by F. W. Grant.
1. — Eternal Destruction: Is it Annihilation?
2. — Eternal Life What is it? and When do we have it?
3. — Does Scripture Speak of an Immortal Soul?
1. Everlasting Destruction: is it Annihilation?
The denial of eternal punishment, in its only proper sense, has of late spread with amazing rapidity. Long scoffed at by the unbelievers as the doctrine of scriptures which they rejected, it is now often as openly scouted by those who professedly receive these as the inspired word of God. In one form or other, most of the sects of christendom are becoming infected with this denial, and few there are who can escape the contact with it, or the question which it will raise in minds hitherto unexercised, and unprepared for the subtleties by which it is supported.
As to the first class of deniers, it may be frankly admitted that the doctrine of eternal punishment must stand or fall with the authority of Scripture itself. Nor do I purpose now to discuss this. To those who can believe that that which for centuries has ministered peace to multitudes amid every form of sorrow that life is heir to, and in every bitter shape in which death can come, — which enforces truth with startling emphasis, consigning "all liars" to the lake of fire, — is itself a lie of the most audacious and incredible character, — to such I have nothing to say just now. It is to those who profess belief in Scripture that I would now appeal, and in behalf of Scripture itself, which is by their interpretation trampled underfoot, to the dishonor of God and the ruin of souls so precious that for them the Son of God suffered and died.
There are here, again, two classes, who are in entire opposition to one another. One which, with many variations otherwise, affirms the final utter extinction of the wicked; and one which, also amid various minor disagreements, with equal positiveness affirms their final happiness. A third class still, of later origin, combines these views, asserting the final restoration of the mass, while reserving the doom of extinction for some irreclaimable offenders.
The doctrine of Scripture, in opposition to all these, is that the wicked dead (which, with the righteous, includes "all that are in the graves," John 5:28,) shall be raised in the "resurrection of damnation [or judgment]" (v. 29), and, receiving their sentence at the "great white throne," shall be cast into, and have their portion in, the lake of fire, which is the second death, but in which the first death comes to an end forever. (Rev. 20:11-15.) Consequently they never die any more (in the sense in which we speak of dying now), and therefore never become extinct, while their doom is of "everlasting destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9), not of temporary judgment: they "shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on" them. (John 3:36.)
Terrible are these sayings. If true, how infinitely important that they should be known and owned! how awful to give encouragement to men to disbelieve or slight them! I would therefore produce Scripture in detail, as far as the compass of a tract admits, for each point in this statement. Let not my reader trifle with his own soul or that of others, while divine mercy waits upon men, and God warns, that He may not strike.
1. "All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth." It is no partial resurrection, as some dream. "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God," says the apostle. "As I live," saith the Lord, "every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. (Rom. 14:11.) "Fear God, and keep His commandments; . . . for God shall bring every work into judgment, with;very secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." (Ecc. 12:13, 14.)
2. Raised in the resurrection of judgment, the wicked stand before the great white throne, and are "judged, every man according to their works And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death;" and this, too, is the "everlasting destruction" of its unhappy subjects.
But death and destruction, it is contended, mean extinction. This is entirely untrue. All but the materialistic, section of annihilationists agree that the first death is not extinction, and it is easy to prove this against those who deny it. The seed "dies" to produce the harvest (1 Cor. 15:36): does it become extinct? Where would be the harvest, if it did? Nay, the blessed Lord died. Will those who know Him say that He became extinct? Again, "They that kill the body are not able to kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28.) Thus the soul is not merely the life of the body; and it remains alive when the body dies. Death, then, is not extinction; it is a man's "decease," or exodus, departure (2 Peter 1:15), and his "putting off the tabernacle" of the body (v. 14).
But if the first death is not extinction, the second death, which takes its name from it, cannot be either. The first death is separation of soul from body, leaving the latter to corruption in the grave. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God, which involves the moral corruption of the soul. And the lake of fire is eternal distance from God, and wrath, in which the whole man suffers and "reaps corruption." Not one of these deaths is extinction and in the lake of fire the first death comes to an end forever. It is the time when all enemies are under Christ's feet, the last enemy destroyed being death (1 Cor. 15:25, 26) but the lake of fire itself endures forever and ever, or "to the ages of ages," — a term five times given as the duration of the life of God Himself (Rev. 4:9, 10; Rev. 5:14; Rev. 10:6; Rev. 15:7). Thus, then, with the first death at an end, the wicked must needs last on for eternal punishment.
3. And this is "everlasting destruction: " which does not, therefore, mean "everlasting extinction" either. Destruction in Scripture has not in fact this meaning. When the new wine bursts the (skin) bottles, and the bottles are marred, (Mark 2:22), the same word is used to describe this. The bottles are destroyed: not utterly gone, but useless as bottles and when man is by the judgment of God set aside eternally from the place for which he was created, this is his "everlasting destruction." The beast is made to be destroyed, — made to fill a place temporarily and be removed from it. Man was not made for this, and it is by the awful judgment of God alone that he becomes as one of these, and "utterly perishes in his own corruption." (2 Peter 2:12.)
In Deuteronomy 28 the word is used six times as to Israel, and never once signifies their extinction: "Also every sickness and every plague . . . . them will the Lord bring upon thee till thou be destroyed." Are they extinct? No, but "ye shall be left few in number" and after the curse has been fulfilled, it is added, "the Lord will turn thy captivity"! (Deut. 30:1-3.)
So it is said elsewhere, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help found." The "lost" sheep, again, is literally the "destroyed sheep." (Luke 15, etc.) And the word used here and ordinarily in the New Testament, the dictionaries tell us means "very frequently, in all sorts of relations, to destroy, ruin, spoil, waste, squander," and also "simply to fall into ruin, be undone," and even "to be wretched or miserable." (Liddell & Scott's Lexicon.)
"Everlasting ruin" is in fact the meaning of "everlasting destruction," — the awful doom of such as "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever [to the ages of ages], and they have no rest day nor night." (Rev. 14:10, 11.)
4. A host of passages are brought in here which have no reference at all to eternal judgment, but simply to what the Old Testament is full of — the removal of sinners from the earth, that the righteous may inherit it. The thirty-seventh psalm is an example of this: "Fret not thyself because of the ungodly, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity, for they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb . . . . for evil-doers shall be cut off but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth for yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be, yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be," etc. This is the language constantly quoted to prove annihilation! It is quite true that the Old Testament is full of it, for it is full of the time which we are accustomed to call "millennial," in which all this will be fulfilled, and the earth be purified from the long reign of evil on it; but of hell or of eternal judgment this language does not speak.
"Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more," pleads the Psalmist. And the prophet answers, as it were," Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of Hosts." (Mal. 4:1, 3.) These words are constantly quoted by annihilationists; but is it in hell, or on earth, that the righteous will tread down the wicked? Certainly not in hell, but upon earth. All such quotation for the purpose of proving the extinction of the wicked is as idle and as ignorant as if they quoted for it the burning up of people in the fire of Chicago, or the "perishing" of "souls" in a shipwreck at sea.
5. Another class of passages quoted show another great mistake. The texts which really speak of eternal judgment are often, as descriptions of eternity are apt to be, full of figurative expressions, which must of course be treated as figures. Understand me, that I do not mean that they are to be thrown aside as of doubtful meaning, or as exaggerated statements, — God forbid. He speaks always so as to be understood, and it is as impossible for Him to exaggerate as to lie in any other form.
But take the Baptist's figure of the burning up of chaff to illustrate what I mean. Who does not see that the "burning up" must be as figurative as the "chaff" is? Material destruction is not a figure of material destruction: it must figure something else. Material destruction will figure spiritual destruction, which is, however, a very different thing.
And so when we come to look at the details. There is no doubt that annihilation has been helped in many minds by the tendency to take literally the expressions used in Scripture to image to us the awful realities of eternal punishment. A "lake burning with fire and brimstone," if taken literally, would suggest to many the idea of utter extermination of the bodies at least of those cast into it. But how should the devil, a spirit, be tormented there? And what was the "flame" which tormented the spirit of the rich man in hades? The truth is, these are figures, which Scripture itself explains, where over and over again God's wrath is compared to fire. Thus, in the Lord's solemn words in Mark 9:48, the worm that dieth not is the gnawing of awakened conscience: who will suppose a literal undying worm? And so the fire that is not quenched is as surely that wrath of God which "abideth on" the wicked.
Thus we see at once how the fire may and must be eternal, so long as God's nature remains unchanged, and sinners remain to be the object of His wrath. Here, therefore, the argument for annihilation is gone forever. No plea from the nature of literal fire will suffice. It is as contrary to the nature of literal fire to allow the beast and the false prophet to remain a thousand years tormented by its flame as it is for it to be the instrument of torment at all to a spirit, such as Satan is. Yet we read of these that they "shall be tormented day and night forever and ever," — or, if people like better to say so, "for the ages of ages" but this is the measure of God's own existence. (Rev. 4:9, 10; Rev. 10:6; Rev. 15:7.)
This fire of God's wrath, unlike material fire, affects soul and spirit equally with the bodies of the lost while it can be discriminative also, and thus "few stripes" or "many stripes be, as our Lord teaches, in fact their future portion.
This, then, is "everlasting destruction" — a doom by which men are set aside forever from the place for which their creation originally marked them out, and as "vessels of wrath." It is a death" in which the first death is found no more, and therefore from which there is for its unhappy subjects no escape.
These passages are as decisive on the one side as on the other. They show that the opposite doctrines of the annihilation of the wicked, and of their restoration, are equally false, equally unscriptural. As long as God lives, the wicked shall exist, and exist as objects of His abiding wrath. Yet, reader, God warns of it, because He is most unwilling you should suffer it. Trifle not with His statements, but accept His love, in Christ freely offered to you. He who died for sinners bids all men come to Him and find His mercy. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin." "Him that cometh unto Me," He says, "I will in no wise cast out."
2. Eternal Life: What is it? and When do we have it?
But in the first place, it seems, we must ask, What is it not? And we must answer, contradict whom we may, it is not immortality.
A good many, with much assurance, are teaching that it is, and loudly maintaining that Scripture is on their , side in this teaching. They tell us that we are bidden to "seek for immortality," and that "to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for immortality" God will give, as the thing they seek for, "eternal life." They tell us, moreover, that "life" means "being," or "existence" "eternal life," of course, "eternal being," or "existence." Thus death also is just "non-existence" and so evident do they think this that they charge those who deny it with ignorance of Scripture and of language alike. We will not allow, they say, that a dead man is really "dead," if we do not allow that he is non-existent.
As we cannot follow man beyond this life except in Scripture, it is to Scripture we must turn. Of what even natural life is, the men of science are ignorant still. What eternal life is, God alone can tell us. And here His word at least is not doubtful.
As to immortality, the text which is professedly quoted will not serve. The word used never means immortality, but "incorruption" and is a term applied, in 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 53, 54, to the saint in resurrection, and, in 1 Peter 1:4, to his inheritance. The saint alone inherits incorruption, and this of course is conditional upon a man's being a saint; but "conditional immortality" — so much heard of now — is unknown to Scripture. No one can produce for it a passage at all.
I shall be reminded, no doubt, that "God only hath immortality." (1 Tim. 6:15.) Quite true, and therefore in this sense the angels have not. What this argues for man it argues for these also. Will they, then, die? No one thinks of saying so. And it proves as little that man or the wicked will. God alone possesses immortality in Himself; all creatures live and move and have their being alone in Him; by Him all things subsist; by the word of His power they are upheld: and that is as far as this Scripture carries us.
But eternal life is distinct from immortality. Eternal life is what a man may possess here, and not have "immortality" at all as yet. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." (John 3:36.) Does this mean "hath it in promise" merely? It does not. He has the life itself, is quickened from the dead, and passed from death (that is, out of death, literally,) into life. (John 5:24, 25.) In contrast, we are told that "no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him: " eternal life, then, the saint has abiding in him.
Yet he existed before, and no more exists now than he did before. The murderer too exists. Those yet dead spiritually exist. "She that liveth in pleasure," says the apostle, "is dead while she liveth." (1 Tim. 5:3.) Death or life in this respect, therefore, has no reference to mere natural existence. Eternal life is not the prolongation of natural existence. It is an entirety separate and distinct thing. Just as the wicked exist now without it, so they may exist forever without it.
Eternal life is that which we possess, when we possess the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. So our Lord distinctly says (John 17:3). It is that which we have as born again, and children of God; and "beloved," says the apostle, "now are we the sons of God" (1 John 3:2); "Ye are all the children of God," says another apostle, "by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26); "Being born again," adds yet a third, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, . . . and this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:23, 25). And thus we find Paul saying, again, "In Christ Jesus have I begotten you through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15).
Yet, in the face of Scripture, men have the audacity to say that we can have eternal life only in resurrection. Scripture says we have it here, and now, if we are children of God at all, or Christians at all.
It does indeed say that we "enter into life" hereafter, and this is their plea; but entering into life, and life entering into us, are two distinct things which they have confounded. When we speak of a young man entering upon life, we do not mean by this that he is just born, or has just received life. We use life here in a somewhat different though connected sense. It is life in what is called the pregnant sense, implying the full tale of its duties and responsibilities, its joys and cares and sorrows. We are speaking, in short, of the full realization of what the life, which he has long before received, implies from the first moment of its reception.
Had he not been alive before, he could not now be prepared to enter into life; and so exactly with the life eternal. While our entering into it as a state is future, we must possess it before in order to be prepared then to enter into it. Thus Scripture is every-where and every way consistent, and those who quote it to deny the present possession of eternal life, misunderstand or pervert it. But, assuredly, if the child of God does possess eternal life here, their whole theory is false and a delusion. For the child of God who has eternal life is no less "mortal" than he was before; and he no more exists than he did before, nor than the wicked do. Therefore eternal life and immortality are quite distinct; and the wicked can as well exist forever without it as they can exist now without it.
Have you, my reader, eternal life? It is a very solemn thing to have to say, No. It means you have not Christ, and do not really "know" the Father or the Son. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Solemn it is, too, in view of the denial of Christ's true deity, which so often and so naturally goes with the false doctrines we have been considering, to hear the words with which the apostle John closes his epistle, "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and Eternal Life. Reader, to you is He the "true God"? Has He been to you "eternal life"? Do not evade the question. Do not rest till you can answer it aright.
"He that believeth on Him hath everlasting life."
3. Does Scripture Speak of an Immortal Soul?
It does. For the Lord's words are as plain as can be: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell." (Matt. 10:28.) A soul that cannot be killed when the body is is an immortal soul; and, as it is only "appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment," that which survives this death survives forever.
Men have tried hard to make this text speak differently, but their efforts only show the impossibility of doing this. The common way is to tell us that the soul is just the life of the body — animal life; but to say that man cannot kill the life of the body is too plainly false. They therefore reply to this that "it is a momentary death; what he has for the time extinguished is reserved by God to shine through all eternity: it is not, therefore, in God's eye or mind, lost, destroyed, or perished." But this is as plainly vain as an answer, for it is as true of the body, of course, that it dies but a momentary death; God will raise it again; yet the Lord is contrasting the body, which man can kill, with the soul, which he cannot. As then whatever is true of the body in this respect would be true of its life as much; the soul that the Lord speaks of is not the life. According to this, He would have said rather, Fear not them which kill neither body nor life.
Seeing this difficulty, others have tried to make "soul" mean the "life to come." But this the word never means. The word for the life to come is quite a different one; it is zoe not as here — psuche. These two are never confounded: no one can produce a single passage to prove them the same.
Killing means "taking life." For this reason alone, we never, and can never, speak of killing life. Killing the body, by itself means destroying the life of the body. Thus the soul is looked at as possessing a life of its own, just as the body does. The soul, then, is a living thing, which, when the body dies, does not die. It is not only a living but an immortal soul.
Some own this, but point us to the contrasted destruction of the body and soul in hell as proving the soul to to be finally annihilated. But they are not said to be "killed" in hell; and never are: judgment does not come till the death appointed "once" is passed away in resurrection. The "second death" is not the first repeated; it is the lake of fire forever; and destruction is often used where annihilation is impossible.
Here it is impossible; for death is "once," and is passed away forever when men are raised in the "resurrection of damnation."
Reader, the salvation of the soul does not mean making it exist forever. Exist it will, in happiness or misery, forever. But the Son of God died that eternity might speak to you of joy and peace, and not of terror. He has made peace by the blood of His cross. God preaches peace by Jesus Christ. And those who believe on Him, being justified by faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Reader, if already you have not, will you now make friends with eternity by faith in Him?
[Those who would see this subject more fully treated are referred to "Facts and Theories as to a Future State."] Loizeaux Brothers, 63 Fourth Av., New York, 1885.