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The Duration And Nature Of Future Punishment

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Prebendary of Cork

Fifth Edition - 1872


From the Second London Edition


Taught from childhood, as doubtless you also have been, that all souls are possessed of immortality, and that, for the wicked ones, hell is a place of eternal torment, I ever accepted the belief, and for years have earnestly enforced it upon others. But, during a recent journey in Europe, my faith in that doctrine was staggered by the sight of the multitudes there, and at the thought of the outlying millions still of Asia and Africa, all hurrying on to God's tribunal. Can it be, that in their heedlessness and ignorance, or in their delusive strivings after pardon, they are to meet a doom such as, in its infinity of torture, the human mind could neither conceive nor endure the thought? I had learned to know somewhat of the love of God, the Creator and upholder of these lost millions; how could I reconcile that with the accepted doctrine of unending suffering? I did try, faithfully; even, in these struggles of the mind, writing home to a doubting Christian brother to confirm him in this belief, which I feared was slipping from under me.

Some months afterwards, a clergyman in London put into my hands the pamphlet I here offer re-printed, stating its doctrines. I replied, "Most happy would I be to accept it, if I could but is it the doctrine of the Bible?" Carefully I read it over. The wicked, after the final judgment, are to be literally destroyed by the fire of Him who, Christ forewarns us, "is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" Upon their final death we can look with comparative calmness, though we cannot upon their protracted life in suffering. With them, in the same lake of fire, are destroyed the devil and his angels; and this consequence of sin remains an everlasting punishment, an abiding testimony to all ages of the fearfulness of sin, and so far a guarantee that God's universe shall henceforth remain as thus renovated, forever pure and holy. Nor does such a fate rob retributive justice of its peculiar terrors; for, as there is variety here in the mode of our mortal death, so may we believe of the second death. The impenitent heathen, ignorant of redeeming love, speedily perish, while a longer, more fearful doom, the many stripes of those "who knew and did not," awaits the obstinate rejecters of God's infinite grace.

This view of the future, professedly derived from the word of God, I already and prayerfully compared with the Scripture record. And there, as I believe, I found it: and so plainly set forth, I could but wonder that I had so long overlooked it. I had been blinded, as I believe we all are, by the idea that immortality must be a necessary attribute of every soul, and the truth had heretofore lain concealed. But with the sweeping away of that error, a clearer light is shed upon the Holy Word itself; which I can now understand as it was written, not as it is explained for me by commentators. When Christ says, "I give unto them eternal life," and, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," He means simply just what He says. He gives us life, a new life not possessed before, which, dating from the "new birth," runs on for a while, coexistent with, and yet not terminated wilt, our mortal life,—it is a literal, eternal life. Christ uses not the word in a technical "Biblical sense," so-called; he is not speaking for the Doctors of Theology, but so that we, the common people, may understand He means such shall not see this life of eternity. So that, "The wages of sin IS death, the gift of God IS eternal life." 1

Rejecting the traditional dogma of the soul's essential immortality, denied, it would seem, if anything can be, in the Bible,2 our doubts and difficulties vanish with it. The justice of God, and the question of the origin and end of evil, no longer now need the unsatisfactory explanations of Theologic essayists—the difficulties were but of our own creation. And now, I offer to you, my Christian brother, this little pamphlet, which has brought to me so much of joy and peace: peace in the thought of the final and complete extirpation of evil from God's universe, though it be with the total destruction of the obstinate agents of evil; joy, in its vindication of the power, justice, and goodness of our Heavenly Father. Will you not, for the truth's sake, thoughtfully study its presentation of doctrine in the light of God's authoritative record? Think not of it as a willful attempt to "pervert the right ways of the Lord." The simple question is—Is it, or is it not, according to God's Holy Word? You will perceive that this doctrine establishes that gradation in future punishment which is taught by Revelation and reason, in this differing from the views of those Annihilationists, (so-called,) who hold to the immediate destruction of evil doers.

A candid, not dogmatic and bitter, review of the grounds of our belief regarding future punishment is greatly needed in the present day. I speak as a laymen as one of them, and I know also, that not a few of our devout and thoughtful clergymen have serious difficulties on this point. Hear this testimony from that well-known preacher and Bible expositor, Rev. Albert. Barnes, Speaking of sins entrance into the world, and of that eternity of suffering he felt constrained to teach, he declares:

"These are real and not imaginary difficulties * * I confess, for one, I feel them, and feel them the more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them, and the longer I live. * * I do not know that I have a ray of light on this subject, which I had not when the subject first flashed across my soul. I have read, to some extent, what wise and good men have written. I have looked at their various theories and explanations. I have endeavored to weigh their arguments, for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess into the world; why the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind. * * It Is all dark—dark—dark, to my soul, and I cannot disguise it.3

"In the midst of this gloom," as he styles it, Mr. Barnes comforts himself with the belief that, it must be that the Judge of all the earth will do right, though appearances are so much against it; it seeming never to occur to him that his own theology, and not the revealed truth, is here at fault. Others of our religious teachers live on in silence, seeking relief from these felt difficulties in a smothered hope in universal salvation, or at least a final restoration of the wicked, or else they fancy a probation beyond the grave: in either case failing to give decided utterance of that future woe, so solemnly enforced by the Great Preacher.

But so far from any tendency to affiliation with Universalists, as insinuated by a recent theological reviewer,4 this doctrine is diametrically opposed to theirs, more so than is the popular theory which agrees with Universalism, in upholding the error common to both, that "every soul is immortal." That dogma, if you will but recognise it, is the original lie of our sinful world. It was first uttered in Eden when Satan declared to our tempted parents, "Ye shall not surely die;" in the same words is it repeated by the Universalist of our day; and it is repeated still, though it be unwittingly and in other words, by every orthodox religious teacher, when he proclaims, "Ye shall live forever in your sins" Against both these forms of deception our doctrine opposes itself alike, declaring in the words of the Master, "Ye shall die in your sins, if ye believe not on the Son of God."5 What possibility for Universal Salvation, what hope for a future pardon, when the soul is forever literally destroyed? It was to take away this last refuge of the unregenerate soul, that our gracious Lord so fully and unequivocally foretells everlasting punishment—eternal death! And yet in spite of all, the arch-deceiver has for centuries pursuaded the Christian Church that his lie was not so far from truth; that though all men die out of this world, yet they are all hereafter to live to all eternity. And out of this again has grown that Romish falsehood of purgatory. Sad that our Protestant forefathers, when they took their stand upon the Bible, and rejected the many errors of a corrupted Church, had not also recognized and rejected this early device of the Old Serpent! That immortality thus asserted of all men our doctrine restricts to those to whom Christ gives it: while that scripture-promised restitution of all things, the seeming glory of Universalism, but the stumbling block of the popular theory, it makes evident as fully accomplished in the final destruction of all evil doers.

In this connection, and in cheering contrast to those sad words of the Philadelphia divine, let me quote from the author of this pamphlet, in his preface:

"For myself, I cannot express my sense of the value I place on the view I now seek to impress on others. It has for me thrown a light on God's character, and God's word, and the future of his world, which I once thought I should never have seen on this side of the grave. It has not removed the wholesome and necessary terrors of the Lord from the mind, but it has clothed God with a loveliness which makes him, and the eternal Son who represents him to man, incalculably more attractive. I am no longer looking for shifts to excuse his conduct in my own eyes and those of others, and forced to feel that here at least I could never find one to answer my object. I can look at all he has done, and all he tells me he will hereafter do, and, scanning it closely, and examining it even where it has most of awe and severity, exclaim with all my heart and with all my understanding, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."

In conclusion, I may state that this question of Future Punishment, has been of late freely discussed in the Religious Magazines of England; and I am informed that a large proportion of the intelligent and devout English clergymen, of all denominations, accept the truth of the views herein stated. The agitation on this subject has not reached our shores, at least not fully as yet, but it must be met; and the sooner the truth prevails the better, for the glory of God, and for our common Christianity.


HAVEN CONN., Feburary, 1871

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1. Romans 6:23

2. For example, 1 Tim. 6:16, Rom. 2:7

3. Practical Sermons by Albert Barnes, (Lindsay & Blackston, Phila; 1860) first published, 1841.

4. Life and Death Eternal, by S. C. Bartlett, D.D.

5. John 8:24

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