I. PRELIMINARY ASSUMPTIONS
1. Survival after Death
2. Retribution for Sin
3. Conscious Suffering in Future
II. SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions
2. New Testament Teaching
(2) Equivalent Expressions
(3) The Last Judgment
3. Teaching of Analogy
III. DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS--RIVAL HYPOTHESES
1. Universal Salvation
3. Second Probation
IV. NATURE, CONDITIONS AND ISSUES
1. Mystery of the Future
2. Nature of Punishment
3. Range of Divine Mercy
4. Gradation of Punishment
5. God "All in All"
I. Preliminary Assumptions.
(For "everlasting," where used in the King James Version as the rendering of aionios, the Revised Version (British and American) substitutes "eternal.") It is assumed in this article that Scripture teaches the survival of the soul after death, the reality of retribution and of judgment to come, and a shorter or longer period of suffering for sin in the case of the unredeemed in the world beyond. Only a few words need be said, therefore, in preliminary remark on these assumptions.
1. Survival after Death:
Whatever view may be taken of the development of the doctrine of immortality in the Old Testament (see ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT), it will scarcely be doubted that it is throughout assumed in the New Testament that the souls of men, good and bad, survive death (seeIMMORTALITY ). Two passages only need be referred to in proof: one, Christ's saying in Mt 10:28: "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Gehenna); the other, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Lu 16:19-31: Lazarus is carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom; the rich man lifts up his eyes in Hades, being in torments. The whole doctrine of the future judgment in the New Testament presupposes survival after death.
2. Retribution for Sin:
Retribution for sin is a cardinal point in the teaching of both the Old Testament and New Testament. The doctrine of judgment, again, in the New Testament, with Christ as judge, turns on this point. The following passages are decisive: Isa 3:10-11; Mt 11:22,24; 12:41-42; Ro 2:5,12; 2Co 5:10; Ga 6:7-8, etc.
3. Conscious Suffering in Future:
The conscious endurance of punishment for sin in the future state is already implied in the preceding. The parable of the Rich Man speaks of it as following immediately on death in Hades; all the descriptions of the judgment imply pain and anguish as the result of condemnation (compare Ro 2:5,12). This does not settle the nature or duration of the punishment; but it excludes the idea that physical death is the extinction of being, or that annihilation follows immediately upon death or judgment.
These things being assumed, the questions that remain are: Is the period of suffering for sin eternal, or is it terminable? May it be cut short by repentance or by annihilation? Is there any final solution of the discord it implies in the universe? It is maintained here that the punishment of sin, in the case of the finally impenitent, is everlasting.
II. Scriptural Support.
The doctrine that the punishment of sin is everlasting is sustained by many plain testimonies of Scripture.
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions:
The doctrine of future punishment is not prominent in the Old Testament, where rewards and punishments are chiefly connected with the present life. In a few passages (Ps 49:14-15; 73:18-19; compare Isa 24:21-22; 66:24), Dr. Charles thinks that "Sheol appears as the place of punishment of the wicked" (Eschatology, 73-76, 156). If so, there is no suggestion of escape from it. In Da 12:2, some that sleep in the dust are represented as awaking to "shame and everlasting contempt" (the word for "everlasting" is the usual one, `olam). In the Jewish literature of the century before Christ, "Sheol is regarded," says Dr. Charles, "as the place of final eternal punishment, that is, it has become hell" (op. cit., 236).
2. New Testament Teaching:
In the New Testament, the strongest language is used by Jesus and the apostolic writers on the certainty and severity of the punishment of sin in the future state, and always in a manner which suggests that the doom is final.
The word "eternal" (aionios) is repeatedly applied to the punishment of sin, or to the fire which is its symbol. A principal example is Mt 25:41,46, "eternal fire," "eternal punishment" (kolasis aionios). Here precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the blessedness of the righteous. Other instances are Mt 18:8; Jude 1:7; compare Re 14:11; 19:3; 20:10. In 2 Thess 1:9, we have, "eternal destruction." The kindred word aidios, "everlasting," is in Jude 1:6 applied to the punishment of the fallen angels.
The reply made by Maurice (Theological Essays, 442 ff) that aionios in such passages denotes quality, not duration, cannot be sustained. Whatever else the term includes, it connotes duration. More pertinent is the criticism of other writers (e.g. Cox, Salvator Mundi, 96 ff; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xxxiv, pp. 78 ff, 197 ff; compare his Mercy and Judgment, passim) that aionios does not necessarily mean "eternal" (according to Cox it does not mean this at all), but is strictly "age-long," is therefore compatible with, if it does not directly suggest, a terminable period. Cox allows that the term is "saturated through and through with the element of time" (p. 100,), but he denies its equivalence with "everlasting." The sense, no doubt, is to be determined by the context, but it can hardly be questioned that "the eons of the eons" and similar phrases are the practical New Testament equivalents for eternity, and that aionios in its application to God and to life ("eternal life") includes the idea of unending duration (compare Joh 10:28-29 for express assertion of this). When, therefore, the term is applied in the same context to punishment and to life (Mt 25:46), and no hint is given anywhere of limitation, the only reasonable exegesis is to take the word in its full sense of "eternal."
(2) Equivalent Expressions.
The meaning "eternal" is confirmed by the use of equivalent expressions and of forms of speech which convey in the strongest manner the idea of finality. Such are the expressions, "the unquenchable fire," the "worm" that "dieth not" (Mt 3:12; Mr 9:43-48; compare Mt 13:42,50), with those numerous references to "death," "destruction," "second death," on which the advocates of conditional immortality build their arguments for final extinction. Such is the dictum of Jesus: "He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth (remains) on him" (Joh 3:36; the opposite of "life" is "perishing," Joh 3:16); or that in Re 22:11, "He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still." Finality is the note in all Christ's warnings--"the outer darkness" (Mt 8:12; 22:13); "The door was shut .... I know you not" (Mt 25:10,12; compare Mt 7:23), as in those of the Epistles (e.g. Heb 2:3; 6:6,8; 10:27,31; 12:25,29). Jesus speaks of the blasphemy against the Spirit as a sin which shall not be forgiven, "neither in this world, nor in that which is to come" (Mt 12:32; not as implying that other sins, unforgiven in this life, may be forgiven in the next), a passage which Mark gives in the remarkable form, "hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mr 3:29). The Rich Man in Hades found an impassable gulf fixed between himself and Lazarus (Lu 16:26). See GULF. It adds to the terribleness of these sayings that, as before remarked, there is nothing to put against them; no hint or indication of a termination of the doom. Why did Jesus not safeguard His words from misapprehension, if behind them there lay an assurance of restoration and mercy? One may ask with Oxenham, in a reply to Jukes, "whether if Christ had intended to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, He could possibly have taught it in plainer terms."
(3) The Last Judgment.
The New Testament doctrine of the last judgment leads to the same conclusion. Two things seem plainly taught about this judgment: the first, that it proceeds on the matter of the present life--"the things done in the body" (Mt 25:31-46; 2Co 5:10; Re 20:12); and the second, that it is decisive in its issues. Not a single suggestion is given of a reversal of its decisions in any future age. Such silence is inexplicable if the Scriptures meant to teach what the opponents of this doctrine so confidently maintain.
3. Teaching of Analogy:
In corroboration of this Scriptural view analogy might be pleaded. How constantly even in this life is the law illustrated of the tendency of character to fixity! The present is the season of grace (2Co 6:2), yet what powers of resistance to God and goodness are seen to lie in human nature, and how effectually, often, does it harden itself under the influences that seem most fitted to break down its rebellion! What likelihood is there that eternity will alter this tendency, or make conversion more easy? Eternity can hardly be thought of as more really a scene of grace than time is for those to whom the gospel has already come. Its characteristic mark is said to be "judgment" (Heb 9:27). Like the photographer's bath, may its effect not be to develop and fix existing character, rather than to change it? If so, the state in which judgment finds the soul may be presumed to be one that will remain.
III. Difficulties and Objections--Rival Hypotheses.
What, it will now be asked, of the tremendous difficulties which inhere in this doctrine, with their undeniable effect in alienating many generous minds from it and from Christianity? The lurid rhetorical picturings of the sufferings of the lost, too frequent in the teaching of the past, may be discounted; it is not necessary to go beyond the inexpressibly solemn words of Christ Himself and His apostles. But even with this limitation, does it not seem as if, by this doctrine, a reflection was cast on the righteousness and mercy of God in creating such multitudes of the human race, as, on any showing, are outside the pale of Christ's salvation--the countless generations of the heathen, with the masses even in Christian lands who have not received or do not obey the light--only to doom them to endless misery? Before attempting a positive answer, it is proper that a glance be taken at the rival theories put forth in alleviation of the difficulty.
1. Universal Salvation:
The most comprehensive solution propounded is that of universal salvation--of a final restitution of all souls to God's favor and to blessedness. This tempting speculation--for it is no more--advocated by Origen in the early church, by Schleiermacher in the last century, has been urged by many writers in modern times. One of its best known advocates was Samuel Cox, in his book Salvator Mundi. It is noticeable that not a few who favor this theory (e.g. Maurice, Farrar) decline to commit themselves to it as more than a "hope," and admit the possibility of human souls continuing to resist God endlessly (Maurice, Theological Essays, 476; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xv, xvi; Mercy and Judgment, I, 485, "In this sense there may be for some souls an endless hell"). It must, however, be evident that, be the number greater or smaller--and who shall give assurance of its smallness?--if there are any such souls, the difficulty in principle remains, and the passages alleged as teaching universal restoration are equally contradicted. The deeper objection to this theory is that, springing, not from real knowledge, but from men's hopes and wishes, it has, as already shown, the tremendous stress of Scripture testimony against it; nor do the passages commonly adduced as favoring it really bear the weight put upon them. We read, e.g., of a restoration of all things"--the same that Christ calls the palingenesia--but, in the same breath, we are told of those who will not hearken, and will be destroyed (Mt 19:28; Ac 3:21,23). We read of Christ drawing all men unto Him (Joh 12:32); but we are not less clearly told that at His coming Christ will pronounce on some a tremendous condemnation (Mt 7:23; 25:41); we read of all things being gathered, or summed up, in Christ, of Christ subduing all things to Himself, etc.; but representative exegetes like Meyer and Weiss show that it is far from Paul's view to teach an ultimate conversion or annihilation of the kingdom of evil (compare Meyer on 1Co 15:21,28 and Eph 1:10; Weiss, Biblical Theology, II, 723, 107, 109, English translation). We confess, however, that the strain of these last passages does seem to point in the direction of some ultimate unity, be it through subjugation, or in some other way, in which active opposition to God's kingdom is no longer to be reckoned with.
The view favored by another class is that of the annihilation of the finally impenitent. The type of doctrine called "conditional immortality" includes other elements which need not here be discussed (see IMMORTALITY ). The annihilation theory takes different forms. So far as the annihilation is supposed to take place at death, it is contradicted by the Scriptures which support the soul's survival after death; so far as it is believed to take place after a longer or shorter period of conscious suffering (which is White's theory), it involves its advocates in difficulties with their own interpretations of "death," "destruction," "perishing," seeing that in Scripture this doom is uniformly represented as overtaking the ungodly at the day of judgment, and not at some indefinite period thereafter. The theory conflicts also with the idea of gradation of punishment, for which room has to be sought in the period of conscious suffering, and rests really on an unduly narrowed conception of the meaning of the Scriptural terms "life" and "death." Life is not bare existence, nor is "death" necessarily extinction of being. Assaid earlier, the language of many parts of Scripture implies the continued existence of the subjects of the divine wrath.
3. Second Probation:
It is significant that on the side alike of the advocates of restoration and of those of annihilation (e.g. E. White), refuge from the difficulties is frequently sought in the hypothesis of an extended probation and work of evangelization beyond death. This theory labors under the drawback that, in marked contrast with Scripture, it throws immensely the larger part of the work of salvation into the future state of being. It is, besides, apart from the dubious and limited support given to it by the passage on Christ's preaching to "the spirits in prison" (1Pe 3:19-20); destitute of Scriptural support. It has already been pointed out that the final judgment is uniformly represented as proceeding on the matter of this life. The theory is considered elsewhere.
See ESCHATOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, sec. X.
IV. Nature, Conditions and Issues.
1. Mystery of the Future:
While dogmatisms like the above, which seem opposed to Scripture, are to be avoided, it is equally necessary to guard against dogmatisms of an opposite kind, as if eternity must not, in the nature of the case, have its undisclosed mysteries of which we here in time can frame no conception. The difficulties connected with the ultimate destinies of mankind are truly enormous, and no serious thinker will minimize them. Scripture does not warrant it in negative, any more than in positive, dogmatisms; with its uniformly practical aim, it does not seek to satisfy an idle curiosity (compare Lu 13:23-24). Its language is bold, popular, figurative, intense; the essential idea is to be held fast, but what is said cannot be taken as a directory to all that is to transpire in the ages upon ages of an unending duration. God's methods of dealing with sin in the eternities may prove to be as much above our present thoughts as His dealings now are with men in grace. In His hands we must be content to leave it, only using such light as His immediate revelation yields.
2. Nature of Punishment:
As respects the nature of the punishment of sin, it cannot be doubted that in its essence it is spiritual. Everything can be adopted here which is said by Maurice and others--"The eternal punishment is the punishment of being without the knowledge of God, who is love, and of Jesus Christ who has manifested it; even as eternal life is declared to be the having the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ" (Theological Essays, 450). The supreme penalty of sin is unquestionably the loss of God's life and love--the being sinful. Environment, indeed, may be expected to correspond with character, but the hell is one the sinner essentially makes for himself, and, like the kingdom of God, is within. The fire, the worm, the stripes, that figure its severity, are not physical. Even should the poena sensus (were that conceivable) be utterly removed, the poena damni would eternally remain.
3. Range of Divine Mercy:
It is a sound principle that, in His dealing with sin in the world to come, God's mercy will reach as far as ever it can reach. This follows from the whole Scriptural revelation of the character of God. What may be included in it, it is impossible for anyone to say. It should be noticed that those of whom it is said that they shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them, are those who "obey not" the truth (Joh 3:36)--who actively and consciously disregard and oppose it. But all do not belong to this class. It may be assumed that none will be lost who can in consistency with holiness and love be saved. The most germinal goodness, which is the implantation of His own Spirit, God will acknowledge and develop. The problem of undeveloped character may receive a solution we do not wot of with the entrance into the eternal light--not in change of character, but rather, as said before, in the revelation of character's inmost bent. In this sense, the entrance into eternity may be to many the revelation of a love and grace which had not been understood or appreciated as it should have been on earth, but with which it is in essential kinship. There are at least many shades and degrees of character, and God may be entrusted to take the most just, yet most merciful, account of all.
4. Gradation of Punishment:
The fullest weight must further be given to what the Scripture so expressly says of gradation of punishment, even of the unsaved. It is not the case that the lot of all who fail of the eternal life in Christ is all of one grade. There are the "few stripes" and the "many stripes" (Lu 12:47-48); those for whom it will be "more tolerable" than for others in the day of judgment (Mt 11:20,24). Even "Sodom and her daughters" will be mercifully dealt with in comparison with others (Eze 16:48-49,53,55,61). There will be for everyone the most exact weighing of privilege, knowledge and opportunity. There is a vast area here for the divine administration on which no light at all is afforded us.
5. God "All in All":
There remain those passages already alluded to which do seem to speak, not, indeed, of conversion or admission into the light and fellowship of Christ's kingdom, but still of a final subjugation of the powers of evil, to the extent, at least, of a cessation of active opposition to God's will, of some form of ultimate unification and acknowledgment of Christ as Lord. Such passages are Eph 1:10; Php 2:9-11; above all, 1Co 15:24-28. God, in this final vision, has become "all in all." Here, again, dogmatism is entirely out of place, but it is permissible to believe that these texts foreshadow such a final persuasion of God's righteousness in His judgment and of the futility of further rebellion as shall bring about an outward pacification and restoration of order in the universe disturbed by sin, though it can never repair that eternal loss accruing from exclusion from Christ's kingdom and glory.
Against: Maurice, Theological Essays, "Eternal Life and Eternal Death"; S. Cox, Salvator Mundi; F. W. Farrar, Eternal Hope; Mercy and Judgment; A. Jukes, The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things; E. White, Life in Christ; H. Constable, Duration and Nature of Future Punishment. For: Pusey, What Is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment, H. N. Oxenham, Catholic Eschatology; C. Clemance, Future Punishment; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah, Appendix, xix, "On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament "; The Future Life, A Defence of the Orthodox View, by the Most Eminent American Scholars; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality, Book VI; Orr, Christian View of God, lecture ix; Luthardt, Saving Truths (English translations), lecture x. See also the various works on Dogmatic and Biblical Theology.