I beg my reader who may not know Greek not to suppose that I have any thought of unsettling his mind as to the plain English words in scripture. My object is just the contrary. In the English Bible, there are no doubt defects, as in every human work. I have found passages which I think might be more exactly translated, and have taken the pains to translate for myself the whole of the New Testament, save a few chapters. But I am sure of this, that the more intimately a person is acquainted with the idiom of the language—the more he is familiar with what the learned call the usus loquendi (that is, the customary forms of speech)—the more he will see how thoroughly well acquainted the translators were with the language they were dealing with. I can confidently affirm this to be the case in the New Testament; and as far as I can pretend to judge of the Old, I can bear the same testimony: so that, on the whole, while admitting some human defects, the reader who knows neither Hebrew nor Greek may be assured he has the sense of the original. Taken as a whole, it is the most perfect translation of any book I have ever read. I am told the Dutch translation is very good: I cannot compare them, but of those which I can, the English Bible is by far the best. Forty-six or forty-eight of the most learned and capable men were long engaged in it—divided into classes of six, who did the part they were most competent for; and then it was passed to the others, and revised by all, and compared with translations in other languages. My object then is, not to lead you away from your Enghsh Bible, but back to it with confidence. When persons object to a doctrine, that the original word has not the force ascribed to it in English, one is obliged to enquire what is its force in the original: but my object in this is that the humble English reader may be assured he has God’s mind in what he reads. I add the Greek quotations, that those who know that language may see all is well founded and fair.
I now desire to notice two points, which I omitted in my former tract, as deserving to be taken up distinctly. I mean the force of the word Eternal in the original, and the real scriptural doctrine as to Christ’s death. I shall say a few words on the first, from its close connection with the whole subject, and because the denial of the force of the word “eternal” is always connected with low views of sin, and a false estimate of Christ’s death; and ends in a practical denial of it. Though I have found such loose notions as to what “eternal” means, always accompanied by unbelief in the real atoning efficacy of the sacrifice of Jesus, still, the latter lying at the foundation of all relationship as Christians with God, I shall treat it last, and more fully than the first; and I shall shew, as I did as to the former points, so as to this yet still more important one, that you have garbled the scripture you quoted by important omissions, denied some of its plainest statements, and left aside a mass of the plainest truths it teaches.
I turn to the word “eternal.” The word used in the Greek Testament, as it is well known to those familiar with it, is aionios, formed from aion. This latter word is used in classical Greek writers for “man’s life,” and in scripture for “a dispensation “(or course of events in this world ordered of God on some particular principle), as well as in the sense of “for ever.” Homer, Herodotus, and the Attic poets use it in the former sense, and say, he breathed out his life [aiona]. In this sense, evidently, we have nothing to do with it. It has the general force of one continuous existence on a given principle of life. Again, it is figuratively used for the continuous subsistence of a given system going on in the same principle— as for example, the dispensation which was to close by Christ’s coming. Hence the word is used for the course of this world, as always going on in the same uniform manner. But its proper force being continuous uninterrupted existence, it is particularly applied to that in its highest sense; that is, to eternity and to God. That this is its real sense, I shall bring the best authority to prove, and then examples from scripture in which it is so used, and in which it is impossible it should be taken in any other way.
Thus Aristotle declares that its force is aien on, always existing: we could hardly have a clearer expression for God or eternity. If anything can be more express, it is Philo’s explanation of it. Philo was a Hellenistic Jew, who flourished in the time of the apostles, and hence is the best possible authority for the force of words used in the New Testament, when it is a mere question of Greek. He says, en aioni de ou te pareleluthen ouden oute mellei alia monon uphesteke; “in eternity [aion], nothing is either past or to come, but subsists.” Nothing can more fully shew that this word, in its own simple full force to a Hellenistic Jew of that age, meant eternity in the strictest sense.
Another remarkable proof, that this was the force of the word, is its being the term used for certain imaginary beings, of which oriental philosophy (which had adopted some names and natures from the Christian revelation, and in this shape sought to call itself Christian) made the main fabric of its theories to consist. They were called aiones, because they were immortal and unchangeable. The following is a part of Mosheim’s note on this subject, whose learning no one, I suppose, will dispute. “Aion properly signifies indefinite or eternal duration, as opposed to that which is finite or temporal. It was, however, metonymically used for such natures as are in themselves unchangeable and immortal. That it was commonly applied in this sense even by the Greek philosophers at the time of Christ’s birth, is plain from Arrian, who uses it to describe a nature the reverse of ours, superior to frailty and obnoxious to no vicissitude: ou gar eimi Aion all anthropos meros ton panton os ora emeras enstenai me dei os ten oran kai parelthein os oran. I am not an Aion, but a man, a part of all things, as an hour of a day, I must subsist as an hour, and pass away as an hour.” This contrast of aion with such passing away gives the clearest possible proof of the received force of the word. Thus its natural force, and the use of it in the time of Christ and the apostles, is clearly proved. I shall now shew from scripture that the word is there used properly and distinctively for eternal; and this by passages in which it can have no other meaning than that, and only that. 2 Corinthians 4:18: “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal [aionia].” Can anything be more positive than this? In the verse preceding: “an eternal [aionion] weight of glory.” 2 Corinthians 5:1: “A house not made with hands, eternal [aionion] in the heavens”; where the same contrast is maintained. Philemon 15: “Departed for a season that thou shouldest receive him for ever [aionion].” 1 Timothy 6:16: “To whom [God] be honour and power everlasting [aionion].” 1 Peter 5:10: “The God of all grace who hath called us to his eternal [aionion] glory.” So Hebrews 5:9: Salvation is called “eternal”; chapter 9:12: redemption is “eternal,” and that in contrast with what was only temporary; and again, chapter 9:14: “Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God.” So Luke 16:9: “When ye fail they may receive you into everlasting [aionious] habitations.” Now these passages shew in an unequivocal manner, that the word, taken by itself in its proper sense, meant eternal or unchanging, unceasing duration, in contrast with temporary.
That examples may be found in which the word when, connected with another, may have the sense of unchangeableness during the whole existence of that other, is true; but that in nothing alters its own proper meaning, where used to express that. Thus in English, if a child asks me, have I lent him something or given it him for ever, I may say, I have given it you for ever; yet the perishable thing will not last for ever: it means the gift is not to be recalled; it is given with a constant and unchangeable purpose, as long as the thing lasts. Does that produce in the mind of any English person any doubt as to what “for ever “means, as to the proper sense of the word? It confirms that sense, though there be a modification of it by the application of the words. So it is in Greek, aionios means eternal: it is used in a way which can leave no doubt of this.
There are passages where its connection gives it a modified force, as applied to what is of unchanging character and existence, while the thing subsists which is spoken of. After all, there are but three such. It is used seventy-one times in the New Testament. Besides these I have mentioned (in which its sense is not only beyond dispute, but in some of which it is contrasted with partial duration), it is used forty-four times with life, to signify the portion of the blessed. No Christian, I suppose, doubts what is the duration of eternal life. That is, in fifty-four cases it certainly means eternal in the common English sense of the word. And God is called everlasting, Romans 16:25. Consolation is said to be everlasting, 2 Thessalonians 2:16. The glory of the saints is said to be eternal, 2 Timothy 2:10. Judgment is said to be eternal, Hebrews 6:2, that is in contrast with temporal judgment. In chap. 9:15, the inheritance is said to be eternal. I may remark that, in all these passages of the Hebrews, eternal is really used in contrast with the temporal dealings of God with the Jews as a nation. Chapter 13:20, the covenant founded on Christ’s blood is said to be eternal in the same way. 2 Peter 1:11, the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is spoken of. Revelation 14:6. The gospel announced by the angel is said to be eternal. Now these passages certainly do not weaken the proof of the word; many of them confirm it in the strongest way. We have now sixty-two, out of seventy-one times it is used, in which the plain meaning of eternal is not to be disputed. That from Revelation 14:6 alone may be said to be obscure, though I have no doubt myself of its force. In three passages, in one and the same peculiar phrase, it has a special force, pro chronon aionion—before times. Here it is used with a word, “times,” which necessarily modifies its sense, and it may be taken for “before these times or distinctive periods in which God has been acting continuously and without change on special principles.” That is, His unchangeable purposes unfolded themselves in created time in certain forms which displayed what He unchangeably was. Before all these various displays of God’s nature in His ways, eternal life was ours in His purpose, before and independently of all these. The doctrine of the Church preached by Paul had been kept secret during all these developments of what God was in His ways; life was given us in Christ before—it was promised before.
Now beside these three very special passages which I have noticed, and which certainly do not affect the general meaning of the word when used in its own proper sense in the ordinary way, there remain five which speak of punishment. Matthew 18:8: “To enter into life maimed than to be cast into everlasting fire.” Matthew 25:41: “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire”; and verse 46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into fife eternal”—where the same word is applied to both life and punishment, and surely in the same sense. Mark 3:29: “Is in danger of eternal damnation.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9: “Punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” Besides, there is Jude 7, where the cities are said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. On this passage, which is no doubt figurative, I would remark that the cities are spoken of as still subsisting before them, under judgment, as a present manifestation of the consequence of sin; prokeintai deigma puros aioniou diken upechousai. They are now suffering continuously (for that is the undoubted force of the Greek word, which is in the present tense), as an example before your eyes. No doubt in speaking of cities, it is figurative; but the figure used is present continuing consequences of sin before their eyes, as an example, to warn those before whom they then lay under its effects. Having said thus much (and I do not think any Greek scholar will venture to deny that is the force of prokeintai upechousai diken), I leave what I have said as to this word to its own proper effect in the conscience, as pronounced of God.
I omit many passages which, though not using the word, have the same effect—such as “hath never forgiveness”; because Mr. Ham’s doctrine would not, I apprehend, deny their force, though it leaves them out. But the last example leads me directly to enquire the force of these words on which much is rested; that is, perishing, destruction, etc. Now that it would be a dreadful thing to be destroyed by the judgment of God, no one will deny. Still, man is so perverse, that he will calculate with that, and loves sin so, that he will sin on. Now though, alas! he may forget eternal punishment; or his passions hurry him on; though he may hope for forgiveness after all, and go on in sin, miserably abusing a goodness, as to the true nature of which he deceives himself, he will not calculate with eternal punishment. Passion may govern, lusts may enslave; but one cannot quietly prefer an eternal misery one thinks of and believes in.
Does then destruction, as used in scripture, mean the extinction of being? Let me turn to examine, by the word of God, your tracts which present this notion to me. They declare that all the terms used concerning future punishment convey the idea of complete extinction.
Before proceeding farther, I set aside the idea that “if it [eternal punishment] exceed the capabilities of our mental apprehension, it loses its hold on our moral being.” If you merely mean that eternity is beyond the grasp of a finite mind, no doubt that is true; but it is nothing whatever to the purpose, because that is as true of eternal life. I suppose you will not deny that that, if we believe it, has a hold on our moral being. On the other hand, it is an incontestable fact that the thought of eternal punishment has, and has had through ages, an immense hold on men’s moral being; and through grace the announcement of it has had the effect of leading men to flee for refuge to the hope set before them in Him who saves us from the wrath to come. You would not have to complain of the common Protestant doctrine (and every one knows it is not confined to Protestantism), if the doctrine you complain of had not been universal. Exceptions did but prove the rule. It had been preached, and very loudly preached, and insisted on by some, and held by all, whose very name of orthodox proved—to say the least—the universality of their opinions. They believed it, and it did affect them. It had a moral hold on them; nay, in a vast number of cases, probably a vast majority of cases, the belief of it was that which first had such a moral hold on them, that they turned to God, and found refuge from the expected (and as they thought, deserved) eternal misery, in the atonement which you deny. To deny this, in the face of the universal experience of ages, and the known history of thousands of souls, and of the whole Church of God, and all professing Christendom, is a mere absurdity. It has a hold on our moral being. Your putting on paper that it has not, will not destroy the fact that in men’s souls it has. You, dear sir, would not like to be eternally in misery, and you know very well what it means; and so does every poor man that may read this tract; and so does every one of my readers, high or low, rich or poor, one with another. No; you oppose it, because it has too strong a hold on our moral being. Man will settle non-existence with himself, or temporary purgatory with his priest, or perhaps his own imagination; but he must settle eternity with God; and man does not like that. Anything but God for him who is not reconciled with Him. But what brings us into God’s presence is that which has real hold of our moral being.
But to proceed. If I examine scripture, I find that your assertion, that the terms of scripture concerning future punishment all convey the idea of complete extinction, is totally unfounded. Being tormented for ever and ever does not; everlasting punishment does not; being punished with few and many stripes does not; weeping and gnashing of teeth when cast into outer darkness does not; being lost even while we exist here does not; the smoke of torment rising up, though a figure no doubt, does not convey this meaning; an undying worm, though also a figure, does not. I do not know whether you consider these as similar terms and words to those you have selected; but you have, either from prepossession, forgotten them all save the last, or been very culpably remiss in omitting them, and saying, “All of which convey the idea of complete extinction.”
Besides, I have another remark to make. You speak briefly and vaguely and give no citations here; so that one must search for oneself in replying to you. But several of the words you refer to, as, “plucked up root and branch,” “thorns cut up,” “consumed, burnt up,” are either not found at all, or drawn from the Old Testament, and apply to temporal judgments executed on the earth. Thus the men of Belial are as thorns, and the man that would touch them must be fenced with iron, and the staff of a spear, and they shall be utterly burnt with fire in the (same) place. This surely refers to an earthly judgment, and while a figure, alluding to thorns, surely does not unfold the ultimate results of God’s judgment about them. It is found in 2 Samuel 23:6. “Plucked up root and branch” is not, that I can remember or find, scriptural. Malachi 4:1 speaks of leaving neither root nor branch; but this is an earthly judgment, and a different thing entirely. When these wicked ones are cut off out of the earth, they shall not leave successors or sprouts after them of the same kind.
“Consume,” is not used in the New Testament that I am aware of, save in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, where the wicked one is spoken of, and where also an earthly judgment is spoken of: “Whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the brightness of his coming.” This wicked one is spoken of as subsisting afterwards, first for a thousand years and then as still with the devil in the lake of fire. You would find it difficult to prove, from this passage at least, that “consume” meant to cause existence to cease, and the being to become extinct. In the Old Testament I read of consuming off the earth. But while used in very various senses, as the zeal of God’s house is said to have consumed Christ, I do not see any place which touches the question of subsequent existence. Earthly destruction is often spoken of—of peoples, kingdoms, circumstances, prosperity; but I see nothing said of the soul nor of the body even, but of a visible state of being upon earth. Now the Lord has said that destroying the body on earth does not destroy the soul. I find no passage where “consume” is used which goes any farther. Judgment on earth is the natural subject of the Old Testament.
“Burnt up,” is not used of people in the New Testament, that I am aware of, or can find. Nor is it used of people in the Old, save of the two captains who came to take the prophet by the king’s command; so that I hardly know why you have brought it forward. Certainly there is no passage in which it is used which bears in any way on the subject before us.
“Ground to powder” is used once in the New Testament by the Lord, and spoken of as accomplished by Himself. “He who shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” I confess my inability to discover how this shews that a man on dying becomes extinct. It is in contrast with being broken by a stumble over it; and seems indeed to express very vividly the different fate of the Jewish people, as rejecting Messiah when here, and their judgment when He returns. Though as a general principle it may be more largely applied perhaps; but if it proves anything, it proves degrees of judgment, not common extinction. But even suppose it does apply, the crushed person has ceased to live, but he physically remains; for being “ground to powder” is a change of state, not absolutely ceasing to exist. But, as I said, it is a figure, and to be interpreted by more direct instruction. There we find torment, everlasting punishment. Now torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth, certainly are not meant to represent that those who are tormented and weep have ceased to exist.
I have followed then your references to these passages, and sought out some others you have omitted; and I have found they entirely subvert your statements. A search into scripture, to which you refer, does not the least bear you out: indeed some of the words one is at a loss to find there, or are found only in a single passage to which I have referred, and which cannot be applied to the subject you treat. The wicked are compared to chaff burned in unquenchable fire, by John Baptist (in Isaiah 5 it is a mere comparison, and the judgment of the wicked otherwise expressed), and nowhere else that I am aware of. So thorns burnt up are only in 2 Samuel 23:6, already considered. We will consider the words of John the Baptist a little farther on.
Let me now turn to the use of the words “perish,” “destroy.” Now in usual English it is quite certain that in speaking of these subjects, these words do not convey the idea of extinction. When it is said, “They shall without doubt perish everlastingly,” this is not meant to convey, nor is it received as meaning, that they will cease to exist, but that they will be utterly cut off from the presence of God for ever. When Judas is said to be “the son of perdition,” it is not supposed to mean that he would cease to exist, and that like other people who are not saved, but that, as Peter expressed it, he would go to his own place. Punishment is spoken of— being beaten with many stripes: this is not non-existence. But it is certain that “perish,” and “perdition,” and “everlasting destruction,” when used about the things of the soul, do not convey to an English reader, nor do those who use them mean to convey, the ceasing to exist. Even when I say, “the world that then was perished,” I do not mean that it ceased to exist; but that its then state and form was ruined by the flood through God’s judgment. To judge of the force of the word more exactly, we must of course seek its use in Greek. Now it is an entire mistake to suppose that it means always to cease to exist; other passages will prove to us that where it refers to the subject we are treating of, it does not.
I quote the following passages to prove the Greek translated “destroy” or “perish” does not by any means simply mean to cease to exist, or to cause to cease to exist. “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (chap. 18: n). Every time “lost” is used in the parables of Luke 15 this is the word employed. So in many other passages. Again, read 2 Corinthians 4:3, where it is certainly applied in the sense of morally condemned, and not in the sense of having ceased to exist; and its meaning here goes farther than in the passages just quoted, which declare that men were in a ruined state, but God could save them. This passage speaks of them as finally condemned: “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” It is used by the apostle John (chap. 18:14): “That one man [Christ] should die for the people,” where Caiaphas had used the ordinary word die—chapter 11. Indeed it is constantly used for dying without an idea of ceasing to exist by it. So it is used of marring bottles. So the devils (Mark 1:24): “Art thou come to destroy us?” “Now it was not ceasing to exist they dreaded. They say in another Gospel, “Art thou come to torment us before the time?” Now these passages shew clearly that the word does not necessarily nor simply mean “cease to exist,” or to cause to cease to exist; but also to be ruined while we exist, whether as a present moral condition or as a final and eternal state.
But other passages will prove that it was not the intention of the scripture to attach the sense of ceasing to exist to the word where the final state of the wicked is referred to. Thus it is called everlasting punishment as well as everlasting destruction. It is said of the devil, and the beast, and the false prophet, that “they are tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This, mark, is in the lake of fire. It is said of those who receive the mark of the beast, that “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” Now I am not here arguing the doctrine of scripture on the subject, because I much prefer to leave it to its natural effect on the conscience. But I say that these passages amply shew that when the scripture speaks of perishing and being lost, of everlasting destruction, it does not mean to convey the idea of ceasing to exist. And mark, these passages speak too of the lake of fire, which you say is to destroy the wicked. Again, at the close of all (Rev. 21:8), when the new heavens and the new earth are there, and all things are made new, the wicked “have their part in the lake of fire which burnetii with fire and brimstone.” It is not then a fire which simply burns up the present world like a lake: such an idea indeed is as foreign from that of a lake as can possibly be. The lake of fire is never connected with the elements burning with fervent heat. Note, too, that the words “for ever and ever,” which are applied to torment, are those which are applied to the duration of the life of God—” who liveth for ever and ever.”
If I take the noun “perdition” or “destruction,” the result is the same. It cannot be shewn by a single passage that it means ceasing to exist; in many, it means turning to a bad account, and the like. I will note some of them. “To what purpose is this waste [of the ointment]?” (Matt. 26:8). “Why was this waste of the ointment made?” It is a bad use of it here, Mark 14:4. Judas is “the son of perdition.” Now it is certain, as we have seen, this does not mean cease to exist (John 17:12). Deliver to die (Acts 25:16). “An evident token of perdition “(Phil. 1:28). Now the courage of the Christians was no sign that their adversaries would cease to exist, but that they would be ruined, God being with the Christians. “The son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3). He does not cease to exist when judged, he goes into the lake of fire a thousand years before Satan, and is thereafter tormented for ever and ever. (See Rev. 20:10; 2 Pet. 2:1.) “Damnable heresies “(heresies of perdition); the heresies did not make men cease to exist. I am fully satisfied that in other passages the word does not mean ceasing to exist, but these shew it does not.
The conclusions drawn then by you from the supposed force of the word are entirely unfounded. The word in a great many instances cannot mean this, and that even when it is used in reference to our eternal ruin; for we are said to be lost, while we certainly are existing (the word “lost” being the same in the original as that translated “perish” or “destroyed”); while other passages applicable to those said to perish or be destroyed, prove that they exist still (shewing that it was not the intention in scripture to attach this sense to it).
We have already seen, in a former paper, that the soul does not cease to exist, with the body; and that the parable of the rich man certainly teaches that the wicked exist in misery.
The consequence of sin is not ceasing to exist—it is death, and after that, judgment. It is not appointed unto men to cease to exist; “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” That cannot be, if they have ceased to exist. Is there any sense, or possibility even, in making people cease to exist, because it is their natural condition to do so; and then making them to exist again (though, mark, it would not be them, but others), in order to make them cease to exist again; this last being the dreadful judgment of God? Yet this is your theory. When they die they are, you say, extinct; then they begin to exist again for the judgment of the great day; the effect of which is that they are burned up and cease to exist again.
I have examined, then, all the words referred to. Some are not used in scripture, some not in connection with the subject we are speaking of; others have decidedly another sense than that you have attached to them; while passages and expressions you have omitted expressly contradict your views. Forgive me if I say there is a little carelessness in dealing thus with scripture on so solemn a subject. It is too serious a one to deal so lightly with.
Now as to the passages on which you reason in detail. “The wicked,” you say, “are compared to chaff, to thorns cut up for rapid consumption in unquenchable fire.” As regards the latter, it is taken from Isaiah 33:12. But this only speaks of a present external judgment which would fall on the enemies of Jerusalem who came to spoil the Jews: they would perish on the earth, instead of executing their purpose. This is so entirely the case that, though in English translated “the people shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut up,” it is in the original “ammim” [peoples]. This therefore has nothing whatever to say to the matter. It does not touch in the smallest way the question of the existence or state of a soul after death.
Next, you say they are compared to chaff. This, as we have seen, refers exclusively to the language of John the Baptist: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Remark here that the whole is simply a figure, and, indeed, applies to the Lord’s dealing with Israel, His floor. The good grain would be gathered into His garner; the chaff would undergo punishment, as chaff is burned in the fire—hopeless and impossible to escape from.
Whether this figure means ceasing to exist is to be judged of from other passages. Now we have seen that the Lord speaks of abiding torment in the lake of fire. And in Matthew 13 when He speaks of the tares being burned, He says, The wicked shall be cast into a furnace of fire: “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” They were not extinct then; they had not ceased to exist; so that I have the word of God declaring that it does not mean extinction. There are those who are tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Now this mere figure—for the words are spoken of chaff, not of men, your interpretation of which is contradicted by a number of passages—is really all you have to produce.14 You do not tell us so; we might suppose there were many such; but there are not. The same state is represented by being cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Here there is no idea of extinction, or ceasing to exist.
Now as to an undying worm, and fire unquenchable: they are figures, you say, borrowed from Isaiah. But figures of what? Extinction and ceasing to exist! Far from it. Exactly the contrary. It is a perpetual shame and judgment kept up, subsisting before other people’s eyes, as a warning of the effects of sin, and a solemn testimony of God’s judgment. No doubt in Isaiah it is applied to bodies, and is used by the Lord figuratively; but the perpetuation of the punishment is the point insisted upon in Isaiah. These are His words: “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make, shall remain before me, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” Now does this passage teach continuance, perpetuation of their state, or sudden consumption? It carefully teaches its continuance, its perpetuation. This is its specific object. No doubt it is referred to carcases; it says so. But what it takes pains to shew is, that the judgment exercised upon them would be a perpetual abiding testimony before the eyes of men. The Lord borrows this figure, as He does the word gehenna, translated hell, to carry it far beyond carcases. But the figure is of the abiding of the judgment: hence, their worm does not die—their fire is not quenched. It would be absurd to use such a figure to mean that the worm and the fire were there, but there was nothing for them to act upon. But the fact is, the statement of the prophet is precisely that it would not be a sudden consumption, but always there—as shewing the effects of sin—from moon to moon, from sabbath to sabbath, when men came up amongst that people, who were to remain before the Lord. The carcases would be there—the gnawing worm there—the fire unquenched still. And this is adduced to shew it means sudden consumption!
I am not now discussing the doctrine. It is grace which warns us of it, that we may not be obstinate sinners, adversaries of God. It is that dark and solemn back-ground, which brings out the grace that saves us from it. But I deal with your statements as to scripture; I search the word: they fall to pieces at its touch.
Let us refer to the passages: “It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire “(Matt. 18:8). Why everlasting? Do you really believe the Lord meant to alarm us with this word, when it meant nothing? What matters its being everlasting, if we are to be instantly consumed by it? Everlasting fire (and this [see v. 22] is hell fire) has no real meaning, if I ceased to exist; it may as well go out. But, according to you, it is the fire that consumes the world. Is this, then, to be everlasting? Is it hell that is to consume this earth, and that by a fire that is never to be quenched? Besides, why would it be better for him to be cast into the sea with a millstone round his neck? He might as well, according to your interpretation, live on. It would be but to exchange instantaneous consumption by fire for drowning: and if left for the fire, he would have a much longer life to please himself in. Is that the force of this most solemn warning of the Lord? Again, when in Mark the Saviour insists in His warning that the fire never shall be quenched (alluding, as you say, to the passage in Isaiah which pressed the perpetuation of the punishment, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched), you would have me suppose that He meant that for all that they would after the first moment be perfectly insensible to it. The worm might live—to do I know not what. They would have ceased to exist: the worm would have nothing to gnaw upon. Is this what the Lord presents? Is it what is presented by Isaiah 66? Is it not solemnly and urgently the contrary? Let any honest mind, who would think it blasphemy to charge the Lord with trifling on any subject, especially on this, judge. How solemnly does He repeat it!
Let me quote to you a passage from the book of Revelation, which I have already alluded to. “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.” If this be figurative, as doubtless it is, it is not a figure of the extinction of being—of ceasing to exist.
You say, “We are likewise assured that the agent by which the destruction of the wicked shall be effected is fire, and that it will be that fire which shall consume the heavens and the earth “: and you quote Peter as proving it. Now all that Peter says is, that the earth will be given up to fire in the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men; but not a word of the men being subject to it then. Now I believe, from Revelation 20, that the wicked congregated against the camp of the saints and the beloved city will be judged by fire coming down from heaven. But then the earth is not burned up. The lake of fire is there spoken of distinctly as something else (which, remark, has already subsisted for a thousand years, at any rate), the devil being then cast into it, and the beast and the false prophet being there, and to be tormented there for ever and ever. The lake of fire is certainly not then simply the consuming of the elements in a given day by fervent heat. The wicked, some of them, were in the lake of fire before, and it is another fire which comes down from heaven and consumes the wicked on earth—a fire by which the world is not consumed. Nor are the wicked dead yet even raised. The apostle then sees a great white throne, and One that sat on it, before whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and then the dead, small and great, stand before Him (whereas the previous fire which destroyed the wicked on earth, had come down from heaven on the hosts on earth, who had gone up over the breadth of the earth), and they are judged out of the things written in the books. For this, the sea gave up her dead—death and hades gave up theirs. They were judged; and there was a new heaven and a new earth; but the wicked have their part in the lake. Thus neither the living nor the dead wicked are consumed in the fire which melts the elements.
Every part of your statement is, in the most positive way, contradicted by the text of scripture. The lake of fire existed at least a thousand years, and some were in it before the end. At the close the wicked in rebellion are destroyed on the earth by another fire which does not destroy the earth. The dead are then called up to be judged before the great white throne; the heaven and earth (which gives up its dead) fleeing from before the face of Him that sat upon it. Moreover, the resurrection of the just, or the first resurrection, is placed in this chapter a thousand years before this event; and it is at that epoch that the living wicked shall be punished with everlasting destruction from His presence. See Revelation 19, where He comes forth to execute it. For it is at His coming back from heaven the saints are raised to meet Him, and then appear in glory at the end (says the Lord) of this age; not when seated on the great white throne. Then heaven and earth flee from before His face: then He does not come to the earth. Remark further, both Peter (in the chapter preceding the one you quote) and Jude declare that the wicked mockers are reserved—the former, for the mist of darkness for ever; and the latter, for the blackness of darkness for ever. I repeat, then, your doctrine on this subject is utterly contradicted by scripture, and that in every particular. I prove it, and it crumbles to pieces before the word.
One or two texts, cited in the “Leaves for Truth Lovers,” remain. But I must repeat here a remark already made: except one, which I will notice, they are all taken from the Old Testament. Now it is the positive doctrine of the New, that life and immortality (incorruption) were brought to light by the gospel. Why then, to prove your point, do you have recourse to what was professedly dark on the subject? Besides the one I shall just now notice, and that alluding to John the Baptist, you have quoted only one from the New; and to explain this you have recourse to the Old; and you have omitted all the positive instruction of the New on the subject. And let me recall to your recollection, and to that of my readers, that your doctrine applies to saints as well as sinners. Those who have eternal life, those who live because Christ lives, those who are in paradise with Him, whose spirits He has received, as well as mere natural men—all perish alike, are extinct. And you bring your proofs from the Old Testament, in which, we are assured by the apostle, the full revelation on this subject was not given, the truth about it was not yet brought to light. Is not this a strange way of getting at the truth? the rather, as the Lord Himself declares that the soul does not perish with the body—a passage which you have not thought it necessary to notice. Now the Old Testament saints had to do with a manifest exercise of the judgment of God on the earth, of a God enthroned at Jerusalem; or who had promised the land to those He had called out from their country and kindred (or even elsewhere, as in the case of Job). In the midst of the confusion and disasters occasioned by sin, and the delays of God’s judgment by patient mercy, they looked sometimes by grace through the veil, and saw that city which hath foundations—as Job 19, Psalm 16. But in general they were occupied with the present government of God, and it was meant that they should be; and beyond that, habitually all was dark and the shadow of death. You would bring us back to this—deprive us, yes, even the saints, of the doctrine of life, if not of future incorruption.
Now you will find that what I have just said is plainly shewn in the passages of the Old Testament which treat of it; and that they close in the human view by the boundary of death. You quote, for example, Ecclesiastes 9:5: “But the dead know not anything “: now how does this go on? “Neither have they any more a reward.” Do you believe that applies to anything beyond this world? You know well you do not; you teach the contrary. “For the memory of them is forgotten: also their love, and their hatred, and their envy is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun.” Is it not as clear as the sun, that all this applies to this world, as does the whole book—speaking of what is under the sun in the days of the life of our vanity?
You quote Psalm 146:4. The psalmist is contrasting the help of man on the earth and the help of Jehovah. Men are not to trust in princes, for their help is vain. Once dead, all their plans and projects are over: happy is he that has the God of Jacob for his help. He turns the way of the wicked upside down. He shall reign for ever, Zion’s God to all generations. Now what have the thoughts of man on earth perishing to do with the state of his soul after death?
But you chiefly rely on Job 14:12: nor are you singular. It has been at all times the resort of those who have gone even farther than you; and, with much more consistency, when they had extinguished body and soul, left them there; instead of creating a new person for a few minutes, as if he were the same, to extinguish him again in still less time. Thus speaks Job: “Man lieth down and riseth not till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” And if they do not, what does that prove? I believe that fully; but I would remark, that we cannot take all that Job says in the vexation of his spirit as revelations, any more than all his friends say, who did not speak rightly of God as he did. They all utter many acknowledged truths which no Christian doubts, and the writer of the book was inspired to give them; but it is only when we come to Elihu that we have an understanding of the case, which is in the inspiration of the Almighty, and perfect in wisdom by knowledge fetched from afar. This I say, not as my opinion, but as the declaration of the inspired Elihu himself.
We must remember that an historical book being inspired does not mean that what every one has said in it is, but that the writer was inspired to give it to us. We learn the speeches of wicked men, the acts and deceitful words of Satan, recorded by inspiration; now they clearly were not inspired. God has given us a full picture of man and his ways, and of His own ways in patient mercy with him, till the full truth was revealed in Christ. But then man’s ways were anything but inspired of God. The imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, and that continually. To have a true inspired history of him we must have him as he is, not flattered by his own vanity; and hence the painful and frightful pictures we have in scripture. It tells the truth. Man hides it, because he is ashamed of himself; while he does for pleasure the thing he is ashamed of.
But in this case I see no reason to attribute the words to the unbelief working in Job’s heart by the side of much right feeling. It was the evident apparent effect of death. A man died, and man saw him no more till the close of all. So it will be; he will not rise (he does not say live); but “they shall not awake nor be raised out of their sleep.” But what is that sleep? That he cannot tell you: only he uses terms which, while they are consistent with the ignorance of another world and of the intermediate state, certainly do not say the dead have ceased to exist, and imply the contrary. For when I say they shall not rise, they shall not awake nor arise out of their sleep, these words suppose some one who is asleep, who will not awake till a given time. It is not a statement of nonexistence, but the contrary. Great obscurity, save by some special revelation throwing its sudden light in on the soul— such was doubtless their state. It would have proved the book not genuine, if we had the doctrines and notions even of the apocryphal books in it; but it is left in this obscurity by the God-fearing though harassed spirit of this holy man, painfully learning what his own heart was. He does not go beyond his measure. As to this world, man is gone; he himself desires even to be bid in the grave. “If a man die, shall he live?” he says. Now if you do not apply this to living again in this world, you contradict your own doctrine, and make Job an absolute infidel as to any resurrection, as to any living again at all. But Job is speaking, as all Old Testament saints speak, in view of this world in which they had to say to God: the other was undoubtedly dark to them. But all he says is, that man will not rise again (that is from the grave), till the close of all things. I believe so (not speaking now of the special revelation of the first resurrection, of which Job, of course, is not speaking here, but of man as such). I believe just what Job believed, that when man lies down “they shall not rise, nor awake, nor arise out of their sleep, till the heavens be no more.” What difficulty then can it give me? Job does not reveal to me what comes of his soul meanwhile. I do not expect him to do so. The Lord tells me it is not destroyed with the body. The apostle uses this same word “sleep,” adding “in Jesus” for the saints, who have their gain in death, because He receives their spirits. Can its use in Job create a difficulty? No, all is exactly in its place.
You add, “St. Paul says, to die is gain—not because he expected to live in a state of glory when dead, but because he knew that he should rest from toil and suffering—he would be taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1). Forgive my saying it was because of nothing of the kind. He says (it is found in Phil. 1:21-23), “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.” To live was not such a weariness: he says, “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” You have entirely misrepresented the passage: he does not talk of avoiding the evil to come, but of the good to come in being with Christ, when he says death is gain. Your remark is very unfortunate; because, in another place, he does speak of rest, but there it is not connected with death: “To you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.”
And if I turn to Isaiah—which you patch on to Philemon, to explain a clearer revelation by one less full—I find what we have seen already, only in even a more remarkable way, and certainly as far as possible from extinguishing the righteous: he has done with the trouble of this world, and, in this sense, he is at rest. But is that all the prophet tells us? Here is the passage. “The righteous perisheth” —mark the word— “and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.” Now, I ask, does this encouraging revelation, “he shall enter into peace”— mean he shall be extinct? No. It is not so clear as the New Testament; of course it is not. How could it be as clear as when Christ had lived through death, and risen out of it? But while the general subject is the government of this present world, as it ever was amongst the Jews, it consoles the righteous with the thought, that in dying he would enter into peace.
But you quote, as I stated, one more passage from the New Testament: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours.” No doubt. We all believe that. But is that the whole passage? No. First there is added, “and their works do follow them.” Are they then extinct? But suffer me to ask you further, how I can think or pronounce people blessed who are extinct, or have ceased to exist. And mark, he does not (if I follow the way you quote the passage) say, Blessed are those who have risen again, but, “blessed are the dead.” Now it is impossible to conceive that a person who does not exist is blessed: indeed it is simple nonsense to say so. But the emphasis is on “who die in the Lord.” Now, if they are extinct, the same as ungodly people, why are they more blessed in death? for that is the time you refer it to. But, besides all this, you have not quoted the passage as it is in scripture—a serious thing, it seems to me, when you profess to teach from it as God’s word. The passage runs thus: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.” Now of two things one: either, “from henceforth “refers to a particular prophetic moment, and therefore has nothing whatever to do with the extinction of a soul by death; or it is a positive revelation that people are immediately happy on their death. And when it is added, “and” (though they rest from their labours on earth), “their works do follow them,” being connected with “from henceforth,” directly contradicts that for which you quote it. Why did you leave out these words?
You also quote the passage from the Psalms: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades,” and argue that the application of it to Christ, is a proof that David’s soul being left in hades, had ceased to exist. I should have thought that a soul’s being left in hades, if it proved anything, proved that it did exist, or it could not be left there. The difference as to Christ was, that it was not left there; but both are supposed to exist, or they would not be thus reasoned about. It is quite true that David is not ascended into heaven. That expression js not applied to souls, nor does scripture speak of their being glorified; but it does of their subsisting after death, and of their being in hades. And when it says, “David was buried, and his sepulchre there,” it speaks of him as a known man on earth being dead and buried: not of his soul surely being buried: his soul is left in hades: be it so: it subsists then. What Peter would not do, as you say, I cannot tell: but I know, he does adduce his body being buried—which his soul, at any rate, was not, and his sepulchre being there—as a proof that David was not ascended. What other proof does he bring?
As to Psalm 17: “I shall be satisfied when I awake with the Lord’s likeness,” and never till then. But I am always confident—blessed be that grace which has pardoned and received and quickened me—knowing that if I am absent from the body, I shall be present with the Lord. So Paul, at Antioch, is insisting on Christ’s not seeing corruption, and that the psalm does not apply to David, for he has seen corruption. Does he say anything about his soul? Not a word. Stephen fell asleep—the word used by Paul as to David—but Christ received his spirit.
You quote the case of Samuel. Error always loves obscure passages. But this proves the contrary of what you quote it for. How could Samuel be brought up, if he was totally extinct, and had ceased to exist? How could he be disquieted, if he were not? I agree with you, that Samuel meant that Saul would be among the dead, as Samuel was; but Samuel’s being there proved he had not ceased to exist when he was among the dead.
You quote Psalm 16 as referring to David, to prove that he expected nothing before his hope in Psalm 17; but you cannot use Psalm 16 as referring to David in one place, and in another prove, from Peter, that it does not. “In thy presence is fulness of joy,” comes after “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; thou wilt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.” Thus, if it do apply to Christ’s ascension, it certainly does not shew the soul to be extinct in the meanwhile; for Christ certainly was not extinct; so that your reasoning from it is demonstrably false. Christ was in paradise before His ascension to the right hand of the Father, of which He speaks here: but the whole path was a path of life to Him: “In him was life.” To say He was extinct, would be to give up being a Christian altogether, and yet worse than that.
I have now gone through all your statements on this subject, in which your great resource is the obscurity of the Old Testament on this point, an obscurity of which the New informs us; and, avoiding reference to the passages, and where you merely reasoned from a word, and sometimes one not used at all, or quite to another purpose, I have been obliged to examine the passages, and their context. But if the examination has been necessarily longer than the statement, it was worth while, for the sake of the souls of many poor sinners and saints too, not only to shew the positive statements of the New Testament, but to follow you through your assertions and quotations, and see what they were worth.
I have again proved your doctrine by the word. I find that you omit all the clear positive statements of scripture; that your statements contradict them; that you assert, as to the use of words, what is not borne out by the fact; that you quote passages in part, or without the context, to prove your point; that your reasonings will not bear the light the moment the passages are consulted; and that what you do quote proves the contrary of what you quote it for. I reject your statements, therefore, when I have examined them, as unworthy of being entertained a moment longer. I only pray God heartily that you may be delivered from the snare into which you are fallen; and that He may preserve others from that which your words lay for them.
You have got some truth as to the importance of resurrection which others have not, but your own reasonings have carried you away. I cannot think you have examined the passages you refer to, or the use of words in them. Did I think so, I must judge you hardly honest in your reasoning, which I am not willing to suppose; but is it right thus carelessly to throw notions before others without carefully searching out their truth by the word? Why did you leave out “from henceforth” in quoting Revelation 14? Why do you speak of plucked up root and branch? I have searched concordances, lest my memory should deceive me—I find none such. Why speak of “burnt up,” when it is only used of the captains who would take the prophet? Is this serious enquiry into truth?
I shall shew in another paper that your statements as to the “Atonement”—a yet more important subject—subvert, even in a more open way, those of scripture.
14 There is another from Revelation, which I. shall consider farther on. It will be seen then why I treat this as really the only one.