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THE LAST STATE OF THE WICKED
By Davis W. Huckabee
This sermon was preached February 13, 1966 to the congregation of the First
Baptist Church of Kirk, Colorado where the author was pastor, and it had been
published in part in The Orthodox Baptist paper out of Ardmore, Oklahoma where
the author was a staff writer in September, 1959.
Are the wicked of this world to be someday removed to a place apart from the rest of mankind? And if so, in what condition are these to be? What is the purpose of this? For how long is this condition to be? Who shall be subject to this? Is this place of removal to be understood literally, or is this only a figurative representation? These are some of the questions that are presented to the mind as we think of this final state of the wicked.
That some people are of a wicked constitution, I think that none will deny, nor that these are worthy of some sort of punishment for their wickedness. But of the nature, time, degree, extent and purpose of this punishment we are to a great degree in the dark apart from the Divine revelation. Human reasoning and sentiment on this subject invariably go far astray as may be seen in the pagan writings and the writings of unbelieving professing “Christians.” To be trustworthy our information on this subject must come from the Holy Scriptures.
As none but God has the right, and would dare, to sentence a soul to eternal misery for sin; and as none but God has the right, and would dare, to execute the sentence; so none but God has the right, and should presume to delineate the nature and consequences of this sentence. This is the reason why most of the awful imagery in which the sufferings of the lost are described is found in the discourses of our Lord and Savior. He took it upon himself to sound the note of warning. He, the judge of quick and dead, assumed the responsibility of teaching the doctrine of Endless Retribution. [W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, p. 675.].
There are many in the world that reject any doctrine that sets forth man’s final state as a sorrowful one, and many are the artifices employed to get around the plain language of Scripture regarding this. However the rejection of this doctrine does not make it any the less true, nor does it give man any more hope of escaping it. Conversely the rejection of this might even be taken as an indication of the probability of the rejecter of it ending up here, for to reject this doctrine is to reject the Lord Jesus that taught it the most often and the most clearly. Dr. Shedd again says, “Jesus Christ is the Person who is responsible for the doctrine of Eternal Perdition. He is the Being with whom all opponents of this theological tenet are in conflict. Neither the Christian church, nor the Christian ministry are the authors of it,” [ibid. p. 680.]. A. J. Mason (The Faith of the Gospel, p. 411) likewise speaks to the same effect: “...The clearest and the most awe-inspiring words which form the Church’s doctrine on this point are words of our Lord Himself, recorded in the Gospels.”
Why should any person want to controvert or deny this doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked unless he either thought himself more merciful than God, or else feared that he himself would be fuel for the everlasting burnings. As dread as this doctrine is, yet for the believer, the Scripture declaration of the certainty of hell should be final. And it is certain that the Scriptures clearly testify that the final and eternal abode of the wicked is in hell.
The final abode of the wicked is variously called by different names in Scripture, but the most common ones are “Hell,” “Gehenna,” “the lake of fire,” “the pit,” “outer darkness,” etc. Additional Scriptures designations for this place will be manifest as we consider the description of this place. However, before we get to this description we need to note—
- THE DENIAL OF HELL
Is there a literal hell? This is the question that has disturbed the minds of unregenerate man down through the ages since, perhaps, the first man. And as the unregenerate man refuses to personally receive the remedy for escaping hell, he consequently tries to explain away God’s place of punishment for the rebellious, knowing that if there be a literal hell, then he is surely destined for it.
Sometimes the person that tries to explain away hell as not being literal may be sincere in believing that he is taking an unbiased view of the subject. But in reality it may be that Satan has put the thought in his subconscious mind that, “maybe there isn’t a literal hell, in which case I won’t have to worry about salvation because death will just be a cessation of existence.” And so, it is easy for a person to procrastinate regarding salvation under such circumstances.
As the present writer thinks back to the times before God graciously ran me down and converted me without so much as a “by your leave,” or “would you let me convert you,” I recall the workings of my mind upon this very matter. Though I had been taught to believe in a literal hell, I often wished for reasons not to believe in it. In my mind I often said, “Why does there have to be a hereafter? Why doesn’t God just let death be a cessation of all existence?” This was because I knew that at that time I was condemned to hell. I was “condemned already,” (John 3:18), and “the wrath of God” was abiding upon me, (John 3:36), and I was “without excuse,” before God, (Rom. 1:20). No one told me that there was no literal hell, else I might have clutched at that hope, as a drowning man clutches at a straw. Many, however, do make this their hope.
Ignorance, however does not void God’s law that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die,” (Ezek. 18:4), and “go down quick (alive) into the pit,” (Num. 16:30), any more than ignorance of the law of gravity would keep a person from being smashed to bits if he jumped off the top story of a tall building.
Some argue that a literal hell is not consistent with God’s love and mercy. But when God has provided such a wonderful and gracious plan of salvation based solely upon “whosoever believeth,” (John 3:15-16, 36), there is no room for any to ever lay to God’s charge that He is unmerciful or uncaring. But after purchasing our redemption with His own Son as the ransom, it would be unjust to the Son to let any that reject His sacrifice, go unpunished. And it would be inconsistent with God’s holiness and would make Him a respecter of persons in judgment, and Scripture is clear that in judgment, but only in judgment, “God is no respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34). But contrary to the ignorance of many, God is a respecter of persons in other areas, especially in matters of grace and salvation, as we see from numerous texts. See Gen. 4:4; Exodus 2:2425; Leviticus 26:9; 1 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 74:20; 138:6, and others. Be not deceived! It is in judgment alone that Scripture testifies that “God is no respecter of persons” as any search of the phrase “respect of persons” in a concordance will show. All grace is a showing of respect of persons, for God treats the elect entirely differently than he treats all others. It is another instance of blind prejudice corrupting Bible truth, for this declaration in Acts 10:34 is generally thought to be an unanswerable proof against the doctrine of unconditional election. Yet rather the contrary is true. Unconditional election proves that God is a respecter of persons in all matters of grace, the New Covenant and the salvation that results therefrom, as Scripture often declares.
Even the sins of the flesh prove the literality of hell for just as a sin against the body demands and receive punishment in the body, so sins of the soul demand a punishment in the soul which is itself eternal. All bodily sins tend to physical suffering, for there is a moral issue involved, and most diseases are the products of sins against the body, and God has wrought it into the physical body to react against all sin. E. H. Bancroft has the following to say concerning the argument for the existence of a literal hell from the principle of separation.
This principle is operative in all realms of life. The dead are separated from the living—every cemetery and crematory are arguments for hell. Garbage is separated from wholesome food—every garbage can is an argument for hell. Refuse is separated from the things of value—every rubbish-heap is an argument for hell. “Those who refuse life in God become ‘refuse’ in character sooner or later, and in the nature of things must be removed to a place apart.” [Dixon. Elemental Theology, p. 314.].
One of the clearest teachings on the literality of suffering for the wicked is found in Luke 16:19-31, although the reference here is not to the final place of suffering of the wicked, but rather to Hades. This is what the word is in the inspired text, and it refers to the temporary place of confinement until the judgment of the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:11-15 after which “death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire,” (v. 14). This passage is often assailed by those that do not believe in a literal suffering of the wicked, and invariably these people try to make this passage a parable teaching this or that or something else, but never teaching literal suffering in the life hereafter.
There are some who claim that this story was only a parable. The Word
does not so state. Why say this refers to Jew and Gentile, when the
Scriptures do not say so? Why did the Lord use the rich man in picturing the Jewish nation, when in the preceding passages he was warning the rich? The idea of the Jews ever requesting aid of the Gentiles is farfetched. There is no gulf between the Jew and the Gentile. No Gentile nation has ever begged from the Jews as Lazarus begged bread from the rich man. If the Jewish nation died (pictured by the rich man), who were the five brethren who were left? We still contend that this is a true account of two men who died and went to Hades. [Mark Cambron, Bible Doctrines, p. 261.].
God’s Word does not say that this is a parable, and for man to say that it is, is to add to God’s Word—a solemn sin. “Add thou not unto his words lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar,” (Prov. 30:6). However whether this is a parable or not does not alter the fact that the subject under discussion is man’s outward pretensions before men in this life, and his actual standing before God in the life beyond the grave. The whole chapter is concerned with faithfulness, actual or pretended, with the things that are committed to man’s keeping. Verses 1-13 are spoken to the disciples and the rest of the chapter, with the exception of verse 18, which is a detached subject, deals with the Pharisees and their unfaithfulness with earthly riches and their pretensions before men.
Alfred Edersheim, the converted Jew, while considering this a parable, says, “It’s first object was to show the great difference between the ‘before men’ and the ‘before God;’ between Dives [the traditional name of the rich man] as he appears to men in his world, and as he is before God and will be IN THE NEXT WORLD.” [Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, Vol II, p. 276.]. (Emphasis mine—DWH.) He again says on the doctrine of Eternal Punishment:
For the views held at the time of Christ, whatever they were, must have been those which the hearers of Christ entertained; and whatever these views, Christ did not, at least directly, contradict or, so far as we can infer, intend to correct them... However, therefore, the school of Hillel might accentuate the mercy of God, or limit the number of those who would suffer Eternal Punishment, it did teach Eternal Punishment in the case of some. This is the point in question. But, since the Schools of Shammai and HiIlel represented the theological teachings in the time of Christ and His apostles, it follows, that the doctrine of Eternal Punishment was that held in the days of our Lord, however it may afterward have been modified.” The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, Vol. II, pp. 791, 792.
It is certain that when Christ spoke of the rich man being in Hades in the place or torment, the Pharisee knew what He was talking about for not only do the Old Testament Scriptures testify to the fact of Eternal Punishment, but the Pharisaical traditions did also. It is mainly modern day liberals that doubt the literality of the suffering of the wicked in the hereafter, and their doubt springs from unbelief of God’s Word coupled with an unduly high opinion of their own reasoning ability.
The Old Testament Scriptures were clear on the literality of the suffering of the wicked, as the following texts show. “And a great multitude that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake from death. These to life everlasting and those to shame and everlasting abhorrence,” (Dan. 12:2), literal rendering. “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh,” (Isa. 66:22-24. Cf. Mark 9:42-48).
As may be seen from the context, this last scene looks forward to the new heavens and new earth when time has ceased to be and yet “their worm” has not died, neither shall die, nor has “their fire” been quenched nor shall it be. And “they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” This makes it not only an eternal punishment, for this is a scene in eternity, but it is also a very personal punishment. Notice the use of the personal pronouns “their worm,” (perhaps speaking of their soul writhing in torment as would a worm in hot ashes), “their fire,” and “they.”
Part of the confusion regarding the reality and literality of eternal suffering has resulted from a failure to take into account each of the Hebrew and Greek words that are used by inspiration to describe this place and condition. And another complication lies in the translators’ failure to distinguish between the different words that are translated “hell” for these are distinct and refer to different places and conditions. All this will be more appropriately considered under the next division as we get into a biblical description of the places of future confinement and punishment of the wicked.
- THE DESCRIPTION OF HELL.
Consultation of a concordance will reveal that there is one Hebrew word (sheol) and three Greek words (Hades, Gehenna and Tartarus) that are translated “hell” and yet all of these are distinct from one another, and refer to different places and are for different people. Thus, the person that consults only the English Version of the Bible cannot possibly make a proper distinction between these. And another problem is that when one consults Bible Dictionaries and other authorities, there is found to be a lot of confusion over the meanings, for often blind human prejudice enters into these. Then it must also be noted that in addition to the four above words, there are a few other names and descriptive terms such as “Tophet,” “the lake of fire,” “everlasting fire,” “the outer darkness,” etc., that give us further insight into man’s destiny after death.
Sheol is a Hebrew word that is found in the Old Testament sixty-five times and is translated “grave” thirty-one times, “hell” thirty-one times and “pit” three times. Like its Greek counterpart (Hades) it relates to the unseen world of the dead, and so, may be variously rendered, depending upon whether it relates to the saved or to the lost, and to whether it refers to the body or the spirit of a person. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) Hades is used where Sheol was in the Hebrew text. This Greek word is derived from a verb Eido—to see, with the prefix a that puts the word in the negative, so that the literal meaning of Hades is the unseen world. This explains why this word and its Hebrew counterpart can be used with such latitude of meaning: at death both saved and lost enter the unseen world, and if only the body is referred to, then the reference is to the grave. But if the spirit of the lost man is meant, then the reference is to Hades for this is the destiny of all lost people until the judgment of the Great White Throne, after which Hades is cast into Hell, (Rev. 20:14).
The following references show that Sheol is used of both the righteous and the wicked. Of the righteous: Jacob said, “I will go down into the grave (sheol) unto my son mourning,” (Gen. 37:35). Then David wrote, “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave (sheol),” (Ps. 49:15). And again, “...thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell (sheol),”(Ps. 86:13). Then speaking prophetically in Psalm 16:10 he said, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Thus, while finding prophetic fulfillment in Christ, it also had application to David as well. The New Testament interprets this to be a reference to Jesus’ body in both aspects, for Acts 2:31 declares “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (Hades), neither his flesh did see corruption.” In an incidental way, this inspired interpretation refutes the Catholic doctrine of “the descent of Christ into Hell,” for it shows that both aspects of this prophecy referred simply to Him being in the unseen world of the grave, for that is all that the resurrection has to do with. His body was in the garden tomb while His spirit was with the Father, (Luke 23:46). What part of Him could have been in Hell?
Sheol is used of the wicked in a number of places, of which a few are, Job 21:13; Psalm 55:15; Proverbs 9:18; Isaiah 14:9; Ezekiel 31:15, 16, etc. Almost invariably sheol when used of the wicked, has a dread air about it, while when used of the righteous it lends only an air of expectant waiting or reservation.
Hades, the Greek counterpart to sheol, is used eleven times in the New Testament, viz; (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; 1 Cor. 15:55; Rev. 1:18; 6:8;
20:13, 14). In every case it is used in a bad sense but never in an eternal sense. This is because Hades, like sheol, is not the final place of punishment, but rather is the intermediate state of wicked souls between death and the resurrection. It is, however, associated with torment for the wicked. On Revelation 20:14 J. R. Graves remarks.
The term here translated “hell” is hordes, which never means the lake of fire, or place of punishment, but simply the Unseen, or place of Disembodied Spirits, good and bad—though they are separated by an impassible gulf in it. (Luke 16:26.) The place of future endless punishment is invariably denoted by two words in the Greek, viz., geenna tou puros, the “Gehenna of fire,” English “hell”... Hades (Greek), Sheol (Hebr.), throughout the Bible, denotes simply the abode of departed spirits, whether of saints or sinners. [Seven Dispensations, pp. 535, 536.].
By contrast with Sheol and Hades, Gehenna appears twelve times in the New Testament and in each case is correctly translated “hell” in the Authorized Version. It is identical in meaning with “the lake of fire,” (Rev. 20:10, 14), and is the place of eternal torment of the wicked. The word Gehenna is derived from the name of a valley just outside the city gate of Jerusalem—the Valley of the son of Hinnom—which served as the city dump ground, and in which refuse, dead carcasses, executed criminals, etc., were placed. In order to keep down pestilence as a result of all the filth here, fires were kept burning perpetually. Some, in an endeavor to get rid of the idea of eternal punishment, have tried to make this mean nothing more than the local city dump. But to do so is to twist biblical languages from their meanings, and to repudiate the words of the Spirit of God. The application of this term to the place of eternal punishment was simply using one of the basic laws of teaching—the explaining of the unknown in terms of the known. Hell will be the eternal dump ground of all of the worthless from all ages of human history. Of its twelve appearances, all but one came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, as we see in Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5 and James 3:6. It is Biblically defined as the fire that is never quenched.
Two other words are found in Scripture that must be considered in conjunction with the foregoing words. The first is Tartarus, actually a verb that means to cast down to Tartarus, and which appears only in 2 Peter 2:4 of the wicked and rebellious angels, but nowhere else in Scripture. It is evidently the same as the “everlasting chains of darkness,” referred to in Jude 6, but we know nothing else about this term from Scripture. It is sometimes found in pagan writings, but it is folly of the worst sort to try to interpret Christian truth in the light of pagan writings. Probably this refers to a spiritual condition instead of to a physical location. Some think that this is the same as Gehenna, but there is nothing in Scripture to indicate this.
The other word is Tophet, which, in all of its occurrences but one is mentioned as a historical location in the Valley of Hinnom where false worship was carried on, and which is destined to be the site of a great slaughter, (Jer. 7:31-32). But the one exception in Isaiah 30:33 merits our attention. “For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” This sounds so much like Matthew 25:41 that many think that it refers to this passage. Examination of its context, especially verse 26, which looks forward to the Millennium, shows that this goes beyond the Old Testament fulfillment. However, this passage does not significantly add to our knowledge of hell by its reference to it, nor does it significantly take away from our knowledge of hell if we omit it as a reference to it.
Back on January 15, 1963 Look Magazine brought out an article about the earth and this writer saved the article for future reference. In this it was shown that at its center earth is a molten core of metal of a radius of about 800 miles. An outer core of molten iron and nickel was thought to extend out to 2100 miles from the center of the earth, followed by a mantle of solid hot rock of another 1800 miles thick, but still several hundred degrees hot at its outer edge. Then all of this was shown to have a solid crust of from three to thirty miles thick enclosing it all. This all seems to conform to the Biblical representation of what and where Sheol/Hades is.
In more recent times scientists have theorized with some degree of certainty that in outer space there are “Black Holes” of such intense gravitational pull that not even light can escape from them. One of these may well be the eternal Hell—Gehenna of Fire—also referred to by Jesus several times as “the outer darkness” into which the wicked are to be finally and permanently cast. Indeed, astronauts tell us that space is mostly “black.” We do not often put much stock in science’s pronouncements since so much of it is “science falsely so called,” (1 Tim. 6:20), but occasionally science accidentally stumbles on to the truth, and such may be the cases in these two instances.
Several things need to be noted about how Scripture represents the final place of the punishment of the wicked, which is an actual place, and not just a state of mind. And everything that is said about this is indicative of this fact. First, it is a place of torment. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment,” (Matt. 25:46). Punishment must of necessity partake of the character of torment in some forms else it would not be punishment. “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matt. 25:30). This intimates that not only are there great degrees of torment, for it results in much weeping, but also that there is no genuine repentance in those confined here, for they also continually gnash their teeth in frustrated anger at God for justly punishing them.
“And in hell (Hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments,” (Luke 16:23). Here it does not speak of the final abode of the wicked, but of the temporary prison for the wicked until the final judgment of the unsaved, when they shall all be cast into the lake of fire. Nevertheless the torment begins as soon as one dies as this text shows.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever,” (Rev. 20:10). This refers to the trinity of evil, and states that they are all tormented everlastingly. The latter two of these are humans, and are the first humans to be cast into hell. The rest of the unsaved follow them after the judgment of the Great White Throne. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the like of fire, (Rev. 20:15).
The nature of this torment is described by A. A. Hodge as follows: “The Scriptures also establish the fact that these sufferings must be,-1. Inconceivably dreadful in degree. 2. Endless in duration. 3. Various in degree, proportionately to the deserts of the subject, (Matt. 10:15; Luke 12:47, 48).” [Outlines of Theology, p. 469.].
Second, it is a place of sorrow. It is evident that even in Hades there is great sorrow, and yet this isn’t even the final place of punishment. No one can read Luke 16 without getting an impression of the sorrow that is there. “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame,” (v. 24). “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth,” (Matt. 13:42). “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matt. 8:12). “The sorrows of hell compassed me about,” (Ps. 18:5).
Third, it shall be a place of dread. Hell is evidently a place of dread because of the warnings that the Lord gave about being cast there. “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him,” (Luke 12:5). “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched,” (Mark 9:43). The same warning is given relative to cutting off the foot and plucking out the eye, (vv. 45, 47). In other words, it is better that any member of the body perish than that a person should perish in the everlasting fire. “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever,” (Jude 13). Hell is a place of such dreadfulness as to be inconceivable to the human mind.
Fourth, it will be a place of remorse. “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). There is a big difference between remorse and repentance. Every criminal that was ever put in prison was remorseful—sorry that he was caught—but few are really repentant. Throughout all eternity the conscience of the wicked will be a continual accusation against the wicked, and he will have remorse for his folly, but sin is so ingrained in everyone that only by grace does anyone repent, and there is no grace in hell. It is only offered on earth as the Word of grace is preached.
Fifth, it will be a place of destruction. By this is not meant annihilation, which we will consider shortly, but this is a spiritual destruction of a sort that never ends. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Matt. 10:28). Some people fear to become Christians lest they be persecuted, but the most that Satan and his people can do is to cause persecution unto the death of the body. But God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, so He is the One that should be feared. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men,” (2 Pet. 3:7). The word “perdition” means destruction, often spiritual destruction, for this destruction is of the nature of a “second death.” “...the lake of fire which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death,” (Rev. 21:8). The first death is the death of the body, which is of relative insignificance since, if a person is a genuine saint, physical death only ushers him into the presence of God. But the second death is spiritual death—separation from God—which never ends.
Sixth, it is a place of damnation. “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell,” (Matt. 23:33). Sometimes the same Greek word rendered “judgment” is rendered “damnation” as well, but in fact, damnation is the solemn result of judgment as the curse of God falls upon those whose sins are not cleansed by the blood of the Son of God. Mere “religion” can do nothing to counteract damnation. Only the redeeming work of the Son of God can put away the just condemnation of our sins, (Rom. 8:1-4).
Seventh, it is a place of isolation. Companionship is one of the good gifts that God has given to His human creatures. And many sinners flatter themselves that they will have the companionship of sinful family and sinful associates in the life beyond, and they often take comfort in this. Sometimes an utterly selfish and abusive family member will murder his family, thinking thereby to own them and be able to continue to abuse them in the next life. But this is a false hope! Where in all of Scripture do we ever find a single instance where a lost person has any companions in the life beyond this one? Man is a social creature, needing companionship, as established in Genesis 2:18, but he was made to be the companion of God, but because of his fallen nature he rejects God’s companionship for other, less holy companions. But in doing so he settles his own eternal isolation. Lost souls will evidently be able to see the happiness of the saved, and to see the deleterious effects of their own wicked life on family and friends, as is observable in Luke 16:23, 27-28, but there is no evidence that they will ever have any companions. Can you imagine eternal isolation and loneliness?
Summing up all, we may say that it is the loss of all good, whether physical or spiritual, and the misery of an evil conscience banished from God
and from the society of the holy, and dwelling under God’s positive curse forever. Here we are to remember, as in the case of the final state of the righteous, that the decisive and controlling element is not the outward, but the inward. If hell be a place, it is only that the outward may correspond to the inward. If there be outward torments, it is only because these will be fit, though subordinate, accompaniments of the inward state of the soul. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 1034.].
We may go even further and say that the foregoing things not only prove that hell is a real place, but also that it is a literal place. In fact, there is no way to even understand most of the foregoing statements except in a literal way. To endeavor to make them other than literal is to wrest the Scriptures. We must clarify our statement by saying that these things are not restricted to merely physical matters. Man has an immaterial nature as well as a material, and the punishments of hell will extend to this immaterial part of man in at least the same degree that it extends to the material. The everlasting fires of hell will doubtless be of a sort that is presently unknown to us, for it will be of a nature that will relate to man’s soul and spirit, and not just to his body alone. The failure of many to recognize the awfulness of hell is often based upon their attempt to make hell much less awful than Scripture implies it to be. The human mind is simply incapable of envisioning the awfulness of sin’s deserved punishment.
This brings us to consider another thing about the final state of the wicked. It will be eternal. Man in his endeavor to controvert the teachings of Scripture that there is an everlasting hell for impenitent sinners has propounded two contrary theories about it. These are the theories of restoration and annihilation.
The first theory is that eventually all men will be saved, for, the theory reasons, as soon as one has felt the very first discomforts of hell he will immediately repent and, after a certain degree of suffering, will be released. But this is based upon an erroneous conception of man’s nature, of the plan of redemption, and of the purpose of hell. And it is generally held by those that deny the cardinal doctrines of the depravity of man, the vicarious atonement and the inspiration of the Scriptures, as well as others.
Human reasoning says that it would not be consistent with God’s justice or with His goodness to punish man everlastingly for sins that, at most, were only committed for a period of a few years. But this is to misunderstand what sin is. Sin is a state, not just isolated actions alone, and unless the state is changed in time, then the state will continue, and so, must continually be punished so long as it continues. And man’s sinfulness cannot be changed after death. The following quotations address this.
Fleshly sin is past, but not sin of the spirit,—pride, willfulness, and evil choice. He moves on in the life of progressive sin, tending to grow more like to the moral evil that he has chosen... No one can doubt that if character becomes unalterable, destiny becomes unalterable with it... punishment of the future is the necessary accompaniment of the continual sin of the future; that punishment continues because sin continues, and must last while it lasts. [W.N. Clarke, Outline Of Christian Theology, pp. 472, 475, 476.].
Here lies the answer to that plea so often urged by tender hearts that a just and merciful God cannot go on forever and ever punishing men for what they did on earth. Life on earth was short; and it is an exaggeration to say that the sin of a finite being is itself infinite. How then can it be right to prolong punishment out of all proportion to the deeds of sin? But that is not really what God does. He is dealing not merely with the past actions of these unhappy beings, but with their present character. The earthly life both showed what they were, and made them what they became; and God treats them accordingly... God is not rewarding or punishing what has once for all been done, but the being who still is what his acts prove and make him. [A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel, pp. 413, 414.].
In refutation of the latter opinion, that the lost will be restored after an indefinite period of suffering, we argue, —1. It has no foundation in Scripture. 2. It is directly refuted by all the positive evidence we have above presented in establishing the orthodox doctrine. 3. The atonement of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost are the exclusive means of salvation. (1.) These have been finally rejected by the lost. (2.) They are never applied in hell. 4. The essential nature of sin determines it, when left to itself, to multiply itself and its consequent miseries at a fearful ratio. 5. Suffering per se has no cleansing power; penal evils, when sufficient, may satisfy justice for past sins, but they cannot cleanse the heart, nor prevent renewed transgressions. 6. This essential insalvability of the lost sinner will be in the highest degree aggravated by his circumstances;—banished from God, subject to his curse, in unutterable torments, without grace and without hope, and surrounded with the society of all the workers of abomination gathered from the whole universe. [A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, pp. 471-472.].
The second theory is that those who do not accept Christ in the free pardon of sin in this life, shall be totally annihilated at some future time so that poof and they no longer even exist in any form or degree. This theory has no basis in Scripture, or even in philosophy, and is based almost entirely on the mistaken idea of what the word “death” means. The advocates of this theory evidently believe that since physical death is the end of earthly existence, and we cannot see any seeming carrying on of life and its activities after death, so must the “second death” be a total end of all spiritual existence. Such a theory ignores God’s revelation of what continues after death.
It is scarcely necessary to refer to the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, for it has no scriptural support. Its advocates can give no example of annihilation in the world of matter; and to suppose that mind or spirit will cease to be, is as contrary to philosophy as it is to the word of God. [J.M. Pendleton, Christian Doctrines, p. 409.].
The fact that there are to be degrees of punishment, because of which it will be “more tolerable” for some than for others (Matt. 11:20-24) shows that the final punishment of the sinner is not annihilation; for in such a case all sinners would suffer the same penalty, and it would be nonsense to speak of annihilation as being more tolerable for some than for others. [T P. Simmons, A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, p. 495.].
We have but to consider the Scriptures to see that it clearly teaches that the final state of the wicked is eternal—everlasting—without end. “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isa. 33:14). “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire,” (Matt. 18:8; Mark 9:45-46), is similar but with this difference. It twice refers to the “fire that shall never be quenched.” So also Luke 3:17. Some have denied the Greek word for “everlasting” to have this meaning, claiming that it rather only means “age-lasting,” but without any eternal implications. This is not true, but even if it were, the phrases “never shall be quenched,” and “not quenched,” are the translations of two distinct Greek words (sbennumi and asbestos) both of which leave no room for a cessation of the burning, and so, the punishment is eternal.
“And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name,” (Rev. 14:11). “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire,”(Jude 7). “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:41, 46). “But whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness unto eternity, but is bound by an eternal judgment,” (Mark 3:29), literal rendering.
If language means anything at all, these and many other passages teach that there is an everlasting hell for every person whose sins have not been atoned for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. As noted before, some have objected that the Greek word rendered “for ever” (aion) means only “age,” and that the one translated “everlasting” and “eternal” (aionios) means only age-lasting, and so, may not be truly eternal. Dr. W. G. T. Shedd has truly observed regarding this as follows.
In reference to man and his existence, the Scriptures speak of two, and only two alone, or ages; one finite, and one infinite; one limited, and one endless; the latter succeeding the former. An indefinite series of limited aeons with no final endless aeon is a Pagan, and Gnostic, not a Biblical conception... The present age, or aeon, is “time;” the future age, or aeon, is “eternity.” 1. The present finite and limited age, or aeon, is denominated in Scripture, “this world” (ho aion houtos), Matt. 12:32; 13:22; Luke 16:8; 20:34; Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 1:20; 2:6, et alia. Another designation is, “this present world” (ho nun aion, or ho enestos aion), I Tim. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:12; Gal. 1:4... 2. The future infinite and endless age, or aeon, is denominated, in Scripture, “the future world” A. V. and R. V. “the world to come” (aion ho mellon) Matt. 12:32; Heb. 2:5; 6:5. Another designation is, “the world to come” (aion ho erchomenos), Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30. Still another designation is, “that world” (aion ekeinos), Luke 20:35. Frequently, the endless age is denoted by aion simply, but with the article for emphasis (ho aion), Mark 3:29... If anything belongs solely to the present age, or aeon, it is aeonian in the limited signification; if it belongs to the future age, or aeon, it is aeonian in the unlimited signification. [Dogmatic Theology, Vol II, pp. 682-683, 684, 685, 686.].
If we believe in the justice of God, we must believe that He will be just, first and foremost, to His own beloved Son. But what justice would it be to Him if the Father allowed every stiff-necked rebel into whose heart the idea entered to reject the Son, and trample under foot His precious shed blood, to go scot-free? In justice to His Son, God must punish every soul in hell that rejects the Son’s atoning work.
Each individual faces eternity! The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die,” (Heb. 9:27). It is the height of folly to close our eyes to this fact. What lies beyond the grave? Every human heart ponders this question. The horrible tragedy of all times is that for some, hell awaits, beyond the grave. The only information we have concerning hell is to be found in the Bible. Weigh this fact carefully. The Bible is the only source of information we have concerning hell. All the facts about hell are to be found in the Bible. [NormanWells, Article entitled “This is Hell!” in The Central Contender paper, Sept. 24, 1965.].
It is sometimes asked, “Where is hell?” To which it must be answered, “At the end of every Christless life!” Geographically speaking, it seems likely that Hades, the temporary place of confinement of the wicked, is in the heart of the earth, and even geologists agree that such a place exists. The same thing seems to be true of The Abyss or Bottomless Pit (Greek abussos),which seems to be another name for Hades.
Several things may be noted about this. (1) Bottomless is an apt description if it is located in the heart of the earth, for there would be no bottom, for every direction from it would be up. (2) This bottomless pit is ruled over by a “star” that fell from heaven unto the earth, to whom is given the key to this place. “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit,” (Rev. 9:1). “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon,” (Rev. 9:11). Jesus spoke prophetically of this when He said, “I beheld Satan as lightening fall from heaven,” (Luke 10:18). This was also referred to in Isaiah 14:12-15. (3) This pit is whence the Beast—the Antichrist—arises. “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them,” (Rev. 11:7). “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition,” (Rev. 17:8). (4) This is where the demons feared that they might be sent before their time of judgment. “And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep (Greek abussos—the bottomless pit),” (Luke 8:31). (5) This is where Satan shall be kept for a thousand years. “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled and after that he must be loosed a little season,” (Rev. 20:1-3). And yet Hades and the Bottomless Pit are not the final, eternal hell, for these are to be finally cast into hell, (Rev. 20:14).
What a solemn subject is hell! And this is indeed a dismal and dreadful picture to paint, yet it is a true picture. And what folly to go heedlessly on in a way that can only lead to hell! Nor is there any reason why anyone should dread it since a Way has been provided to escape this just punishment for sin. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,” (John 3:17-18). “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from death unto life,” (John 5:24). The everlasting fires of Gehenna were not even prepared for man, but were rather “prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Matt. 25:41). By contrast God urges sinners to “take the water of life freely,” (Rev. 22:17). But if you reject His plan of salvation then know assuredly upon the authority of Almighty God’s Word that you shall receive your portion in the literal, eternal lake of fire that God has prepared for all rebels. Sadly people are daily rushing on to eternal perdition by the multiplied millions. Therefore it behooves us to consider—
- THE DENIZENS OF HELL.
We use the word denizens because it means, not only an occupant, but an occupant that has been naturalized in a place not originally his native place. This is exactly the case with every member of Adam’s race that ends up in hell. It was not originally prepared for man, as we noted before, but for Satan, as we read in Ezekiel 28:18. “Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee.” The Psalmist also speaks of this when he says, “That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked,” (Ps. 94:13). It is noteworthy that the word for “wicked” here is singular—an apparent reference to Satan.
All therefore that go to hell, go there as usurpers for it was not originally prepared for sinners from Adam’s race! They go there of their own free choice because they refuse to be prepared for the only other prepared place in the universe. By their own rebellious actions, they choose the devil’s company over God’s company.
All who are lost will be lost by their own fault, in spite of warnings and assistances. They will be lost, not because they were weak, or unimaginative, or stupid; but because they were wicked,—because, when conscience appealed to them, they silenced it,—because they willfully quenched what light they had,—because they chose what was wrong, knowing that it was wrong, and preferring it to the right—and that not once or twice, but persistently, and with increasing persistence, and to the end, until they had destroyed in themselves the faculties which might have expanded into faith, hope, and charity, which are the life of the soul. They will be lost because they have fixed and determined their characters for evil; so that all good that could be offered them further would only be made food for fresh evil. They have become like devils and not like men. [A.J. Mason, Faith of the Gospel, p. 413.].
There are two general categories of human inhabitants of hell, and these are set forth in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” And let it here be again emphasized that the “destruction” is not annihilation—something that does not, in fact, exist in nature, for though most things can be changed into other forms, nothing can be reduced to nothingness. Even what is burned is not annihilated, but is only changed from a solid into gases, ashes and microscopic elements.
The former of these two categories includes all of the heathen who have not come under the sound of the gospel, or, who through many ages of rejection of the truth have lost the knowledge of the true God. This category of mankind is described in Romans 1. At one time all the world possessed the knowledge of the true God, but because of their dislike of the truth they were given up to their own reprobate minds, (Rom. 1:21-28), so that none can say that they have had no chance to be saved. Yea, even the creation, by its witness to the wisdom and power of God makes all accountable to seek Him and submit to Him, (Rom. 1:18-21).
Now, having said that, it must also be noted that God is not obligated to give anyone “a chance to be saved,” for God has never been under obligation to man, even in the brief time of man’s innocence. And especially is there no obligation upon God since man has become a totally depraved and congenital sinner. However we find God often calling out His elect in very unusual and even miraculous ways. For example, Abraham, the “father of all that believe,” (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7), was a pagan in total spiritual darkness until God appeared to him and spoke the gospel to him, (Gal. 3:8-9), and enabled him to believe and be justified, (Gen. 15:6). Who can say that God has not repeated this at other times down through the ages. However, generally God’s method of salvation is through the regular preaching of the Gospel by His people.
The second category mentioned above relates to those that are rebels against the knowledge of the truth even after hearing it. Of these we find an eight-fold division in Rev. 21:8. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
The “fearful” are those that, though they have been brought to a full knowledge and conviction of their duty to God, fear the reproach of man, and so will not take their place in faith at the Savior’s side. Such are afraid to “go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach,” (Heb. 13:13.) They fear man more than they fear God.
The “unbelieving” are simply the faithless, the skeptics, the critics, and all others that made their own reason their guide, and whose own minds were made the criterion whereby they judged what was worthy of their belief in the Scriptures. From this category will be found many that had heard the Word of God many, many times, but who simply refused to believe it and obey it.
The “abominable” could encompass a great multitude, but probably in the forefront of this group will be those that were too proud to admit their need of a Savior, those too proud to admit that they were sinners, and especially those proud boasters that thought that their own good works were sufficient for their salvation. Proverbs 16:5 gives us a very instructive look at God’s view of the proud. “Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand joined in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” Another possibility is suggested by the fact that “abomination” is frequently associated with idolatry in Scripture. This category may have to do with all those that make idols out of their own possessions, pleasures, positions, pride, etc.
The “murderers” are not just those that have wantonly taken human life, but also include those that have hated others without a cause. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment,” (Matt. 5:21-22). “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murder: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him,” (1 John 3:15).
The “whoremonger” is the impure person whose every thought is for the gratification of the lusts of the flesh. The more common translation is “fornicator” which relates to all that engage in sex outside of the marital relation. This category often quenches the conviction of the Spirit of God by their constant quest for fleshly gratification. Such a person will be compelled to endure an endless existence of intense desire without the ability to ever relieve it in the least degree, for the lost are eternally alone without any human companions so far as Scripture reveals.
“Sorcerers” are not what this English word suggests, for the Greek word is pharmakeus—from which we get our modern word “pharmacy.” This has to do with drug addiction, something that was almost unknown in 1611 when the Authorized Version was translated. Most people do not realize that this includes all drunkenness, for alcohol is a drug, as much as cocaine, etc. I said, “Almost unknown,” for about the only people that took drugs were those involved in the black arts of witchcraft, magic, necromancy, etc., all of which were forms of false worship, and especially demonism. This is something that in the Bible was considered about the height of impiety, as suggested by 1 Samuel 15:23. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” In our modern world most drug use is an endeavor to fill what Blaise Pascal once said exists in every person by nature—a “God-shaped vacuum”—that nothing but God can fill. The human creature was created for God, and everyone is utterly unfulfilled until he realizes his purpose and submits to it.
“Idolatry” is a sin that most people consider as almost non-existent in our present world, but which is, in fact, probably the most common sin there is. One does not have to bow down to an image to be guilty of idolatry. One is an idolater any time he does not love God supremely, for he gives someone or something else a higher place in his affections than he gives to God. Family, friends, business, possessions, pride and even the many and varied forms of pleasure may be idols. 1 Corinthians 10:7 gives an instance of the latter. “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”Here the Israelites were accounted guilty of idolatry in loving their own pleasures more than they loved God. There are many and varied forms of it, as is observed.
Idolatry has been divided into metaphorical and proper. By metaphorical idolatry is meant that inordinate love of riches, honors, and bodily pleasures, whereby the passions and appetites of men are made superior to the will of God: man, by so doing, making a god of himself and his sensual temper. Proper idolatry is giving the divine honor to another. The objects or idols of that honor which are given, are either personal, i.e. the idolatrous themselves, who become their own statues; or internal, as false ideas, which are set up in the fancy instead of God...or external, as worshipping angels, the sun, stars, animals, etc. [Charles Buck, A Theological Dictionary, p. 366.].
“All liars,” or as Revelation 22:15 says, “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Those who are characterized by this give evidence whose child they are, for the devil “is a liar, and and the father of it,” (John 8:44). And as Jesus Christ is “the Truth,” (John 14:6), so Satan’s man is spoken of as “the Lie,” (Isa. 28:15; 2 Thess. 2:11). This latter text has the definite article “the” before “lie” in the inspired Greek text. For the Man of sin—the Antichrist—will be the very antithesis of Jesus Christ, and he will be very popular with the world in the latter days for this very reason—he is a liar, and the people who are generally liars, love to have it so.
However the denizens of hell will not be restricted to individuals, for we are also told that whole nations shall go into hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God,”(Ps. 9:17). And the judgment of nations in Matthew 25:31-46 deals with this same matter. Many people endeavor to make this a universal judgment of individuals, but it isn’t. It is just what it says it is—a judgment of nations based on how they have treated Christ’s “brethren,” those that believe in Him, (Matt. 12:48-50).
Not only so, but even cities shall partake of judgment. “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell,” (Luke 10:15). The word here for “hell” is actually Hades, but death and Hades are also to be finally cast into the lake of fire—the true, eternal Hell, (Rev. 20:14). Behold the terrible character of those that shall be compelled to “dwell with the everlasting burnings.” Who would want to dwell among these? We must yet notice one other thing, which is—
- THE PURPOSE OF HELL.
Early in the Christian era a few men took the stand that the punishment of the wicked was not eternal. And almost every age since then has had a few men that held this view. But such a view is based upon a mistaken understanding of the purpose of hell. Hell is not a reformatory, for none are ever reformed in it. In fact, those that will be in hell will be confirmed in their wickedness ere they are ever cast into hell.
A notion prevails that punishment is reformatory; that suffering can purify the heart; that the fires of purgatory or of hell can burn out the impurities of the soul and fuse the spirit into holiness... If suffering could purify, this world would be a paradise today. In all the ages pain and agony have tortured humanity, and still the race is corrupt and vile. The horrors of delirium tremens do not change the drunkard’s tastes nor reform his habits. The curiosity of the libertine’s bones cannot extirpate his lusts. Prison chains cannot subdue the robber’s greed. A recent earnest writer says: “Turn to the world’s prison-houses and see how baseless is the notion that men can be morally renovated by punishment. The Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman dungeons were synonyms of horror. Pains and penalties were meted out without mercy. But not a single prisoner among all the thousands that suffered amid danger and chills, in chains and stocks, was ever transformed in moral character by this fearful punishment.” [(G. Anderson)—Sermon by J. L. Burrows on Future Punishment—Character Determines Doom, in Baptist Doctrines, edited by Charles A. Jenkens, pp. 608-609.].
Punishment is neither chastisement nor calamity. Men suffer calamity, says Christ, not because they or their parents have sinned, “but that the works of God should be made manifest in them,” (John 9:3). Chastisement is inflicted in order to develop a good, but imperfect character already formed. “The Lord loveth whom he chasteneth,” and “what son is he whom the earthly father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:6, 7). Punishment, on the other hand, is retribution, and is not intended to do the work of either calamity or chastisement, but a work of its own. And this work is to vindicate law; to satisfy justice. Punishment, therefore, as distinguished from chastisement, is wholly retrospective in its primary aim. It looks back at what has been done in the past. Its first and great object is requital.” [W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol II, p. 716.].
It is true that the doctrine of everlasting punishment for the wicked has a certain tendency to deter from sin, but this is not its primary function, for there are those whose character is such that no amount of threatening would hinder them from endeavoring to fulfill their own wicked wills. Capital punishment, when rigidly enforced will deter some from murder, but will not deter others because they flatter themselves that some way they will be able to escape justice for their crime. And so, they consider it worth the risk, and also some are willing to run the risk of hell in order to affect their own wicked wills. The puerile reasoning of those that would abolish capital punishment on the grounds that it does not deter from murder, etc., has no more soundness about it than the reasoning of those that reject eternal punishment on the grounds that it does not deter man from sin. In neither instance is deterrence the primary purpose. In each instance the primary purpose is justice and the vindication of the Divine Law.
It is to be regretted that the philosophy of punishment is by many imperfectly understood, and is not therefore presented in its most important aspect. They regard punishment as exemplary; that is, they suppose that criminals are punished to deter others from committing crimes. This is only the secondary reason for punishment; the primary reason is that the punishment is deserved. It may be classed almost among the intuitive beliefs of the human mind that criminals ought to be punished because they personally deserve to be punished... Thus does it appear that a government, by disregarding the primary object of punishment and keeping in view the secondary object alone, would more effectually defeat the secondary than if the primary object was regarded. [J.M. Pendleton, Christian Doctrines, p. 231.].
God has said that, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” (Gen. 9:6), thus decreeing capital punishment for certain crimes of violence to men and disrespect to God. And again, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” (Ezek. 18:20). In both instances, justice demands that those that violate these Divine prohibitions must be punished by the proper penalty. God could not retain His holy integrity if He compromised on His Holy Law for any reason or in any degree. He must inflict the decreed punishment in due time or else cease to be God. And another thing: any law that is not enforced soon comes to be held in contempt, just as the laws of our nation against murder, kidnapping, etc., are held in contempt because the death penalty against them is not rigidly enforced. The penalty for breaking the Law of God must be enforced in order to vindicate the righteousness of the Law of God.
It is true that personal improvement may be one consequence of the infliction of penalty. But the consequence must not be confounded with the purpose... The criminal may come to see and confess that his crime deserves punishment, and in genuine unselfish penitence may take sides with the law, approve its retribution, and go into the presence of the Final Judge, relying upon that great atonement which satisfies eternal justice for sin; but even this, the greatest personal benefit of all, is not what is aimed at in man’s punishment of the crime of murder. For should there be no such personal benefit as this attending the infliction of the human penalty, the one sufficient reason for inflicting it still holds good, namely, the fact that the law has been violated, and demands the death of the offender for this reason simply and only. [W.G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol II, p. 717.].
As already noted, hell was prepared for the devil and his angels, (Matt. 25:41), but if man, by his actions, takes the part of the devil against God—if he manifests his likeness to the devil rather than to God, then there remains naught but to cast him into hell, into his self-chosen place and company.
The very fact of the adverse character of unbelievers is an argument for a place being set apart for them. No unregenerate person would be happy spending eternity with God and with God’s people, for he has spent his whole life doing his best to avoid them as Scripture testifies, (Job 21:14-15; Ps. 14:2-3). To send all unbelievers into hell is nothing less than God simply giving them what they have desired and endeavored to accomplish their whole adult lives. Thus God does not arbitrarily send anyone to heal, but just grants unbelievers their desire to be separate from God. Of course, in their spiritual blindness they do not realize that their wish necessarily involves them being also eternally separated from all good at the same time which is not their wish. But the two things cannot be separated. And their presence among the saints would be a positive defilement of the holy presence of God, so that all this necessitates hell as the spiritual garbage heap of all time and space. O dear unbelieving friend, beware what you wish for when you desire to have nothing to do with God for He may just eternally give you your wish.
Sin has marred almost the whole creation, but God has forecast His plans to cleanse the universe of sin, so that throughout all eternity it will be confined to only one place, and that one place will be a monument to His love, mercy and grace. Therefore we may say with the Apostle Peter, “nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” (2 Pet. 3:13). Presently righteousness is a stranger on this globe, but then it will dwell (literally “have its home”) here, as the word literally means.
By way of concluding thoughts to this great and solemn subject, we should observe that now, not the hereafter, is the time for making certain that one does not come to this terrible place. Sometimes people ignorantly pray “and save us in heaven,” but no salvation takes place in heaven. If one is not saved on earth, he will never be saved, for here and now is the only place where salvation is possible for here alone is grace offered to the undeserving.
But after all is said, the fact remains, that in Holy Scripture this life is constantly regarded as the time for fixing character, that the judgment of the Last Day is spoken of as absolute and conclusive, and that the condition of those who are then condemned is set over against the condition of those who are justified without a hint that the one is more transient than the other. [A.J. Mason, Faith of the Gospel, pp. 419-420.].
Men sometimes talk loosely about death, as though it created some change of moral character, tastes and propensities. But death has to do only with man’s physical being. It only stops the beating of the heart and the heaving of the lungs—stops the action of the vital forces and leaves the body to dissolution and decay. But in all this there is nothing that touches mind or spirit, nothing that can annihilate or alter faculties or dispositions of the soul. A change of state or of place does not work a change of character or of conscience. A bad man in America does not become a good man by travelling to France or Palestine, nor is there anything in the transfer from time into eternity to transform a filthy into a holy heart. What a man is in essential character this side of death he will be beyond it. You cannot die a sinner and be raised a saint. [J. L. Burrows, Sermon entitled Future Punishment—Character Determines Doom, in Baptist Doctrines, edited by Charles A. Jenkens, pp. 602-603.].
However disagreeable this doctrine may be to the natural man, and however disagreeable it may be to the fleshly nature of saved people, there is still an obligation to declare it.
The proper preaching of the doctrine of everlasting punishment is not a hindrance to the success of the gospel, but is one of its chief and indispensible auxiliaries.—It is maintained by some, however, that, because men are naturally repelled by it, it cannot be a part of the preacher’s message. We reply: (a) If the doctrine be true, and clearly taught in Scripture, no fear of consequences to ourselves or to others can absolve us from the duty of preaching it. The minister of Christ is under obligation to preach the whole truth of God; if he does this, God will care for the results. (b) All preaching which ignores the doctrine of eternal punishment just so far lowers the holiness of God, of which eternal punishment is an expression, and degrades the work of Christ, which was needful to save us from it. The success of such preaching can be but temporary, and must be followed by a disastrous reaction toward rationalism and immorality. (c) The fear of future punishment, though not the highest motive, is yet a proper motive, for the renunciation of sin and the turning to Christ. It must therefore be appealed to, in the hope that the seeking of salvation which begins in fear of God’s anger may end in the service of faith and love. [A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 1054-1055.].
Jesus once said to the scribes and Pharisees, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33), from which the following things may be noted. (1) They were spoken to some of the most religious people on earth. (2) They were spoken to those that had, at least, a basic knowledge of the true God. (3) Yet it was clearly stated that they nevertheless partook of the character of Satan, “that old serpent.” (4) The reason for this was that they rejected Christ, the one “Way” of salvation. (5) Under such circumstances it was clear that they could not escape the damnation of hell. This brings the warning down to religionists of our day.
Have you, dear reader, received the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, trusting wholly in Him to save you? If not, then the same question can be posed to you. “How can you escape the damnation of hell?” The Lord gives a gracious invitation in John 10:9: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and go in and out, and find pasture.” Will you, right now, enter in to Him by totally committing the keeping of your soul unto Him? “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37).
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