By Reverend George Lindley Young, Newburyport, MASS
All others [than the redeemed] fail of this endlessly enduring life. So, as we have seen, they die, actually and utterly die, cease to live, and so come to an end as living beings. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). If we could but repeat this wonderful passage until the truth of it sinks into men’s hearts, we would not have lived in vain. For not to all, but to his own, does Christ give this endless life. “I give unto them (My sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28). How clear it all would be if men would but accept it as it reads.
But there has been discovered a way to evade this Biblical teaching. That is by changing the meaning of the word life. So eternal life is made to mean, not eternal life, but merely some accompaniment of life; in this case happiness, well-being, spiritual good, etc., etc. Now, that these things shall accompany eternal life is sure. Yet in themselves they are not life. They do not and cannot constitute life. There must first be life, living existence, before there can be happiness. There can be life without happiness. But there can be no happiness without life. Yet if, as our opponents urge, eternal means eternal, then equally so must life mean life. It cannot mean some mere adjunct of life, no matter how wonderful and precious that adjunct may be. Life does not mean happiness, or well-being, or spiritual blessing. It means life in its ordinary sense of living existence.
Much as the Bible has to say concerning life, yet it ever refuses to say that man possesses immortal life, a life in himself, imperishable, ever-enduring. Instead, it makes the possession of such life dependent on Christ as Life-giver. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have not life in yourselves” (Jn. 6:53).
Forget not that life in the Bible means life. Sometimes it signifies what we call the life principle, that mysterious divine power, the breath or spirit of life, that imparts life to man and beast alike (Gen. 2:7; 6:17; 8:15, 22; Job 12:10; 33:4; Ps. 104:29, 30; Eccl. 3:19; Acts 17:25). At other times it signifies the state attendant upon the presence or possession of this life principle, or spirit of life. It is then the state of being alive as opposed to the inert, the non-living or the dead (2 Sam. 15:21; 1 Kin. 3:22, 23; Prov. 12:28; Eccl. 4:2; Rev. 8:9; 16:3). It is the state of livingness, of living existence, of existence as a living creature in contrast to what is lifeless, non-living, not existent as a living being. In this sense it might be said generally that life means living existence or vital being. Thus by the years of one’s life (Gen. 23:1; 25:7, 17; 47:9; Ex. 6:16, 18) is meant the time or duration of his living existence here on earth. When mention is made of prolonging one’s life (Job. 6:11; Ps. 61:6), it signifies a lengthening of the period of his animate being (Deut. 5:33). When there is given to one a life that is defined as “length of days for ever and ever” (Ps. 21:4), it is a granting of unending living existence. When eternal life is promised, though that life includes all spiritual good, yet first and foremost and in itself, by the very words used, it is a life of endless duration, living personal being through eternity.
Even when used spiritually, the word life signifies life, i.e., spiritual life, the state of being spiritually alive, vital, animate, as opposed to spiritual torpor, apathy, deadness, non-aliveness. It does not mean happiness, though happiness may result from such life. It does not mean union with God, which is putting cause for effect; for it is the establishing of union with God that imparts spiritual life. The natural man, “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him” (Eph. 4:18), is in a state of spiritual deadness, a state that will lead on to utter deadness, death of the entire person in the judgment day. “The soul that sinneth (that is now spiritually dead), it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4); i.e., it shall, in addition to its spiritual death, suffer a penal death. This penal death will take away (not especially spiritual life, for that the impenitent sinner possesses not, but) all life. Thus, shall the sinner become utterly dead, pass out of existence as a living being. On the other hand, those who by union with the divine are now spiritually alive, shall be made eternally alive, have “length of days for ever and ever” or life eternal. Such, and such alone, shall have the life that is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:19); shall “live for ever” (Jn. 6:51), “abide for ever” (1 Jn. 2:17). Eternity of life, therefore, is not because man is immortal in himself, but because “God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). While we know that “no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (3:15), we also know that “God hath given to us (Christians) eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life” (5:11, 12).
But suppose that, instead of changing the sense of the word life, it is that of eternal which is changed. Eternal life can then be made to yield the meaning desired. As the term itself (as biblically used) is sufficiently clear, such change is necessitated by theoretical exigency only. It was long since seen that if the term was allowed to stand as it is, to have its natural and actual meaning, it would (from a gospel standpoint) be good-bye forever to the doctrine of natural immortality. For if man is so constituted that he can receive eternal life from God, it is absolute proof that in his own constitution he is not immortal, does not possess eternity of being. But the Ciceronian-Platonic doctrine must not be surrendered in favor of the Christly-Pauline doctrine. Yet the only way to maintain the non-Christian doctrine as against the Christian was by some subtle alteration of the terms eternal life and live forever. Man, certainly, could not live forever twice. He could not have two eternal lives. He could not live eternally twice, or through two eternities. This is contradiction of terms. Yet if biblical language was to be accepted as it reads, and at the same time one holds to the non-biblical concept of universal immortality, this is exactly the dilemma in which one is placed. Something must be given up, either the extra-biblical concept or the actual signification of the Bible terms. It was, it is, plainly a choice between the two. To hold both is impossible. But the extra-scriptural view had become traditional, general, popular. It would be hard to surrender that, and so become unpopular. It would be easier, simpler, more gratifying to the flesh, to human pride, to surrender the real signification of the terms used by Christ and his apostles. And it was this last that was done. Eternal confessedly means eternal when used of punishment. But when used as descriptive of life, it could be pressed to mean spiritual, or something of that sort. To say that a man has fifty years of life is plainly understandable by all. To say that he is to have eternity of life, or eternal life, ought to be equally understandable. It would be—were it not for theoretical considerations.
Nevertheless, the Bible fact remains that eternal life means eternal life just as much as that a fifty years life means a life of fifty years. The one is as plain as the other. Neither term in itself states anything at all relative to the manner or content of the life. That needs to be otherwise designated. And it is. It is thus, and thus only, that we know the eternal life promised is to be one of supreme blessing, of perfect holiness and unalloyed happiness. Yet it is also, as the very term declares”, eternal life, a life of eternal duration. And such eternity of life is for the saved alone.
As, therefore, none but the righteous are to live forever, have a life enduring endlessly, then none but they can have either endless enjoyment or suffering. As, therefore, the wicked are not to live endlessly, they certainly cannot suffer endlessly. Eternal punishment must, therefore, be something different from eternal torment. From this conclusion there seems no escape to one who believes the Bible. And as the Bible teaches that eternal punishment is eternal destruction, the blotting out forever of one’s personal being, why not believe it? Certainly to do so is to honor God and exalt his Son.
Taking Things For Granted
Because it is impossible to find the doctrine of human deathlessness in the Bible, it has become quite customary (almost traditional) to assert that it is assumed there or taken for granted. The real fact is that such writers do themselves take it for granted and then assume that the Bible does the same. Even Professor H. R. Mackintosh makes this wild statement: “It is simple historical accuracy to say that the New Testament writers assumed the immortality of the soul” (Immortality, p. 222). And King says that “the immortality of the soul is everywhere assumed in the Scripture” (Fut. Retrib., p. 240, 243, 245, 137).
This is indeed a marvelous method of arriving at— truth (?). How intellectual and efficient it is. It calls for no thought, no work, no investigation. Yet it gets one just where he wants to get. What more can be asked than this? Whatsoever one wants can by this method be obtained. All he has to do is to assume it, or assume that it is assumed elsewhere, and lo! there it is, all made to order. Thus; that for which proof cannot be found is satisfactorily settled. Thus, easily can be read into God’s Holy Word that which in heathen literature is plainly put, but which is nowhere taught in the Bible. We challenge these learned gentlemen, we challenge the world, to point out a single passage of Scripture (save the lie of the devil in Gen. 3:4) where any such assumption is certainly found.
If it is there, they can find it.
Will they kindly produce it?
But we quote another, “It is my impression, after careful thought, that the Scripture everywhere takes for granted the indestructibility of the personal identity of the human soul” (i. c., p. 446f; italics mine).
It is his “impression.” Has it, then, come to this? Is the doctrine of human immortality to be settled by impressions?
Could it have been confessed more completely, more naively, that the thing which so many want to find in the Bible, the thing absolutely necessary to find if the contention of eternal torment is to stand, cannot be found there? For, e. g., had this writer found it (i.e., if it is in the Bible as a bona fide Bible teaching), it would not be necessary to assume it as “taken for granted.” One does not in the Bible have to take for granted the being of God, the love of God, the salvation of God through Christ, nor any other great doctrine of redemption. Yet this, a doctrine of the most tremendous import, the doctrine on which (with many) hinges the unending suffering of untold millions of lost souls,—this doctrine of eternal importance and of infinite moment, this is taken for granted.”
Well, if one gets it into the Bible at all, he will have to take it for granted; which is but another way of manufacturing it outright. The doctrine is not there, as every real Bible student ought to know. And notwithstanding all the challenges flung forth for many years for the production of even one plain passage teaching it, that passage has not yet been produced. Yet from Plato, from Herodotus, from Cicero, from Plutarch, from the Hellenized Josephus, such passages can be produced. Plainly, then, though it is a heathen doctrine, yet it is not a Bible doctrine.
Let Christian men take their choice.
As to the word soul itself, that is a Bible word. So is spirit. In fact, the original words occur in the Bible some 1,650 times. Here, then, are 1,650 fine chances to speak of the soul as immortal, of the spirit as deathless. Yet all these 1,650 opportunities were missed. Would such opportunities be missed by ancient heathenism? by modern spiritism? by Roman Catholicism? by Christian Science? by popular Christendom? Yet by the Bible writers they were all missed. And now, at this late date, we are learnedly informed why they were missed. There was. no need, it seems, to mention the soul’s immortality, the spirit’s undyingness; because, forsooth, it is assumed, taken for granted.
But the Divine Sonship of Christ is not assumed. His redemptive death is not taken for granted. His bodily resurrection and his personal return from heaven are not assumed. The pardon of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the attainment of final salvation, these are not taken for granted. They are clearly affirmed. It is, therefore, the immortality of the soul alone that is assumed. Yet this is assumed to be assumed simply and solely because the assumers cannot get it there in any other way. If they could, we would hear no more of its assumption. How triumphantly would they produce the passages. Yet this they never do.
But let us go beyond the 1,650 times of the biblical mention of soul and spirit. Let us add the 2,550 (a rough estimate from Strong’s Concordance) in which the word man occurs. We then have 2,550 additional opportunities, or 4,200 in all, in which to affirm man’s undying nature. Yet even with all this opportunity it was never done. Surely the Bible writers were remiss in their duty—either this, or they were divinely overruled to leave out the ethnic view of immortality.
Instead of the doctrine of man’s deathless nature, what do we actually find? That men die.” It is laid up for men once to die” (Heb. 9:27). Yes, we even read of the soul as dying or as subject to death. We are told of dead souls where the most ardent spiritizer could not make it mean spiritual death. The word used is nephesh, the O. T. word rendered soul. Yet it is rendered “the dead” five times (Lev. 19:28; 21:1; 22:5; Num. 5:2; 6:11). It is translated “body” and called “dead” eight times (Lev. 21:11; Num. 6:6; 9:6, 7, 10; 19:11, 13; Hag. 2:13). Six times the “killing” of a nephesh is mentioned (Num. 31:19; 35:11, 15, 30; Josh. 20:3, 9).
It would appear, then, that an undying nephesh, an immortal psyche, is so antipodal to real Bible teaching that the very reverse is true. “Let my soul die the death of the righteous.” “Let my soul die with the Philistines” (Num. 23:10; Jud. 16:30, mar.). “And every living soul died in the sea” (Gr. soul of life, R. V. mar.). “Thou hast delivered my soul from death” (Ps. 116:8). “Shall save a soul from death” (Jas. 5:20). For the soul to live it is necessary for God to keep it in life. “None can keep alive his own soul” (22:29). Instead, it is GOD “who holdeth our soul in life” (66:9). His eye is upon them that fear Him, “to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine” (33:19).
Instead, therefore, of assuming the soul’s immortality, the Bible asserts its mortality. That is, it does if words mean anything. Yet all this (and much more) is slickly evaded by assuming that the Bible assumes the very reverse of what it actually teaches. But we have seen that the word soul (nephesh, psyche) does not in the Bible signify something immortal. And as no adjective, such as neverdying, everliving, deathless or immortal (so common nowadays in this connection) is ever used with it, but on the contrary it is definitely asserted, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” why is it that men, otherwise scholarly, read immortality into it? Answer: the wish is father to the thought.
If all men are immortal, if man is indestructible as to either soul or body, it is strange that the Bible should overlook so momentous a fact. For the Bible deals with men’s eternal interests. Yet it somehow always omits to mention man’s possession of a psychic nature that is innately deathless, imperishable, indestructible. In view of the way in which this deficit is made up in heathen and spiritistic literature, the Bible’s reticence is strange. It is also significant. It evidently omits all statements on this line simply because the doctrine is not true. Moreover, that it is not true, the Bible fails not to show. For it states the very opposite thing as truth. And it states it plainly. This we proceed to show farther by showing that: —
The Soul Is Not Indestructible
Some are so infatuated with the idea that the soul is immortal and that the lost are to suffer eternally that they hold that not even God can destroy the soul. Even Professor L. T. Townsend went so far as to deem it both rational and scriptural to say that “God has placed the immortality of every human soul beyond any peradventure. . . . And so, if in creating a human soul God endowed it with immortality, he may not now, or in the future, be able to be in a moral attitude to smite it out of existence.” He quotes the author of Ecce Deus: “There need not be any hesitation in reverently declaring that God cannot annihilate a moral agent” (Bible Champion, March, 1914, p. 117f).
Notice that “if”; if God endowed the soul with immortality. But nowhere in His Word has He said that He did so endow it. Nor has proof of the idea been found outside the Bible. One may assume it, take it for granted, and then proceed as though it were proved. Yet when we turn to the Bible itself, we find the opposite to be the truth. Instead of the soul being deathless, it is liable to death. Instead of being indestructible, it may be destroyed. Why will people who profess to believe the Bible fight against what it says? and all for the sake of upholding a theory that is probably heathen in origin, that is dishonoring to God our Father and to Christ our Life-giver.
Many, however, would not go so far as to declare God’s inability to destroy the soul. Thus Professor C. M. Mead: “We do not insist that the spirit of man is something essentially imperishable. What God can create He doubtless can destroy. We hold no dogma of the inherent indestructibility of the soul. We know too little of the physiology of the soul, if we may use such an expression, to be able to affirm that it cannot be dissolved and destroyed. The old notion that the soul is indivisible, and therefore indestructible, we regard as a scholastic subtlety and assumption.” “No intelligent man, nowadays at least, would think of denying God’s power to annihilate the human soul” (The Soul, etc., p. 75, 336).
So Professor Mackintosh says that, if the soul of man is immortal, it is “not because the soul has certain ontological qualities which make persistence a necessity” (l.c., p. 220). Again: “We need not raise the question of what God can or cannot do. We need not inquire whether it is in His power to destroy souls, in the bare literal sense of that sad word” (p. 227f).
No, we do not need to make that inquiry. God’s Word settles that. For that Word states both God’s ability to destroy the soul and His intent to do it in the case of the lost. Plainly it asserts that God is able, not only to save, but also to destroy (Jas. 4:12). So Christ affirmed God’s ability to destroy the soul as well as the body. “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mat. 10:28).
Everyone will admit that the body may be destroyed. But Christ placed God’s ability to destroy the soul on a par with His ability to destroy the body. And as, in this passage, to destroy the body cannot by any manner of twisting or spiritualizing be made to signify spiritual abasement or an eternal suffering life, exactly so is it with the soul. The one verb is used for both and applies with equal force to soul as to body. If, then, God can disintegrate or dissipate the body and put it out of existence as a body, a like thing He can do for the soul.
But as regards the complete destruction of the soul, a still stronger word (if possible) is used. That word is ἐξολεθρεύω. This the A. V. renders destroy. The Revisers, seeing it needed a stronger rendering, gave it “utterly destroy.” Souter in his recent Lexicon gives it: “destroy utterly, annihilate, exterminate.”
Exterminate? Can a soul be exterminated? Well, that is what the Bible says. “Every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet (Christ) shall be utterly destroyed (exterminated) from among the people” (Acts 3:23).
What more need be said?
What more can be said?
This “utter destroying,” this “exterminating,” of the soul is that punishment of “eternal destruction” elsewhere spoken of (2 Thes. 1:9). It is there called “punishment.” And it is called “eternal.” Bible authority for it, therefore, it is “eternal punishment.”
Section IV.—Passages Thought To Teach Endless Misery
The subject under discussion is so vast that doubtless it will be admitted on all sides that no position is entirely free from difficulties. Certainly we on our side can present, and have presented to those who hold to endless misery, some things which they never have been able to answer. And the things so presented are not conjured up out of our own minds; nor do they depend on extra-biblical sources. They come directly from the Bible and are taught, not by a few, but by many passages of that Book. But the other side also has a few passages, a very few, which they present and re-present. Some of these have already been sufficiently answered in our preceding treatment. Others here await discussion. And we first note the parable of: —
The Rich Man And Lazarus
Though there are some things in this parable (Lu. 16:19–31) which make its use by the advocates of eternal torment rather illogical, inconsistent, and precarious, yet to some extent it is used by them as teaching (or at least supporting) their doctrine. The parable has, indeed, been quite largely relied upon as teaching, (1) a state of torment in a disembodied intermediate state; (2) a state of torment beyond the intermediate state, i.e., eternal torment. As to the former of these propositions, we have nothing to do. To the latter proposition we give attention.
We can readily see how the parable may be used to teach the torment of the wicked—and this despite the hermeneutical principle that no parable is to be used as a base to teach doctrine, but only to support a doctrine elsewhere plainly taught. But we can not see how it can be used to teach, or even support, the eternal continuance of torment. For when so used it is taken out of its actual setting and is arbitrarily projected where it is not placed, viz., into the eternal state.
The terms soul and spirit do not occur. Yet many expositors (?) read them in as though they were there. Moreover, they usually fail to perceive (or to notice) that the terms actually used are always physical or material, such as eyes, tongue, fingers, water, flame, Abraham’s bosom, a great gulf fixed. Further, the scene is laid, not in Gehenna, the place of final punishment, but in Hades (ver. 23), the place or state of the dead previous to the judgment day. And it never gets beyond this into the eternal state. It is obvious, then, whatever view may consistently be taken of this last of a series of five parables, it does not refer to the ultimate disposal of the lost at the last day. During its transactions we are still seen to be in the historical period (28–31). To the historical period, therefore, must its application be confined. And as our present discussion has nothing to do with any phases of human history before the judgment day, either in or out of the death state, this parable need not detain us longer here.
Though our discussion in the foregoing sections has really covered this point, yet some may think that we have evaded it if we fail to give some definite attention to it. And, first, let us correct a false impression. The term eternal punishment is not found often in the Bible. It occurs there just once, in our Lord’s saying: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Mat. 25:46).
It is surprising how many take for granted what they never have been able to prove from the Bible, viz., that eternal punishment means eternal torment. Yet when they have quoted the above passage, they oft move along as serenely as though the matter were forever settled and that they had proved eternal torment. That, however, is an altogether different proposition, as any close thinker ought to be able to see.
The fact is, that the word punishment, when taken by itself, is general and indefinite. It affirms nothing whatsoever as to the nature of the punishment. It might be fining, beating, stoning, imprisonment, or any one of a multitude of inflictions. In the case before us, however, its finality, hopelessness, endlessness, is determined by the fact that it is eternal. But as to its nature, that must be determined elsewhere. And elsewhere the Scriptures do determine for us what the nature of the punishment is.
Already have we shown the Bible to teach the ultimate death of the lost. And that death is real. So, too, it is endless. This last point may be buttressed by citing strenuous advocates of the eternal torment doctrine. Thus Buswell: “‘The second death’ is eternal punishment” (l.c., p. 447). And Barnes in his Commentary on Romans, p. 142f, speaking of everlasting life and death as contrasted, said: “One is just as long in duration as the other. . . . Never was there an antithesis more manifest and clear.” Everlasting life “is opposed to death, and proves incontestably that that means eternal death.”
And we have shown “incontestably” that death is not life, that penal death is literal death, the literal loss of life, so that one is left lifeless, dead. So in eternal death as eternal punishment, it is still death. It is not life. It cannot be made over into life, no matter how miserable a life it may be. For if it is life, it is not death. But God’s Word says death. And that Word will stand, no matter who refuses to accept it. To call death a suffering eternal life is a misuse, a perversion of plain language, of Bible language. If, then, death is punishment and said death is eternal death, then that eternal death is eternal punishment—as our opponents allege. Their tremendous mistake is this, that their theory makes them consider death to be life, when actually and Biblically it is not so.
Then again, the punishment is called destruction (Mat. 7:13; Phil. 3:19). And it is “eternal destruction.” And that is eternal punishment. “Who shall suffer punishment (even) eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thes. 1:9). Observe, it is destruction, not preservation. “The Lord preserveth all them that love Him, but all the wicked will He destroy” (Ps. 145:20). So it is not the holding of life and personal being intact, but the utter destruction of such, “extermination,” as we have Biblically and lexically seen.
On 2 Thes. 1:9, Dr. D. D. Whedon, who certainly did not hold the view as Biblically presented by us, was yet in sheer honesty constrained to say: “Destruction is not annihilation, that is, of the ultimate particles or essence of an object. Its normal meaning, however, is such a separation of the parts or constituents of the individual as to result in the cessation of his organic, individual existence.”
Certainly! And that is just what the Bible teaches; and what every Christian ought to believe. And such eternal destruction is eternal punishment.
Isa. 33:14 reads: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath seized the godless ones: Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
We mention this, not because it in any way helps out the other side, nor that any thoughtful scholar on that side thinks so, but because there have been a few so hard pressed as to use it. The passage, of course, has not a thing to do with final punishment. Instead, it belongs with Judah’s contemporary danger, that connected with Assyria. Some take the fire to be the destructive forces working havoc on Assyria; others on Judah. Thus Bannister: “The sinners in Jerusalem are now struck dumb, and they are forced to say, ‘Who among us shall (rather can) dwell with the devouring fire . . . everlasting burnings’—That is, in such a fire as that which has so signally destroyed the Assyrian forces?”
As in verse 11 occurs the concept of chaff and stubble being devoured by fire, so in our verse is repeated this concept of devouring fire, also termed everlasting burnings. The Speaker’s Commentary (which also observes that “His (God’s) fire is in Zion,” ch. 31:9; cf. Orelli) notes that the word rendered chaff in verse 11 occurs but once more, and that in 5:24, a verse that might well determine the general concept here: “Therefore as the tongue of fire devoureth the stubble, and as the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness and their blossom shall go up as dust; because they have rejected the law of Jehovah,” etc. The image, it will be seen, is wholly one of destruction, historical or national destruction. It has nothing whatever to do with final punishment.
Dan. 12:2, R. V. margin: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting abhorrence.”
Whatever this abhorrence (contempt, A. V.) may be, it is not something experienced by the lost themselves. Instead, it is a mental attitude experienced by others toward them. It would seem then, that, no matter how ardently one might wish to have this passage teach eternal suffering for the wicked who are raised at the judgment day,—well, it simply does not do it, that is all.
A writer on the other side, kindly aids us by insisting that the word rendered “shame” is “almost always rendered ‘reproach’ (Dan. 9:16), or a cause of reproach (Gen. 34:14), or the act of reproaching (Neh. 4:4), or a condition of reproach (Neh. 1:3).” In Dan. 12:2, therefore, the meaning must be that the wicked “are to rise into a condition, or so as to become an object, of reproach and everlasting abhorrence” (Mead, l. c, p. 402).
This would put the emotion expressed by both words, reproach and abhorrence, as one felt by others than these wicked. The verse then makes no affirmation at all as to any suffering experienced by the wicked. It is but a feeling of loathing that the righteous have toward them in their sin-defiled state. If there ever existed excuse for making this passage hint at eternal torment, that excuse is hereby effectually removed. On this showing all cause is removed for making it signify what the lost themselves suffer for either a shorter or a longer time. They do suffer, that is sure. But that fact is not to be proved by this verse.
If a discussion of so serious import could ever be amusing, it would amuse one to see the frantic, even ridiculous, efforts made by some to press into service certain passages which really belong to our side. But with some of our opponents (not all, by any means) their entire horizon is so filled with their non-biblical view that they see nothing else.
One of these strange perversions of mental vision is observable in their utter inability to discern between consuming and non-consuming. How oft are we told in the Bible that the wicked shall be consumed. But how oft are we told outside the Bible that the wicked are not to be consumed, that they remain forever unconsumed in the flames of hell, etc., etc. Thus Spurgeon: “In fire exactly like that which we have on earth, thy body will lie, asbestos-like, forever unconsumed.” And J. Whitaker: “The bodies of the damned will be salted with fire, so tempered and prepared as to burn the more fiercely, and yet never consume” (quoted in Pettingell’s Unspeakable Gift, p. 327, 337). And Pollok: —
One of the passages frequently quoted to prove that the wicked shall not be consumed, when the Bible says they shall be consumed, is Heb. 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.” The idea with these writers appears to be that, because GOD is a consuming fire, therefore the wicked will remain unconsumed; a rather queer logic. The very fact, however, that he is a consuming fire gives the implication, at least, that his judgment power may consume them. And this implication is borne out and made sure by repeated Scriptural assertions stating that fact unambiguously. Further, the very context illustrates this. For the second verse preceding reads: “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which are not shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). Here in plainest contrast we have things that “remain” and those that do not remain, but are “removed.” So when God as a consuming fire shall consume the wicked, they do not remain (to suffer) but are removed from living existence.
But we go back to the O. T. and note how it worked when God was a consuming fire toward certain nations. “Know, therefore, this day that Jehovah thy God is He who goeth over before thee as a devouring fire (consuming fire, A. V.); He will destroy them, and He will bring them down before thee; so shalt thou drive them out and make them to perish quickly” (Deut. 9:3).
This national destruction of the Canaanites, as a result of God being toward them a devouring or consuming fire, did not compass the death of all of them as individuals. But it did result in the destruction of them as nations. And God, as a consuming fire against individuals in final judgment, will destroy them as individuals until they are utterly consumed and cease to be. He will not set them apart in a place by themselves, there to be preserved in misery forever. Never does God’s Word teach any such thing. But it does repeatedly teach their utter consumption as living personalities.
The Undying Worm
Perhaps no expression of the Bible has been more used to emphasize the idea of endless suffering, some pain of mind or body, ever gnawing yet never devouring the sensitive nature of man, than our Lord’s saying: “Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48). As the latter member of this saying has already been considered, it remains to consider the opening member.
To those who hold to universal immortality, this saying signifies unremitting torture forever. In considering this position from their viewpoint, we are constrained to remark that, though the human mind is a wonderful instrument, yet it oft is a marvelously strange one. Many are its aberrations. Thus when the Bible repeatedly, plainly, and non-figuratively states that the wicked shall die, thousands of sincere Christians do not accept this word die as literal, as meaning what it says. Yet when, in an expression the imagery of which is obvious, it is said that a worm does not die, these same sincere Christians are all of faith as to its literalness. The word die has then its most literal meaning. Yet when non-tropically employed to state the penalty of sin, its meaning immediately becomes non-literal. So non-literal, indeed, does it become that its signification has been reversed, turned right-about-face, so to speak. As a result, to die means to live; and not only to live, but to live forever; and not only to live forever, but to live forever in misery. Then, to show that this reversal of the meaning of die (or death) is correct, tens of thousands of pages of learned matter have been written, all to support this amazing contention —though they do not put it as baldly as I have done. If this is not strange cerebration, mental aberration, what may it be called?
But what is the “undying worm” thought to signify?
By the Church Fathers, so says Wordsworth, it signified endless pain.
Quesnel (quoted by Sadler) deemed the fire and worm to denote “all internal and external miseries.”
Barnes: “A mere image of loathsome, dreadful, and eternal sufferings.”
Canon Cook: “The subjective anguish of remorse.”
Wordsworth: “Christ says their worm, to intimate that, as the instrument of punishment is eternal, so they who suffer it will exist forever.”
H. Johnston: Neither the fire nor worm is literal, but “by their ‘worm’ is understood a ‘guilty conscience, including self-condemnation, sorrow, shame, remorse, and a sense of the wrath of God,’ “—a very “inclusive” worm surely.
Long ago Hyppolytus wrote of “a certain fiery worm which dieth not, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain.”
One thing seems quite sure. After this incongruous array of conflicting, far-fetched, and unexegetical guesswork, those on our side might present any ridiculous incongruity that happens to strike our fancy and the other side cannot consistently object. We certainly cannot do worse than they have done. But we hold that there is a view that has on its side the analogy of Scripture as to the “worm” itself, besides being perfectly in harmony with the many Scriptures already adduced in their depiction of the utter finality of the unsaved. The view referred to is that the worm, as elsewhere in the Bible, is an image of destruction, not of preservation and suffering.
As writers on the other side have long since told us that the words of Mk. 9:48 are derived from Isa. 66:24, we quote that passage: “And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses (dead bodies, R. V.) 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.”
It is noticeable that not a word is said here concerning soul or spirit. Nor in any hint given in all this representation of any life whatsoever, save only of the worm. It is carcasses, dead bodies, that constitutes the subject of discourse. Yet some are so strenuous for the doctrine of eternal misery that they can turn these “dead bodies” into living beings suffering the torments of the damned. So Kay read into these dead bodies (though not dead worm) “a strange mystery of suffering”—as though dead bodies could suffer. And Bannister (in Whedon) sees here “the eternal misery of condemned ones.” It certainly takes an active imagination to get eternal misery out of these dead bodies, even though the worm that feeds upon them is said not to die.
Now the work of worms on a decaying carcass is a devouring, consuming work. If the worms live, their devouring work will go on until the putrid body is all consumed. Then, so far as those consumed bodies are concerned, it makes no difference whatever whether or not the worms die or continue to live. The living of the worm is expressive of its power to consume so long as it has anything to prey upon. It is thus expressive of complete destruction. As we read elsewhere in Isaiah: “The moth shall eat them up.” “For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool” (50:9; 51:8).
But let us turn to the language of our friends on the other side. Thus King, speaking of the valley of Hinnom, says “it became the place where the bodies of criminals, the carcasses of animals and all manner of filth were cast. Here, literally, the worm never died,” etc. (King, l. c, p. 19). We see, then, that “here, literally, the worm (that) never died” aided, literally, in the literal consumption of “the bodies of criminals and the carcasses of animals.” So the imagery built on this expresses just what we have seen so fully taught elsewhere in the Bible, the devouring, consuming, destroying of the wicked.
Buswell, in referring to the association of fire with worms, says: “This must therefore be a figure of speech, for worms and fire cannot exist in the same place at the same time.” Then referring to the valley of Hinnom as “the city dumping place,” he says: “Doubtless it was always infested with worms, and we know that fires were always kept burning there to consume the rubbish” (Buswell, l. c, p. 455).
Exactly! to “consume” the rubbish. So the worm (and fire) of Gehenna is not “a mere image of loathsome, dreadful and eternal sufferings” (Barnes), but of complete consumption. For, as noted, the wicked are to be “utterly destroyed”—exterminated (Acts 3:23).
Until we come to the last book of the Bible there is absolutely nothing that can be made to teach eternal life in torment,—unless we already hold in our minds some view that all men are to live forever, a view that, most decidedly, the Bible does not countenance. On the contrary, many are the terms used, many the statements made, relative to the utter destroying, consuming, burning up of the wicked, so that they ultimately perish and are no more. And such terms as eternal punishment, eternal destruction (which belongs wholly on our side), the worm that dies not and a fire that is quenched not, do not contradict this persistent and consistent Bible teaching by setting forth a different doctrine, that of endless misery. Indeed all these are comportable with the Bible’s clear enunciation of the ultimate death of the wicked.
When, however, we come to the Bible’s last book, there are a few passages which, on the face of them and when taken out of their connection and the time and circumstances to which they refer, appear to some to teach endless torment in the world to come.
Now, it is conceded on all sides that there is no view of the final disposition of the lost that is free from all difficulties. Not even the sane, merciful, just and wholly Biblical doctrine of conditional immortality, with its teaching of the utter death of the lost, is quite free from difficulties; especially difficulties as seen by the hostile eyes of those immovably prejudiced against it. So in the passages soon to be cited, there seems a difficulty. But as a fact, these passages in Revelation do not teach eternal torment, though on their face they might appear to. They occur in the most symbolic of all Bible books. And it is as much a hermeneutical principle that symbolic language be symbolically interpreted as that literal language be literally interpreted. Moreover, prophetic passages are to be given their proper chronological place. And when this is done with the passages in question, they are put entirely outside of any place in this discussion—save, possibly, to such as are determined to prove their point regardless of everything. For the simple fact is that these symbolic prophesies belong to time. They do not extend into eternity. They belong wholly this side of the final day of judgment. This is so, despite the fact that, like so many O T. prophecies, they contain terms that are apparently those of eternity. The passages are as follows:
“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, If any man worshipeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he 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 goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image and whoso receiveth the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:9–11).
“And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshiped his image; they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone” (19:20).
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10).
The only one of these passages which speaks of being tormented forever is the last (20:10). And the subject of discourse there is not men at all. It is the devil, the beast and the false prophet. No intimation is there of the torment of human beings. In fact, the human beings associated with this devil in this particular outbreak had been, not tormented, but “devoured” by heaven-sent fire (ver. 9). Thus all these men are removed from this particular judgment on the devil. So with the beast and false prophet of 19:20. While they were “cast alive” into a lake of fire, yet “the rest were killed . . . and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (21).
Now, this beast, false prophet and devil, who are they? Are they literal? Or, like so much that belongs to the book of Revelation, do they take place among its complicated symbolism? For in this, the most symbolic book of the Bible, there are symbolic stars, candlesticks, seals, books, robes, vials, trumpets, winds, trees, rivers, mountains, abyss, smoke, Lamb, Lion, living creatures, various kinds of strange beasts, women, angels, etc.
We hesitate not to say (and this whether we understand the symbolism or not) that the beast, false prophet and devil of chap. 20 are a part of this book’s elaborate symbolism. This, we think, will be generally admitted as to the beast and false prophet. As to the devil, however, there may be some holding back. Yet as to this particular devil, we will find his photograph already taken in chap. 12. He is the “great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads, and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven,” and he is all ready to eat a child about to be born (3, 4). This nondescript symbolic monster is later designated as “the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan” (9). It is this same symbolic monster that is re-introduced in chap. 20, as candid comparison will readily show.
Now, possibly, some of our eternal torment friends may make all this a real picture of the real devil; though they might as well make the leopard beast of chap. 13, with his seven heads, ten horns, bear-feet, lion-mouth and dragon-power, as equally a literal description of an actual monster. Yet it is only the beast, false prophet and symbolic devil (not men) who are said to be tormented forever. These are not concrete living beings. They are symbols of something else, whatever that something else may be, some systems or other (not in the province of this article necessary to explain, even were we capable of so doing). Such imagery as this would be a strange way for God to reveal for the first time a doctrine so infinitely important as that of the eternal torment of lost men, even were that doctrine true.
With Rev. 14:9–11 things are different. For it is men who there are spoken of. Yet then, it will be seen, the statement is altogether different. They are said to be tormented, though the “forever” is then left out. It is (now note this and what follows before judgment is hastily made) the “smoke” of their torment that is said to go up forever—exactly as the smoke of the great symbolic harlot, mystic Babylon (chap. 17), is said to go up forever (19:2, 3). And “the smoke of her burning,” in connection with which the word torment is again found, ascends up in time, not in eternity (18:8–18); just as in Isa. 34:9, 10, in a prophecy concerning the land of Edom, it is said: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever and ever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”
Is comment necessary?
But we revert briefly to Rev. 20. And here we observe that the last judgment, and so the final disposal of the lost, takes not place until the scenes of verses 1–10 are past. It is consequent upon these scenes that the great white throne appears and all the dead, the small and great, appear before it for judgment. Consequently upon this judgment the unsaved, those not written in the book of life, meet the “second death” by being cast into the lake of fire (20:11–15). This, by our Lord, is elsewhere termed the Gehenna of fire (Mat. 18:9), that unquenchable fire that shall “burn up” the wicked, even as chaff, stubble, dry branches, are consumed or burnt up so completely as to be left “neither root nor branch.”
By no possible adroitness does it seem possible to make any of the judgments in Revelation preceding 20:11–15 (and there are many) refer to the final fate of the wicked, save as such may come in for passing allusion.
After looking at some of these facts, one may not be so free to make the language of symbolism do duty in teaching eternal torment.
The extreme and wholly non-biblical view of immortality, that all men are immortal as to their psychic natures, with its attendant view of eternal misery, has been prolific of much and varied harm. Though Christianity has managed to exist while dragging this incubus along with it, thus showing the inherent vitality of the Christian system, yet this seems one of the ways in which human credulity and demonic cunning have worked together to hinder the Christian cause and to impede its progress as much as possible. How the Roman hierarchy has used it to hold its enslaved adherents in feared subjection. How spiritism in its many forms has used it as a drain upon the church and as a means of keeping men from Christ and conversion and salvation. How Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, Christian Science and others have laid hold on this doctrine of natural and universal immortality as the one thing necessary to their existence. How men like Ingersoll (who became what he did largely through the preaching of eternal torment), Bradlaugh and others have exploited it against Christianity and the Bible. How many honest souls have been repelled, and others driven insane, through the teaching of a suffering in mind and body that would be absolutely endless. How such a one as the former Baptist, but now Unitarian, Dr. A. W. Slaten has come out against all belief in future life. In a news item of December 13, 1925, he said: “The belief in immortality has been one of the most terrible curses that has ever befallen our bewildered and credulous and exploited race. It has laid us under the power of religious charlatans and demagogues. It has degraded humanity into subservient sycophants to an order of fakirs. Fear and love are the two universal emotions that religion has exploited, and in no respect with such enormous success as in the field of the supposed future life. The belief in immortality has sent multitudes into the increasing army of the insane.”
To much of this, if not to all, the Bible doctrine that God sent his Son to give eternal life to such as would accept it at His hands would be a wonderful offset. But the predicted apostasy came. Christianity and Hellenic philosophy became synthesized. A host of differing sub-views arose out of the synthesis. The Bible view went into eclipse. Yet despite its terrible handicap, Christianity, divided and subdivided, has come down through the centuries, fighting ever against tremendous odds. How much better, how much more sensible, and how entirely Biblical, had the church held, instead of this ancient, necromantic, ethnic and pagan belief of inherent immortality, the sane Bible teaching that eternal life is a gift, even the gift of God through Jesus Christ, that the saved alone are to live forever, just as the Bible says; that all others, instead of being maintained in life to suffer forever, are to perish, die, be utterly destroyed, “exterminated” and “be no more.” For this is what the Bible teaches, not once, but many times. Thus, would we honor our loving heavenly Father. Thus, would we exalt his Son, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life; the Resurrection and the Life; the Prince of Life; in whom is that Life which is truly the light of men; who giveth Life to whom he will; through whom are spoken to us “all the words of this Life,” even of Life Forevermore.