There are many Christians who have no sympathy at all with the heresy known as “the non-eternity of punishment,” who firmly believe it to be a serious error—whether it terminates the sufferings of the wicked by extinction or by restitution finally to the favour of God—but who are nevertheless in doubt as to how they should act towards those who hold these doctrines.
Some deny that there is any Scripture warrant for exclusion from an assembly on the ground of doctrine. Such hold that evil in practice alone can be so judged; erroneous beliefs, they say, are to be met by internal discipline, by instruction, conviction, reproof, and so on, but not by excommunication.
Others hold that he who teaches such errors ought to be “put away” or “cut off,” but that one who holds the error but does not teach it is to be borne with.
The enormously rapid spread of these doctrines throughout all Christendom, and the indifference with which they are regarded by some who are themselves “sound in the faith,” seem to call for
A Decided Facing of the Question
as to how the holders of such errors are to be dealt with according to the Word of God.
In Galatians 5:9 the action of leaven is used to illustrate the contaminating effect of evil doctrine, exactly as in 1 Corinthians 5:6 it is used regarding moral evil In both cases, therefore, the leaven must be dealt with in the same way, i.e., purged out. This, we think it must be admitted, is a reasonable deduction.
In Galatians 5:12 it is written: “I would they were even cut off that trouble you.” In the Revised Version it is given: “I would that they which unsettle you would even cut themselves off.” A similar expression occurs in 1 Corinthians 5:2, viz.: “That he which hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.”
But failing their cutting themselves off, or being taken away by the judgment of God, solemn responsibility is laid upon the Church
To Exclude Them.
In I Corinthians 5:13: “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” In Gal. 5: “I have confidence in you through the Lord that ye will be none otherwise minded, but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.”
It was on account of having made shipwreck of the faith that Hymenaeus and Alexander were “delivered unto Satan” (1 Tim. 1:19, 20). The nature of their error, or at least that of Hymenaeus, may be gathered from 2 Timothy 2:17: “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.” It was therefore on doctrinal and not on moral grounds that they were dealt with.
In Revelation 2 Ephesus is commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. Pergamos is censured for having in their midst “those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.” It is not said, “those who practise their deeds,” or “those that teach their doc trine,” but “those who hold” it.
To Hold it Was Enough to Warrant Their Being Excluded,
and in no other way could the approval of the Lord be secured. It is always necessary, however, to distinguish between persons who may have “doubtful thoughts,” who having come in contact with error are affected or shaken, and others who “hold” the error or are held by it, in spite of patient effort to deliver them from it. Amputation is never resorted to until every known remedy has been tried and failed. There are truths in Scripture, many, upon which Christians of the most godly character have, in all ages, held
To judge every diversity of mind or judgment as to doctrine to be equally serious would lead to the overturning of all Christian fellowship. Probably no two persons could be found who were exactly of one mind upon all points, all doctrines, or the meaning of all Scriptures.
A certain house had a defect in one of the chimneys. In order to rectify it, it was necessary to take a stone out of the solid wall. This was done, the defect rectified, the stone replaced, and no harm done. But suppose it had been thought desirable to take out a foundation stone, how very much more serious would the case have been. The integrity of the whole structure would thus have been endangered. In like manner there are truths in Scripture which are fundamental. To go astray on these involves overthrowing the faith, or, as elsewhere expressed, making shipwreck of the faith. Such are “the doctrine of Christ,” including the glory of His Person (2 John 9, 10); the Gospel of the grace of God (Gal. 1:6-9); the doctrine of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:33, 34); and in Hebrews 6 there are six doctrines declared to be fundamental, the first two of which are “repentance and faith,” and the last two “resurrection of the dead” and “eternal judgment.” We do not stay here to comment on the second couple, viz., “the doctrine [or teaching] of baptisms [not baptism] and of the laying on of hands.” Not baptism and laying on of hands but the teaching implied in these familiar Mosaic rites, “baptisms” (a word never used in the plural when applied to New Testament baptism, therefore referring to ceremonial washings), and laying of hands on the head of the offerings, the two classes of ceremonial acts typifying “regeneration and atonement.”
For our present purpose we emphasize these points: first, that these are fundamentals—they pertain to the foundation, not to the superstructure—therefore the faith that has not these for its basis is not a genuine faith; secondly, that one of these is “eternal judgment.” To say, with some, that eternal judgment only means “the eternal consequences of an act,” is tantamount to saying that he who shoots a vicious dog visits it with eternal judgment—the consequences of shooting it are eternal! Scripture invariably conveys the thought of the punishment of sin being eternal, conscious suffering.
We conclude from this Scripture that this doctrine pertains to the foundation, and that, therefore, this error is not to be treated with toleration, but to be purged out. The Sadducees denied the resurrection and also the existence of angel and spirit. Modern Sadducean doctrine denies the existence of spirit apart from body. Non-eternity is essentially, therefore, the leaven of the Sadducees, and as such must be purged out. But they must be blind indeed who do not see that the non-eternity error touches every point in the circle of divine truth.
It touches the constitution of man, and the divine record of his creation. It touches the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It touches the doctrine of the atonement, of conscious existence after death, of resurrection, of judgment. Admit this error, and the whole superstructure of Christian doctrine is shaken to its centre.
And one of the most serious aspects of it is only discovered in seeking to deal with those who become entangled in its meshes. It is that genuine reverence for the inspired Word of God is practically surrendered, and necessarily so, by those who contend for it. The plainest statements of Scripture have to be explained away and got rid of by some process of false reasoning; their obvious force must be evaded; and the shufflings that are resorted to in the attempt betray the havoc that has been wrought in the mind and conscience of those who have been led into it. In illustration of this we only refer to one text, viz.: Luke 23:43. So clearly and unanswerably does the Lord here assert His own conscious existence, and that of the crucified, but pardoned, robber after death, that at all hazards the words of the blessed Lord must be perverted, and made to teach something else than their obvious sense—something that will be consistent with the annihilation theory. What, then, is the way out of the dilemma? Simply alter the punctuation, “Verily, I say unto thee to-day, thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”6
Such is the power of error, that the conscience of eminent Greek scholars can be brought down so low as to endorse a rendering that a schoolboy would be punished for; and that in the teeth of the authority of both Authorised and Revised versions! Surely a good conscience must have been somehow lost (as in 1 Tim. 1:19) before such shipwreck could be made of the truth.
In vain do those who condescend so to tamper with the Lord’s words contend for the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.
As already referred to, differences of mind as to many doctrines may and do exist among true believers consistently with the maintenance of a good conscience, genuine godliness, and soundness in the faith as to the great foundation doctrines. But “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The letting go of foundation truth is the plague spot that indicates a deep-rooted disease. The mystery of the faith can only be held in a pure conscience (1 Tim. 3:9). The power for holding the faith in its integrity is the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul exhorted Timothy: “That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us.” If a defiled conscience be allowed, the Spirit is grieved and the power for maintaining the truth is gone. It is therefore certain that where fundamental error is embraced conscience has first been violated. This may not be apparent to others; it may have been in such a way as not to appear in the life, but as surely as the leprous spot on the forehead declared the man to be “utterly unclean” so surely does fundamental error discover the moral condition of him who holds it.
To say that a man may
Hold These Views
and be in the assembly if only he does not teach them is altogether futile. He may not publicly teach what he holds, but depend upon it he cannot help doing so in private intercourse, and that mainly amongst those who have the first claim on shepherd care, viz., the young and inexperienced.
One who is merely perplexed in mind does not usually talk about his difficulties except to those who are likely to be able to help him; but if ever one really holding fundamental error has managed to keep his place in an assembly it has sooner or later been found that irreparable mischief has been done. Of those who hold such fundamental error it is written: “Their word will eat as doth a canker.” Leaven will spread, transforming that which comes under its influence into its own character.
from those who are possessed by such error is the only divinely-appointed way.
The doctrine of the non-eternity of punishment is the devil’s gospel for a world that loves its sins. It is the fomenter of suicide, for wherever annihilation doctrine is propagated suicide becomes epidemic. One barrier against the torrent of iniquity is being removed that the enemy may come in like a flood. May the Spirit of the Lord lift up the standard and enable the children of God to be firm and uncompromising where the foundations are concerned.
From 1 Timothy 1:20, as well as from 1 Cor. 5:5, we learn that the purpose of the extreme act of discipline, viz., “putting away from among themselves,” or “delivering to Satan” the one who has embraced error or practised sin, is restoration. “That he may learn [or be disciplined] not to blaspheme:” “that the spirit may be saved.” It has sometimes been opposed as being harsh, and more likely to harden than to be beneficial. But if, as we doubt not, it is the Lord’s way of dealing with such cases, then unquestionably it is not only the best, but the only right and safe course. All godly ends will be best served by obedience to the Lord’s will, however painful to all concerned.
6 Since writing this article, we have been told that there are some who prefer to punctuate this verse, placing the comma after “to-day,” who fully believe in the conscious existence after death and until resurrection both of the Lord and of the pardoned robber. We are surprised to learn this, and personally have never met with such. But we might adduce another instance of the same kind, and more flagrant, viz.: that though fire may be everlasting, the chaff, when thrown into it, is immediately consumed and becomes non-existent; or, that the worm may never die, but that upon which it feeds is exhausted. When or where, then, are the “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth?” And if some of the wicked have “no bands in their death,” when or where is it that they are “utterly consumed with terrors” (Ps. 73).