The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
Appendix A. — The Doctrine of Annihilation
The Doctrine of Annihilation.
There are some peculiar opinions abroad, with regard to the final destination of lost and condemned souls, which we think it well to deal with.
(1.) It is held by some—and we may take it as a fact that the majority of man-kind are desirous of so believing—that it is a fabulous idea that God, being love itself, and so merciful, should punish his disobedient children with such everlasting torment as is described in Matth. xiii. 42-50. And, (2.) that the term "death,"or "second death," which is used in some places in Scripture (Rev. xx. 6, 14; and xxi. 8) means "annihilation," i.e., that God, instead of punishing the condemned ones only, "annihilates" them, or puts them out of existence entirely. It so happened that this question of annihilation brought on a discussion between two individuals, which was continued by correspondence, and which, as we think it will interest the reader, we append, as follows :—
Dear Sir,—According to my promise, I proceed to deal with the above question and put my convictions in writing. In considering such important questions I first of all examine myself, and compare my own impressions with the impressions I receive of the mind of God as revealed in his Word, and do not run away after the opinions of this and that one. And, in stating the conclusion I have arrived at on this question, I can assure you that, if all the teachers and preachers of our Christian churches were to rise up to teach and preach "annihilation," and if this teaching should be believed in by every soul, I should still dissent from it. On the evening we conversed on this question you said, as I understood you, that the death referred to in Genesis ii. 17 consisted in the entire death of man's soul; and that, since then, God's nature in man's soul did no more exist, etc. Now, Sir, if that were true, then "annihilation" took place there and then, and it would be absurd to look for it in the future; man's soul would be like the life of an animal, and to all reconciled sinners God must give a fresh soul, different from the souls of other sinners. That would, however, be no reconciliation, or renewal in spirit, or new birth, or a making free (John viii., 32 to 36) but an entirely fresh creation. That would be making God to be mocking man, when calling upon him to repent, to seek his face, to turn to Him, to open when he knocks, &c. (Rev. iii. 20); and the many thousands of expressions of a similar nature in Scripture would be useless and in vain; for there would be nothing in man to make him responsible, or by which God could have any possible claim upon man to ask him to do anything of the kind. God's Spirit could not have striven with men (Genesis vi. 3); nor could God's Spirit convince the world of their sins, (John xxi. 8,) for there would be nothing in man to cause any operation of that sort. Reconciliation can only be brought about by believing, God's manifestation from within man : "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke xvii. 21.) And in such case there would be nothing in man to believe with. "Do you believe" is always the condition (Matt. ix. 28; Heb. xi. 6); and, without believing, God can do nothing with any man. Through unbelief man fell from God, and by believing him man turns to God again.
Now notice : Man's soul is not a created being, but is the gift of God God's image, consisting of his own nature and substance : for we are God's "offspring," (Acts xvii. 28, 29,) as the son is the image and offspring of his father; and in that page 45 respect we are God's children without exception; and, on that ground, immortal. But we have deserted our father (God), and in Adam we have chosen another father, the devil, who holds us, and claims us by right of conquest, in pursuance of his attack upon our first parents. The term "death," in Genesis ii. 17, means the separation from God, and consequently from the spiritual blessings of God's personal influence—that is to say, man's soul is without godly life; whilst the nature and substance of his soul remains the same as God gave it and as before he fell. The death of our soul, in our natural state, may be compared with the condition of the frogs during the winter season, or with a child before its birth, having no knowledge of itself.
As we are God's offspring and his children, and, "As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He (Christ) also Himself likewise took part of the same" (Heb. ii, 14), to save his brethren—of whom Christ is the firstborn (Rom. viii. 29)—from everlasting ruin; wherefore became he the Saviour of all men (1 Tim. iv. 10), and offered himself as a sin-offering "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John ii. 16); "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John iii. 16). That such is the case experience also teaches by the fact that our soul, in its natural state, finds no rest, nor any satisfaction; our soul lives, but not in God. An unconverted or unreconciled soul seeks and longs for something, but knows not what it is, nor from whence this want is to be supplied; this soul is cold-hearted and dead in God. But no sooner does a soul come in contact with God than it becomes alive, and is warm-hearted in the love of God. It "pants for God" (Psalms xlii. 1) for its support—namely, for the bread of life, and the water of life. In that respect we shall find nothing new in heaven; the difference only is this: here we have to live on pickings, and receive in part; but in heaven we shall have it in fulness. A soul reconciled to God feels its wants very keenly, and apart from God feels like being out of its element, as a fish out of water. That is and has been the experience of all God's reconciled children, in all ages, of which Holy Writ also contains much evidence.
Those souls, however, who remain in their natural state, live as in a dream concerning their future; but no sooner has a soul shaken off this mortal frame than it is fully alive, and plainly feels its wants; but being apart from God, alas 1 there is nothing for it; and the hunger after the bread of life, and the thirst after the water of life, rises to such an extreme that, if it were possible, in hell they would devour one another. The aching and gnawing of the hunger, and the burning of the thirst, is always to the point of death; but being immortal the soul cannot die, and without support it cannot live. This torture and agony between life and death is the natural product or effect of sin, and is the internal torment to which those damned ones are subjected and exposed as soon as they depart out of this world and throughout eternity; and that is the signification of "the second death" (Rev. xxi. 8). That is the death of hell Christ tasted for us, when he cried with a loud voice on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt, xxvii. 46.)
To that state of misery our Lord alludes, when he says of the damned: "their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark ix. 44, 46, 48); "Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger" (Luke vi. 25). Where is then the "annihilation" ? Perhaps you know these things better than our Lord does; you may have peeped behind the veil and have seen things which God has not revealed to us.
Further, you must remember that at the day of judgment the battle between the power of "Light" and the power of "Darkness" has come to a close, and each power claims its own subjects. The devil, the prince of darkness, claims his subjects, those who have served him and fought under his banner and for his interest, as his lawful property. God has consequently no power to destroy the property of another sovereign—namely, that of the devil. The devil, the prince of darkness, claims as his subjects those who have chosen him for their lord and master, owned him, believed him, and followed his voice and command, and would not that the Prince of Light (Christ) should rule over them; they loved darkness, walked in it, and did the deeds of darkness. These are, after their departure from this world at the judgment day, and thereafter, no more God's page 46 children, or his property, because they have chosen the devil as their father (John viii. 44). They cease to be God's children any more, or in any way related to Him or to his kingdom. All the power God has over them is by right of conquest,—i.e., to deal with the devil and his subjects as prisoners of war, and to punish them for the injury done to Him, his kingdom, and his subjects, during the time the war lasted, and to send them to and keep them in prison, never more to have anything to do with his kingdom or his subjects throughout eternity. Hell fire is said to be "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matth. xxv. 41). But the devil's subjects, being his lawful property and belonging to his kingdom, are one with him, and consequently they will be cast into one and the same prison (Rev. xx. 14).
When I asked you in what respect you meant to benefit by the doctrine of "annihilation," your reply was, "It magnifies God's love." Now, to entertain such erroneous ideas of what is a manifestation of God's love betrays much real scriptural and spiritual ignorance. God's love and mercy, and tender compassion towards us, whilst we are on this side of our grave, is such as we sinful beings cannot fathom; but it is clear that, applying the text generally, if we despise "the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth as to repentance; But after our hardness and impenitent heart treasure up unto ourselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render unto every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life : But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil" (Rom. ii. 4-9). There is no blessed annihilation or unconsciousness taught here. On the contrary, "The wrath of God abideth" on the unbelievers (John iii. 36); and there can be no abiding wrath if at any time the subject ceased to be. Judas despised the love of Christ; but he had a foretaste of the wrath of God here, as is the case with many, and through the remorse that filled his soul he went and hanged himself, in order to get away from this sense of God's displeasure—i.e., to annihilate himself if he could. Christ said of Judas, "it had been good for him if he had never been born" (Matth. xxvi. 24). Now, if Judas were annihilated by his death he would be in the same condition of unconsciousness as before his birth; therefore, to him, what mattered his betrayal of the Saviour. He had his way in life, and had filled up his cup of iniquity, only to return to the state he was in before he saw life. Where then would be the punishment for such an one ? Absolutely nowhere. How many murderers, &c., have, like Judas, sought to get away from the foretaste of hell within them, as a consequence of their evil deeds; and if by thus ending their earthly existence they could cheat God of their punishment, the time and duration of their punishment would rest with themselves.
Further, if God in the exercise of His power should annihilate (i.e., put an end to this state of feeling) those cruel persecutors and tormentors of His followers in all ages; if He were to annihilate those who have lived in riotous living, pampering their fleshly bodies—those Pharisees and scribes who devoured widows houses, and for a pretence made long prayers—then, and I write this with all solemnity, would God exhibit the greatest injustice that could possibly be imagined and committed. But Such is not Our God. On the contrary, such Pharisees as above described shall receive the "greater damnation" (Matt, xxiii. 14). They will then see of a truth how God will avenge His own elect (Luke xviii. 7, 8). He heard voice of murdered Abel's blood crying to Him from the ground, and avenged (Genesis iv. 10, 11). The souls of the slain under the altar call upon God to avenge their blood, which call is not denied, and the punishment shall follow in due time (Rev. vi. 9). God is the great avenger : "for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. xii. 19). During the present state of God's children are persuaded to suffer, and to bear the wrongs and evils committed on them by their enemies, and to bless those that hate and persecute them, with the promise "I will Repay." Do you mean to say that God would so cheat His own children, in order to magnify his love to their enemies, that, instead of punishing them for their misdeeds, God will—even supposing that He could do it—simply page 47 annihilate those wicked instruments of the devil ? No, it is impossible : "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." (Gal. vi. 9.) God will repay, and more than they will be prepared to bear; they shall receive double (Rev. xviii. 7). Though we may not wish for it, still God will do it, "for it is impossible for God to lie" (Titus i. 2). And so will you reap what you have sown, by your teaching upon annihilation. Even—, whom you are so busily teaching this doctrine, in order to make a pillow for her to rest upon and to slumber her time away until the angel comes with the summons to answer for the time allotted to prepare herself for eternity; —, I say, will, at the judgment day, curse you to your face; though that will do her no good, for repentance then will be too late. She has no right to believe you now, but she does it because it suits her so well to remain in her old carnal nature undisturbed and untroubled.
You asked me in reply to my question: In what way I meant to profit by believing in the torment of hell ? And I replied that it produces fear, to keep me awake, &c. To which you answered, "Perfect love casteth out fear" (John iv. 18). Yes, the blind fear nothing because they see no danger; and ignorance is also without fear, for it knows of no harm; but blessed is he who always fears (Prov. xxviii. 14). because having his eyes open he sees much danger before him. Satan's temptations are so manifold and skilful; he so often besets the best Christians, laying snares to catch them, and digging pitfalls for them to fall into, that all are enjoined to "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Psalm ii. 11). We are to "fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Heb. iv. 1); to "take heed," and to exhort one another daily" (Heb. iii. 12, 13); to fear, lest we become reprobate (Heb. vi. 4, 8). We are to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear (1 Peter i. 17). The Scriptures are full of such warnings to God's children; and if our hearts do not deceive us we have every need of them. Mathew Henry is quite correct when he says : "A holy confidence in God's promises must be accompanied with a holy diffidence of ourselves and our sufficiency; they who hope for heaven must fear lest they come short of it." Showing what that fear is, as "having a holy concern about ourselves and eternity, as things of the utmost weight and importance, as those that carry treasures on a dangerous road; having a holy jealousy of ourselves, not distrusting Christ but our own hearts: ' Lord, is it I ?' (Matt. xxvi. 23,) lest I should be a castaway; lest I should be deceived in myself; having a holy caution against sin, as that which disturbs our present rest, and unfits us for eternal rest, and forfeits it; afraid of its baits, starting from them; afraid of its hooks, starting at them; having a holy dread of the wrath of God; having a holy trembling at the consequence of drawing back, continually afraid of doing so, and thinking what will then become of us, how dear it will cost us."
But as regards this "perfect love," you speak of, which leads you to fear nothing : I am afraid it is not so perfect in you that there is no need for any fear. On the contrary, I think you have cause for very great fear. I fear you are forsaking Him, (if you have not already done so,) "the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jeremiah ii. 13). This annihilation theory, which you have so eagerly grasped at, will (if it has not already done so) make you so dry and empty of all real relish for spiritual blessings that you will become as dry wood—fit only to be burned
Pray tell from me that it would be better, before she seeks to turn to ridicule and to treat lightly the grave question of her and your own future state, first to make 6ure that this annihilation fancy you are teaching her is true; as if it is, though she may have nothing to hope for, still she has little to fear, and she may therefore smile or laugh to her heart's content. If, however, it is not true—if, instead of being a revelation from God, this fancy turns out to be a lie of the Devil; if—is not quite sure of being annihilated at the day of judgment, or sometime thereafter; and if, after all, the saying of our Lord, "Woe unto you that laugh now ! for ye 6hall mourn and weep," (Luke vi. 25,) should become true in her case, and thus her laughing should be turned into weeping and mourning in hell, then through her folly will she have placed herself in a sad plight, for there will be no getting out again through all eternity.—Yours, &c.page 48
Sir,—I was much surprised and grieved at your epistle. You have been misinformed as to—'s spiritual condition : as far as I am aware she is as orthodox as yourself. You have entirely misunderstood her; she has never, either on the evening of the Sunday in question or at any other time, spoken of you but in respectful terms, in fact has always had the highest opinion of you. She simply wished to retire from witnessing a discussion in which she had no interest.
As it seems from your epistle the argument cannot be carried on in love, we had better be silent, as all the heaviest bursts of rhetoric and the most convincing arguments are nothing without charity; and there are so "many things in Heaven and earth that are not dreamt of in our philosophy." We had better close with good wishes to each other. I am quite content to put all my trust in Jesus: I have the secret, you cannot take that away.—Yours, truly,—.