Bible Truths

 
 
 
Lesson 16 - Hell and the Lake of Fire, What is Hell? Is Hell Real? Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife, F

Name and place of hell

Hell(infernus) in theological usage is a place of punishment after death.Theologians distinguish four meanings of the term hell:

·        hellin the strict sense, or the place of punishment for the damned, be they demonsor men;

·        thelimbo of infants (limbus parvulorum), where those who die in original sinalone, and without personal mortal sin, are confined;

·        thelimbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum), in which the souls of the just who diedbefore Christ awaited their admission to heaven; for in the meantime heaven wasclosed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam;

·        purgatory,where the just, who die in venial sin or who still owe a debt of temporalpunishment for sin, are cleansed by suffering before their admission to heaven.

TheLatin infernus (inferum, inferi), the Greek Hades, and the Hebrewsheol correspond to the word hell. Infernus is derivedfrom the root in; hence it designates hell as a place within and below theearth. Haides, formed from the root fid, to see, and a privative,denotes an invisible, hidden, and dark place; thus it is similar to the termhell. The derivation of sheol is doubtful. It is generally supposed tocome from the Hebrew root meaning, "to be sunk in, to be hollow";accordingly it denotes a cave or a place under the earth. In the Old Testament(Septuagint hades; Vulgate infernus) sheol is used quite in general todesignate the kingdom of the dead, of the good (Genesis 37:35) aswell as of the bad (Numbers 16:30); it means hell in the strictsense of the term, as well as the limbo of the Fathers. But, as the limbo ofthe Fathers ended at the time of Christ's Ascension, hades (Vulgate infernus)in the New Testament always designates the hell of the damned. Since Christ'sAscension the just no longer go down to the lower world, but they dwell inheaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). However, in the New Testament theterm Gehenna is used more frequently in preference to hades, as a namefor the place of punishment of the damned. Gehenna is the Hebrew gê-hinnom (Nehemiah11:30), or the longer form gê-ben-hinnom (Joshua 15:8),and gê-benê-hinnom (2 Kings 23:10) "valley of the sons ofHinnom". Besides Hades and Gehenna, we find in the New Testament manyother names for the abode of the damned. It is called "lower hell"(Vulgate tartarus) (2 Peter 2:4), "abyss" (Luke8:31 and elsewhere), "place of torments" (Luke16:28), "pool of fire" (Revelation 19:20and elsewhere), "furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42, 50),"unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12, andelsewhere), "everlasting fire" (Matthew 18:8; 25:41;Jude 7), "exterior darkness" (Matthew 7:12;22:13; 25:30), "mist" or "storm of darkness"(2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13). The state of the damned is called "destruction"(apoleia, Philippians 3:19 and elsewhere), "perdition"(olethros, 1 Timothy 6:9), "eternal destruction"(olethros aionios, 2 Thessalonians 1:9), "corruption"(phthora, Galatians 6:8), "death" (Romans6:21), "second death" (Revelation 2:11and elsewhere).

Whereis hell? Some were of opinion that hell is everywhere, that the damned are atliberty to roam about in the entire universe, but that they carry theirpunishment with them. The adherents of this doctrine were called Ubiquists, orUbiquitarians; among them were, e.g., Johann Brenz, a Swabian, a Protestanttheologian of the sixteenth century. However, that opinion is universally anddeservedly rejected; for it is more in keeping with their state of punishmentthat the damned be limited in their movements and confined to a definite place.Moreover, if hell is a real fire, it cannot be everywhere, especially after theconsummation of the world, when heaven and earth shall have been made anew. TheBible seems to indicate that hell is within the earth, for it describes hell asan abyss to which the wicked descend. We even read of the earth opening and ofthe wicked sinking down into hell (Numbers 16:31 sqq.; Psalm54:16; Isaiah 5:14; Ezekiel 26:20; Philippians2:10, etc.). Is this merely a metaphor to illustrate the state ofseparation from God? Although God is omnipresent, He is said to dwell inheaven, because the light and grandeur of the stars and the firmament are thebrightest manifestations of His infinite splendour. But the damned are utterlyestranged from God; hence their abode is said to be as remote as possible fromhis dwelling, far from heaven above and its light, and consequently hidden awayin the dark abysses of the earth. However, no cogent reason has been advancedfor accepting a metaphorical interpretation in preference to the most naturalmeaning of the words of Scripture. Hence theologians generally accept theopinion that hell is really within the earth. The Church has decided nothing onthis subject; hence we may say hell is a definite place; but where it is, we donot know. St. Chrysostom reminds us: "We must not ask where hell is,but how we are to escape it" (In Rom., hom. xxxi, n. 5, in P.G., LX,674). St. Augustine says: "It is my opinion that the nature ofhell-fire and the location of hell are known to no man unless the Holy Ghostmade it known to him by a special revelation", (City of God XX.16).Elsewhere he expresses the opinion that hell is under the earth (Retract., II,xxiv, n. 2 in P.L., XXXII, 640). St. Gregory the Great wrote: "I do notdare to decide this question. Some thought hell is somewhere on earth; othersbelieve it is under the earth" (Dial., IV, xlii, in P.L., LXXVII, 400;cf. Patuzzi, "De sede inferni", 1763; Gretser, "De subterraneisanimarum receptaculis", 1595).

Existence of hell

Thereis a hell, i.e. all those who die in personal mortal sin, as enemies of God,and unworthy of eternal life, will be severely punished by God after death. Theexistence of hell is, of course, denied by all those who deny the existence ofGod or the immortality of the soul. Thus among the Jew the Sadducees, among theGnostics, the Seleucians, and in our own time Materialists, Pantheists, etc.,deny the existence of hell. But apart from these, if we abstract from theeternity of the pains of hell, the doctrine has never met any opposition worthyof mention. The existence of hell is proved first of all from the Bible.Wherever Christ and the Apostles speak of hell they presuppose the knowledge ofits existence (Matthew 5:29; 8:12; 10:28; 13:42; 25:41, 46; 2 Thessalonians1:8; Revelation 21:8, etc.). Also the Fathers, from the very earliesttimes, are unanimous in teaching that the wicked will be punished after death.And in proof of their doctrine they appeal both to Scripture and to reason (cf.Ignatius, "Ad Eph.", v, 16; "Martyrium s. Polycarpi", ii,n, 3; xi, n.2; Justin, "Apol.", II, n. 8 in P.G., VI, 458;Athenagoras, "De resurr. mort.", c. xix, in P.G., VI, 1011; Irenaeus,Against Heresies V.27.2; Tertullian, "Adv. Marc.", I, c. xxvi, inP.L., IV, 277).

TheChurch professes her faith in the Athanasian Creed: "They that havedone good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil intoeverlasting fire" (Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., 1908,n.40). The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. in the profession offaith made in the Second Council of Lyons (Denz., n. 464) and in the Decree ofUnion in the Council of Florence (Denz., N. 693): "the souls of thosewho depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately intohell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments" (poenisdisparibus).

Ifwe abstract from the eternity of its punishment, the existence of hell can bedemonstrated even by the light of mere reason. In His sanctity and justice aswell as in His wisdom, God must avenge the violation of the moral order in suchwise as to preserve, at least in general, some proportion between the gravityof sin and the severity of punishment. But it is evident from experience thatGod does not always do this on earth; therefore He will inflict punishmentafter death. Moreover, if all men were fully convinced that the sinner needfear no kind of punishment after death, moral and social order would beseriously menaced. This, however, Divine wisdom cannot permit. Again, if therewere no retribution beyond that which takes place before our eyes here onearth, we should have to consider God extremely indifferent to good and evil,and we could in no way account for His justice and holiness. Nor can it besaid: the wicked will be punished, but not by any positive infliction: foreither death will be the end of their existence, or, forfeiting the rich rewardof the good, they will enjoy some lesser degree of happiness. These arearbitrary and vain subterfuges, unsupported by any sound reason; positivepunishment is the natural recompense of evil. Besides, due proportion betweendemerit and punishment would be rendered impossible by an indiscriminateannihilation of all the wicked. And finally, if men knew that their sins would notbe followed by sufferings, the mere threat of annihilation at the moment ofdeath, and still less the prospect of a somewhat lower degree of beatitude,would not suffice to deter them from sin.

Furthermore,reason easily understands that in the next life the just will be made happy asa reward of their virtue. But the punishment of evil is the natural counterpartof the reward of virtue. Hence, there will also be punishment for sin in thenext life. Accordingly, we find among all nations the belief that evil-doerswill be punished after death. This universal conviction of mankind is anadditional proof for the existence of hell. For it is impossible that, inregard to the fundamental questions of their being and their destiny, all menshould fall into the same error; else the power of human reason would beessentially deficient, and the order of this world would be unduly wrapt inmystery; this however, is repugnant both to nature and to the wisdom of theCreator.

Eternity of hell

Manyadmit the existence of hell, but deny the eternity of its punishment.Conditionalists hold only a hypothetical immortality of the soul, and assertthat after undergoing a certain amount of punishment, the souls of the wickedwill be annihilated. Among the Gnostics the Valentinians held this doctrine,and later on also Arnobius, the Socinians, many Protestants both in the pastand in our own times, especially of late. The Universalists teach that in theend all the damned, at least all human souls, will attain beatitude (apokatastasiston panton, restitutio omnium, according to Origen). This was a tenet of theOrigenists and the Misericordes of whom St. Augustine speaks (City of GodXXI.18). There were individual adherents of this opinion in every century, e.g.Scotus Eriugena; in particular, many rationalistic Protestants of the lastcenturies defended this belief, e.g. in England, Farrar, "EternalHope".

TheHoly Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell. Thetorments of the damned shall last forever and ever (Revelation 14:11;19:3; 20:10). They are everlasting just as are the joys of heaven (Matthew25:46). Of Judas Christ says: "it were better for him, if thatman had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). But this wouldnot have been true if Judas was ever to be released from hell and admitted toeternal happiness. Again, God says of the damned: "Their worm shall notdie, and their fire shall not be quenched" (Isaiah 66:24; Mark9:43, 45, 47). The fire of hell is repeatedly called eternal andunquenchable. The wrath of God abideth on the damned (John 3:36);they are vessels of Divine wrath (Romans 9:22); they shall notpossess the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21),etc. The objections adduced from Scripture against this doctrine are so meaninglessthat they are not worth while discussing in detail. The teaching of the fathersis not less clear and decisive (cf. Patavius, "De Angelis", III,viii). We merely call to mind the testimony of the martyrs who often declaredthat they were glad to suffer pain of brief duration in order to escape eternaltorments; e.g. "Martyrium Polycarpi", c. ii (cf. Atzberger,"Geschichte", II, 612 sqq.). It is true that Origen fell into erroron this point; but precisely for this error he was condemned by the Church(Canones adv. Origenem ex Justiniani libro adv. Origen., can. ix; Hardouin,III, 279 E; Denz., n. 211). In vain attempts were made to undermine theauthority of these canons (cf. Dickamp, "Die origenistischenStreitigkeiten", Münster, 1899, 137). Besides even in Origen we find theorthodox teaching on the eternity of the pains of hell; for in his words thefaithful Christian was again and again victorious over the doubtingphilosopher. The Church professes her faith in the eternity of the pains ofhell in clear terms in the Athanasian Creed (Denz., nn. 40), in authenticdoctrinal decisions (Denz, nn. 211, 410, 429, 807, 835, 915), and in countlesspassages of her liturgy; she never prays for the damned. Hence, beyond thepossibility of doubt, the Church expressly teaches the eternity of the pains ofhell as a truth of faith which no one can deny or call in question withoutmanifest heresy.

Butwhat is the attitude of mere reason towards this doctrine? Just as God mustappoint some fixed term for the time of trial, after which the just will enterinto the secure possession of a happiness that can never again be lost in alleternity, so it is likewise appropriate that after the expiration of that termthe wicked will be cut off from all hope of conversion and happiness. For themalice of men cannot compel God to prolong the appointed time of probation andto grant them again and again, without end, the power of deciding their lot foreternity. Any obligation to act in this manner would be unworthy of God, becauseit would make Him dependent on the caprice of human malice, would rob Histhreats in great part of their efficacy, and would offer the amplest scope andthe strongest incentive to human presumption. God has actually appointed theend of this present life, or the moment of death, as the term of man'sprobation. For in that moment there takes place in our life an essential andmomentous change; from the state of union with the body the soul passes into alife apart. No other sharply defined instant of our life is of like importance.Hence we must conclude that death is the end of our probation; for it is meetthat our trial should terminate at a moment of our existence so prominent andsignificant as to be easily perceived by every man. Accordingly, it is thebelief of all people that eternal retribution is dealt out immediately afterdeath. This conviction of mankind is an additional proof of our thesis.

Finally,the preservation of moral and social order would not be sufficiently providedfor, if men knew that the time of trial were to be continued after death.

Abelief from some is the objection made that there is no proportion between thebrief moment of sin and an eternal punishment. But why not? We certainly admita proportion between a momentary good deed and its eternal reward, not, it istrue, a proportion of duration, but a proportion between the law and itsappropriate sanction. Again, sin is an offence against the infinite authorityof God, and the sinner is in some way aware of this, though but imperfectly.Accordingly there is in sin an approximation to infinite malice which deservesan eternal punishment. Finally, it must be remembered that, although the act ofsinning is brief, the guilt of sin remains forever; for in the next life thesinner never turns away from his sin by a sincere conversion. It is furtherobjected that the sole object of punishment must be to reform the evil-doer.This is not true. Besides punishments inflicted for correction, there are alsopunishments for the satisfaction of justice. But justice demands that whoeverdeparts from the right way in his search for happiness shall not find hishappiness, but lose it. The eternity of the pains of hell responds to thisdemand for justice. And, besides, the fear of hell does really deter many fromsin; and thus, in as far as it is threatened by God, eternal punishment alsoserves for the reform of morals. But if God threatens man with the pains ofhell, He must also carry out His threat if man does not heed it by avoidingsin.

Forsolving other objections it should be noted:

  • God is not only infinitely good, He is infinitely wise, just, and holy.
  • No one is cast into hell unless he has fully and entirely deserved it.
  • The sinner perseveres forever in his evil disposition.

Characteristics of the pains of hell

1.   Thepains of hell differ in degree according to demerit. This holds true not onlyof the pain of sense, but also of the pain of loss. A more intense hatred ofGod, a more vivid consciousness of utter abandonment by Divine goodness, a morerestless craving to satisfy the natural desire for beatitude with thingsexternal to God, a more acute sense of shame and confusion at the folly ofhaving sought happiness in earthly enjoyment — all this implies as itscorrelation a more complete and more painful separation from God.

2.   Thepains of hell are essentially immutable; there are no temporary intermissionsor passing alleviations. A few Fathers and theologians, in particular the poetPrudentius, expressed the opinion that on stated days God grants the damned acertain respite, and that besides this the prayers of the faithful obtain forthem other occasional intervals of rest. The Church has never condemned thisopinion in express terms. But now theologians are justly unanimous in rejectingit. St. Thomas condemns it severely (In IV Sent., dist. xlv, Q. xxix, cl. 1).[Cf. Merkle, "Die Sabbatruhe in der Hölle" in "RomischeQuartalschrift" (1895), 489 sqq.; see also Prudentius.] However,accidental changes in the pains of hell are not excluded. Thus it may be thatthe reprobate is sometimes more and sometimes less tormented by hissurroundings. Especially after the last judgment there will be an accidentalincrease in punishment; for then the demons will never again be permitted to leavethe confines of hell, but will be finally imprisoned for all eternity; and thereprobate souls of men will be tormented by union with their hideous bodies.

3.   Hellis a state of the greatest and most complete misfortune, as is evident from allthat has been said. The damned have no joy whatever, and it were better forthem if they had not been born (Matthew 26:24). Not long agoMivart (The Nineteenth Century, Dec., 1892, Febr. and Apr., 1893) advocated theopinion that the pains of the damned would decrease with time and that in theend their lot would not be so extremely sad; that they would finally reach acertain kind of happiness and would prefer existence to annihilation; andalthough they would still continue to suffer a punishment symbolically describedas a fire by the Bible, yet they would hate God no longer, and the mostunfortunate among them be happier than many a pauper in this life. It is quiteobvious that all this is opposed to Scripture and the teaching of the Church.The articles cited were condemned by the Congregation of the Index and the HolyOffice on 14 and 19 July, 1893 (cf. "Civiltà Cattolica", I, 1893,672).

 

Eternal damnation

Besidesemploying the terms Hades and Gehenna, our Lord spoke of eternaldamnation by the use of various imagery. Let me briefly mention some of these.In Matthew, those religious persons who professed faith withoutpossessing it were cast from the presence of our Lord (7:23).Apostates, in the next chapter of Matthew (8:12), were cast into“outer darkness,” where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”(cf. also 22:13, 25:30). In Matthew 10:28, God issaid to be the One Who “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”In chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, another reference to eternalpunishment is found:

So shall it be at the end of theworld. The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among thejust. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping andgnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49-50

Inchapter 18 of Matthew, our Lord stated that the punishment of onewho caused a “little one” to stumble would be worse than placing amillstone around his neck and drowning him (18:6). In Mark, “hell”is described as an “unquenchable fire “ (9:42, 43).

Jesuswas not the only one to speak of eternal punishment for the wicked. While theyrarely employed the terms Hades or Gehenna, the writers of the New Testamentspoke frequently on the subject of eternal judgment. Listed below are passagesof which I am presently aware:

Acts2—Here,while not explicitly stated, the force of the phenomenon of Pentecost was shownby Peter to be a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel in chapter 2.The “day of the Lord” was a day of judgment, but whoever called upon thename of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2:31-32). Peter’s audienceunderstood that he was warning them of the wrath of God because they had put todeath God’s Messiah. On them, God’s wrath would come. No wonder they cried out,“Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37; cf. also 24:15).

Romans 2:5-10 — But according to thy hardness andimpenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath, against the day ofwrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God. Who will render to every manaccording to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work,seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that arecontentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath andindignation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil,of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, and honour, and peace toevery one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 6:23 — For the wages of sin is death. Butthe grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 — For we must all be manifestedbefore the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the properthings of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we use persuasion to men; but to God weare manifest. And I trust also that in your consciences we are manifest.

Irealize that the immediate context refers to the fact that all true believerswill have to give account to God, but I also think that the “fear of theLord” may include the realization that the unsaved must endure the wrath ofGod, a strong incentive to evangelism.

Galatians 6:7-8 — Be not deceived, God is notmocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he thatsoweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he thatsoweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting.

Theprinciple underscored here is that judgment involves the reaping of what wehave sown. Sin has consequences!

Philippians 1:28 — And in nothing be ye terrified bythe adversaries: which to them is a cause of perdition, but to you ofsalvation, and this from God:

Philippians 3:19-21 — Whose end is destruction; whose Godis their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things. Butour conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, ourLord Jesus Christ, Who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to thebody of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdueall things unto himself.

1 Thessalonians 5:3, 9 — For when they shall say, peace andsecurity; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon herthat is with child, and they shall not escape... For God hath not appointed usunto wrath, but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 — Seeing it is a just thing with Godto repay tribulation to them that trouble you: And to you who are troubled,rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with the angelsof his power: In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God,and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternalpunishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of hispower: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be madewonderful in all them who have believed; because our testimony was believedupon you in that day.

Twosignificant points here are that sinners must suffer the consequences for theevil they have perpetrated upon the saints (verse 6), and that “hell”is separation from God, eternally (verse 9).

Hebrews 6:1-2 — Wherefore leaving the word of thebeginning of Christ, let us go on to things more perfect, not laying again thefoundation of penance from dead works, and of faith towards God, Of thedoctrine of baptisms, and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of thedead, and of eternal judgment.

Hebrews 10:27, 29, 39 — But a certain dreadful expectationof judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries... Howmuch more, do you think he deserveth worse punishments, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, bywhich he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of grace?...But we are not the children of withdrawing unto perdition, but of faith to thesaving of the soul.

James 4:12 — There is one lawgiver, and judge,that is able to destroy and to deliver.

2 Peter 2:4-9, 12, 17 — For if God spared not the angelsthat sinned, but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lowerhell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment: And spared not the originalworld, but preserved Noe, the eighth person, the preacher of justice, bringingin the flood upon the world of the ungodly. And reducing the cities of theSodomites, and of the Gomorrhites, into ashes, condemned them to be overthrown,making them an example to those that should after act wickedly. And deliveredjust Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked. Forin sight and hearing he was just: dwelling among them, who from day to dayvexed the just soul with unjust works. The Lord knoweth how to deliver thegodly from temptation, but to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to betormented... But these men, as irrational beasts, naturally tending to thesnare and to destruction, blaspheming those things which they know not, shallperish in their corruption... These are fountains without water, and cloudstossed with whirlwinds, to whom the mist of darkness is reserved.

Revelation 14:9-11 — And the third angel followed them,saying with a loud voice: If any man shall adore the beast and his image, andreceive his character in his forehead, or in his hand; He also shall drink ofthe wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of hiswrath, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holyangels, and in the sight of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torments shallascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day nor night, who haveadored the beast, and his image, and whoever receiveth the character of hisname.

Revelation 20:12-15 — And I saw the dead, great andsmall, standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened; andanother book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged bythose things which were written in the books, according to their works. And thesea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their deadthat were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works. Andhell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. Andwhosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool offire.

Revelation 21:8 — But the fearful, and unbelieving,and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, andidolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burningwith fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

Attemptingto draw all of the biblical data together, we can say that one’s eternaltorment is forever sealed at the time of death. The damned souls will be castinto the lake of fire. They are in constant and conscious agony, which enduresfor eternity. They will have no second chance to change their status. Therewill probably be physical pain, but surely there will be the mental anguish ofknowing they are forever separated from the living and loving God, Whom theyhave rejected.

Objections to the Doctrine ofEternal Punishment

Sincehell is not a popular subject, we are not surprised to find men resisting itand questioning how it could possibly be so. It is therefore necessary toconsider some of the major and most frequent objections to the doctrine ofeternal damnation.

(1)Hell is unduely harsh. Many are horrified when, in the Old Testament, Godordered the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites, who inhabited the landthey were to possess (e.g. Deuteronomy 20:17-18). How could agood and loving God ever order such a slaughter? The same kind of reaction isexperienced whenever Christians begin to speak of hell in biblical terms ofeternal, irreversible torment. To use a well-known constitutional phrase, sucha fate is “cruel and unusual.” But is it?

Thefirst thing that must be pointed out is that such a reaction reflects in thecritic a failure to see sin in its true light. When we say that the punishmentdoes not fit the crime, and if we think the punishment is too harsh, we haverevealed that we do not take the crime seriously enough. The Canaanites, forexample, were so wicked and immoral that their sexual practices could not bedescribed in this message without causing some to stumble (cf. Ephesians5:12). It was therefore necessary to destroy every living creature, foreven the beasts were a part of their immorality (cf. Leviticus 20,especially verses 15-16).

Stopand think about it for a moment. Suppose that the doctor found you had cancerin your foot and told you that in order to save your life, he would have toamputate. Now I know that a foot is a very wonderful thing, but do you thinkthe doctors and the hospital are unduly harsh in insisting that it be cut off?Certainly not if it means that your life can be spared. The spiritual cancer ofsin, prevalent in men, must be dealt with severely because it is deadly. Wemust learn to see sin as God views it, and then we will not think hell toocruel.

Secondly,we do not properly understand God, He is not some kind of heavenly softie, Whois so full of love that He cannot bring Himself to deal with men in judgment.He is love, but He is also a God of justice and wrath when confronted with sin.If your “god” does not hate sin and deal with it, your “god” is not the God ofthe Bible (cf. Nahum 1:2-8; Romans 1:18; 2:5; 5:9; 12:19; 1 Thessalonians1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Revelation 6:16ff.; 16:19, etc.).

Ifind it interesting to observe that the two major objections which men have tothe existence of God answer each other. Their first objection is: “How canthere be a God when there is so much evil?” The second is: “How canthere be a good God Who would condemn men and women to an eternal hell?” Inthe very simplest of explanations, we must say that there is a good God Who hasallowed evil and Who has chosen to deal with that evil by eternal damnation.How, may I ask, can God be good and not deal decisively and justly with evil?

Finally,may I remind you that the good news of the Gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christtook our punishment saved for us for all eternity on the cross of Calvary:

Surely he hath borne our infirmitiesand carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as onestruck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he wasbruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by hisbruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turnedaside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. …Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledgeshall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah53:4-6, 11. Cf. also 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:22-25; Hebrews9:27-28).

Whatevermen will experience in hell, Jesus Christ has already suffered something of iton Calvary. This means that while hell is severe, it is no more severe than isrequired. And more than this, since Christ has already suffered eternal tormentso that we need not bear the penalty of sin, hell is only required for thosewho refuse the salvation already achieved by Christ.

(2)Hell is unfair. Some of those who challenge the goodness of God because of aliteral hell would be willing to admit that all men, to some degree, aresinners. But they would hasten to add that we are not all equally sinful. Andthat, I believe, is true. Hell, however, is not a state of misery in which allmen suffer equally. If this were true, hell would certainly seem unfair. Shouldthe heathen in Africa be judged with the same intensity, who have never heardthe name of Christ or the message of the gospel? The Scriptures tell us thiswill not be:

And that servant who knew the willof his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shallbe beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did things worthy ofstripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given,of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of himthey will demand the more. Luke 12:47-48

Shoulda man like Adolph Hitler, who was responsible for the murder of millions,suffer the same torment as an unbelieving German, who sought to spare peoplefrom persecution and death? The scripture tells us, “And the sea gave up thedead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them;and they were judged every one according to their works” (Revelation20:13; cf. also Romans 1-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:6;Revelation 16:5-6).

Hellis just condemnation because there are degrees of torment meted out inaccordance with the revelation received and the actions of each individual.Those in hell are those who rejected Christ and remained in their sins. Theamount of torment suffered, however, is dependent upon the knowledge rejectedand the sins which those individuals have committed.

Somewould hasten to complain that hell isn’t fair because it cannot be avoided. Ifwe believe that God is sovereign in the process of salvation, then God hasoffered everyone to be saved through his calling; it's up to us to answer tothat call. God is sovereign in the process of salvation. All whom He chooseswill be saved, while those He rejects (by their own free will) will be forevercondemned:

The Lord hath made all things forhimself: the wicked also for the evil day. Proverbs 16:4

Therefore he hath mercy on whom hewill; and whom he will, he hardeneth. … What if God, willing to shew his wrath,and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath,fitted for destruction, That he might shew the riches of his glory on thevessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory? Romans 9:18, 22-23

Wemust not deny that God must first choose to save, and then by His sovereignprocess draw the lost to Himself. Apart from this, no one is saved. Yet we musthasten to say that this is not the entire story. Man is a sinner deserving ofGod’s wrath (Romans 3:10-18). Those who are condemned have receivedsome calling concerning God, which they have willfully rejected (cf. Romans1-3). The Bible clearly teaches that man suffers God’s wrath because hedeserves it:

And I heard the angel of the waterssaying: Thou art just, O Lord, who art, and who wast, the Holy One, becausethou hast judged these things: For they have shed the blood of saints andprophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. Revelation16:5-6

Besidesthis, man goes to eternal torment because he has chosen to do so. Hell is notonly God giving men what they deserve; He is giving them what they want:

But they are not arbitraryinflictions; they represent, rather, a conscious growing into the state inwhich one has chosen to be. The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself,without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have hispreference. Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen todo so. When we say that hell is unfair, we mean that it is unjust. In effect,we are saying that God is not just in sending anyone to hell. But let usremember that justice is the very reason all should be condemned forever, apartfrom God. Whenever we make a plea based upon justice, we must be aware that itis justice which condemns us. Only grace saves men. If it is God’s justice thatexplains the reason for a hell, it is God’s unsearchable grace that provides aheaven for sinners such as you and I.”

What to do?

Wemust conclude that the doctrine of eternal damnation is one that is widelytaught in the Bible, not so much by the term Sheol as by many other terms andimages. Jesus spoke of it more than any other. The apostles, too, warned men ofits certainty. Anyone who believes the Bible to be a word from God must takethe doctrine of eternal punishment seriously. Let me suggest several levels ofapplication which this doctrine necessitates.

First,if you don't believe in God through Jesus Christ, the Bible urges you to do sowithout delay:

For God so loved the world, as togive his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish,but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, tojudge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth inhim is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because hebelieveth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18

And as it is appointed unto men onceto die, and after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27

Ifyou trust in Jesus Christ as your substitute, Who bore your sins and Who offersyou His righteousness, you will be saved from the wrath to come. But if youreject His work on your behalf, you will be condemned on the basis of yourworks (Revelation 20:13).

Christiansshould learn to think of hell in the broader terms of eternal judgment. Hell isGehenna, the lake of fire, and a great number of other images. Eternal tormentwas taught most clearly by our Lord Himself, Who endured the torment of eternalseparation from God for us. Hell is described by a wide variety of highlyfigurative images, and while it is a very literal and painful state ofexistence, it should be expected to be an existence beyond our present abilityto comprehend, just as heaven must be.

Forthe Christian, the doctrine of eternal judgment should be an incentive forworship and praise. The greatness of our salvation is measured by the greatnessof the judgment from which we have been delivered by our Lord. Whenever wecontemplate that from which we were saved, it should inspire us to worship ourGreat Redeemer, Who bore the sorrows of hell for us that we might have life andhope in Him. The doctrine of eternal damnation should cause to take sin moreseriously. Our Lord died for sin. Hell was intended for sin. Our Lord urged Hisdisciples to take sin seriously:

Where their worm dieth not, and thefire is not extinguished. And if thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off. It isbetter for thee to enter lame into life everlasting, than having two feet, tobe cast into the hell of unquenchable fire: Where their worm dieth not, and thefire is not extinguished. And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It isbetter for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having twoeyes to be cast into the hell of fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fireis not extinguished. Mark 9:43-47

OurLord was instructing us that sin leads to judgment, and that whatever steps arenecessary to avoid it should be taken, no matter how painful or sacrificial.

Sinin the believer’s life is no less offensive to God. In one sense, it is agreater offense, for the Christian has the power of the Holy Spirit to overcomeit (Romans 8:1-4). If the Christian persists in sin, he reflectsan attitude of flippancy toward sin, and worse than this, he lightly esteemsthe death of Christ for those sins. Christ’s work on the cross is not valuedrightly when the Christian is not grieved by the sin in his life. God must thendeal in discipline for willful rebellion:

It is a fearful thing to fall intothe hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31

Futurejudgment is intended to be an incentive for purity in the lives of the saints:

But the day of the Lord shall comeas a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and theelements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are init, shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved,what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which theheavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with theburning heat? 2 Peter 3:10-12

Finally,the doctrine of eternal judgment should motivate the Christian to takeevangelism seriously. If men and women are going to spend eternity in torment,apart from the living God, it is imperative that we warn them of the dangerthey are in. As the apostle Paul put it, “Knowing therefore the fear of theLord, we use persuasion to men; …” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Andwhen we share the good news of the gospel, let us not omit the fundamental factof eternal judgment, for it is to this that the Spirit of God will bearwitness, convincing the lost of the imminent danger of unbelief:

And when he is come, he willconvince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Of sin: becausethey believed not in me. And of justice: because I go to the Father; and youshall see me no longer. And of judgment: because the prince of this world isalready judged. John 16:8-11

 

More on Hell

Maybeinstead of speaking about wrath, another theological and Biblical term,familiar to practically everybody, should be used - hell. Modern man might haveadvanced in many areas, but he still shows a predilection for the word's use insuch a variety of ways, so staggering the linguistic imagination that itapproaches the status of being the universal word in our speech.

Hellis the kind of subject that forces itself into most discussions about religion.Somewhere tucked away in the back corners of the human mind is the idea ofhell. Unbelievers not excluded. The way people get around the haunting scepterof hell's prince, whose presence is more faithful than our own shadows, is toassert that hell is something that people create for themselves on earth. Thisthought recurs with faithful precision wherever people talk about religion. Allthis business about countering "hell on earth" is hardly more thanwhistling in the dark. Man has created plenty of "hells" for himselfon this earth. Calling a place or a situation "a living hell" seemsfrequently to be an apt and appropriate expression used. But limiting hell toearth is really only a game that people play. The thought of hell on earth ismuch more tolerable than facing hell after death. A hell on earth has to end. Thesame cannot be said with any confidence about hell after death.

Ahell after this life is so uncomfortable not only to the average man but alsoto many professional theologians that many religions have tried to dispose ofthe whole business. The Mormons teach that man has another chance after life.The Jehovah's Witnesses - and they are followed by so many others in thisrespect - teach that annihilation and not hell is the fate of those who do notfollow their doctrines. Annihilation or a return to nonexistence is preferableto the torturous existence of hell. Jesus even said of Judas, as He thought ofhis fate in hell, that it would have been better if that traitorous disciplehad never been born.

Manytheologians in the last 200 years have influenced the major denominations withtheir ideas that hell has no real existence but that it belongs to theinventions of man's creative imagination. Many hybrids of this type of thinkingcan be readily found. One of the most popular is that God is so loving that Hewould hardly hold men responsible for their mistakes. In this type of thinkingJesus dies not to take away sin and its awful consequences but to alleviateman's consciousness of guilt. Jesus dies to show man that everything is allright. His death is hardly more than an object lesson. For others hell issimply symbolical of men's alienation from God or from each other. At worst,"Hell is other people."

God's Wrath (Otherwise Known asHell) - The Overarching Reality

Everywherein our New Testament, God's wrath or personal anger over sin is written incapital letters. It is the backdrop without which the mission of Jesus cannever be understood. The angelic message to Joseph about Mary's Son states thatthe Child is going to save His people from their sins. This does not mean thatwith the appearance of Jesus, people are going to stop sinning. It does meanthat He is going to save them from the hellish consequences of their sin. Sincarries with it the idea of penalty, liability to punishment. It's the penaltyof sin that frightens people. This motivates them to shove hell under the rugor to exchange it for something less unpleasant. Death and hell are sin'sultimate penalties.

TheMosaic Code, especially as it is found in the Books of Exodus andDeuteronomy, prescribes specific penalties for specific sins. For uswho are removed by time and culture from the ancient Israelites, the cadence ofsin and punishment might be both uninteresting and inappropriate. Still God wasteaching the lesson with loud and clear words that sin is a real offence to Himand that the penalty must be extracted. If we avoid it, we do so only for atime. Sin's penalty is inevitable. The guilt of sin has more reality than apsychological disturbance.

TheJews at Jesus' time were very conscious of the cause and effect relationshipbetween sin and punishment. At one time His disciples asked Jesus whether acertain man's blindness was caused by his own sin or his parents'. They hadinterpreted the man's blindness, rightly or wrongly, as a penalty for aspecific sin which they were trying to pinpoint. The Book of Jobis a series of conversations discussing what sin Job had done to earn suchcalamities.

Therelationship between sin and God's wrath as it manifests itself in specificpunishments and the more general punishment of hell gives essential meaning tothe death of Jesus. Many have offered other explanations for the death ofJesus. Here are several examples: Jesus died to show us that God is not angryand that we don't have to fear death, even the most torturous; Jesus diedbecause He was considered by the Roman occupation forces as an insurrectionist;Jesus died because he threatened to destroy the ecclesiastical establishment;Jesus died because He interpreted this as His fate; it was the inevitable. Tothis could be added many other explanations. These opinions - some containingperhaps even more than a grain of truth - should not obscure the real cause ofHis death, God's wrath over sin as God placed it on Jesus. This is the messageof the four Gospels and attested to by the other New Testament writings.

The Concept of Wrath in thePreaching of John and Jesus

BeforeJesus had begun His public ministry, John the Baptizer, Jesus' forerunner,preached on the wrath of God in such a way that it reminded the people of thepreaching of many of the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah. Men likeElijah were associated with the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel, the TenTribes, by the Assyrians, and the deportation of Judah by the Babylonians.Theirs was a message with teeth and there was no doubt in the people's mindthat when God spoke His message of wrath through His prophets, He really meantit!

Itis no wonder that when John appeared in the wilderness around the Jordan therewas a mass exodus that crossed the denominational boundaries of that time. TheJudeans could not forget that their brothers in the north had once been removedfrom God's presence by permanent exportation and that their own capital city ofJerusalem had been reduced to ashes by foreign hordes around the year 600 B. C.Their own ancestors had been forced to live in Babylonia.

Johnimmediately suspected the motives of those who flocked into the river forbaptism. Were they coming for baptism because they believed sincerely that theyhad offended God by their lives; or was it only an insurance policy againstdivine extermination? The fiery preacher hardly greeted them with open arms.Here was one "congregation" which demanded more of the applicant thanthat he sign a yellow card professing that he sincerely loves the Lord Jesus.He called them snakes, children not of God but of that creature in whom Satanhad become incarnate. Later Jesus called them snakes right to their faces.

Peopleare not “just bad.” They are agents of Satan; and God's wrath zeroes in on theperson and on his allegiance to Satan. When God's wrath appears, all statusrelationships disappear. Abraham's sons can be replaced by stones. They havethe marks of religiosity as far as men are concerned, but with God they haveregistered only negatively. They are headed for the fire.

Likeit or not, God's wrath is associated with fire. Little wonder that a commonEnglish expression indicates the intensity of heat with the words: "hot ashell." Both John and Jesus use the word fire to express God's finaleschatological displeasure over man's rebellion. However, the thought is notnew with them. In the Old Testament psalms, for example, God's anger burns. Zephaniahstates that "in the fire of His jealous wrath all the earth shall beconsumed." Malachi compares the day of judgment with theheat of a burning oven. When fire is used of God's wrath, it means thedestruction or removal of what God considers offensive to Him.

Johnintroduced the “fire” concept of God's wrath into the New Testament preaching.Trees cut down faced further destruction in fire. As fiery as John was, hepromised that the message of Jesus would be even more severe. John preachedabout the fire, but Jesus would burn all those opposed to Him with what Johncalls "the unquenchable fire". Jesus lived up to all of John'sexpectations. The tares, the people who have the marks of Christians but reallyare not, are consigned to the fire. Those who have not done good to the leastof Jesus' brethren are told to go to the eternal fire. Chorazin and Capernaumare to face a fate worse than Sodom's. That city with Gomorrah was literallyburned alive by fire in Abraham's day. Some archeologists assert these twoancient cities lie beneath the Dead Sea. In the parable of the wedding feastfor the king's son, those who refuse the invitation have their cities burned.Such preaching was not wasted on the Jews.

Fireis not the only way God's wrath is described in the New Testament. Equallyeffective is the idea of separation from God. John told the Pharisees and theSadducees that without a sincere change in their lives, they would be cut offfrom God's people in spite of their blood relationship to Abraham. The workersin the parable of the vineyard are given a one-way ticket out of theirpossession - almost in the style of Adam and Eve's exit from Eden's garden.Those who have not acted positively to the least of Jesus' brethren hear thegruesome verdict: "Depart." The parables of the net and thetares teach the same lesson: separation from God's righteous ones.

Hell'sfire, whatever else it involves, provides no light. Already in the OldTestament, the day of the Lord's eschatological judgment is one of "deepdarkness". Believing Gentiles bask with Abraham and the patriarchs ineternal light. Unbelieving Jews, whom Jesus calls the "sons of thekingdom," are to be thrown into the outer darkness. The guest withoutthe wedding garment faces a similar doom.

Perhapsthe most uncomfortable feature of God's wrath is its eternal quality. Manypeople have tried to get around this. Yet the preaching of Jesus leaves littledoubt about hell's durable quality. Jesus never speaks about the second chance.The fire that burns does not go out.

God'schief agent in carrying out His wrath and managing hell is Satan and therebellious angels. All who have rebelled against God or who have refused torepent deserve each other. The presence of evil philosophers have tried toexplain it but with no success. The Bible explains it as the traitorous act ofmen and angels, both of whom were made somewhat like God Himself and whom Godhad even taken into His confidence. Strange as it might seem, God uses His mosteminent opponent, Satan, to execute wrath and judgment. He is thus aninstrument in God's hand and under His control. Many other things could be saidabout God's wrath, but some of its chief characteristics according to thepreaching of John and Jesus can be recapped here: It is associated with fire.It involves separation from God and His chosen people. It cloaks its victimswith an eternal shroud of darkness. It never ends. Satan is active in carryingout God's wrath. Only when God's wrath is understood in such strong terms doesthe task of Jesus of Nazareth become clearer: No words can adequately describeGod's wrath. In connection with the words of John, Jesus says that allrighteousness must be fulfilled. In His baptism Jesus puts Himself in the sinners'place. Not only does He do what they should have done, but He suffers thepenalties for what they have done.

 

A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?

Prolegomena: The Impact OfPostmodernism

ForChristians the entire worldview stands on the biblically based presuppositionthat “the one living and true God has self-attestingly revealed Himself inthe Christian Scriptures.” Moreover, every bible student must come to God’sWord believing the soteriological teachings of Scripture and the CatholicChurch's teaching. Otherwise, he would be denying the faith even as he studiesit.

Butother preunderstandings can make it difficult to interpret a passage ofScripture correctly. Some preunderstandings are cultural. Postmodernism, forexample, has had its bad impact on evangelical thinking. Postmodernism teaches“that there is no objective truth, that moral values are relative, and thatreality is socially constructed by a host of diverse communities.” It doesnot see religion as a set of beliefs about what is real and what is not.Rather, religion is a choice—something to be incorporated into one’s worldviewif he chooses. Thus, postmodernism leads a person to believe in what he likesrather than what the Catholic Church and its interpretation of the biblepresents as universal truth.

Probablyno one really likes to include the doctrine of eternal hell in his beliefsystem. “Today preachers seldom mention Hell ... People have never liked tohear about Hell. The difference is that today, unlike any other time inhistory, many people are unwilling to believe ... what they do not enjoy (as ifaesthetic considerations determined questions of fact).” The influence ofpostmodernism on the theology of Clark Pinnock, one of the leading“evangelical” annihilationists, seems to be clear in statements such as thefollowing:

There is a powerful moral revulsionagainst the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture isintolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like abloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemieswhom he does not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that?

Isnot Pinnock saying that people believe in what they enjoy, and since they donot enjoy the thought of eternal hell, they can dismiss it, and thus constructtheir own narrative, their own reality? With such cultural preunderstandings,it is impossible for one to interpret Scripture accurately.

Somepreunderstandings are theological. If one already has his mind (his ownpersonal belief) made up about what God is like, what man is like, what sin andsalvation are like, he may bring those preunderstandings to the passage ofScripture (in a heretical point of view) and the teaching against what theCatholic Church teaches. In other words, one’s larger theological system willprobably impact his interpretation of an individual passage of Scripture. Thepurpose in the rest of this study, therefore, is to demonstrate thatannihilationism is not an isolated deviation from orthodoxy, but is only a partof a larger theological breakdown. Annihilationists thus have not only departedfrom a biblical understanding of eschatology, but also from the doctrines ofGod, man, sin, and salvation.

Theology Proper: A Reductionist ViewOf God

AnnihilationistsReduce God’s Nature to Love

InTheology Proper, annihilationists have nearly reduced God’s nature to love. Inthe words of Pinnock and Brow, “Love, then is not just something that Goddecides to do, not just an occasional attribute. Love is what characterizes Godessentially—as a dynamic livingness, a divine circling and relating.

Ofcourse, Scripture does emphasize the love of God (John 3:16; 1John 4:8), and preachers have given proper recognition to it. Some haveeven elevated love over God’s other attributes. One, in a burst of enthusiasminsisted that “as no other attribute, love is the primary motive in God, andto satisfy His love all creation has been formed.” But clearly this quotewas not teaching that “love is what characterizes God essentially,” northat love is “ontologically ultimate.

For“evangelical” annihilationists, however, God’s love serves as apreunderstanding to the study of hell. Pinnock calls the love of God one of his“control beliefs.” “The foundation of my theology of religion,”he says, “is a belief in the unbounded generosity of God revealed in JesusChrist.” This means, therefore, that “the nature of hell must notcontradict what we know about God’s love... .” “God is not vindictiveand does not practice sadism. The lurid portrayals of hellfire in the Christiantradition contradict God’s identity, according to the gospel.” Thus it isimpossible for the annihilationists to believe in eternal hell, because God’slove serves as an immovable roadblock to such a doctrine.

Infact, logically, a God who is essentially love could never send people to aneternal hell.” Thomas Talbot uses the following set of beliefs to provethat eternal hell is absolutely illogical.

1.   Godexists.

2.   Godis both omniscient and omnipotent.

3.   Godloves every created person.

4.   Evilexists.

5.   Godwill irrevocably reject some persons and subject those persons to everlastingpunishment.

Talbotinsists that either 3 or 5 is illogical. He writes, “When the doctrine ofeverlasting punishment is conjoined with other doctrines essential to theChristian faith, a logical paradox arises that proponents of the doctrine havefailed to appreciate; as a consequence, a Christian theist must either rejectthe doctrine as incompatible with Christianity or else admit that Christianityis itself logically inconsistent.” Such arguments from “control beliefs”and logical negations clearly demonstrate that “evangelical” annihilationistscannot take the Scripture passages on hell at face value. They have alreadydecided that a God of love could not send people to an eternal hell.

GodRevealed with Many Attributes

Sometheologians have suggested other attributes of God as primary or ultimate. In acertain book the author nominated holiness as God’s “preeminent” attribute. Theauthor was concerned about the liberal developments in theology that infectedthe doctrines of sin, law, and the atonement.

There can be no proper doctrineof the atonement and no proper doctrine of retribution, so long as Holiness isrefused its preeminence. Love must have a norm or standard, and this norm orstandard can be found only in Holiness. The old conviction of sin and the senseof guilt that drove the convicted sinner to the cross are inseparable from afirm belief in the self-affirming attribute of God as logically prior to and asconditioning the self-communicating attribute.”

CertainlyGod’s holiness defined as God’s self-affirming purity is a worthy possibilityfor the primary attribute of God if there were one. But can any one attributebe elevated above the others? Should one minimize God’s justice, truth, grace,or omnipotence? Are they any less important in God than holiness or love?Evangelical annihilationists, therefore, have erred in their extremereductionism of God’s nature.

AnnihilationistsSentimentalize Love

Theyhave also sentimentalized God’s love. “Love” in Scripture is clearlydefined in its meaning and expression. God loves Israel in His election of her(Deuteronomy 7:7–9). God loves the world in the sense that Heprovidentially rules over it with mercy (Matthew 5:45). Godpeculiarly loves His elect (Ephesians 5:25). Scriptureconsistently presents love as ultimately expressed in the giving of His Son todie on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

ButGod limits the expression of His love to those who accept Christ as theirSavior. According to the Scriptures, “He that believeth in the Son, hathlife everlasting; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; butthe wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). From theoriginal pair’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden through the Book ofRevelation, the plot-line of the biblical message includes God’s judgment ofsin. “The point that cannot be escaped,” writes someone, “is thatGod’s wrath is not some minor and easily dismissed peripheral element to theBible’s plot-line ... It is not going too far to say that the Bible would nothave a plot-line at all if there were no wrath.

Whatone understands God to be like is a determining factor in his theology. It isextremely dangerous to minimize or nullify any of God’s attributes. If peopleare not careful at this point, they may find themselves worshiping a god otherthan the God of Scripture. “Several of the very worst corruptions ofChristian truth are based on the notion that God can be understood solely interms of His love.

Anthropology: A Depreciation Of TheHuman Soul

Annihilationism:Conditional Immortality

Anthropologyis another doctrine involved in the theological breakdown of those who hold toannihilationism. Annihilationists teach conditional immortality, which may bedefined as “the idea that humans were made mortal with everlasting life being agift, not a natural capacity.” Of course, physically human beings are mortal and willdie. But the question being debated is, Is the human soul inherently immortal(as the traditionalists teach), or does it become immortal only throughsalvation (as the annihilationists teach)?

Annihilationiststypically teach that immortality is bestowed on the righteous at theresurrection. Clark Pinnock the annihilationist explains,

The Bible does not teach the naturalimmortality of the soul; it points instead to the resurrection of the body asGod’s gift to believers ...The Bible teaches conditionalism: God created humansmortal with a capacity for life everlasting, but it is not their inherentpossession. Immortality is a gift God offers us in the gospel, not aninalienable possession.

Immortalityin Scripture and Theology

Partof the debate over the immortality of the soul is that the term, “immortal” isused somewhat differently in theology than it is in Scripture. Scripture tendsto use the words, “everlasting,” or “eternal” instead of “immortal.” Throughthese words, the immortality of the soul is clearly taught.

Annihilationism:Immortality Comes from Greek Philosophy

Annihilationistsdefend conditional immortality primarily with two arguments. First they arguethat the traditional view of the immortality of the soul comes from Greekphilosophy rather than from the Bible. Pinnock writes,

I am convinced that the hellenisticbelief in the immortality of the soul has done more than anything else(specifically more than the Bible) to give credibility to the doctrine of theeverlasting conscious punishment of the wicked. This belief, not holy Scripture,is what gives this doctrine the credibility it does not deserve.

Butthis argument is not convincing. First of all, the traditional Christianunderstanding of the immortality of the soul is different from Greekphilosophy. Plato taught that souls were inherently immortal. Christians havetaught that souls are derivatively immortal, that God grants immortality tohuman beings because they are made in His likeness. Second, traditionalistsinsist that the doctrine of the everlasting nature of the soul comes fromScripture, not philosophy. In the Old Testament, the immortality of the soul isclearly implied at the creation of the human race. When God created the firstman and woman, He said, “Let us make man to our image and likeness: … AndGod created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male andfemale he created them. ... And the Lord God formed man of the slime of theearth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a livingsoul.” (Genesis 1:26–27; 2:7).

Inthis passage, there are two significant statements. First, God addressesHimself when He creates man—“Let us ...” This is different from the wayHe creates animals. It is noted that “when God creates man, he addresseshimself: ‘Let us ... ,’ Gen. 1:26. But when he creates animals, headdresses the inanimate world: ‘Let the waters bring forth the movingcreature,’ Gen. 1:20.” The immortality of the soul is implied in thedivine personal relationship with mankind.

Thesecond significant statement in this passage is that God breathes the breath oflife into man’s lungs. Again, this is totally unlike the way God brings life tothe animals. There is an intimate inbreathing of God’s breath into man. “Theusage of the word (‘breathed’) cannot be mistaken. As used in the text, it isdescriptive of imparting the immortal spirit ...

ManyNT passages also teach immortality of the soul. Matthew 25:46,for example, says that at the judgment, some “shall go into everlastingpunishment: but the just, into life everlasting.” Only an immortal soul cansuffer eternal punishment or enjoy eternal life. As one testifies, “I do notbelieve in the traditional view of hell because I accept the immortality ofhuman beings, but the other way around. I believe in the immortality of humanbeings because the Bible clearly teaches everlasting damnation for the wickedand everlasting life for the righteous.

Annihilationism:Only God Has Immortality

Annihilationistsalso support the doctrine of conditional immortality with 1 Timothy 6:16,that “only God has immortality.” If only God has immortality, theyargue, humans do not. But traditionalists (Catholics) have a number ofresponses to this argument. First, the argument proves too much because itwould also prove that believers do not have immortality and cannot liveforever. Second, it proves too much because it would prove that the electangels would not live forever. Third, it misses the point of the verse, whichis that “the essential difference between the Creator and all His works [is]that he alone by Himself subsists.” God is an invisible, personal, livingSpirit. “Living” simply means that God has energy of intellect, emotions, andwill in Himself, and the source of life is in Him, not in any other being orthing external to Himself. God’s very nature is to exist. He does not have towill it. Fourth, this verse is emphasizing that only God has lived frometernity past as well as into the eternity future. And fifth, this verseteaches that only God has innate and essential immortality. Human immortalityis dependent upon and derived from God.

Thetraditional (Catholic) view of the immortality of the soul is correct: “AfterGod had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, withreasonable and immortal souls”.

Hamartiology: A Devaluation Of TheNature Of Sin

Anotherchange in the theological system of annihilationism relates to the doctrine ofsin. Annihilationists boldly teach that human sin is not wicked enough to bepunished eternally. Sin against an infinite God, they say, does not justifyinfinite penalty. Pinnock explains:

Anselm [St. Anselm of the CatholicChurch] tried to argue that our sins are worthy of an infinite punishmentbecause they are committed against an infinite majesty. This may have worked inthe Middle Ages, but it will not work as an argument today. We do not acceptinequality in judgments on the basis of the honor of the victim, as if stealingfrom a doctor is worse than stealing from a beggar. The fact that we havesinned against an infinite God does not justify an infinite penalty.

Pinnockinsists, moreover, that eternal punishment would be vindictive on God’s part. “Whatpurpose of God would be served by the unending torture of the wicked exceptsheer vengeance and vindictiveness?

Onceagain, however, it is important to note that this is not a matter for humanevaluation but of understanding Scripture. God alone, after all, can tell uswhat punishment for sin is appropriate, and we can learn this only from HisChurch (The Catholic Church) who has given the authority to interpret theScriptures. Let us ask ourselves this question: “Does anyone seriously claimto know how enormous an evil sin is in God’s eyes?” The biblical viewteaches that sins against an infinite God do require eternal punishment. Tobegin with, the argument that something done finitely cannot have infiniteconsequences is not consistent. The Christian’s finite good works here on earthare graciously rewarded infinitely. Likewise, an unbeliever’s wickedness can bepunished infinitely.

Butit is also certain that ongoing rebellion demands ongoing punishment, and thereis no evidence in Scripture that a depraved person ever of his own initiativeor power gives up his sinful autonomy. The evidence is actually to the contrary(Revelation 9:20–21; 21:27; 22:15).No one can, in fact, repent of his sin without the grace of God, so there canbe no repentance in hell. “Since we cannot measure the power of the depravedwill to resist God, we cannot deny the possibility of endless sinning ... Notthe punishing, but the non-punishing, would impugn his justice; for if it isjust to punish sin at all, it is just to punish it as long as it exists.”Moreover, endless guilt requires eternal punishment: “However long thesinner may be punished, he never ceases to be ill-deserving. Justice,therefore, which gives to all according to their deserts, cannot cease topunish. Since the reason for punishment is endless, the punishment itself mustbe endless.” The quality of God’s justice is at stake here. Eternalpunishment is the only punishment that could satisfy a perfectly holy and justGod.

Soteriology: A Minimizing OfChrist’s Atonement For Sin

Asnoted above, annihilationists teach that finite human sin is not deserving ofeternal punishment. “Is it not plain,” says Pinnock, “that sincommitted in time and space cannot deserve limitless divine retribution.”However, if it were temporary punishment that Christ paid for, His death wascertainly less significant than if he took our eternal punishment. Someonesays,

If sin is punishable and to bepunished for only one thousand years, is it probable that one of the persons ofthe Trinity would submit to such an amazing humiliation as to become a worm ofthe dust, and undergo the awful passion of Calvary, in order to deliver hisrebellious creature from a transient evil which is to be succeeded by billionsof millenniums of happiness? A thousand years is indeed a long time, and athousand years of suffering is indeed a great woe; but it shrinks to nothing incomparison with what is involved in the humiliation and agony of God incarnate.

Again,this is a vital theological point, “A suffering that in time would cease,surely would not justify such a strange and stupendous sacrifice as that of theonly-begotten and well-beloved Son of God.

Conclusion

Ithas been the purpose of this essay to demonstrate by a survey of the doctrinalcategories that the doctrine of annihilationism as taught by a few contemporary“evangelicals” is a significant part of a multifaceted compromise of a biblicalsystematic theology. I have also suggested that annihilationists often come tothe Scriptures with cultural and theological preunderstandings that negate thehistorical-grammatical meaning of the passages:

Despite the sincerity of theirmotives, one wonders more than a little to what extent the growing popularityof various forms of annihilationism and conditional immortality are areflection of this age of pluralism. It is getting harder and harder to befaithful to the “hard” lines of Scripture. And in this way, evangelicalismitself may contribute to the gagging of God by silencing the severity of hiswarnings and by minimizing the awfulness of the punishment that justly awaitsthose untouched by his redeeming grace.

Moreover,the doctrinal compromises of annihilationism have serious consequences. We canconclude this study with this penetrating question:

Does it matter whether one is aconditionalist or not? I think it does: for a conditionalist’s idea of God willmiss out on the glory of divine justice, and his idea of worship will miss outon praise for God’s judgments, and his idea of heaven will miss out on thethought that praise for God’s judgments goes on (cf. Rev. 16:5–7, 19:1–5),and his idea of man will miss out on the awesome dignity of our having beenmade to last for eternity, and in his heretical preaching of the gospel he willmiss out on telling the unconverted that their prospects without Christ are asbad as they possibly could be—for on the conditionalist view they aren’t!These, surely, are sad losses. Conditionalism, logically thought through,cannot but impoverish the soul and limit his usefulness to accept the truth.That is why I am concerned about the current trend towards conditionalism. Ihope it may soon be reversed.

Sermons on Hell

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Revenge is mine, and I will repaythem in due time, that their foot may slide: the day of destruction isat hand, and the time makes haste to come. Deuteronomy 32:35

Inthis verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelievingIsraelites, who were God's visible people, and who lived under the means ofgrace; but who, notwithstanding all God's wonderful works towards them,remained (as verse 28) void of counsel, having no understandingin them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter andpoisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text. — The expressionI have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems toimply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to whichthese wicked Israelites were exposed.

1.   Thatthey were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks inslippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner oftheir destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding.The same is expressed, Psalm 72:18 "Surely thou didst setthem in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction."(Different Bible version, not the Douay-Rheims version.)

2.   Itimplies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As hethat walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foreseeone moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, hefalls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 72:18, 19"Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them downinto destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!"(Different Bible version, not the Douay-Rheims version.)

3.   Anotherthing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without beingthrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slipperyground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

4.   Thatthe reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only thatGod's appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, orappointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall,as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in theseslippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that veryinstant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slipperydeclining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is letgo he immediately falls and is lost.

Theobservation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. — "Thereis nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the merepleasure of God." — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereignpleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by nomanner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had inthe least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation ofwicked men one moment. — The truth of this observation may appear by thefollowing considerations.

1.   Thereis no want of power in God to cast wicked men, bad christians and the like intohell at any moment. Men's hands cannot be strong when God rises up. Thestrongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. —He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it.Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue arebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong bythe numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortressthat is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vastmultitudes of God's enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easilybroken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind;or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy totread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy forus to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is itfor God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we, thatwe should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, andbefore whom the rocks are thrown down?

2.   Theydeserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way,it makes no objection against God's using his power at any moment to destroythem. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment oftheir sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes ofSodom, "Cut it done therefore: why cumbereth it the ground?" Luke13:7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over theirheads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will,that holds it back.

3.   Theyare already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justlydeserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, thateternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him andmankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they arebound over already to hell. John 3:18 "But he that dothnot believe, is already judged". So that every unconverted manproperly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is, John 8:23"You are from beneath". And thither he is bound; it is theplace that justice, and God's word, and the sentence of his unchangeable lawassign to him.

4.   Theyare now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressedin the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at eachmoment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angrywith them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, whothere feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal moreangry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many thatare now reading this, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those whoare now in the flames of hell.

Sothat it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does notresent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is notaltogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. Thewrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit isprepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receivethem; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and heldover them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

5.   Thedevil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what momentGod shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession,and under his dominion. The scripture represents them as his goods. The devilswatch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting forthem, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, butare for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which theyare restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The oldserpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and ifGod should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

6.   Thereare in the souls of wicked men, worldly people, secular christians who love theworld and not God, those hellish principles reigning, that would presentlykindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God's restraints. Thereis laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments ofhell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and infull possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles areactive and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not forthe restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they wouldflame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity doesin the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do inthem. The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea, Isaiah57:20. For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mightypower, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, "Hithertothou shalt come, and shalt go no further" but if God should withdrawthat restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin andmisery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave itwithout restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectlymiserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless inits fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God'srestraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course ofnature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, itwould immediately turn the soul into fiery oven, or a furnace of fire andbrimstone.

7.   Itis no security to carnal christians with an ungodly living, evildoers andwicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. Itis no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does notsee which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident,and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. Themanifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is noevidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the nextstep will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means ofpersons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable.Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there areinnumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear theirweight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen atnoon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many differentunsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them tohell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at theexpense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, todestroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinnersgoing out of the world are in God's hands universally and absolutely subject tohis power and determination.

8.   Naturalmen's prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others topreserve them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence anduniversal experience do also bear testimony. There is this clear evidence thatmen's own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwisewe should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world,and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: buthow is it in fact? Ecclesiastes 2:16 "the learned diethin like manner as the unlearned."

9.   Allbad christians, unbelievers and wicked men's pains and contrivance which theyuse to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wickedmen, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man thathears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends uponhimself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in whathe is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in hisown mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contriveswell for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed thatthere are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have diedheretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out mattersbetter for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come tothat place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to takeeffectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

Butthe foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes,and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but ashadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the samemeans of mercy, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was notbecause they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it was not becausethey did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape.If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether theyexpected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be thesubjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, "No,I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; Ithought I should contrive well for myself — I thought my scheme good. Iintended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not lookfor it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief — Death outwittedme: God's wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I wasflattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would dohereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destructioncame upon me."

10.                      Godhas laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural manout of hell one moment, neither of eternal life or of preservation from eternaldeath, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that aregiven in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely theyhave no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not thechildren of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and haveno interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

Sothat, thus it is that natural men (carnal wicked christians, ungodly men,evildoers, atheists, non-christians, etc.) are held in the hand of God, overthe pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced toit; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as tothose that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrathin hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate thatanger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up onemoment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flamesgather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow themup; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and theyhave no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can beany security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of;all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, anduncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

Application

Theuse of this awful subject may be for awakening lukewarm christians and othersin this world. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you thatare out of Christ and who lives a sinful life. — That world of misery, thatlake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadfulpit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gapingmouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of;there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power andmere pleasure of God that holds you up.

Youprobably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but donot see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state ofyour bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use foryour own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God shouldwithdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than thethin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.

Yourwickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with greatweight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you wouldimmediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, andyour healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and bestcontrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to upholdyou and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a fallingrock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bearyou one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; thecreature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; thesun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan;the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor isit willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does notwillingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals,while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies. God's creatures aregood, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve toany other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directlycontrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it notfor the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are theblack clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadfulstorm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God,it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, forthe present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and yourdestruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff on thesummer threshing floor.

Thewrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; theyincrease more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given;and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course,when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil workshas not been executed hitherto; the floods of God's vengeance have beenwithheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you areevery day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, andwaxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God,that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard togo forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it wouldimmediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God,would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you withomnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than itis, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest,sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

Thebow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justicebends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but themere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise orobligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk withyour blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, bythe mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were neverborn again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to astate of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in thehands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things,and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion inyour families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his merepleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlastingdestruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear,by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being inthe like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destructioncame suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and whilethey were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which theydepended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

TheGod that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or someloathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: hiswrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else,but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you inhis sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than themost hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely morethan ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his handthat holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed tonothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you weresuffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. Andthere is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell sinceyou arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is noother reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat herein the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner ofattending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given asa reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Osinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath,a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over inthe hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you,as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with theflames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it,and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing tolay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothingof your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, toinduce God to spare you one moment. — And consider here more particularly,

1.   Whosewrath it is: it is the wrath of the infinite God. If it were only the wrath ofman, though it were of the most potent prince, it would be comparatively littleto be regarded. The wrath of kings is very much dreaded, especially of absolutemonarchs, who have the possessions and lives of their subjects wholly in theirpower, to be disposed of at their mere will. Proverbs 20:2 "Asthe roaring of a lion, so also is the dread of a king: he that provoketh him,sinneth against his own soul." The subject that very much enrages anarbitrary prince, is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human artcan invent, or human power can inflict. But the greatest earthly potentates intheir greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatestterrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of thegreat and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth. It is but little thatthey can do, when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of theirfury. All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they arenothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to bedespised. The wrath of the great King of kings, is as much more terrible thantheirs, as his majesty is greater. Luke 12:4-5 "And I sayto you, my friends: Be not afraid of them who kill the body, and after thathave no more that they can do. But I will shew you whom you shall fear: fear yehim, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say to you,fear him."

2.   Itis the fierceness of his wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of thefury of God; as in Isaiah 59:18 "As unto revenge, as itwere to repay wrath to his adversaries". So Isaiah 66:15"For behold the Lord will come with fire, and his chariots are like awhirlwind, to render his wrath in indignation, and his rebuke with flames offire." And in many other places. So, Revelation 19:15,we read of "and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of thewrath of God the Almighty." The words are exceeding terrible. If ithad only been said, "the wrath of God," the words would haveimplied that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is "the fierceness ofthe wrath of God." The fury of God! the fierceness of Jehovah! Oh, howdreadful that must be! Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry inthem! But it is also "the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty."As though there would be a very great manifestation of his almighty power inwhat the fierceness of his wrath should inflict, as though omnipotence shouldbe as it were enraged, and exerted, as men are wont to exert their strength inthe fierceness of their wrath. Oh! then, what will be the consequence! Whatwill become of the poor worms that shall suffer it! Whose hands can be strong?And whose heart can endure? To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivabledepth of misery must the poor creature be sunk who shall be the subject ofthis!

Considerthis, you who read this, that yet remain in an obstinate state. That God willexecute the fierceness of his anger, implies, that he will inflict wrathwithout any pity. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, andsees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and seeshow your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinitegloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executionsof his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation ormercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard toyour welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in anyother sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justicerequires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. Ezekiel8:18 "Therefore I also will deal with them in my wrath: my eyeshall not spare them, neither will I shew mercy: and when they shall cry to myears with a loud voice, I will not hear them." Now God stands ready topity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement ofobtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentableand dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost andthrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare. God will have no otheruse to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be continued in being to noother end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and therewill be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath. God willbe so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only"laugh and mock" Proverbs 1:25, 26, &c.

Howawful are those words, Isaiah 63:3, which are the words of thegreat God. "I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have troddenthem down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and Ihave stained all my apparel." It is perhaps impossible to conceive ofwords that carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, viz.contempt, and hatred, and fierceness of indignation. If you cry to God to pityyou, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing youthe least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you underfoot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotencetreading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under hisfeet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shallbe sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not onlyhate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall bethought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of thestreets.

3.   Themisery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that hemight show what that wrath of Jehovah is. God hath had it on his heart to showto angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible hiswrath is. Sometimes earthly kings have a mind to show how terrible their wrathis, by the extreme punishments they would execute on those that would provokethem. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty and haughty monarch of the Chaldean empire,was willing to show his wrath when enraged with Shadrach, Meshach, andAbednego; and accordingly gave orders that the burning fiery furnace should beheated seven times hotter than it was before; doubtless, it was raised to theutmost degree of fierceness that human art could raise it. But the great God isalso willing to show his wrath, and magnify his awful majesty and mighty powerin the extreme sufferings of his enemies. Romans 9:22 "Whatif God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured withmuch patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction". And seeingthis is his design, and what he has determined, even to show how terrible theunrestrained wrath, the fury and fierceness of Jehovah is, he will do it toeffect. There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will bedreadful with a witness. When the great and angry God hath risen up andexecuted his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actuallysuffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God callupon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that isto be seen in it. Isaiah 33:12-14 And the people shall be asashes after a fire, as a bundle of thorns they shall be burnt with fire. Hear,you that are far off, what I have done, and you that are near know my strength.The sinners in Sion are afraid, trembling hath seized upon the hypocrites.Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? which of you shall dwell witheverlasting burnings?" &c.

Thusit will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it;the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shallbe magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall betormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb;and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants ofheaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see whatthe wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, theywill fall down and adore that great power and majesty. Isaiah 66:23-24"And there shall be month after month, and sabbath after sabbath: andall flesh shall come to adore before my face, saith the Lord. And they shall goout, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: theirworm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched: and they shall be aloathsome sight to all flesh."

4.   Itis everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrathof Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There willbe no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shallsee a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow upyour thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of everhaving any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will knowcertainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, inwrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then whenyou have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in thismanner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that yourpunishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of asoul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives buta very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible andinconceivable: For "who knows the power of God's anger?"

Howdreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of thisgreat wrath and infinite misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul onthis planet that has not made penance and lives in mortal sin, however moraland strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be. Oh that you wouldconsider it, whether you be young or old! There is reason to think, that thereare many in this world now hearing this or a similar discourse, that willactually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not whothey are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may bethey are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, andare now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promisingthemselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and butone, in the whole world, that was to be the subject of this misery, what anawful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sightwould it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the planet lift upa lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! instead of one, how many is itlikely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if somethat are now present reading this should not be in hell in a very short time,even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, thatnow read this, in some seats in some meeting-house, in health, quiet andsecure, should be there before tomorrow morning. Those of you that finallycontinue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of hell longest will bethere in a little time! your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly,and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you. You have reason towonder that you are not already in hell. It is doubtless the case of some whomyou have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you, and thatheretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you. Their case is pastall hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here youare in the land of the living, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation.What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give for one day's opportunitysuch as you now enjoy!

Andnow you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown thedoor of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice topoor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into thekingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south;many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, arenow in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has lovedthem, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hopeof the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see somany others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so manyrejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn forsorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one momentin such a condition?

Arethere not many who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day livingas they should? and so are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and havedone nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure up wrath against the dayof wrath? Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous.Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great. You had need to consideryourselves, and awake thoroughly out of sleep. You cannot bear the fiercenessand wrath of the infinite God. — And you, young men, and young women, will youneglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of yourage are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ? Youespecially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it willsoon be with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youthin sin, and are now come to such a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness. —And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going downto hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with youevery day and every night? Will you be content to be the children of the devil,when so many other children in the land are converted, and are become the holyand happy children of the King of kings?

Andlet every one that is yet living outside of Christ, and hanging over the pit ofhell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, orlittle children who has reached the age of reason, now hearken to the loudcalls of God's word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day ofsuch great favour to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeanceto others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a dayas this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger ofsuch persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. Godseems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the world; andprobably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will bebrought in now in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the greatout-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles' days; the electionwill obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you,you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you wasborn, to see such a season of the pouring out of God's grace, and will wishthat you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly itis, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinarymanner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forthgood fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.

Therefore,let every one that is living outside of Christ, now awake and fly from thewrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a verygreat part of this world. Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste andescape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you beconsumed."

The Eternity of Hell’s Torments

And these shall go into everlastingpunishment:but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew 25:46

Inthis chapter we have the most particular description of the day of judgment, ofany in the whole Bible. Christ here declares that when he shall hereafter siton the throne of his glory, the righteous and the wicked shall be set beforehim, and separated one from the other, as a shepherd divides his sheep from thegoats. Then we have an account how both will be judged according to their works:how the good works of the one and the evil works of the other will berehearsed, and how the sentence shall be pronounced accordingly. We are toldwhat the sentence will be on each, and then we have an account of the executionof the sentence on both. In the words of the text is the account of theexecution of the sentence on the wicked or the ungodly, concerning which, it isto my purpose to observe two things.

      I.           Theduration of the punishment on which they are here said to enter: it is calledeverlasting punishment.

   II.           Thetime of their entrance on this everlasting punishment, viz. after the day ofjudgment, when all these things that are of a temporary continuance shall havecome to an end and even those of them that are most lasting — the frame of theworld itself, the earth which is said to abide forever, the ancient mountainsand everlasting hills, the sun, moon, and stars. When the heavens shall havewaxed old like a garment and as a vesture shall be changed, then shall be thetime when the wicked shall enter on their punishment.

Doctrine.— The misery of the wicked in hell will be absolutely eternal.

Thereare two opinions which I mean to oppose in this doctrine. One is that theeternal death with which wicked men are threatened in Scripture, signifies nomore than eternal annihilation: that God will punish their wickedness byeternally abolishing their being. The other opinion which I mean to oppose isthat though the punishment of the wicked shall consist in sensible misery, yetit shall not be absolutely eternal, but only of a very long continuance.

Therefore,to establish the doctrine in opposition to these different opinions, I shallundertake to show,

      I.           Thatit is not contrary to the divine perfections to inflict on wicked men apunishment that is absolutely eternal.

   II.           Thatthe eternal death which God threatens is not annihilation, but an abidingsensible punishment or misery.

III.           Thatthis misery will not only continue for a very long time, but will be absolutelywithout end.

IV.           Thatvarious good ends will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.

I.I am to show that it is not contrary to the divine perfections to inflict onwicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal.

Thisis the sum of the objections usually made against this doctrine: that it isinconsistent with the justice, and especially with the mercy, of God. And somesay if it be strictly just, yet how can we suppose that a merciful God can beareternally to torment his creatures.

First,I shall briefly show that it is not inconsistent with the justice of God toinflict an eternal punishment. To evince this, I shall use only one argument,viz. that sin is heinous enough to deserve such a punishment, and such apunishment is no more than proportionable to the evil or demerit of sin. If theevil of sin be infinite, as the punishment is, then it is manifest that thepunishment is no more than proportionable to the sin punished, and is no morethan sin deserves. And if the obligation to love, honor, and obey God beinfinite, then sin which is the violation of this obligation, is a violation ofinfinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Again, if God be infinitelyworthy of love, honor, and obedience, then our obligation to love, and honor,and obey him is infinitely great. — So that God being infinitely glorious, orinfinitely worthy of our love, honor, and obedience, our obligation to love,honor, and obey him (and so to avoid all sin) is infinitely great. Again, ourobligation to love, honor, and obey God being infinitely great, sin is theviolation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Once more, sinbeing an infinite evil, deserves an infinite punishment. An infinite punishmentis no more than it deserves. Therefore such punishment is just, which was thething to be proved. There is no evading the force of this reasoning, but bydenying that God, the sovereign of the universe, is infinitely glorious, whichI presume none of my hearers will venture to do.

Second,I am to show that it is not inconsistent with the mercy of God, to inflict aneternal punishment on wicked men. It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notionof the mercy of God, that he is merciful in such a sense that he cannot bearthat penal justice should be executed. This is to conceive of the mercy of Godas a passion to which his nature is so subject that God is liable to be moved,and affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery, so that he cannotbear to see justice executed: which is a most unworthy and absurd notion of themercy of God, and would, if true, argue great weakness. — It would be a greatdefect, and not a perfection, in the sovereign and supreme Judge of the world,to be merciful in such a sense that he could not bear to have penal justiceexecuted. It is a very unscriptural notion of the mercy of God. The Scriptureseverywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that theexercises of it are necessary, so that God cannot bear justice should takeplace. The Scriptures abundantly speak of it as the glory of the divineattribute of mercy, that it is free and sovereign in its exercises, and notthat God cannot but deliver sinners from misery. This is a mean and mostunworthy idea of the divine mercy.

Itis most absurd also as it is contrary to plain fact. For if there be anymeaning in the objection, this is supposed in it, that all misery of thecreature, whether just or unjust, is in itself contrary to the nature of God.For if his mercy be of such a nature that a very great degree of misery, thoughjust, is contrary to his nature, then it is only to add to the mercy. And thena less degree of misery is contrary to his nature (again to add further to it),and a still less degree of misery is contrary to his nature. And so the mercyof God being infinite, all misery must be contrary to his nature, which we seeto be contrary to fact. For we see that God in his providence, does indeedinflict very great calamities on mankind even in this life.

Howeverstrong such kind of objections against the eternal misery of the wicked, mayseem to the carnal, senseless hearts of men, as though it were against God’sjustice and mercy, yet their seeming strength arises from a want of sense ofthe infinite evil, odiousness, and provocation there is in sin. Hence it seemsto us not suitable that any poor creature should be the subject of such misery,because we have no sense of anything abominable and provoking in any creatureanswerable to it. If we had, then this infinite calamity would not seemunsuitable. For one thing would but appear answerable and proportionable toanother, and so the mind would rest in it as fit and suitable, and no more thanwhat is proper to be ordered by the just, holy, and good Governor of the world.

Thatthis is so, we may be convinced by this consideration, viz. that when we hearor read of some horrid instances of cruelty, it may be to some poor innocentchild or some holy martyr — and their cruel persecutors, having no regard totheir shrieks and cries, only sported themselves with their misery, and wouldnot vouchsafe even to put an end to their lives — we have a sense of the evilof them, and they make a deep impression on our minds. Hence it seems just,every way fit and suitable, that God should inflict a very terrible punishmenton persons who have perpetrated such wickedness. It seems no way disagreeableto any perfection of the Judge of the world. We can think of it without beingat all shocked. The reason is that we have a sense of the evil of theirconduct, and a sense of the proportion there is between the evil or demerit andthe punishment.

Justso, if we saw a proportion between the evil of sin and eternal punishment, i.e.if we saw something in wicked men that should appear as hateful to us, aseternal misery appears dreadful (something that should as much stir upindignation and detestation, as eternal misery does terror), all objectionsagainst this doctrine would vanish at once. Though now it seem incredible,[and] though when we hear of such a degree and duration of torments as are heldforth in this doctrine and think what eternity is, it is ready to seemimpossible that such torments should be inflicted on poor feeble creatures by aCreator of infinite mercy. Yet this arises principally from these two causes:1. It is so contrary to the depraved inclinations of mankind, that they hate tobelieve it and cannot bear it should be true. 2. They see not the suitablenessof eternal punishment to the evil of sin. They see not that it is no more thanproportionable to the demerit of sin.

Havingthus shown that the eternal punishment of the wicked is not inconsistent withthe divine perfections, I shall now proceed to show that it is so far frombeing inconsistent with the divine perfections, that those perfectionsevidently require it; i.e. they require that sin should have so great apunishment, either in the person who has committed it, or in a surety. Andtherefore with regard to those who believe not in a surety, and have nointerest in him, the divine perfections require that this punishment should beinflicted on them.

Thisappears as it is not only not unsuitable that sin should be thus punished, butit is positively suitable, decent, and proper. — If this be made to appear,that it is positively suitable that sin should be thus punished, then it willfollow that the perfections of God require it. For certainly the perfections ofGod require what is proper to be done. The perfection and excellency of Godrequire that to take place which is perfect, excellent, and proper in its ownnature. But that sin should be punished eternally is such a thing, whichappears by the following considerations.

1.   Itis suitable that God should infinitely hate sin, and be an infinite enemy toit. Sin, as I have before shown, is an infinite evil, and therefore is infinitelyodious and detestable. It is proper that God should hate every evil, and hateit according to its odious and detestable nature. And sin being infinitely eviland odious, it is proper that God should hate it infinitely.

2.   Ifinfinite hatred of sin be suitable to the divine character, then theexpressions of such hatred are also suitable to this character. Because thatwhich is suitable to be, is suitable to be expressed. That which is lovely initself, is lovely when it appears. If it be suitable that God should be aninfinite enemy to sin, or that he should hate it infinitely, then it issuitable that he should act as such an enemy. If it be suitable that he shouldhate and have enmity against sin, then it is suitable for him to express thathatred and enmity in that to which hatred and enmity by its own nature tends.But certainly hatred in its own nature tends to opposition, and to set itselfagainst that which is hated, and to procure its evil and not its good, and thatin proportion to the hatred. Great hatred naturally tends to the great evil,and infinite hatred to the infinite evil, of its object.

Whenceit follows that if it be suitable that there should be infinite hatred of sinin God, as I have shown it is, it is suitable that he should execute aninfinite punishment on it. And so the perfections of God require that he shouldpunish sin with an infinite, or which is the same thing with an eternal,punishment.

Thuswe see not only the great objection against this doctrine answered, but the truthof the doctrine established by reason. I now proceed further to establish it byconsidering the remaining particulars under the doctrine.

II.That eternal death or punishment which God threatens to the wicked, is notannihilation, but an abiding sensible punishment or misery. — The truth of this propositionwill appear by the following particulars.

First,the Scripture everywhere represents the punishment of the wicked, as implyingvery extreme pains and sufferings. But a state of annihilation is no state ofsuffering at all. Persons annihilated have no sense or feeling of pain orpleasure, and much less do they feel that punishment which carries in it anextreme pain or suffering. They no more suffer to eternity than they did sufferfrom eternity.

Second,it is agreeable both to Scripture and reason to suppose that the wicked shallbe punished in such a manner that they shall be sensible of the punishment theyare under: that they should be sensible that now God has executed and fulfilledwhat he threatened, what they disregarded and would not believe. They shouldknow themselves that justice takes place upon them, that God vindicates thatmajesty which they despised, [and] that God is not so despicable a being asthey thought him to be. They should be sensible for what they are punished,while they are under the threatened punishment. It is reasonable that theyshould be sensible of their own guilt, and should remember their formeropportunities and obligations, and should see their own folly and God’s justice.— If the punishment threatened be eternal annihilation, they will never knowthat it is inflicted. They will never know that God is just in theirpunishment, or that they have their deserts. And how is this agreeable to theScriptures, in which God threatens, that he will repay the wicked to his face, Deuteronomy7:10. And to that in Job 21:19, 20, “andwhen he [God] shall repay, then shall he know. His eyes shall see his owndestruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty.” And to that inEzekiel 22:21-22, “And I will gather you together, and willburn you in the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst thereof.As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall you be in the midstthereof: and you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have poured out myindignation upon you.” — And how is it agreeable to that expression sooften annexed to the threatenings of God’s wrath against wicked men, And yeshall know that I am the Lord?

Third,the Scripture teaches that the wicked will suffer different degrees of torment,according to the different aggravations of their sins. Matthew 5:22,“But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be indanger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall bein danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be indanger of hell fire.” Here Christ teaches us that the torments of wickedmen will be different in different persons, according to the different degreesof their guilt. — It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, for Tyreand Sidon, than for the cities where most of Christ’s mighty works werewrought. — Again, our Lord assures us that he that knows his Lord’s will, andprepares not himself, nor does according to his will, shall be beaten with manystripes. But he that knows not, and commits things worthy of stripes, shall bebeaten with few stripes. — These several passages of Scripture infallibly provethat there will be different degrees of punishment in hell, which is utterlyinconsistent with the supposition that the punishment consists in annihilation,in which there can be no degrees.

Fourth,the Scriptures are very express and abundant in this matter: that the eternalpunishment of the wicked will consist in sensible misery and torment, and notin annihilation. — What is said of Judas is worthy to be observed here, “itwere better for him, if that man had not been born.Matthew 26:24.— This seems plainly to teach us, that the punishment of the wicked is suchthat their existence, upon the whole, is worse than non-existence. But if theirpunishment consists merely in annihilation, this is not true. — The wicked, intheir punishment, are said to weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth; whichimplies not only real existence, but life, knowledge, and activity, and thatthey are in a very sensible and exquisite manner affected with theirpunishment, Isaiah 33:14. Sinners in the state of theirpunishment are represented to dwell with everlasting burnings. But if they areonly turned into nothing, where is the foundation for this representation? Itis absurd to say that sinners will dwell with annihilation, for there is nodwelling in the case. It is also absurd to call annihilation a burning, whichimplies a state of existence, sensibility, and extreme pain: whereas inannihilation there is neither.

Itis said that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone. How can thisexpression with any propriety be understood to mean a state of annihilation?Yea, they are expressly said to have no rest day nor night, but to be tormentedwith fire and brimstone forever and ever, Revelation 20:10. Butannihilation is a state of rest, a state in which not the least torment canpossibly be suffered. The rich man in hell lifted up his eyes being in torment,and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and entered into aparticular conversation with Abraham: all which proves that he was notannihilated.

Thespirits of ungodly men before the resurrection are not in a state ofannihilation, but in a state of misery. They are spirits in prison, as theapostle says of them that were drowned in the flood, 1 Peter 3:19.— And this appears very plainly from the instance of the rich man beforementioned, if we consider him as representing the wicked in their separatestate between death and the resurrection. But if the wicked even then are in astate of torment, much more will they be, when they shall come to suffer thatwhich is the proper punishment of their sins.

Annihilationis not so great a calamity but that some men have undoubtedly chosen it, ratherthan a state of suffering even in this life. This was the case of Job, a goodman. But if a good man in this world may suffer that which is worse thanannihilation, doubtless the proper punishment of the wicked, in which God meansto manifest his peculiar abhorrence of their wickedness, will be a calamityvastly greater still, and therefore cannot be annihilation. That must be a verymean contemptible testimony of God’s wrath towards those who have rebelledagainst his crown and dignity — broken his laws, and despised both hisvengeance and his grace — which is not so great a calamity as some of his truechildren have suffered in life.

Theeternal punishment of the wicked is said to be the second death, as Revelation20:14, and 21:8. It is doubtless called the second deathin reference to the death of the body, and as the death of the body isordinarily attended with great pain and distress, so the like, or somethingvastly greater, is implied in calling the eternal punishment of the wicked thesecond death. And there would be no propriety in calling it so, if it consistedmerely in annihilation. And this second death wicked men will suffer, for itcannot be called the second death with respect to any other than men. It cannotbe called so with respect to devils, as they die no temporal death, which isthe first death. In Revelation 2:11, it is said, “He thatshall overcome, shall not be hurt by the second death” implying that allwho do not overcome their lusts, but live in sin, shall suffer the seconddeath.

Again,wicked men will suffer the same kind of death with the devils; as in verse 41of the context, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which wasprepared for the devil and his angels.” Now the punishment of the devil isnot annihilation, but torment. He therefore trembles for fear of it, not forfear of being annihilated — he would be glad of that. What he is afraid of istorment, as appears by Luke 8:28, where he cries out andbeseeches Christ that he would not torment him before the time. And it is said,Revelation 20:9-10, “And there came down fire from God out ofheaven, and devoured them; and the devil, who seduced them, was cast into thepool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast And the false prophet shall betormented day and night for ever and ever.

Itis strange how men will go directly against so plain and full revelations ofScripture, as to suppose notwithstanding all these things, that the eternalpunishment threatened against the wicked signifies no more than annihilation.

III.As the future punishment of the wicked consists in sensible misery, so it shallnot only continue for a very long time, but shall be absolutely without end.

Ofthose who have held that the torments of hell are not absolutely eternal, therehave been two sorts. Some suppose that in the threatenings of everlastingpunishment, the terms used do not necessarily import a proper eternity, butonly a very long duration. Others suppose that if they do import a propereternity, yet we cannot necessarily conclude thence, that God will fulfill histhreatenings. — Therefore I shall, first, show that the threatenings of eternalpunishment do very plainly and fully import a proper, absolute eternity, andnot merely a long duration. — This appears,

1.   Becausewhen the Scripture speaks of the wicked being sentenced to their punishment atthe time when all temporal things are come to an end, it then speaks of it aseverlasting, as in the text, and elsewhere. It is true that the term forever isnot always in Scripture used to signify eternity. Sometimes it means “aslong as a man lives.” In this sense it is said that the Hebrew servant, whochose to abide with his master, should have his ear bored and should serve hismaster forever. Sometimes it means “during the continuance of the state andchurch of the Jews.” In this sense, several laws, which were peculiar tothat church and were to continue in force no longer than that church shouldlast, are called statutes forever. See Exodus 27:21, 28:43,etc. Sometimes it means as long as the world stands. So in Ecclesiastes1:4, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:but the earth standeth for ever.

Andthis last is the longest temporal duration that such a term is ever used tosignify. For the duration of the world is the longest of things temporal, asits beginning was the earliest. Therefore when the Scripture speaks of thingsas being before the foundation of the world, it means that they existed beforethe beginning of time. So those things which continue after the end of theworld, are eternal things. When heaven and earth are shaken and removed, thosethings that remain will be what cannot be shaken, but will remain forever, Hebrews12:26-27.

Butthe punishment of the wicked will not only remain after the end of the world,but is called everlasting, as in the text, “These shall go away intoeverlasting punishment.” So in 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “Whoshall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord, andfrom the glory of his power: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints,”etc. — Now, what can be meant by a thing being everlasting, after all temporalthings are come to an end, but that it is absolutely without end!

2.   Suchexpressions are used to set forth the duration of the punishment of the wicked,as are never used in the scriptures of the New Testament to signify anythingbut a proper eternity. It is said, not only that the punishment shall be forever,but for ever and ever. Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke oftheir torments shall ascend up for ever and ever:Revelation 20:10,“shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Doubtless the NewTestament has some expression to signify a proper eternity, of which it has sooften occasion to speak. But it has no higher expression than this: if this donot signify an absolute eternity, there is none that does.

3.   TheScripture uses the same way of speaking to set forth the eternity of punishmentand the eternity of happiness, yea, the eternity of God himself. Matthew25:46, And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just,into life everlasting.” The words everlasting and eternal, in the original,are the very same. Revelation 22:5, “and they shall reign forever and ever.” And the Scripture has no higher expression to signify theeternity of God himself, than that of his being for ever and ever, as Revelation4:9, “to him that sitteth on the throne, who liveth for ever andever;” and in the 10th verse, and in Revelation 5:14;10:6, and 15:7.

Again,the Scripture expresses God’s eternity by this: that it shall be forever, afterthe world is come to an end, Psalm 101:27-28, “They shallperish but thou remainest: and all of them shall grow old like a garment: Andas a vesture thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed. But thou artalways the selfsame, and thy years shall not fail.

4.   TheScripture says absolutely that their punishment shall not have an end, Mark9:45, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.”Now it will not do to say that the meaning is [that] their worm shall live agreat while, or that it shall be a great while before their fire is quenched.If ever the time comes that their worm shall die, if ever there shall be aquenching of the fire at all, then it is not true that their worm dieth not andthat the fire is not quenched. For if there be a dying of the worm and aquenching of the fire, let it be at what time it will, nearer or further off,it is equally contrary to such a negation — it dieth not, it is not quenched.

Second,there are others who allow that the expression of the threatenings do denote aproper eternity. But then, they say, it does not certainly follow that thepunishment will really be eternal, because God may threaten, and yet notfulfill his threatenings. Though they allow that the threatenings are positiveand peremptory, without any reserve, yet they say [that] God is not obliged tofulfill absolute positive threatenings, as he is absolute promises. Because inpromises a right is conveyed that the creature to whom the promises are madewill claim. But there is no danger of the creature’s claiming any right by athreatening. Therefore I am now to show that what God has positively declaredin this matter, does indeed make it certain that it shall be as he hasdeclared. To this end, I shall mention two things:

1.   Itis evidently contrary to the divine truth, positively to declare anything to bereal, whether past, present, or to come, which God at the same time knows isnot so. Absolutely threatening that anything shall be, is the same asabsolutely declaring that it is to be. For any to suppose that God absolutelydeclares that anything will be, which be at the same time knows will not be, isblasphemy, if there be any such thing as blasphemy.

Indeed,it is very true that there is no obligation on God, arising from the claim ofthe creature, as there is in promises. They seem to reckon the wrong way, whosuppose the necessity of the execution of the threatening to arise from aproper obligation on God to the creature to execute consequent on histhreatening. For indeed the certainty of the execution arises the other way,viz. on the obligation there was on the omniscient God, in threatening, toconform his threatening to what he knew would be future in execution. Though,strictly speaking, God is not properly obliged to the creature to executebecause he has threatened, yet he was obliged not absolutely to threaten, if atthe same time he knew that he should not or would not fulfill, because thiswould not have been consistent with his truth. So that from the truth of Godthere is an inviolable connection between positive threatenings and execution.They who suppose that God positively declared that he would do contrary to whathe knew would come to pass, do therein suppose, that he absolutely threatenedcontrary to what he knew to be truth. And how anyone can speak contrary to whathe knows to be truth, in declaring, promising, or threatening, or any otherway, consistently with inviolable truth, is inconceivable.

Threateningsare significations of something, and if they are made consistently with truth,they are true significations, or significations of truth, that which shall be.If absolute threatenings are significations of anything, they aresignifications of the futurity of the things threatened. But if the futurity ofthe things threatened be not true and real, then how can the threatening be atrue signification? And if God, in them, speaks contrary to what he knows, andcontrary to what he intends, how he can speak true is inconceivable.

Absolutethreatenings are a kind of predictions. And though God is not properly obligedby any claim of ours to fulfill predictions, unless they are of the nature ofpromises, yet it certainly would be contrary to truth, to predict that such athing would come to pass, which he knew at the same time would not come to pass.Threatenings are declarations of something future, and they must bedeclarations of future truth, if they are true declarations. Its being futurealters not the case any more than if it were present. It is equally contrary totruth, to declare contrary to what at the same time is known to be truth,whether it be of things past, present, or to come: for all are alike to God.

Beside,we have often declarations in Scripture of the future eternal punishment of thewicked, in the proper form of predictions, and not in the form of threatenings.So in the text, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.” So inthose frequent assertions of eternal punishment in the Revelation,some of which I have already quoted. The Revelation is aprophecy, and is so called in the book itself. So are those declarations ofeternal punishment. — The like declarations we have also in many other placesof Scripture.

2.   Thedoctrine of those who teach that it is not certain that God will fulfill thoseabsolute threatenings, is blasphemous another way, and that is, as God,according to their supposition, was obliged to make use of a fallacy to governthe world. They own that it is needful that men should apprehend themselvesliable to an eternal punishment, that they might thereby be restrained fromsin, and that God has threatened such a punishment, for the very end that theymight believe themselves exposed to it. But what an unworthy opinion does thisconvey of God and his government, of his infinite majesty, and wisdom, and all-sufficiency!— Beside, they suppose that though God has made use of such a fallacy, yet itis not such an one but that they have detected him in it. Though God intendedmen should believe it to be certain that sinners are liable to an eternalpunishment, yet they suppose that they have been so cunning as to find out thatit is not certain. And so that God had not laid his design so deep, but thatsuch cunning men as they can discern the cheat and defeat the design, becausethey have found out that there is no necessary connection between thethreatening of eternal punishment, and the execution of that threatening.

BeforeI conclude this head, it may be proper for me to answer an objection or twothat may arise in the minds of some.

Objection1. It may be here said [that] we have instances wherein God has not fulfilledhis threatenings: as his threatening to Adam, and in him to mankind, that theyshould surely die, if they should eat the forbidden fruit. I answer, it is nottrue that God did not fulfill that threatening. He fulfilled it and willfulfill it in every jot and tittle. When God said, “Thou shalt surely die,”if we respect spiritual death, it was fulfilled in Adam’s person in the daythat he ate. For immediately his image, his holy spirit and originalrighteousness, which was the highest and best life of our first parents, werelost, and they were immediately in a doleful state of spiritual death.

Ifwe respect temporal death, that was also fulfilled. He brought death uponhimself and all his posterity, and he virtually suffered that death on thatvery day on which he ate. His body was brought into a corruptible, mortal, anddying condition, and so it continued till it was dissolved. If we look at allthat death which was comprehended in the threatening, it was, properlyspeaking, fulfilled in Christ. When God said to Adam, “If thou eatest, thoushalt die,” he spoke not only to him, and of him personally, but the wordsrespected mankind, Adam and his race, and doubtless were so understood by him.His offspring were to be looked upon as sinning in him, and so should die withhim. The words do as justly allow of an imputation of death as of sin. They areas well consistent with dying in a surety, as with sinning in one. Therefore,the threatening is fulfilled in the death of Christ, the surety.

Objection2. Another objection may arise from God’s threatening to Nineveh. Hethreatened, that in forty days Nineveh should be destroyed, which yet he didnot fulfill. — I answer, that threatening could justly be looked upon nootherwise than as conditional. It was of the nature of a warning, and not of anabsolute denunciation. Why was Jonah sent to the Ninevites, but to give themwarning, that they might have opportunity to repent, reform, and avert theapproaching destruction? God had no other design or end in sending the prophetto them, but that they might be warned and tried by him, as God warned theIsraelites, Judah and Jerusalem, before their destruction. Therefore theprophets, together with their prophecies of approaching destruction, joinedearnest exhortations to repent and reform, that it might be averted.

Nomore could justly be understood to be certainly threatened, than that Ninevehshould be destroyed in forty days, continuing as it was. For it was for theirwickedness that that destruction was threatened, and so the Ninevites took it.Therefore, when the cause was removed, the effect ceased. It was contrary toGod’s known manner, to threaten punishment and destruction for sin in thisworld absolutely, so that it should come upon the persons threatenedunavoidably, let them repent and reform and do what they would; Jeremiah18:7-8, “I will suddenly speak against a nation, and against akingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nationagainst which I have spoken, shall repent of their evil, I also will repent ofthe evil that I have thought to do to them.” So that all threatenings ofthis nature had a condition implied in them, according to the known anddeclared manner of God’s dealing. And the Ninevites did not take it as anabsolute sentence of denunciation: if they had, they would have despaired ofany benefit by fasting and reformation.

Butthe threatenings of eternal wrath are positive and absolute. There is nothingin the Word of God from which we can gather any condition. The only opportunityof escaping is in this world. This is the only state of trial, wherein we haveany offers of mercy, or place for repentance.

IV.I shall mention several good and important ends, which will be obtained by theeternal punishment of the wicked.

First,hereby God vindicates his injured majesty. Wherein sinners cast contempt uponit, and trample it in the dust, God vindicates and honors it and makes itappear, as it is indeed infinite, by showing that it is infinitely dreadful tocondemn or offend it.

Second,God glorifies his justice. — The glory of God is the greatest good. It is thatwhich is the chief end of the creation. It is of greater importance thananything else. But this one way wherein God will glorify himself, as in theeternal destruction of ungodly men, he will glorify his justice. Therein hewill appear as a just governor of the world. The vindictive justice of God willappear strict, exact, awful, and terrible, and therefore glorious.

Third,God hereby indirectly glorifies his grace on the vessels of mercy. — The saintsin heaven will behold the torments of the damned: “the smoke of theirtorment ascendeth up for ever and ever.Isaiah 66:24, “Andthey shall go out, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressedagainst me: their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched: andthey shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.” And in Revelation14:10 it is said, that they shall be tormented in the presence of theholy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. So they will be tormented in thepresence also of the glorified saints.

Herebythe saints will be made the more sensible how great their salvation is. Whenthey shall see how great the misery is from which God has saved them, and howgreat a difference he has made between their state and the state of others, whowere by nature (and perhaps for a time by practice) no more sinful andill-deserving than any, it will give them a greater sense of the wonderfulnessof God’s grace to them. Every time they look upon the damned, it will excite inthem a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God, in making them so todiffer. This the apostle informs us is one end of the damnation of ungodly men;Romans 9:22-23, What if God, willing to shew hiswrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels ofwrath, fitted for destruction, That he might shew the riches of his glory onthe vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory?

Fourth,the sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. Itwill not only make them more sensible of the greatness and freeness of thegrace of God in their happiness, but it will really make their happiness thegreater, as it will make them more sensible of their own happiness. It willgive them a more lively relish of it: it will make them prize it more. When theysee others, who were of the same nature and born under the same circumstances,plunged in such misery, and they so distinguished, O it will make them sensiblehow happy they are. A sense of the opposite misery, in all cases, greatlyincreases the relish of any joy or pleasure. The sight of the wonderful power,the great and dreadful majesty, and awful justice and holiness of God,manifested in the eternal punishment of ungodly men, will make them prize hisfavor and love vastly the more. And they will be so much the more happy in theenjoyment of it.

APPLICATION

I.From what has been said, we may learn the folly and madness of the greater partof mankind, in that for the sake of present momentary gratification, they runthe venture of enduring all these eternal torments. They prefer a smallpleasure, or a little wealth, or a little earthly honor and greatness, whichcan last but for a moment, to an escape from this punishment. If it be truethat the torments of hell are eternal, what will it profit a man if he gain thewhole world and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for hissoul? What is there in this world, which is not a trifle and lighter thanvanity, in comparison with these eternal things?

Howmad are men, who so often hear of these things and pretend to believe them; whocan live but a little while (a few years); who do not even expect to live herelonger than others of their species ordinarily do; and who yet are carelessabout what becomes of themselves in another world, where there is no change andno end! How mad are they, when they hear that if they go on in sin, they shallbe eternally miserable — that they are not moved by it, but hear it with asmuch carelessness and coldness as if they were no way concerned in the matter —when they know not but that it may be their case, that they may be sufferingthese torments before a week is at an end!

Howcan men be so careless of such a matter as their own eternal and desperatedestruction and torment! What a strange stupor and senselessness possesses thehearts of men! How common a thing is it to see men, who are told from Sabbathto Sabbath of eternal misery, and who are as mortal as other men, so carelessabout it that they seem not to be at all restrained by it from whatever theirsouls lust after! It is not half so much their care to escape eternal misery,as it is to get money and land, and to be considerable in the world, and togratify their sense. Their thoughts are much more exercised about these things,and much more of their care and concern is about them. Eternal misery, thoughthey lie every day exposed to it, is a thing neglected, it is but now and thenthought of, and then with a great deal of stupidity, and not with concernenough to stir them up to do anything considerable in order to escape it. Theyare not sensible that it is worth their while to take any considerable pains inorder to it. And if they do take pains for a little while, they soon leave off,and something else takes up their thoughts and concern.

Thusyou see it among young and old. Multitudes of youth lead a careless life,taking little care about their salvation. So you may see it among persons ofmiddle age, and with many advanced in years, and when they certainly draw nearto the grave. — Yet these same persons will seem to acknowledge that thegreater part of men go to hell and suffer eternal misery, and this throughcarelessness about it. However, they will do the same. How strange is it thatmen can enjoy themselves and be at rest, when they are thus hanging overeternal burnings: at the same time, having no lease of their lives and notknowing how soon the thread by which they hang will break. Nor indeed do theypretend to know. And if it breaks, they are gone: they are lost forever, andthere is no remedy! Yet they trouble not themselves much about it, nor willthey hearken to those who cry to them, and entreat them to take care forthemselves, and labor to get out of that dangerous condition. They are notwilling to take so much pains. They choose not to be diverted from amusingthemselves with toys and vanities. Thus, well might the wise man say, Ecclesiastes9:3, “whereby also the hearts of the children of men are filled withevil, and with contempt while they live, and afterwards they shall be broughtdown to hell.” — How much wiser are those few, who make it their mainbusiness to lay a foundation for eternity, to secure their salvation!

II.I shall improve this subject in a use of exhortation to sinners, to take careto escape these eternal torments. If they be eternal, one would think thatwould be enough to awaken your concern, and excite your diligence. If thepunishment be eternal, it is infinite, as we said before. And therefore noother evil, no death, no temporary torment that ever you heard of, or that youcan imagine, is anything in comparison with it, but is as much less and lessconsiderable, not only as a grain of sand is less than the whole universe, butas it is less than the boundless space which encompasses the universe. — Thereforehere,

First,be entreated to consider attentively how great and awful a thing eternity is.Although you cannot comprehend it the more by considering, yet you may be mademore sensible that it is not a thing to be disregarded. — Do but consider whatit is to suffer extreme torment forever and ever: to suffer it day and nightfrom one year to another, from one age to another, and from one thousand agesto another (and so adding age to age, and thousands to thousands), in pain, inwailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth — withyour souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, [and] with your bodies andevery member full of racking torture; without any possibility of getting ease;without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without anypossibility of hiding yourselves from him; without any possibility of divertingyour thoughts from your pain; without any possibility of obtaining any mannerof mitigation, or help, or change for the better.

Second,do but consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment. How dismal willit be, when you are under these racking torments, to know assuredly that younever, never shall be delivered from them. To have no hope: when you shall wishthat you might be turned into nothing, but shall have no hope of it; when youshall wish that you might be turned into a toad or a serpent, but shall have nohope of it; when you would rejoice if you might but have any relief; after youshall have endured these torments millions of ages, but shall have no hope ofit. After you shall have worn out the age of the sun, moon, and stars, in yourdolorous groans and lamentations, without rest day and night, or one minute’sease, yet you shall have no hope of ever being delivered. After you shall haveworn a thousand more such ages, you shall have no hope, but shall know that youare not one whit nearer to the end of your torments. But that still there arethe same groans, the same shrieks, the same doleful cries, incessantly to bemade by you, and that the smoke of your torment shall still ascend up foreverand ever. Your souls, which shall have been agitated with the wrath of God allthis while, will still exist to bear more wrath. Your bodies, which shall havebeen burning all this while in these glowing flames, shall not have beenconsumed, but will remain to roast through eternity, which will not have beenat all shortened by what shall have been past.

Youmay by considering make yourselves more sensible than you ordinarily are. Butit is a little you can conceive of what it is to have no hope in such torments.How sinking would it be to you, to endure such pain as you have felt in thisworld, without any hopes, and to know that you never should be delivered fromit, nor have one minute’s rest! You can now scarcely conceive how doleful thatwould be. How much more to endure the vast weight of the wrath of God withouthope! The more the damned in hell think of the eternity of their torments, themore amazing will it appear to them. And alas, they will not be able to keep itout of their minds! Their tortures will not divert them from it, but will fixtheir attention to it. O how dreadful will eternity appear to them after theyshall have been thinking on it for ages together, and shall have so long an experienceof their torments! The damned in hell will have two infinites perpetually toamaze them, and swallow them up: one is an infinite God, whose wrath they willbear, and in whom they will behold their perfect and irreconcilable enemy. Theother is the infinite duration of their torment.

Ifit were possible for the damned in hell to have a comprehensive knowledge ofeternity, their sorrow and grief would be infinite in degree. The comprehensiveview of so much sorrow, which they must endure, would cause infinite grief forthe present. Though they will not have a comprehensive knowledge of it, yetthey will doubtless have a vastly more lively and strong apprehension of itthan we can have in this world. Their torments will give them an impression ofit. — A man in his present state, without any enlargement of his capacity,would have a vastly more lively impression of eternity than he has, if he wereonly under some pretty sharp pain in some member of his body, and were at thesame time assured that he must endure that pain forever. His pain would givehim a greater sense of eternity than other men have. How much more will thoseexcruciating torments, which the damned will suffer, have this effect!

Besides,their capacity will probably be enlarged, their understandings will be quickerand stronger in a future state, and God can give them as great a sense and asstrong an impression of eternity, as he pleases, to increase their grief andtorment. — O be entreated, ye that are in a Christless state and are going onin a way to hell, that are daily exposed to damnation, to consider thesethings. If you do not, it will surely be but a little while before you willexperience them, and then you will know how dreadful it is to despair in hell.And it may be before this year, or this month, or this week, is at an end:before another Sabbath, or ever you shall have opportunity to hear anothersermon.

Third,that you may effectually escape these dreadful and awful torments. Be entreatedto flee and embrace him who came into the world for the very end of savingsinners from these torments, who has paid the whole debt due to the divine law,and exhausted eternal in temporal sufferings. What great encouragement is it tothose of you who are sensible that you are exposed to eternal punishment, thatthere is a Savior provided, who is able and who freely offers to save you fromthat punishment, and that in a way which is perfectly consistent with the gloryof God: yea, which is more to the glory of God than it would be if you shouldsuffer the eternal punishment of hell. For if you should suffer that punishmentyou would never pay the whole of the debt. Those who are sent to hell neverwill have paid the whole of the debt which they owe to God, nor indeed a partwhich bears any proportion to the whole. They never will have paid a part whichbears so great a proportion to the whole, as one mite to ten thousand talents.Justice therefore never can be actually satisfied in your damnation. But it isactually satisfied in Christ. Therefore he is accepted of the Father, andtherefore all who believe are accepted and justified in him. Therefore believein him, come to him, commit your souls to him to be saved by him. In him youshall be safe from the eternal torments of hell. Nor is that all: but throughhim you shall inherit inconceivable blessedness and glory, which will be ofequal duration with the torments of hell. For, as at the last day the wickedshall go away into everlasting punishment, so shall the righteous who trust inChrist, go into life eternal.

 

Biblical passages on Hell

Thescriptural references to hell may be summarized to present a unified Biblicalview. First and foremost, hell is eternal,

And they shall go out, and see thecarcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: their worm shall notdie, and their fire shall not be quenched: and they shall be a loathsome sightto all flesh. Isaiah 66:24

And if thy hand, or thy footscandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to gointo life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast intoeverlasting fire. Matthew 18:8

Then he shall say to them also thatshall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting firewhich was prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41

And these shall go into everlastingpunishment: but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew 25:46

Who shall suffer eternal punishmentin destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: 2Thessalonians 1:9

As Sodom and Gomorrha, and theneighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication,and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment ofeternal fire. Jude 1:7

everlasting,

And many of those that sleep in thedust of the earth, shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others untoreproach, to see it always. Daniel 12:2

And these shall go into everlastingpunishment: but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew 25:46

andlasts forever and ever,

Raging waves of the sea, foaming outtheir own confusion; wandering stars, to whom the storm of darkness is reservedfor ever. Jude 1:13

And the smoke of their tormentsshall ascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day nor night, whohave adored the beast, and his image, and whoever receiveth the character ofhis name. Revelation 14:11

And the false prophet shall betormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10.

Thereis no other way to state it; hell will never cease to exist. Secondly, hellitself is described as a lake of fire,

And the beast was taken, and withhim the false prophet, who wrought signs before him, wherewith he seduced themwho received the character of the beast, and who adored his image. These twowere cast alive into the pool of fire, burning with brimstone. Revelation19:20

And the false prophet shall betormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10

And hell and death were cast intothe pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found writtenin the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire. Revelation 20:14-15

But the fearful, and unbelieving,and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, andidolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burningwith fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8

eternalfire,

And if thy hand, or thy footscandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to gointo life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast intoeverlasting fire. Matthew 18:8

Then he shall say to them also thatshall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting firewhich was prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41

As Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouringcities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going afterother flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. Jude1:7

unquenchablefire,

Where there worm dieth not, and thefire is not extinguished. Mark 9:43

thesecond death,

And hell and death were cast intothe pool of fire. This is the second death. Revelation 20:14

anddarkness,

But the children of the kingdomshall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping andgnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:12

Then the king said to the waiters:Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shallbe weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 22:13

And the unprofitable servant cast yeout into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew25:30

Raging waves of the sea, foaming outtheir own confusion; wandering stars, to whom the storm of darkness is reservedfor ever. Jude 1:13.

Thewicked consigned to hell will never cease to exist and their body will never beconsumed,

And they shall go out, and see thecarcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: their worm shall notdie, and their fire shall not be quenched: and they shall be a loathsome sightto all flesh. Isaiah 66:24

Where there worm dieth not, and thefire is not extinguished. Mark 9:43

For every one shall be salted withfire: and every victim shall be salted with salt. Mark 9:48

theymust face eternal punishment,

And these shall go into everlastingpunishment: but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew 25:46

eternaldestruction,

And fear ye not them that kill thebody, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroyboth soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

Who shall suffer eternal punishmentin destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: 2Thessalonians 1:9

andtheir torment will last forever and ever,

And the smoke of their tormentsshall ascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day nor night, whohave adored the beast, and his image, and whoever receiveth the character ofhis name. Revelation 14:11

And the false prophet shall betormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10.

Therewill be weeping and gnashing of teeth,

But the children of the kingdomshall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping andgnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:12

Then the king said to the waiters:Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shallbe weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 22:13

And the unprofitable servant cast yeout into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew25:30

theywill be weak,

Hell below was in an uproar to meetthee at thy coming, it stirred up the giants for thee. All the princes of theearth are risen up from their thrones, all the princes of nations. All shallanswer, and say to thee: Thou also art wounded as well as we, thou art becomelike unto us. Isaiah 14:9-10

andlack any interaction with those outside of hell,

There is no man that liveth always,or that hopeth for this: a living dog is better than a dead lion. For theliving know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither havethey a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love also,and their hatred, and their envy are all perished, neither have they any partin this world, and in the work that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes9:4-6.

Uponthe unbeliever’s death he will be an abhorrence,

And they shall go out, and see thecarcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: their worm shall notdie, and their fire shall not be quenched: and they shall be a loathsome sightto all flesh. Isaiah 66:24

shutout from the fellowship of God,

Who shall suffer eternal punishmentin destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: 2Thessalonians 1:9

experiencingGod’s wrath,

But to them that are contentious,and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation.Romans 2:8

But a certain dreadful expectationof judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries. Hebrews10:27

He also shall drink of the wine ofthe wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of his wrath, andshall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels, andin the sight of the Lamb. Revelation 14:10

anger,

He also shall drink of the wine ofthe wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of his wrath, andshall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels, andin the sight of the Lamb. Revelation 14:10

indignation,

But to them that are contentious,and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation.Romans 2:8

retribution,

In a flame of fire, giving vengeanceto them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Thessalonians 1:8

vengeance,

For we know him that hath said:Vengeance belongeth to me, and I will repay. And again: The Lord shall judgehis people. Hebrews 10:30

andjudgment,

And when the Son of man shall comein his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat ofhis majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and heshall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep fromthe goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on hisleft. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, yeblessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from thefoundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I wasthirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked,and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came tome. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry,and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee astranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see theesick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them:Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, youdid it to me. Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand:Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for thedevil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I wasthirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me notin: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visitme. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry,or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did notminister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as longas you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And theseshall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew25:31-46

And as it is appointed unto men onceto die, and after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27

But a certain dreadful expectationof judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries. Hebrews10:27

For we know him that hath said: Vengeancebelongeth to me, and I will repay. And again: The Lord shall judge his people. Hebrews10:30

And I saw a great white throne, andone sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away, and therewas no place found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing inthe presence of the throne, and the books were opened; and another book wasopened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by those thingswhich were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave upthe dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were inthem; and they were judged every one according to their works. And hell anddeath were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoeverwas not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire. Revelation20:11-15.

Hellwill be dreadful and painful for all, but for some it will be worse thanothers,

But I say to you, that whosoever isangry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shallsay to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoevershall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:22

And I saw the dead, great and small,standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened; and anotherbook was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by thosethings which were written in the books, according to their works. And the seagave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead thatwere in them; and they were judged every one according to their works. And helland death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. Revelation20:12-14.

Finally,there will be no second chance for the unbeliever to change his destiny,

And whosoever shall speak a wordagainst the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speakagainst the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world,nor in the world to come. Matthew 12:32

But he that shall blaspheme againstthe Holy Ghost, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be guilty of aneverlasting sin. Mark 3:29

And besides all this, between us andyou, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence toyou, cannot, nor from thence come hither. Luke 16:26

And as it is appointed unto men onceto die, and after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27.

Allin all, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.Hebrews 10:31