The Doctrine of Annihilation; Eternal Punishment

Hosea 13:9; Hebrews 9:27
My answer has been delayed through constant work and absence from the house for evening meetings, &c., 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 latterly, at New York and Boston. 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. Some hold simple annihilation; others, though death is ceasing to exist, yet a resurrection for judgment, and then torment. 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 "Oh Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help." 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. Next, 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, and the things which are not seen are eternal." 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 morally dreadful in it is the weakening of 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 (I do not say all, though it is far the greatest number in America). 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 soul 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 and after that 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, dear brother, 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 are sin and atonement there? One, the most eminent, quiet and most guarded (who had learned much truth from brethren in England, and a very popular preacher), said, he believed that the elect were the only souls God meant to exist; the rest were the fruit of man's lust after the fall. When asked how he would reconcile the doctrine of this perishing of souls simply bad and responsibility as stated in scripture, he said he could not, but, as he found it there, he did not deny it. But he was wholly a materialist as to the truth of a soul; he would not call it material, but it is born by mere physical generation. I regret to have to refer to such things. Keep your mind simple if you can by grace, and receive what scripture says in simplicity as it stands. I think I have some tracts on it, but written when I had not tracked it out as I had to do in America, particularly New York and Boston but elsewhere too. Thank God, several were delivered and found clearly it was Satan's power, others arrested who were in danger. I will look up the tracts to send them.
Your affectionate servant and brother in Christ.
[1865]