Part 3 The Eternal Issues

Chapter 43.

Last Words with Annihilationists

The end of my examination is then reached. It remains to say a few words as to the general tendency and connections of the doctrines we have been reviewing. Many, who by no means hold them, are yet blind to the evil they involve. And in this way they gain toleration at the hands of numbers, who learn to look on at their steadily increasing acceptance with an indifference which produces lamentable results. Quietly the leaven works. And Mr. Blain can say, with perfect truth, "a large number in the different churches believe the doctrine, who say but little about it, except to its open advocates." Nor does the profession of a very large amount of truth hinder its reception, as numerous instances bear painful witness.

I wish to point out, therefore, very briefly, some things that are connected with it, and some fruits which grow upon this root of evil. The tree is known by its fruit, and the fruit is here abundant and evident enough.

In the present chapter I shall confine myself to the doctrine of annihilation; and in the next take up the restoration theory.

In the first place, the undermining of Scripture is very evident in many. We must distinguish somewhat, and give due credit to the fact that a more respectable class of writers in this respect have come to the front of late, especially in England. Yet even among these the tendency is to be found. In the lower classes the tone of scepticism is unmistakable. We are told that no vindication of eternal punishment can be made.

"Prop it up by popular opinion, or disguise and conceal it as we may, it must ever appear to all rational creatures the very essence of folly, injustice, and cruelty. Can we believe that the doctrine is taught in the 'precious Bible, book divine'? And is it so? Must our sense of justice and goodness in Him, in whose hands we are, float on a tempestuous and shoreless ocean forever? No, the effort to lock up reason and common sense much longer in the narrow dark cell of mystery will be vain. Just, impulsive feelings, both of saints and thoughtful sinners must burst the bolts, and emerge into light and relief."*

{* Blain's Review of Beecher, p. 33.}

If this were a solitary statement, or of one writer, I should not quote it, but similar language is used by many. Quite in accordance with it, Mr. Hudson gives us a volume of four hundred and sixty-eight pages upon the subject, the "Scriptural Argument" occupying sixty-seven. This single chapter he afterwards enlarges into a smaller volume,* "designed," he says, "to meet the convenience of those who rely for their views of future life upon the reading and interpretation of the Scriptures."

{*"Christ our Life."}

Mr. Edw. White is still more frank in telling us his estimate of the word of God. In his "Life in Christ" (p. 393), amid much similar language, he uses this: —

"I cannot conceal my conviction that the path of duty and of wisdom in dealing with such documents as the gospels demands this practical conclusion: — If they offer to us any statements of Christ's doctrine, by excess or defect conspicuously disagreeing with the facts, or with the plain sense of His teaching as recorded by the same or other historians, resolutely to refuse to allow such exceptional misreports or omissions to interfere with the truth which has been learned by a wider survey of the evidence."

With many who are not as open as this the secret undercurrent is yet manifest. It suggests to Mr. Blain that "the book of Revelation can settle no doctrine," and whether this one text "looks strong enough to vanish (? vanquish) the two hundred and ten opposing ones." It suggests to the authors of "The Bible vs. Tradition," that, of this Bible, such a passage "may have been amended by some officious copyist." It makes Mr. Dobney deride the seeking to "the hieroglyphs of the isle of Patmos." It reasons in Mr. Constable that if the parable of Luke 16 "could be truly shown to teach [non-extinction] views, the only effect would be that of establishing a contradiction between one part of Scripture and another, or of affording reason to think that this parable of Lazarus, despite the authority of manuscripts, formed no part of the original gospel of St. Luke." Thus the authority of the word is undermined, — that word which asserts for itself that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine." To seek to get the sacred text as perfect as possible, free from the real mistakes of copyists, is another thing; but to invent conjectural criticisms of this kind is but the poor, vain refuge of unbelief, too timid openly to avow itself as such. Mr. Hastings' own words, used as to one class of these, the deniers of the resurrection of the wicked, apply but too well to very many more: "these passages still stand, after all the attempts to evade them, to convert them into mere figures of speech, or to retranslate them in [such] a manner that they shall flatly contradict their originals!"*

{* Retribution, p. 74.}

This last mode of evacuating Scripture is with the lowest class of annihilationists (who are not the least popular) the one perhaps the most frequently adopted. "The Bible vs. Tradition" is crammed with new translations, specimens of which have been already given. But at the other end of the scale, Morris' "What is Man?" a book of the most extravagant pretentiousness, is perhaps as full. Ellis and Read, when Greek and Hebrew fail, bring in Syriac to their aid, yet do not know the difference between the singular and plural of a Greek participle, or between the verb dexai and the adjective dexia. Thus the minds of the simple are thrown off their balance, and doubts insinuated even as to the honesty of the common translation, calculated to destroy all faith in that which alone, to ordinary readers, represents the authoritative word of God.*

{*Mr. Blain says, "The translators designedly covered up the truth" (Death not Life, p. 54). One of his subsections is headed, "The Catholics more honest in their translation than the Protestants." The same writer observes (p. 104), "The 19th century has regulated brains so as to use steam and lightning, and it will yet regulate them to use the figurative language of the Bible aright."}

(2.) But there is another thing most evident and most disastrous in results. Mr. Hudson admits and laments the prevalence of materialism among the upholders of the views he advocates; and he notices one consequence, that the difficulty which results from thus conceiving of the wicked as "wholly dying" twice, and the penalty being thus twice exacted, "has led many to deny that the resurrection of the unjust" signifies their being made alive." This view is spreading among them. That, at the worst, "death is an eternal sleep," and there is no day of recompense or retribution. What that leads to is plain enough.

Mr. Hudson disclaims this materialism. Mr. Constable, however, with more reason, asserts its legitimate connection with annihilation. For if the cardinal terms of the controversy are (as is constantly asserted) life and death, then it must be for annihilation a point of first necessity that death should be extinction. If the first death be not that, why should the second death be? And moreover the words for destruction in both Greek and Hebrew are themselves in most cases used for death, and can scarcely be pressed as meaning more than this. Mr. Constable has rightly, therefore, urged that in consistency this meaning of death must be maintained.

(3.) But this, as we have seen, cuts yet more deeply: and Mr. C.'s logical mind carries it out further than many. Christ truly died. Nay, if He was one person before death, death could not make Him two; and this one person lay in Joseph's tomb. We must not think of any person elsewhere — in paradise, for instance, — says Mr. Constable. But if that be true, what about the divine nature? Did that become impersonal, or did it lie in Joseph's tomb? It is a noticeable fact, how much annihilationism links itself with the denial of Christ's Deity. With this also the Deity of the Holy Ghost comes into question.* If there be no spirit of man, is there any Spirit of God? The passage already noticed in 1 Cor, 2:11, links the two doctrines close enough together to make any tampering with the one bode ominously the downfall of the other. Hence far and wide this view is also spreading. The 19th century may "regulate brains" (alas, what about hearts?), but not the Holy Ghost. It is a mesmeric influence, or something akin to electricity, if not rather even electricity itself.

{*Mr. Edw. White, himself an annihilationist, shows forcibly that the materialistic argument may be carried on to atheism: "If man has no reason to believe that he possesses a spirit ' in himself, he has no reason for concluding that the mind revealed in nature inheres in an Eternal Spirit '. … If thought is a function of matter, it is right to conclude either, pantheistically, that there is some governing thought which is a function of the matter of the universe, or, atheistically, that there is no mind in nature, notwithstanding appearances. Mr. Constable will resist the conclusion. But Prof. Clifford, a more consistent materialist, stoutly affirms it (Fortnightly Review, No. 139, 1875)." (Life in Christ, p. 296, note).}

(4.) There is another thing which naturally connects with these, but is found much more widely. Sin is softened down in all cases. You must not ask man to believe in a greater penalty attaching to it than his natural conscience, dull as that may be, approves. "The doctrine of eternal anguish," Mr. Hastings argues, "how can it be received by the unbelieving?" May we not ask that of a good deal more? This Christ crucified — these "things of the Spirit of God" — how can the "natural man" receive them? Scripture vouches that he cannot: "they are foolishness unto him." By parity of reasoning we should alike discard them all.

Necessarily then the judgment of sin is lowered. You are to accommodate the penalty to the conscience of the impenitent. The harder the conscience, the less you can press upon it penalty at all. It may be doubted if they will accept annihilation even: nay, rather, it is positively certain that they will not. The argument is not without danger therefore to the theory it supports. And if "man has NO pre-eminence above a beast," even in the highest thing he has, as Mr. Constable puts it, what is a beast's conscience? and what is the measure of a beast's responsibility? what becomes of the fall? Serious questions these, if we are to have anything left of Christianity beside the name. The actual fact is, that this reasoning is being followed out to its legitimate result. As we have already seen, the resurrection of the wicked is being denied by many. A beast's end is thus simply and wholly a man's end. And that means, there is absolutely no divine judgment at all. The wages of sin is death; i.e., simply what a beast suffers. Or if it be the suffering in view of death, then death alone is not its wages, and the most hardened suffers least.

All have not landed there yet: in many ears "after death the judgment" lingers still; but they have started on the voyage, and the many outstrip their pilots. Another who has had practical experience of the working of these views has written of it "The effect in destroying responsibility was fearful; and, in people of grosser habits, rejection of all truth, and immorality. The tree was bad, had a bad sap, and so was cut down, and there was an end of it." "And one of the chief teachers in the United States declares in his book, that the deep distress of conscience and terror about sin committed was a base, servile fear and wrong. To one who had found he had lost the atonement, and the sense of responsibility out of his mind, and who asked him what he made of responsibility, he replied, it was impossible to reconcile it with his system, but he saw it in Scripture, and so did not deny it."*

{*The Eternity of Punishment and the Immortality of the Soul, pp. 135, 139.}

(5.) The writer just quoted has added elsewhere as to the effect upon atonement: "If sin means eternal exclusion from God's presence, it is dreadful enmity against God now, exclusion from God then. If death is the only wages of sin, Christ had no more to suffer for me. Nay, if I am a Christian, He had nothing to suffer, if I die before the Lord comes. I have paid the wages myself. If it be only some temporary punishment I had incurred, He had only that to bear. 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' has lost its force. It is in vain to say, He gives us life. He can, in itself, quicken without dying. If He died, He died for my sins, and bore them. If death [simply] be the wages of sin, millions of saints have paid them. And if a partial punishment be all I had to bear, it is all Christ had to bear. The sense of sin I have, and its desert, is not being forsaken of God, shut out from Him when I know what it is, but a temporary punishment, a quantum of offence, which is all I have to think of, and all Christ had to bear, if anything."*

{*Ibid., p. 128.}

Let me say that, perhaps, none rise higher than this, viz., the substitutional sacrifice of life for life, the death of the cross no more than a martyr's death, to which the Deity of the Sufferer gave all its value* — the mass go lower far, as, for instance among those not absolute materialists, Mr. Hudson and Mr. Ham.

{*"And it is a truth never to be forgotten, that the infinite value which pertains to the one sacrifice of Jesus, arises, not from any inherent dignity or value in man, as the subject of redemption, nor from the nature or extent of the penalty due to sinners, but … from His own essential Deity, and from the fact of His having laid down His life in obedience to the commandment of His Father, God" (What is Man? p. 51).}

But the death of the cross was no mere martyr's death. It was that surely: the Prince of witnesses did there lay down His life in testimony to the truth that He had come from heaven to declare. But there was much more than that, and much more than the substitutional giving up of life for life. "He who knew no sin was made sin" there. "He was made a curse for us." And that solemn 22nd psalm, which, as we know, the Lord on the cross applies to Himself, declares to us a death exceptional in its character from that of all beside. Not merely in its being vicarious; that is not the point; but in what that vicariousness involved. No mere giving up of life — no pain of death — no bitterness of persecution — could have wrung that awful cry from the Lord of life and glory, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" That was the cup He dreaded. That was what the sacrifice involved. Not, as has been said, a quantum of suffering. But isolation from the presence and communion of One who had been from His mother's womb His trust and joy. It was the blood of One who had thus been laden with our burden of iniquities, and borne our sins in His own body on the tree, that alone could atone, alone could cleanse. The blood of a sin-offering, burned upon the ground outside the holy place, and outside the camp, alone could be "brought into the sanctuary by the high-priest for sin." (Heb. 13. Even so Jesus suffered, the Holy One in the sinner's place of wrath and distance from a holy God. If He did not, we have no blood of atonement, no efficacious sacrifice at all.

Thus annihilation strikes at the vitals of Christianity; while instead of resolving the problem of the existence of evil, it is a giving up of it rather as hopelessly insoluble. It is the mechanical stamping out of a life designed for eternity, given of God but resumed by Him, as if defeated in the object for which life was given. By that very fact it is the triumph of evil rather than its defeat.