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The Duration And Nature Of Future Punishment

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Prebendary of Cork

Fifth Edition - 1875


Future Punishment Is Eternal

FUTURE Punishment for the sins of the present life is universally allowed to be taught in Scripture; but with respect to its nature and duration, very different opinions have been and are entertained as being each of them the doctrine of God's word. We speak only of punishment to be indicted subsequent to the General Resurrection and the Day of Judgment. Into the condition of the soul in the intermediate state in Hades we do not enter here.

2. There are three main opinions relative to this punishment. One of these makes it to be essentially of a purgative nature, to be temporary in its duration, and to have as its end the restoration of all to God's favour and eternal happiness. This was the theory of Origen. The second opinion makes punishment to be eternal in its duration; and to consist in an eternal life of misery and evil. This was the theory of Augustine. According to the third opinion, punishment is eternal, but it consists in eternal death—i.e. the loss of eternal life or existence. This death is attended and produced by such various degrees of pain as God in his justice and wisdom thinks fit to inflict. The attendant pain with its issue in death are not two distinct punishments; but are one punishment, varying in degree of suffering according to the guilt of the object. This is the opinion which we here maintain. Its establishment sets the other two aside. Its eternal duration overthrows that of Origen; its involving a state of death overthrows alike that of Origen and Augustine. We rest the proof of it on the express oft-repeated, and harmonious testimony of Scripture.

3. With respect to the eternity of future punishment we will here be brief. To us, as to the great majority of Christians of every age, it has always appeared that, as clearly as Scripture teaches that there will be punishment, with the very same clearness and distinctness it teaches that punishment to be absolutely eternal and without end. We will here give some of the chief grounds on which we rest our opinion.

4. In the first place its duration is described in the very same terms as the life of the redeemed: "These," saith Christ, speaking of the reprobate, "shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal."1 Here the same Greek word2 is used for the duration of these opposite states. If, then, we suppose the life of the righteous to be ever-lasting, we must allow the punishment of the wicked to be everlasting also.

5. Again: Our Lord has repeatedly declared that there are persons who, at no time and under no change of dispensation, shall have forgiveness: "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world (or age), neither in the world to come."3 This is wholly inconsistent with the idea that such persons should, after any period of punishment, enter into the peace of God.

6. What Christ has here said of one class of sinners he has elsewhere said in equally strong language of all who reject Him. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."4 If, after a certain purgation, such men passed from a state of punishment into one of bliss, these words of Christ—we say it with reverence— would not and could not be true; for such men would see life, on such men the wrath of God would not abide.

7. Again: There are persons of whom our Lord affirms that it would have been better for them if they had not been born.5 Such an affirmation is incompatible with the idea that they should, after a punishment of any conceivable length, enter upon the life of bliss. The first moment of release would make amends for all past suffering; throughout eternity they would praise God that they had been born.

8. For these and other reasons which will appear in the course of our inquiry, we are persuaded that punishment will be of eternal duration. The judgment once passed, God holds out no hope beyond. Man now makes his choice of one or other of two conditions, each of which will be alike eternal. Here we fully agree with Augustine. As every grand error must needs have some truth mixed up with it to give it countenance and strength, so the eternity of future punishment is the great element of truth in the system of Augustine. It is that which gives its apparent strength to the fearful error with which he has mixed it up.

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1. Matt. 25:46.

2. aiwnioz, aionios.

3. Matt. 12:31; Luke 12:10.

4. John 3:36

5. Matt. 26:24; Mark 14:21.

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