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§ 6. Future Punishment.
Our Lord in his account of the final judgment says, that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
The sufferings of the finally impenitent, according to the Scriptures, arise: (1.) From the loss of all earthly good. (2.) From exclusion from the presence and favour of God. (3.) From utter reprobation, or the final withdrawal from them of the Holy Spirit. (4.) From the consequent unrestrained dominion of sin and sinful passions. (5.) From the operations of conscience. (6.) From despair. (7.) From their evil associates. (8.) From their external circumstances; that is, future suffering is not exclusively the natural consequences of sin, but also includes positive inflictions. (9.) From their perpetuity.
There seems to be no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm. The devil and his angels who are to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, and whose doom the finally impenitent are to share, have no material bodies to be acted upon by elemental fire. As there are to be degrees in the glory and blessedness of heaven, as our Lord teaches us in the parable of the ten talents, so there will be differences as to degree in the sufferings of the lost: some will be beaten with few stripes, some with many.
The Duration of Future Punishment.
On this subject the following opinions have been held: —
1. It is assumed that the design of punishment is reformation, and that it is effective to that end. The time will, therefore, come when all sinful creatures, whether men or angels, shall be purged from all corruption, and restored to the image and favour of God. This was the doctrine of Origen in the early Church. 869Other restorationists rest their hope of the ultimate salvation of all men, not on the purifying effect of suffering, but on the efficacy of the death of Christ. If He died for all, they infer, all will be saved.
2. Others hold that future punishment is only hypothetically everlasting. That is, the wicked will suffer forever if they continue to sin forever. But, if the Spirit continues to strive with men m the world to come, or, as others believe, if plenary ability belongs to the very nature of a rational creature, then we may assume that some, perhaps many, perhaps all, in the course of ages, will repent and turn unto God and live.
3. Others again teach that the sufferings of the impenitent are only relatively endless; that is, it will forever be true that their condition will be inferior to what it would have been had they been better men.
4. Others hold that the life promised to the righteous is immortality, and that the death threatened against the wicked is the extinction of life, or, the cessation of conscious existence. The soul will die in the future world, just as the body dies here. It ceases to act; it ceases to feel; it ceases to be. This death of the soul is called eternal, because life is never to be restored. The punishment of the wicked is, therefore, in a sense, everlasting. It is a final and everlasting forfeiture of all good. Thus Cicero888888Tusculanarum Disputationum, I. xlii. 100; Works, edit. Leipzig, 1850, p. 1057, b. calls death “sempiternum malum,” and Lucretius889889See Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, iii. 517-519, edit. London, 1712, p. 144. speaks of a “mors immortalis.” This second death may be very painful and protracted. The finally impenitent, may, and doubtless will, suffer for a longer or shorter period, and to a less or greater degree, before the final extinction of their being. And thus there shall be a future retribution, answering all the ends of justice.890890This theory is advocated with confidence, as well as with ability and learning, by Henry Constable, A. M., Prebendary of Cork, in his tract on The Duration and Nature of Future Punishment, Reprinted from the Second London Edition, New Haven, Conn., 1872. And much more elaborately in Debt and Grace as related to the Doctrine of a Future Life. By C. F. Hudson. Fifth Edition. Boston: 1859.
5. The common doctrine is, that the conscious existence of the soul after the death of the body is unending; that there is no repentance or reformation in the future world; that those who depart this life unreconciled to God, remain forever in this state of alienation, and therefore are forever sinful and miserable. This is the doctrine of the whole Christian Church, of the Greeks, of the Latins, and of all the great historical Protestant bodies.870
It is obvious that this is a question which can be decided only by divine revelation. No one can reasonably presume to decide how long the wicked are to suffer for their sins upon any general principles of right and wrong. The conditions of the problem are not within our grasp. What the infinitely wise and good God may see fit to do with his creatures; or what the exigencies of a government embracing the whole universe and continuing throughout eternal ages, may demand, it is not for such worms of the dust as we are, to determine. If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, all we have to do is to ascertain what it teaches on this subject, and humbly submit.
1. It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it. There is no other way in which this unanimity of judgment can be accounted for. To refer it to some philosophical speculation which had gained ascendancy in the Church, such as the dualism of good and evil as two coeternal and necessary principles, or the Platonic doctrine of the inherent immortality and indestructible nature of the human soul, would be to assign a cause altogether inadequate to the effect. Much less can this general consent be accounted for on the ground that the doctrine in question is congenial to the human mind, and is believed for its own sake, without any adequate support from Scripture. The reverse is the case. It is a doctrine which the natural heart revolts from and struggles against, and to which it submits only under stress of authority. The Church believes the doctrine because it must believe it, or renounce faith in the Bible and give up all the hopes founded upon its promises. There is no doctrine in support of which this general consent can be pleaded, which can be shown not to be taught in the Bible. The doctrines of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirits the sinfulness of men, and others of a like kind, are admitted to be Scriptural even by those who do not believe them. The argument now urged, does not suppose the Church to be infallible; nor that the authority of the Church is the ground of faith; it only assumes that what the great body of the competent readers of a plain book take to be its meaning, must be its meaning.
It is unreasonable to account for the general reception of the doctrine in question on the ground of church authority. It was universally received before the external Church arrogated to itself the right to dictate to the people of God what they must believe 871and it continued to be received when, at the Reformation, the authority of the Church was repudiated, and the Scriptures were declared to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Any man, therefore, assumes a fearful responsibility who sets himself in opposition to the faith of the Church universal.
2. It is admitted that the doctrine of the perpetuity of the future punishment of the wicked was held by the Jews under the old dispensation, and at the time of Christ. Neither our Lord nor his Apostles ever contradicted that doctrine. They reproved the false teachers of their day for doctrinal errors on many points, but they never corrected their faith in this doctrine. They never teach anything inconsistent with it. Their recorded instructions give no ground for a belief either of the final restoration of all rational creatures to the favour of God, or of the annihilation of the wicked. The passages which are appealed to by Universalists in support of their doctrine admit of a natural and simple interpretation in harmony with the general teaching of the Bible on this subject. For example, in Ephesians i. 10, it is said to be the purpose of God to bring into one harmonious whole (or, as it is expressed in Colossians i. 20, to reconcile unto Himself) all things, i.e., all, who are in heaven and who are on earth. The question is, who, or what are the all, who are to be reconciled unto God? This question must be answered by a reference to the nature of the thing spoken of, and to the analogy of Scripture. It cannot mean absolutely “all things,” the whole universe, including sun, moon, and stars, for they are not susceptible of reconciliation to God. For the same reason it cannot mean all sensitive creatures, including irrational animals. Nor can it mean all rational creatures, including the holy angels; for they do not need reconciliation. Nor can it mean all fallen rational creatures, for it is expressly taught, Hebrews ii. 16, that Christ did not come to redeem fallen angels. Nor can it mean all men, for the Bible teaches elsewhere that all men are not reconciled to God; and Scripture cannot contradict Scripture; for that would be for God to contradict Himself. The “all” intended is the “all” spoken of in the context; the whole body of the people of God; all the objects of redemption.
Restorationists appeal also to Romans v. 18: “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” This is made to mean, that as all men are condemned for Adam’s offence, so all men are justified 872for the righteousness of Christ. The same interpretation is put upon the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians xv. 22: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In both these passages, however, the “all” is necessarily limited by the context. It is the all who are in Adam, that die; and the all who are in Christ, that are made alive. Restorationists limit the word to all men, or to all fallen creatures, in obedience to what they suppose to be the analogy of Scripture; and this is all that is done by the orthodox. The only question is, What do the Scriptures elsewhere teach? If they clearly teach that all men and fallen angels are to be saved, then these passages must be interpreted accordingly; but if they teach that all men are not saved, then these passages cannot be understood to assert the contrary. Of themselves they decide nothing. They may be understood in two ways; which is their real meaning depends on what is taught elsewhere.
The same remark may be made in reference to other passages which Universalists rely upon. Thus in 1 Corinthians xv. 25, it is said that Christ “must reign, until He hath put all enemies under his feet.” This may mean that He must reign until all sin and misery are banished from the universe; but this is not its necessary meaning, for Satan may be subdued without being either converted or annihilated. In like manner, in 1 Timothy ii. 4, it is said God “will have all men to be saved;” if the word will, θέλει, here means to purpose, then the passage teaches that all men shall ultimately be certainly saved. But if the word means here what it does in Matthew xxvii. 43, to have complacency in, (εἰ θέλει αὐτόν,) then it teaches only what the Bible everywhere else teaches, namely, that God is love; that He delights not in the death of sinners. It is to pervert, and to misinterpret the Word of God, to make one passage contradict another simply because the language used admits of an explanation which brings them into conflict. The question is not, What certain words may mean? but, What were they intended to mean as used in certain connections?
If Christ and his Apostles did not teach that all men are to be saved, neither did they teach that the wicked are to be annihilated Mr. Constable, in his work above referred to, lays down the principle that the language of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, is to be interpreted according to the “usus loquendi” of the Greek writers. We are to go to our classical dictionaries to learn the meaning of the words they use. From this principle 873he infers that as the word ζωή, life, in ordinary Greek, means continued existence, and θανατός, death, the cessation of existence, such is their meaning in the Scriptures. Therefore, when in the Bible eternal life is promised to the righteous, immortality is promised to them; and when eternal death is threatened against the wicked, annihilation is declared to be their doom. A Greek-speaking people, he says, could attach no other meaning to such language. In like manner as the words which we translate to destroy, or cause to perish, mean to blot out of existence, the inference is that when the wicked are said to be destroyed, or to perish, it can only mean that they are annihilated.
On this it may be remarked, —
1. That the rule of interpretation here laid down is obviously incorrect, and its application would reduce the doctrines of the Bible to the level of heathenism. If Greek words as used in Scripture express no higher ideas than on the lips of Pagans, then we can have only the thoughts of Pagans in the Bible. On this principle, how could the Gospel be preached to heathen? to the Hindoos, for example, if they were forbidden to attach to the words God, sin, repentance, and a holy life, no other ideas than those suggested by the corresponding terms of their own language? The Bible, so far as written in Greek, must be understood as Greek. But the “usus loquendi” of every language varies more or less in different ages, and as spoken by different tribes and nations. Every one admits that Hellenistic Greek has a usage distinguishing it from the language of the classics. The language of the Bible must explain the language of the Bible. It has a “usus loquendi” of its own. It is, however, not true that the words life and death (ζωή, and θάνατος) are in any language used only in the limited sense which Mr. Constable’s argument would assign to them. When the poet said, “dum vivimus vivamus,” he surely did not mean to say, ‘while we continue to exist, let us continue to exist.’ The Scriptures written in the language of men use words as men are accustomed to use them, literally or figuratively, and in senses suited to the nature of the subjects to which they are applied. The word life means one thing when used of plants, another when used of animals, and another when spoken of in reference to the soul of man. The death of a plant is one thing, the death of an immortal soul is something entirely different. That the words life and death are not confined to the limited sense in which annihilationists would take them, hardly needs to be proved. The Scriptures everywhere 874recognize the distinction, in reference to men, between animal, intellectual, and spiritual life. A man may have the two former and be destitute of the latter. God quickens those dead in trespasses and sins; that is, he imparts spiritual life to those who are in the full vigour of their animal and intellectual being. Therefore we are told that the favour of God is life; that to know God is eternal life; that to be spiritually minded is life and that to be carnally minded is death. The Apostle tells the Colossians: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” He says to the Galatians: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Those who “live in pleasure” are said to be “dead while they live.” No one believes that the word life in such Scriptural phrases as “the bread of life,” “the water of life,” “the tree of life,” “the crown of life,” means only continued existence. The word, when used of the soul of man, means not only conscious being, but a normal state of being in the likeness, fellowship, and enjoyment of God. And in like manner the word death, when spoken of the soul, means alienation or separation from God; and when that separation is final it is eternal death. This is so plain that it never has been doubted, except for the purpose of supporting the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked.
2. The same remark applies to the use of the words destroy and perish. To destroy is to ruin. The nature of that ruin depends on the nature of the subject of which it is predicated. A thing is ruined when it is rendered unfit for use; when it is in such a state that it can no longer answer the end for which it was designed. A ship at sea, dismasted, rudderless, with its sides battered in, is ruined, but not annihilated. It is a ship still. A man destroys himself when he ruins his health, squanders his property, debases his character, and renders himself unfit to act his part in life. A soul is utterly and forever destroyed when it is reprobated, alienated from God, rendered a fit companion only for the devil and his angels. This is a destruction a thousandfold more fearful than annihilation. The earnestness with which the doctrine of the unending punishment of the wicked is denounced by those who reject it, should convince them that its truth is the only rational solution of the fact that Christ and his Apostles did not condemn it.
3. But Christ and the Apostles not only failed to correct the teachings of the Jews of their day concerning the everlasting punishment of the wicked, but they themselves also taught that 875doctrine in the most explicit and solemn manner. It is asserted affirmatively that future punishment is everlasting; in the negative form that it can never end; that there is in the future world an impassable gulf between the righteous and the wicked; and that there are sins which can never be forgiven either in this life or in the life to come. Thus if words can teach this doctrine it is taught in the Bible from the beginning to the end. In the Old Testament, the prophet says (Is. xxxiii. 14): “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites; who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings.” In Isaiah lxvi. 24 it is said of those who should be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth which the prophet had predicted, “that their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” “Hell,” however, “is of both worlds, so that in the same essential sense, although in different degrees, it may be said both of him who is still living but accursed, and of him who perished centuries ago, that his worm dieth not and his fire is not quenched.”891891The Prophecies of Isaiah Translated and Explained. By Joseph Addison Alexander. New York, 1865, vol. ii. p. 482. The prophet Daniel (xii. 2) says of the wicked, that they “shall awake . . . . to shame and everlasting contempt.” In Luke iii. 17 it is said that Christ shall “gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.” In Mark ix. 42-48 our Lord says that it is better “to enter into life maimed, than, having two hands, to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” These awful words fell three times, in one discourse, from the lips of mercy, to give them the greater effect. Christ wept over Jerusalem. Why did He not avert its doom? Simply because it would not have been right. So He may weep over the doom of the impenitent wicked; and yet leave them to their fate. It is no more possible that the cup should pass from their lips than that it should have been taken from the trembling hand of the Son of God himself. The latter spectacle was far more appalling in the eyes of angels than the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The Judge on the last day, we are told, will say to those on the left hand: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” The same word is used in both clauses; the wicked are to go εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον; and the 876righteous εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον; it must have the same sense in both. (Matt. xxv. 41, 46.) In John iii. 36 it is said: “‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Paul teaches us in 2 Thessalonians i. 9 that when Christ comes the wicked “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Jude (verse 6) says that the angels which kept not their first estate are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah . . . . are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Of apostates, he says (verses 12, 13) there is reserved for them “the blackness of darkness forever.” In Revelation xiv. 9-11, those who worship the beast and his image or receive his mark, shall “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.” Nearly the same words are repeated in chapters xix. 1-3, 20; xx. 10.
It is objected to the argument founded on these passages that the word “everlasting” is sometimes used in Scripture of periods of limited duration. In reference to this objection it may be remarked, (1.) That the Hebrew and Greek words rendered in our version eternal, or everlasting, mean duration whose termination is unknown. When used in reference to perishable things, as when the Bible speaks of “the everlasting hills,” they simply indicate indefinite existence, that is, existence to which there is no known or assignable limit. But when used in reference to that which is either in its own nature imperishable, or of which the unending existence is revealed, as the human soul or in reference to that which we have no authority from other sources to assign a limit to, as the future blessedness of the saints, then the words are to be taken in their literal sense. If. because we sometimes say we give a man a thing forever, without intending that he is to possess it to all eternity, it were argued that the word forever expresses limited duration, every one would see that the inference was unfounded. If the Bible says that the sufferings of the lost are to be everlasting, they are to endure forever, unless it can be shown either that the soul is not immortal or that the Scriptures elsewhere teach that those sufferings are to come to an end. No one argues that the blessedness of the righteous will cease after a term of years, because the word everlasting 877is sometimes used of things which do not continue forever. Our Lord teaches that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting, in the same sense that the blessedness of the saints is everlasting. (2.) It is to be remembered, that admitting the word “everlasting” to be ever so ambiguous, the Bible says that the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. We have therefore the direct assertion of the word of God that the sufferings of the lost are unending. All the modes of expression used to set forth the perpetuity of the salvation of believers and the everlasting duration of the kingdom of Christ, are employed to teach the perpetuity of the future punishment of the wicked. If that doctrine, therefore, be not taught in the Scriptures, it is difficult to see how it could be taught in human language.
4. A fourth argument on this subject is drawn from passages in which the doctrine is implied, although not directly asserted. This includes those passages which teach that there is no repentance, no forgiveness, no change of state in the future world. This is done, for example, in our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which He teaches that there is no possibility of passing from hell to heaven. So, also, we are taught that those who die in sin remain sinful forever. And our Lord says, it would be better for a man had he never been born, than that he should incur the guilt of offending any of the little ones who believe on Him. This, at least, is conclusive against the doctrine of universal salvation; for if, after any period of suffering, an eternity of happiness awaits a man, his being born is an unspeakable blessing.
Rationalists say that it is very impolitic for Christians to represent the everlasting punishment of the wicked as a doctrine of the Bible. This is undoubtedly true. And so Paul felt that it was very impolitic to preach the doctrine of the Cross. He knew that doctrine to be a stumbling-block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. He knew that had he preached the common sense doctrine of salvation by works, the offence of the cross would have ceased. Nevertheless, he knew that the doctrine of Christ crucified was the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. He knew that it was not his business to make a Gospel, but to declare that Gospel which had been taught Him, by the revelation of Jesus Christ. It would be well if all who call themselves Christians, should learn that it is not their business to believe and teach what they may think true or right, but what God in his Holy Word has seen fit to reveal.878
It is urged that it cannot be consistent with the justice of God to inflict a really infinite penalty on such a creature as man. It is very obvious to remark on this subject: —
1. That we are incompetent judges of the penalty which sin deserves. We have no adequate apprehension of its inherent guilt, of the dignity of the person against whom it is committed, or of the extent of the evil which it is suited to produce. The proper end of punishment is retribution and prevention. What is necessary for that end, God only knows; and, therefore, the penalty which He imposes on sin is the only just measure of its ill desert.
2. If it be inconsistent with the justice of God that men should perish for their sins, then redemption is not a matter of grace, or undeserved mercy. Deliverance from an unjust penalty, is a matter of justice. Nothing, however, is plainer from the teaching of Scripture, and nothing is more universally and joyfully acknowledged by all Christians, than that the whole plan of redemption, the mission, the incarnation, and the sufferings and death of the Son of God for the salvation of sinners, is a wonderful exhibition of the love of God which passes knowledge. But if justice demand that all men should be saved, then salvation is a matter of justice; and then all the songs of gratitude and praise from the redeemed, whether in heaven or on earth, must at once cease.
3. It is often said that sin is an infinite evil because committed against a person of infinite dignity, and therefore deserves an infinite penalty. To this it is answered, that as sin is an act or state of a finite subject, it must of necessity be itself finite. Men are apt to involve themselves in contradictions when they attempt to reason about the infinite. The word is so vague and so comprehensive, and our ideas of what it is intended to express are so inadequate, that we are soon lost when we seek to make it a guide in forming our judgments. If the evil of a single sin, and that the smallest, lasts forever, it is in one sense an infinite evil, although in comparison with other sins, or with the whole mass of sin ever committed, it may appear a mere trifle. The guilt of sin is infinite in the sense that we can set no limits to its turpitude or to the evil which it is adapted to produce.
4. Relief on this subject is sought from the consideration that as the lost continue to sin forever they may justly be punished forever. To this, however, it is answered that the retributions of 879eternity are threatened for the sins done in the body. This is true; nevertheless; it is also true, first, that sin in its nature is alienation and separation from God; and as God is the source of all holiness and happiness, separation from Him is of necessity the forfeiture of all good; secondly, that this separation is from its nature final and consequently involves endless sinfulness and misery. It is thus final, unless on the assumption of the undeserved and supernatural intervention of God as in the case of the redemption of man; and thirdly, it is also true that from the nature of the case “the carnal mind is death.” Degradation and misery are inseparably connected with sin. As long as rational creatures are sinful, they must be degraded and miserable. There is no law of nature more immutable than this. If men do not expect God to reverse the laws of nature to secure their exemption from wanton transgression of those laws, why should they expect Him to reverse the still more immutable laws of our moral constitution and of his moral government? The doom of the fallen angels teaches us that one act of rebellion against God is fatal, whether we say that all they have suffered since, and all they are to suffer forever, is the penalty of that one act, or the inevitable consequence of the condition into which that one act brought them, makes no difference.
The Goodness of God.
A still more formidable objection is drawn from the goodness of God. It is said to be inconsistent with his benevolence that He should allow any of his creatures to be forever miserable. The answer to this is: —
1. That it is just as impossible that God should do a little wrong as a great one. If He has permitted such a vast amount of sin and misery to exist in the world, from the fall of Adam to the present time, how can we say that it is inconsistent with his goodness, to allow them to continue to exist? How do we know that the reasons, so to speak, which constrained God to allow his children to be sinful and miserable for thousands of years, may not constrain Him to permit some of them to remain miserable forever? If the highest glory of God and the good of the universe have been promoted by the past sinfulness and misery of men, why may not those objects be promoted by what is declared to be future?
2. We have reason to believe, as urged in the first volume of this work, and as often urged elsewhere, that the number of the 880finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saved will be very inconsiderable. Our blessed Lord, when surrounded by the innumerable company of the redeemed, will be hailed as the “Salvator Hominum,” the Saviour of Men, as the Lamb that bore the sins of the world.
3. It should constrain us to humility, and to silence on this subject, that the most solemn and explicit declarations of the everlasting misery of the wicked recorded in the Scriptures, fell from the lips of Him, who, though equal with God, was found in fashion as a man, and humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the cross, for us men and for our salvation.
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