Remarks on What is Revealed in the Bible Concerning the Wages of Sin
Wellington: Lyon and Blair, Publishers and Printers, Lambton Quay.1882.
The following remarks are the result of much anxious thoughtful inquiry, for many a year, into the meaning of those Scriptures which speak of a punishment for sin. The writer has purposely placed our Lord's words on the title-page, as he holds that all Scripture, being inspired of God, is true; that Scripture is the word of God, and does not contain the word of God only. But any interpretation of Scripture is not inspired. He would ask, if these remarks are noticed, that it may not be assumed that there is here a covert wish to qualify, or to alter, what is said so plainly by the Lord Jesus; or that he would in any way suggest that God's word, or any portion of that word, is not thus truth; or that he would take anything from the dread penalty to be endured by the transgressor. Scripture reveals a punishment—God's word, not man's opinion, must determine what it is. If man teaches, as of God, what is not of God, such teaching will lead to unbelief in all of the Bible.
The Bible always declares that God will punish sin both here and hereafter. This punishment is called, "The wages of sin," Romans vi., 23; "The fruit of their own way," Proverbs, i., 31. It is said in many places that the punishment after death will be very terrible, St. Mark, ix., 44, &c., &c.
I.—But is there Added to this Severity Endlessness?
1. Our natural feeling is against such a duration. We hesitate to receive the idea that sin, done by a finite man, should be punished by an infinite doom.
2. Our natural feeling concerning God is also against it. God is pleased to measure His love by a father's love for his children, St. Luke xi., 13. Most certainly no earthly parent would inflict such a punishment upon his child for any evil.
3. God has been pleased to justify His actions by an appeal to this our sense of right and wrong dealing. In Ezekiel xviii., He defends Himself against the unjust charges of the Jews. Again in Micah vi., 3, there is an appeal to man from God; where God would also justify His fair dealing.
II.—Did the Primitive Church Teach this Doctrine?
1. Justin Martyr, A.D. 150, in his Dialogue with Trypho, speaks of his Instructor teaching, "That the evil will be punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished." Bishop Lincoln's Justin Martyr, 1836, p. 99,page 4
2. St. Augustine, about A.D. 400, writes, "That some, nay very many," (non-nulli immo quam plurimi) did not in his day hold this doctrine. He calls them "our tender-hearted ones," (nostri misericordes.) He adds that this matter must be "quietly treated," (pacifice disputandum.) Aug. de Civitate Dei, xx., 25.
3. St. Gregory of Nyssa, writes in his "Catechical Oration," "Our Lord in His Incarnation, was benefiting, not only him who was lost, but even him who wrought this destruction against us," * * * "In the same way, in the long circuits of time, when the evil of nature, which is now mingled and implanted in them, has been taken away, whensoever the restoration to their old condition of the things which now lie in wickedness takes place, there will be an unanimous thanksgiving from the whole creation, both of those who have been punished in the purification, and of those who have not at all needed purification." * * He speaks of the Incarnation as "both liberating man from his wickedness, and healing the very inventor of wickedness." Farrar, Mercy and Judgment, 1881, p. 257.
St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, A.D. 372, was one of the most eminent theologians of that age. He defended the Church against the Arians, and drew up the Nicene Creed, at the Council of Constantinople. He died A.D. 396.
4. As far as is known nothing was decided upon this matter in the first four General Councils. And if the teaching of the Church had always been distinct upon this point, it would be a strange thing, that Justin should have been instructed as he was; that Augustine did not at once urge this fact as an unanswerable argument against those tender-hearted ones who held a different belief; or that St. Gregory should have so written; and that the doctrine is not in their creeds.
III.—Does the Church of England Hold this Doctrine?
1. Our Reformers held it certainly, but they teach in the 6th Article, that nothing is to be considered as an article of the faith which cannot be proved by "most certain warrant of Holy Scripture."
2. In 1562, A.D., the 42nd Article of 1552, A.D., was removed. This ran, "All men shall not be saved at the length. They also are worthy of condemnation who endeavour at this time to restore the dangerous opinion that all men, be they never so ungodly, shall be at length saved, when they have suffered pain for their sins a certain time appointed of God."
3. The language of the Privy Council Judgment, February, 1864, runs, "We do not find in the formularies * * * any suchdistinct declaration of our Church upon the subject, as to require us to condemn as penal the expression of hope, by a clergyman, that even the ultimate pardon of the wicked, who are condemned at the day of judgment, may be consistent with the will of Almighty God."
IV.—Does the Bible Teach this Doctrine?
If it does, there is at once an end to all argument on the matter. Every text bearing upon the subject must be carefully examined to ascertain this point. The Revised version will be here always used.page 5
St. Matthew iii., 12: "The chaff He shall burn up with unquenchable fire." Here, the allusion is to the burning-up of the chaff of a threshing floor. The flame of such a fire is fierce, unquenchable, while it lasts; but it is soon exhausted. The analogy would seem to be that the punishment of the wicked will be severe but not necessarily everlasting. The chaff is utterly consumed, and the text might be held to teach annihilation of the wicked after punishment. It is not well to give the especial meaning of endlessness to one word when all else is figurative; and when such meaning is contrary to the action described. The fire of the threshing floor is extinguished; it is not endless.
St. Matthew, v., 22: "Shall be in danger of the hell of fire;" or, more literally, "The Gehennah of fire."* Our Lord is here speaking of the three Jewish sentences—that of the Judgment; that of the Council; the Casting into Gehennah of the body of the criminal. This Gehennah was in the Vale of Hinnom; a fire there burned up the city refuse.
St. Matthew, v., 29: "Into hell" (Gehennah). The meaning would be, in the minds of those who heard Jesus, that such an one would be utterly condemned. The nature of the condemnation which God would inflict, and its duration, are not spoken of.
St. Matthew, vii., 19: "Cast into the fire." All that is said here is the evil tree shall be burned; the evil doer condemned.
St. Matthew, viii., 12: "Cast into the outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The severity of the punishment is here spoken of, but not the duration.
St. Matthew, x., 28: "Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Gehennah). These words might be used as if teaching annihilation, but not endlessness of the punishment.
St. Matthew, xii., 31-32: Sin against the Holy Spirit "Shall not be forgiven, neither in this world (or age) nor in that which is to come." The Jews spoke of the dispensation of the Christ as that which was to come. Our Lord most certainly will condemn this sin, whatever it may be, in the Day of Judgment. But He does not say what that condemnation will be, nor of what length. The corresponding passage, St. Mark, iii., 29, runs, "Hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." The literal rendering is, "Has not forgiveness for the age," &c. The literal meaning of αιωνιoν (aionion) is eternal, age-long. The argument from this use of this word will be particularly noticed at the end of these texts from St. Matthew.
St. Matthew, xiii., 42: "And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The tares are burned-up and exist no more. Here, annihilation might be taught, but not any endlessness of the fire.
St. Matthew, xiii., 50: As at 42 v.
St. Matthew, xviii., 8: "Into the eternal fire" αιωνιoν (aionion).
* As the Revisors have kept the word Hades (St. Luke, xvi., 23), so should they Gehennah.
St. Matthew, xviii., 9: "Into the hell of fire" (the Gehennah of fire). This passage is figurative; for how can anyone be halt in heaven, where all is perfect? If figurative words are used when heaven is spoken of, why are the latter words to be taken literally, and be said to teach an endlessness of punishment? As before, the severity, but not the duration of the punishment, is enforced.
St. Matthew, xxii., 13: "The outer darkness." No duration is given. As before, here is the severity of the punishment, not its duration.
St. Matthew, xxiii., 33: "The judgment of hell" (Gk., the Gehennah), escape, it is here said, the severest sentence of the Judge; as above, chap, v., 22.
St. Matthew, xxv., 30: The same as chap, xxii., 13 v.
St. Matthew, xxv., 41: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." 46 v.: "And these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life." As this passage is the one chiefly insisted upon by those who hold the endlessness of punishment after death, it must be very carefully considered. The argument is, "the life" called "eternal" is confessedly endless; the punishment, called also "eternal," must be also endless.
1. The word eternal is αιωνως (aionios), and is formed from the word αιων (aion), meaning age; and the literal meaning of the adjective is lasting for an age, for a definite period, not everlasting. Other Greek words could have been used which have not any uncertainty of meaning, as that used Hebrews, vii., 16—"After the power of an endless life" ακαταλντoν (akatalutou).*
2. The word αιων (aion) is used of our Lord's kingdom: St. Luke, i., 33, "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever" эις τoνς ΑιωνΑς (eis tous aionas), "and of His kingdom there shall be no end" oνκ эoται τэλoς (ouk estai telos). But St. Paul writes, 1 Corinthians xv., 24: "Then cometh the end, when He shall deliver up The Kingdom to God, even The Father." Verse 28: "Then shall The Son also Himself be subjected to Him, that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all." If then the words, thus used of our Lord's Kingdom, must here mean only that The Kingdom shall last in all its completeness, until the end of the ages, and not that The Kingdom is everlasting, why may not the same phrase have a like limited meaning, when it is used of sins' punishment?
3. In v. 46, the word for punishment is κoλαoιν (kolasin), and the proper meaning of this word is pruning, chastising for improvement. Justin Martyr, writing of Gehennah, says: "Gehennah is the place where the wicked shall be chastised," using the verb corresponding to κoλαoις. Apol. I., p. 66 B. Bishop Lincoln, p. 103.
* The following will show how much more frequently aion, and its derivations, are used than other words, which could have been used. The list is believed to be approximately correct:—Aion, used 122 places; Aidios, Romans i., 20: Jude, 6; Eis to dienekes, Hebrews x., 12,14 Akatalutos, Hebrews vii., 16; Aperantos, 1 Timothy i., 4; Aparabatos, Hebrews vii., 24; Asbestos, St. Matthew iii. 12: St. Luke iii, 17: St. Mark ix., 43,44, 46, 48.
4. In v. 82, the word used is "kids"; and in v. 33 "kidlings"; words expressing affection, and not abhorrence.
5. Once only, Hebrews x., 29, the word τιμωρια (tiraoria) is used. This word can only mean vengeance, and yet then may be even in a κoλασις (kolasis), a τιμωρια (timoria), a just punishment for evil done, and therefore a τιμωρια (timoria), which yet shall be for the chastisement and reformation of the offender.
6. Our Lord's words are, v. 34, "Come ye blessed of my Father;" but v. 41, "Depart from Me ye cursed"—not cursed of my Father, as before. The Life depends upon God's blessing, but the Judgment depends upon the judgment of the Lord Jesus. In St. John, v., 22, He saith: "For neither doth the Father judge any man, but He hath given all judgment unto the Son." May not then every sentence end when the Kingdom of the Judge shall end. The judgment, which is for ever, as is the Kingdom,—εις τoνς αιωνας των αιωνων—(eis tous aionas ton aionon), lasting the full length of the Kingdom, but then ceasing?
St. Mark ix., 45 to end. Much of this passage has been noticed above. The following words are new:—"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." This passage is confessedly figurative, and why should any particular phrase be accepted literally? It would seem that here, as in St. Matthew iii., 12, the intensity of the fire is intended; that the worm, whatever that may be, will not die during anything of the punishment. What is told, v. 49, tends to this conclusion, that the punishment is not everlasting, "Every one shall be salted with fire." Even without the commonly found words, which are omitted in the Revised Version, "every sacrifice shall be salted with salt," the reference is to the salted sacrifices of the Law. But all the salted sacrifices were Peace-offerings, which were accepted of God; not Sin-offerings, which were utterly consumed, as accursed. Salt was not used with the Sin-offering.
St. Matthew, xxvi., 24: "Good were it for that man if he had not been born." His punishment would be of such severity that it would have been better for him never to have lived. If Judas ever reached heaven, could he ever forget the past? Memory will not be extinguished of that which has been done rightfully, why of evil done.
St. Luke, xvi., 23. The parable is clearly figurative, for the rich man, before the Resurrection, speaks as if his soul were clothed with a body. His brethren also are alive. The gulf was then fixed, but there is nothing said of the permanence of the gulf after the Resurrection.
2. St. Peter, ii., 9: "Under punishment," κoλαζoμενoνς (kolazomenous); literally under chastisement. See above on St. Matthew xxv. If the literal meaning of the word is used here, St. Peter shows that the condition of the wrong doer is not fixed at the time of his death.
Revelations, ending chapters. It is said that these chapters indicate a finality. There is judgment and nothing more. "The wicked judged are to retain their filthiness and unrighteousness"—Revelations xxii., 11. And this is their very punishment. They will now learn the evil of sin, and be forced to hate what once page 8 they loved. But there is nothing to set aside any teaching from the rest of the Bible. If there be any possibility of an ending to sin taught there, here is nothing against such teaching.
The above noticed passages are those chiefly advanced by those who hold that the punishment for sin is everlasting. Other passages must now be examined, which show, as it would appear, that this punishment is not everlasting.
Romans v. St. Paul here teaches a very opposite doctrine, if his careful, and frequently repeated, words are to be taken literally, and not explained according to a preformed conclusion. It should be remembered that from our Lord's words, St. John xvi., 12-16, we should expect to find a fuller exhibition of God's grace in the Epistles than in the Gospels. And, also, in such an enquiry it is far better, safer, to rest on a general meaning, gained from a whole passage, than on isolated texts.
1. The Apostle distinctly states that grace will overcome sin: Romans v., 20. But it is impossible to understand how there will be this overcoming, if many be lost. In each age of the world the believers have been few, the unbelievers many. Sin seems to have abounded over grace alway as yet, and it always will so abound if all these unbelievers are for ever lost.
2. In the 15th verse the words: "The many died" mean confessedly that all have died, but why shall not the same words have exactly the same force in the corresponding half of the sentence?
In the 18th verse: "All men" of the first half of the verse is equivalent also to "all men" in the second half.
In the 19th verse: "The many" and "the many" are of equal value.
Yet those who hold that sins' punishment is everlasting make the first words to mean all, without any restriction; but the second words to mean not all, but those only who accept a profferred life.
1 Corinthians xv., 24-26: St. Paul here teaches that every enemy shall be "abolished."
Phillippians ii., 9-10: St. Paul teaches that God hath highly exalted Jesus, that every tongue should "confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father." The confession would seem to be that of praise in all; not of praise in some, and of fearful reverence in others. See St. Gregory's teachings above II. 3.
Colossians i., 20: St. Paul shows that God would "through Him reconcile all things to himself"—"whether things upon the earth."
St. Luke xii., 47-48: Our Lord here speaks of a gradation in this punishment, contrasting the few and many stripes. So St. Matthew xi., 20-25. But there could not be this contrast if the light and heavy punishment were both everlasting. The weight is not so much the penalty, but that it shall be for ever.
V.—Other Suggestions Against an Everlasting Death.
1. It is said that the Bible nowhere speaks of grace offered to the lost. But none now can believe, and pass from death unto life, without God's grace. Why page 9 should not a similar grace be offered unto those who have at length learned that of which before they knew nothing—the bitterness of sin? I cannot suppose that any of these lost would then refuse to escape from the wrath which had come upon them. Before, they knew nothing of sin's death; they could not, and would not, seek to escape from sin. I do not think that the joy of heaven would be perfect for the redeemed if this offer of grace could not be. Memory would still remind them of their lost, even in the midst of their own joy.
2. The Bible says very little definitely of the condition of the blest or the lost. The state of both is chiefly described by figures. We could not understand any more exact description. But if figures are used to describe the nature of the punishment, why not to describe its duration?
3. The opposite doctrine, that the punishment is "eternal," but not "ever-lasting," seems to clear up much that is full now of difficulty. The thought, "Why did a God of infinite mercy and of power, permit sin?"—which has been a cause of bitterness to many, silenced hardly by the reply, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right," seems here to be answered. God permitted it, because He intended to overcome it by His grace. The recovery, even of the lost angels, would be a grace abounding most exceedingly. See St. Gregory, II. 3, above.
4. Those who now hold that this punishment is everlasting, differ widely from those, who in past time very commonly held that, with this, there was a literal punishing by fire. Most hold now that the punishment is spiritual. If there has been so great a change in the minds of Christians concerning the nature of this punishment, may there not be a like change, as from a common mistake, as to its duration.
5. Confessedly, much of Heathenism was imported into Christianity after the times of Constantine. The Heathen taught an endless punishment. This their doctrine may have then crept into the Church, as it does not seem to have been held by the Church before Constantine. See II. above.
6. Those who object now to Christianity, and to the character of God, on the supposition that there is an endless punishment for sin, could not object to the teaching that there is a punishment, the duration of the punishment proportionate to the character of the sin. They do not object to God's justice but to His (supposed) injustice.
7. Nor is there encouragement given to sin in this definition of sin's punishment. St. Paul writes, Romans vi., 1: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid." No exhibition of God's love can lead to evil necessarily. The concealment of His love has led to evil. And that which is true must be spoken, no matter what may be the result.
8. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans vi., 23.
Some have said that, as in the Scriptures the word eternal is applied to God, if the word be not equivalent to everlasting, a limit is placed to the existence of God. But Scripture saith that God is eternal and everlasting; that sin's death is eternal but not everlasting. Scripture shews that God is everlasting. See Exodus iii., 14; 1 Timothy, vi., 16, &c.
The words "everlasting fire" at the end of the Athanasian Creed should be "eternal fire." The adjective for fire is the same as in St. Matthew xxv., 46.
Some have said that Satan is the author of the doctrine of such an ending to sin's punishment. These should shew that Adam knew clearly that endlessness was attached to the words he had heard, "Ye shall surely die." If he did not know this, the objection is irrelevant. What Satan urged was, 'What you understand by that word die shall not happen."
The Author will gladly reply to any temperate letters addressed to him through his publishers.