In a previous article we sought to exhibit the meaning of the words commonly
translated "for ever" and "eternal" in our A.V., and this naturally leads us
on to a consideration of the nature of the punishment of the unsaved. It is
held by many that "eternal conscious suffering" is a fundamental, and many
have been put out of meetings for being what is called "non-eternity" men. A
most important reason why we should be convinced of this matter is the awful
libel it must be on the name of God should it turn out to be untrue.
If we have taught that God will punish the unsaved throughout the never-ending
ages of eternity, that after millions of years spent in writhing and cursing,
the God of righteous judgment has only just commenced the dreadful work of
punishment on these unhappy creatures, and finally it should prove to be but
the tradition of men, what a shameful calumny will be found in our mouths
against the God of all grace! If eternal conscious suffering is God's truth,
we can never hold our peace, but must use every possible means to bring before
our hearers the horrible doom that awaits the impenitent.
Our minds cannot conceive what eternal torment can mean. Orthodoxy has no
room in its dreadful creed for the exercise of the slightest pity. The foul
murderer and the simplest child, the ignorant and the debased, all alike are
heaped into its horrid "Hell"; all alike are to be placed upon the rack for
ever. We shudder when we gaze upon the instruments of cruelty of bygone days,
but they are nothing, absolutely nothing, when compared to the exquisite
tortures reserved by the orthodox believers' God for all the unsaved. It
makes one sicken to think of these things; its effect upon those who really
believe it may be gathered from such a statement made by Queen Mary years
"As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in Hell,
there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the divine vengeance
by burning them on earth" (Bishop Burnett).
Of course, she ignored the words, "vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord,"but
nevertheless her creed compelled her deed. Dr. Pettingell quotes from
Hopkins' Works, Vol. II., and gives the following comment upon the "smoke of
their torment ":D
"This display of the divine character and glory will be most entertaining,
and give the highest pleasure to those who love God, and raise their happiness
to ineffable heights."
Of course, if this is what God will do, His saints must of necessity rejoice
therein. He further says that should this fearful scene of torment and
"cease, and this fire be extinguished, it would in a great measure obscure the
light of heaven, and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of
Oh, Lord, is this true? Our hearts cry out, shall we be so changed that we
shall, unmoved, witness this writhing, suffering mass, nay, witness the
tortures of some of our own dear ones with calm enjoyment, giving glory to
God, can it be? Is this the truth of God? We have not overstated the
conceptions of Hell that have been expressed by some of our leading
evangelical preachers. Who among us has not at some time or another read with
profit the Works of Dr. Jonathan Edwards, yet he is quoted in a pamphlet
before us as saying :-
"Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven or a great furnace . . .
Imagine also that your body were to be there for a quarter of an hour, full of
fire, and all the while full of quick sense, what horror would you feel at the
endurance of such a furnace, and how long would that quarter of an hour seem
to you. O, how then would your heart sink if you knew that you must bear it
for ever and ever; that there would be no end, that after millions and
millions of ages your torment would be no nearer to an end, and that you
never, never should be delivered."
Some reader may say, Why fill your pages with such revolting things? Because,
dear reader, we are going to face the truth, to shut our eyes to nothing, and
if eternal conscious suffering is truth, we desire to receive it in all its
horror, and all its despair. Confident are we that were we to fill ten
thousand pages with the most harrowing descriptions that the human mind could
conceive, it would be as nothing in comparison to the dreadful reality of
eternal conscious suffering.
What saith the Scriptures concerning this subject? Certain it is that we read
the words, "everlasting punishment." Let us consider this passage, it is
found in Matt. xxv. 46, "And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but
the righteous into eternal life." We have quoted from the R.V. because it
gives the word eternal in both instances. We are often reminded that the
duration of the punishment must be the same as the duration of the life
mentioned in the same verse, and to this, of course, we most heartily agree.
We know of a Mission where the solemn words were exhibited in large
characters, "Everlasting Punishment." This method of treating Scripture is
to say the least unfair; let us have the whole truth. If the everlasting
punishment of Matt. xxv. is truth for the present time, so also is the
everlasting life of Matt. xxv., and upon the terms of Matt. xxv., without any
man-made alteration. Who are they that receive everlasting life here, and who
"When the Son of man shall come in His glory . . . then shall He sit upon the
throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations."
The whole passage relates to the judgment of the nations who are on the earth
at the end of the period covered by the great tribulation. The gospel of the
grace of God is not in view; the kingdom and eternal life are the portion of
those who gave meat and drink, clothing and consolation to the brethren of the
King. Let us then be consistent; let those who apply the everlasting
punishment of Matt. xxv. preach everlasting life upon the conditions laid down
in that chapter. If they cannot, where is their warrant for thus picking and
choosing in this vital matter? Who told them that the method of punishment
mentioned here is to be indiscriminately applied to old and young, moral and
immoral, skeptic and heathen, during all time and under all circumstances?
The whole thing is a piece of unwarrantable and mischievous mutilation of
Scripture at the dictation of the needs of their own horrible traditions. The
very ones who emphasize the eternal punishment of Matt. xxv. are among the
first to condemn a gospel of works, and yet such are the terms for obtaining
eternal life in the self-same chapter. Are not such guilty of partiality?
We have not finished with this passage, however; let us thrash the matter out.
What is this word "punishment"? Does the word mean "torment," "torture,"
"suffering"? Yes, say some, all this and more. The word translated
"punishment" is kolasis, defined as "restraint" in Dr. Young's Analytical
Concordance, and means literally "cutting off," as in the pruning of a tree.
This meaning of the word is further emphasized by a parallel passage of the
Old Testament (Psalm xxxvii. 22):D
Psalm xxxvii. 22:
"Such as be blessed of Him shall
inherit the earth; and
they that be cursed of Him shall be
Matt. xxv. 34, 41, 46:
"Come, ye blessed of My Father,
inherit the kingdom.
Depart from Me, ye cursed . . . into
everlasting punishment (cutting off).
There are not a few who tell us that the passage should read everlasting
punishing." Let us apply the rule which guides them, to such a passage as
Heb. ix. 12, "Having obtained eternal redemption." This should read, if the
above is true, "everlasting redeeming." The work of redemption according to
this is never finished; all through eternity we are being redeemed, a doctrine
flatly contradicted by both the Scriptures, and by the very same preachers
who, to suit their purpose, read "punishing" for "punishment" in Matthew xxv.
The punishment here spoken of, both in Psalm xxxvii. and Matt. xxv., is to be
"eternally cut off." To deprive of life and all that conscious existence
means is the highest form of punishment that this world knows, and it is
called "capital punishment." It is the punishment prescribed by God to Noah
(Gen. ix.), a reflection of the judgment reserved by God Himself for the
finally impenitent. How many there are who turn to Rev. xx.10 as a proof text
for eternal torment:D
"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and
brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and they shall be
tormented day and night for ever and ever."
First let us notice who they are that are tormented. Three persons:
THE DEVIL . . THE BEAST, . . . AND THE FALSE PROPHET.
That these three are supernatural beings is not difficult to prove (cf. Rev.
xvi. 13 and xvii. 8), yet the punishment of these three awful beings is
indiscriminately meted out to all of every race and age among the unsaved.
But a further consideration is necessary, the words are "unto the ages of the
ages" (rendered "for ever and ever"). "Unto" does not mean "throughout"; these
are punished "unto" the dawning of the "ages of the ages," but not
"throughout" those ages. We also have an indication, that the period covered
by this judgment shall come to an end, by the added words "day and night."
Day and night mark the dispensations that lead through from Gen. i. to Rev.
xxi., but there comes a time when the words shall be fulfilled, "There shall
be no night there" (Rev. xxi. 25), even as there shall be "no more sea," and
"no more curse," &c.
The same clause "day and night" must be allowed its bearing upon other similar
passages, eg., Rev. xiv. 9-11. The expression, "the smoke of their torment
ascendeth up for ever and ever" (Rev. xiv. 11), and "her smoke rose up for
ever and ever" (Rev. xix. 3) is also emphasized by many as teaching the
doctrine of eternal torment. If we turn, however, to Isaiah xxxiv. 8D10, we
shall find the passage which supplies the figure in Revelation. For the
imagery of the Apocalypse is that with which the Old Testament prophets were
quite familiar. Moreover, the period of time mentioned in Isa. xxxiv. points
to the period of Revelation, "The day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of
recompenses for the controversy of Zion" (cf. Rev. i. 10). The judgment
"The streams thereof shaII become burning pitch . . . it shall not be
quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever . . . none
shall pass through it for ever."
Let those who will have the passages of Revelation to mean eternity, act
honourably with this, and proclaim faithfully to their traditions, but in
opposition to the Scriptures, that in the new heavens and new earth this
burning pitch, this unquenchable fire, this ascending smoke will mar the
perfection of that ultimate of redeeming love. They have only to read the
opening verses of the very next chapter in Isaiah to be confuted, "The parched
land shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water."
Another passage, so often quoted in this connection, is Mark ix. 44, "Where
their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched". Special attention is
called to the word "their." We are asked to notice that the Lord does not say
"the worm," but their worm." The gnawing of the individual conscience is
among the many things that this expression is made to mean. The fallacy of
the traditional interpretation, and at the same time, the true meaning of the
passage, is found by turning to the Old Testament scripture from which the
Lord Jesus quotes, viz., Isaiah Ixvi. 24:D
"And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have
transgressed against Me, for their worm shall not die, neither shall their
fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."
Here the Scriptures tell us that carcases are the objects of this worm and
fire, and all the learning and argument in the world cannot make us believe
that carcases can be subject to conscious suffering, yet the word "their"
which is so emphasized is found here twice. Further, when we know that the
word "Hell" of Mark ix. 43 is Gehenna (the place where the offal and rubbish
were consumed outside the city), the figure of destruction is all the more
We have not touched upon the positive teaching of the Scriptures as to the
"wages of sin," but have sought to lay before the reader some of the
statements and proof texts which are used to support that which we have become
convinced is a lie, and a most God-dishonouring doctrine. In our next article
we shall (D.V.) seek to show what the Lord has said with regard to this
tremendous subject. Meanwhile, we ask our readers during the next two months
to make a collection of the statements of Paul in his epistles upon this
subject, for surely, if eternal conscious suffering is a truth of Scripture,
the apostle to the Gentiles will say so somewhere. Let us not fear the face
of man, but think of the honour of the Lord, the libel upon His sacred name,
and the contradiction against His holy Word involved in the Romish (and alas
Protestant) doctrine of eternal conscious suffering. [WAGES
OF SIN PART 2]