After browsing around the internet lately, I’ve come more and more to identify and ever-growing problem among Preterists: which really shows how deceptive the whole movement has become. I speak of the doctrines of popular Epicureanism. Well, what exactly is Epicureanism?–and how is it dangerous? In the course of this brief article, I hope to answer these questions, and to do something toward pointing the way back to truth.
To begin with, we must acknowledge that error is somewhat contagious, especially when it becomes ingrained by custom. Once you or I have an erroneous concept firmly lodged in our system of beliefs, and when we see these beliefs daily given support and credence by all those with whom we affiliate, the more difficult it will be to have it removed–unless, of course, we happen to be among those individuals whose opinions are always changing in light of new facts: scientific individuals, in fact, who ought practically to inhabit a laboratory, but whose opinions regarding theology are sometimes worth listening to.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who did not believe in a future existence. He held that the soul is mortal. He taught that God is far withdrawn from the concerns of humanity, that He is neither pleased by worship nor moved to anger. He placed the sum of man’s existence in this world, and taught that heaven and hell are experienced now–in this life. Epicurus believed the chief good of man to be pleasure of the soul.
Thus, we are not to confound his teachings with those of Aristippus, who held pleasure of the body to be the chief good, resorting oft to the infamous courtesan Lais–but must identify his doctrine as sitting at a slightly higher level. By professing the pleasures of the soul as the highest good, Epicurus taught that we ought to create a heaven for ourselves on earth: that we ought to surround ourselves with beautiful things, plant gardens, listen to music and poetry, and enjoy life to its fullest. That was the sum of his teachings.
And why did Epicurus teach these things? Well, I suppose because he had nothing to look forward to! He forgot, or at least overlooked, the important relation that exists between creature and the Creator; namely that man was created to serve and honor God, and that we owe Him filial duty as to a Father, and servile duty as to a Lord–for God is both Father and Lord of His children. Epicurus forgot that no reward can possibly be given in this life, for it is full of evil; and it is the office of virtue to endure hardship. Moreover, as the worst hardship is the endurance of death, it is evident that virtue cannot have its reward in this life. But it will have its reward in the world to come.
I suppose that Epicurus did not place a very high premium on virtue. Or at any rate, he must have taught that it is negligible, inasmuch as God can never be moved by our tears or anguish or laughter or joy. Inhabiting a vacuum, He sits motionless, immoveable–yes, completely happy and content, but having no thought for those who serve Him.
It was only natural that the philosopher would pattern “the perfect man” after his own god. After all, why should the sufferings of others move our hearts, if God Himself is not mindful of the evils of this world? When persecuted, why not just avoid destruction? Epicurus, not knowing that the soul must continue to live after the body dies, referred all the benefits of his philosophy to the present life. And so he taught men to lower themselves to the level of brutes.
But this is all wrong. For isn’t man above the beasts of the field? Truly, the irrational animals, if left to make their choice, would also choose pleasure as the highest good. For when they have enough pasture and fodder, and are safe from the injuries and depredations of other animals, they bask in contentment. But man is distinguished from the animal creation by wisdom: and wisdom consists in the knowledge of Divine things. In fact, while the lesser creation looks to earth, man alone has an upright form. This ought to have taught Epicurus that, while all created beings look to this world as their highest good, man has his countenance raised to heaven, that he may seek his good in GOD. His reward is not in this life, but in the next.
Of course, if we are taught that there’s nothing to look forward to anymore, but that all things are fulfilled, we’ll find ourselves sliding backward into the heathen philosophy of Epicurus. It is not, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Rather, the motto becomes, “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for we have eternal blessings now.”
It is natural, I suppose, to assume that they who have eternal life in this world are already beyond punishment. For if they can to “lose” their life, then it is clearly not eternal. But, if they have eternal life, then however they live in this world cannot affect their standing with God. The logical consequences of this doctrine are quite radical. For, if I already have my eternal rewards now, then I may as well just throw away my Bible and live unto myself. But, someone will say: “No, that is not how we must view it. For nobody who has eternal life will want to live unto himself, because he is a child of God.”
How do we respond? Truly, if we are children of God, we are subject to God’s laws–in reality, and not in appearance only. Being subject to His laws, we incur penalties for disobedience, but are given rewards for obedience. However, if there are neither punishments nor rewards, then we are really not subject to any laws; else our “subjection” is just a mockery and an illusion.
I say again, if we have our eternal rewards now, then we are beyond any legal requirement. For, suppose a race is run by ten individuals. As long as the finish line is not yet crossed, no rewards will be given. But as soon as the first athlete crosses the finish line, then he obtains the top prize. And when all the others have crossed over and earned their respective rewards, the contest is called to an end. Now, at that point it would be foolish for any man to say that they are still running the race. In like manner, it is vain for any man to affirm that once we have our eternal rewards there can be any actual subjection to God’s laws. For merits can no longer be accrued after the rewards are handed out.
Dear friends, let no man deceive you when he says that we must maintain simply an appearance of law, when clearly there is none in fact. And, indeed, who are they really fooling? For none of these Epicureans follow their own teachings. For some of them live worse than the heathen of old, immersing themselves in lusts and godless pleasures, in selfishness, in avarice and pride, in envy, and in lawless struggles against their fellow man. They, in referring the plenitude of blessings to this present evil world, revel in their affinity to the brute creation, which having flesh as we do, live according to the present hour.
Even worse, they deny God the right to penalize them for their unjust conversation. For, following these teachings to their logical conclusions, yet another error becomes manifest. If all things have been fulfilled, and the eternal rewards handed out, then punishments, too, must be at an end. If men are no longer rewarded for obeying God’s commands, then neither are they punished for transgressing them. But if our rewards are now, then our punishments are also now.
This is a wonderful contradiction. If rewards and punishments are had in this life, then clearly all are still under God’s laws. And if God’s laws are still in effect, then the final rewards and punishments must be referred to a future point in time. How, then, can one say, “I have the rewards in my hand?” But if you have your rewards, others have their punishments. And punishments often make men change the conduct of their lives. So, if a man is punished in this life, he may repent and change his conduct for the better. And, should he amend his faults, and walk after God’s laws in sincerity of heart and purpose, who would be so foolish as to claim that God will not reward him?
But if God rewards the wicked man who repents, leaving the paths of evil to persevere in loving obedience, then God will certainly punish the good man who leaves obedience behind and walks after his own desires and lusts. Wherefore, let no man refer God’s eternal rewards and punishments to the present life. For in this life our characters and conduct are changeable. And nothing subject to change can be eternal. Obviously, if our present state were eternal, then it would also be immutable. But we see that this is not the case.
We experience continual change and flux, even in our spiritual lives. And so, like leaven, our souls ought to rise in continual progress and supplication to God. And why else are we sealed with the Spirit, if not because He moves us to live according to the will of Christ, in Whom alone our souls will find rest?
But Christ is above, not below. If He were below, then we should see Him as He really is: for then we should be like Him. But, we are still subject to the temptations of the flesh and of this world; and Christ is beyond these temptations: for He died, and is risen. Then, truly, we are not like Him. Nor can He be said to have returned. We are still making progress toward a future goal. We are still walking after God and hoping for the eternal inheritance. These truths preclude any kind of Epicureanism.
So what do we say? Away with these vain speculations! For they are surely vain. By placing eternal things in the present, Christians have revived the lies of heathen philosophers. And this is the cause of much of today’s spiritual apathy and stagnation.
Make no mistake, friends. There is a strong connection between Preterism and Epicureanism which mustn’t be ignored. And those who leave Preterism behind will also be forced to ditch their erroneous concepts regarding their present salvation. We are not “saved already;” we are “being saved.” And only those who follow Christ’s commandments will receive the inheritance of eternal life.
In our day it is too often we hear the phrase that “Jesus did it all for us;” and that “the covenant was made for us.” Such concepts are totally at variance with the Gospel preached by Christ and His blessed apostles. The Blood Covenant is not a unilateral contract that allows us a free ticket to heaven, but a two-sided compact between God and ourselves. Through the offering up of the sacrificial Lamb, we obtain forgiveness of sins and access to Divine grace, but eternal salvation is consequent upon our following God and keeping His commandments. Only they that do such will be made partakers of the Divine nature. Only they who deny the things of this world will enter into the blessings of the next. And those who hold to an Epicurean Gospel will one day find their pretensions melt into “vanity and vexation of spirit.”