The Denial of Eternal Punishment: A Reply to an Inquiry

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 6
My answer has been delayed through constant work and absence from the house for evening meetings, etc., but I should gladly help you in this to the utmost of my power; for this doctrine is a deadly and demoralizing heresy, or, rather, infidelity. I ever refuted it, but I never saw so much of it as lately. It issues in denying responsibility and conscience, enfeebling, in the most deadly way, the sense of sin, the value, consequently, of the atonement, and ultimately the divinity of Christ. All do not go this length, and are unaware of it; but it has led thousands in America there. It is its just result. The greatest part of their proofs are from the Old Testament; and the moment you know that the mass of their texts refer to temporal judgments on earth, all that part of the fabric comes down. Then they dodge to words in the New Testament; as if, for example, "destruction" means ceasing to exist. This is not true, as "0 Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help." Hos. 13:99O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. (Hosea 13:9). In the original, it is the same word where it is said, "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." God can say, "I create," and, "I destroy"; but otherwise it is used constantly for ruin in a general sense, as in the boat the disciples say, "Carest Thou not that we perish?" They admit there can be no annihilation in nature, and do not like the word.
Death never means' ceasing to exist. Scripture speaks of casting the soul into hell after the body is killed; so, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, they subsist after death. They say that is a Jewish figure. I admit it, but it is a figure to show how they subsist after death. Again, it is said in Luke 20, "For all live unto Him"-dead men, but always alive to God. Besides, if it be then ceasing to exist, there is nobody to raise for judgment. The second death even is casting into the lake of fire, where they are tormented; that is, it is not ceasing to exist. They say eternal life and eternal death does not mean eternal. This is not true; eternal life and eternal punishment are spoken of together, and it is the regular force of it in Scripture
-"The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Cor. 4:1818While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18). Nothing can be plainer than that. So we have "the eternal God," "the eternal Spirit," "eternal redemption," "eternal inheritance,"-all contrasted with time.
What is so morally dreadful in it is the weakening the sense of sin and atonement. For if my sin only deserved death, Christ had only to bear this for me, which hundreds have borne besides. Sin becomes little, and atonement nothing. Hence a vast number speak of what Christ obtained for us by His death, but drop the atonement for our sins as of no consequence. Again, if death means ceasing to exist (and this is the basis of all their statements), then Christ ceased to exist. This leads many on to deny His divinity. If they say, "No, He was a divine Person, He did not," still, He was a true man, body and soul, and truly died; and death does not mean ceasing to exist. Further, this materialism as to the soul is entirely contrary to Scripture. In Genesis, the way man is created is carefully distinguished from beasts. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; this He never did to the beasts. Hence, Adam is called the son of God, and Paul declares we are the offspring of God. Hence, to liken our souls to the beasts is false, besides what I quoted from the gospels as to its subsistence after death. The one text, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment," proves demonstratively that we subsist after death. Death dissolves our present state of existence, but that existence does not cease at all. So far from death being the full wages of sin in this sense, it is after death we get all we are adjudged to. That is, death as to the body is the result of sin here; the judgment of the man, to receive the real consequences of it before God, comes altogether after it. Hence, there is a resurrection of the unjust, a resurrection to judgment. Remember, we conceive of eternity as prolonged time; that is, we do not conceive it at all. It is an eternal NOW. And this is the very definition of the word given by writers of the apostles' time.
I have thus given you rapidly, as far as a letter allowed, the way the question has actually come before me, and my reply. The effect in destroying responsibility was fearful and, in people with grosser habits, rejection of all truth, and immorality. The tree was bad, had a bad sap, and so was cut down; and there was an end of it. Where is sin and atonement there? Keep your mind simple if you can by grace, and receive what Scripture says in simplicity as it stands.