By Aaron Hills
ETERNAL PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED
This is perhaps the most solemn subject in the whole range of Christian theologies. It is very repugnant to the feelings of men. Reason and sentiment have been assaulted from every conceivable standpoint of human thought; but it still stands in the impregnable Word of God.
On no subject could the perversion of truth be more disastrous. While such perversion may neutralize the practical force of the truth and cultivate in sinners a false sense of security, yet it is utterly powerless to alter consequences, or in any way avert the doom of sin. Our only safety is salvation through Christ. We can, therefore, most wisely lay aside our sentiments, and prejudices, and preconceived notions, and let God teach us what He will.
I. Will rejecters of Christ be punished at all in the future world? A century ago Universalists held the "death and glory" theory. All punishment was restricted to the present life. All the judgment taught in the Scriptures, takes place in the present world. The sinner has his hell as he goes along, in exact proportion to the number and magnitude of his sins, as decided by Divine Justice. Then death brings blessedness alike to all. The opponents of this heresy pointed out its folly as inconsistent with reason and with fact.
1. It is certain that God does not wholly reward men according to their desert in this world. It is true in a general way that God so administers His government in this world as to show His preference for righteousness and His dislike of sin, so that it may be fairly inferred that "Godliness is profitable in all things having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come." This is necessary to encourage righteousness and to hold men back from a career of sin. But the sinner is not always the most wretched here, nor the saint the most happy. Sometimes a husband or son is shouting in his hilarious debauches and carousals while his holy wife or mother is at home dying with a broken heart over this sin. Who does not know that notoriously ungodly men often live a long life in remarkable health and prosperity? They pile up their ungodly gains by oppressing the poor, while the pure and pious whom they are robbing, are suffering for the necessities of life, and some never draw their breath without pain?
2. Even Scripture affirms this. Job saw it and said: "Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea wax mighty in power? Their seed is established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. . . . They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. . . . They spend their days in prosperity, and in a moment they go down to Sheol, and they say unto God, depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve Him. And what profit would we have if we pray unto Him?" (Job 21: 7-15). The psalmist saw it and almost backslid over it: "As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride is as a chain about their neck, violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness. They have more than heart could wish. They scoff, and in wickedness utter oppression. They speak loftily. They have set their mouth against the heavens. . . . And they say: How doth God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold these are the wicked; and being always at ease, they increase in riches. Surely in vain have I cleansed my heart and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning. . . . When I thought how I might know this it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God, and considered their latter end" (Ps. 73: 2-17). The good man found no relief, and no solution of the problem, save in the doctrine of future punishment.
3. "But," say the Universalists, "The wicked suffer the penalty of their sins in their conscience. To this there are insuperable objections; (1) there is not a line of Scripture to support the assumption. (2) In the absence of a divine revelation, no man knows or can know enough to affirm what another man suffers for sin, or how much the broken law of God demands that he ought to suffer. (3) It is simply a daring theory that is contradicted by all human experience. A saint will suffer more in his moral feelings over an inadvertent error, than a hardened old sinner will suffer over a dozen flagrant crimes. Continuance in wickedness and increase of guilt, harden the heart, and make it more unfeeling in sin. The greater the guilt the less is the suffering from the seared conscience.
4. The dictates of reason are against it. If reason teaches us anything, it teaches us the reality of a moral government. The sense of duty and responsibility to a moral Governor is deeply wrought into the moral consciousness of our race. But this means that there is a divine equity, that God will be an impartial judge. Distributive justice must be impartial, and rewards and punishments must be meted out with even scales and an unbiased hand. If there be a failure of such justice in this life, there must be punishment in the next, unless the sins are confessed and forsaken, and cancelled by the atoning blood.
But, as we have seen, it is a matter of fact that justice is not impartially meted out to men in this life. In this world, punishment comes only in three ways, in mind, body, or estate. But all know that conscience can be temporarily hardened, and the moral sense so drugged by false notions, that the wicked are often at rest in a career of crime. In such a condition, there can be no such remorse and mental suffering as will secure an adequate punishment of sin.
We have seen that in men's bodies there is no ample and impartial recompense for sin in this world, visited upon us by any government, human or divine. There are deeply heinous sins for which human governments have no penalty. Justice often miscarries, and judges are blinded and juries corrupted, and rich scoundrels escape. Either health or sickness is no sure sign of character, and bodily sufferings are not in any proportion to virtue.
It is true, also that while in a general way business prosperity accompanies virtue, yet the basely, cruelly wicked are often the most prosperous, and have more money than they know how to spend, even in senseless pride and prodigality, while in the very sight of them the saints and the innocent are hungering for bread, So much of this nature is passing before our eyes continually that reason is forced to conclude that the present probationary life is not the sphere of distributive justice in which all men are rewarded according to their deserts,
Moreover this conclusion is greatly strengthened by the fact that men sometimes die in the very act of committing some great crime, without a single moment of opportunity in this life to suffer any sort of penalty. Nay, more; we read continually of men committing such crimes, and then adding to it the crime of suicide, to escape the punishment that awaits them. Their very death was criminal; and where and how do such persons bear any penalty in this life? Reason looks at all these facts and calmly decides that there must be punishment for unforsaken sin, and there are many omissions of it in this life which must be compensated for in the next. Hence there is need of a future retribution.
5. If there is none and all are saved us Universalism claims, then God's entire method of moral government is overturned, and the worst of sinners will be saved without any regard to grace or repentance or faith. The Scriptures teach the doctrine of salvation by faith in an atoning Savior, preceded by repentance and an utter turning away from sin. But if the old-fashioned Universalism is true then faith in Jesus is a no more sure passport to glory than the most inveterate infidelity. A devout saint dies trusting wholly in Jesus; a life-long blasphemer, and Christ-rejecter, and Spirit-grieving infidel, hoary in rebellion against God, dies at the same moment, cursing and defying God with his latest breath. They both open their eyes the next moment in holiness and glory. The absurdity of such a doctrine is infinite! But Universalists do not preach it now, - except at funerals!
II. The Voice of Scripture is Unmistakable. It emphatically declares that there is a future punishment awaiting the wicked. "They rise to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12: 2). "They that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment" (John 5: 29). "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matt. 25: 31-46). "The Lord knoweth how ... to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment" (2 Pet. 2: 9). "But the heavens that now are, and the earth by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Pet. 3:7). "At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:7, 8). "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3: 36). "It is He (Jesus) who was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead" (Acts 10: 42). "He shall judge the quick and dead at His appearing and His kingdom" (2 Tim. 4: 1). But such a future judgment is meaningless unless it carries with it the idea and the fact of rewards and penalties. This means inevitable future suffering, not only after death, but after the judgment.
The Bible promises future happiness only for the righteous. In no text is there any promise to the wicked of future blessedness; but in many it is expressly denied them. When the righteous receive their future reward, the wicked shall meet a penal doom. On this question the Bible speaks with no uncertainty. "Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7: 23). "The Son of man shall send forth his angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13: 41-43). "Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity. . . . And they shall come from the east and the west and the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13: 27-30). "Who will render to every man according to his works; to them that by patience in well doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life; but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil" (Rom. 2: 5-12). All this means that there will certainly be misery and pain for the wicked after death until the judgment, and pain and anguish, and the wrath of God after the judgment.
III. What shall be the Nature of this Punishment? Doubtless the terms in which the punishment of the wicked is described are largely figurative. But they give us an awful picture of the future state of the wicked.
1. It is called "the second death." Death is the distressing evil of the race. It is the last degree of punishment inflicted among men; it is full of dread, "surrounded with gloom and terror, and replete with agony." It is a source of torment to men through all ages, to think that this word enters into the picture of the sufferings of the lost is enough to fill the soul with horror, in contemplating it. A death that never ends! A death that never dies! Who shall dare to describe what lies back of such a figure of speech?
2. "Darkness!" "Blackness of darkness!" (Jude 13). "Outer darkness!" (Matt. 8:12). "Chains of darkness," and "mists of darkness!" which is "reserved forever for the ungodly" (2 Pet. 2:4, 7). Egypt was punished a few days with a darkness so dense that "it might be felt"; and it filled the land with consternation. What would it be to have it prolonged into centuries and ages?
3. "Fire!" "The angels . . . shall gather them that do iniquity and shall cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13: 42). "The* fearful and unbelieving and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). "Into hell, into the unquenchable fire" (Murk 9: 43). "And in Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, Cool my tongue for I am in anguish in this flame" (Luke 16; 2, 1, 24). "Unquenchable fire" (Luke, 3: 17), "Suffering the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 7).
This language seems to the reason of man to be certainly figurative. We do not teach that it is. But if it is, what can be the suffering of a soul to which the merciful and loving Jesus would apply such terms even in a figure? We may surely affirm that the words of Jesus must convey ideas conformable with the truth. God could not consent to make false impressions on the human mind by figurative language, any more than He could do it by the most literal and prosaic language. Nor could His goodness permit Him to awaken in the minds of His children needless terrors about perils and sufferings that will never exist. We may, therefore, be sure that the sufferings of the very wicked will be something horrible beyond our conception.
4. There are some natural sources of suffering which are adequate to justify the Scripture imagery concerning future torment.
(1) The punishment that comes from a sense of loss. The wicked shall realize that they have lost the comforts of this life forever. Happiness and ease and rest and hope are gone, NEVER TO RETURN. All the blessed opportunities and means of grace are now among the things that were, never again to be. They also have lost hopelessly all expectation of any favor from God. They are to be driven away "from the presence" of the Living God, who shall say, "Depart from me ye cursed."
(2) There are all the forms of mental anguish that come to the lost, (a) Memory will harrow the soul with the thought of all the grace offered and the mercies rejected, and the divine love despised, and all the shameful features of every past act of sin. God will seem to point to every wicked detail, and say: "Son, remember!" (Luke 16: 25). (b) Conscience will arouse from her drugged sleep, and ply her scorpion-sting. Remorse will begin to eat away at the heart with consuming anguish, (c) Despair will be there, brooding over the heart, in its awful night of horror, suggesting that no voice of mercy or pleading of prayer will ever again be heard, nor ray of morning come, nor rest from weariness, nor balm for pain, nor hope of end in the lethe of eternal sleep, (d) The dismal surroundings and the worse society of that world of lost angels and men will be enough to strike abiding terror to the stoutest heart, (e) And over all will be a sense of the unending indignation of God, and the vials of His consuming wrath which will be poured out without mixture into the cup of their misery, who have stubbornly rejected Christ.
IV. Will the future punishment of the wicked be endless? People have turned to every quarter and grasped, like drowning men, at every floating straw of hope that there might be an end to the punishment of the wicked. A sure hope has never yet been found. There is a natural recoil of the sensibilities from the doctrine of endless punishment. And well there may be, since God Himself has shown such divine reluctance to inflict the awful doom. It showed itself in the gift of His Only Begotten Son, "that whosoever believeth on Him might not perish but have everlasting life." It voiced itself in all His compassionate yearning, and solemn warnings and earnest entreaties that men might repent of sin, and believe in Jesus, and so escape the eternal doom. But this natural recoil of human sensibilities from the truth of such a doctrine is no safe basis for an argument against it, however plausible it may seem.
The opposition to the doctrine gathers around two theories, - annihilation and universalism. They are at the two opposite extremes. And their advocates pay their compliments to each other, each denouncing the belief of the other as a delusion. Universalists speak of "the miserable doctrine of annihilation," "the mischievous heresy of annihilation"; annihilationists, on the other hand, speak of "the rampant delusion of universalism"; "heretical universalism," as arbitrary as unreasonable, and as extravagant an assumption, as could enter into the mind of men." Then with amazing presumption they unite in asking us to give up the Scripture Doctrine of eternal retribution (Wood's "Anni. & Uni.," p. 108). We have already considered the doctrine of annihilation, and shown that it is contrary to philosophy, reason, and Scripture. We therefore need only consider here the claims of universalism, or its objections to the doctrine of eternal punishment.
1. Universalism argues that future punishment will be remedial. It is asserted that the fires of retribution will purify, as well as punish, that the figures employed are intended to illustrate a refining chastisement, that a "second probation will be allowed the ungodly in the other world, resulting in a happy and glorious immortality." But we may well ask, where does the Scripture teach that retribution is regenerative? We read in Revelation that "Men were scorched with great heat; and they blasphemed the name of God which hath the power over these plagues; and they repented not to give Him glory" (Rev. 16: 9). "And they gnawed their tongues for pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they repented not of their works" (10th verse). "Note the result upon these hardened sinners. They did not repent but only blasphemed God the more. When sin has thoroughly gained the ascendancy in (he heart, and the moral being gives himself up to sin, thence forward rebellion becomes a madness and a desperation, showing how baseless is the hope and how contrary to the laws of a sinning moral nature is the expectation that the pains of hell will bring sinners to repentance. It is a moral impossibility. In the present world it is far more often the case that love melts than that fear subdues. But wren even love loses its power, and is only despised, what remains for the desperate rebel but the visitations of judgment, the madness and woes of the lost!" (Cowles' Commentary).
"We are bound to point out," says Dr. Parker, "that nowhere in the sacred writings, is hell referred to as exerting a remedial influence on the criminal; if it does exert such an influence, it was an inexcusable oversight not to dwell upon the fact specifically. On the other hand, it is distinctly taught by Jesus Christ that "if men will not avail themselves of such moral advantages as are now at their disposal, they would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
Another fact that militates against the theory is that moral character tends to final permanence. The word has gone forth, which perhaps is a decree of God, as well as a statement of fact: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy let him be filthy still"; "He shall never see life." "The wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3: 36; Rev. 22: 11). The present time, and so far as Revelation goes, the present time only is the day of grace and salvation, for the greatest sinner, and to fit him for the presence of God. But this day once passed, man's state is eternally fixed. The good never become bad, and the bad never become good. "Between them there is a great gulf fixed," which can never be passed.
The Bible speaks of those whose names are written "in the book of life." "And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20: 12, IS). But if future punishment is remedial, and the doctrine of final salvation of all by restoration is true, then, instead of some being saved, and others lost, the names of all must be in the book of life, and all will be saved, the only difference being that some enter into life later than others. "In fact the doctrine of salvation of all by restoration reverses that glorious passage, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," and makes it mean, "whosoever believeth not shall attain eternal life through perishing"
If this doctrine be true, 2 Thess. 1: 9 is untrue, for it declares that some "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." If this doctrine is true, what Christ said to sinners was not true: "ye shall die in your sins and whither I go ye cannot come" (John 8: 21-24). If this doctrine is true, then the words of the Lord Jesus, "ye must be born again," are not true. If believers and unbelievers are alike saved then it is not true, that "he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on Him."
If this doctrine is true, when it is said, "their end is destruction," it means their end will be blessedness and glory. If true, and if the worm die, the conscience instead of accusing will cease to convict.
If this doctrine is true, then the haters of Christ and the lovers of Christ, the most unholy and the most holy, shall spend an eternity of bliss together. If this doctrine is true then hell itself is a sure though rough and circuitous road to heaven.
If this doctrine is true, then we may commence proclaiming a gospel of hope for those who "die in their sins," and those who "crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame," although God Himself says, "it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance" (Heb. 6:3-6). "If we sin willfully after that we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire that shall devour the adversaries." In short the doctrine flatly contradicts Christ and God (See Wood's "Anni. and Uni.," pp. 122, 123).
2. Universalism objects to the doctrine of eternal punishment on rational grounds, on reasons derived from our necessary sentiments, and convictions and intuitions, thus: "The doctrine is opposed to the divine character and attributes. The existence of everlasting evil under His government, - of sin and consequent misery, is repugnant to God's nature and character. It is opposed to the benevolence of God. The evil contemplated is a calamity beyond all finite comprehension, and God's goodness must be arrayed against it with unchanging and infinite purpose. He cannot tolerate it in His universe. The existence of such an evil is also opposed to His holiness, His moral purity, which is intolerant of sin. Sin is hateful and loathsome to Him; and how can He endure it forever in His sight, and under His power? If sin and misery are to exist forever in His universe, it implies a failure of His goodness and holiness, or of His power. Either He cannot, or He will not, prevent it." Such is the excellent summary which President Fairchild gives of Universalists arguments; and he answers them as follows: "This argument is purely speculative, an appeal to our instinctive judgment, in utter neglect of facts, The same a priori argument could be brought, in full force against the existence of sin and misery In the universe at all, for any length of time. Untold evil has existed in the world through all its history; and this fact as really impugns the attributes of God, as the existence of everlasting misery or evil. God cannot, or will not, prevent it. Everlasting evil is only a continuance of what has been, and what is. As matters stand, the presumption is in favor of the continuance of evil. In advance of experience there would have been, in the human understanding, a presumption against the existence of any evil. Our experience has changed the presumption" (Theology, pp. 335, 336).
President Noah Porter of Yale, our old teacher, said: "Sin exists by the permission of God, at the same time that He is opposed to it, and desires most earnestly that men should abandon it. Why then does He suffer it to be? The only answer that can be given is found in the freedom which is essential to personality. God cannot exercise personal influences except with persons, and personality involves the possibility of perversion. If then sin is a fact, and God is good in permitting it and in punishing it, who shall say that He may not be good, should He permit a person to continue to sin and suffer? And I would submit that those who concede that God can permit sin which He hates, and the sinner whom He must punish to exist at all, cannot assert that God is morally bound not to create a being who He foreknows will sin forever (and suffer forever). (Nor can they say that He is morally bound to annihilate Him.) We may not know why God creates such a being, but we have no such moral insight as warrants us in saying that no reasons are possible which justify Him in doing it. The existence of sin in any being and for any time is the one comprehensive mystery; this is expressed in the problem, how could God create a being and suffer him to sin at all? When this has been conceded to be consistent with the Creator's goodness, we cannot assert on ethical grounds that He might not create a being whom He foresaw would sin and suffer forever. All of which we are ethically sure is, that He detests the sin, and that He has made the creature capable of sinning for some other reason than because he desires that He should sin. Had the opponents of eternal punishment been asked, before sin existed, whether a perfect God could make a being in His own image, who would dishonor that image by sin, they would have said: 'No, a thousand times, No!' by the same logic which they use against the possibility of continued sin in the kingdom of God."
"Argument which proves," says Rev. Joseph Cook, "that sin will cease involves principles which prove that it would never begin. It has begun, and optimism must adjust itself to this fact of experience," Here is a passage from Dr. Bellows, a Unitarian or Universalist, which sounds strangely orthodox: "We confess that our philosophy of man's perfect moral freedom casts very solemn and threatening shadows upon the future of willful and impenitent transgressors. We do not see how men can be made holy against their wills, or be less than miserable so long as they will not be holy; and our observation and experience of human willfulness in this world does not encourage us to hope that it may not continue for indefinite and practically dateless periods in new states of being."
How delusive these arguments are, whose chief stock is sentiment, and which appeal to the sympathies rather than to the moral reason and the Word of God, become quite apparent on a little sober thought, as Mr. Randles says: "Whatever feasibility might appear in the argument from God's goodness or benevolence, it vanishes as soon as we begin to carry out the same mode of reasoning to its legitimate results. If eternal punishment be impossible, because opposed to the Divine benevolence, punishment ages after ages must be equally impossible for the same reason. Punishment has existed perhaps thousands of ages in the case of fallen angels. Strange that God's goodness has not brought it to an end! Clearly it is as difficult to reconcile the existence of any evil with supreme benevolence as it is to reconcile the continuance of evil. It is beside the mark to say that the difficulty is not with the existence of evil but with the eternity of evil. The mode of reasoning from our ideas of goodness to the non-eternity of evil, if sound, would be equally forceful against its existence. The only difference is one of degrees, not of principle. Tell us how to harmonize goodness with the allowance of pain for a moment, and we can then harmonize it with punishment abiding forever.
If liability to evil was a necessity of moral freedom, liability to perpetual evil may be equally so. There is no denying that if God must forbid the eternity of evil because opposed to His goodness, He must also, on the same ground, have forbidden the entrance of evil into the universe, and its endurance to the present time."
The hardihood of Universalists is amazing when they argue, from the goodness of God, against the existence of evil in the future, in full view of the existence of evil through the unmeasured ages of the past. "The main difficulty," says Whately "is not the amount of the evil that exists, but the existence of any evil at all. I will undertake to explain to any one the final condemnation of the wicked, if he will explain to me the existence of the wicked? The existence of any evil at all in the creation is a mystery we cannot explain. It is a mystery, which may be cleared up in a future state, but the Scriptures give us no revelation concerning it. All we can say is that for some unknown cause evil is unavoidable."
We quote the above and the following from an English book (Wood's "Anni. and Univ.," pp. 83-90). Dr. Austin Phelps of Massachusetts says: "How do we know that the safety of the good in eternity, and throughout the universe of peopled space, does not involve by this law of retributive reaction the punishment of the wicked? How do we know that heaven and hell are not so bound together, in the meshes of moral government over free moral beings that one cannot exist without the other?
Sin matured, be it remembered, is no longer the silken and polite depravity which for the most part it assumes to be in the world. It takes on the form of demoniacal hostility to God, and to all holy beings. Consolidated in that mould of malign character, it voluntarily chooses to remain forever. It is energized by spiritual powers of which we in the body have no conception. We do not know what resources of temptation, of guile of direct assault and resistless conquest may be inherent in the very nature of a lost soul set free from the limitations of a sensuous body. Whatever the soul might have been as an heir of heaven, so great it must be perhaps as an heir of hell. The possibilities of spiritual beings are the same measured either way. Whatever its resources are, the lost soul holds them at the service of eternal sin. Heaven has once been thrown into consternation by them; angels kept not their first estate; there was war in heaven. Have you ever realized in your imagination the possibilities of satanic revolution through the universe, involved in that one fact of an angelic fall?
The practical question therefore, as it must present itself to the diplomacy of infinite wisdom, in adjusting the government of the universe, is this; shall devils and devilish men be let loose to prey upon the subjects of their hate forever? Shall heaven itself become hell? Is there not in all our hearts an instinct of upspringing and iron hearted justice, which, if the security of the good requires, by the law of retributive reaction, the eternal confinement of the incorrigibly wicked, says in mournful and tender yet firm and satisfied rejoinder, 'Amen and amen'? Did not St. John hear something like this, when he saw the smoke of torment ascending forever? 'I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia! for true and righteous are thy judgments. And again they said, Alleluia! And the smoke of her torment rose up forever and ever.'
"We are often asked, How can you bear to believe in an eternal hell? Why does it not craze you? How can you call such a God as can create a hell benevolent? To us He seems satanic in His nature. Yes, your God is my devil."
Answer: "Whenever I go from my home to the city of Boston, I pass by a building which reminds me of the castle of Giant Despair. It is constructed of heavy granite blocks to the very roof. It is surrounded with lofty granite walls, and these are surmounted with iron spikes. I see doors of massive iron riveted with iron bolts. I see windows barred with iron. Behind these iron bars I have seen pale, despairing human faces, faces which have reappeared to me in my dreams. I know that underneath those walls, in a dungeon cell, there lives a man, manacled hand and foot, who has clanked his chains there for seventeen years. Sometimes more than five-hundred of my human brothers are locked within those walls of living death.
I have been told that over against a certain window there, on the opposite side of the street, there lives a pale-faced woman who never smiles. Every morning she places on her window sill a blooming flower, where a certain man behind those bars can see it, and can know that a loving woman is thinking of him. Yet I see in a turret on those walls, a man in uniform, with a rifle at his shoulder, who, if he sees that brother trying to clamber over the walls, and touch the hands of that loving woman, is instructed to shoot him down like a dog.
"Why do not I cry out against the malign power which keeps asunder that suffering wife and husband? Why do not I tramp the streets of Boston, pleading with the crowds to go with me and level that Bastille to the ground? Why do not I move heaven and earth against the infernal tyranny which has devised, and the cold hearted cruelty which tolerates that granite hell? What is it that sustains my human sensibilities and yours at the sight of such an anomaly of despair, in a world where robins are singing in the springtime and violets are blooming on the hillsides, and little children are laughing in their glee?
"Answer me this, and I will tell you what it is that sustains a benevolent universe in beholding, and a benignant God in devising, an eternal hell for the confinement of eternal guilt, And you must prove to me that it is not so, before you can charge God with satanic wrong in tolerating such a place as hell within the bounds of his dominions,
"The question which all such suspicions of God's rectitude bring back like a boomerang upon the inquirer is, what else shall God do with eternal guilt? Shall He forgive it? Shall He, by one grand act of amnesty, proclaim liberty to the damned, to the devil, to his angels, and to men like them? But how would that help the matter, sin remaining unrepented of and unforsaken? Free grace proclaimed in hell forever would not quench for one moment its lurid fires, if sin were still regnant there. Sin is hell; 'Myself am hell' says Milton's Satan. Guilt is itself damnation. Again the question returns therefore, what else shall God do with it?'
Shall He give repentance and then forgive? But that is the very thing He has been offering from the first. Never will man or devil see the moment when he cannot repent if he would. But that is the very thing from which the incorrigible sinner recoils; he will have none of that; repentance means submission; better hell than that. Such is the relentless choice of the doomed one, doomed because self-doomed; doomed by the fearful omnipotence of his own free will. Nothing else which it is in God's power to offer does He spurn from him with such concentration of obdurate and vindictive resolve. His whole being revolts from it with the intensity, at last, of ages of accumulated and malign passion.
"Such is sin; once chosen and implanted and indurated in the very nature of man, by a life of abused probation, in which the grace of God has been scorned, and the blood of Christ outraged. Once more then the question comes back unanswered. What else shall God do with it? Through all eternity that is the question which infinite benevolence will ask of an awestruck yet satisfied and adoring universe. 'What else shall God do with it?'
Such is the folly of the sentimental argument against the doctrine of eternal punishment based on the holiness and goodness of God. The glib tongue of universalism will one day be silenced in His awful presence. It will then be seen that God's goodness and holiness no less than His justice demand the abiding wrath of God upon the willful rejecters of His Son. God owes something to Himself, and to His government and to something in the way of protection to all the holy beings in the universe, as well as to those who are in determined and persistent rebellion against Him.
3. Universalists argue again, that sin in man can never call for endless misery, as a proper expression of God's sense of the evil. President Fairchild answers thus "If the experience of finite beings, as we find them in the world, in their sin and misery, is not repugnant to reason, a continuance in this condition cannot be, or even an increase of the misery if it be necessary. The difficulty in its essential force is involved in the facts which we know to exist; and these we must accept because they are facts. Endless guilt and misery are but a continuance of what is. The existence of misery without the guilt is not the question, but the existence of the two in combination. If the sin continues, the misery must follow it.
Again, guilt, that is unworthiness or ill-desert, is naturally everlasting. It is never done away and cannot be. Once incurred it attaches to the soul like its own personality. He who has sinned is forever after ill-deserving. If God shall find it necessary in the economy of His government to give some everlasting expression of His sense of that ill-desert, it will not be unreasonable. There is a presumption for the necessity of such an expression. The world needs evidence of God's disapproval of sin; and the same necessity which exists now, will probably continue. (It may continue forever.) If the evidence of such disapproval should be taken away, or set aside, one great source of motive fails. Motives derived from the consequences of sin, are needed now in the world; why not forever? If the lesson should pass from view, and nothing be heard of it for ages, there would be a loss of restraining motive; and how could we be sure that God's creatures would not lapse again into sin. We cannot, then, by any exercise of our own reason, reach the conclusion that punishment may not be endless."
4. It is further objected that, "If Satan is to be the author of eternal sin, and consequently of eternal suffering, he will have an eternal triumph and God will have an eternal defeat." Mr. Wood calls such language almost too flippant for quotation. Mr. Randles answers "If the endless continuance of moral or natural evil be a defeat of the Son of God, so was the commencement of evil, and so is the existence of evil through the course of time. But in reality neither is so. Is the majesty of law defeated when it binds and punishes a notorious criminal, because it does not make him cordially loyal? Is the national government defeated when it brings a murderous traitor to the scaffold or to lifelong imprisonment? The spirit of objection must have run mad when it descends to the puerility of calling the penal subjection of wicked men and fiends a defeat of the authority by which it is achieved" (Wood's "Anni. and Uni" p. 125).
The truth is all these arguments of unbelief dash in vain against this doctrine, as the angry waves of the sea break against a rock bound coast.
NOT SETTLED BY REASON
Men, as we have seen, have tried to overthrow the doctrine of eternal punishment, and tried in vain. But others have summoned reason in support of the doctrine, and with far better success. Yet the efforts are not wholly satisfactory to all minds, Both Miley and Fairchild decide that reason is incapable of deciding the question on either side. Fairchild says: "We may properly affirm that guilt is endless, that it never can be done away; and it is true that it deserves endless punishment. But what sin deserves is one thing, and what it is right to inflict is quite a different thing. Punishment is inflicted not on the ground of desert, but on the ground of its necessity to the good of the moral universe. Of that necessity reason cannot positively speak. We are not competent judges of the future necessities of God's kingdom.
Again, reason can affirm that if sin continues in the future life and becomes permanent, punishment, or consequent evil, must accompany it. But this judgment is hypothetical. As to the fact of the permanence of sin in the future, reason can make no positive assertion. At the most it can only give us a presumption.
"Reason, then, can neither set aside the doctrine of endless punishment, nor establish it. It gives us a probability in its favor, as the great majority of the world have decided. The question belongs strictly to revelation. God alone can know the necessities of His government in the future and what can wisely be done for sinners" (Theology, pp. 337, 338). Yet there are plenty of people, who cannot govern their twelve-year-old boy, who can tell you all about how God ought to govern a moral universe!
THE VOICE OF SCRIPTURE
It seems to be absolutely on the side of the doctrine in question. It tells us:
1. Matt. 25: 46, "And these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life." The same Greek adjective is applied to the saved and the lost, without a hint that it is used in a different sense.
2. In Mark 3: 29, we read, "Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."
3. In Mark 9:43, we read of "hell, into the unquenchable fire."
4. In Luke 3: 17, we again read of "unquenchable fire."
5. In John 3: 36, "He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on Him."
6. In John 8: 21-24, "Ye shall die in your sins, and whither I go ye cannot come."
7. 2 Thess. 1: 7-10, "Who shall suffer punishment, eternal destruction from the face of the Lord, and the glory of His might."
8. Mark 14: 21, "Good were it for that man if he had not been born."
9. "And they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev. 20: 10).
There is no fair exegesis that can explain away all these texts. Dropping all material figures, it is a suffering for sin, the sufferer's own sin, and not as a means of discipline, but in token of God's righteous displeasure, and in demonstration of His justice. Sinners are punished because the authority of God's holy law and the interests of His eternal kingdom require it. Even Theodore Parker, the Unitarian said, "The words of Jesus clearly teach the doctrine of unending penalty."
That there is eternal sin and therefore eternal punishment cannot be disputed. Be it an act of blasphemy, or a state of persistent impenitence, if unpardoned, it must be punished forever. The whole right-thinking moral universe may well ask the unanswered and unanswerable question, "What else shall God do with it?"