It is with a certain amount of hesitation and timidity that I attempt to occupy the reader with the subject of eternal punishment—with hesitation, because I should very much prefer to minister, as far as in me lay, the positive blessings of Christianity: with timidity, lest in placing before the mind of the reader the certain doom of the wicked, there might creep into the texture of the argument a spirit of haughtiness, hardness, or opinionativeness, which would, as far as these things could, where nothing but the truth was stated, falsify or obscure the grace of God to a sinful and devil-deceived world. Besides, when placing before others the woeful eternity to which all the enemies of God are fast hastening, I cannot keep out of my thoughts, nor would it be well that I should, the solemn conviction that I am only pointing out that to which I was myself subject, and to which I should eventually have come, had it not been for the fathomless grace of God and the sufferings of His only-begotten Son on Golgotha.
To the Father and to the Son in the power of the eternal Spirit be all the glory and all the praise.
Judgment is the prerogative of God; He alone has the right to execute wrath. But though it is His work, it is His strange work, a work in which He has no pleasure (Isa. 28:21). As the righteous Governor of the universe He is compelled to take vengeance on account of sin. Sin entered His dominions through that primal transgressor Satan, and it has spread like a loathsome disorder through much of His creation, inoculating in its pestilential pathway myriads of beings, driving them out of their right relations with their Creator, impelling them to traverse dark and crooked lanes of lawlessness, and inciting them to engage in actual hostility against the Almighty Himself. It is the fountain from whence this madness and folly of the creature spring, for to declare war against Him who is omnipotent is an act of insanity impossible to be surpassed.
Once this poison gets into the system, there does not seem to be any way in which it can be expelled. It is like a malignant ulcer seated in the very centre of the soul, and whose noxious fibres net and permeate the whole organism, a leprosy defiling and corrupting the fountain of life, a fell weed which cannot be torn up by the roots, but which must multiply, and grow, and spread, even when the garden of the soul is under the cultivation of God Himself. The devil sinned and fell, demons have fallen, angels have sinned, and are reserved in chains under darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 6). For none of these does there seem to be any recovery. Man has sinned, and though it has pleased God to make him the object of grace, there is no recovery back into his primordial and innocent condition: he must have a new life and nature. Once a sinner is to be a sinner for ever, unless, through the intervention of God, a new nature is communicated, which has all its delight in Him. Whether this can be done for any other creature than man is a question which I am unable to answer: there is no indication in Scripture that recovery is possible for any other.
The fact that man is a tri-partite being with spirit, soul, and body may be one reason why he is recoverable. I am sure of this, that He who made him had in the making of him redemption before Him: for after all, the first Adam was a figure of the Last (Rom. 5:14). And in that last Adam we who are believers were chosen before the world’s foundation. Neither the fall of angels nor of men has taken the blessed God by surprise. Everything that would enter into the universe, and all that creation would come to, were well known to God before His works of old. And the evil that has come in was by Him permitted. He could have kept it out had He so pleased, but He allowed it to enter that it might serve His purpose; and He has made it, and will continue to make it, serve to the fulfilment of His counsels of love, and then He will cause it to find its eternal home with him who brought it into being, in the lake of fire. At present He makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and that which would do anything more He restrains (Ps. 76:10). Everything God has made must serve Him: its love, its hate, its lawlessness, its obedience, must serve the end He has in view. Should the creature lift itself up against Him, it will do it to its own destruction, and it will learn in its utter defeat and humiliation that all its wicked and mischievous activities have, through the infinite wisdom of God, done nothing but help to the fulfilment of His beneficent purposes. The enemy may make a pit for another, but he is certain to fall into it himself. His mischief is sure to return upon himself, and his violent dealing descend upon his own pate. The Creator cannot be defeated by the work of His own hands.
Another thing we must keep in mind, the Creator cannot but be supreme in His own creation, and He must have the right to do as He pleases, whatever that pleasure may be. Woe to the creature that withstands Him. His authority must be supreme, and from His judgment seat there can be no appeal. Neither can the creature be wronged by his Creator; for he cannot be wronged who has no rights. The potter can make out of the clay whatever kind of vessel he may please, and when it is made he has the right to put it to whatever purpose is agreeable to his mind, he claims the right to do this, and no one is foolish enough to dispute with him about it. And certainly there is less distance between the potter and the clay than there is between God and His creation. Whatever He does is right.
No one ever gave God fully this place but His only-begotten Son. In Him I find every relationship in which man has been placed perfectly fulfilled. He is the TRUTH. He is not only the truth as to God, the Father having come to light in Him, so that we may know Him, but He is the truth as to man’s true place as the creature of God. He was here in humiliation, as sent of the Father, and was entirely at the disposal of Him who sent Him. He was born King of the Jews. The kingdoms of the world were His. He had a perfect right to all things. But He had taken the place of a servant, and had come in the form of man, and in Him I get light as to how man should conduct himself as the creature of God. I see in that perfect light that it is not the prerogative of the creature to will, to command, to choose out a path for himself, to question the right of God to trace out for him the path which he is to tread, nor to murmur against God whatever the path marked out for him may lead to. Man is here to obey, here to glorify Him who sent him, here for the service and the pleasure of Him who is Lord of all. Jesus got no kingdom, the world rejected Him; He had a crown of thorns and a gibbet instead of the throne of the world. What was behind all this rejection, humiliation, suffering, and death? The secret operations of the Father, who hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them to babes (Matt. 11). Is there the least sign of discontent, murmuring, or fault-finding with that meek and lowly Saviour of the world? Not the least. From the cradle to the cross His whole manner of life declared that He was here for the pleasure of God, and that it was of no importance what came of Him so that the Father was glorified. With Him the Father was Lord of heaven and earth, and as to the place He had taken, if His pathway led to the Cross with all its woes, it was enough for him to know that it was the will of the Father.
The reader may ask me if man is to be perfectly satisfied no matter how or in what circumstances his pathway may he disposed by God. I learn from Jesus that the “Lord of heaven and earth” is absolutely despotic in His own creation, and my whole soul acknowledges that the path which Jesus marked out down here is the only true path for God’s creature man. Has man, then, no resource? Blessed be God, he has an unfailing resource, and this resource is also brought to light in Jesus; He gave Himself in His extremity to prayer. But it was ever “not My will, but Thine be done.” And if prayer is to be heard the rights of God must be acknowledged. I must not come to Him as one who has some claim upon Him. The Syrophenician woman must take the place of a dog to get the blessing, for man must learn the ground upon which the favours of God are bestowed (Mark 7). It is impossible that the creature could have a claim upon the Creator.
I think this will help to clear the ground for the subject I have on hand. Men are so fond of asserting their own fancied rights, and disputing the rights of God, that they have almost given up the idea that there is any God but themselves. The moral foundations upon which God placed man in relationship with Himself have been destroyed, and that which bears the name of Christ is no better than the world. Men have got their own notions as to what God should be, and what He should do, and the revelation He has made of Himself does not suit their depraved notions. His love and His wrath are both alike to them cunningly devised fables; they believe in neither. When His servants pipe to them, they do not dance, and when they mourn to them, they do not lament (Luke 7:32). But where the wrath of God is believed, there is also present a sense of His goodness; and where His love is known His wrath is unquestioned, for both have been declared at the same moment in the sacrifice of Christ. And that evil might serve to the end that He should be known by His creature in all His attributes and in the love of His heart, God allowed it to enter His creation.
He is not the author of it: the devil is, he sins from the beginning (1 John 3:8). There was no sinner before him. Set in the most exalted position in which creature was ever set, his pride rose up in rebellion against the One who had made him, and who in goodness gave him that exalted place. We have him addressed by the prophet under the figure of the king of Tyrus (Ezek. 28), and he is told, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways, from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” Sin began to exist in the thought of that anointed cherub. There the inky river whose foul waters found their way into the garden of Eden, and from thence have filled the world with violence, corruption, sorrow, death, and woe, is traced to its source. How many ages have run their courses since this terrific being brought sin into God’s fair creation Scripture does not say, but the earth seems to bear upon its granite ribs many a scar of past conflict, and violence seems to have been for ages rampant in the lower order of creation, as it is today; but whether this was due to the influence of sin’s primogenitor, or whether it was not, we cannot tell. We do know that he was the first transgressor, and that to this day he remains the same evil, lawless, God-hating being he ever was, and that all who have fallen under his baleful influence remain in their fallen condition unchanged—all except man, who has become the subject of grace, and from whose race God makes a selection, recreating the objects of His choice, that they may be vessels of His praise. The rest remain in their natural rebellious condition, the enemies of God and of His Christ and of the gospel of His grace.
Now the question that arises in the mind is this: Will God go on with this state of things for ever? Are the invisible regions which are now defiled by sin never to be cleansed? Are the evil principalities and authorities in the heavenly places, who are entrenched there, and who from that exalted position influence the leaders of this world, never to be dispossessed? Is the spiritual power of wickedness in those celestial regions to carry on their impious warfare with impunity for ever? Is the devil himself, who directs the vain conflict against the Almighty, never to find a champion among the hosts of the Lord, who in the might of God will fling him like a flaming torch from the battlements of heaven, and eventually lay him powerless and prone in that region of unutterable misery prepared for him and his angels? Is this earth where God has been dishonoured, His laws broken, His prophets persecuted, His Son murdered, His Spirit resisted, His gospel rejected, to be for ever the sphere of blasphemous sedition?
What says the Scripture? It is our only court of appeal. If it be silent as to these questions, our wisdom is to be silent also. But it is not silent. It speaks about all these matters with no uncertain voice. It says, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). The present heavens and the earth are defiled by sin, but their day of purification is coming, and when that day comes their nation will be thorough and complete; not a trace of sin will be left remaining in that scene where God shall be all in all. It is described by the prophet who, in the vision of God, says. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, … their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21). What a glorious prospect! What seasons of infinite felicity, boundless satisfaction, and unspeakable gladness of heart shall come to light in those regions where righteousness, and truth, and holiness, and peace, and divine love have their eternal home! What shouts of exultation, what songs of victory shall break forth from that countless host of blood-washed overcomers, who will then have reached the crown and summit of every desire, which had at any time been begotten in their souls by the Holy Spirit of God! What glory to the Lamb shall roll like thunder throughout the vast realm of the blessed God! What praise, what worship shall be there poured forth into the Father’s ear from every heart overflowing with infinite and supreme delight! How one longs to mingle in that throng; to breathe the atmosphere of that goodly land; to contemplate that glorious company of sons of God; to gaze with rapture upon Him who brought them in the might of His eternal love through all the wilderness journey safe to glory; to hear that heavenly melody which shall issue like the sound of many waters from every redeemed heart; to join in it to the praise of Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us that He might make us all His own! What a sphere of supreme blessedness—the best that the wisdom, and might, and love of God could invent! To see the creature in circumstances the best that God could provide, to contemplate him dressed in the very richest raiment that He could supply, to view him seated at the most sumptuous feast that the creation of God could furnish, and to have the ear regaled with music from the most wonderful instruments that could be conceived even by the Creator Himself, and to know that every soul shall rest there, for ever safe from the invasion of evil—hasten, O Lord, that glorious day!
But how is that day to be brought about? There can be but one answer to this question: it will be brought about by the power of God. He is competent to deal with all the evil that may be found in the universe, and to the fact that He will deal with it we have abundant testimony in the Holy Scriptures. Every fell weed whose noxious growth defiles and disfigures the garden of God will be rooted up, and cast into that God-forsaken region storm-swept with horror of eternal wrath, and from which there shall be no release. There indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, shall be meted out to the rebellious, and that without respect to Jew, Gentile, rich, or poor.
Regarding this prospect, so appalling to the impenitent, there are many and various theories and speculations, every one of them the outcome of the deeply-rooted prejudice of the human mind against the rights of God, and of man’s innate propensity to justify himself, regardless of whom he condemns.