Part 3 The Eternal Issues

Chapter 36.

"Everlasting Punishment" in Matthew 25.

It is not needful to our present purpose to establish the particular application of what has been strangely called by some the "parable" of the sheep and the goats. It is indeed no parable, but a very simple statement of the separation of the living upon the earth when the Lord comes to it and sets up His throne there, which separation is compared to a shepherd separating his sheep from the goats. It is therefore a part of that pre-millennial judgment of the quick already spoken of, and which precedes by more than a thousand years the judgment of the dead before the great white throne. With this it has been identified in the popular view, simply because the Lord's coming having been considered to be at the end of the world,* distinction between the two was not possible.

{*The expression in Matt. 13 and 24, as before noticed, is not this, but is "the completion" (or 'consummation') "of the age."}

But the result has been a disastrous one. For the judgment in the one case being evidently a discriminative one it was, of course, considered that the risen saints were to be picked out from sinners by the trial of their works; and then the natural suggestion followed, that all must wait till the day of judgment, to know what was to be their everlasting condition. I do not need again to enter into this, but I shall briefly state the distinction which the passages themselves show as obtaining between them.

1. The judgment in Matthew is evidently (and stated to be) when the Lord comes, a coming connected with various features of the previous part of the prophecy, which make indisputable its character. That in Rev. 20:11-15 takes place when, instead of His coming to earth the earth and the heavens flee away.

2. In Matthew there is no resurrection, and the judgment is of the living "nations," not of the dead; while the contrary is true of that in Revelation.

3. In Matthew they are judged according to their behavior to some whom the King styles His "brethren": in Revelation judged in general "according to their works."

These are distinctions which are simple enough and broad enough between the two scenes to prevent their being confounded. There is, however, a point of resemblance, and it is on this account that I have left the passage in Matthew to the present time, that, instead of being slain by the sword as those are who follow the beast, they on the left hand receive a judicial sentence, and are adjudged to the lake of fire as are those in the Apocalyptic vision; but, as it would seem before the millennium, as the beast and the false prophet are. I do not say positively that they go directly into it, but so it would seem. It is certain that they are appointed to "everlasting punishment" in "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

Men have come in with their explanations again here, and to these we must turn. They have to do chiefly, as our argument has, with the expressions "everlasting punishment," and "everlasting fire."

With regard to "everlasting punishment," the objections to the ordinary sense are various, some based upon the word for everlasting, some upon that for punishment, some upon considerations apart from the meaning of either word, while some combine several of these objections together. We must first, in the natural order, look at the word "punishment," for which several other renderings are suggested — "cutting off," "restraint," but especially "correction," the word, as it is stated by Mr. Jukes for example, being "always used for a corrective discipline, which is for the improvement of him who suffers it."*

{* Restitution, p. 129.}

The word for "punishment" here is kolasis, and is given by Liddell and Scott as meaning "a pruning": hence a checking, punishing, chastisement, correction, punishment." The verb kolazo, from which it is derived, means "strictly to curtail, dock, prune, but usually to keep within bounds, hold in check, bridle, check, then to chastise, correct, punish." The words derived from this show a similar meaning. Thus we find kolasma, "chastisement, punishment"; kolasterion, "a place of chastisement, prison," or 2, "an instrument of correction or torture"; kolastes, "a chastiser, punisher." kolazo is the word used for punish, Acts 4:21, "finding nothing how they might punish them," and again 2 Peter 2:9, "to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished." Kolasis is only found in the passage before us, and in 1 John 4:18: "fear hath torment."

All is against the rendering of "cutting off," which is adopted by Ellis and Read,* Blain,§ Storrs,$ Hastings,** Morris, and even on the orthodox side by Landis.|| Blain adopts Ellis and Read's rendering, "And these will go to the cutting off that takes place at the age"! Morris says that it refers to the "cutting off" of false Christians from the flock of Christ, and from every pretence to the kingdom.¶ And even as to 1 John 4:18, he says that its being represented by "torment" "is not justifiable; for the word relates to the children of God, who are not yet made perfect' in an experimental knowledge of the love of God. They are not tormented; but they are cut off from much experimental blessedness, which properly pertains to them." But this is poor and foolish reasoning. The words are "fear i.e., dread of God — hath torment," and so it has whether in saint or sinner. "Cutting off" (as he would have it here also) it never is, being never simply that, as the dictionaries show, and as even Mr. Hudson, who has no prejudice certainly against the word, admits. He says, "This (meaning of 'excision' — cutting off) seems to be supported by the cognate koloboo, and by the original sense of 'pruning.' But in pruning the tree is not 'cut off' — only the branches. And though, by the laws of language, the word might easily have acquired this sense, we find no proof that it has done so."*** This argument is thus fairly given up.
{* Bible versus Tradition.
§ Death not Life, p. 79.
$ Six Sermons, p. 59.
** Pauline Theology, p. 59.
|| Immortality of the Soul, p. 480.
¶ What is Man pp. 100, 101.
*** Debt and Grace, pp. 189, 190.}

The rendering by "restraint," Mr. Hudson says, "is favored by the use of the present tense in 2 Peter 2:9 (kolazomenous, comp. ver. 4; Jude 6; and perhaps Acts 4:21), and by a remark of Schleusner. It is favored by the tenor of various passages, which represents the wicked as the troublers of the righteous, to be effectually restrained by God's final judgments.* But," he adds, "this idea is not prominent in Matt. 25, and such a rendering would be hardly tenable."

{*He gives the following texts: Ps. 37; Ps. 73; Ps. 92; Isa. 66:24; Dan. 12:2-3; Matt. 13:40-43; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; 2 Peter 2:4-12; Jude 5-7, 13.}

The word certainly would not serve the cause of annihilationism, nor even of restorationism, if the "restraint" is to be "everlasting." This meaning, however, connects with that which restorationists would give, according to the passage which Mr. Hudson quotes from Eustathius, "kolasis is properly a certain kind of punishment; that is, a certain chastising and restraining of the disposition, but not vindictive punishment."

It is on the ground that the word expresses, not vindictive, but corrective suffering, that Mr. Jukes and Dr. Farrar take their stand. The latter affirms that "kolasis is a word. which in its sole proper meaning 'has reference to the correction and bettering of him that endures it.'"* Mr. Jukes adds, that "those who hold the common view are obliged to confess this," and supports this by an appeal to Archbishop Trench's "Synonyms of the New Testament," who distinguishing between the two words kolasis and timoria, says, "In timoria, according to its classical use, the vindictive character of the punishment is the prominent thought; it is the Latin 'ultio'; punishment as satisfying the inflicter's sense of outraged justice, as defending his own honor and that of the violated law … in kolasis, on the other hand, is more the notion of punishment as it has reference to the correction and bettering of him that endures it." As to which he refers to Philo, Plato, and Clement of Alexandria, and adds, "And this is Aristotle's distinction."

{* Eternal Hope, p. 200.}

It is true that the Archbishop resists the restorationist application of this. He says: "It would be a very serious error however to attempt to refer this distinction in its entireness to the words as employed in the New Testament." Mr. Jukes' comment upon this is, "that is, it would be a serious error to give the word its proper sense." "Why should it be a serious error," asks Dr. Farrar, "to refrain from reading into a word a sense which it does not possess?"

Archbishop Trench has, however, produced witnesses for this latter assertion,* which those who take him thus to task prefer to disregard. Indeed it cannot be shown that what Dr. Farrar considers "the sole proper meaning" of the word is ever the meaning of it, either in the Septuagint or the Apocryphal writings, in which we have certainly better authority for the meaning of words in the New Testament than can possibly be found in Plato or Aristotle.

{*"In proof that kolasis had acquired in Hellenistic Greek this severe sense, and was used simply as punishment or torment, with no necessary underthought of the bettering through it of him who endured it, we have only to refer to such passages as the following: Josephus, Ant. 15:2. 2; Philo, De Agricul. 9; Mart. Polycar. 2; 2 Macc. 4:38; Wisd. of Sol. 19:4" (Syn. of New Test. §7).}

It occurs six times in the Septuagint of Ezekiel: twenty-one times in the Apocryphal books. "So iniquity shall not be your ruin" (Ezek. 18:30) is translated "your punishment." In a passage in 1 Esdras, we find the disobedient enjoined to be punished whether by death or other infliction, "penalty of money, or imprisonment": where for "infliction" the word is actually the very word said to be opposed so entirely in meaning to kolasis, — "punished by timoria" and where death, the alternative of fine and imprisonment, is certainly not a "corrective discipline." In the book of Wisdom the word is applied to the punishment of the Egyptians, and in the 2 Macc. also to death.*

{*Prof. Bartlett, in his Life and Death Eternal, has a long note on the "meaning of kolasis," in which he brings forward a number of other instances, citing among the rest Plutarch, the (spurious) second epistle of Clement, and the Martyrium Polycarpi. The list of passages from the Septuagint and Apocrypha is as follows: Ezek. 14:3-4, 7; Ezek. 18:30; Ezek. 43:12; Ezek. 44:12; 1 Esdras 8:24; Wisd. 3:4; Wisd. 11:5, 9, 14, 17; Wisd. 12:15, 27; Wisd. 14:10; Wisd. 16:1-2, 9, 24; Wisd. 18:11, 22; Wisd. 19:4; 1 Macc. 7:7; 2 Macc. 4:38; 2 Macc. 6:14; 3 Macc. 1:3; 3 Macc. 6:3.}

Dr. Farrar can scarcely be acquitted then, either of superficial acquaintance with the subject upon which he speaks, or of wilfully shutting his eyes to the facts before him, some of which are cited in Dr. Trench's book. Even in the New Testament, where out of four passages one is that in dispute, the evidence is certainly against him. "Fear hath kolasin," can hardly refer to "corrective discipline"; and the "punishment" of the wicked in the day of judgment which Peter speaks of; we have, as we believe, more right to claim than he.

The word means then practically in the Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament, "punishment" simply, and the mode of punishment it does not express. Fine, imprisonment, death may come under the term; in the epistle of John (as well as in other passages outside of Scripture) it can scarcely imply other than suffering in some form. Here it is "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels," and that we have seen is torment: "they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever."

But arguments pursue us still; for to yield here would be to give up all. These turn mainly upon the term for "everlasting," and they are of so very similar nature, that we think we shall omit nothing if we allow Mr. Minton to be their expositor.

He objects that "everlasting punishment" —

"is an expression taken out of a most difficult parable, and which occurs nowhere else in the whole Bible. The moral of the parable is plain enough. But in that aspect it has no bearing whatever on the question. It is only in its prophetical aspect that we are now concerned with it, and in that aspect it is beset with difficulties."*

{* Way Everlasting, p. 41, etc.}

This is the cry habitually raised. But why should prophetical questions be a difficulty, when in point of fact people of all kinds of prophetical belief see none, and agree perfectly in their interpretation? As to being a "parable," one verse and a half introduces and dismisses all that is in it of this character. There is a simple comparison of the separation the Lord makes in that day between the righteous and the wicked to a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats. Then immediately the righteous are called "sheep," and the wicked "goats"; after which, instead of the figure being kept up, it is immediately dismissed, and this language never returned to; and the details are quite inconsistent with the figure being kept up.

Mr. Minton goes on: —

"Whether the event it refers to will take place at the beginning, or at the end, of the millennium; whether the sheep and the goats represent 'nations' or individuals, and in either case what nations or individuals, — whether Jew or Gentile, Christian or heathen, true and false professors in the church; and lastly, who are Christ's 'brethren,' apparently distinguished both from the sheep and the goats; all these questions are hotly disputed."

No doubt; but, as I have said, it has little to do with the matter. The parabolic nature of the passage has been most unwarrantably pressed, and as a consequence a veil of mystery has been thrown over what is very simple in character. What may fairly be questioned, as for instance who the "brethren" of the King may be, need raise no question touching our present subject. The everlasting punishment into which the wicked are sent away is defined as plainly as can be to be "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." It may be doubtful who are those punished, and when they are; the punishment itself is not doubtful.*

{*I do not mean that to myself these questions of who or when are doubtful. I have no question that they are the "nations" evangelized by the "everlasting gospel" (Rev. 14:6-7) during the interval that elapses between the taking away of the saints to heaven, and their appearing in glory with the Lord. The interval is of seven years at least, the last week of Daniel's seventy, and the time of preparation of the earth for its blessing, as the present period is that of the gathering for heaven. The "brethren" are, I believe, the publishers of this gospel, and Jews. But all this it would take many pages to establish from Scripture, and is quite unnecessary to the argument.}

"And yet it is out of such a parable as this, that a term is chosen to be unquestionably the main pillar of so stupendous an edifice as the theory of endless misery, and to be the name by which it is universally known."

The name may well express the doctrine, and thus have come into common use for it, without offence to those who claim that they hold eternal punishment as much as we do. If the term is itself so offensive, it surely must be because felt to be in opposition really to their views. Why urge the "difficulties" of the passage, if not so? But because it gives a name to the doctrine, it is not, therefore, necessary to the doctrine, which has been already abundantly proved, apart from this.

Mr. Minton next comes to the argument as to "everlasting," which, although in fact already met, we shall allow him to state in his own way: —

"There is at once the first crack in your infallible proof. 'Everlasting'" — he adduces "the everlasting hills," and Aaron's "everlasting" priesthood — "'everlasting' does not necessarily mean 'endless.' Why are you so sure that it does so in the passage before us? Your answer is ready: because the same word, though rendered differently in our translation, is in the same verse applied to the life of the righteous, which we know to be endless. This is without doubt the Sebastopol of your position. Thousands of persons who are wholly unable to follow anything like an argument, can feel the full force of this fact. When they once know that the word is the same in each clause of the sentence, they are perfectly confident that it must bear the same meaning in each.

"But why are you so sure that it means endless in either case? That eternal life means endless life elsewhere cannot prove it. We know that the expression is used in at least two different senses, namely, as a present possession, and as an object of hope. … Why may there not be some third aspect in which 'eternal life' can be presented, differing from, however closely connected with, the other two?"

Mr. Minton surely confounds things here. A thing may be seen in many aspects, and yet after all be but the same thing. "Eternal life" is always "eternal life," in whatever aspect seen, as a house is not a tree, whether seen from the north or from the south. Thus there is no warrant for his suggestion.

"Now here it becomes necessary to ascertain the precise meaning of the word aionios, rendered 'eternal' or 'everlasting.' And happily there is no difficulty either in its etymology or its usage. It is simply the adjective of the word aion, an age or period. It means, therefore, belonging to, or lasting throughout, some age or period. What that period is, in any specified instance, can only be known from the nature of the case, from the context, or from collateral evidence."

Here Mr. Minton ignores the later use of aion for eternity, which, we have seen, some of the stoutest advocates of limited periods have to admit, and makes the matter simple by denying all that does not consist with his theory. Aionios is never in the New Testament, when used in a time sense, less than "everlasting." It may be limited by the nature of what it qualifies, as "everlasting" itself is; but that does not make the meaning more doubtful in the one case than in the other.

"Sometimes it is left quite indefinite, as in 'the everlasting hills.' Sometimes it is unmistakably precise, as in 'everlasting consolation and good hope;' where the assurance is, that the consolation provided will never fail us, but will last throughout the whole period of our earthly life, that is, as long as we require it."

Which last would show that instead of being "unmistakably precise" according to Mr. Minton, its meaning has in this case to be determined by collateral evidence, and is not precise at all. The truth is, however, it is precise, and instead of being bounded by a lifetime, the consoling thing, the consolation, lasts forever in the strictest sense. If the future state did not fulfil it, it would be truly bounded by a lifetime, but that would make it only the hypocrite's hope that perishes. And so in the next example he produces.

"So also St. Paul says, 'I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, literally to the age,' elsewhere translated 'forever.' The aion there is the period of his own life, and, if the saying was to be rendered idiomatically, it should have been translated, 'as long as I live.'"

I should think if Paul ate no meat for the period of his life, he would eat none literally forever; and the argument is but a plausible deception. If the apostle were going to eat meat in eternity, it would have force. Perhaps Mr. Minton thinks he is, but he should show us why he thinks so.

"The question therefore stands thus: Is there any aion, except an endless one, to which the eternal life in Matt. 25:46, can refer? And if so, is there any reason to believe that it does refer to such aion there? Turn to Luke 20:35, 'They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world (aion) and the resurrection from the dead.' You and I believe that the age there spoken of is the millennial age … then why might not the obtaining of the blessedness connected with that age, by resurrection in the case of the dead, or by change in the case of the living, be called 'aeonial life,' which we render 'eternal life,' deriving our word 'eternal' from the Latin aetas, or age? And would there not be a peculiar propriety in this, if, at the same time that those who are counted worthy enter into the life of that age, the members of that visible church, then living on the earth, who are counted unworthy, incur destruction from the presence of the Lord, and are gathered in bundles to be burnt?"

Let Mr. Minton produce a passage in which "aeonial" means "millennial" plainly, and he will be entitled to be listened to. This he cannot do, and if he could he would, we may be sure. Even then, how could "aeonial life" mean sometimes "everlasting," sometimes "millennial" life? Again, what is the meaning of "millennial" life? It cannot be life simply entered into at the millennium, but life belonging to it. Does the believer's life belong to the millennium? In no sense whatever. It is not the "life of that age" into which believers enter; whatever special reign they may have during that time, their life belongs to eternity in the strictest sense.

I agree with Mr. Minton that the judgment here spoken of precedes the millennium, and that it is a judgment of individuals. To me these are both as clear as need be, and therefore I need not bring forward his proofs for them. The argument he founds on this is none the less worthless. But he comes now to the question in answer to the post-millennialist, who he thinks will not be moved by his prophetic expositions. He will allow "eternal" to mean endless, for the sake of argument.

"And suppose it does, how much nearer would the passage be to proving the doctrine of endless misery? Not a particle."

But why then so much pains to prove that it means "millennial"? Why, the protest against a term for the doctrine taken from so "difficult a parable"? Is Mr. Minton fighting for the sake of fighting, to show us his power as a combatant, or for the truth? Why contest points which as far as the doctrine in question is concerned, have "not a particle" of importance?

"In order to make it prove that, they would have to prove that the word "eternal" cannot be applied to anything which is accomplished once for all, but the effects of which are eternal; that for anything to be eternal, it must be in eternal process of accomplishment. This is your assumption throughout. Others have asserted it more confidently. But what then are we to make of 'eternal judgment'? Will God be eternally judging the wicked, as well as eternally punishing them? Will not the judgment take place once for all? In what sense can it be called eternal, except that its effects are eternal — that is, if the word be used in its most extended meaning — in other words, that it will be final and irreversible? And what are we to make of the eternal redemption,' which Christ is spoken of as 'having wrought out for us'? It is distinctly declared to have been accomplished once for all: it will not be a continual process lasting through eternity. It is called eternal, because its effects will be eternal. And why should not punishment be called eternal on the same principle? If eternal judgment is not eternal judging, nor eternal redemption eternal redeeming, why should eternal punishment be eternal punishing"?

Now the words are, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment," and this is explained to be "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." It is singular how the force of these expressions is felt, almost admitted, and then denied. First, the complaint is, that a phrase is taken out of a most difficult parable; then everlasting is not everlasting but millennial; then if it is everlasting it is perfectly correct annihilation doctrine: the effect of the punishment is eternal, and punishment is not "punishing." Now even as to the last it is really the literal force of the word,* which, moreover, always implies suffering in some form. Fine, imprisonment, death are that, and the passage in the first epistle of John, already quoted, cannot be rendered otherwise than by some word near akin to "torment." It is not a word that will possibly allow the thought of the sufferer passing away from under it, while yet it endures. The punishment cannot continue when there is no longer a person to be punished. Annihilation cannot be eternal punishment. This is why Mr. Minton is so anxious to have it "millennial," as we have seen. He is uneasy under the very idea of its being eternal. Why will we call it so, quoting the words of a very difficult parable? Then he turns round and says, let it be eternal, it is all right, and we all believe in it alike. It must be seriously doubted if we do.

{* Kolasis not kolasma.}

But "eternal redemption" is not an eternal process, and "eternal judgment" is not; why should eternal punishment be? As for eternal judgment, of course "sentence" (krima) is not always being passed; but the person is always under it, or it would not be eternal. And similarly as to redemption, the person is always enjoying it. If the punishment then be inflicted suffering (and that is the very idea of punishment), the person cannot cease to be and the suffering go on. Let Mr. Minton find the passage in which kolasis does not imply suffering of some sort, and then he will have some argument; but then it will be easy to prove that every beast that dies (and multitudes die in severest pain) suffers eternal punishment as truly as a man. And he cannot deny it. A beast's loss may be, of course, as much less than a man's as a man is more than a beast. But eternal punishment is as real in the one case as in the other.

It will not do then to talk as Mr. Minton does of the effect being eternal. The effect and what produces the effect, are very different things. In "eternal redemption" the redeemed are not merely eternally enjoying the blessedness into which they are brought as the effect of redemption, but the redemption also itself. And this is, if you like to say so, one of the effects; but the redemption itself is possessed and enjoyed forever. It is in vain to plead that the punishment is endured forever, when there is no longer any being to endure it.

As to the "everlasting fire," Mr. Minton as usual refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, but adds nothing fresh to the argument.

We have seen what this "everlasting fire" is, and what its effect. It would be but the mere lengthening unnecessarily of a sufficiently protracted argument to take this up again. We have still to consider some things connected with this doctrine in Scripture, and it is time to turn to these.