Brief Scriptural Evidence on the doctrine of Eternal Punishment, for plain people.

J. N. Darby.

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The doctrine of everlasting punishment having been much called in question, and the minds of the simple shaken, and the faith of some overthrown (though I have been occupied with the subject, more at large, for some time back, with the purpose of writing on it), I have thought it well to publish some brief pages meanwhile for plain people. And here to such I would suggest to distrust those who talk much about Greek to those who do not understand it. It is easy thus to impose on people. It is useful to know Greek, no doubt, in studying the New Testament, because it was written in Greek; and it is perfectly fair to refer to it with those who, knowing Greek, can judge of what is said; but it is very suspicious when much quoted to those who do not; for how can they judge about it? A man tells you "eternal" does not mean "eternal" in Greek. That sounds very conclusive; but how can you judge whether it does or not? Now in all those who talk much about Greek to plain people, I have generally found trickery; and that their Greek has not been worth much when put to the test by those who did understand it. Without pretending to be very learned, I know Greek, and I have studied the Greek Testament, and I have not been led to place any confidence in their statements about the Greek, but the contrary. The Spirit of God will guide more surely a plain man, if he be humble, in fundamental truths, than a little Greek will those who trust in it.

Now, to a plain man, the statements of his English Bible leave not a doubt on the mind that the punishment of the wicked is eternal.

These statements, I have no doubt whatever, are substantially right. No doubt, being a human work, translations are imperfect, and the translator's views and feelings are apt to be transfused into them. But in the main, the doctrine presented by the English Bible, and the faith produced by it in a plain believer's mind, is sound doctrine and divinely-taught faith, though it be possible some passages might be more exactly rendered. None, however, that I am aware, affecting this truth are misrepresented by the translation. And it is quite evident to me, and to any plain honest man, that God meant to produce on the mind of the reader the conviction that eternal misery is the portion of the wicked, and I do not believe that He meant to produce the conviction of a lie, nor frighten them with what was not true. Now I shall quote many plain passages, adding my unhesitating conviction that the attempts to undermine this doctrine of scripture (and I have been compelled to examine a good many) have entirely failed, and that the arguments used are either dishonest, some of them flagrantly so, or contradictory and fallacious, and that all of them subvert other fundamental truths. And I declare also my conviction that a sound knowledge of Greek confirms the plain man's scriptural faith. I shall state why in a few plain words at the end.

2 I give a body of texts (some of which by themselves might not prove the point), that the effect the Holy Ghost meant to produce may be wrought according to the full testimony He has given. I beg the plain reader's attention to these passages. Some refute the doctrine of the salvation of all; some, the notion that the wicked will perish, i.e., cease to exist. Some shew that the human notion of divine love, which denies the vindication of God's majesty and holiness against sin by wrath, and the eternal impossibility that light should have fellowship with darkness, is an unscriptural and an unholy notion. Some refute particular arguments used in favour of these errors. So that, if the mind be solidly imbued with these passages, the error is confuted; and, lastly, some of them shew, that the doctrine of scripture is, that there is wrath, and that everlasting misery and punishment is the portion of unbelieving and rebellious sinners. Some shew that it applies to all kinds of sinners, without law, under law, and unbelievers of the gospel.

I shall quote figurative as well as plain statements, because figures are meant by God to produce some conviction, the exact force being no doubt to be sought in exact expressions. Matthew 3:10, 12; ch. 5:22, 29, 30; ch. 6:15; ch. 7:13, 23;* ch. 8:12; ch. 10:28, 33; ch. 11:22; ch. 12:31, 32; ch. 13:40,** 41, 49; ch. 18:8, 9;*** ch. 22:13; ch. 23:33; ch. 25:46;**** ch. 26:24. Mark 3:22; ch. 8:36; ch. 9:43; ch. 16:16. Luke 12:4, 5, 9, 10; ch. 16:19-31. John 3:3, 15, 36; ch. 5:29 ;***** ch. 6:53; ch. 8:24. Acts 1:25. Romans 1:18; ch. 2:5-16; ch. 9:22.******  1 Corinthians 1:18 ;******* ch. 3:15. Philippians 1:28; ch. 3:18. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10; ch. 2:10-12.  1 Timothy 6:9.  Hebrews 6:6; ch. 10:26-31; ch. 11:27. James 5:20. 2 Peter 2:9, 17, 21; ch. 3:7. 1 John 5:12. Jude 13. Revelation 14:9, 10; ch. 20:10-15; ch. 21:5-8.

{*Mark this and chapter 10:33, because it is impossible to believe that Christ could say these things of those who were redeemed and saved as much as others, though to be punished awhile.}

{**In those two verses, 40 and 49, it will be said "world" means age or dispensation; be it so, I believe it does; but that does not affect the judgment pronounced as to that which is to follow.}

{***Here everlasting fire or hell-fire is in contrast with life; if they go into one, they do not go into the other; nor is any particular word used which. might, as they allege, make it apply to a peculiar period of happiness. Life and hell-fire are contrasted.}

{****Now here in Greek "everlasting" and "eternal" are precisely the same word; and what one means for life, the other means for punishment.}

{*****Here, they will tell you, "damnation" means judgment. So it does; but it is in contrast with having life. And in judgment "no flesh living shall be justified." The judgment is at the end of all.}

{******God is minded to shew His wrath and make His power known. Though love, He is God, and His majesty must be maintained against rebellion and sin.}

{*******Now in this, as in Mark 16:16, perishing and being damned is contrasted with being saved, so that any plain person must conclude that they are not saved. Some are saved, and others perish because they reject the cross.}

3 Now no one can deny that the effect of these passages is, to lead men to believe that the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness, as well as His love in Christ; that, if this love be despised, and the gospel rejected, damnation is the consequence; that, as to those who come under wrath, their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; that they have never forgiveness; that they are not saved, but perish; and that they are tormented for ever and ever in the lake of fire and brimstone; that having despised the sacrifice of the cross, there is no more sacrifice for sin. But men seek to evade these plain testimonies, and begin to reason, and to speak of Greek.

Now there are two systems by which men seek to set aside these plain passages. One is that all will be saved, all, even the devil himself, though some few of them do not like to say anything so plain as that.

4 The other is, that the wicked will not be saved (the soul not being immortal at all), and that the fire of hell will in time consume them.

Now these two systems quite destroy one another. It is the latter which most prevails here in England, the former in other countries. Those who hold the latter say that the former is monstrous and unscriptural: first, because of the passages which declare that some people are to be damned and others saved, and very many which speak of destroying body and soul in hell, or something of equal force; and also because, if they are saved, they are saved without the atonement and regeneration, for there are those who have rejected the one and despised the other, and for whom there remains no more sacrifice for sin. And indeed nothing can be plainer. And so as to the devil and his angels. For, to be consistent with their views, they must save them too. For they say God is to be all in all, and, being love, there can remain no misery. But if so, the devils must be saved too. But then, they have no Christ, no Saviour; so that, according to this doctrine, if I tell a man he cannot be saved without Christ, I am not telling him true, for there are those who are, according to this system. That is, the whole gospel is subverted as to every one. But is it not plain to an honest mind that when it is said "he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned," this does not mean "he that believeth not" shall be equally saved with him that believes — only he shall be punished for awhile first? For that is the doctrine of the first class, or Universalists, as they are called. And when it is said, they which believe on Him "should not perish, but have everlasting life," is it not equally plain that it does not mean that, though they would not believe, they would still have it and not perish at all? And when it is said "whose end is destruction," it does not mean that their end should be to be in happiness like others, though they waited a little longer? And when it is said "hath never forgiveness," that it does not mean one will have it in the end? And when it says, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," that it does not mean they are to get out of it safe and sound and to be in glory like the saved? God has said, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." Now, who would believe that this meant that the condemned were to go for a short time into punishment, but had or would have eternal life quite as much as the others? Eternal life and eternal or everlasting punishment answer to one another, and mean the same in either case. They argue that it means eternal in neither! But will any one believe that "eternal life" does not mean life for ever and ever? If its lasting for ever is only to be understood from the word "life," because it is Christ's life, why add the word eternal? The plain reader will hardly believe that they say eternal is added to confine it to the next age, or millennium!* But this is quite a fallacy; for we are said to have it now, before the millennium comes at all. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life."

{*This they base on their Greek, of which a word just now.}

5 The punishment of the wicked, then, is said to be of equal duration with the life of the blessed. But further it is said to be of equal duration with the life of God. In Revelation 5:14, it is said that they worship Him who liveth for ever and ever. And in chapter 14:11, it is said, the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. Now if the punishment of the wicked is said to endure as long as the life of the blessed, and as the life of God Himself, I ask, how could God have expressed more strongly to living men its enduring everlastingly? If He has said "it hath never forgiveness" — if He has said "their worm dieth not" — what could God have said more if He had meant to convey what eternal punishment was? And note here, that Revelation 20, where they are said to be in the lake of fire without, is after the millennium, and all is over, when it is said It is done, and God is all in all.

Hence the advocates of the second system of error have declared that the first has long been proved entirely absurd and untenable; and they have set up another, namely:

That the soul is not immortal at all, and that death means simply ceasing to exist, and therefore, that life is to be found only in Christ; and that, after a certain quantity of punishment, the wicked will be turned out of existence, or consumed by the fire of hell, and exist no more.

Such is the doctrine much in vogue, in this country, on this subject.

Now, upon the face of this doctrine the grossest inconsistency at once appears. For, if death means ceasing to exist, the soul not being immortal at all, and that anything beyond this is found only in Christ, how come the wicked to be alive after death in order to be punished? Where do they get this life?  They cannot be alive to be punished at all. "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life," say they. Now, if this means literally that the wicked have not life beyond death, they cannot exist when dead to be punished. It is quite clear to a Christian man, that "life" is used here in the sense of life in which we live to God in blessedness; for having no life is said of those who are naturally alive, but are dead in trespasses and sins. They have no divine life or blessedness, instead of being dead to sin and alive unto God.

6 But then the scripture is most clear and positive, that there is wrath and punishment and judgment and torment after death for all who are not saved. And this they cannot deny, without denying the whole testimony of God. But if there is, then men do live after death; and death does not mean ceasing to exist, but ceasing to exist soul and body together in this world. And that is what is as plain as possible from scripture. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and AFTER THIS the judgment." Why here, the judgment, which is to bring on men the whole extent of the consequences of sin from the wrath of God, is after death. Though sin makes always miserable; yet the coming of wrath, in the true full sense of the word, does not begin till after death, and by judgment, instead of death being the end of the man. And mark, this is not anything peculiar to those that have heard of Christ, though they doubtless are far more guilty and will be beaten with many stripes. It is appointed unto men. It is their common natural portion as sinners* — death and judgment.

{*And Christ's death as bearing the sins of many is contrasted with this in its efficacy for the saved.}

Again, "Fear not them which kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do, but fear him who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell." Now here death (instead of being the whole wages of sin, though it be its wages) is made comparatively light of, if taken alone, but what comes after in body and soul in hell is the thing to be feared. And note, there is no such thought as a man's soul dying with his body, as they say who teach that simple death was the whole wages of sin, alleging the passage; "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."

This threat is also quoted by them to prove that man was not created immortal;* for how should it be said "thou shalt die," if he was immortal? Now I should think this was a very plain proof that he was immortal. If I say to a child, If you do such a thing, you shall be whipped, that would not surely mean, you shall be whipped at any rate; so, "if you eat, you shall die" means, plainly, death was a consequence of eating. And so the apostle tells us, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." But that death thus coming in was not ceasing to exist is evident, because "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment." Again, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But . . . fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell."

{*Others say he was conditionally immortal, for they do not agree in their systems.}

7 That is, we have the positive revelation of God, that their comment is a false one, that death is not the whole wages of sin, but that judgment comes after it. But then, to get out of this, they say that death was the wages of Adam's sin, but that these punishments are the wages of our own. Now the apostle does not state the matter so. He says, "and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." That is, he connects the sin of all men and Adam's sin together, as bringing in death itself on all; so that this will not do either.

But were it even not thus disproved by the apostle's statement, there is another thing remains: if Adam's sin brought in death on all his posterity, and man is not immortal (for that is their doctrine), where do sinners get the life from after death (that is, after ceasing to exist at all)? Their sins cannot give it them. They tell us that, death having been pronounced on man, there is no immortality, no life, but in Christ. Well then, see what it comes to: the wicked have life in Christ in order to be punished for their sins, and this life, which they have in Christ, is not eternal life: for if it be, they must be (if not eternally happy or saved) eternally miserable. And moreover, this life, which they have of Christ to be punished in, is to be consumed by the wrath and punishment of God! If it is not life in and from Christ, then death does not put an end to a man; death is not what they pretend it is; man is, in a word, an immortal being. And further, what was the worth of Christ's death? Some of them say it was just simply death as the wages of sin. But "He bore our sins"; and if so, our sins being merely a measured quantity of punishment, it is not the wrath of God due to us as lost sinners, but merely a partial punishment He had to avert. But further, as regards the wicked, the death of Christ, they say, averted death from them so that they should be punished. He did not bear their sins — that is clear — for it is for them they are to be punished; so that Christ's death was necessary to keep alive the wicked in order to punish and then consume them, and was applied to this purpose by God!

8 And now some general remarks. Note this, all kinds of expressions are used, beside eternal punishment, as Their end is destruction — They shall not see life — They have never forgiveness — They have no life in them — Christ shall deny them — He never knew them. So that the argument as to the meaning of "eternal" in Greek, were it valid, leaves many other statements untouched; but it is not valid. They pretend that "eternal" means what belongs to the millennial glory of the dispensation that is coming. Now I believe in the glory of that dispensation; but I say "eternal" does not mean this in Greek, and I challenge any man who knows Greek to produce me one passage where it does. It is used sixty-eight times* (besides three which refer to past time), and not one can be brought to shew that it means the millennial period. Many prove that it means "eternal" in all, and many prove that it does not apply to the millennial state when used in the connection in which they say it does. I shall quote some plain ones to both points.

{*That is, the Greek word aionios.}

That it means "eternal."

2 Corinthians 4:18: For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 5:1: A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

1 Timothy 6:16: To whom be honour and power everlasting.

1 Peter 5:10: The God of all grace who hath called us to His eternal glory.

So in Hebrews 5:9; ch 9:12, 14.

These passages shew that the natural meaning of the word is "eternal," in contrast with temporal.

As to the second point, that it does not mean "millennial," the reader will find that eternal life is quite as often said of our having Christ's life in this world as in the next; because it is that divine life which is a real thing given us, as true in this world as in the next. Its full development is in the next, of course, and therefore we naturally speak of it as there; but scripture equally states that we have it here; so that it certainly does not mean a millennial condition, though we have it then as now. The word translated "for ever,"* does sometimes mean, when used in other ways, what is not eternal. It is used for the duration of anything in uninterrupted continuance, though the thing in its nature may not last for ever, and hence for the whole of any particular period — as the whole of man's life, sometimes the whole course of this evil world, the whole of a dispensation. But when it is used in connection with the subjects we are treating of, there is not the least doubt it means eternal, and indeed wherever it is not used with a particular subject which limits it; and when translated for ever, it never means the millennial age, as alleged.

{*Eis ton aiona. It is used twenty-six times, of which twenty-three clearly mean "never" or "eternal." Of the other three, one is obscure, namely, Abraham and his seed for ever; the two others cannot be used as a proof: one refers to the Comforter abiding with the disciples (John 14:16); the other, sinners being reserved for the blackness of darkness for ever. Not one can be brought to shew that it refers to the millennial time of glory. We have the expressions THIS world, and the world TO COME, as to which men may reason, but never the words above used.}

9 Many other arguments from the use of it in Greek might be urged; but I do not go farther here, as I might only perplex those who do not understand that language. In a passage which relates to our subject we have plain proof, however, that "everlasting" does not mean millennial. For it is said, "depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Now, on their own shewing, the devil and his angels are not there till the millennium is over; so that it does not mean millennial. Further, they insist on the words "destroy" and "destruction." Now we have already shewn, it cannot here mean to put an end to the existence of what is destroyed; because it lasts as long as the life of the blessed, and even of God Himself. But that it does not mean so in many passages is plain. The very title given to the angel of the bottomless pit would shew it. He is called Apollyon, i.e., the destroyer; now he ruins no doubt many, but he cannot destroy in the sense referred to. So "the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." "The lost sheep of the house of Israel" is the same word; and it is the strongest used.

10 I have thus stated some of the strongest scriptural proofs of the doctrine, and I have met the main arguments of the systems which error has attempted to set up. The attentive Christian will find that both subvert the work of Christ and the claims of the holiness of God; for if men are saved who have died in the entire rejection of Christ and the Holy Ghost, and for whom there is no more sacrifice for sin, then salvation by these means is not needed for us. Or, if death is the whole wages of sin, and man is not immortal at all, the sufferings of the Son of God and His being forsaken of God in wrath are really set aside: it is not that which comes from the necessary majesty of God's holiness, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. And at any rate, Christ merely set aside a certain temporary punishment for some, and secured its infliction on others, as without Him men would have ceased to exist, like a horse or a dog! He procured eternal life for some, and a temporary life for others, in order that they might be miserable! No Christian, I think, but must see that this is not what God teaches us. Nor is there the smallest ground for one doctrine or the other. It is alleged that in Colossians Christ is said to reconcile all things that He makes; but this is merely the visible creation, to the exclusion of a third class who are mentioned in Philippians as being obliged to bow the knee to Him, namely, those under the earth, strictly, the infernal things or beings, but who are not included in the reconciliation. So that, when compared with Philippians 2, it proves quite the contrary.

The result of our examination is to leave in its full force eternal punishment (the terrible consequence of the enmity of man's heart against God), and eternal blessedness (the result of God's free and blessed grace), in their plain scriptural sense, as commonly believed by simple-minded Christians. It is equally clear that the just divine vengeance which inflicts the punishment will know how to apportion the many stripes and the few stripes, to distinguish duly those who perish without law and those who are judged by law (though all be shut out from the presence of God, as in the judgment which devours the adversaries); and that the sovereign divine grace which has called any to glory will know how and when to place on the right hand and on the left in the kingdom, according as He has prepared it for them, while giving to each his reward according to his labour (eternal blessedness with Jesus, and like Jesus, being the common portion of all).

11 The thought is indeed solemn: but I can say that the examination of scripture on the subject has not left a cloud on my mind as to the truth taught in it; while the examination of the systems opposed to it has satisfied me, that they are fallacious and superficial, not taught by the Spirit of God, nor the truth of the word; and that sound and full examination of the Greek they plead confounds their statements.

And now, poor sinner, mark this: you may fancy that you are to judge God, and that you are competent to say that He ought to assign so much or so much punishment to so much sin; but know that He is to judge you. The notion of His love, which makes it an obligation incumbent on Him to act so and so in it without His being able to help it, and so that eternal punishment cannot be, is a false, unscriptural, and senseless notion. He is love; but He is God, and acts freely and holily in His love. God is love; but it is GOD that is so. Love is what He is. But the first question is, who He is; and He is God, and doeth what pleaseth Him. Now, mark this. If the Spirit of God has touched your conscience, you know that you deserve to be shut out of the presence of God for ever. You are conscious that you have deserved eternal wrath and punishment. If you are not, you do not know yet, by divine teaching, what sin is. And I pray you to remark that, in this question, it is not what may be, or what might be, which is in question. You are a sinner: — What, in your own conscience, does sin deserve? And further, if it is a question what sin deserves, it is a question of what Christ bore, what His atonement was; for He bore our sins and was made sin for us.

God speaks plainly of wrath, indignation, vengeance, because of sin. What was the wrath due to sin, which Christ bore when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree? It is not a speculative question, of what might be, but of what saves you! Do you believe, that what Christ bore, when He made His soul an offering for sin, was merely the amount of a certain temporary suffering? that this was what sin amounted to in the presence of God? and that this too was what God's wrath amounted to? Do not be led astray by any abuse of the blessed truth that it was Christ's divine nature that gave infinite value to His work. It did so, blessed be God. But He "bore our sins in his own body on the tree." And "it pleased the Lord to bruise him." "He was wounded for our transgressions." "The chastisement of our peace was upon him, with his stripes we are healed." Now was what He bore for us, for you, a mere amount of temporary punishment, or the holy wrath of God, the awfulness of God's forsaking Him while He was alive, His soul being made thus an offering for sin? That wrath which shuts out from His presence, while the soul can know what it is — is not this what we have deserved? It is not merely torment and then ceasing to exist; though Christ, as a divine Person, gave infinite value to His work.

12 Some mightier creature might well have borne temporal punishment due; but the wrath and judgment implied in eternal punishment a divine eternal Person alone could bear.

Those who deny eternal punishment quote also sometimes the scriptures of the Old Testament, such as the following — Genesis 6:3, "My spirit shall not always strive with man"; Isaiah 57:16, "For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wrath; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made"; and again, Psalm 49:12, "Man being in honour abideth not; he is like the beasts which perish."

Now any plain godly reader can judge from such quotations as these what such an argument is worth; for it is clear that nothing but exceeding inattention, or positive dishonesty, could apply such passages as having anything to say to it. First, as to Genesis, it is most plain, that it is God's patience with man before the flood, while the ark was a preparing, when, according to Peter's comment, the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah. Their spirits-being cast into prison, when thus judged, is plain proof enough that they subsisted after their death.

As to the second, Isaiah 57:16, it is equally plain that the Lord is speaking of men in the earth. If He contended with them continually — did not cease and spare them, they would perish as living men. The stumbling-blocks were to be taken out of the way of His people. The high and holy One would revive the hearts of the humble, and the heart of the contrite, for He would not strive for ever, nor be always wroth. "For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him . . . I have seen his ways and will heal him," etc. Now what has all this to do with hell? Just nothing at all. Let me advise the simple reader, when a quotation is made, always to read the context before he receives a new doctrine.

13 Lastly, Psalm 49. Again I say, read the Psalm, and it will be at once seen that it applies to glory in this world. "For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever . . . they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless, man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish." What "man being in honour" has to say to his being in hell would be hard to say. "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them." Is it not evident that the doctrine here taught is, that death blasts all the earthly glory of man? "His glory shall not descend after him"; but even here, dark as were the views of what was beyond death, there is no sign of any final destruction or of final recovery.

I add a word for the reader who does understand Greek. The etymology given as early as the time of Aristotle, and by him, is aien on, always existing. The earliest use of the word is in the sense of a man's life. It is so used frequently by Homer of the death of his heroes and in other ways. It is used by Herodotus and the Attic poets, so far as to say anepneusen aiona. Very much later it came to mean one whole dispensational period or state of things; but, when used by itself in its own meaning, it had very clearly the sense of eternity. It is thus used by Philo in a passage which can leave no doubt, en aioni de oute pareleluthen ouden oute mellei alla monon uphesteke. "In eternity, nothing is either past or to come but only subsists."

In conclusion, I say (as has been remarked by others) that, if God had meant to convey the idea of eternal punishment, He would not have used expressions stronger than He has used; nor do any exist.