Eternal Punishment.

W W Fereday.


We have two things here: First, the formation of the body; then the impartation of life by the inbreathing of God. Man has, in consequence of this, a character of life within him that is not possessed by the lower creatures of God's hand. He holds a very special place in God's universe. Angels are spirits; beasts, etc., have soul and body; man is distinguished from them all by the possession of spirit, and soul, and body (Ps. 104:4; Gen. 1:20-21, 24; 1 Thess. 5:23).

Constitutionally, then, man is amenable to the judgement of God, being a creature with great responsibilities. Morally also, man is amenable to judgement because he is a sinner. The fall, as described in Gen. 3, is no allegory (whatever some perverse persons may say), but a humiliating fact. Who would pretend that man is today what God made him at the first? Do not the experiences of every hour assure us that our race has met with some fearful moral catastrophe? The truth is, that man has revolted against his Creator, and has, in consequence, filled the earth with sin and misery. In Luke 5:31-32 our Lord speaks of sin in a two-fold way — as a moral disease requiring a divine physician, and as a moral offence calling for repentance on the part of the offender.


We come now to our second question: "What is the judgement of God?" Here we must distinguish between what is called the intermediate state, and the eternal state. Hades describes the one, and Gehenna — the lake of fire — the other. The bottomless pit has nothing to do with men; it is a place of punishment for rebellious angels only. We have a solemn view of the intermediate state granted to us in Luke 16:19-31, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I will briefly indicate some of its features. First, there is consciousness there. Memory was lively with the rich man, and he was capable of describing his painful sensations. Second, there is suffering there. If it be asked, how can spirits suffer? I need only draw attention to the fact that Satan is said to be "tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev. 20:10), and he is a spirit, most assuredly. Spirits therefore are capable of suffering. Third, conditions are fixed there. Notice Abraham's words: "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they that would pass hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence." No hint was dropped, either by Abraham or the rich man, that ultimately the sufferer would obtain deliverance, nor even that he would at some future epoch escape from his woe by the extinction of his being. In this connection, how deeply solemn are the words in John 3:36: "He that believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Fourth, prayers cannot be answered there. The rich man gave utterance to two simple requests, one for himself, and one for his living brethren, only to get the refusal of both. When he might have prayed to God, he had no desire to do so; in Hades it was too late for God to hearken to his supplications.


All this relates to the intermediate state; that is, the condition of the lost from the moment of the dissolution of the body until the judgement of the great white throne. Let us now consider their eternal condition. The question is sometimes asked, "What does 'eternal' mean?" 2 Cor. 4:18 will answer the question for the simplest mind. "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." "Eternal" is thus the opposite of "temporal." "Temporal" means for a time only; "eternal" refers to that to which no time limit can be assigned.

We will now briefly examine some of the most important passages of Scripture bearing on the eternal condition of the ungodly. Turn first to Mark 9:47-48: "If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire (Gehenna); where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched." One need have no contention with any who claim that this is figurative language; what I desire to impress upon you all is that the conditions described are abiding. The undying worm and the unquenchable fire mean nothing if those upon whom they are inflicted ever pass from under their terrible power. Turn next to Rev. 14:10-ll. Concerning the worshippers of the Beast, we read: "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of His anger; and he 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 goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night" (R.V.).

Such language is too plain to require much comment. "No rest" suggests eternal consciousness, and reminds one of our Lord's expressive words, many times repeated, "Weeping and gnashing of teeth." Lest any have a difficulty as to the precise force of the words "for ever and ever," I would point out that they occur twenty times in the New Testament: sixteen times they are applied to God, His being, reign, and worship: once they are used concerning the reign of the saints: and three times concerning the punishment of the lost. What the words mean in one passage they must of necessity mean in every other passage in which they occur; thus the very being of God, the blessedness of believers, and the torment of unbelievers, all continue, or come to an end together. Some will perhaps say, "Then immortality is only a curse to many of our race." But is this a reasonable objection against immortality itself? Riches are a curse to some men; education to others; but who would be so foolish as to declaim against these things because some men know not how to use them aright.


"As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and Judgement to come, Felix trembled" (Acts 24:25).

BEFORE going to the heart of our subject for this evening, I desire to draw your attention to the faithful dealing of Paul the Apostle with the Roman governor Felix. He had been brought up from his prison in order to have an interview with the governor and his wife. It was a capital opportunity for him to press the injustice of his imprisonment, and to plead for his liberty. Instead of doing so, he used the occasion, as a devoted soul-seeker, in dealing earnestly and pointedly with Felix and Drusilla about their souls' condition. Mark the effect produced. "As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come, Felix trembled." Note this fact well, that judgement to come, as preached by Paul, was something for a wicked man to tremble at. The Revisers use an even stronger term in their Version: "he was terrified." Is it always so at the present time? Or is it not a fact that God's judgement of sin is frequently presented to-day in a fashion that is rather soothing than alarming to the consciences of the wicked?

I propose to deal with three questions this evening. First, "Is there that in man which renders him amenable to the judgement of God?" Second, "What is the judgement of God?" Third, "What is the way to escape from the judgement of God?"


To the first of these questions the answer must be, "Yes, there is that in man, both constitutionally and morally, which renders him amenable to God's judgement." I should reply differently if the question were put as to a dog. The dog has no existence apart from the body, nor is he a moral being, with responsibilities concerning which he must give an account to his Creator. Scripture everywhere assumes that man has that within him which does not die when the body dies. Look at Matt. 10:28. The Lord Jesus, in His charge to His disciples, said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." No one can well misunderstand this language. Enemies, in their hatred to the Gospel, might kill the messengers of Christ; but, though the body be thus destroyed, there still remained the soul, altogether beyond the reach of creature harm. Look also at Luke 16:19-31. There three men are shown to us, holding conversation together in the unseen world after earthly conditions had been left behind for ever. Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man were all dead persons as far as this world was concerned; but they had by no means ceased to exist. To these passages let us add Ecc. 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it." Here body and soul are carefully distinguished the one from the other. Matt. 22:31-32 is a very striking passage in this connection. In replying to the quibble of the Sadducees about the resurrection, our Lord said: "As touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

The allusion is to the incident of the burning bush. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had long been dead as regards this world, when Jehovah said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The Lord hangs His whole argument on the divine use of the present tense, reasoning that God could not proclaim Himself the God of men who had altogether ceased to be. Though dead, they were yet living, "for all live to Him". I would remind you also, that Peter, in a much-discussed passage, speaks of the men of Noah's day as "spirits in prison," though some 2,500 years had elapsed since the deluge (1 Peter 3:19-20). Those who suffered under that divine visitation had plainly not passed out of existence when Peter wrote his first epistle.


Man's constitution is defined in 1 Thess. 5:23 as "spirit, and soul, and body." (Observe the order, for careless folk frequently reverse it when making use of this text). Our English word "spirit" represents the Hebrew word "Ruach," and the Greek word "Pneuma." The spirit of man is the seat of his intelligence and judgement, and for this reason "Ruach" is sometimes rendered "mind and understanding." "What man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (1 Cor. 2:11). These words show plainly the proper quality and functions of the human spirit. Our English word "soul" is the translation of the Hebrew word "Nephesh," and the Greek word "Psuche." The soul, as distinguished from the spirit, is the seat of the affections and desires. Various Scripture passages show that the soul loves, hates, and lusts. The body is, of course, the outer vessel by means of which the spirit and the soul manifest themselves. The word "mortal" is frequently applied in the Scriptures to the body (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.); but the body is the only part of men to which the term is ever applied by God. What is the significance of the divine inbreathing recorded in Gen. 2:7? The birds, fishes, and beasts were called into being by the word of God, but when the moment came for the creation of the man, something very different appears. "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."


Suffer me now to link together three exceedingly solemn passages in the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation. Some principles of great importance are contained in them. Let us read first, Rev. 19:20. This verse speaks of the doom of the two great leaders of the coalition that will confront the Lamb at His public appearing. "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone." This is very terrible, without passing through death and resurrection as other men, and without any manifestation before the great white throne, these arch-enemies of Christ are dispatched to the lake of fire. Having signalised themselves in wickedness, the Lord signalises them in judgement. But turn now to Rev. 20:10. A thousand years have passed since the awful incident described in chapter 19:20, during which the kingdoms of the world have been in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now see what happens. "And the devil … was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Observe, please, that though various Scripture passages speak of the false prophet as "consumed," "destroyed," and "slain" (2 Thess. 2:8; Isa. 11:4), both he and his associate, the Beast, are still existing in the lake of fire, a thousand years after being sent there. To be "consumed," "destroyed," etc., is clearly not extinction of being. Observe also the word "they," added by the Revisers in their translation. The meaning is, that not only will Satan be tormented for ever and ever, but the Beast and the false prophet also. They will thus never cease to be. Satan is sometimes spoken of as if he were king in hell. This is a complete mistake. Far from exercising any authority there, he will be the greatest sufferer of all, being the greatest offender in the universe of God. To these passages add Rev. 20:15, where it is written, "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Note the order: First, the Beast and the false prophet; then, a thousand years later, Satan; finally, after the judgement of the great white throne, the lost in general are cast into the lake of fire. Truly, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).


This brings us to our third question: "What is the way of escape from the judgement of God?" That there is a way of escape divinely provided is unquestionable, seeing that God has said: "Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked?" (Ezek. 18:23). Has He not also told us that He "desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth"? (1 Tim. 2:4). The heart of God yearns over the erring children of men; fain would He welcome all to His bosom, and imprint upon every cheek the kiss of divine forgiveness. Heb. 9:27-28 sets before us God's grand principle of salvation and blessing. "And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgement: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many: and to them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin to salvation." Sins; death; judgement! Three terrible realities, which are all my own as one born of Adam's ruined race. But over against my sins God has set Christ's one offering. What matchless grace! The costly sacrifice of Calvary has made it possible for God to take every humble and contrite sinner to His heart for ever. The foulest sinner may be pardoned and cleansed in virtue of the Saviour's precious blood. Then over against death and judgement God has set Christ's second coming to complete the blessing of His people, when the body as well as the spirit shall experience the sweetness of God's salvation.

God will not proclaim these glad tidings for ever. Even His long-suffering has a limit. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "To-day, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb. 3:7-8). Let no man be mistaken in this great matter. Salvation is proclaimed earnestly to all while in this world; when the border-line is passed, salvation's amazing story of divine love and grace is heard no more.

We commenced with Paul; we will close with him. He could affirm in the presence of those who were familiar with his ministry: "I am pure from the blood of all men; for I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). No one-sided preacher was he. With delight he told men of the love of God, but with all due solemnity he also warned men of the wrath of God. It was this faithful man who penned the words: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3). To such a question there is absolutely no answer.