The Nature and Duration of Suffering in Hell

Nature and Duration of Suffering in Hell

William G. T. Shedd,
The Doctrine of Endless Punishment,
Chapter 2, The Biblical Argument, Part 3.

The Nature and Duration of the Suffering in Hell.

Having given the argument from Scripture, in proof that Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna, all denote the place of punishment for the wicked, we proceed to consider the nature and duration of the suffering inflicted in it.

The Old Testament is comparatively silent upon these particulars. Sheol is represented vaguely, as an evil to be dreaded and avoided, and little description of its fearfulness is given by the “holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The New Testament makes a fuller revelation and disclosure; and it is principally the Redeemer of the world who widens the outlook into the tremendous future. The suffering in Hades and Gehenna is described as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46); “everlasting fire” (Mat. 18:8); “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:45); “the worm that dieth not” (Mark 9:46); “flaming fire” (2 Thes. 1:8); “everlasting chains” (Jude 6); “eternal fire” (Jude 7); “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13); “the smoke of torment ascending up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11; 19:3); “the lake of fire and brimstone,” in which the devil, the beast, and the false prophet “shall be tormented day and night, forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

Sensible figures are employed to describe the misery of hell, as they are to describe the blessedness of heaven. It cannot be inferred from the mere use of metaphors, that the duration of either is temporary. Figures are employed to describe both temporal and eternal realities. The Psalmist describes God as a “rock,” a “fortress,” a “shield,” etc.; and man as a “vapor,” a “flower,” etc. A figure by its “form,” as the rhetoricians call it, indicates the intention of the writer. No one would employ the figure of a rock to denote transiency, or of a cloud to denote permanence. Had Christ intended to teach that future punishment is remedial and temporary, he would have compared it to a dying worm, and not to an undying worm; to a fire that is quenched, and not to an unquenchable fire. The ghost in Hamlet (1-5) describes the “glow-worm’s fire” as “ineffectual,” that is, harmless. None of the figures employed in Scripture to describe the misery of the wicked are of the same rhetorical “form” with those of the “morning cloud,” the “early dew,” etc. They are in. variably of the contrary “form,” and imply fixedness and immutability. The “smoke of torment” ascends forever and ever. The “worm” of conscience does not die. The “fire” is unquenchable. The “chains” are eternal. The “blackness of darkness” overhangs forever. Had the sacred writers wished to teach that future punishment is for a time only, even a very long time, it would have been easy to have chosen a different species and form of metaphor that would have conveyed their meaning. And if the future punishment of the wicked is not endless, they were morally bound to have avoided conveying the impression they actually have conveyed by the kind of figures they have selected. “It is the willful deceit,” says Paley, “that makes the lie; and we willfully deceive, when our expressions are not true in the sense in which we believe the hearer to apprehend them.

The Meaning of Everlasting (Aίώνιος).

The epithet αίώνιος (everlasting) is of prime importance. In order to determine its meaning when applied to the punishment of the wicked, it is necessary, first, to determine that of the substantive from which the adjective is derived. Αίών signifies an “age.” It is a time-word. It denotes “duration,” more or less. Of itself, the word “duration,” or “age,” does not determine the length of the duration, or age. God has duration, and angels have duration. The Creator has an αίών and the creature has an αίών; but that of the latter is as nothing compared with that of the former. “Behold thou hast made my days as an handbreath; and mine age is as nothing before thee” (Ps. 39:5).

In reference to man and his existence, the Scriptures speak of two, and only two αίώνες, or ages; one finite, and one infinite; one limited, and one endless; the latter succeeding the former. An indefinite series of limited aeons with no final endless aeon is a Pagan, and Gnostic, not a Biblical conception. The importation of the notion of an endless series of finite cycles, each of which is without finality and immutability, into the Christian system, has introduced error, similarly as the importation of the Pagan conception of Hades has. The misconceiving of a rhetorical figure, in the Scripture use of the plural for the singular, namely, τούς αίώνας τών αίώνων for τόν αίώνα has also contributed to this error.

The two aeons, or ages, known in Scripture, are mentioned together in Matthew 12:32, “It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world (αίών), nor in the world (αίών) to come”; in Mark 10:30, “He shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time (καιρός) and in the world (αίών) to come, eternal life”; in Luke 18:30, “He shall receive manifold more in this present time (καιρός) and in the world (αίών) to come, life everlasting”; in Ephesians 1:21, “Above every name that is named, not only in this world (αίών) but also in that which is to come.” The “things present” and the “things to come,” mentioned in Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22, refer to the same two ages. These two aeons, or ages, correspond to the two durations of “time” and “eternity,” in the common use of these terms. The present age, or aeon, is “time;” the future age, or aeon, is “eternity.” [1]

1. The present finite and limited age, or aeon, is denominated in Scripture, “this world” (ό αίών οΰτος): Matthew 12:32; 13:22; Luke 16:8; 20:34; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:6, et al., Another designation is, “this present world” (ό νΰν αίών, or ό ένεστώς αίών): 1 Timothy 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:12; Galatians 1:4. Sometimes the present limited age, or aeon, is denoted by αίών without the article: Luke 1:70, “Which he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (άπ αίώνος); John 9:39, “It was not heard since the world began” (άπ αίώνος).

For rhetorical effect, the present limited age, or aeon, is sometimes represented as composed of a number of lesser ages or cycles, as in modern phrase the sum total of finite earthly time is denominated “the centuries, or “the ages.” The following are examples: 1 Cor. 2:7, “The hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages” (πρό τών αίώνων). Compare Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26. In 1 Timothy 1:17, God is denominated βασιλεύς τών αίώνων, king of the ages of time, and therefore “the king eternal” (A.V.). In Romans 16:25, a “mystery” is said to have been kept secret χρόνοις αίωνίοις, “during aeonian times” (A.V., “since the world began”). The ages of the limited aeon are meant. The secret was withheld from all the past cycles of time. In Titus 1:2, “eternal life” is said to have been promised πρό χρόνων αίωνίωνbefore aeonian times” (A.V., “before the world began”). The ages of the limited aeon are meant. God promised eternal life, prior to all the periods of time; i.e., eternally promised. In these passages, “aeonian times” is equivalent to “the centuries,” or the “long ages.” The Revisers make the reference to be to the unlimited aeon to eternity, not to time. Their rendering of Titus 1:2 by, “Before times eternal,” involves the absurdity that a Divine promise is made prior to eternity; and of Romans 16:25 by, “Through times eternal,” represents the mystery as concealed during eternity: that is to say, as forever concealed. This rhetorical plural does not destroy the unity of the limited age, or aeon. To conceal a mystery from the past “aeonian ages,” or the past centuries and cycles of finite time, is the same as to conceal it from past finite time as a whole.

2. The future infinite and endless age, or aeon, is denominated, in Scripture, “the future world;” A.V. and R.V. “the world to come” (αίώνό μέλλων): St Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 2:5; 6:5. Another designation is, “the world to come” (αίών ό έρχόμενος): Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30. Still another designation is, “that world” (αίών έκείνος) Luke 20:35. Frequently, the infinite and endless age is denoted by αίών simply, but with the article for emphasis (ό αίών): Mark 3:29, “Hath never forgiveness” (είσ τόν αίώνα); Mat. 51:29; John 4:14; 6:51-58; 8:35-51-52; 10:28; 11:26; 12:34; 13:8; 14:16; 2 Cor. 9:9; Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17; 2 Peter 2:17; 1 John 2:17; Jude 13.

The same use of the plural for rhetorical effect, employed in the case of the limited aeon, is also employed in that of the unlimited. The future infinite αίών is represented as made up of lesser αίώνες, or cycles, as in English, “infinity” is sometimes denominated “the infinities,” “eternity,” “the eternities,” and “immensity,” “the immensities.” The rhetorical plural, in this instance as in the other, does not conflict with the unity of the infinite age, or aeon. The following are examples of this use: Rom. 1:25, “The creator is blessed forever” (είσ τούς αίώνας); Rom. 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; 2 Cori. 11:36; Phil. 4:20; Gal. 1:5 (είσ τούς αίώνας τών αίώνων); 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:6-18; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12, et al. The phrases, είσ τούς αίώνας and είσ τούς αίώνας τών αίώνων are equivalent to είσ τόν αίώνα. All alike denote the one infinite and endless aeon, or age.

Since the word aeon (αίών), or age, in Scripture, may denote either the present finite age:, or the future endless age, in order to determine the meaning of “aeonian” (αίώνιος), it is necessary first to determine in which of the two aeons, the limited or the endless, the thing exists to which the epithet is applied; because anything in either aeon may be denominated “aeonian.” The adjective follows its substantive, in meaning. Onesimus, as a slave, existed in this world (αίών) of “time,” and when he is called an aeonian, or “everlasting” (αίώνιος) servant (Philemon 15), it is meant that his servitude continues as long as the finite aeon in which he is a servant; and this is practically at an end for him, when he dies and leaves it. The mountains are denominated aeonian, or “everlasting” (αίώνια), in the sense that they endure as long as the finite world (αίών) of which they are a part endures. God, on the other hand, is a being that exists in the infinite αίών, and is therefore αίώνιος in the endless signification of the word. The same is true of the spirits of angels and men, because they exist in the future aeon, as well as in the present one. If anything belongs solely to the present age, or aeon, it is aeonian in the limited signification; if it belongs to the future age, or aeon, it is aeonian in the unlimited signification. If, therefore, the punishment of the wicked occurs in the present aeon, it is aeonian in the sense of temporal; but if it occurs in the future aeon, it is aeonian in the sense of endless. The adjective takes its meaning from its noun. [2]

The English word “forever” has the same twofold meaning, both in Scripture and in common use. Sometimes it means as long as a man lives upon earth. The Hebrew servant that had his ear bored with an awl to the door of his master, was to be his servant “forever” (Exodus 21:6). Sometimes it means as long as the Jewish state should last. The ceremonial laws were to be statutes “forever” (Leviticus 16:84). Sometimes it means, as long as the world stands. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). In all such instances, “forever” refers to the temporal aeon, and denotes finite duration. But in other instances, and they are the great majority in Scripture, “forever” refers to the endless aeon; as when it is said that “God is over all blessed forever.” The limited signification of “forever” in the former cases, does not disprove its unlimited signification in the latter. That Onesimus was an “everlasting” (αίώνιος) servant, and that the hills are “everlasting” (αίώνια), no more disproves the everlastingness of God, and the soul; of heaven, and of hell; than the term “forever” in a title deed disproves it. To hold land “forever,” is to hold it “as long as grass grows and water runs” — that is, as long as this world, or aeon, endures.

The objection that because αίώνιος, or “aeonian,” denotes “that which belongs to an age,” it cannot mean endless, rests upon the assumption that there is no endless αίών, or age. It postulates an indefinite series of limited aeons, or ages, no one of which is final and everlasting. But the texts that have been cited disprove this. Scripture speaks of but two aeons, which cover and include the whole existence of man, and his whole duration. If, therefore, he is an immortal being, one of these must be endless. The phrase “ages of ages,” applied to the future endless age, does not prove that there is more than one future age, any more than the phrase “the eternities” proves that there is more than one eternity; or the phrase “the infinities” proves that there is more than one infinity. The plural in these cases is rhetorical and intensive, not arithmetical, in its force.

This examination of the Scripture use of the word αίώνιος refutes the assertion, that “aeonian” means “spiritual” in distinction from “material” or “sensuous,” and has no reference at all to time or duration; that when applied to “death,” it merely denotes that the death is mental and spiritual in its nature, without saying whether it is long or short, temporary or endless. Beyond dispute, some objects are denominated “aeonian,” in Scripture, which have nothing mental or spiritual in them. The mountains are “aeonian.” The truth is that αίών is a term that denotes time only, and never denotes the nature and quality of an object. All the passages that have been quoted show that duration, either limited or endless, is intended by the word. Whenever this visible world in the sense of the matter constituting it is meant, the word employed is κοσμός and not αίών. It is only when this world in the sense of the time of its continuance is intended, that αίών is employed. St. Paul, in Ephesians 2:2, combines both meanings. The heathen, he says, “walk according to the course [duration] of this world [of matter].” In Hebrews 1:2; 11:3, where; αίώνες denotes the “worlds” created by God, it is., as Lewis (Lange’s Ecclesiastes, p. 47) remarks, in opposition to Winer and Robinson, “the time; sense, of worlds after worlds,” not “the space sense, of worlds beyond or above worlds,” that is intended.

In by far the greater number of instances, αίών and αίώνιος refer to the future infinite age, and not to the present finite age; to eternity, and not to time. Says Stuart (Exegetical Essays, Sections 13-16),

αίώνιος is employed 66 times in the New Testament. Of these, 51 relate to the future happiness of the righteous; 7 relate to future punishment: namely, Matthew 18:8; 25:41-46; Mark 3:29; I Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 6:2; Jude 6; 2 relate to God; 6 are of a miscellaneous nature (5 relating to confessedly endless things, as covenant, invisibilities; and one, in Philemon 15, to a perpetual service). In all the instances in which αίώνιος refers to future duration, it denotes endless duration; saying nothing of the instances in which it refers to future punishment. The Hebrew עוֹלָם is translated in the Septuagint by αίών, 308 times. In almost the whole of these instances, the meaning is, time unlimited; a period without end. In the other instances, it means αίών in the secondary, limited sense; it is applied to the mountains, the Levitical statutes, priesthood, etc.”

The younger Edwards (Reply to Chauncy Ch. 14) says that

αίών, reckoning the reduplications of it, as  αίώνες τών αίώνων to be single instances of its use, occurs in the New Testament in 104 instances; in 32 of which it means a limited duration. In 7 instances, it may be taken in either the limited or the endless sense. In 65 instances, including 6 instances in which it is applied to future punishment, it plainly signifies an endless duration.”

Everlasting Punishment Along With the Devil and His Angels.

An incidental proof that the adjective αίώνιος has the unlimited signification when applied to future punishment, is the fact that the destiny of lost men is bound up with that of Satan and his angels. “Then shall he say unto them on the left; hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat. 25:41). These are represented in Scripture as hopelessly lost. “The devil that deceived them shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). The Jews, to whom Christ spoke, understood the perdition of the lost angels to be absolute. If the positions of the Restorationist are true in reference to man, they are also in reference to devils. But Scripture teaches that there is no redemption for the lost angels. “Christ, took not on him the nature of angels” (Heb. 2:16).

Respecting the nature of the “everlasting punishment,” it is clear from the Biblical representations that it is accompanied with consciousness. Dives is “in torments” (Luke 16:23). “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11). “Fear hath torment” (1 John 4:18), and the lost fear “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). The figures of the “fire,” and the “worm” are intended to denote conscious pain.

“Conditional Immortality”

An attempt has been made to prove that the punishment of the wicked is the extinction of consciousness. This doctrine is sometimes denominated Annihilation. Few of its advocates, however, have contended for the strict annihilation of the substance of the soul and body. The more recent defenders maintain the doctrine of Conditional Immortality. According to this view, the soul is not naturally immortal. Some of this class contend that it is material. It gains immortality only through its redemption by Christ. All who are not redeemed, lose all consciousness at the death of the body, and this is the “spiritual death” threatened in Scripture. As the death of the body is the extinction of sensation, so the death of the soul is the extinction of consciousness. The falsity of the theory of Annihilation, in both of its forms, is proved by the following considerations:

1. Death is not the Annihilation of Substance.

1. First, death is the opposite of birth, and birth does not mean the creation of substance. The conception and birth of an individual man, is the uniting of a soul and a body, not the creation ex nihilo of either; and the physical death of an individual man, is the separation of a soul and body, not; the annihilation of either. Death is a change of the mode in which a substance exists, and supposes that the substance itself continues in being.

“Ne, when the life decays and forme does fade
Doth it consume and into nothing goe,
But chaunged is and often altered to and froe.
The substaunce is not chaunged nor altered,
But th’ only forme and outward fashion.”

Faerie Queene, 3.6.

The death of an animal substance makes an alteration in the relations of certain material atoms, but does not put them out of existence. Dead matter is as far from nonentity as living matter. That physical death is not the annihilation of substance, is proved by 1 Cor. 15:36: “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” Compare John 12:24. In like manner, the death of the soul, or spiritual death, is only a change in the relations of the soul, and its mode of existence, and not the annihilation of its substance. In spiritual death, the soul is separated from God; as in physical death, the soul is separated from the body. The union of the soul with God is spiritual life; its separation from God is spiritual death. “He that hath the Son hath [spiritual] life, and he that hath not the Son hath not [spiritual] life” (1 John 5:12).

2. The Spiritually Dead are Conscious.

2. Secondly, the spiritually dead are described in Scripture as conscious. Genesis 2:7 compared with Genesis 3:8: “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Adam and Eve “hid themselves.” After their fall they were spiritually dead, and filled with shame and terror before God. The “dead in trespasses and sins walk according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-2). “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). “You being dead in your sins hath he forgiven” (Col. 2:13). “Thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3:1). Spiritual death is the same as the “second death,” and the second death “hurts” (Rev. 2:11); and its smoke of torment “ascends forever and ever” (Rev. 19:3).

3. Punishment Assumes Consciousness.

3. Thirdly, the extinction of consciousness is not of the nature of punishment. The essence of punishment is suffering, and suffering is consciousness. In order to be punished, the person must be conscious of a certain pain, must feel that he deserves it, and know that it is inflicted because he does. All three of these elements are required in a case of punishment. To reduce a man to unconsciousness would make his punishment an impossibility. If God by a positive act extinguishes, at death, the remorse of a hardened villain, by extinguishing his self-consciousness, it is a strange use of language to denominate this a punishment.

Still another proof that the extinction of consciousness is not of the nature of punishment is the fact, that a holy and innocent being might be deprived of consciousness by his Creator, but could not be punished by him. God is not obliged, by his justice, to perpetuate a conscious existence which he originated ex nihilo. For wise ends, he might suffer an unfallen angel not only to lose consciousness, but to lapse into his original nonentity. But he could not, in justice, inflict retributive suffering upon him.

4. Annihilation Admits No Degrees of Punishment.

4. Fourthly, the extinction either of being, or of consciousness, admits of no degrees of punishment. All transgressors are “punished” exactly alike. This contradicts Luke 12:47-48; Romans 2:12.

5. According to Annihilationism, Animals are Punished.

5. Fifthly, according to this theory, brutes are punished. In losing consciousness at death, the animal like the man incurs an everlasting loss. The Annihilationist contends that the substance of punishment is in the result, and not in its being felt or experienced. If a transgressor is put out of conscious existence, the result is an everlasting loss to him, though he does not know it. But the same thing is true of a brute. And if the former is punished, the latter is also.

6. Mere Consciousness is Not Happiness.

6. Sixthly, the advocate of Conditional Immortality, in teaching that the extinction of consciousness is the “eternal death” of Scripture, implies that the continuance of consciousness is the “eternal life.” But mere consciousness is not happiness. Judas was conscious, certainly, when he hung himself, even if he is not now. But he was not happy.

7. Annihilation Would be a Good, Not an Evil.

7. Seventhly, the extinction of consciousness is not regarded by sinful men as an evil, but a good. They substitute the doctrine of the eternal sleep of the soul, for that of its eternal punishment. This shows that the two things are not equivalents. When Mirabeau lay dying, he cried passionately for opium, that he might never awake. The guilty and remorseful have, in all ages, deemed the extinction of consciousness after death to be a blessing; but the advocate of Conditional Immortality explains it to be a curse. “Sight, and hearing, and all earthly good, without justice and virtue,” says Plato (Laws 2-661), “are the greatest of evils, if life be immortal; but not so great, if the bad man lives a very short time.”

8. No Proof that God Will Cease to Uphold the Existence of Human Souls.

8. Eighthly, the fact that the soul depends for its immortality and consciousness upon the upholding power of its Maker does not prove either that it is to be annihilated, or to lose consciousness. Matter also depends for its existence and operations upon the Creator. Both matter and mind can be annihilated by the same Being who created them from nothing. Whether he will cease to uphold any particular work of his hand, can be known only by revelation. In the material world, we see no evidence of such an intention. We are told that “the elements shall melt with fervent heat,” but not that they shall be annihilated. And, certainly, all that God has said in Revelation in regard to creation, redemption, and perdition, implies and teaches that he intends to uphold, and not to annihilate the human spirit; to perpetuate, and not extinguish its self-consciousness.

The form of Universalism which is the most respectable, and therefore the most dangerous, is that which concedes the force of the Biblical and rational arguments respecting the guilt of sin, and its intrinsic desert of everlasting punishment, but contends that redemption from it through the vicarious atonement of Christ is extended into the next world. The advocates of this view assert, that between death and the final judgment the application of Christ’s work is going on; that the Holy Spirit is regenerating sinners in the intermediate state, and they are believing and repenting as in this life. This makes the day of judgment, instead of the day of death, the dividing line between “time” and “eternity”; between ό αίών οΰτος and αίών ό μέλλων. And this makes the intermediate state a third aeon by itself, lying between “time” and “eternity”; between “this world,” and “the world to come.”

The Intermediate State is Part of the Age to Come.

That the “intermediate state” is not a third aeon, but a part of the second endless aeon, is proved by the following considerations:

1. First, by the fact that in Scripture the disembodied state is not called “intermediate.” The is an ecclesiastical term which came in with the doctrine of purgatory, and along with the exaggeration of the difference between Paradise and Heaven, and between Hades and Gehenna.

2. Secondly, by the fact that in Scripture death is represented as the deciding epoch in a man’s existence. It is the boundary between the two Biblical aeons, or worlds. Until a man dies, he is in “this world”; after death, he is in “the future world”. The common understanding of the teaching of Scripture is, that men are in “time,” so long as they live, but when they die, they enter “eternity.” “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This teaches that prior to death, man’s destiny is not decided, he being not yet sentenced; but after death, his destiny is settled. When he dies, the “private judgment,” that is, the immediate personal consciousness either of penitence or impenitence, occurs. Every human spirit, in that supreme moment when it “returns to God who gave it,” knows by direct self-consciousness whether it is a child or an enemy of God, in temper and disposition; whether it is humble and contrite, or proud, hard, and impenitent; whether it welcomes or rejects the Divine mercy in Christ. The article of death is an event in human existence which strips off all disguises, and slows the person what he really is, in moral character. He “knows as he is known,” and in this flashing light passes a sentence upon himself that is accurate. This “private judgment” at death, is reaffirmed in the “general judgment” of the last day.

Accordingly, our Lord teaches distinctly that death is a finality for the impenitent sinner. Twice in succession, he says with awful emphasis to the Pharisees: “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:21-24). This implies, that to “die in sin,” is to be hopelessly lost. Again, he says,

“Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light” (John 12:35-36).

According to these words of the Redeemer, the light of the gospel is not accessible in the darkness of death. “The night cometh, wherein no man can work” (John 9:4). The night of death puts a stop to the work of salvation that is appointed to be done in the daytime of this life. St. Paul teaches the same truth, in 1 Thes. 5:5-7:

“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night.”

“God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:20-21).

With these New Testament teachings, agrees the frequent affirmation of the Old Testament, that after death nothing can be done in the way of securing salvation.

“In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks”. (Psalm 6:5).

“Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave”? (Psalm 88:10-11).

“The dead praise not the Lord, nor any that go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17).

“To him that is joined to all the living, there is hope: for the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward” (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6).

These passages do not teach the utter unconsciousness of the soul after death, in flat contradiction to that long list already cited which asserts the contrary, but that there is no alteration of character in the next life. “In death, there is no [happy] remembrance of God” [if there has been none in life]. “The dead shall not arise, and praise God” [in the next world, if they have not done so in this world]. “Shall God declare his loving kindness [to one] in the grave” [if he has not declared it to him when upon earth]?

The parable of Dives proves that death is the turning point in human existence, and fixes the everlasting state of the person. Dives asks that his brethren may be warned before they die and enter Hades; because after death and the entrance into Hades, there is an impassable gulf between misery and happiness, sin and holiness. This shows that the so-called “intermediate” state is not intermediate in respect to the essential elements of heaven and hell, but is a part of the final and endless state of the soul. It is “intermediate,” only in reference to the secondary matter of the presence or absence of the body.

Redemption is Not Possible After Death.

The asserted extension of redemption into the endless aeon, or age, is contradicted by Scripture. Salvation from sin is represented as confined to the limited aeon. One of the most important passages bearing upon this point is 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.

“Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all [opposing] rule, and all [opposing] authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.”

St. Paul here states the fact, disclosed to him by revelation from God, that the redemption of sinners will not go on forever, but will cease at a certain point of time. The Mediator will carry on his work of saving sinful men, until he has gathered in his church, and completed the work according to the original plan and covenant between himself and his Father, and then will surrender mediatorial commission and office. There will then no longer be any mediation going on between sinners and God. The church will be forever united to their Divine Head in heaven, and the wicked will be shut up in the “outer darkness.” That Christ’s mediatorial work does not secure the salvation of all men during the appointed period in which it is carried on, is proved by the fact that when “the end cometh” some men are described as the “enemies” of Christ, and as being “put under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). All of Christ’s redeemed “stand before his throne” (Revelation 14:3; 19:4-7; 21:3). They are in the “mansions” which he has “prepared” for them (John 14:2-3).

The reason assigned for Christ’s surrender of his mediatorial commission is, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28): not, that “God even the Father may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24). It is the Trinity that is to be supreme. To Christ, as an incarnate trinitarian person, and an anointed mediator, “all power is [temporarily] given in heaven and upon earth” (Mat. 28:29), for the purpose of saving sinners. As such, he accepts and holds a secondary position of condescension and humiliation, when compared with his original unincarnate position. In this reference, he receives a “commandment” (John 10:18) and a “kingdom” (1 Cor. 15:24). In this reference, as believers “are Christ’s,” so “Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:23); and as “the head of the woman is the man, so the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). But when Christ has finished his work of mediating between the triune God and sinful men, and of saving sinners, this condition of subjection to an office and a commission ceases. The dominion over heaven and earth, temporarily delegated to a single trinitarian person incarnate, for purposes of redemption and salvation, now returns to the Eternal Three whence it came, and to whom it originally belongs. The Son of God, his humanity exalted and glorified, and his Divine-human person united forever to his church as their Head, no longer prosecutes that work of redemption which he carried forward through certain ages of time, but, with the Father and Spirit, Three in One, reigns over the entire universe — over the holy “who stand before the throne,” and over the wicked who are “under his feet,” and “in the bottomless pit.”

The confinement of the work of redemption to the limited aeon, which terminates practically for each individual at the death of the body, is taught in many other passages of Scripture. “My spirit shall not always [R.V. “for ever“] strive with man, for that he also is [sinful] flesh; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). This teaches that the converting operation of the Divine Spirit in the sinner’s heart, is limited to the 120 years which was then the average length of human life.

“O that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end” (Deut. 32:29).

“Teach us so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest” (Eccles. 9:10).

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

“Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares: for as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth” (Luke 21:34-35).

“Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh. The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with unbelievers: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 24:42, 50).

“If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:42).

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying Lord, Lord, open unto us, he shall answer, and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

“We beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

“Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 3:7).

The argument in Hebrews 3:7-19 is to the effect, that as God swore that those Israelites who did not believe and obey his servant Moses during the forty years of wandering in the desert should not enter the earthly Canaan, so those who do not “while it is called, Today” — that is, while they are here in time — believe and obey his Son Jesus Christ, shall not enter the heavenly Canaan. “Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief. But exhort one another daily, while it is called, Today” (Heb. 3:12-13). “God limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time [of impenitence], Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 4:7). Hebrews 10:26 speaks of a time when “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries of God.”

“Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11-12).

If sinners are redeemed beyond the grave, man must be informed of the fact by God himself. There is no other way of finding it out. He has not been so informed, but, if language has any meaning, has been informed of the contrary. Bishop Butler (Analogy, Pt. 1. Ch. 2) states the case with his usual conciseness and clearness.

“Reason did, as it well might, conclude that it should finally be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked; but it could not be determined upon any principles of reason whether human creatures might not have been appointed to pass through other states of life and being, before that distributive justice should finally and effectually take place. Revelation teaches us that the next state of things after the present is appointed for the execution of this justice; that it shall no longer be delayed, but the mystery of God, the great mystery of his suffering vice and confusion to prevail, shall then be finished; and he will take to him his great power, and will reign, by rendering to every one according to his works.”

The asserted extension of redemption into the period between death and the resurrection cannot be placed upon the ground of right and justice; and the only other ground possible, that of the Divine promise so to extend it, is wanting. Our Lord teaches that men prior to his coming into the world are “condemned already” (John 3:18). His advent to save them supposes that they are already lost; and they are lost by sin; and sin is man’s free self determination. Consequently, man the sinner has no claim upon God for redemption. Forgiveness is undeserved, whether offered here or hereafter. The exercise of mercy is optional with God. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Romans 9:15). It follows from this, that the length of time during which the offer of mercy is made to transgressors is likewise optional with God. It may be long or short, according to the Divine will. Should God say to a sinner: “I will pardon your sin today, if you will penitently confess it, but not tomorrow,” this sinner could not complain of injustice, but would owe gratitude for the mercy thus extended for a limited time. It cannot be said, that unless God offers to pardon man forever and ever, he is not a merciful Being. Neither can this be said, if he confines redemption to this life, and does not redeem sinners in the intermediate state. [3]

Universalism’s Inconsistency.

It is here that the logical inconsistency of such theologians as Muller and Dorner appears. Lessing, the first of German critics, makes the following remark respecting the German mind:

“We Germans suffer from no lack of systematic books. No nation in the world surpasses us in the faculty of deducing from a couple of definitions whatever conclusions we please, in most fair and logical order.” (Preface to the Laocoon).

The truth of this remark is illustrated by some of the systems of theology and philosophy constructed in Germany. The reasoning is close, consecutive, and true, in some sections, but loose, inconsequent, and false, as a, whole. The mind of the thinker when moving in the limited sphere, moves logically; but moving in the universe, and attempting to construct a philosophy or theology of the Infinite, fails utterly. Many of the trains of reasoning in Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre are profound, closely reasoned, and correct, but the system as a whole has fatal defects. No one will deny the rigor of Hegel’s logical processes, in segments, but the toted circle of his thinking is pantheistic, and full of inconsistency.

Lessing’s remark applies to that type of Universalism of which Muller and Dorner are the best representatives, and the ablest advocates. In the first place, upon “a couple” of obscure and dubious scripture texts, they rear the whole great fabric of a future redemption, in direct contradiction to some scores of perfectly plain texts that teach the confinement of redemption to this life. And, secondly, after laying down a theory of sin which represents it as pure self-determination and guilt, sin is then discussed as an evil that is entitled to the offer of a pardon, and a remedy.

Miiller and Dorner, both alike, explain sin as originating in the free and guilty agency of the finite will, and as requiring an atonement in order to its remission. [4] And yet both alike, when they come to eschatology, assume tacitly, but do not formally assert, that the Divine Perfection requires that the offer of forgiveness be made, sooner or later, to every sinner; that there will be a defect in the benevolence, and a blemish in the character, of the Supreme Being, if he does not tender a pardon to every transgressor of his law. Their eschatology thus contradicts their hamartiology.

No Redemption in the Next Life Apart From Christ.

The extension of the work of redemption into the future world is made to rest very much, for its support, upon the cases of the heathen and of infants. Respecting the former, it is certain that the heathen are voluntary transgressors of the moral law and, therefore, have no claim upon the Divine mercy. Scripture teaches that they perish because of their sin, and impenitence in sin. It is wicked to sin, and still more wicked not to repent of it. The heathen are chargeable with both. St. Paul describes them as those “who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32).

“The Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of. their heart, who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17).

“There is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without [written] law shall also perish without [written] law” (Rom. 2:11).

“The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts accusing, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:14-15).

“Remember that ye being in time past Gentiles, were at that time without hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11- 12).

“Murderers, whore-mongers, and idolaters, shall have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Jesus Christ said from heaven to Saul of Tarsus, that he had appointed him to be “a minister and witness to the Gentiles, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:16-18).

There is, consequently, no ground for asserting that justice and equity require that the pardon of sins be tendered to the heathen in the next life.

It does not follow, however, that because God is not obliged to offer pardon to the unevangelized heathen, either here or hereafter, therefore no unevangelized heathen are pardoned. The electing mercy of God reaches to the heathen. It is not the doctrine of the Church, that the entire mass of pagans, without exception, have gone down to endless impenitence and death. That some unevangelized men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of Christendom. It was the hope and belief of the elder Calvinists, as it is of the later.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1:7), after the remark that the ordinary mode of salvation is by the instrumentality of the written word, adds: “we recognize that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, for that is in his power.” The Westminster Confession (10:3), after saying that “elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where and how he pleaseth,” adds, “so also are all other elect persons [regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.” This is commonly understood to refer not merely, or mainly, to idiots and insane persons, but to such of the pagan world as God pleases to regenerate without the use of the written revelation.

One of the sternest Calvinists of the 16th century, Zanchius, whose treatise on predestination was translated by Toplady, after remarking that many nations have never had the privilege of hearing the word, says (Ch. 9) that “it is not indeed improbable that some individuals in these unenlightened countries may belong to the secret election of grace, and the habit of faith may be wrought in them.” By the term “habit” (habitus), the elder theologians meant an inward disposition of the heart. The “habit of faith” involves penitence for sin, and the longing for its forgiveness and removal. The “habit of faith” is the broken and contrite heart, which expresses itself in the prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word.

The case of the blind man, in John 9:36-38, is an example of the “habit of faith,” though produced in this instance through the instrumentality of the written law.

“Jesus saith unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord I believe. And he worshipped him.”

Here was sorrow for sin, and a desire for redemption from it, wrought in the heart by the Divine Spirit, prior to the actual knowledge of Christ as the Savior of sinners. The cases of the centurion Cornelius, and the Ethiopian eunuch, are also examples of the “habit of faith.” These men, under the teaching of the Spirit, were conscious of sin, and were anxiously inquiring if, and how, it could be forgiven. That there is a class of persons in unevangelized heathendom who are the subjects of gracious influences of this kind, is implied in St. Paul’s affirmation, that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6); and that “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). It is taught also in Mat. 8:11; Luke 13:30:

“Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom [those who have had the written word] shall be cast out. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”

This affirmation of Christ was called out by the “habit of faith,” or disposition to believe, in that Gentile centurion, respecting whom he said, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mat. 8:5-10).

The true reason for hoping that an unevangelized heathen is saved is not that he was virtuous, but that he was penitent. A penitent man is necessarily virtuous; but a virtuous man is not necessarily penitent. Sorrow for sin produces morality; but morality does not produce sorrow for sin. A great error is committed at this point. The Senecas, the Antonines, the Plutarchs, and such like, have been singled out as the hopeful examples in paganism. It is not for man to decide what was the real state of the heart; but the writings of these men do not reveal the sense of sin; do not express penitence; do not show a craving for redemption. There is too much egotism, self-consciousness, and self-righteousness in them. The man, judged by his books, is moral, but proud. He is virtuous, but plumes himself upon it. This is not a hopeful characteristic, when we are asking what are the prospects of a human soul, before the bar of God.

“To this man will I look, saith the Lord, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5:3).

This line of remark holds good in Christendom, as well as in Heathendom. There is a class of men in modern society marked by morality, and lofty self-respect, but by no consciousness of sin, and no confession of it. And judged by New Testament principles, no class of mankind is farther off from the kingdom of heaven. There is no class that scorns the publican’s cry, and spurns the atoning blood, with such decision and energy as they. To them, the words of Christ, in a similar ease, apply: “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you” (Mark 21:31). The Magdalene is nearer the Divine Pity than the Pharisee. And upon the same principle, those benighted children of ignorance and barbarism who feel their sin and degradation, and are ready to listen with docility to the missionary when he comes with the tidings of the Infinite Compassion, are nearer to heaven, than the children of a gilded and heartless civilization, who have no moral unrest, and turn a deaf ear to all the overtures of mercy. [5]

This extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned by the Redeemer, to illustrate the sovereignty of God in the exercise of mercy, not to guide his church in their evangelistic labor. His command is, to “preach the gospel to every creature.” The extraordinary and “strange” work of God is not a thing for man to expect, and rely upon, either in the kingdom of nature, or of grace. It is his ordinary and established method which is to direct him. The law of missionary effort is, that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 11:17).

Two errors, therefore, are to be avoided: 1) that all men are saved; 2) that only a few men are saved. Some fifty years ago, Schleiermacher surprised all Lutheran Germany with a defense of the Calvinistic doctrine of election; but the surprise was diminished, when it appeared that he held that God has elected, and will save every human creature without exception. This cannot be squared with Scripture. On the other hand, some Calvinists have represented the number of the reprobated as greater than that of the elect, or equal to it. They found this upon the words of Christ, “Many are called, but few are chosen” [Mat. 20:16; 22:14]. But this describes the situation at the time when our Lord spake, and not the final result of his redemptive work. Christ himself, in the days of his flesh, called many, but few responded to the call from his gracious lips. Our Lord’s own preaching was not as successful as that of his apostles, and of many of his ministers. This was a part of his humiliation, and sorrow. But when Christ shall have “seen of the travail of his soul,” and been “satisfied” with what he has seen [Isa. 53:11]; when the whole course of the gospel shall be complete, and shall be surveyed from beginning to end; it will be found that God’s elect, or church, is “a great multitude which no man can number, out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues,” and that their voice is as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 7:9; 19:6). The circle of God’s election is a great circle of the heavens, and not that of a treadmill.

No Redemption of Infants Dying in Infancy Apart From Christ.

Respecting the more difficult case of infants — the Scriptures do not discriminate and except them as a class from the mass of mankind, but involve them in the common sin and condemnation. “Suffer little children to come unto me” [their Redeemer] (Luke 18:16). “The promise [of salvation] is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39). The Fall in Adam explains their case. Adopting the Augustino-Calvinistic statement of this Fall, it can then be said that infants, like all others of the human family, freely and responsibly “sinned in Adam, and fell with him, in his first transgression” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, 16).

This is no more impossible, and no more of a mystery, in the case of infants, than of adults. If it be conceded that the whole race apostatized in Adam, infants are righteously exposed to the punishment of sin, and have no claim upon the Divine mercy. The sin which brings condemnation upon them is original sin, and not actual transgressions. But original sin is the sinful inclination of the will. An infant has a rational soul; this soul has a will; this will is wrongly inclined; and wrong inclination is self-determined and punishable. If sinful inclination in an adult needs to be expiated by the atoning blood of Christ, so does sinful inclination in an infant. Infants, consequently, sustain the very same relation to the mercy of God in Christ that the remainder of the human race do. They need the Divine clemency, like the rest of mankind. The “salvation” of infants supposes their prior damnation. Whoever asserts that an infant is “saved,” by implication concedes that it is “lost.” The salvation of an infant, like that of an adult, involves the remission and removal of sin, and depends upon the unmerited and optional grace of God. This being so, it cannot be said, that God would treat an infant unjustly, if he did not offer him salvation in the intermediate state. And upon the supposition, now common in the evangelical churches, that all infants dying in infancy, being elect, are “regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth” (Westminster Confession, 10.8), there is no need of any such offer.

Further Reading:

A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism by Robert A. Peterson.

Annihilation or Eternal Punishment? by Robert A. Peterson.

Why Annihilationism is Wrong by J. I. Packer.

A Course of Lectures on Future Punishment by W. C. Rider.


[1] It is relative, not absolute eternity; eternity a parte post, not a parte ante. The future aeon, or age, has a beginning, but no ending. This is the meaning, when in common phrase it is said that “a man has gone into eternity”; and that his happiness, or misery, is “eternal.” The absolutely eternal has no beginning, as well as no ending; it is the eternity of God. The relatively eternal has a beginning but no end; it is the immortality of man and angel. The schoolman called the former, eternitas; the latter, sempiternitas. Scripture designates the absolute eternity of God, by the phrase, “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). The punishment of the wicked is more properly endless, than eternal.

[2] “Αίών de quocunque temporis spatio ita dicitur, ut, quale, sit, judicari debeat in singulus locis ex orationis serie et mente scriptoris, rebus adeo et personis, de quibus sermo est.” Schleusner, in voce.

[3] Compare the Author’s Sermons to the Natural Man. Sermon 18.

[4] The merit of Muller, in particular, in respect to a profound and true view of sin is very great. No theological treatise of this century has more value than his work on Sin.

[5] The passage, “In every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35), is often explained as teaching that there are in every nation some who live virtuous and exemplary lives, and upon this ground obtain the rewards and blessedness of the future. This would be salvation by works, which is impossible, according to St. Paul. It is with reference to such an interpretation of this text, that the Westminster Confession (10. 4) asserts, that “men not professing the Christian religion cannot be saved in any other way whatever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion which they do profess.” In the passage above cited, the phrase “fearer of God,” and “worker of righteousness,” is employed technically, by St. Peter, to denote a man inquiring after the way of salvation — somewhat as it was among the Jews, to signify a proselyte of the gate (Guericke’s Church History, p. 29). This is evident from the fact, that to this “devout” Cornelius who “feared God with all his house” (Acts 10:2), the Apostle preached Christ as the Savior of sinners, “through whose name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” and that Cornelius believed, and was baptized (Acts 10:36-48). He would not have done this, if he had expected that his “fearing God” and “working righteousness” — in other words, his morality and virtue — would save him.


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