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This is a guest post by Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Redeeming Philosophy: A God-Centered Approach to the Big Questions.
Answering the Big Questions
To many people, the mention of “philosophy” brings up an image of gray-haired intellectuals endlessly debating irrelevancies. There is some truth in this image, especially the part about the endless debate.
But philosophy matters for Christians because many of the debates are about the “big questions” of human existence.
•Does God exist?
•If he does, what kind of God is he?
•What kind of world do we live in? Is the universe nothing but….
Read the entire article here.
An atheist reviews Richard Dawkins’ autobiography and titles it “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins.” Even atheists are increasingly embarrassed by Dawkins.
The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins His atheism is its own kind of narrow religion by John Gray
……….Dawkins’s suggestion is that memes “leap from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,” and it is clear that he sees this process at work throughout human culture, including religion.
There are many difficulties in talk of memes, including how they are to be identified. Is Romanticism a meme? Is the idea of evolution itself a meme, jumping unbidden from brain to brain? My suspicion is that the entire “theory” amounts to not much more than a misplaced metaphor. The larger problem is that a meme-based Darwinian account of religion is at odds with Dawkins’s assault on religion as a type of intellectual error. If Darwinian evolution applies to religion, then religion must have some evolutionary value. But in that case there is a tension between naturalism (the study of humans and other animals as organisms in the natural world) and the rationalist belief that the human mind can rid itself of error and illusion through a process of critical reasoning. To be sure, Dawkins and those who think like him will object that evolutionary theory tells us how we got where we are, but does not preclude our taking charge of ourselves from here on. But who are “we”? In a passage from The Selfish Gene that Dawkins quotes in this memoir, he writes:
They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, these replicators. Now they come by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
If we “are” survival machines, it is unclear how “we” can decide anything. The idea of free will, after all, comes from religion and not from science. Science may give us the unvarnished truth—or some of it—about our species. Part of that truth may prove to be that humans are not and can never be rational animals. Religion may be an illusion, but that does not mean science can dispel it. On the contrary, science may well show that religion cannot be eradicated from the human mind. Unsurprisingly, this is a possibility that Dawkins never explores.
For all his fervent enthusiasm for science, Dawkins shows very little interest in asking what scientific knowledge is or how it comes to be possible. There are many philosophies of science. Among them is empiricism, which maintains that scientific knowledge extends only so far as observation and experiment can reach; realism, which holds that science can give an account of parts of the world that can never be observed; irrealism, according to which there is no one truth of things to which scientific theories approximate; and pragmatism, which views science theories as useful tools for organizing and controlling experience. If he is aware of these divergent philosophies, Dawkins never discusses them. His attitude to science is that of a practitioner who does not need to bother with philosophical questions.
It is worth noting, therefore, that it is not as a practicing scientist that Dawkins has produced his assaults against religion. As he makes clear in this memoir, he gave up active research in the 1970s when he left his crickets behind and began to write The Selfish Gene. Ever since, he has written as an ideologue of scientism, the positivistic creed according to which science is the only source of knowledge and the key to human liberation. He writes well—fluently, vividly, and at times with considerable power. But the ideas and the arguments that he presents are in no sense novel or original, and he seems unaware of the critiques of positivism that appeared in its Victorian heyday.
Some of them bear re-reading today. One of the subtlest and most penetrating came from the pen of Arthur Balfour, the Conservative statesman, British foreign secretary, and sometime prime minister. Well over a century ago, Balfour identified a problem with the evolutionary thinking that was gaining ascendancy at the time. If the human mind has evolved in obedience to the imperatives of survival, what reason is there for thinking that it can acquire knowledge of reality, when all that is required in order to reproduce the species is that its errors and illusions are not fatal? A purely naturalistic philosophy cannot account for the knowledge that we believe we possess. As he framed the problem in The Foundations of Belief in 1895, “We have not merely stumbled on truth in spite of error and illusion, which is odd, but because of error and illusion, which is even odder.” Balfour’s solution was that naturalism is self-defeating: humans can gain access to the truth only because the human mind has been shaped by a divine mind. Similar arguments can be found in a number of contemporary philosophers, most notably Alvin Plantinga. Again, one does not need to accept Balfour’s theistic solution to see the force of his argument. A rigorously naturalistic account of the human mind entails a much more skeptical view of human knowledge than is commonly acknowledged.
Balfour’s contributions to the debate about science and religion are nowadays little known—compelling testimony to the historical illiteracy of contemporary philosophy. But Balfour also testifies to how shallow, crass, and degraded the debate has become since Victorian times. Unlike most of those who debated then, Dawkins knows practically nothing of the philosophy of science, still less about theology or the history of religion. From his point of view, he has no need to know. He can deduce everything he wants to say from first principles. Religion is a type of supernatural belief, which is irrational, and we will all be better off without it: for all its paraphernalia of evolution and memes, this is the sum total of Dawkins’s argument for atheism. His attack on religion has a crudity that would make a militant Victorian unbeliever such as T.H. Huxley—described by his contemporaries as “Darwin’s bulldog” because he was so fierce in his defense of evolution—blush scarlet with embarrassment.
Read the entire article here.
We shall divide God’s gifts into five classes. First, we shall have gifts temporal; second, gifts saving; third, gifts honorable; fourth, gifts useful; and fifth, gifts comfortable. Of all these we shall say, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”
4. We notice in the fourth place, the gift of USEFULNESS. I have often done wrong in finding fault with brother ministers for not being useful, I have said you might have been as useful as I have been had you been in earnest. But surely there are others even more earnest, and more efficient: others laboring as constantly, but with far less effect. And, therefore, let me retract my accusation, and in lieu thereof assert that the gift of usefulness is the result of God’s Sovereignty. It is not in man to be useful, but in God to make him useful. We may labor ourselves with all our might, but God alone can make us useful. We can put every stitch of canvass on when the wind blows, but we cannot make the wind blow.
The Sovereignty of God is seen also in the diversity of ministerial gifts. You go to one minister and are fed with plenty of good food: another has not enough to feed a mouse; he has plenty of reproof, but no food for the child of God. Another can comfort the child of God, but he cannot reprove a backslider. He has not strength of mind enough to give those earnest home strokes which are sometimes needed. And what is the reason! God’s Sovereignty. One can wield the sledge hammer but could not heal a broken heart. If he were to attempt it, you would be reminded of an elephant trying to thread a needle. Such a man can reprove, but he cannot apply oil and wine to a bruised conscience. Why? Because God hath not given to him the gift. There is another one who always preaches experimental divinity; and very rarely touches upon doctrine. Another is all doctrine, and cannot preach much about Jesus Christ and him crucified. Why? God hath not given him the gift of doctrine. Another always preaches Jesus — blessed Jesus; men of the Hawker school — and many say, oh! they do not give us experience enough; they do not go into the deep experience of the corruption which vexes the children of God. But we do not blame them for this. You will notice that out of the same man will at one time flow streams of living water, while at another time he will be as dry as possible. On one Sabbath you go away refreshed by the preaching, and the next you get no good. There is Divine Sovereignty in all this, and we must learn to recognize and admire it. I was preaching on one occasion last week to a large crowd of people, and in one part of the sermon the people were very much affected; I felt that the power of God was there; one poor creature absolutely shrieked out because of the wrath of God against sin; but at another time the same words might have been uttered and there might have been the same desire in the minister’s heart, and yet no effect produced. We must trace, I say, Divine Sovereignty in all such cases. We ought to recognize God’s hand in everything. But the present is the most godless generation that ever trod this earth, I verily believe. In our fathers, days there was hardly a shower but they declared that God caused it to fall; and they had prayers for rain, prayers for sunshine, and prayers for harvest; as well when a haystack was on fire, as when a famine desolated the land; our forefathers said, the Lord hath done it. But now our philosophers try to explain everything, and trace all phenomena to second causes. But brethren, let it be ours to ascribe the origin and direction of all things to the Lord, and the Lord alone.
Charles H. Spurgeon-Sermon-Divine Sovereignty-Delivered May 4 1856
1505 Scotland Street Calgary, Alberta October 5, 1959
Dr. C.D. Cole
746 W. Noel
My Dear Dr. Cole:
Although I am a total stranger to you, my parents have known Dr. Shields over the years and take “The Witness” regularly. As a result of an article of yours which I read therein several years ago, I feel that I must write you to seek further light on this matter of Election.
Your article opened up a completely new line of thought for me; like most people, I did not subscribe to it at all (at first) but was challenged by it, even though much disturbed. Since then, I have reverted to it time and again and finally this autumn got down to studying it in dead earnest! I read what I could of Spurgeon on the subject, Dr. Shields, and also borrowed a copy of Strong’s Theology which I found rather heavy going! All in all, I have become so obsessed with this doctrine that I can scarcely think of anything else. And yet there is so much that I do not understand. I know that the “heart is deceitful above all things” and perhaps mine is deceiving me when I say that I really think the questions that arise in my mind do not stem so much from a reluctance to admit total depravity as they do from my inability to reconcile the doctrine with other passages of Scripture.
I had always thought that election and predestination was something that the Presbyterians were a little “off” on (excuse the bad grammar!). It never occurred to me that there was so much Scriptural evidence for it, or that Baptists believe it! However, I did feel that if this doctrine was taught in the Scripture, as it seemed to be, than I should know more about it and should believe it, whether I liked it or not and whether I fully understood it or not.
My mind goes round and round like a squirrel in a cage, until I am really exhausted. About the time I think I understand it and accept it, Satan seems to raise fresh doubts to plague me. It leaves one almost breathless. As after a close brush with death, to think that one might not have been elected! Truly, as never before, I can see that our salvation is all of grace. I always thought, when we spoke of salvation as being wholly of God’s grace, that it meant that His plan or idea to save us was unmerited favour, since nothing in us merited His ever desiring to save us; and also, that it was a gift for which we could never possibly work or acquire sufficient righteousness to merit. But obviously grace embodies more even than this. When you realize that a person wouldn’t even want salvation unless he were elected, then you realize how tremendously indebted we are to grace—for it is grace through and through.
I have wondered sometimes if the objections which we feel towards Election are directed more towards the idea of God’s complete sovereignty than towards total depravity. It seems to go against human nature to think that God can do what He likes with us and we are powerless to do anything about it.
I almost hesitate to put into words some of the objections which have come to my mind lest I should be guilty of blasphemy or sacrilege; for I have always been taught that it is a very serious thing to criticize God. And yet, in the interests of clarifying my thinking, I feel that I must confess to you some of the points about election that are troubling me and which seem to contradict other Scriptures and other doctrines.
Also, I teach a Young Women’s Bible Class and we have been studying this subject (the blind leading the blind, I am afraid). We are to have an evening discussion of it on November 5th so I should like to clear up some points in my own mind before that time.
Perhaps the easiest way for you to answer would be for me to put my questions in point form:
1. Most people feel right away that Election is unjust. I realize, from your pamphlet, as well as from Scripture, that God doesn’t owe it to us to save anyone and further, that He has a right to bestow the gift of salvation on whom He will. But somehow the feeling persists that if a person doesn’t even get a chance to accept or reject salvation, he “goes to bat with two strikes against him” so to speak.
Before studying Election, I always thought that if anyone were even remotely interested in being saved, then, in response to prayer by interested relatives or friends, the Holy Spirit would operate on that person’s heart and bring him under conviction to the place where he would decide for or against Christ.
But, if the only people who are going to accept Christ are those who have been “ear-marked” for salvation ahead of time, then, one feels that the rest of the race haven’t had a chance, even of refusing. To what extent are they responsible for being lost?
One woman in my class, from the southern states as a matter of fact, said to me afterwards, “If this teaching is right, it makes everything seem so hopeless. I thought anyone could be saved; that the decision was theirs. But if God has decided ahead of time, they haven’t a chance, no matter how much we pray for them”.
I tried to point out that the whole race was lost anyway, regardless of Election. That Election of some did not mean that the others were any worse off than they would have been without Election. And yet—with a part of me—I know how she feels, because periodically, in spite of all my praying for light, I have the same feeling…that if you are not elected, you just don’t stand a chance. You feel as if the whole matter has been taken out of your hands and you aren’t given an equal chance with others.
I understand all the argument about the governor of a prison, too, and agree with it with my head! But my heart keeps saying that while it is true a man is not in prison because the governor hasn’t pardoned him, but rather because of his own wrongdoing, nevertheless, the lack of a pardon keeps him there!
Is there Scripture to support the interpretation that if we were not elected, we would never have the faintest interest in salvation? I know from #Ro 8:7,8 as well as other passages, that in our natural state we are at enmity with God. But I always thought that if the Holy Spirit operated on a human heart, say of someone who was showing interest in becoming a Christian, that that person then had a chance to decide whether or not to be saved. But evidently, the Holy Spirit doesn’t even work on the heart of anyone who has not been elected ahead of time. Is there Scripture for that?
2. If God chooses only certain people for salvation, or enables only certain people to avail themselves of salvation, then what do you do with verses like #Joh 3:16? I thought Christ died “for the sins of the whole world” (#1Joh 2:2) not just for the elect. Spurgeon seem to think that He died only for the elect.
And what about such verses as “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” and again “but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. If man is powerless to repent unless he is elected, and God does not elect him, how is man responsible for not obeying God’s command to repent; and, furthermore, how can it be said that God is not willing for any to perish if He doesn’t enable all to be saved?
3. How do you explain the fact that sometimes a person is under great conviction but decides against salvation? Were they or were they not elected? My father, who passed away in July, was a great Christian layman and doctor and led many souls to Christ in his offices and through lay preaching. He told me a story which he either read or witnessed himself—I have forgotten which. But a young woman attended some revival meetings night after night and appeared to be deeply moved. In fact, it was apparent to the preacher that she was under deep conviction. The last night, when the call was given, she slipped from her place and left the building. A worker followed her and heard her say, looking up to the stars, “I do not want to be a Christian. Why can’t You leave me alone? I am enjoying life and my good times and I am not prepared to change my way of living. Holy Spirit, please leave me alone and don’t bother me again”. And, with a chilling laugh, she walked off into the night. She was killed in an accident a few hours later, if I remember rightly.
Now, what I want to know is this: was she elected, and if she were not, how did she get under conviction in the first place? Would the Holy Spirit waste time, so to speak, convicting someone of sin whom God had not even elected? If she were elected, why didn’t she come? I thought election meant that you had to come whether you realized it or not. Is it possible for certain people to be chosen for salvation but for them, in the exercise of their free wills, to reject it?
4. Also, please explain the verse “many are called, but few are chosen”. If that verse said “many are called but few accept” I could understand it. But I do not distinguish between “calling” and “choosing”. I would have thought they were the same.
5. Finally, in spite of all the arguments to the contrary, I find myself caught up in a sort of fatalistic attitude—that what is to be will be. Perhaps this stems more from my reading on the sovereignty of God than from Election.
But I find myself arguing thus, “If God has a plan for every individual and every nation, if He ordains the powers that be, and sets up kings and disposes of them, etc., if He is completely sovereign, then He is going to work out His will regardless of Satan’s efforts to thwart Him or man’s failure to his part”.
You say that because Election is a secret matter, we must witness anyway and leave the results to God. True. But on the other hand, I can’t see that it matters whether we know or whether we don’t since God knows who is elected and will save a person whether we do our bit or not. Just because I fail to witness, God is not going to be thwarted in His design to save certain people. The very fact that God has chosen them is sufficient to ensure that they will be saved whether we witness or not, for the simple reason that God is sovereign and has already elected them for salvation. I agree that I don’t know who is elected and who is not. But I don’t have to. They are going to be saved anyway if God wills it.
I read in Strong’s Theology that our prayers never change God’s mind, the idea being that as we grow in our Christian experience and live closer to God, we shall learn to pray for those things that are according to God’s purpose for us; therefore He can answer our prayer.
But again—if He has plans for individuals or nations, they will be brought to fruition without our prayers. If this is so, then, what we think have been answers to prayers are only the fulfilment of a divine plan that would have been accomplished quite as well without our prayer. But, because we cannot see the future, we think we have prevailed with God and so we say He has answered our prayer. But, since He planned a certain course for us, it would have come about that way in any event. Do you see what I am trying to say?
I always thought that, to a certain extent, we did prevail with God providing we were not asking for something outside of His will— by that I mean His pleasure or permissive will rather than a fixed, premeditated plan. I guess I thought, for instance, that if a loved one were sick and the Lord didn’t have any actual decision made that that was the time they were to die, He would spare their life in answer to prayer. But according to sovereignty, the reason He spared it was simply because He wasn’t ready for them to die yet, therefore my prayer had nothing to do with it. They would have recovered in any event. If that were His foreordained plan, or died if that were His plan.
If prayer doesn’t change God’s mind, then what use was there in Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah? God would have saved 50 or 40 or 10 in any event if they had been found. Or Moses interceding for Israel. God had a plan for Israel that He would carry out regardless of Moses’ prayer so that Moses and the rest of us just pray for something that is bound to happen whether or not we pray! To me that defeats the whole purpose of prayer. It almost makes one feel that we are deluded into thinking we are accomplishing something by prayer, whereas in reality it has all been decided upon ahead of time.
Now, for instance, in the case of Mueller’s Orphanage. God had a plan for that work which would be carried to fruition since He is sovereign. If prayer doesn’t carry any weight with God, so to speak insofar as influencing Him, then would that milk truck have broken down in front of the Orphanage (thereby supplying milk for all those children) whether Mueller had spent the night on his knees or not? According to theologians, it was not Mueller’s prayers that resulted in the seemingly miraculous supply of milk for the orphanage, but just part of a plan that would have come to pass anyway. Mueller might just as well have spent the night in bed as on his knees. I don’t understand it. To me, such reasoning contradicts #Jas 5:16 and others which teach importunate prayer. I wonder sometimes if the trouble is not with men’s interpretations of Scripture rather than with Scripture itself.
This is a terribly long letter and I do apologize for being so wordy. But this subject is too vast, I guess, to be covered by correspondence. How I wish I could sit down and talk with you.
I am keeping a copy of this letter so that I can refer to it when your answer comes. I do hope you will not think I am imposing on you; but your pamphlet has really stirred me up. I can see where election is indeed a wonderful doctrine if only it didn’t seem to contradict other Scriptures.
I hope and pray that you can give me more light and that you won’t be offended with such a long letter from a stranger.
With heartfelt thanks in anticipation of your reply, I am
Signed: Marjorie Bond (Mrs. Marjorie Bond)
Dr. C. D. Cole-The Bible Doctrine of Election-Part II-Questions and Answers on Election
OUR Father, we bless Thy name that we can say from the bottom of our hearts, “Abba, Father.” It is the chief joy of our lives that we have become the children of God by faith which is in Christ Jesus, and we can in the deep calm of our spirit say, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.”
Lord, we thank Thee for the liberty which comes to our emancipated spirit through the adoption which Thou hast made us to enjoy. When we were in servitude the chains were heavy, for we could not keep Thy law; there was an inward spirit of rebellion; when the commandment came it irritated our corrupt nature and sin revived, and we died.
Even when we had some strivings after better things, yet the power that was in us lusted into evil, and the spirit of the Hagarene was upon us; we wanted to fly from the Father’s house; we were wild men, men of the wilderness, and we loved not living in the Father’s house.
O God, we thank Thee that we have not been cast out. Indeed, if Thou hadst then cast out the child of the bondwoman Thou hadst cast us out, but now through sovereign grace all is altered with us. Blessed by Thy name. It is a work of divine power and love over human nature, for now we are the children of the promise, certainly not born according to the strength of the human will, or of blood, or of birth, but born by the Holy Ghost through the power of the Word, begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, children of the Great Father who is in heaven, having His life within us. Now, like Isaac, we are heirs according to promise and heirs of the promise, and we dwell at home in the Father’s house, and our soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and our mouth shall praise Thee as with joyful lips.
O God, we would not change places with angels, much less with kings of the earth. To be indeed Thy sons and daughters — the thought of it doth bring to our soul a present heaven, and the fruition of it shall be our heaven, to dwell for ever in the house of the Lord, and go no more out, but to be His sons and His heirs for ever and ever.
Our first prayer is for others who as yet are in bondage. We thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast given them the spirit of bondage and made them to fear. We are glad that they should be brought to feel the evil of sin, to feel the perfection of Thy law, to know something of the fiery nature of Thy justice, and so to be shut up unto salvation by grace through faith. But, Lord, let them not tarry long under the pedagogue, but may the schoolmaster with his rod bring them to Christ.
Lord, cure any of Thy chosen of self-righteousness; deliver them from any hope in their own abilities, but keep them low. Bring them out of any hope of salvation by their own prayers or their own repentance. Bring them to cast themselves upon Thy grace to be saved by trusting in Christ. Emancipate them from all observance of days, weeks, months, years, and things of human institution, and bring them into the glorious liberty of the children of God that Thy law may become their delight, Thyself become their strength, their all, Thy Son become their joy and their crown. We do pray this with all our hearts.
Lord, deliver any of Thy children from quarreling with Thee. Help us to be always at one with our God. “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good,” and blessed be His name for ever and ever. God, bless our country, and the sister country across the flood, and all lands where Thy name is known and reverenced, and heathen lands where it is unknown. God, bless the outposts, the first heralds of mercy, and everywhere may the Lord’s kingdom come and His name be glorified. Glory be unto the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
C. H. Spurgeon’s Prayers
The Final States of the Righteous and the Wicked
IN the last chapter, nothing was said specifically of the awards of the judgement day. Yet is the public bestowal of these the culminating point of interest in that occasion. Judgement, without the expression of its results, in rewards and punishment, would be empty and vain. Hence the Scriptures do not leave us ignorant of what sentences will be pronounced upon the righteous, and wicked, and of what will be the final state of each. Of necessity, these must, in some respects, resemble those of the intermediate state; of which the condition of the righteous and wicked after judgement will be an enlargement and a culmination. It is not strange, therefore, that the Scriptures teach more fully, and emphatically upon these subjects.
I. THE FINAL STATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
There is upon this point little dispute as to the meaning of the Scripture statements. As they are numerous, they will best be presented under several classes of description.
1. The sentence of the judgement day may be stated.
Our Lord declared that “then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matt. 25:34. This is called “eternal life” in v. 46. As this is, probably, a description of the nature of the blessings to be attained, rather than a declaration of the literal language that will then be used, other statements may here be added which are of the same nature. One that is given in the parable of the talents, in which his lord said to him of the five talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant:thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things:enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matt. 25:21, (cf. Matt. 24:27). The righteous are spoken of as “wheat,” and it is said that the householder at the harvest time will say to the reapers, “gather the wheat into my barn,” Matt. 13:30. Our Lord, in his explanation of this parable, says of those thus represented by the wheat, “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” v. 43. Corresponding to this language, is the declaration of Peter, that, “when the chief shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.” 1 Pet. 5:4. There may be added, also, the promises made in Revelation to “him that overcometh,” viz.: to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God,” (Chap. 2:7); “That he shall not be hurt of the second death,” (2:11); “That he shall be given of the hidden manna,” and “a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written,” (2:17), and given authority over the nations, (2:27,) to “rule them with a rod of iron,” (2:27); to “be arrayed in white garments,” (3:5), and “walk with me (Christ) in white,” (3:4), to be made “a pillar in the temple of my God, the new Jerusalem, and the new name of Christ, written upon him,” (3:12); to sit down with Christ in his throne, 3:21; “to inherit these things,” with the promise, “I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” 21:7. These declarations, however figurative, are descriptive of the condition of the saints in glory, and may, therefore, be appropriately added to the sentence of their Lord.
2. The future state of the righteous, is also stated, with reference to his past condition on earth, as “salvation,” (Mark 16:16; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Tim. 2:10); deliverance :from every evil work,” (2 Tim. 4:18); “redemption,” (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30); “liberty,” (John 8:36; Rom. 8:21); “rest,” (Heb. 4:10; Rev. 14:13); deliverance from earthly sufferings, such as hunger, thirst, tears, etc., (Rev. 7:16, 17); “no night,” (Rev. 21:25; 22:5); “no uncleanness,” Rev. 21:27.
3. It is also described, in contrast with present possessions, as blessedness, (Matt. 25:34); perfect knowledge, (1 Cor. 13:12); holiness, (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 21:27); glory, (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 5:4); life, (Mark 8:35; 9:43, 45, 47; John 5:29; Rom. 8:13); crown of life, (James 1:12); eternal life, Matt. 19:29; 25:46; John 6:27, 47, 54; Rom 2:7.
4. Declarations are made which connect the believer with Christ, viz.: As of his being with Christ, (1 Thess. 4:17); in the presence of his glory, (Jude 24); holding his glory, (John 17:24); conformed to the body of Christ in his glory, (Phil. 3:21); Christ showing him the riches of his grace, (Eph. 2:7); Christ glorified in them, (2 Thess. 1:10); entering into the joy of their Lord, (Matt. 25:21, 23); reigning with Christ, 2 Tim 2:12, etc.
5. Statements are made about their activity in the heavenly life. The rest of heaven is not a state of inactivity. This is pointed out in the very passage which speaks of the rest as a particular blessedness: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours (toil, trouble, suffering, pain, weariness); for their works (deeds, works, especially those of necessity or duty,) [see Lexicon of Liddell-Scott,] follow with them.” Rev. 14:13. Here we are taught that, while they rest from onerous and painful toil, they continue to be actively employed. We may not know what all of these employments shall be. They will be such as will be suited to their intellectual and moral nature and position. The statements of the book of Revelation give us an insight into what some of them may be. The servants of God are there depicted as serving God, Rev. 7:15; 22:3; as giving praises in song, Rev. 14:2, 3; 15:3, 4; 19:5, 6; as engaged in prayers of adoration, Rev. 6:9-13; 7:11, 12; of thanksgiving, Rev. 11:17; and in acts of humiliation, Rev. 4:10.
6. The blessedness of the future state of the righteous, is also set forth in connection with the place of their abode.
This is usually called heaven. It is readily admitted that the word “heaven” is used otherwise than for the abode of God, and Christ, and angels, and the future dwelling-place of the saints. But in numerous places it has only this special signification. The following selection of passages will suffice. Matt. 5:12, 45; 6:20; Luke 6:23; 15:7; 22:43; John 3:13; 6:38; Rom. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:47; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 1:10; 3:15; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:7; Heb. 9:24; 1 Pet. 1:4; 3:22.
The plain teaching of these passages, and of others that might be mentioned, is that heaven is a place, and not merely a condition of happiness.
The same fact is justly argued from its being the abiding place of Christ. His human body must occupy a specified place in space. It has been replied to this argument that, “since deity and humanity are indissolubly united in Christ’s single person, it is difficult to consider Christ’s body as limited to place, without vacating his person of its divinity.” But this objection is made in forgetfulness of the fact that Christ, in his divine relation, is not limited by his human nature, much less by his human body. This was shown by him, while on earth, when, in conversation with Nicodemus, he spake of himself as being in heaven, (John 3:13), although his body was manifestly on earth. Was his ubiquity as God interfered with by his location then in space as man? It was in like manner that Christ saw Nathanael under the fig tree, when he was not bodily present. John 1:48.
The idea of ubiquity of the body of Christ has been abandoned, however, while still it is denied that his human soul is limited to space. Thus it is said that “since deity and humanity are dissolubly united in Christ’s single person, we cannot regard Christ’s human soul as limited to place without vacating his person of its divinity.”
But this is equally erroneous. Divine attributes are not conferred on Christ’s soul because of its union with a divine person. But ubiquity, or omnipresence is a divine attribute. It is much more difficult for us to understand how the unity of Christ’s person did not convey to the human soul all knowledge belonging to Christ as God. Yet we are distinctly told (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32), that there was such a limitation of knowledge as to the time of Christ’s second coming, as could only be true of Christ in his human nature, and not of him as God. The perfect humanity of Christ, which is his as truly as his perfect divinity, makes necessary such location in space as is suitable to a human soul. Whatever superiority may accrue to either the human body or soul of Christ can never place either of these beyond the excellence of created existence, or confer upon either the nature or attributes of God.
No similar objection, however, can be made to an argument to the same effect, drawn from the bodies of the saints. Heaven cannot be regarded as only a state in which they have communion with God, but must be accepted as the place of their abode in their glorified bodies, in which they dwell with each other, and rejoice in the state of happiness and glory which is also theirs.
We have no means of ascertaining the location of heaven. That this earth, in its renewed condition, may be the future heaven is favoured by Rom. 8:19-23; 2 Pet. 3:5-13, and Rev. 21:1-3. But these passages are entirely to indefinite and doubtful to give any certainty, or even very strong probability, on this point.
Heaven is spoken of in certain descriptive terms. It is called “a better country, that is a heavenly.” Heb. 11:16. It is the place which we shall have a “a building from God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2); and “a place” among the “many mansions” in the “Father’s house;” John 14:2. It is called “the kingdom,” Matt. 13:43; 25:34. It is possible that heaven is also meant by the “Jerusalem that is above,” (Gal. 4:26), and “the new Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven,” (Rev. 3:12), and “the holy city Jerusalem,” (Rev. 21:10); as well as by Paradise, Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7, (cf. Rev. 21:10-27).
7. The blessedness of this state of the righteous is made supreme by the fact that it will last forever. It will never end; it will never be diminished. If there be any change, it will be from its increase; because of better intellectual perception and knowledge of God, and of divine things; because of a constantly and increasingly endearing communion with God in Christ; because of an increased capacity to behold the glory of Christ; and because of a greater exaltation of the spiritual nature in the worship and service of the Lord. There is no reason why there may not be such increase in beings whose natures can never attain the infinity of excellence and the complete fulness which belong only to God.
This perpetuity of the happiness of the saints is stated in various ways.
(1.) It is called “eternal life,” and “everlasting life” in the King James version, which are translations of the same Greek words. They are translated “eternal life,” or “life eternal” in Matt. 25:26; Mark 10:30; John 3:15; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2; Acts 13:48; Rom. 2:7; 5:21; 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:12, 19; Tit. 1:2; 3:7; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 5:11-13; Jude 21. They are translated “everlasting life,” or “life everlasting” im Matt. 19:29; Luke 18:30; John 3:16, 36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40, 47; Rom. 6:22; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16. The Greek should have been translated in all these places by the same word; and the better word would have been everlasting, because only a relative eternity, or what is called eternity a parte post, belongs to created things. God alone has true eternity. [See pages 68-70.]
(2.) It is declared to be “for ever,” John 6:51, 58; and “for ever and ever,” Rev. 22:5.
(3.) Similar expressions are also used, as “everlasting tabernacles,” Luke 16:9; “eternal weight of glory,” (2 Cor. 4:17); “glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever,” (Eph. 3:21); “eternal comfort,” (2 Thess. 2:16); “Salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory,” (2 Tim. 2:10); “eternal salvation,” (Heb. 5:9); “eternal redemption,” (Heb. 9:12); eternal inheritance,” (Heb. 9:15); “eternal glory,” (1 Pet. 5:10); “eternal kingdom of our Lord, and Saviour Jesus Christ,” 2 Pet. 1:11.
(4.) In John 4:14; 8:51, 52, and 10:28, it is declared of believers that “they shall never thirst;” “never taste of death;” “and never perish;” by which is taught the same everlasting condition expressed in the three preceding classes. Reference is made in these passages to the spiritual life of the soul.
The numerous declarations of everlasting life and happiness, thus classified above, make certain what might have been inferred from the scriptural statements of the natural immortality conferred upon spirit, which forbids its annihilation; and from security, against the spiritual; death of the soul, arising from the gracious work of Christ wrought out, for, and in the believer, through which he is forever delivered from the condemnation, and presence of sin, and clothed in the unfailing righteousness of God. The same blessing is unquestionably attained through the relation borne to Christ by the saints, as constituting the church of first born ones, which is his bride, Eph. 5:23-33, and also that body, of which he is the head, which is declared to be “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Eph. 1:23. The vital connection between Christ and his people has no elements of dissolution, and, therefore, everlasting must be that cause of their existence announced by him when he said, “because I live, ye shall live also.” John 14:19.
II. THE FINAL STATE OF THE WICKED.
The judgement day is no less signally to be marked by the punishment decreed against the wicked, than by the blessings conferred upon the righteous. These, also, are set forth in the Bible, and in fearful words of warning; and should be effective for driving men to Christ for salvation, while the day of probation continues.
1. We have here the sentence to be uttered against those who are still in sin. It occurs in the same chapter with that of the righteous. Christ tells us that “Then shall he (the King) say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels, . . . and these shall go away into eternal punishment.” Matt. 25:41, 46. A similar sentence occurs in Luke 13:27, “I tell you, I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.”
The different elements, included in this sentence, are also taught of the wicked elsewhere in the Scriptures; some examples of which may be here added.
(1.) Punishment. “He that disbelieveth shall be condemned,” Mark 16:16; “the resurrection of judgement,” John 5:29; “rendering vengeance to them that know not God . . . who shall suffer punishment,” 2 Thess. 1:8, 9; “keep the unrighteous under the punishment unto the day of judgement,” 2 Pet. 2:9.
(2.) Pain: (a) as expressed by fire. (Matt. 13:42, 50; 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-48; 2 Thess. 1:8; 2 Pet. 3:7); (b.) fire and brimstone, (Rev. 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8); (c.) flame, (Luke 16:24); (d.) “the unquenchable fire,” (Mark 9:44, 48; cf. Luke 3:17); (e.) “tribulation,” Matt. 24:21, 29; Rom. 2:8, 9.
(3.) Deprivation: severed from among the righteous. Matt 13:49; “outer darkness,” Matt. 25:30; “cast forth without,” Luke 13:28; “shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Cor. 6:9; “no rest,” Rev. 14:11; “blackness of darkness hath been reserved forever,” Jude 13.
(4.) The punishment and suffering are recognized by those punished and that recognition is shown by their “weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 8:12; 13:50; 25:30; Luke 13:28. The Rich Man is represented as acknowledging his torments. Luke 16:24.
2. The nature of this punishment.
(1.) It is unwarrantable to take for granted that it will not be in part physical. The wicked will go from the judgement seat with the bodies which belong to them in their resurrection state. We know not what will be the nature of these bodies, and, therefore, have no right to affirm that they may not be capable of physical pain. That the language of Scripture, as to fire and brimstone, is figurative, is true. But men are not authorized, on that account, to deny that some physical pain, and, that of a most excruciating and agonizing character, will form a part of the agony and woe of the hereafter of the sinner. So far from men drawing comfort from any conviction they may have that there will not be literal fire, they should only the more be filled with dread and apprehension of some fearful condition, which the Scriptures here attempt to describe by terms which express the severest anguish men can endure in the body; the statements made evidently falling far short of telling the nature of a punishment which our present condition forbids that we should understand. In the range of animal life here on earth, we know that the higher the organism the more keenly is it alive to suffering as well as enjoyment. This teaches us to expect that the bodily enjoyments of the saints will far surpass anything ever experienced on earth. If the resurrection bodies of the wicked are, in any degree, higher than those of this world, the only result will be to make them capable of anguish utterly inconceivable by men in their present state.
(2.) The spiritual agony, then to be endured, is equally beyond the possibility of present expression. We may say that it will necessarily consist in certain evils; but who can tell how great those evils will then be realized to be. Some of them may be suggested: as; consciousness of an unclean and unholy nature; when there is no way to cleanse or escape it: conviction of the nature and ill desert of sin; when sinful habits have such prevalence and control that sin must still be committed willingly, yet with horror of what is done;– indications of which are seen in men in this life, who, by debauchery, or drunkenness, are driven forward to evil even against their will–: remorse for past indulgences, for neglected opportunities, for rejections of Christ;– especially as then will be seen how nigh unto each one had come the kingdom and grace of God–: knowledge of banishment perpetually from the presence of Christ, and deprivation of the favour and love of God:– these, and evils like unto them, with the mutual reproaches of the damned, for the influences of each other by which such evil has come, will make a Hell compared with which all the torture men have ever known in this life will be looked back to as though it were heaven itself.
3. The place of this punishment.
There are three words used in Scripture which are translated “Hell” in the King James version, viz.: Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna. Hades is simply transferred in the Canterbury Revision. It is used for the general place of departed spirits, both righteous and wicked. In no place is punishment, or torment, associated with it, except in Luke 16:23, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This is to be explained, in accordance with the use of the word in all other passages, by the fact that, as Hades contains the wicked, as well as the righteous, and as the wicked there are in a state of sin and suffering, so the rich man in Hades was tormented, while Lazarus who was in the same general abode, was enjoying the blessed state expressed by his being in Abraham’s bosom.
The word Tartarus appears only as a participle [tau]a[rho][tau]a[rho][omega][sigma]a[varsigma] (tartarosas) of the verb [tau]a[rho]a[upsilon][rho][omicron][omega] (tartaroo), which means to cast down to Tartarus. The place in which it is found is 2 Pet. 2:4, which is translated “For God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement.” The Revisers point out in the margin that the word Hell is expressed in the Greek by Tartarus. This passage evidently has respect to the condition of these angels before the judgement day.
The places in which Gehenna occurs are Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5, and James 3:6. All of them refer to torture and punishment hereafter. This is distinctly associated with the punishment of the judgement day, in Matt. 18:9, by the preceding verse where “eternal fire” is used as the equivalent term to Gehenna; in Matt. 23:33, where Christ asks the Scribes and Pharisees, “How shall ye escape the judgement of Hell (Gehenna)”; in Mark 9:43, where the language is “to go into Hell (Gehenna), into the unquenchable fire,” and in Luke 12:5, in which Christ says, “Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into Hell (Gehenna).”
It has not been inaptly remarked that Gehenna is used by Christ himself in all of the twelve passages in which it occurs in the New Testament, except James 3:6.
4. The duration of this punishment.
The New Testament Teaching upon this subject is that it will endure throughout all the infinite future. This is expressed in various ways.
(1.) By the term [epsilon][iota][varsigma] [tau][omicron][nu] a[iota][omicron][omega][nu]a (eis ton aiona), “forever.”
This occurs about thirty times in the New Testament. An earnest and learned opponent of the doctrine of Eternal punishment, (Oxenham in “What is Truth as to Everlasting Punishment?” p. 101), has been able to point out only one place in the New Testament where he thinks the meaning of “forever” cannot be applicable to this form of words. It is the language of Paul in 1 Cor. 8:13, translated “I will eat no flesh forevermore.” For any other use, Oxenham is obliged to refer to the Septuagint, where he claims that it is used of “duration, throughout the age of the Mosaic dispensation,” “of the world,” “of a family,” and “of the political condition of slavery.” But this application accords with that very derivation, made by the best lexicographers, that makes a[iota][omega][nu] (aion), equivalent to the Latin aevum, which word, however is the basis of the very idea of eternity which is the sole meaning of [epsilon][iota][varsigma] [tau][omicron][nu] a[iota][omega][nu]a (eis ton aiona), in the latter Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament.
This term is applied to the punishment of the wicked, in Jude 13.
2. Other similar expressions to the first are used where plural forms of a[iota][omega][nu] (aion) appear, as [epsilon][iota][varsigma] [tau][omicron][nu][varsigma] a[iota][omega][nu]a[varsigma] [tau][omega][nu] a[iota][omega][nu][omega][nu] (eis tous aionas ton aionon), “forever and ever,” in Rev. 19:3, and 20:10, and [epsilon][iota][varsigma] a[iota][omega][nu]a[varsigma] a[iota][omega][nu][omicron][nu], (eis aionas aionon). Rev. 14:11. The plural forms only intensify, and certainly do not diminish the duration.
3. The word a[iota][omega][nu][iota][omicron][varsigma], (aionios). This word occurs about seventy times in the New Testament, and invariably in the sense of eternal or everlasting duration. Just as the English word “eternal” refers to the true eternity which is in God alone, so is this word applied to God in Rom. 16:26; and to the Holy Spirit or to the divine nature of Christ, in Heb. 9:14. In like manner, as we inadequately divide eternity into eternity a parte post, and eternity a parte ante, meaning by each indefinite, unlimited and illimitable duration in the past or in the future, from the present, or some fixed period of time; as from the time of Christ’s appearance on earth; so this word is used for each of these two kinds of eternity. It has no other application in the New Testament than to one or other of these three forms of eternity. As applied to the endless life of the righteous or wicked, it signifies the future eternity, or eternity a parte post.
Those who oppose the doctrine of eternal punishment suppose that there are many ages, or periods of the existence of man, and they attempt to explain the language used accordingly. But while the phrases upon which this opinion is based, might as a matter of language mean this, there is no evidence from Scripture of the existence of any such several periods. The only distinction clearly made is between the dispensation prior to the time of Christ, and that since his day; the Scriptures evidently regarding that as the central point, unto which all things tended in the past, and from which all things proceed in the future.
It is not to be overlooked that these words, which express the eternity of the punishment of the wicked, are those by which the eternal life of the righteous is also made known. As that is unending in its happiness, so this is in its punishment and suffering. These words express as strongly as the Greek language can, the everlasting duration of the destiny assigned to each at the judgement day.
This is questioned by Oxenham, who says, p. 114, “There are several ways in which Almighty God could have expressed this endlessness of future punishment, if he desired to tell us that it would be endless; ways, about the meaning of which there could be no mistake; ways, in which, in Holy Scripture, he has expressed the endlessness of things which will be endless: e.g., of his own dominion God declared by the prophet Daniel that it was ‘and everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his Kingdom that which shall not be destroyed,’ Dan. 7:14. Of the endless life of the blessed, our Lord declared, Luke 20:36, neither can they die anymore. By the angel Gabriel, Luke 1:33, God announced that of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ there shall be no end. Where is any language used of the Kingdom of Darkness, or of future punishment, or of the wicked? Where is it said of the lost that they can live no more? Where of future punishment, that of it there shall be no end?”
To this it may be replied,
(a.) That, if no similar instances can be given relative to future punishment, and the wicked, yet so far as any of these expressions are used of the righteous, they are explanatory of the kind of eternity ascribed to their happiness; and, as this is described by the same words as that of the misery of the wicked in all other cases, these instances teach us the meaning of these common words, when applied to the wicked, by thus explaining them when applied to the righteous.
(b.) That the same ingenuity, and quibbling, which attempts to deprive the expressions used of their true meaning, would be applied in like manner to such terms as these.
If a similar passage to that from Daniel could be presented, we should immediately have pointed out to us that it was to the Son of Man that the kingdom was given, and that, of this very kingdom which “shall not pass away,” we are told that “then cometh the end when he shall deliver up the kingdom of God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule, and all authority and power.” 1 Cor. 15:24.
(c.) But there are like instances which may be adduced. In Luke 20:36, “neither can they die any more,” the impossibility of dying is expressed by [omicron][upsilon]d[epsilon] d[upsilon][nu]a[tau]a[iota] (oude dunantai.) Corresponding to this is the language used by our Lord to the Pharisees in John 9:21, “Ye shall seek me and shall die in your sin: whither I go ye cannot come,” [omicron][upsilon] d[upsilon][nu]a[sigma][theta][epsilon] [epsilon][lambda][theta][epsilon][iota][nu] (ou dunasthe elthein).
Parallel to the expression in Luke 1:33, “there shall be no end,” [omicron][upsilon][kappa] [epsilon][sigma][tau]a[iota] [tau][epsilon][lambda][omicron][varsigma] (ouk estai telos), is “the endless genealogies,” [gamma][epsilon][nu][epsilon]a[lambda][omicron][gamma][iota]a[iota][varsigma] a[pi][epsilon][rho]a[nu][tau][omicron][iota][varsigma] (genealogiais aperantois), in 1 Tim. 1:4; for, although different words are used to express endlessness in the Greek, they are of substantially equal force. Oxenham is himself authority for the strong meaning of a[pi][rho]a[nu][tau][omicron][iota][varsigma] (aperantois), for he refers to a[pi][epsilon][iota][rho][omicron][nu] (apeiron), aand [pi][epsilon][rho]a[zeta], from which a[pi][epsilon][rho]a[nu][tau][omicron][varsigma] (aperantos) is likewise formed, as meaning “without a limit,” and says of it and others “by these and by several other words and expressions of unmistakable meaning, Almighty God could have expressed the endlessness of future punishment if he had desired to do so,” p. 115. Yet, had he used this word, or others of the same form, how quickly should we have been referred to the endless genealogies as exegetical of them.
With respect to the two final questions of Mr. Oxenham, the passage in 1 Cor. 6:9, may be suggested as one that fully meets them. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” (see also verse 10). The same expression occurs in Gal. 5:21. The insincerity with which such questions are asked is seen in the fact that, when these and similar passages are presented, these opponents resort to the assumption that the unrighteous will not always be unrighteous, and that only so long as unrighteous shall they not inherit; but that they may do so after their unrighteousness has passed away. They will attempt to maintain the possibility of this in the face of such a passage as Rev. 22:11, “He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still.”
(4.) Here may properly be added three other expressions as to the unending nature of the punishment of the wicked.
(a.) ‘A[iota]d[iota][omicron][varsigma] (aidios), which appears in the “eternal Godhead” of Rom. 1:20, and in the everlasting chains of the angels which kept not their first estate in Jude 6. As the wicked are to be sentenced to the “eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41), this passage has probable reference to the duration of the punishment of both devils and wicked men.
(b.) ‘A[sigma][beta][epsilon][sigma][tau][omicron][varsigma] (Asbestos), unquenchable fire. Oxenham claims that all that is involved in this word is that the fire “is unquenched,” and that the language does not forbid a time when it may be quenched. This word occurs in three undisputed places in Scripture, Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, and Luke 3:17, and in three others, Mark 9:44, 45, 46, which Westcott and Hort omit from their text, and which are also omitted in the Canterbury Revision. Mark 9:48 has a different form of the same word. Oxenham objects to the translation “unquenchable,” and insists upon the meaning, “is unquenched;” but the duration of the punishment and the propriety of the translation “unquenchable” is shown by the words, “where their worm dieth not,” used in connection with the expression in verse 48.
(c.) [Omicron][upsilon] [tau][epsilon][lambda][epsilon][upsilon][tau]a[iota] (Ou teleutai), “does not end,” “ceases not,” is declared of the worm in Mark 9:48. [Tau][epsilon][lambda][epsilon][upsilon][tau]a[iota] (Teleutai) corresponds exactly in meaning, as well as in root, with the [tau][epsilon][lambda][omicron][varsigma] (telos) in the [omicron][upsilon][kappa] [epsilon][sigma][tau]a[iota] [tau][epsilon][lambda][omicron][varsigma] (ouk estai telos), in Luke 1:33, which Oxenham regarded as so strongly expressive of endlessness as to challenge the finding of such a term applied to the future punishment of the wicked.
5. Objections and opposing theories.
The objections to this doctrine of eternal punishment, and the opposing theories, may be briefly stated and replied to.
First, the objections.
(1.) It is objected, that the punishment is disproportioned to the sin. But,
(a.) No one but God can know what is the real desert of sin, and if he has plainly taught us that it deserves eternal punishment, we may be sure that the infliction of such punishment must be right, and in accordance with what it merits. The question is simply, What does God say? and upon this point he has taught us plainly.
(b.) The objection is based upon the idea that all the sin that will be punished is that committed in this life. It is true that men will be only judged for the deeds done in the body. But these will not constitute all the sins in the life to come. The Scriptures teach that there will be sinful acts and habits after death. Rev. 22:11. Ever-continuing sin will deserve ever-continuing punishment. If sin is worthy of any punishment at all, and if, at every moment sin is committed, punishment may be forever, without assuming that any one or more sins will cause everlasting infliction.
(c.) Mark 3:29 tells of “an eternal sin.” [See Greek text of Westcott and Hort.]
(d.) The objection supposes that the punishment of the damned is something actively inflicted by God, and not the working out and result of the natures of men. It will doubtless consist, in great part, in their sinful and corrupt natures, which will still work out sin, and thus continue to separate from the favour and complacent love of God. The only probable exception will be “remorse,” arising from the memory of past sins and neglected opportunities; and these are not active inflictions of God, but the results of former sin.
(2.) It is said that God is too merciful to inflict everlasting punishment. But,
(a.) God, in declaring that he will inflict it, thus declares that he is not too merciful to do so.
(b.) God teaches us that, while he takes no delight in such punishment, it is demanded by justice, which is as unabounded an attribute of his nature as mercy.
(c.) God has given signal exhibitions in his providential government that he can and will punish severely. As a moral Governor, his punishment must be proportioned to the offense. His merciful disposition cannot interfere with his righteous action. Even in the salvation of those saved through Christ, it is necessary that he should be just in justifying the believer in Jesus.
(3.) It is claimed that provision has been made in Christ for the certain salvation of all men.
If this be so, there is no difficulty in God’s justice in the bestowment of salvation upon all. But that such is not the case is manifested,
(a.) By the fact that salvation is offered only on the condition of repentance and faith. None, therefore, can have part in that salvation except those who fulfil this condition.
(b.) Regeneration is declared to be essential to entrance into the kingdom of Christ. Those who are not thus born again can, therefore, have no part in his salvation.
(c.) Not only is holiness declared to be essential to admission to heaven, but it is foretold, expressly, that certain classes of unholy men shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; and at the head of the list given are “the fearful and unbelieving.” Rev. 21:8.
(d.) While the value of Christ’s work is indeed ample for all, we are taught that its benefits are not bestowed upon all. There are special sins mentioned which will exclude those who commit them from all hope of salvation. Matt. 12:31; Luke 12:10; Heb. 6:4-6, (cf. verse 9); 10:26, 27, (cf. verses 28-31). But the assertions made about the certain punishment of those who commit these particular sins are not stronger than the declarations of the certain damnation of all the finally impenitent and unbelieving.
(4.) Inasmuch as it is asserted in 1 Tim. 2:3, 4, that “God our Saviour . . . willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth,” it is even claimed that it is the purpose of God to save all.
That the word [theta][epsilon][lambda][epsilon][iota] (thelei), translated “willeth,” often involves purpose or determination on the part of God is readily admitted, as well as that, if it mean this here, all men will be saved according to that purpose. But such purpose cannot be concluded from this passage alone, unless it accords with what is elsewhere taught; much less when it is in direct opposition to the general tenor of the Bible, as well as to distinct statements to the contrary. The reason for this is that this word does not always mean “will,” in the sense of purpose, but is sometimes used in that of a mere “wish.” There are many cases in Scripture in which God is said to wish what not only he does not purpose to accomplish, but what actually fails to take place.
There are numerous examples in which this word has only this meaning of “wish”: thus as used in general of men only, Matt. 7:12; 12:38; 15:28; of Christ, Matt. 23:37; Mark 14:36; Luke 13:34; John 17:24; and of God, 1 Cor. 15:38; Heb. 10:5, 8. [theta][epsilon][lambda][eta]ua (thelema), the corresponding noun, is used as expressive simply of this “wish” of God in Mark 3:35; Rom. 2:18; Eph. 6:6; and in other places.
(5.) It is further objected that God must forgive those who are truly penitent, and that the wicked, in the full knowledge of God and sin afforded by the next world, must certainly repent.
(a.) This objection arises from a misconception of the nature of the repentance acceptable to God. It is not mere sorrow for sin, especially for its effects, of which probably hell will be full; it is reformation of character, turning away from sin and seeking holiness. Sorrow accompanies it, but does not constitute it. It is not awakened by the painful effects of sin, but by conviction of its evil nature. How can such sorrow arise in those who have learned to love sin? or such reformation in those who are confirmed in habits of sin? Remorse for the past, loathings of their then condition, even desires to overcome the power which enchains them, may abundantly exist, but, as often occurs in this life, where passion and appetite get the mastery of men, pleasure will be taken in sin, and evil appetites indulged, even when it is hated with all the bitterness of a despairing soul.
On the other hand, what is the teaching of Scripture as to God’s readiness to accept the penitent after the day of opportunity has passed away? What does the case of Esau teach, Heb. 12:16, 17? What is meant to be taught by the language of Wisdom, Prov. 1:24-28? Did Christ accept, did God forgive the wretched, sorrowing, remorseful Judas? or was his penitence permitted to plunge him into the further sin of suicide? Even here on earth, where the day of probation ordinarily ends only in death, such rejection of such sorrow for sin is possible. Who shall dare to say that it is impossible in the hereafter? “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Luke 23:31.
(b.) “Punishment appears to have very little, if any, tendency to work reformation in offenders. It often deters from crime, but it rarely brings one to genuine repentance.
(c.) “During the middle state, if at any time after this life, a return to God might be expected; yet the language of Scripture does not permit us to expect it then.” Hovey’s Manual of Sys. Theol., p. 362.
(d.) The experience of this life shows that, for any violation, even of physical law, the penalty attached to it must be endured, and that no sorrow for what has been done, nor determination to avoid such action in the future, will release from the evil which follows. Why should it be supposed that, after the judgement, law will be less inexorable than now, or that penitence and reformation will then, of themselves, avail any more than they do now? Even in this life, repentance and faith have no value nor power in themselves, but are only effective as conditions upon which salvation in Christ is offered. But the Bible carefully warns men that this offer, on these conditions, is only made in this life. To suppose it is possible in the hereafter requires not only the possibility of repentance and faith then but also that salvation through Christ will then be still attainable. This can only be upon the supposition that men will have a future probation, and the same or other means of grace than those here afforded.
(6.) In further objection, therefore, it is assumed that another probation will then be enjoyed. The strongest form in which this objection is urged, is that, inasmuch as despite the positive threatenings of God to our first parents that they should die, he had purposed to provide redemption for at least a part of mankind; therefore, despite the positive statements as to the future condemnation and punishment of the wicked, there may still be mercy in store, and final deliverance from the presence and taint of sin, as well as its punishment.
The replies afforded to this are obvious.
(a.) The case quoted affords a warning to those who teach contrary to what God teaches. Our first parents were even then, before their sin, assured that the threatened sentence would not be executed. But this came from Satan, who is declared by Christ to be “a liar and the father thereof.” John 8:44. Those who, upon any other authority than God, call in question any statement which he makes, should fell that they do it at the peril of their own souls and that of those whom they teach. Matt. 15:8, 9, 13, 14; 23:13, 15, 16; Luke 6:39. Those who deny a doctrine which they know is taught in God’s word, or attempt by any subterfuge or mere supposition to induce others to reject it, act precisely the part of Satan in the transaction of the fall.
(b.) The penalty which God threatened has actually been inflicted upon all mankind. Even the death of the body has only thus far been escaped by two of the race. But spiritual death, the death of the soul, manifestly the especial death of the curse, for this alone was inflicted upon the day of transgression, has, in the corrupted and sinful nature, become the so-called “natural” state of mankind. The objection evidently supposes that eternal death was also threatened against Adam. But this is not true. It becomes part of the penalty only because it is the consequence of moral corruption and depravity, which must continue to deserve punishment, and also to work out sin deserving of still further punishment, unless some means of deliverance from this corruption shall arise. Eternal death, therefore, was not a penalty threatened against Adam, but only a consequential penalty, resulting from what was threatened, and which, therefore, may be escaped through the deliverance in Christ.
But eternal death is threatened against the finally impenitent of the present probation. The case of Adam, therefore, teaches us that it will assuredly be inflicted upon them. As God did not withhold the flood of corruption and misery, which the corrupted nature has brought upon mankind,– the deliverance of any from which demanded the gift and the sufferings of his own Son,– we may be assured that, in like manner, he will inflexibly allow eternal punishment to come upon all against whom he has threatened it.
(c.) When all suspicion that God may intend something different from what he says in his threats to prevent sin, has been removed by perceiving that he has, to the letter, fulfilled his threat against Adam; we are prepared to give due weight to what he teaches about the possibility of future probation.
To the question of one asking, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” Christ replied, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door, for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and shall not be able.” Luke 13:24. [See the context, which shows reference to entrance into the kingdom in the future world]. The exhortation of Isaiah 55:6, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found” implies a time when he may not be found. This exhortation has reference to the new and everlasting covenant of the sure mercies of David. [See verse 3]. How distinctly does the hortatory question of Heb. 2:1-3 apply here; when we see, not merely how steadfast has been the word spoken by angels, but how literally fulfilled has been that uttered by God. Well may all ask, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” The intimate connection between this passage and the exhortation against the hardening of the heart in the present moment in Hebrews 3:7-11, are worthy of especial note, as well as the warning of verse 12, and the continued exhortations and warnings, as far as and beyond chapter 4:7, which declares of the present period of probation, “He again defineth a certain day, saying in David, after so long a time To-day, as it hath been before said, To-day, if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The declaration, “Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor. 6:2, with the context, in like manner teaches that the present is the only period of probation.
(d.) It may be questioned whether very many persons who die impenitent do not come under some one of the forms of sin which are specifically declared unpardonable, viz.: wilful sins, (Heb. 10:26); falling away, (Heb. 6:4-6); and the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, Matt. 12:32. Certainly they all come under the declaration of Christ of everlasting punishment.
(e.) Nor should such passages be forgotten here as Luke 16:26, which teaches that, even in Hades, there is an impassable gulf between the righteous and the wicked; as John 8:21, in which Christ told the Pharisees that they could not come to him in the future world; and Rev. 22:10, 11, which teaches the continued unrighteous and unholy condition and conduct of the finally impenitent. The language of Christ about Judas, (Matt. 26:24), is not quoted against all, because spoken of one man only, though none can tell how many others it may be true. But there are doubtless very many liable to the similar woe denounced by Christ; that “it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” Matt. 6:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2.
Second, the opposing theories.
There are different forms in which the objections to the eternal punishment of the wicked take the shape of doctrinal theories.
(1.) The theory of annihilation. This does not deny that the punishment will be eternal; but only that there will be eternal conscious pain. It supposes, however, that the death of the sinner is absolute annihilation of being, and that in this sense only is it an eternal punishment. This theory admits that the soul may suffer hereafter, for a longer or shorter time, according to its deserts, but that there will be a time when existence will absolutely cease. The object of those who hold this theory, is not opposition to everlasting punishment, on the ground that God cannot justly punish so severely, or is too merciful to do so, but to escape the idea that sin and misery will always exist under the government of God.
This theory claims Scriptural support from the use of such words as speak of the condition of the wicked hereafter. One of these is a[pi][omega][lambda][epsilon][iota]a (apoleia), translated sometimes “perdition,” and sometimes “destruction,” in both the King James version and the Canterbury Revision. It appears, in reference to the future punishment of the wicked, among other places, in John 17:12; Rom. 9:22; Phil. 3:19; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 3:7.
But this word is very far from having the idea of annihilation. It is simply an equivalent to our English words destruction, loss, ruin, misfortune. In Matt. 26:8; and Mark 14:4, it is used of the ointment poured upon Christ’s head, and translated “waste.” In all other passages it apparently refers to the future condition of the wicked. But these two show that it does not mean annihilation, as indeed it does not elsewhere, either in the Classic or Hellenistic Greek. The verb a[pi][omicron][lambda][lambda][upsilon]u[iota] (apollumi) signifies no more than to destroy utterly, and is chiefly used in Homer for death inflicted in battle. [See Liddell-Scott's Lexicon].
Another word is [omicron][lambda][epsilon][theta][rho][omicron][varsigma] (olethros). This occurs in connection with the punishment of the wicked, in three or four places in the New Testament, viz.: in 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; and 1 Tim. 6:9. In none of these does it mean more than destruction, by which word it is translated, not only in these places, but also in 1 Cor. 5:5. This last place is that in which Paul directs the Corinthians to “deliver” the incestuous man “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Surely, no one imagines that the annihilation of the flesh is meant.
Neither does this word mean any greater destruction than is involved in death.
Another expression is “the second death;” “And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire.” Rev. 20:14.
The lake of fire, the casting into which is here said to be the “second death,” is expressly set forth as the place in which “the beast and the false prophet” are, and in which “they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever,” verse 10. There is certainly no annihilation here, for annihilation is inconsistent with torment continued forever.
It may be stated in general, as to all the places which speak of the destruction and death of the soul, that reference is made to its spiritual loss of God’s favour and of holiness, and not to the extinction of its being. This extinction would be contrary to the natural immortality conferred on spirit. It is not even true, so far as we can know, that even matter will ever be annihilated. What is called its destruction is simply such change of form as makes it unfit for the uses for which it had been so formed. Thus we speak of the utter destruction of a house, of machinery, of an animal, not being the annihilation of the matter which composed it; but the destruction of the form in which that matter appeared, and which was essential for its use. In like manner, the death of the soul means its becoming unfit for the uses for which it was made; viz.: for happiness, for holiness, for the service of God, for the complacent love of God and for the reflection of his image. Such an utter deprivation of all the faculties for which the moral nature of man was made, may well be called its death, even its utter destruction.
This is based upon three different grounds, each of which may be held separately, or any two, or all of them together. Two of these have been sufficiently considered in the replies already made to the objections against Scriptural doctrine.
One of these is that reformation of life will hereafter take place among some, at least, of the condemned, through natural ability and sufficient grace and the influences of the Spirit; and that thus these will be made holy, and therefore acceptable to God.
The other is that the benefits of the work of Christ, will, after this life, also be for the first time imparted to many men, and if this is done salvation must ensue.
It is to be noticed, however, that when the objections, previously answered, are put in the form of a theory, the idea that there can be no everlasting punishment, is modified so as to assert only that all but a few will be saved. This is done to escape the cases of Judas and others already mentioned. But in so doing, all the principles, upon which the possibility of such future salvation is based, have to be abandoned, and the theory becomes a mere supposition, without any support, presented in the face of positive declarations of the Word of God to the contrary.
The third ground upon which Restorationism is imagined, is that the Scriptures speak of such restoration. The chief passage supposed to teach this is Acts 3:20, 21, “that he may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things.” The passage itself fixes the period of the time of the restoration, which is at the second coming of the Lord. This precedes the judgement, and thus necessarily that of the restoration supposed by these parties.
Another passage is Eph.. 1:9, 10, which speaks of God “having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth.” The fulness of the times here is probably the present dispensation, and has nothing to do with some new period. See Gal. 4:4, “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, etc.” cf. Heb. 1:2; 9:10; 1 Pet. 1:20. So, again, in Col. 1:19, 20, it is said to have been the good pleasure of the Father, “through him (Christ) to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him I say, whether things upon the earth or things in the heavens.” This place is also quoted to show that all will be finally saved.
This use made of these two passages, Eph. 1:9, 10, and Col. 1:19, 20, to build up a doctrine, without other support from the Word of God, and so contrary to so much that is therein taught, is a warning against the pernicious manner in which isolated passages of the Word of God are separated from their contexts, and used to establish preconceived theories. Both of them occur in epistles written exclusively to professed Christians. The subject of both of them is the Church of Christ. The all things in heaven, or earth, mentioned in each of these epistles, are those only which are connected with the church. So far as persons are referred to, they are those who constitute “every family in heaven and on earth,” Eph. 3:15, called also “the general assembly and church of the first born who are enrolled in heaven,” Heb 12:23. They have, therefore, not the remotest reference to any future restoration to holiness, and happiness, and God, of those condemned at the judgement.
Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887