denial of any natural immortality in man. It also implies a denial of any fundamental contrast between matter and spirit, as though matter was something to be discarded. It also implies denial of any power in man of effecting his own redemption. It therefore conflicts with any doctrine of inevitable human progress, or any idea of moral amelioration and a gradual spread of the Kingdom. Salvation in every sense – personal, individual, collective, social or political – is of God and from God and through God and in His Son. It is to be attained in God’s way, and in God’s time, and by God’s act: and the call to men is to identify themselves with His purpose so that they may share in it.

Footnotes

  1. The Christadelphian, June 1964, p262–264