This little work is written for the purpose of furnishing a sketch
of the argument by which it is shown that the doctrine of Endless Punishment is
not of divine origin, but traceable directly to a heathen source.
It is not intended as an elaborately philosophical or
critical discussion of the subject, as the size of the volume will show; but
only as a popular presentation of the method of proof, and of the leading facts
and authorities on which the argument rests.
Those having time and sources of information at command,
will enter into a more thorough investigation for themselves. For such this
work is not designed; but for those who, not having the opportunity, nor the
books, necessary to a complete and critical examination of the question, wish a
brief statement of the facts and arguments on which is grounded the assertion
that the doctrine of endless torments is of heathen origin.
This will account for the absence of many things which the
reader might justly expect to find here, and which rightfully claim place in a
work bearing the title of this.
The subject treated is one of
very great importance, and equally concerns the purity of Christian doctrine,
and the happiness and virtue of those believing. It is every day commanding
more and more attention from serious and thoughtful minds. And on all sides,
and in the churches of all sects, there is increased inquiry into the
foundations of the doctrine, and rapidly growing doubts of its divine origin
and authority. It is possible the following pages may help to answer some of
the questions growing out of this state of mind, and to show how a doctrine,
thoroughly heathen in origin and character, came to be adopted by the Christian
The sale of the first edition of
nearly two thousand copies in the space of three or four months, without being
advertised in any form, has encouraged me to believe that the work meets an
actual want, and will be serviceable to the cause of Truth. In the preparation
of the present edition, therefore, I have made considerable additions; and, I
trust, improvements also, in the hope of making it more worthy and more useful.
Two chapters and two sections entire have been added, and chapters three, four
and six, have been greatly enlarged, and the argument illustrated and fortified
by new facts and authorities.
Still the book is far from what I could wish, or what it
might be made, if time, and all the means of investigation, were at command.
Yet, such as it is, I send it forth again, to do what work it may; believing
that, in the conflict of opinions, Truth only is immortal, and cheerfully confident,
therefore, that, at last, all error and all evil will perish.
* * *
* * * *
Since the above was written, this work has passed through
several large editions. The present issue has additional testimonies
strengthening the argument in its various branches. Most of these, with the
exception of those pertaining to Chapters III and IX, which are inserted in the
body of the text, are gathered into a single chapter at the end of the book;
and to facilitate reference, notes have been added to the chapters and sections
to which they severally belong.
Boston, January, 1871.
CHAPTER I..................................... 1
THE PERIOD BEFORE THE LAW
Law announced to our First Parents with the Penalty of Endless Punishment annexed
revealed in the History of their Transgression, nor in that of Cain, the
Deluge, or Sodom and Gomorah
CHAPTER II................................. 11
THE PERIOD UNDER THE LAW
I. - Endless Punishment not taught by Moses in the Law; - nor is it mentioned
anywhere in the Bible History of the Jews
II. - Testimony of Orthodox Critics and Theologians to this Point
III. - Old Testament Doctrine of Hell, Sheol
IV. - General Application of the Argument
V. - Objections to the foregoing Argument answered
CHAPTER III................................ 45
ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN
I. - Description of the Heathen Hell, its Location, Inhabitants and
Punishments; compared with Church Doctrine
II. - The Doctrine Invented by Heathen Legislators and Poets; Shown by their
- Its Egyptian Origin
CHAPTER IV................................ 63
THE JEWS BORROWED THE DOCTRINE
FROM THE HEATHEN
Historical Argument on this Point
CHAPTER V.................................. 75
ENDLESS PUNISHMENT NOT TAUGHT IN
THE NEW TESTAMENT
I. - Salvation of Christ not from this
II. - New Testament Doctrine of Hell
III. - Unquenchable Fire; how used in the Scriptures; how used by Greek Writers
IV. - Everlasting, Eternal, and Forever, not Endless
- Testimony of
Lexicographers and Critics
- Usage of Greek
V. - The Second Death
CHAPTER VI.............................. 119
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE
DOCTRINE INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
general Corruption of the early Church
Appearance of the Doctrine - its Form
First, The Wicked not raised from the Dead, or Under-world
Second, Raised and Punished
Third, Future Punishment ending in Annihilation
Fourth, Endless Punishment
of Universalism, and Endless Punishment decreed Orthodox, A.D. 553
CHAPTER VII............................. 141
THE DOCTRINE CREATES A CRUEL
AND REVENGEFUL SPIRIT - ILLUSTRATED FROM HISTORY
of Faith on Character
Crusades against the Albigenses
of St. Bartholomew
Spanish Inquisition; its Influence on Society; Note
Influence not confined to Catholic Believers of the Doctrine
CHAPTER VIII............................ 155
THE COMPARATIVE MORAL
INFLUENCE OF BELIEF AND DISBELIEF OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT - HISTORICAL CONTRAST
Influence on the Morals of the Heathen; Greeks, Romans, Burmans
Character of the Pharisees and Sadducees contrasted in reference to this Point
CHAPTER IX.............................. 165
THE INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE
ON THE HAPPINESS OF ITS BELIEVERS - ILLUSTRATED FROM THEIR OWN CONFESSIONS
of Saurin, Stuart, Barnes, Henry Ward Beecher
CHAPTER X................................ 177
ADDITIONAL TESTIMONIES ON THE
QUESTIONS DISCUSSED IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS
BEFORE THE LAW
The following two positions will be admitted without
question, it is believed, by all Christians.
1st. If the doctrine of endless punishment be, as affirmed
by its believers, absolutely and indispensably necessary to the preservation of
virtue, and to perfect obedience to the laws of God; if this be the salutary
and saving influence of the doctrine, then it constitutes one of the strongest
possible reasons for its being revealed to man at the very earliest period of
the world's history.
2d. If endless punishment be true, it is terribly true to
all those who are in danger, - wherein is found another powerful reason why it
should have been made known in the clearest manner, on the very morning of
creation! In the clearest manner: it
should not have been left in doubt, and obscurity, by the use of indefinite
terms; but it should have been proclaimed in language which no man could misunderstand, if he would. Rather than that there
should even be the possibility of a mistake in a matter of such vast and
fearful moment, it should have been graven by special miracle into every soul
that God sent into the world.
Let us, then, proceed to inquire if we
have any such revelation of the doctrine. When God created Adam and Eve, and
placed them in the garden of Eden, did He announce to them any law for their
observance, having attached to it the penalty in question? Surely justice
demanded, if He had forced them into being subject to this awful peril, that He
should set out before them both the law and its punishment in the most specific
manner. Did He do this? Where is the record of it? Read diligently the first
and second chapters of Genesis, and see if anything of this sort is recorded
there, in connection with the creation of man.
In chapter ii 15-17, we have this statement:
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden
of Eden to dress it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of
every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou
eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
This is the only record we have bearing on the subject; but
there is no moral law here, which is declared as the future rule of life for
them, and for all their posterity. They are simply commanded not to eat of the
forbidden tree. Now, whether this is understood in a literal or allegorical
sense, we cannot suppose that we have here the formal announcement of a divine
law, which claimed the obedience of all mankind on the penalty of endless
torment. We certainly cannot believe that God would open the great drama of our
life on this earth, involving such infinite consequences, in such brief and
doubtful language, and with so little specification where so much was needed.
As regards the penalty of disobeying the commandment, do we
find any statement which can be mistaken for endless punishment? God says,
"In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;" but this is
very far from saying, "Thou shalt, after the death of the body, be
subjected to the torments of an endless hell."
We are told, to be sure, that this means "death temporal,
death spiritual, and death eternal;" but where is the proof of it? So
terrible a doctrine must not be assumed, but demonstrated by unquestionable
evidence. Who can believe that God would reveal so frightful a punishment in
language so easily misunderstood - by the single word "die," a term
employed in such a variety of senses, capable of such a wide latitude of usage?
Would any earthly parent, if the immortal salvation of his
children were at stake, have been so careless of his speech? Would he have
chosen language so liable to be mistaken? Would he not rather have announced
the awful truth in words which would admit of no possible doubt? Beside, if the
terrors of this punishment are so effectual in preventing transgression, this
was another reason for a specific declaration of the consequences of
disobedience. If the argument on this point is good, a plain, open threat of
endless woe at the very gate of Eden, as they entered, might have kept them
back from the forbidden tree, and saved them and our race from the dreadful
evils which followed the introduction of sin into the world.
But let us now turn to the record of their transgression,
and of some other examples, where, if the doctrine is of divine origin and
authority, we may surely expect to find it announced, and the weight of its
awful curse brought down upon the guilty victims.
1. The first transgression. Gen. iii 1-17. As this is the beginning of the
sorrowful tragedy of evil, we may look for some distinct revelation of the
doctrine in review, if it is of God; yet not one word is said in reference to
it, nor is there any threat of punishment that can be mistaken for it!
The serpent is cursed, and the ground is cursed; but neither
the man nor the woman! And observe carefully all the words of the sentence, and
while mention is made of evils to be endured in this life, not the most distant
allusion is made to any evil or punishment beyond this life. Now, if the
doctrine of interminable torment after death be true, how are we to account for
this? Can it be possible that God would be so careful to mention all the lesser
evils, and wholly omit all mention of the terrible woes that are to have no
Who can believe that a just lawgiver and ruler would deal
thus with his people? And of all things who can believe that the divine Father
would deal thus treacherously with His own children?
But how differently the case stands, when we come to the
doctrine of a present retribution for sin. In the very outset God warns our
first parents against transgression, and in the most positive terms declares to
Adam, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Is not this clear enough? In the very day of
transgression they should die, or suffer the punishment of their sin, and this surely, beyond question or doubt. And was this assurance of
God fulfilled? Most certainly; for they had no sooner sinned, than the
retribution began, and they died to the peace and joy of innocence. The day of
transgression was the day of judgment. They found that the wages of sin were
death, or, in other words, misery, fear, anguish, and all the direful
consequences of wrong. And that their case may profit their posterity, a
careful statement of the mournful consequences of the transgression is made up,
and put on record as a warning to future generations.
2. Cain; or the murder of Abel. Gen. iv 1-16. Here we have an example of the greatest
of all crimes, murder - the
murder of a brother! Surely we may now expect the doctrine of endless
punishment to be revealed; and it would seem that, if true, there is no
possible way to avoid mention of it. This was the first instance of this awful
crime, and, Cain standing exposed to the fearful penalty, this was the time to
roll the thunder of its terrors through the world, as a warning to all coming
generations! This must have been
done, if true; and yet in the whole account we have not a single word on the
subject, not the slightest intimation that any such punishment was threatened.
The whole record is as follows:
And the Lord said unto Cain, The voice of thy brother's
blood crieth unto me from the ground! And now art thou cursed from the earth,
which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When
thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength;
a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
This is all we have in the way of punishment or
threatenings; and is there anything here that looks like endless torments
beyond this life? anything that would suggest the idea of such a judgment?
Nothing at all; the guilty man is cursed from the earth, which is to refuse her
fruits to his culture, and is driven out a vagabond; and there is the end of
And it is evident that Cain did not understand the threats
of judgment as implying endless woe, for his fears are all confined to the
earth - the dread of revenge, of being killed, and the horrors of the life of
an outcast and a vagabond.
And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than
I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the
earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a
vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that every one who findeth me
shall slay me.
These are all the evils of which Cain makes mention; and
in view of them he exclaims, "My punishment is greater than I can
Now, we put the question, can it be that, beside the
punishments here named, Cain was to be subjected to endless torments after
death, and yet be left wholly ignorant of the dreadful fate that awaited him?
And if the guilty and wretched man thought the punishment actually denounced
greater than he could bear, what would he have said, if, in addition to this,
there had been threatened the agonies of an endless hell?
And is it possible to believe, if this was the purpose of
God, that He would be wholly silent in regard to it? Was it right to be silent, if the terrible fate of Cain could
have served as a warning and a restraint to all who should come after him?
In verse 15, "Therefore, whosoever slayeth Cain,
vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold." If infinite, endless torment
is the punishment of Cain, how can seven-fold more than this be inflicted on another? Yet so it is written, and,
therefore, either Cain's punishment was not endless woe, or there can be such a
thing as seven-fold endless woe!
3. The deluge, or the destruction of the old world. Gen. vi
Ð viii. Here we have one of the most remarkable examples of wickedness and
judgment recorded in the Bible; and if ever anything is to be said on the
subject of endless punishment, we may look for it here with the certainty of
finding it. The description of the exceeding wickedness of the people who were
destroyed in the flood may be seen in verses 5, 11, and 13, of chapter vi The
heart was given to evil, and "only evil continually;" "the earth
was filled with violence, and all flesh had corrupted his way upon the
earth." Here, then, was precisely the time, here the circumstances, which
required the revelation and preaching of endless punishment, if, as affirmed,
its influence is retaining and saving. This was the occasion, of all others, to
make it known, that, through its terrifying and subduing power, the depraved
and corrupted people might be turned from their sins, and the world thereby
saved from the overwhelming horrors of the flood.
And yet here, too, not one word is said on the subject in
the whole account. Noah, who was "a preacher of righteousness," was
not a preacher of endless punishment. No mention is made of his ever having
breathed a syllable in reference to it; nor is there a single line in the
record of this event, showing that God threatened this, or that any attempt was
made to restrain or reform the people through its influence. If the doctrine exerts
the favorable influence ascribed to it, did God do all He might have done to reform and save them?
But again; in the account of their judgment we are told that
they were destroyed by the flood from the face of the earth, everything that had
breath; and with this the record closes. - vi 11-17; vii 10-24. Now if, as
asserted, they were not only destroyed by the flood, but were afterwards
subjected to the tortures of the world of ceaseless woe, is it not passing
strange that no mention is made of this - not even an allusion to it? Is it
possible that everything else should be carefully related, even to the height
of the waters above the mountains, and the number of days they prevailed, and
yet that the endless and indescribable torments of hell, the most terrible part
of the judgment, and the most important to the world and to us, should be
wholly omitted, and that without one word of explanation?
4. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gen. xviii, xix. Here
we have another instance of remarkable wickedness, and of terrible judgment.
Yet, on examination, we find no warning given to the Sodomites of an endless
fire, to which the soul would be subjected, after the fire by which the body
should perish. The extreme wickedness of the people is set forth with graphic
power, in the scene described in chapter xviii 23-33; and it would seem a
proper occasion for a revelation of endless punishment, if true; for such, if
any, must certainly be its victims. But if we turn to the record, chapter xix.
24, 25, we find it contains no hint of the matter, neither in the way of
warning to the Sodomites, nor of history for restraining future transgressors.
If true, how is this omission to be explained in harmony with the acknowledged
principles of justice, to say nothing of mercy?
What would we say of a ruler who should publish a law,
affixing to it the penalty of ten stripes forevery transgression; and then,
having inflicted this, should proceed to burn the offender over a slow fire,
till he sank under the torture and died? And what should we think, if, with
devilish ingenuity, he should contrive to keep every one of his victims alive
for a whole year, for ten years, in order that the slow torture might be
lengthened out that time; and all this kept secret when the law was published,
and the trivial penalty of ten stripes declared as the punishment?
Yet this is precisely the state of the case in the judgment
under review, if the Sodomites were sent into endless torments.
The difficulty is not removed by reference to Jude 7. For,
in the first place, the expression, "suffering the vengeance of eternal
fire," does not establish the point of endless suffering, -
"eternal" fire and endless
fire being two things, quite distinct from each other. The original word means
simply indefinite time. In the second place, it is said, they are "set
forth as an EXAMPLE, suffering the vengeance," &c. Now the very
argument is based on the fact, that the history of the overthrow of Sodom does not furnish an example of endless torment, since not one
word is said on the subject by Moses, from beginning to end of his account!
Where, then, is the example?
Admitting the common interpretation of Jude to be correct,
it is involved in inextricable difficulty; for, 1st. It states a falsehood,
since the Sodomites were not set forth
as an example of endless
punishment in the invisible world, as no record of it is given by Moses, or the
prophets, or any sacred writer. 2d. How is it that all mention of the matter
should have been omitted until the time of Jude, and then be introduced, as it
clearly is, incidentally, in the way of illustration? If there is any
restraining power in the example, why was it concealed from the world more than
two thousand years? Why was not the awful fate which awaited them revealed to
the victims in the first place? It might have saved them. Why did not the
sacred historian give account of it, that the millions who lived and perished
between the event and the time of Jude, might have had the benefit of the
example? If he was inspired, did he not know it? and if so, why was he silent?
But, as an example of divine judgment on the wicked here, in
this world, visible to all future generations of men, the destruction of Sodom
was worthy of special note, and exactly to the point of Jude's argument. And it
is under this light that it is seen by some of the best-informed orthodox
Benson, in his note on the place, says:
By their suffering the punishment of eternal fire, St. Jude did not mean that those wicked persons were
then, and would be always, burning in hell-fire. For he intimates that what
they suffered was set forth to public view, and appeared to all as an example, or specimen, of
God's displeasure against vice. That fire which consumed Sodom, &c., might
be called eternal, as it burned
till it had utterly consumed them, beyond the possibility of their ever being
inhabited, or rebuilt.
Whitby's remarks are similar:
They are said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, not
because their souls are at present punished in hell-fire, but because they, and
their cities, perished by that fire from heaven, which brought a perpetual and
irreparable destruction on them... Nor is there anything more common and
familiar in Scripture, than to represent a thorough and irreparable visitation,
whose effects and signs should be still remaining, by the word aionios, which we here render eternal.
Gilpin says: "The apostle cannot well mean future
punishments, because he mentions it as
something that was to be a visible example to all." And others to the same effect: - see Paige's Selections
on the place.
And thus we might follow out the inquiry in regard to
every case of exceeding wickedness, or of great crimes; and we should find a
specific statement, in every case, of the judgments inflicted on earth, up to
the article of death, but the same marvelous silence in regard to the
additional judgment of endless torment after death. We have accounts of the
Builders of Babel, Joseph's Brethren, the Destruction of Pharaoh and his Host,
Lot's Wife, &c., but not a word in any of these of any judgment kindred to
endless woe - not a word of any judgment after death. If these sinners were
given over, after suffering the punishments recorded in the Bible, to
infinitely greater punishments to be perpetuated without end, then the most
studied concealment has been purposely maintained in regard to the subject by
the Scripture writers, or else they were as utterly ignorant of the whole
matter as we are.
But no conceivable reason can be imagined for concealing
this tremendous fact, if it were a fact, but every reason for revealing and
affirming it to all the world. If they had known or believed anything of the
sort, they could not have been silent. The only possible inference is, that the
people before the Law certainly knew nothing about the doctrine of endless
torments after death. If true, it had not been revealed in the long period of
two thousand five hundred years, from the creation to the giving of the Law on
Mount SinaI It is impossible to believe that, if true, God would have kept His
children in the dark all this while; that no hint of it, no allusion to it,
should have found place in His revelation to the Patriarchs; that He should
never have threatened anything bordering upon it, in such cases of extreme
wickedness as that of Cain, the Sodomites, and the corrupt inhabitants of the
The just and inevitable conclusion then, is, that for
twenty-five centuries, God had no design or thought of inflicting so dreadful
an evil as endless punishment on His children. And, therefore, if we find it
revealed in any subsequent portion of the Bible, it will be evident that it is
a purpose which He has formed since the Patriarchal period; that it was not a
part of His original plan of the world, but something which He has incorporated
into it since.
The next step, therefore, in this inquiry, is to make
examination of the Law records, in order to ascertain if we have any revelation
of the doctrine there.
UNDER THE LAW
It is now quite extensively known and allowed, by believers
in the doctrine of endless punishment, that it is not revealed nor recognized
by the Law of Moses. The facts in this regard are so palpable and conclusive to
every diligent student of the Bible, that it would be difficult to deny that
the Mosaic dispensation is altogether a dispensation of earthly rewards and
punishments; that its retributions follow promptly on the steps of
transgression. Both the records of the Law, and the history of the Jewish people
through a period of fifteen hundred years, show this with a distinctness and
fullness beyond all question, as we shall presently see.
FROM THE LAW ITSELF, AND FROM THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS
Let us first examine the remarkable statement of the
question contained in Deuteronomy xxviii. Space will allow me to quote only a
few verses, but I earnestly solicit the reader, before going any further, to
take up the Bible and carefully peruse the entire chapter, which is exceedingly
important to our inquiry.
It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the
voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and statutes
which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and
overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in
the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit
of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy cattle, and the
flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt
thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation
and rebuke in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do... He shall smite
thee with consumption, and with a fever, with blasting and mildew; and the Lord
shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he shall have consumed thee
from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
Moreover, all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall
pursue thee till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice
of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes, which he
commanded thee. Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and
with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things, therefore shalt thou
serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in
thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things. And thine enemy shall
besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down,
wherein thou trustedst. Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not
enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity. And thou shalt become an
astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall
Now here, in this important document, we have set out at
great length, and with every variety of specification, the judgments and
punishments with which God threatens to visit the Jews for their transgressions
of His laws; but not a word is uttered in respect to the punishments of an
endless hell after death. All the evils which are to fall upon them are of a
temporal character, such only as can be inflicted on them while in the body,
while on the earth: plagues and sickness, murrain on the cattle, and mildew on
their vines and grains; locusts in the fields and orchards; hunger, thirst, and
nakedness; curses on the city and country, curses at home and abroad; the
desolation of their country by their enemies, exile and captivity.
These are the only penalties annexed to the Law of Moses of
which we have any information; and these were fully visited on the heads of the
offending and rebellious people.
There runs through their history a system of strict and
retributive judgment, whereof the God of Jacob is the administrator. Within the
pale of this peculiar dispensation, virtue met its recompense, and vice its
punishment, with a regularity that was at once unfailing and notorious. The
nation is presented to us under very different attitudes; under judges, under
kings, in peace and in war, victorious and vanquished, prosperous and
afflicted, at home and abroad, free and in bondage; but whatever the situation
or period in which we view their history, we are met at once by the principle
This is strictly true. The entire history of the Jewish people
as a nation, and as individuals, from generation to generation, shows with what
exactness the threatenings of the law were fulfilled in judgments. When they
were obedient, the Lord prospered them, and rewarded them with fruitful
seasons, with increasing wealth and power, and made them superior to their
enemies. But when they were rebellious and wicked, then followed adversity,
defeat, captivity, and all the physical calamities threatened in the Law.
But all this while we have not one syllable of an endless
woe which is to be added to all the other woes. In no instance of rebellion
against God, not when their corruption and idolatry were at the highest reach
of crime and blasphemy, do we find them threatened with the torments of a hell
beyond the present life.
Now, if they really were exposed to this, if they have been
actually cast into this hell, it is the most unaccountable thing, in the
government of God, that He should do this without one note of warning to the
victims; and at the same time leave not a line or a word of their awful fate on
record, as a terror to future transgressors!
But let us now look at one or two cases of individual crime,
where we may justly expect to find some open declaration of the doctrine, if
1. The case of Abimelech.
We have his offense stated in verses 5 and 6:
And Abimelech went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and
slew his brethren, the sons of Jerubbaal, being three score and ten persons,
upon one stone... And all the men of Shechem gathered together at the house of
Millo, and went and made Abimelech king.
Here is the sin, and it is horrible enough. Nothing can
surpass this bloody sacrifice on the altar of ambition. At one fell stroke
seventy murders, save one, and the victims his own brethren, bone of his bone,
flesh of his flesh; and through this sea of kindred blood, he waded to the
throne! Surely, if ever there was a sinner of the hue of "the blackness of
darkness," this Abimelech was the man; and if the flaming pit of endless
woe is not a fiction, but a solemn fact, we shall now hear something of it in
the way of recompensing the sin of this guilty wretch.
Well, here is the record:
And Abimelech came unto the tower and fought against it,
and a certain woman cast a piece of millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to
break his skull. Then he called hastily to the young man, his armor-bearer, and
said unto him, Draw thy sword and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew
him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died... Thus God rendered the
wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy
brethren: and all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their
heads. (verses 52-57; also 46-49)
This is the whole record of judgment; but, as we see, not a
word of endless punishment. The cruel and bloody man is followed with evil,
with rebellion from his former friends, who made him king; and at last, after
many struggles, he is slain in battle, and the men of Shechem are burned alive
in their strongholds. And there the account ends, with only this brief
statement: "Thus God rendered the
wickedness of Abimelech," &c. Of course if it was thus, or in the way set forth, then it cannot be that he
is to be recompensed by endless woe. The recompense is complete, is a past
event of earth, and cannot therefore be in a future world, perpetuated through
And of the men of Shechem it is affirmed, that God rendered
upon their heads "all the evil"
they had done. Past time again - then and there He recompensed them; and not
for a part, but for all their
evil doings. In the words of Bishop Patrick,
God, the Judge of all, punished Abimelech and the men of
Shechem according to their deserts, and made them the instruments of each
other's destruction; and it is remarkable that this punishment overtook them
speedily, within less than four years after their crime was committed.
As yet, then, we have no revelation of the doctrine in
review, but only the infliction of the temporal punishments of the Law. But one
more example, of another sort.
2. Ahithophel, the Suicide. 2 Sam. xvii
In the wickedness and death of this man we have a case of
great moment. He was a very bad, unprincipled and cruel man; and, as Dr. Clarke
says, "died an unprepared and accursed death." He laid violent hands on himself, and this too in the
midst of his wickedness! Of such persons, the reader well knows what is said by
believers in endless punishment: "There is no hope for them - they die in
sin, without repentance - their very last act is a crime, for which there can
be no punishment in this life - there is no change after death; therefore they
must sink into the endless torments of hell."
This being the case, then, we shall surely hear of it now.
If true, and we are to have any revelation of it under the Law, we have come at
last to the very occasion which will call it out. The doom of the guilty
suicide will be clearly and distinctly announced as a warning to all who shall
attempt to follow in his steps. Let us then turn to the record:
And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed,
he saddled his ass, and arose and gat him home to his house, to his city, and
put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in
the sepulcher of his father. (vs. 23)
This is all - every word! Not a syllable of his being sent
to a place of perpetual torture after his death. We are told that he hanged
himself, died, and was buried; and there the sacred historian leaves him,
without one word of comment. Now, if there ever lived a man likely to come into
the pit of torments, if there be such a place, this wicked suicide was the man;
and is it a supposable case that, such being his doom, the divine writer would
or could have passed it over in silence?
Would he be careful to mention the unimportant matters, that
he saddled his ass, put his household in order, was buried in his father's
sepulcher, &c., and yet not utter so much as one word in regard to the awful subject of the interminable
torments beyond the burial and the grave? Who can believe this without an
accusation against the justice and mercy of God toward all coming generations?
So far, then, the Law itself in its statement of penalties,
the history of the nation of the Jews, and of the most remarkable cases of
crime under the Law, preserve a profound silence on the subject in hand. Not a
word, not the most obscure allusion to the doctrine of unending punishment, is
to be met with in any of the divine records of transgressions or judgments.
TESTIMONY OF ORTHODOX CRITICS AND THEOLOGIANS
The purpose of this section is to confirm the argument of
the preceding section by calling in as witnesses some of the most learned and
impartial scholars and divines of the Orthodox school, themselves believers in
the dogma of an endless hell, but confessing that it is not taught in the Law
of Moses, nor in the Old Testament.
The sanction on which the Hebrew Law was founded is
extraordinary. The lawgiver (Moses) maintains a profound silence on that
fundamental article, if not of political, at least of religious legislation -
rewards and punishments in another life. He substituted temporal chastisements
and temporal blessings. On the violation of the constitution followed
inevitably blighted harvests, famine, pestilence, defeat, captivity; on its
maintenance, abundance, health, fruitfulness, victory, independence. How
wonderfully the event verified the prediction of the inspired legislator! how
invariably apostasy led to adversity - repentance and reformation to prosperity!
- BISHOP WARBURTON.
In the Jewish Republic, both the rewards and punishments
promised by Heaven were temporal only. Such as health, long life, peace,
plenty, and dominion, &c. Diseases, premature death, war, famine, want,
subjections, and captivity, &c. And in no one place of the Mosaic
Institutes is there the least mention, or any intelligible hint, of the rewards
and punishments of another life.
When Solomon restored the integrity of religion, he
addressed a long prayer to the God of Israel, consisting of one solemn petition
for the continuance of the old covenant, made
by the ministry of Moses. He gives an exact account of all its parts, and
explains at large the sanctions of the Jewish Law and Religion. And here, as in
the writings of Moses, we find nothing but temporal rewards and
Warburton, and also Whateley, quoted below, take ground that
the doctrine of a future existence is not recognized in the Old Testament. In
this they are wrong, as we have attempted to show in the fifth section of this
3. ARNAULD. This author is
quoted by Warburton, who calls him "a great and shining ornament of the
Gallican (Catholic) church." His testimony is the following:
It is the height of ignorance to doubt this truth, which is
one of the most common of the Christian Religion, and which is attested by
all the Fathers, that the promises of the
Old Testament were temporal and earthly, and that the Jews worshipped God only
for earthly blessings (les biens charnels)."
This (Mosaic) dispensation dealt in temporal rewards and
punishments. In the 28th of Deuteronomy you find Moses, with prodigious
solemnity, pronouncing the blessings and cursings which awaited the children of
Israel under the dispensation to which they were called. And you will observe,
that these blessings consisted altogether
of worldly benefits, and these curses of worldly punishments.
- PROF. WINES.
It is conceded that Moses did not annex to his laws the
promised joys and threatened terrors of eternity...The Hebrew legislator was
restrained from annexing future punishments as sanctions to his laws, by
considerations arising out of the character of his mission, &c.
6. JAHN, whose excellent work is a text-book in Andover
Theological Seminary, says:
We have not authority, therefore, decidedly to say, that
any other motives were held out to the ancient Hebrews to pursue good and avoid
evil, than those which were derived from the rewards and punishments of this
7. PROF. MAYER, late of the Theological Seminary of the
Reformed Dutch Church, in Pennsylvania, has the following in a recent volume of
It is evident to the careful reader that, both in the book
of Job and in the Pentateuch, the divine judgment which is spoken of is always
a judgment that takes place in this life; and the rewards which are promised to
the righteous, and the punishments that are threatened to the wicked, are such
only as are awarded in the present state of being...No mention is anywhere
made, in the writings of Moses, of a judgment at the end of this world. The
idea that God is the judge of the world, pervades them everywhere; but it has
always relation to this earthly existence.
8. ARCHBISHOP WHATELEY. After a lengthy argument on the
subject, he says:
Is not, then, the conclusion inevitable, that, if the
doctrine of future retribution had been to be revealed, or any traditional
knowledge of it confirmed, we should have found it explicitly stated, and still
more frequently repeated than the temporal sanctions of the Law? And when,
instead of anything like this, we have set before us a few scattered texts,
which, it is contended, allude to, or imply, this doctrine, can it be necessary
to examine whether they are rightly interpreted? Surely it is a sufficient
reply, to say that, if Moses had intended to inculcate such doctrine, he would
have clearly stated and dwelt on it in almost every page. Nor is it easy to
conceive how any man of even ordinary intelligence, and not blinded by devoted
attachment to an hypothesis, can attentively peruse the books of the Law,
abounding as they do with such copious descriptions of the temporal rewards and
punishments which sanction that Law, and with such earnest admonitions grounded
on that sanction, and yet can bring himself seriously to believe that the
doctrine of a state of retribution after death, which it cannot be contended is
even mentioned, however slightly, in more than a very few passages, formed a
part of the Mosaic revelation.
Such is the testimony of these learned men, all of them
believers in the doctrine of future endless punishment, but compelled by their
superior knowledge to confess that the doctrine is not revealed, or alluded to
by Moses, nor in any way made the motive of obedience to the laws he
promulgated as the servant of God. Nothing but the strongest array of facts,
nothing but the utter impossibility of finding any trace of it in the
institutes of the old dispensation, could have induced these men to take a position
so fatal to the truth of this doctrine; to make acknowledgements which render
it forever impossible to establish the doctrine in harmony with divine justice
But the statements of these men, and the truth of our
argument, are both confirmed by still higher authority. In his epistle to the
Hebrews, Paul himself gives this positive and final testimony to the point,
viz., that under the Law, "every transgression and disobedience RECEIVED a just recompense of
reward." ii 2.
This ought to settle the question forever; for, if every
transgression actually received its just punishment, then endless punishment
cannot be true; or, if true, this statement is a grand mistake, or a deliberate
I really do not see any way of avoiding the decisive force
of this open and unequivocal passage. The apostle certainly knew what he was
writing, and could not have made any mistake in the expression of his thoughts.
If, then, the words mean what they express, - if the text is a true statement
of facts, and every transgression did actually receive a just recompense or
retribution, - how is it possible to affirm that any one of these
transgressions will be punished over again with endless torments, without
charging God with the most monstrous injustice and cruelty?
It seems as if no honest mind, no sincere believer in the
authority of God's word, could appeal from a testimony so positive and
unmistakable as this. There is no room for comment or criticism. In the
presence of such an unimpeachable witness, the question is reduced to its
simplest form: either to abandon the Bible argument, or to abandon the doctrine
of endless punishment.
But we would not silence by mere authority, but convince.
The statement of the apostle is supported and illustrated by the whole course
of Bible history; and fix on what offense you will, be it national or
individual, be it offense of priest, king, prophet, or peasant, and it will be
found that every instance of disobedience was promptly met with its just
recompense. And it is a most instructive and morally profitable study to follow
the traces of this present retribution, as they appear in the Old Testament;
and with this view I give the following condensed summary, taken from a work
entitled, "A System of Temporal Retribution indicated from Scripture and
Observation;" written singularly enough, and with marvelous inconsistency,
by a Presbyterian minister, believing in a future retribution:
The chosen people, in their passage through the wilderness,
sinned frequently and provoked their God to anger. They are punished by hunger
and thirst, fire belched forth from the bowels of the earth, and consumed some
of the offenders, a plague came down upon them, fiery serpents invaded their
camp, and stung great numbers of the people, their journey was drawn out into a
weary wandering for forty years in a barren desert, and finally there were but
two of that whole generation who were suffered to enter into the land of
promise. Moses and Aaron, the two leaders of the host, although faithful in the
main, yet having sinned, the one by anger, and the other by countenancing the
people in their idolatry, are not permitted to set foot on Canaan. The sons of
Eli disgrace the office of the priesthood by their unholy acts; a sentence from
on high is pronounced against them, and they are slain as they bore the ark in
battle with the Philistines. Balaam contends against Israel in spite of God's
command to the contrary, and in return for his frowardness is killed in battle.
The whole career of Saul bears testimony to a system of temporal retribution.
Throughout his reign he was guilty of continual declensions from the law of
that God who had given him the scepter, and accordingly he was visited with
frequent reverses; his unchecked passions distempered his mind, and subjected
him to seasons of madness and frenzy; his life is poisoned with jealousy, fear
and remorse, and at length, when he had refused reproof and persisted in sin,
he dies by his own hand on the field of battle. David, the man after God's own
heart, is guilty of the heavy offenses of adultery and murder; he is expressly punished by the death of the child, and there was a
series of misfortunes from this time to the close of his reign, which were sent
as further chastisements of his dark crimes. Joab is guilty of deeds of wanton
violence and bloodshed. Prosperity attends him throughout the reign of David,
but under Solomon his sin finds him out, and he who had 'shed the blood of war
in peace' is in his turn slain by the sword. Solomon carries too far the
indulgence given the Jewish monarchs of a plurality of wives. His wisdom raised
him above their evil influence during the vigor of his life, but in his
declining years his wives become a snare to him, seduce him to adopt their
idolatrous practices, and leave it a matter of considerable doubt whether the
wise king really died in the faith of his fathers. Jeroboam encouraged his
people in the worship of idols, and, in consequence, the favor of the Lord
departed from him and his household and kingdom. Ahab and Jezebel favored the
false prophets, insulted the prophets of the Lord, practiced oppression, fraud
and cruelty, and they are notably punished for their dark offenses; the one is
slain in battle, the other is cast from her window and devoured by the dogs.
The princes and the people in general having through many generations
grievously departed from the law of the Lord, they are carried into captivity
in Babylon, where during seventy years they endure all the bitter evils of
exile, bondage and oppression. Nebuchadnezzar insults the majesty of heaven by
his pride, ambition, and ungodliness. He is cast down from his high place, and
he who aspired to be equal with Jehovah is debased below the condition of the
meanest among men, being doomed during seven years to herd with the beasts of
the field, to feed with them on the same fare, and to repair with them to the
same caverns. Belshazzar, forgetful of the warnings and the judgments that
befell his grandsire, exhibits the same overweening arrogance, conjoined with
profligacy and profanity. Vengeance descends upon him in the hour of his
loftiest pride and exaltation. As he sat in the midst of his nobles and
captains, rioting in drunkenness, sacrilege and licentiousness, a spectral hand
is seen by him to write his doom in mystical characters on the wall, the
sentence is expounded to him by the prophet of the Lord, and that very night
his city was taken and sacked, he himself was slain, and his kingdom was given
to another. Haman cherishes a deadly jealousy against the upright Mordecai, and
carries his hatred so far as to erect a gallows on which he proposes to hang
the object of his enmity. His dark schemes are discovered and turned against
himself, and he and his sons are hanged on the gibbet which he had prepared for
Thus we see how perfectly the facts illustrate the
declaration of the apostle, that under the law "every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense
of reward." This of necessity excludes the idea of a future endless
retribution; as well as the important fact, already named, that through all
this long and various record of sin and its punishments, no mention is made,
nor the least intelligible hint given, of any such thing. We cannot, therefore,
suppose it to be true, without a most extraordinary violation, on the part of
God, of every principle of honor, justice, and mercy.
FROM THE WORD "SHEOL," OR THE OLD TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF HELL
The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation
of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs
sixty-four times, and is rendered "hell" thirty-two times,
"grave" twenty-nine times, and "pit" three times.
1. By examination of the Hebrew
Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The
place or state of the dead.
The following are examples:
Ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
(Gen. xlii 38)
I will go down to the grave to my son mourning. (xxxvii 35)
O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave! (Job xiv 13)
My life draweth nigh to the grave. (Ps. lxxxviii 3)
In the grave who shall give thee thanks? (vi 5)
Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth. (cxli 7)
There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in
the grave, whither thou goest. (Ecc. ix 10)
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my
bed in hell, behold thou art there. (Ps. cxxxix 8)
Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee, at thy coming. It
stirreth up the dead for thee, (&c. Isaiah xiv 9-15)
These passages show the Hebrew usage of the word sheol, which is the original of the word "grave"
and "hell" in all the examples cited. It is plain that it has here no
reference to a place of endless torment after death. The patriarch would
scarcely say, "I will go down to an endless hell to my son mourning."
He did not believe his son was in any such place. Job would not very likely
pray to God to hide him in a place of endless torment, in order to be delivered
from his troubles.
If the reader will substitute the word "hell" in
the place of "grave" in all these passages, he will be in the way of
understanding the Scripture doctrine on this subject.
2. But there is also a figurative
sense to the word sheol, which is
frequently met with in the later Scriptures of the Old Testament. Used in this
sense, it represents a state of degradation or calamity, arising from
any cause, whether misfortune, sin, or the judgment of God.
This is an easy and natural transition. The state or the
place of the dead was regarded as solemn and gloomy, and thence the word sheol,
the name of this place, came to be applied to any gloomy, or miserable state or
condition. The following passages are examples:
The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death
prevented me. (Psalm xviii 4-6)
This was a past event, and therefore
the hell must have been this side of death. Solomon, speaking of a child, says,
Thou shalt beat him, and deliver his soul from hell;
that is, from the ruin and woe of disobedience (Prov.
xxiii 14). The Lord says to Israel, in reference to their idolatries,
Thou didst debase thyself even unto hell. (Isaiah lvii 9)
This, of course, signifies a state of utter moral
degradation and wickedness, since the Jewish nation as such certainly never
went down into a hell of ceaseless woe. Jonah says,
Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardst me. (ii
Here we see the absurdity of
supposing sheol or hell to mean a place of punishment after death. The hell
in this case was the belly of the whale; or rather the wretched and suffering
condition in which the disobedient prophet found himself.
The pains of hell got hold on me: I found trouble and
sorrow. (Ps. cxvi 3)
Yet David was a living man, all this while, here on the
earth. So he exclaims again,
Great is thy mercy towards me. Thou hast delivered my soul
from the lowest hell. (Ps. lxxxvi 13)
Now here the Psalmist was in the
lowest hell, and was delivered from it, while he was yet in the body, before
death. Of course the hell here cannot be a
place of endless punishment after death.
These passages sufficiently illustrate the figurative usage
of the word sheol, "hell."
They show plainly that it was employed by the Jews as a symbol or figure of
extreme degradation or suffering, without reference to the cause. And it is to
this condition the Psalmist refers when he says, "The wicked shall be
turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." Ps. ix. 17. Though
Dr. Allen, President of Bowdoin College, thinks "the punishment expressed
here is cutting off from life, destroying from earth by some special judgment,
and removing to the invisible place of the dead" (sheol).
It is plain, then, from these citations, that the word sheol, "hell," makes nothing for the doctrine of
future unending punishment as a part of the Law penalties. It is never used by
Moses or the Prophets in the sense of a place of torment after death; and in no
way conflicts with the statement already proved, that the Law of Moses deals
wholly in temporal rewards and punishments.
This position, also, I wish to fortify by the testimony of
Orthodox critics, men of learning and candor. They know, and therefore they
1. CHAPMAN. "Sheol, in itself
considered, has no connection with future punishment." Cited by
Balfour, First Inquiry.
2. DR. ALLEN, quoted above, says: "The term sheol does not seem to mean, with certainty, anything more
than the state of the dead in their deep abode."
3. DR. CAMPBELL. "Sheol signifies the state of the dead
without regard to their happiness or misery."
4. DR. WHITBY. "Sheol throughout the Old Testament signifies
not the place of punishment, or of the souls of bad men only, but the grave
only, or the place of death."
DR. MUENSCHER. This distinguished author of a Dogmatic History in
The souls or shades of the dead wander in sheol, the realm or kingdom of death, an abode deep under
the earth. Thither go all men, without distinction, and hope for no return.
There ceases all pain and anguish; there reigns an unbroken silence; there all
is powerless and still; and even the praise of God is heard no more.
- VON COELLN.
Sheol itself is
described as the house appointed for all living, which receives into its bosom
all mankind, without distinction of rank, wealth, or moral character. It is
only in the mode of death, and not in the condition after death, that the good
are distinguished above the evil. The just, for instance, die in peace, and are
gently borne away before the evil comes; while a bitter death breaks the wicked
like as a tree.
These witnesses all testify that sheol, or hell,
in the Old Testament, has no reference whatever to this doctrine; that it
signifies simply the state of the dead, the invisible world, without regard to
their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery. The Old Testament doctrine
of hell, therefore, is not the doctrine of endless punishment. It is not
revealed in the Law of Moses. It is not revealed in the Old Testament. To such
result has our inquiry led us; and now what shall we say of it?
MORAL APPLICATION OF THE PRECEDING ARGUMENTS
There is no doubt that Moses was acquainted with the
doctrine of future endless punishments. It was the common doctrine of Egypt, as
all agree; and "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the
Egyptians." Acts vii 22. And yet, knowing it as thoroughly as he must have
done, he never alludes to it once in all his laws and penalties, but rejects it
utterly from his doctrines and institutions. He will have nothing to do with
it. He not only repudiates the gross fables and superstitions of the Egyptians
in regard to the future world, but the entire substance of future punishments;
and, by his studied silence, shows he has no faith in their truth or utility.
Is it possible to imagine a more conclusive proof against
the divine origin of the doctrine? If he had believed it to be of God, if he
had believed in endless torments as the doom of the wicked after death, and had
received this as a revelation from heaven, could he have passed it over in
silence? Would he have dared to conceal it, or treat so terrible a subject with
such marked contempt? And what motive could he have had for doing this?
I cannot conceive of a more striking evidence of the fact
that the doctrine is not of God. He knew whence the monstrous dogma came, and
He had seen enough of Egypt already, and would have no more of her cruel
superstitions; and so He casts this out, with her abominable idolatries, as
false and unclean things.
But, if the doctrine be true, there is another consideration
of still greater moment. If it be true, and for four thousand years the wicked
have been plunging into the flaming pit, how, as we have said, are we to clear
the character of God from the charge of the most cruel indifference, the most
monstrous injustice? What can be said in
defense of such a course of proceeding?
Look at it. He resolves to inflict unutterable and endless
tortures on His guilty children; He annexes this as a penalty to His law; He
reveals the law, but He carefully conceals the awful penalty. His children know
nothing at all of the terrible fate which awaits them; they are entirely
ignorant of the tremendous fact that their transgressions of the law involve
this dreadful result, this woe immortal and infinite, stretching into duration
And God, their Father, sees them rushing on, year after
year, age after age, and stumbling blindfolded down into the black gulf of
death and torment, and yet speaks not one word of warning, gives not the
slightest intimation to any of them that they are coming to such a doom! There
He sits on the throne of the universe, with arms folded in the consciousness of
power, with lips sealed in determined silence. He knows all, sees all; while
His poor victims are walking in darkness, wholly ignorant of the frightful risk
they are running, and of the deadly purpose of evil against them which their
Maker has shut up in His own heart.
One word from Him might break the fatal spell; but that word
is not spoken. His arm, stretched out for a moment, might turn back the rushing
tide of ruin; but it remains motionless. No movement of His, no sound nor look,
indicates the least interest in the shocking tragedy which is passing under His
eye, and of which He is the author. For four thousand years He beholds this
torrent of immortal souls pouring over the precipice of sin into the bottomless
pit of damnation below; and through it all remains silent - never once speaks
to them of their awful fate; nor seeks, by the terrors of it, to save the
living from the doom of the dead!
What kind of a God is this? What claim has He to the name of
Father? What kind of a Lawgiver is this, who publishes the law, but keeps the
penalty concealed, a secret, with Himself only? What would be said of a king
who should enact a code of laws, annexing to every one of them, as a warning to
evil-doers, the punishment of death; but never make this fact known to the
people? And what if every transgressor were seized, and put to a most horrible
death by torture, and this also kept secret from his friends and relations, and
from all the world?
Yet this is precisely what God has done, as our argument
shows, for four thousand years, if the doctrine of endless punishment be true!
But even this is not the worst.
Suppose a parent, sending his child into a distant part of
the country, should carefully specify every thorn-bush, and sharp stone, and
difficult spot, along the road, and urge him to avoid them; but should with
equal care conceal from him the fact that the road ended in a sheer precipice a
thousand feet down into a fearful gulf of volcanic fire and flame - knowing at
the same time that his son, if not warned, would certainly fall into this
roaring crater and perish.
Yet this is exactly the course God has pursued with His
children. He has carefully set out all the lesser penalties, as famine,
disease, blasted fields and ruined flocks, defeat and captivity, as the
punishments of their disobedience; but He has as carefully concealed that
greater judgment beyond all these, and in comparison with which all these a
thousand fold increased are less than the dust in the balance.
Nay, in particular cases He even mentions the height of the
waters, the going forth of a dove, the burning of a tower, a piece of
millstone, the saddling of an ass, every smallest thing, but not a word of the
great woe of woes!
I cannot help feeling, in view of this argument, how
appropriate and forcible are the words of the author of the "Conflict of
God has made the human mind to have decided intuitive
convictions as to what is consistent with equity and honor. These we are not
violently to suppress by preconceived theories, or assumed facts. If any
alleged actions of God come into collision with the natural and intuitive
judgments of the human mind concerning what is honorable and right on the
points specified, there is better reason to call in question the alleged facts,
than to suppose those principles to be false which God has made the human mind
intuitively to recognize as true. Moreover, we have divine authority for so
doing; since, in a debate with the Jews, involving these points, God does not
hesitate to appeal to these very principles, and to reason in perfect
accordance with their common and obvious decisions. Ezek. xviii 1-4, 19, 22,
25, 29, and xxxiii 11, 17-20.
Nothing is truer than this. God has given us intuitive
convictions as to what is consistent with equity and honor; and there never was
a man on earth, however perverted or blinded by his creed, who could say, in
his soul, that the conduct ascribed to God in the preceding argument, by the
doctrine of endless punishment, is consistent with equity and honor. And this
being the case, he has no right to say that God will do this thing; he has no
right to attribute to his Father in heaven actions which any human parent would
shrink from with horror and disgust.
But, if the doctrine be true, there is a darker feature yet
in the case. Not only is God's word silent on this point, but it virtually
denies it by asserting the opposite. Take the words of Paul, already quoted,
that every transgression under the law has actually been justly recompensed. So
David asserts that Jehovah
is a God that judgeth in the earth. (Ps. lviii 11)
And by the prophet Jeremiah He says
I am the Lord, which exercise loving kindness, judgment and
righteousness in the earth. (chap. ix)
God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked
that is, every day He judges the
righteous and the wicked, rewarding the one, and punishing the other. Ps. vii
11. Once more: Solomon says,
Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth;
much more the wicked and the sinner. (Prov. xi 31)
Now these passages, part of a multitude, are in perfect
chord with the Law, and declare a system of temporal rewards and punishments on
the earth. Suppose future endless punishments after death to be true; then not
only has God concealed the fact, but has done worse than this, by positively
announcing that He exercises judgment in the earth, and that the righteous and
the wicked are recompensed in the earth! Now, if endless punishment after death
be true, these statements are false; but if these are true, then endless
punishment is false. They cannot both be true; they cannot both be of God; for
"it is impossible for God to lie." Heb. vi 18.
We are compelled, therefore, to look for the origin of this
doctrine elsewhere than in the mind of God. One thing, at all events, is
certain. No trace of it is found in the Old Testament, which is all the written
record we have of the divine mind and purpose for the space of four thousand
years. The Patriarchs knew nothing of it. Moses, who did know of it, having
learned it in Egypt, repudiates it by his silence. The Law contains no vestige
of it among all its penalties and threatenings. The Lamentations of Job, the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of
Solomon, the Predictions of the Prophets, make no mention of the horrible
So far, then, the doctrine is not divine in its origin. It
is not of that "wisdom from above," which "is first pure, then
peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without
partiality and without hypocrisy." But it must have come rather out of
that wisdom which the apostle says is "earthly, sensual, devilish."
James iii 15-17.
Of course, if the doctrine was in existence during the Law
period, if we find it among other nations, contemporary with the Jews, the
conclusion is certain - since it was not of divine origin, it must have been of
earthly origin; since it did not come from God, it must have had its source in
the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God. To this point we shall
direct our inquiries in the following chapter; but, before proceeding to this,
we shall give attention, in the next section, to some objections which have
been entered against the arguments of these first two chapters.
In a review of the argument of the two preceding chapters,
the following question has been proposed to the author:
Admitting that your argument drawn from the Old Testament
sustains your position with regard to endless punishment, does it not apply
with equal force against the doctrine of endless happiness? Does it not apply
with equal force against all future existence, whatever?
In replying to this, the last branch of the question
legitimately comes first:
1. "Is not the argument
equally good against any future existence whatever?"
No; for though the ideas of a future existence presented in
the early Hebrew Scriptures are certainly very wide from those set forth in the
Gospel, yet it would be equally wide of the truth to say they do not recognize
any future life at all.
The very word sheol
conveys the idea of existence, though it gives no intimation of the conditions
or character of it. And in order to set out this point in clear light, which
its great importance seems to demand, I shall quote at some length from several
distinguished Orthodox critics, whose testimony will help both to confirm the
arguments already offered, and to answer the question in review.
PROF. STUART says:
Sheol designated the
world of the dead, the region of umbrae or ghosts. It was
considered as a vast and wide domain or region, of which the grave was only a
part, or a kind of entrance-way. It appears to have been regarded as extending
deep down into the earth, even to its lowest abysses. In this boundless region
lived and moved, at times, the manes (or ghosts) of departed friends.
BISHOP LOWTH says:
In the under-world of the Hebrews there is something
peculiarly grand and awful. It was an immense region, a vast subterranean
kingdom, involved in thick darkness, filled with deep valleys, and shut up with
strong gates; and from it there was no possibility of escape. Thither whole
hosts of men went down at once; heroes and armies with their trophies of
victory; kings and their people were found there, where they had a shadowy sort
of existence as manes or ghosts, neither entirely spiritual, nor entirely
material, engaged in the employments of their earthly life, though destitute of
strength and physical substance.
HERDER says, among the early Hebrews
souls of the departed were regarded as powerless as
shadows, without distinction of members, as a nerveless breath; having an
animate though shadowy existence, they wandered and flitted in the realms of
the dead, in the dark nether world, as limbless and powerless beings. Ghostly
kings were seated upon shadowy thrones; kingdoms and states were there, and
armies of the slain, but all was voiceless and still.
There is a perfect illustration of this in what is, perhaps,
the finest poem in the Bible. Isaiah xiv 3-23. It celebrates the downfall of
the king of Babylon, and represents him as cast down to hell, sheol, or the under-world of spirits, and the former kings
of the earth, whom he had destroyed, now inhabitants of that region, as
exulting over him. I give a portion of the translation of Herder which the
reader can compare with the common version:
The ghostly realm beneath was roused for thee;
It moved to meet thee at thy coming;
It stirred up for thee the ghostly shades,
Even all the mighty ones of earth;
It raised them up from their thrones,
All the kings of the nations.
They all welcomed thee, and said,
Art thou also become a shadow like us?
Art thou, too, made even as we?
Brought down even to the dead is thy pride,
And low the triumphal sound of thy harps.
The couch beneath thee is the worm,
The mould of death thy covering.
How art thou fallen from heaven,
Bright star! thou son of the dawn!
How art thou crushed to the earth,
That didst conquer the nations!
These testimonies are sufficient to show that the early
Hebrews believed in a future existence, though their views of the world of the
departed, and of their condition there, were very obscure. In the words of Dr.
The apprehension seems to have been that all the dead would
descend through the grave to a region where only a few scattered rays of light
would exist, and where the whole aspect of the dwelling was in strong contrast
with the cheerful region of the land of the living." "Even Job had
not such cheerful anticipations of the future state as to cheer and support him
in the time of trial.
It is certain that the Hebrews had not such faith respecting
the future existence of the soul, as those entertained by Christians of this
day. God did not reveal all truth to them, and instruct them in that knowledge
which constituted the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. Had it
been so, there would have been no occasion for the coming of the Saviour, for
His death and resurrection, no room for the Christian revelation.
It was reserved for the Gospel to bring forth the great
doctrine of the life immortal and ever-blessed in the fulness of its glory and
worth. Dimly and imperfectly did the old patriarchs and their people see
through the mists of death to the land beyond. The Law kindled no beacon fires
in the shadowy valley, whose light revealed the country of the soul in all its
beauty. This was the peculiar office of Christ and the Gospel, as Paul so
distinctly affirms, when he speaks of the grace of God,
made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light (into
light, or into the full light) through the Gospel. (2 Tim. i 8-10)
Of course, if this passage has any point or meaning, the
doctrine of life and immortality was not fully revealed to the Jews, its conditions, and the character of its
blessedness. The fact of a future
life was made known to them; but the foregoing statements, based on the Old
Testament Scriptures, show how far their views fell below the clear, spiritual
doctrine of the Gospel.
As Prof. Bush observes,
The informations couched in the Old Testament on this theme
are comparatively dark and shadowy, more like the dim and feeble glimmerings of
the morning twilight, than the unclouded blaze of the noon-day sun.
In the same strain Prof. Stuart says,
had not those distinct and definite notions on this
subject, which we of the present day have. We should never forget that it is
the glorious preeminence of the Gospel to have brought life and immortality to
light. Christians too often forget this while reasoning from the Old
Testament." Again he says: "I am far from coinciding with those who
find the nature of a future world as fully and plainly revealed in the Old
Testament as in the New. But I am equally far from those who do not find it at
all intimated there. Both these positions are extremes.
This is a just statement of the case. The nature of the future existence is not set out, neither in
the patriarchal, nor in the prophetical times of the old dispensation, as fully
and as luminously as under the new dispensation of grace. But then it is absurd
to say that there are no indications of this great truth in the Old Testament.
When it is recorded that Abraham was "gathered to his people," we
must understand something more than burial with his fathers or ancestors; for
they were buried in Chaldea, and not in Canaan. Gen. xv 15, xxv 8. So Jacob
says, "I will go down into Sheol mourning, unto my son;" though he supposed his body had been rent
in pieces by wild beasts. Gen. xxxviii 35. And at his death, the historian
says, he "yielded up the ghost, and was gathered to his people;"
though he was not buried with his people till seven weeks after that. Gen.
"I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God
of Jacob" (Exod. iii 6), is interpreted by the Savior as an intimation of
the future life of the spirit, since God is the God of the living, and not of
the dead; and, therefore, these patriarchs were living. Matt. xxii 31, 32. And
His declaration to the Sadducees, that they erred on this point, "not
knowing the Scriptures," shows that those Scriptures did contain the
knowledge of a future life.
So the language of David, "Thou wilt not leave my soul
in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption" (Ps.
xvi 8-11), is explained by Peter as prophetic of the resurrection of Christ;
which necessitates the idea of David's belief in a future existence. Acts ii
And then the several instances of a miraculous restoration
to life, by Elijah and Elisha, must have suggested the thought of a separate
existence of the soul. The people did not suppose that these men of God created
the soul anew, and united it to the body; but only that they called it back, as
it were, which of course implies its continued existence out of the body. The
cases referred to are the son of the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings xvii 17-23;
the son of the Shunamite woman, 2 Kings iv 33-36; and the man let down into the
sepulcher of Elisha, 2 Kings xiii 21.
These passages, which might be greatly multiplied,
demonstrate the error of Bishop Warburton and others, who attempt to show that
the earlier Hebrew Scriptures do not contain "even the idea of a future
state." They certainly do, but that this idea is as clear and satisfactory
as the view given in the Gospel, no one would think of affirming. There is
evidently a growth in this respect, as it is easy to see that the faith of the
Psalmist and the prophets is much more full and rounded than that of their
ancestors. God instructed mankind by degrees, removing the darkness, and adding
to their knowledge little by little, till at last Christ brought the doctrine
of life and immortality out of all shadow, and set it before the world in the
clear and perfect light of the Gospel.
Nothing is plainer than that God operates in the moral and
spiritual world by the same method which governs His action in the physical or
material world. He does not make an oak in a moment, but begins with the acorn,
and causes it to grow up year by year to the perfect tree. So He does not
enlighten the world all at once, by miracle, but educates them step by step,
adding truth to truth, knowledge to knowledge, till the work is complete, and
earth, like a mirror, reflects the light, and beauty, and blessedness of heaven.
Hence the Law is represented as the schoolmaster to bring us
to Christ, who is to finish our education in the school of God, and instruct us
in the perfect glory of His wisdom and truth, and in the nature and extent of
His love and salvation.
The chief element of this argument will receive further
elucidation in what follows.
2. "If the argument against
endless misery, drawn from the silence of the Old Testament, is sound, is it
not equally good against the doctrine of universal salvation?"
What has been said in the foregoing reply, regarding the
method of divine instruction and revelation, has equal force in respect to this
question. God does not reveal all the truth at once, but by degrees; yet at no
period does He leave the world entirely in the dark, without any ray of light
In the very beginning, when the first transgression shadowed
the beauty of Eden, and destroyed the innocence and happiness of our first
parents, there was a voice of mercy heard, and a single star of promise rose
upon the darkness of the night.
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, I will put enmity
between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; and it shall
bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. iii 14-16)
This passage is universally regarded
as a promise of the Messiah, who, as the seed of the woman, should destroy the
kingdom of evil, symbolized by the serpent; or, as Paul expresses it,
who took the part of flesh and blood, that through death He
might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver
them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
(Heb. ii 14)
Of course it did not appear to Adam and Eve in the full
glory with which it came, in its fulfillment, to the disciple of the Messiah
Himself. Still the fact of a promise revealing the final destruction of evil,
the crushing of the serpent's head, as reported by Moses, is enough to show
that these unhappy transgressors were not left without some hope that their
evil would be overcome of good.
Doubtless, if the original communication to them from God
was couched in the language of the sacred historian, or in any similar phrase
or figure, the light that fell from it was faint and dim; but any light served to
keep them from utter darkness and despair. They could not learn from the
promise, as it stands, when, or where, or how, the evil they had introduced
into the world was to be removed, and innocence and happiness restored to them
and their posterity; but, since God had spoken these words of mercy, they could
not be entirely hopeless.
In Genesis v 24, we are informed that "Enoch walked
with God; and he was not; for God took him." Speaking of this event, Paul
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death;
and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation
he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Heb. xi 5)
Here is plainly a declaration of the
continued life of the soul after removal from the earth. It is of no
consequence how we interpret the manner of this translation, the record shows
that the idea of a future existence was not absent from the minds of men at
If it was understood that Enoch did not see death, then, of
course, he lived after he left the earth; and, though nothing is said directly
of the character of that life, the expression "God took him," and the
peculiar character of his removal from earth, would indicate that the life to
which he was called was not less desirable than that on earth. No particulars
are given, it is true; nothing is specified as to the nature of this life; but
the fact is left in a way to shadow forth, however dimly, something indicative
of hope and expectation of a new and closer relation to God.
So the promise to Abraham: "In thee, and in thy seed,
shall all the families and nations and kindreds of the earth be blessed."
Gen. xii 3, xxii 18; Acts iii 25; Gal. iii 8. Doubtless Abraham did not
comprehend the full spirit of this promise; nor should we, indeed, if the
Christian apostle had not interpreted it to us; but, by faith, he saw in the
distant future the dawn of a day whose brightness was to illuminate the
nations, and to renew the early beauty and blessings of Eden. Like Adam and
Eve, he had the promise of a great good to come, through his seed, to all the
kindreds of the earth, and he rejoiced; but the nature of the blessing, the
shape in which it was to come, the spiritual and heavenly direction of it, were
not revealed to him. These were reserved as the special announcements of Him
who gave assurance that in the resurrection we are equal unto the angels, and
are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Matt. xxii; Luke xxi
And when the Preacher says, "Then shall the dust return
to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it"
(Ecc. xii 7), the distinction between the body and the soul is so obvious, that
there is no room for doubting the writer's belief in a future life. And the
statement that the spirit returns to God, though given without any
specifications as to its future happiness, is surely strong presumptive proof
that it would be in a heavenly state. If to be with God is indicative of good,
then the spirit, returning to God, may justly be regarded as having attained to
good, and that necessarily a spiritual good. Further than this the testimony
does not go; but observe that the statement is general, and that whatsoever
good is predicated of one soul is predicated of all.
And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all
people a feast of fat things...And He will destroy in this mountain the face of
the covering cast over all people, and the veil spread over all nations. He
will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from
off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the
earth. (Isaiah xxv 6-8)
Paul applies this to the resurrection:
When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and
this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the
saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Cor. xv 54)
We have apostolic authority, then, for saying this passage
of the evangelical prophet, as Isaiah has been called, is a foreshadowing of
the great doctrine of immortal life and blessedness brought into the light by
the Gospel. But it is a question if Isaiah comprehended the exact nature of the
blessing, or the method of its application to "all people and
nations." Filled with the Holy Spirit, he seems to have forseen the distant
glory of the new era under the Messiah. God permitted him, with anointed
vision, to behold afar off the universal blessing which Christ was to bring to
mankind; but that he saw death swallowed up in victory, with a spiritual sight
as clear as Paul's, can scarcely be supposed.
Even the disciples of Jesus did not fully understand the
method of the great redemption, till after the enlightenment on the day of
Pentecost. And Peter must have the vision of the sheet let down from heaven,
knit at the four corners, and drawn up again with all its contents, before he
can be made to see that all peoples,
Gentiles as well as Jews, come from God, and through Christ return to Him
again, as His children, and not as disciples of Moses. We cannot, therefore,
reasonably suppose that the Gospel plan of redemption and grace was better
understood by the Hebrew prophet than by the personal disciple of Jesus.
Still it is manifest that there had been growth from Adam to
Isaiah. There is a marked contrast between the figurative promise, that the
serpent's head should be bruised; and the exultant language of the prophet,
that all nations should share in the feast which the Lord was to prepare, under
the Messiah, in the mountain of His holiness. The light of divine truth was dispensed
more largely to the prophet than to the patriarch.
However dim the prophecy might have seemed to the people of
that age, it appears clear enough to our minds. And yet, if we had not the
inspired apostle for our interpreter, it is quite probable we should have been
as much in the dark as the Jews, and have mistaken the nature of the promised
blessings as widely as they have. We must judge of the clearness of these
prophecies to the people of that day, not from the Christian, but from the
Jewish stand-point; not by the full light of our noon-tide, but by the dim gray
twilight of their morning.
Still it is certain enough that there has been light on this
question, however faint, in all ages from the beginning. God has never left the
world wholly under a cloud, as regards the future. As we have seen, the promise
of redemption, of the final destruction of evil, and of the universal reign of
good, may be traced back even up to the first transgression.
But, supposing it were not so, - supposing no indications of
this great truth were to be found in the Old Testament, - it would not affect
the argument against endless punishment. It may be perfectly consistent with
justice and mercy, for a ruler to keep his own counsel in regard to any good he
intends to confer on his people; but it does not follow from this that it would
be equally consistent with justice and mercy, to conceal from them any great
evil he intends to inflict, especially when this evil might be avoided by
timely warning on his part, which warning, nevertheless, he refuses to give.
A father might purpose giving a splendid feast to all his
children, but no principle of honor would be violated, he would be chargeable
with no wrong toward them, if he did not inform them of the fact till the day
they were invited. But if he should dig an immense pit before his door, and
kindle a sulphurous fire at the bottom, and know that his children, when they
came, it being night, would fall into it and perish, if he did not give them
notice of it, and yet never mention the thing to them, nor give them the least
hint of their danger; would this be honorable, and just, and merciful? Would
they have no right to complain of this as an unheard-of wickedness?
And this is an exact statement of the difference between
Universalism and endless punishment, and of the moral principles involved in
the asserted silence of the Old Testament. Even if the promise to our first
parents had not been given, nor that to Abraham; even if the purpose of God to
destroy the reign of sin, and restore all souls to Himself, had not been
mentioned at all to patriarchs or prophets; still it would only show that He
intended better than He promised - that He has in store for His children
greater blessings than He has ever given them reason to expect. And in this
there is surely no great room for fault-finding on their part, nor for
accusation against His goodness.
But, as we have shown, if He concealed from them His purpose
of endless woe against those who transgressed His laws, the case is very different,
and an injury is done them beyond all calculation, beside the violation of
justice and honor on His part. He is like the father who digs the pit of death
in the way of his children, and sees them walking straight into it, knowing
that they are utterly ignorant of their danger; and knowing also that, if he
had warned them, they would have turned away, and gone by some other path. For
such a father, earthly or heavenly, there is no apology or defense possible.
PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN
In the previous chapters we have followed our subject
through the Patriarchal and Law periods, down to the close of the Old
Testament; and the inquiry has satisfactorily shown, we trust, that the doctrine
of Endless Punishment is nowhere to be found in the sacred Scriptures of the
But we know that the heathen world, during a large portion
of this period, was in possession of the doctrine, and fully believed it. It is
pertinent to our subject, therefore, to inquire into their belief, and endeavor
to ascertain from what source they obtained it. It may be, too, that the
examination will discover to us the source of some of our modern doctrines on
the subject. At any rate, it will show that the superstitions of the past and
the present, of Pagans and Christians, are not very wide apart.
OF THE HEATHEN HELL
Among the ancient pagans, the belief in a hell of some sort
was very general, if not universal. It was known by various names, as Orcus,
Erebus, Tartarus, and Infernus or Inferna, whence our expression "infernal regions," &c. The views
current respecting it were different at different periods, and among different
nations, according to the degree of civilization, and the genius of the people.
What I shall offer on this point will have respect mostly to the Romans,
Greeks, and Egyptians.
1. Its Location. It was supposed to be as far below the earth (or as
deep down in it), as the heavens are above it. Hesiod, the Greek poet, who
lived 850 B.C., is very precise in his statement, and says a mass of iron would
be nine days falling from heaven to earth, and nine more in falling from earth
to hell. So say Apollodorus, Virgil, and others.
2. The Inhabitants. Some idea of the natives of the country, may be
gathered from the following description, taken from the Aeneid of Virgil, B.
At Hell's dread mouth a
thousand monsters wait; -
Grief weeps, and Vengeance bellows in the gate;
Base Want, low Fear, and Famine's
And pale Disease, and slow,
Fierce, formidable Fiends the
With Pain, Toil, Death, and
There Joys, embittered by Remorse,
Daughters of Guilt; here storms
Mad Discord there her snaky tresses tore;
Here stretched on iron beds the Furies roar;
And close by Lerna's hissing
Briareus dreadful with a hundred
There stern Geryon raged; and all
Fierce Harpies screamed, and direful
Pitt's Aeneid, vi 385, &c.
The gate of Hell was guarded by the dog Cerberus, of three
heads (Hesiod says fifty), who prevented all egress from the infernal regions.
Once in, there was no escape. To make it still more sure, the horrid prison of
hell was surrounded by a river of fire,
called Phlegethon; within which was another security in the shape of a triple wall. Hence Virgil says:
the roaring, flaming tide of hell,
And thundering rocks the fiery
3. Of the Punishments.
Virgil gives us a brief account of these in the book already quoted from:
wild shouts, and wailings dire,
And shrieking infants swell the dreadful choir.
Here sits in bloody robes the Fury fell,
By night and day to watch the gates of hell.
Here you begin terrific groans to hear,
And sounding lashes rise upon the ear.
On every side the damned their fetters grate,
And curse, 'mid clanking chains, their wretched
A few examples of individual torments will better illustrate
the subject, and reveal at the same time how inherent in them is the idea of
Ixion, for a certain
monstrous sin, is bound to a wheel of fire, which is ever in continual motion,
in swift revolution of torment. Tantalus, for having attempted to deceive some of the gods who visited him, by
placing roasted human flesh before them, was tortured with endless hunger and
thirst. He was placed in a lake up to his chin in the water, and over his head
bent the branches of a tree loaded with the most delicious and inviting fruit.
Agonizing with hunger and thirst, he stretched out his hand to seize the fruit,
when it was instantly withdrawn just above his reach; he stooped to drink of
the cooling waters, and immediately they sank away, and no drop touched his
lips; but they rose again to his chin, when he rose. [From this comes our word
The fifty Daughters of Danaus, or rather forty-nine, for murdering their husbands on
the night of marriage, were condemned to fill a leaky tub with water drawn from
a deep well with a sieve. Of course there was no end to such a task. Sisyphus
was condemned to roll a huge stone to the
summit of a high hill in hell, but always, just before he reached the top, his
strength failed, and it rushed down again to the bottom of the steep, and
compelled him to begin his labors again, always to end in the same way. Another
miserable wretch had a mighty rock suspended over his head, threatening every
instant to fall and crush him. Tityrus, for his crimes, was chained to a rock, while a vulture fed upon his
heart and entrails, which were ever renewed as fast as devoured.
These examples are sufficient to illustrate the doctrines and
teachings of the heathen respecting future punishments; and they show, more
graphically than any words could do it, how essential to their completeness is
the element of perpetuity, of endlessness. There can be no doubt in respect to their
belief in the torments of the wicked after
death, or of their opinion respecting the duration of them.
The fact, then, being established, that the dogma is
thoroughly heathen in its character and developments, this question presents
itself: Where did the heathen get it? Whence came their fables respecting the
infernal regions? The next section will answer this inquiry.
HEATHEN INVENTED THE DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT - SHOWN BY THEIR OWN
Any one at all familiar with the writings of the ancient
Greeks or Romans, cannot fail to note how often it is admitted by them that the
national religions were the inventions of the legislator and the priest, for
the purpose of governing and restraining the common people. Hence, all the
early lawgivers claim to have had communications with the gods, who aided them
in the preparation of their codes. Zoroaster claimed to have received his laws
from a divine source; Lycurgus obtained his from Apollo, Minos of Crete from
Jupiter, Numa of Rome from Egeria, Zaleucus from Minerva, &c. The object of
this sacred fraud was to impress the minds of the multitude with religious awe,
and command a more ready obedience on their part. Hence Augustine says, in his
"City of God,"
This seems to have been done on no other account, but as it
was the business of princes, out of their wisdom and civil prudence, to deceive
the people in their religion; princes, under the name of religion, persuaded
the people to believe those things true, which they themselves knew to be idle
fables; by this means, for their own ease in government, tying them the more
closely to civil society. (B. iv 32)
Of course, in order to secure obedience, they were obliged
to invent divine punishments for the disobedience of what they asserted to be
divine laws. "Hence," says Bishop Warburton, "they enforced the
belief of a future state of rewards and punishments by every sort of
contrivance." And speaking of the addition of metempsychosis, or the
transmigration of souls, he says: "This was an ingenious solution,
invented by the Egyptian lawgivers, to remove all doubts concerning the moral
attributes of God."
Egypt has been called the "Mother of
Superstitions," and her whole religious history shows the propriety of the
appellation. Greeks and Romans, Lawgivers and Philosophers, acknowledge their
indebtedness to her in this respect, and freely credit her with the original
invention of the fables and terrors of the invisible world; though it must be
allowed that they have improved somewhat upon the hints given, and shown a
wonderful inventive faculty of their own.
Dr. Good has a curious passage on the subject in hand, in
his Book of Nature, which I must be permitted to introduce here.
It was believed in most countries that this hell, hades, or invisible world, is divided into two very
distinct and opposite regions, by a broad and impassable gulf; that the one is
a seat of happiness, a paradise, or elysium, and the other a seat of misery, a
gehenna, or tartarus; and that there is a supreme magistrate and an impartial
tribunal belonging to the infernal shades, before which the ghosts must appear,
and by which they are sentenced to the one or the other, according to the deeds
done in the body. Egypt is said to have been the inventress of this important
and valuable part of the tradition; and undoubtedly it is to be found in the
earliest records of Egyptian history. But, from the wonderful conformity of its
outlines to the parallel doctrines of the Scriptures, it is probable that it
has a still higher origin, and that it constituted a part of the patriarchal
creed, retained in a few channels, though forgotten or obliterated in others,
and consequently that it was a divine communication in a very early age.
This last assertion is certainly a singular statement for a
man of Dr. Good's learning and judgment. For, first, it does not conform at all to the doctrine of the
Scriptures in regard to rewards and punishments, as our inquiry has fully
shown. And, second, the
patriarchal creed makes no mention of it, as far as we know; and if it made
part of an early revelation, afterwards lost, it is reasonable to suppose that
it would have been renewed again in the revelation to the Law of Moses.
Beside, if the Egyptians obtained it from any of the patriarchs,
it must have been from Jacob or his descendants, after they went down into
Egypt. It must have been a current doctrine, therefore, among the Israelites,
and regarded by them as of divine authority; but this conclusion is shut off by
the fact that Moses, though divinely commissioned as their teacher, rejects it
from his law, and shows his unbelief and contempt for it by a studied and
unbroken silence! Curious, indeed, if Dr. Good's supposition is correct. We
find the doctrine in full bloom with the Egyptians, but not a trace of it among
the early Hebrews. But, singularly enough, when, in after ages, the Jews had
become corrupted, and had departed from the Law of Moses, we find the doctrine
among them. And, what is very noteworthy, as the next chapter will show, its
first appearance is in apocryphal books written by Egyptian Jews. So
that the facts happen to be the very opposite of Dr. Good's theory; - instead
of the Egyptians borrowing it from the Jews, the Jews borrowed it from the
In attempting to set out the Egyptian notions on the
subject, it is difficult to choose between the conflicting accounts of the
Greek writers, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, &c., as well as of
the modern interpreters of the monumental hieroglyphics. Still, with regard to
the main question, they are tolerably well agreed, though there is great
diversity of opinion in respect to the details. It is plain enough, from their
united testimony, that the whole matter of judgment after death, the rewards of
a good life, and the punishments of a bad life, with all the formal solemnities
of trial and condemnation, originated and was perfected among the Egyptians,
according to the peculiar character of their mythology. From them it was
borrowed by the Greeks, who made such changes and additions as fitted the
system to the genius and circumstances of that people.
It would seem that each district of Egypt had what was
called its "sacred lake," beyond which were the tombs and
burial-places of the dead. Acherusia, the lake near Memphis, was the model
probably for the rest, and appears to have furnished a general name for them.
When any one died, it was the duty of his relations,
according to Diodorus, to notify the forty-two judges or assessors, whose
office it was to decide upon the character of the deceased, and then to appoint
the day for the funeral ceremonies and burial. When the day came, the body of
the dead was carried in procession to the shore of the lake, from which it
could not be removed till after the judgment. The forty-two judges, having been
summoned, were in waiting at the place of embarkation, to receive the body, and
enter on the trial. It was then lawful, for any person who thought proper, to
bring charges against the deceased; and if it was proved that he had led an
evil life, the judges condemned him for his wickedness, and refused him the
privilege of burial, which was regarded as one of the greatest possible
calamities. But if those accusing the dead failed to establish their
accusations, they were subjected to the heaviest penalties.
If there was no accuser, or the charges were disproved, then
his relations were allowed to pronounce the accustomed eulogy, praising his
piety and goodness, celebrating his virtues, and declaring the excellent life which
he had lived. This was followed by a prayer supplicating the gods of the
under-world to receive him into the society of the blessed. Then came the
acclamations of the multitude assembled on the occasion, who united in
extolling the character of the dead, and in rejoicing that he was now going to
join the virtuous in the regions of Amenti or
This over, the body was placed in the funeral boat, under
the direction of Horus, the ferryman of
the dead, and borne across the lake to its place of sepulture. This done, the
ceremonies of the occasion closed.
The bodies of those who had been refused burial were carried
back by the family, and the coffins set up against the wall of the house. The
spirit could not be at rest until the body was buried. Wilkinson says,
The duration of this punishment was limited according to
the extent of crimes of which the accused had been guilty. When the devotion of
friends, aided by liberal donations in the service of religion, and the
influential prayers of the priests, had sufficiently softened the otherwise
inexorable nature of the gods, the period of this state of purgatory was
Beside this judgment on earth, it appears there was another
after the dead entered the regions of Amenti or Hades. For what
reason, we cannot say, except the judges of the invisible world were a kind of
superior court, who examined the case anew, with the view of correcting any
errors of the previous trial.
Sir J.G. Wilkinson informs us that
the judgment scenes found in the tombs and on the papyri,
sometimes represent the deceased conducted by Horus to the region of AmentI
Cerberus is present as the guardian of the gates, near which the scales of
justice were erected. Anubis, 'the director of the weight,' having placed a
vase representing the good actions, or the heart of the deceased, in one scale,
and the figure or emblem of truth in the other, proceeds to ascertain his
claims for admission. If, on being 'weighed,' he is 'found wanting,' he is
rejected; and Osiris, the judge of the dead, inclining the scepter in token of
condemnation, pronounces judgment upon him, and condemns his soul to return to
earth under the form of a pig, or some other unclean animal. Placed in a boat,
it is removed, under the charge of two monkeys, from the precincts of Amenti,
all communication with which is figuratively cut off by a man who hews away the
earth with an ax after its passage; and the commencement of a new term of life
is indicated by the monkeys, the emblems of Thoth, as Time. But if, when the
sum of his deeds have been recorded, his virtues so far predominate as to
entitle him to admission to the mansions of the blessed, Horus introduces him
It is with this judgment, at the point where the condemned
soul is sent back again to the earth in the form of an animal, that the
doctrine of transmigration seems to connect itself.
According to Herodotus, the Egyptians believed the soul
would pass from one body to another, till it had performed the circuit of all
animals, terrestrial, marine, and birds of the air; when it again takes up its
abode in the human body. This transmigration it was supposed would fill up a
period of three thousand years.
There is great diversity of opinion in regard to the
particulars of this curious arrangement, but the leading idea appears to have
been the punishment of the wicked; for the wicked only, according to some
authorities, were subject to it, the good and pious being received immediately,
on the burial of the body, into rest, or returning to the Good Being whence
they emanated. And it would seem, according to Wilkinson, that it was only the
ordinarily wicked, not the very worst, who were condemned to this purgatory. He
thinks that the monuments show
that the souls which underwent transmigration were those of
men whose sins were of a sufficiently moderate kind to admit of that
purification; the unpardonable sinner being condemned to eternal fire,
by which he means endless fire.
These records of the ancient Greeks, confirmed by the
monuments as illustrated by modern scholars, open to us the origin of the
doctrines of a judgment after death, and of future endless rewards and
punishments, for the good or evil deeds of this life. From the Egyptians it
passed, with suitable modifications, to the Greeks and Romans. Diodorus himself
clearly shows that the fables of the Acherusian lake, of Hecate, Cerberus,
Charon, and the Styx, have their original in these Egyptian ceremonies and
And Professor Stuart, in a note to Greppo's Essay on
Hieroglyphics, accepts the statement of Spineto, that the Amenti of the Egyptians originated the classic fables of
Hades and Tartarus, Charon, Pluto, the judges of hell, the dog Cerberus, the
Chimeras, Harpies, Gorgons, Furies, "and other such unnatural and horrible
things with which the Greeks and Romans peopled their fantastic hell."
It is curious to note the exactness of the copy in many
particulars. The Egyptian Acherusia
gives us the Greek Acheron, and
perhaps Styx. The Egyptian Tartar, significant of the lamentations of relatives over
the dead refused burial on account of their wicked lives, furnishes the Greek Tartarus, where the wicked are punished. The funeral boat
across the lake, the ferryman, and the gold piece in the mouth of the dead,
give rise to Charon, his boat, and fee, and the passage across the Styx into
Hades. The cemetery beyond the lake, surrounded by trees, called by the
Egyptians Elisout or Elisaeus, is the original of the Greek Elysian Fields, the abode of the blessed. The three infernal judges,
Minos, Aeacus, Rhadamanthus, are
borrowed from the Egyptian judges of the dead; and the heads of animals
symbolizing these judges, mistaken by the Greeks, are changed into monster Gorgons,
Harpies, Furies, &c.
But, as I have remarked, though the Greeks borrowed, they
altered and improved. And, true to that individualism which was so marked a
characteristic of that people, they are not satisfied with the Egyptian method
of generalizing respecting the punishments of the wicked, but begin specifying
particular sinners, and particular kinds of punishment adapted to particular
offenses. Hence the fables of Ixion, Tantalus, Tityrus, &c., whose torments
in the infernal regions are mentioned in the beginning of this chapter.
Everything must be sharp, pointed, and dramatic, to suit the lively genius of
the Greek; and the terrors of the invisible world must be presented in a way to
strike the imagination in the most powerful manner, and produce some direct result
on the individual and on society.
The whole thing is designed for effect, to influence the
multitude, to restrain their passions, and to aid the magistrate and ruler in
keeping them subject to authority. It is the invention of priests and
law-makers, who take this as the easiest method of governing the people. They
claim the "right divine" to govern; claim that their laws originate
with the gods, as we have shown above; and that, therefore, the gods will visit
on all offenders the terrors and tortures of the damned. Hence, through the
joint cunning of priest and legislator, of church and state, mutually
supporting each the other, we have all the stupendous frauds and falsehoods
respecting the invisible world.
But, without further remarks of my own, I will introduce the
testimony of the heathen themselves on this point, and those the best informed
among them, who will tell their own story in their own way. One preliminary
observation, however, partly made already, I wish to repeat; and I desire the
reader to have it always in mind: The rulers and magistrates, or priests,
invent these terrors to keep the people, the masses, in subjection; the people
religiously believe in them; while the inventors, of course, and the educated
classes, the priests and the philosophers, though they teach them to the
multitude, have themselves no manner of faith in them.
1. Polybius, the historian, says:
Since the multitude is ever fickle, full of lawless
desires, irrational passions and violence, there is no other way to keep them
in order but by the fear and terror of the invisible world; on which account
our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to
bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods, and of the infernal
regions. (B. vi 56)
2. Dionysius Halicarnassus treats the whole matter as useful, but not as true. Antiq.
Rom., B. ii
3. Livy, the celebrated historian, speaks of it in the same
spirit; and he praises the wisdom of Numa, because he invented the fear of the
gods, as "a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous
populace." Hist., i 19.
4. Strabo, the geographer, says:
The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments
the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, and by those terrors and
threatenings which certain dreadful words and monstrous forms imprint upon
their minds...For it is impossible to govern the crowd of women, and all the
common rabble, by philosophical reasoning, and lead them to piety, holiness and
virtue - but this must be done by superstition, or the fear of the gods, by
means of fables and wonders; for the thunder, the aegis, the trident, the
torches (of the Furies), the dragons, &c., are all fables, as is also all
the ancient theology. These things the legislators used as scarecrows to
terrify the childish multitude. (Geog.,
5. Timaeus Locrus,
the Pythagorean, after stating that the doctrine of rewards and punishments
after death is necessary to society, proceeds as follows:
For as we sometimes cure the body with unwholesome remedies,
when such as are most wholesome produce no effect, so we restrain those minds
with false relations, which will not be persuaded by the truth. There is a
necessity, therefore, of instilling the dread of those foreign torments:
as that the soul changes its habitation; that the coward is ignominiously
thrust into the body of a woman; the murderer imprisoned within the form of a
savage beast; the vain and inconstant changed into birds, and the slothful and
ignorant into fishes.
6. Plato, in his
commentary on Timaeus, fully endorses what he says respecting the fabulous
invention of these foreign torments. And Strabo says that "Plato and the
Brahmins of India invented fables concerning the future judgments of hell"
(Hades). And Chrysippus blames Plato for attempting to deter men from wrong by
frightful stories of future punishments.
Plato himself is exceedingly inconsistent, sometimes
adopting, even in his serious discourses, the fables of the poets, and at other
times rejecting them as utterly false, and giving too frightful views of the
invisible world. Sometimes, he argues, on social grounds, that they are
necessary to restrain bad men from wickedness and crime, and then again he
protests against them on political grounds, as intimidating the citizens, and
making cowards of the soldiers, who, believing these things, are afraid of
death, and do not therefore fight well. But all this shows in what light he
regarded them; not as truths, certainly, but as fictions, convenient in some
cases, but difficult to manage in others.
7. Plutarch treats the subject in the same way; sometimes
arguing for them with great solemnity and earnestness, and on other occasions
calling them "fabulous stories, the tales of mothers and nurses."
8. Seneca says:
Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the
darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, &c.,
are all a fable, with which the poets amuse themselves, and by them agitate us
with vain terrors.
Sextus Empiricus calls them "poetic fables of hell;" and Cicero speaks of them as "silly absurdities and
fables" (ineptiis ac fabulis).
It has been handed down in mythical form from earliest times
to posterity, that there are gods, and that the divine (Deity) compasses all
nature. All beside this has been added, after the mythical style, for the
purpose of persuading the multitude, and for the interests of the laws, and the
advantage of the state. Neander's Church Hist., i, p. 7.
The question with which this section began, "Whence
came the doctrine of future endless punishments?" is now, I trust,
answered by a sufficient number of witnesses to settle the matter beyond
dispute. The heathens themselves confess to the invention of the dogma, and of
all the fabulous stories of the infernal regions; the legislators and sages
very frankly state that the whole thing was devised for its supposed utility in
governing the gross and ignorant multitude of men and women, who cannot be
restrained by the precepts of philosophy.
They have not the slightest faith in these things
themselves; they do not think them at all necessary to regulate their own
lives, or keep them in order; but it is for the common people, the coarse
rabble, who can only in this way be terrified into good behavior. One cannot
help noting the resemblance between these wise men and some of our own day, who
seem so anxious to maintain the doctrine in the ground that it is necessary to
restrain men from sin. But, unfortunately for this theory, the revelations of
history, both Pagan and Christian, are all in opposition to it.
THE JEWS BORROWED
THE DOCTRINE FROM THE HEATHEN
It is allowed on all hands that the Jews in our Savior's
time believed the doctrine of future endless punishment; that it was a part of
the common faith. Of course, as the doctrine is nowhere to be found in their
Scriptures, the question arises, where did they find it? At the close of the
Old Testament Scriptures they did not believe it; at the beginning of the New
Between these two points of time there was an interval of
some four hundred years, during which there was no prophet in Israel. Malachi
was the last of the Hebrew prophets, and from him to Christ there stretches
this waste period of four centuries, when the Jews were without any divine
teacher or revelation from heaven. And all this while they were in constant and
close intercourse with the heathen, especially the Egyptians, the Greeks and
Romans, who held the doctrine in review as part of the national faith. From
these, therefore, they must have borrowed it, for it is certain that they could
not have obtained it from any inspired source, since none was open to them
during this period.
Beside, they were, all this time, as one might infer from
their previous history, departing further and further from the law, and growing
more and more corrupt; till at last they had, as the Savior charges upon them,
utterly made void the law of God by their traditions. Mark viii 9, 13.
Brucker says that "after the times of Esdras,
Zachariah, Malachi, and the inspired men, the Jews began to forsake the sacred
doctrine, and turned aside to the dreams of human invention (humani ingenii
somnia); though up to this time they had
preserved pure the Hebrew wisdom received from the fathers."
The last part of this statement is, perhaps, too strongly
worded. They did not, certainly, preserve the wisdom of their ancestors, and
the sacred doctrine pure, till after the
times of Malachi and the close of the prophetic period. Their departure from
the simplicity of the law dates further back than this, even to the time of the
Babylonian captivity. The oriental philosophy made considerable impression on
the general as well as on the speculative mind, and by degrees crumbled down
the walls that guarded the sanctuary of the ancient faith, and prepared the way
for the general corruption which followed the death of the last of the
prophets. A careful study of the later books of the Old Testament will show
this very plainly.
Speaking on this point, Guizot has the following:
The Jews had acquired at Babylon a great number of Oriental
notions, and their theological opinions had undergone great changes by this
intercourse. We find in Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon, and the
later prophets, notions unknown to the Jews before the Babylonian captivity, which
are manifestly derived from the Orientals. Thus, God represented under the
image of light, and the principle of evil under that of darkness; the history
of good and bad angels; paradise and
hell, &c., are doctrines of which the
origin, or at least the positive determination, can only be referred to the
Thus we see that the cords which bound them to the authority
of Moses, and to the written law and revelations of God, had been slowly
relaxing for a long time. Of course, when the last prophet had departed, and
God had withdrawn all special guidance, the growth of corruption among them,
and conformity to Pagan opinions, rapidly increased.
The process is easily understood. About three hundred and
thirty years before Christ, Alexander the Great had subjected to his rule the
whole of Western Asia, including Judea, and also the kingdom of Egypt. Soon
after he founded Alexandria, which speedily became a great commercial
metropolis, and drew into itself a large multitude of Jews, who were always
eager to improve the opportunities of traffic and trade. A few years later,
Ptolemy Soter took Jerusalem, and carried off one hundred thousand of them into
Egypt. Here, of course, they were in daily contact with Egyptians and Greeks,
and gradually began to adopt their philosophical and religious opinions, or to
modify their own in harmony with them.
To what side soever they turned, the Jews came in contact
with Greeks and with Greek philosophy, under one modification or another. It
was around them and among them; for small bodies of that people were scattered
through their own territories, as well as through the surrounding provinces. It
insinuated itself very slowly at first; but stealing upon them from every
quarter, and operating from age to age, it mingled at length in all their
views, and by the year 150 before Christ, had wrought a visible change in their
notions and habits of thought.
At Alexandria, too, was established that celebrated school
of philosophy and theology which exerted such a corrupting influence on both
Jewish and Christian doctrine and teaching.
This school, by pretending to teach a sublimer doctrine
concerning God and divine things, enticed men of different countries and
religions, and among the rest the Jews, to study its mysteries, and incorporate
them with their own...Hence, under the cloak of symbols, Pagan philosophy
gradually crept into the Jewish schools; and the Platonic doctrines, mixed
first with the Pythagoric, and afterwards with the Egyptian and Oriental, were
blended with the ancient faith in their explanations of the law and their
This corruption, which began in the
time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C. 283), soon spread into Palestine, and
everywhere disseminated among the Jews a taste for metaphysical subtleties and
mysteries." Again, he says: "Under the Ptolemies the Jews began to
learn the Egyptian and Oriental theology,
and to incorporate those foreign dogmas with their ancient creed." And
once more he says: "Some among them were so unfaithful to their country
and their God, as to court the favor of the conqueror (Antiochus Epiphanes), by
mixing Pagan tenets and superstitions with their own sacred doctrines and ceremonies.
In these extracts we have some very important facts in aid
of our inquiry. "The Pagan philosophy gradually crept into the Jewish
schools," and the Jews incorporated into their ancient faith the dogmas of
both the philosophy and theology of Egypt, the very fountain-head from which
came the doctrine of future endless torments. But not only did they borrow from
the Egyptian, but also from the Oriental and Pythagorean philosophy, in both of
which, as well as in the Egyptian, one of the distinguishing features was the
doctrine of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, as a method of
retribution after death. Indeed, Pythagoras made so much of this dogma, that it
was often called specially by his name; and it was almost universally believed
by the Oriental nations, and is to this day, especially by the Hindus, the
Burmans, the followers of the Grand Lama, and by the Buddhists generally.
As this particular doctrine has an important bearing on our inquiry,
it may be well to enlarge a little on this point. The opinions of the Egyptians
have already been stated. Pythagoras taught that souls were sent into bodies
corresponding to their several characters. The good were allowed to inhabit
those of a gentle and social kind, as bees, doves, ants, &c. The bad were
sent into such as resembled them in disposition and life; the angry and
malicious into serpents; the ravenous and robbing into wolves; the fraudulent
into foxes; and, with the incivility of a Mahometan, cowards and effeminate
into the bodies of women.
The Buddhists, according to Judson, believe that mankind
pass into other bodies, the character of which is determined by their conduct
in the present life. They may be sent into the bodies of birds, beasts, fish,
or insects, from a higher to a lower grade, if wicked, until they reach hell,
or a place of unmixed torment. In cases of atrocious crime, as the murder of a
parent, or a priest, they pass through no transmigration, but go directly to
This, it will be seen, corresponds with what Wilkinson says
of the Egyptian doctrine, that only those sinners whose crimes admit of
purification are allowed the benefit of this purgatorial transmigration, while
the unpardonable sinner is condemned to endless fire.
The Hindus have brought the doctrine to such a degree of
perfection, that they profess to be able
to tell precisely the sin which the person committed in
another body, by the afflictions which he endures in this. For instance, they
say the headache is a punishment for having, in a former state, spoken
irreverently to father or mother. Madness or insanity is a punishment for
having been disobedient to parents, or to the priest or spiritual guide.
Epilepsy is the penalty for having in another body administered poison to any
one at the command of a master. Pain in the eyes is retribution for having,
when in a former body, coveted another man's wife. Blindness is a punishment
for having killed one's mother; but this person, before coming into another
body, will be subjected to many years' torment in hell.
Such are the views respectively of the Egyptians,
Pythagoreans, and Orientals, on the subject of transmigration as a system of
retribution beyond death. And from these sources Enfield and others say the
Jews borrowed largely, incorporating the dogmas both of their philosophy and
theology with the sacred doctrines of their ancient creed. Is there any proof
that they borrowed the particular doctrine in question? We answer, there is
abundant proof, which we will proceed to offer.
Of course, in doing this, we shall not distinguish between
the particularly Egyptian and the particularly Grecian elements. Indeed, they
were so blended after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander, and the influx of
Greeks into the country, that it would be next to impossible to separate the
two in their influence on the Jewish mind and opinions. In presenting the
evidence, we shall do with the Jews as we did by the heathen - let them speak
In the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, written perhaps from fifty
to ninety years before Christ, by an Egyptian Jew, we have the following:
"I was a witty child, and had a good spirit. Yea, rather, being good, I
came into a body undefiled." Chapter viii 19, 20.
Josephus, who wrote about one hundred and fifty years later,
says of the Pharisees:
They believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and
that under the earth (in Sheol or Hades) there will be rewards and punishments, according as
they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life. The latter are to be
detained in an everlasting prison; but the former shall have power to revive
and live again.
This, it will be seen, is a great
advance on the Old Testament Sheol or
under-world. We find nothing of this sort among the patriarchs or prophets.
Again he says:
The souls of the pure and obedient obtain a most holy place
in heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent into
while the souls of those committing
suicide "are received into the darkest place in Hades."
All souls are incorruptible, but the souls of good men only
are removed into other bodies; but the souls of bad men are subject to eternal
These testimonies are sufficient to show how thoroughly the
doctrine of transmigration had fixed itself in the Jewish creed by the time of
It will be seen that the extracts indicate that
transmigration, or permission to enter other bodies on earth, was regarded by
the Pharisees and Jews as a reward of virtue and goodness; while the privilege
was denied to the wicked, who were kept in the under-world, or Hades, subject
to punishment. It is probable that the silent, inactive, and gloomy character
of Sheol, or the under-world, of the early Hebrews, which we have already
described at large (chap. ii, sec. v), may have given this form to the doctrine
among the Jews, and caused them to regard deliverance from it into the cheerful
life of earth a favor and a reward.
It certainly was a common opinion with many, and that as far
back as the second Book of Maccabees, perhaps 150 B.C., that the wicked would
be punished, by being deprived of a resurrection, or confined in the
under-world as shadowy ghosts, without action or enjoyment (chapters vii, xiv).
This is, I think, the first glimpse we have of future punishment among the
Jews, coming, as we see, not in the form of torment, but of a refusal of the
privilege of a resurrection.
This doctrine has prevailed extensively among the Jews.
David Kimchi (A.D. 1240) says:
The benefit of the rain is common to the just and to the
unjust, but the resurrection of the dead is the peculiar privilege of those who
have lived righteously.
Moses Gerundensis says:
No one can be partaker of an interest in the world to come,
but the souls only of just men, which, separated from their body, shall enter
Manasseh Ben Israel, in a treatise
on the resurrection of the dead, says:
From the mind and opinion of all the ancients, we conclude
that there will not be a general resurrection of the dead, and one common to
Pocoke has brought a large mass of
evidence from Rabbinical writers to prove this point.
The assertion of Ben Israel, that this was "the mind
and opinion of all the ancients," is probably too broad for the facts; but
it shows that at a very early period this notion had taken place in the Jewish
belief. The second Book of Maccabees, written two hundred and fifty years after
Malachi, shows that it was held at that period.
Still this was not the universal opinion, for evidently
transmigration in the time of Christ was regarded by some as a method of
punishment. Hence, in the account of the blind man restored to sight by Jesus,
we have the question: "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that
he was born blind?" John ix. This shows plainly that the people thought
the man might have been sent into a blind body as a punishment for some sin in
a preexistent state; which is an exact copy of the Egyptian and Oriental
In Luke xvi 14, we have another trace of the doctrine among
the people. In answer to the question of Jesus, "Whom do men say that I,
the son of man, am?" the disciples reply, "Some say that thou art
John the Baptist; some say Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the
prophets." They seemed to think the soul of some one of these ancient men
of God had returned again to the earth in the body of Jesus, which to them was
a satisfactory explanation of the miracles He wrought. Many of the Jewish
doctors have believed that the souls of Adam, Abraham, and others, have at
different times animated the bodies of the great men of their nation.
It is not easy to see how those alluded to by the disciples
could believe the soul of John Baptist, who had so recently been put to death,
could have entered into the body of Jesus, who was thirty years old. But then
the ideas of the common people on this subject, as well as of the learned, were
very much mixed and confused; and, moreover, there was every variety of opinion
respecting the moral theory of the system.
The Egyptians believed in transmigration as a punishment of
vice; the Pharisees believed in it as a reward of virtue; and the Pythagoreans
believed in it both as a reward and a punishment. The Egyptians excluded the
extremely wicked; and the Pharisees excluded the wicked generally, who were
punished in the under-world; while Pythagoras excluded the extremely good, or
pure and philosophical souls, who were sent directly to heaven, or the society
of the gods. So great was the diversity of opinion in regard even to the
leading features of the system.
Philo, an Egyptian Jew contemporary with the Savior,
believed the air to be full of spirits, who from time to time descended
"to unite themselves with mortal bodies, being desirous to live in them
again." And Josephus reports the Essenes, one of the three chief sects
among the Jews, as holding the same views in regard to the preexistence of
spirits, which is in fact equivalent to transmigration.
A sufficient number of witnesses has now been cited to prove
that the Jews borrowed from the Pagans the doctrine of transmigration, with all
its accompaniments of future retribution, and endless punishment. And they
abundantly justify the statement of Enfield, that
the purity of the divine doctrine was corrupted among the
Jews in Egypt, who, under the disguise of allegory, admitted doctrines never
dreamed of by their lawgiver and prophets; and adopted a mystical
interpretation of the law, which converted its plain meaning into a thousand
But other views of punishments after death were entertained,
approaching nearer to the crude notions exhibited in the preceding chapter. The
apocryphal book, called the Wisdom of Solomon, written from fifty to seventy
years later than the second of Maccabees, contains the doctrine of future
retribution in a more positive form. The habitation of the wicked is in
darkness and amid terrors, and the Almighty turns all the elements against
them, thunderbolts and hailstones, tempestuous winds and the waves of the
Philo also taught that the souls of the wicked were cast
down into the depths of Tartarus, into blackest darkness and night, where they
are surrounded by all kinds of ghostly shadows and fearful apparitions. Here
they suffer a never-ending death, agonizing with present torture, and with the
terror of evils to come, without relief and without hope. This sounds like the
very echo of the classic fables, and brings us into the very sanctuary of Pagan
belief. It is Greek, with a slightly Jewish accent.
But, not to extend this part of the inquiry too far, I shall
close with citing the authority of the learned Dr. Campbell, which states very
clearly the process and growth of the doctrine of retribution after death among
the Jews, according to the Greek and Roman model:
From the time of the captivity, more especially from the
time of the subjection of the Jews, first to the Macedonian empire, and
afterwards to the Roman, as they had a closer intercourse with Pagans, they
insensibly imbibed many of their sentiments, particularly on those points
where their law was silent,
and wherein by consequence they considered
themselves as at greater freedom. On the subject of a future state, we find a
considerable difference in the popular opinions of the Jews, in our Savior's
time, from those which prevailed in the days of the ancient prophets. As both
Greeks and Romans had adopted the notion that the ghosts of the departed were
susceptible both of enjoyment and of suffering, they were led to suppose a sort
of retribution in that state, for their merit or demerit in the present. The
Jews did not adopt the pagan fables on this subject, nor did they express
themselves, entirely, in the same manner; but the general train of thinking in
both came pretty much to coincide."
Perhaps they did not adopt the Pagan fables in every
particular, but they appropriated the basis and framework of them, and invented
others of their own equally gross and absurd. Le Clerc says they
borrowed so great a number of fables (ont debite un si grand
nombre de fables), that their history,
after the time of the last of the sacred historians, was scarcely more
reasonable than the most fabulous histories of Paganism.
And he adds, that
as they were better instructed than the Pagans, they were,
therefore, more blamable for having invented so many falsehoods.
They invented and borrowed, till, as Tytler says, about the
time of Christ,
they had so vitiated the Law by the intermixture of heathen
doctrines, and ceremonies borrowed from the Pagans,
Judaism itself had become so corrupted and disguised, as to
be a source of national discord and division among its votaries.
These facts and testimonies are enough, I trust, to satisfy
the reader of the sources from which the Jews derived the doctrine of endless
punishment, and other false notions which they entertained respecting the
future state. And, after this review, with what force and directness the
Savior's words return upon us: "In vain they do worship me, teaching
for doctrines the commandments of men."
Matt. xv 6-9. And we see the point of His charge against the Pharisees, that
they rejected the divine commandments, that they might follow their own
tradition, by which they "made the word of God of none effect" (Mark
vii 9, 13); and, also, His warning to His disciples to "beware of the
doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Matt. xv 6-12.
The truth is, that in the four hundred years of their
intercourse with the heathen, during which they were without any divine teacher
or message, Pagan philosophy and superstition had, so far as regarded the
future state, completely pushed aside the Law of Moses and the Scriptures of
the Old Testament, and set up in place of them their own extravagant inventions
and fables respecting the invisible world.
PUNISHMENT NOT TAUGHT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
OF THE SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENT
Briefly, our argument stands, thus far, as follows:
1. If Endless Punishment be a
truth, and the actual purpose of God from the beginning; and if it exerts the
salutary and restraining influence claimed for it, then assuredly it ought to
have been revealed at the earliest possible moment. This both Justice and Mercy
required, as well as the moral and religious welfare of mankind.
We may, therefore, expect to find it announced in plainest
language at the very beginning - certainly on those occasions of sin and crime
which could not fail to call out some declaration of it, some threat or warning
in regard to it.
But not a word do we hear of it on any such occasion. The
first transgression, Cain, the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
are all passed without a single line in the sacred record respecting it. The
just inference is that it cannot be true, or God would certainly have said
something about it, in the course of the two thousand five hundred years of the
2. We next examined the Law of
Moses, the entire catalogue of its penalties and threatenings; but in no case
did we find the least allusion to the doctrine of endless punishments, or any
punishments or rewards beyond death. And we showed by the acknowledgments of
the most learned critics and theologians, themselves believers in the doctrine,
that it was not taught in the Law of Moses, but that the Old Testament
dispensation was wholly a dispensation of temporal rewards and punishments.
This portion of the inquiry covered fifteen hundred years
more, the period under the Law, during which we have no revelation from God of
the awful dogma, but a studied and most remarkable silence in reference to it,
if true; a silence wholly unaccountable, and which shrouds the divine character
in an impenetrable darkness, and accuses beyond defense His justice and
This is the position of the question at the end of four
thousand years, which brings us to the close of the Old Dispensation and the
opening of the New. The inquiry now arises, Is the doctrine in review, so long
concealed, brought to light in the Gospel? The very statement of the question
seems almost to carry its answer with it. As if God could keep such a tremendous fact under cover for forty
centuries, and then announce it in a revelation called preeminently
good-tidings, or Gospel!
But let us see what is involved in such a supposition. If
the doctrine be true, then the old patriarchs and prophets, and the chosen
people of God, were all wrong some thousands of years; and the Egyptians, and
Greeks, and all the heathen, were right. Those who enjoyed divine instruction
were in error, while those who only had the light of nature for a guide found
But, on this supposition also, God makes a special
revelation, through Christ, of what everybody knew before, Jews and Gentiles;
for, as we have seen, the Jews had adopted the doctrine from the Pagans before
Christ came. Heathenism had anticipated Christianity, and there was no need of
a supernatural revelation of that which the Pagans had shrewdness enough to
invent without any help.
Again; John says (i 17), "The Law was given by Moses,
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." This is intended to show the
superiority of Christ's mission and revelation. But which is preferable, the
Law with temporal punishments, or that grace which brings in a dispensation of
endless punishments? And Paul says that the Gospel is a "better covenant,
established on better promises." But if it threatens this horrible
judgment, not known to the Law covenant, it would be more fitting to say, it is
a worse covenant established on worse threatenings. And how can Jesus be said
to have "a more excellent ministry," if it involves consequences to
the disobedient and unbelieving a million times more dreadful than any results
of the ministry of Moses or Aaron? Heb. viii
But let us proceed to the inquiry. Our limits will compel to
utmost brevity, but we shall indicate the way with sufficient clearness.
BY CHRIST NOT FROM ENDLESS PUNISHMENT
If endless punishment really is the penalty of the Divine
Law under the Gospel, and Christ came to save us from this, we may expect to
have this fact announced in the most positive terms at the outset. God, so long
silent, will now speak in thunder tones, and in language which all the world
shall understand. Let us see if He has done so.
Luke iv 16-22. Here we have a statement from Christ Himself,
at the opening of His ministry, of what He was sent into the world for, and if
the great purpose of His coming is to save men from endless misery, He will
surely say so.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed
me to preach the Gospel (good tidings) to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the
broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight
to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to preach the
acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to
the minister (of the synagogue), and sat down.
Not a word of His being sent to save from a future endless
hell; and yet He professes to tell the very object for which God did send Him!
Now, if the doctrine be true, Jesus keeps up the same strange concealment which
Moses maintained in the Law. He carefully enumerates all the lesser matters of
His mission, but preserves a profound silence on the most momentous of all, the
only thing, indeed, that brought Him into the world; and this too, just when
and where He should have declared it in boldest terms.
And what is more singular still is this; reading from Isaiah
(lxi 1-3), He leaves out a most important expression, viz.: "the day of
vengeance of our God." He reads down
to these words, and then stops short in the middle of the sentence, closes the
book, and sits down; as if He would say, "I have nothing to do with this;
I did not come to proclaim the day of vengeance, but of deliverance." Can
anything be more significant than such an omission as this? And how is it
possible to explain it, if Christ did really come to reveal the day of
vengeance against the wicked, and the torments of an endless hell?
But there are other passages equally significant. "God,
having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you," - Peter is telling
the express purpose for which God raised up Jesus and sent Him into the world,
and, if this purpose is to save from endless punishment, we shall certainly
have it now, - "He sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of
you from his iniquities." Acts iii 25,
26. And this, remember, to the very murderers of Jesus, men fresh from the hill
of Calvary! If ever there was a time for revealing the doctrine of woe without
end, it was here. If true, could Peter
have omitted all allusion to it?
"He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us"
- from what? endless punishment? No; "that he might redeem us from all iniquity." Titus ii 11-14. "Our Lord Jesus who gave
himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from" - a future evil
world? No; yet, if this be the fact, it ought to read so; but, instead of this,
it reads thus: "FROM THIS PRESENT EVIL WORLD!" Gal. i 4.
Now, is not this a most marvelous thing, if Jesus really
came to deliver us from a future evil world - from the endless torments of a
hell which begins only after death? Plainly, if it be so, this statement of the
apostle is a deliberate deception; for it not only conceals the main fact, but
it substitutes something else in the place of it, as if to draw attention away
from the substantial truth in the case.
Again: "Thou shalt call his name JESUS, for he shall
save his people from their sins." Matt. 1. 21. Note, in passing, that the
people of Jesus are sinners, since He is to save them from their sins. Commonly
it is believed that saints only are His people. Note, also, that the reason
given for the name Jesus, is that He shall save them from sin, not from the vengeance of God, or the penalty of the
divine law, or the horrors of endless punishment.
These passages might be greatly multiplied, but what have
been cited are enough to show that we do not find the doctrine in review revealed
in the New Testament in those places, where, of all others, we had a right to
expect it, if true. And if we should find it elsewhere, these passages would
still be a wonder and a mystery.
But there is another fact, of great weight in this inquiry,
and one worthy of all remembrance. The original words translated
"save" and "salvation," if I have counted rightly, occur
one hundred and fifty-seven times in the New Testament. Of these, nineteen
refer to the healing of bodily infirmities; as when Jairus besought Christ to
lay hands upon his daughter, "that she might be healed" - literally,
"saved;" thirty-five of these refer to deliverance from danger or
death, as when the mocking Jews said of Jesus, "He saved others; let him save
The remaining one hundred and three examples refer to
spiritual or Gospel salvation. And yet in not one of these texts is it said
that Christ came to save the world, or any part of it, from endless punishment,
or even from "hell." But it is said repeatedly, and emphatically,
that He came expressly to save us from something quite different from this. How
shall we explain this, if the doctrine be true? What shall we say of those,
who, speaking by the Spirit of God in exposition of Gospel salvation, never
state the case as it really is, but spend all their words on matters of
comparatively trifling importance?
NEW TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF HELL
Do we find the doctrine of endless punishment revealed in
the use of the word Hell? Let the facts answer. There are three words
translated "Hell" in the New Testament, Hades and Tartarus, which are Greek, and Gehenna, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew words Gee and Hinnom, meaning "the valley of Hinnom."
1. HADES. This word occurs eleven
times, and is rendered "grave" once, and "hell" ten times.
It may be profitable first to consider what one of the most accomplished
orthodox scholars says in regard to it. Dr. Campbell says,
In my judgment, it ought never in Scripture to be rendered hell, at least in the sense wherein that word is
universally understood by Christians. In the Old Testament the corresponding
word is Sheol, which signifies
the state of the dead in general, without regard to the goodness or badness of
the persons, their happiness or misery. It is very plain that neither in the
Septuagint version of the Old Testament, nor in the New, does the word hades
convey the meaning which the present
English word hell, in the
Christian usage, always conveys to our minds. The attempt to illustrate this
would be unnecessary, as it is hardly now pretended by any critic that this is
the acceptation of the term in the Old Testament.
1st. HADES is put for the grave, or the state of the
dead. Our translators have so rendered it
in 2 Cor. xv 55. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave (hades), where is thy victory?" Let us look at some
other passages where it is rendered "hell." "Thou wilt not leave
my soul in hell, neither wilt
thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption." "He spake of the
resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption." Acts ii
27, 31. Was the soul of Christ ever in hell, in the orthodox sense of the word,
as a place of endless torment? But the sacred writer himself explains the word,
when he says he is speaking of the resurrection of Christ, that is, from the grave, or the dead.
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name
that sat on him was death, and hell
followed him." Rev. vi 8. There is no necessary connection between death
and a place of endless punishment, as all men die, good or bad; but there is a
connection between death and the grave, or the state of the dead; and there is
a propriety in representing the last as following the first. "And death
and hell delivered up the dead which were in them." Rev. xx. 13. This is
the reverse of what is usually taught and believed of hell; for the leading
idea is that it will not give up
those who are in it. Surely the hell the Revelator speaks of is not a place of endless
torments. This is further confirmed by the
next verse, where it is said, "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire," that is,
utterly destroyed. Of course, then, this hell cannot be a place of endless woe,
since it is not itself endless.
These passages, which are without point or meaning in the
common view of hell, are full of significance when we give to hades, or hell,
its true sense. For we know that the grave (hades) will deliver up its dead, and that death and the
grave will be destroyed in the resurrection, when death shall be swallowed up
in the victory of immortal life. Then with a meaning it will be said, "O
grave (hades, hell), where is thy
victory?" for then will be fulfilled the saying, "O grave (hades,
hell), I will be thy destruction." Hosea
2d. HADES is also used in a
figurative sense to represent a state of degradation, calamity, or suffering,
arising from any cause whatever.
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven,
shalt be brought down to hell" (hades).
Matt. xi 23. The parallel passage is in Luke, x. 15. No one supposes that the
city of Capernaum went down to a place of endless woe. The word hell here, as Dr. Clarke says, is a figure to set forth
"the state of utmost woe, and ruin, and desolation, to which these impenitent
cities should be reduced. This prediction of our Lord was literally
fulfilled." Bp. Pearce says, "It means, thou shalt be quite ruined
and destroyed." So also Hammond, Beausobre, Bloomfield, and others. The
last named says it is a "hyberbolical expression, figuratively
representing the depth of adversity."
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus furnishes another
example. "And in hell (hades) he
lifted up his eyes, being in torment." It will be remembered that the Jews
had borrowed their ideas of torment in a future state from the heathen, and of
course they were obliged to borrow their terms to express this. Accordingly,
after the manner of the Greeks, Hades, or the place of departed spirits, is represented as receiving all, as Sheol
did, good and bad; but we have also the
additional idea of separate apartments or districts, divided by a great gulf or
river; on one side of which the blessed are located, and on the other side the
damned, near enough to see each other, and converse together, as in the case of
Abraham and the rich man.
It must also be remembered that this is only a parable, and
not a real history; for, as Dr. Whitby affirms, "we find this very parable
in the Gemara Babylonicum." The
story was not new, then, not original with Christ, but known among the Jews
before He repeated it. He borrowed the parable from them, and employed it to
show the judgment which awaited them. He represented the spiritual favors and
privileges of the Jews by the wealth and luxury of the rich man, and the spiritual
poverty of the Gentiles by the beggary and infirmity of Lazarus; and while the
former would be deprived of their privileges and punished for their wickedness,
the latter would enjoy the blessings of truth and faith.
The question may arise, "If Christ employed the
language used by the Jews to express the torments of hell after death, did He
not virtually sanction the doctrine?"
If so, then He sanctioned their views as set out in this
parable, which, as we have already shown, they borrowed from the heathen. He
puts Himself on a level with the Pagan poets, and teaches a heaven and hell in
Hades, divided by a great gulf, torments by flame, conversational intercourse
between the blessed and the damned, &c.
Now no one believes in such a hell as this. A material hell
of fire, and torments by flame, have been long ago abandoned. And the Savior
cannot be understood as believing or teaching future torments, by using this
parable, any more than He can be supposed to believe and teach the existence of
Beelzebub, the Philistine god of flies (or filth), when He alludes to him, and
uses his name as if he were a real being. See Matt. x. 25; xii 24.
So He says (Matt. vi 24), "Ye cannot serve God and
mammon." "Mammon" is the name of the god of riches; but surely
no one would pretend that Christ, by speaking of serving him, sanctioned the
doctrine that he was really a god. And yet He speaks of his service in the same
connection, and in the same language, with that of the true God; showing the
latitude with which these comparisons and figures are used, without sanctioning
the errors on which they are founded. He takes their own language and opinions
in both cases, without believing or approving, in order to teach and warn them.
Dr. Macknight (Scotch Presbyterian) has spoken well on this
It must be acknowledged that our Lord's descriptions (in
this parable) are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament, but have a
remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given.
They, as well as our Lord, represent the abodes of the blessed as lying
contiguous to the region of the damned, and separated only by a great
impassable river, or deep gulf, in such sort that the ghosts could talk to one
another from its opposite banks. The parable says the souls of wicked men are
tormented in flames; the Grecian mythologists tell us they lie in Phlegethon,
the river of fire, where they suffer torments, &c.
Then he adds,
If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is
formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord
approved of what the common people thought or spake concerning those matters, agreeably to the notions of the Greeks. In
parabolical discourses, provided the doctrines inculcated are strictly true,
the terms in which they are inculcated may be such as are most familiar to the
ears of the vulgar, and the images made use of such as they are best acquainted
with. (Whittemore's Notes)
The sum of the matter is, that Christ takes up a parable or
story current among the Jews, and, without approving the heathen opinions on
which it was founded, uses it to show that the Gentiles (Lazarus) would be
received into the Gospel kingdom with Abraham and Isaac, while the Jews (the
rich man) would be thrust out into darkness and desolation. And this judgment
he represents by the figure of casting into hell, as He had described the
destruction of Capernaum by saying it would be "thrust down to hell."
A perfect commentary on the parable is found in such
passages as these:
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a
nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matt xxi 43)
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye see
many coming from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south,
and sitting with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, while you
yourselves are thrust out. (Matt. viii 11, compared with Luke xiii 28, 29)
It was necessary that the word of God should first have
been spoken to you; but, seeing ye put it from you, and judge (show) yourselves
unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. (Acts xiii 46)
2. TARTARUS. This word occurs only once, and then in a
participial form, in 2 Peter ii 4. "If God spared not the angels that
sinned, but cast them down to hell," &c. Tartarosas. This is of the same character with the parable just
considered, Tartarus being the place of torment in Hades, where the rich man was supposed to be. Bloomfield
says that "Tartarus here is derived from the heathen, and chains of darkness
from the Jewish mythology;" and adds "it is an expression truly
Aeschylean," that is, dramatic, not literally true, a figure of something
It cannot be supposed that the divine apostle believed in
the heathen hell or Tartarus, of which we have given some account in Chapter
iii, and which the heathen themselves confess is a mere fable, an invention of
legislators and poets. His use of the word does not prove his belief of the
doctrine of torments after death, any more than Jude's mention of the dispute
between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses, makes him responsible
for the truth of that idle and ridiculous fable of the Jews. It might as well
be argued that he believed the angels or messengers were bound in literal
"chains of darkness," as that he believed they were literally cast
into Tartarus or the heathen hell. Both expressions are figures to represent
the desolation or destruction into which they were brought by their
This is not the place to enter into the question of who are
meant by the angels, or to give an exposition of the passage. Whether men or
spirits, the word "hell" here furnishes no proof of their endless
punishment - and this is all we are concerned with in the present inquiry.
3. GEHENNA. This word occurs twelve
times in the New Testament, and is always translated "hell." But as
the Evangelists repeat the same discourses, the Savior did not really use it
more than six or seven times in all His ministry. The following are the texts:
Matt. v 22, 29, 30, x. 28, xviii 9, xxiii 15, 33; Mark ix. 43, 45, 47; Luke xii
5; James iii 6. By consulting these passages the reader will see how many of
them are simply repetitions, and how very few times this word is used, on
which, nevertheless, more reliance is placed than on all others, to prove that
"hell" is a place of endless torment.
The following from Schleusner, a distinguished lexicographer
and critic, will show the origin of the word, and indicate its scriptural
a Hebrew word, which signifies valley of Hinnom. Here the Jews placed that brazen image of Moloch. It
is said, on the authority of the ancient Rabbins, that to this image the
idolatrous Jews were wont not only to sacrifice doves, pigeons, lambs, &c.,
but even to offer their own children. In the prophecies of Jeremiah (vii 31),
this valley is called Tophet,
from Toph, a drum; because they
beat a drum during these horrible rites, lest the cries and shrieks of the
infants who were burned should be heard by the assembly. At length these
nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the
pure worship of God. 2 Kings xxiii After this they held the place in such
abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of
beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual
fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should
infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence
it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was
described by the word Gehenna, or hell.
It is proper to add that Schleusner also says that it was
used to represent the future torments of the wicked, and attempts to show it by
quoting the texts given above. But this, as the reader will see, is assuming
the whole question; it is taking for granted the thing to be proved.
In Jeremiah xix., it seems to be used as a comparative
symbol of the desolation of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, or, as Dr. Clarke
thinks, by the Romans. The Lord says to the prophet,
Go forth into the valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna,
hell); and proclaim there the words that I
shall tell thee...I will even make this city as Tophet (or Gehenna); and the
houses of Jerusalem and the kings of Judah shall be defiled as the place of
Here Tophet, or Gehenna, is employed in the way of comparison to set forth
the utter overthrow of Jerusalem; as we say of a place, "It is barren as a
desert," "It is silent as the grave," &c.
They shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men
that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall
their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. (lxvi
Here the unquenchable fire and the
undying worm of Gehenna, or hell, are used as figures of judgment to happen on the
earth, where there are carcasses, new moons, sabbaths, &c. Gehenna, with its accompaniments, was an object of utmost
loathing to the Jew, and came to be employed as a symbol of any great judgment
We say of a great military or political overthrow, "It
was a Waterloo defeat." So the Jews described a great desolation by a like
use of the word Gehenna - "It was a Gehenna judgment;" that is, a
very terrible and destructive judgment.
In Matt. v 29, 30, there is mention of the "whole body
cast into hell." No one supposes the body is literally cast into a hell in the future state. The severity of the
judgments falling on those who would not give up their sins, is represented by Gehenna, which, as Schleusner says, was "a word in
common use to describe any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of
death." These wicked people should perish in a manner as infamous as that
of criminals, whose bodies, after execution, were cast into Gehenna (hell), and
burned with the bodies of beasts and the offal of the city.
The same thought is expressed in Matt. xxiii 33, where
"the damnation of hell" is a symbol of the tremendous judgments
coming upon that guilty nation, when inquisition would be made for "all
the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto
the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the
altar." vs. 34-39.
Mark ix. 33, 45, 47, are repetitions of Matt. v 29, 30, with
the addition of "the undying worm and the unquenchable fire," which
is a repetition of Isaiah lxvi 24. There is nothing in the passage to show that
the Savior used these phrases in any sense different from that of the prophet;
who, as we have seen, employs them to represent judgments on the earth, where,
they shall go forth to look on the carcasses of the men who
have transgressed against me...for they shall bury in Tophet (the place of
sacrifice in Gehenna or hell) till there is no place;...and the days shall come
that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the Son of Hinnom
(the Hebrew for Gehenna or hell), but the valley of Slaughter. (Jer. vii 19;
Isa. lxvi 24)
Fear not them which kill the body,
but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy
both soul and body in hell. (Matt. x. 28)
Fear him, which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast
into hell. (xii 5)
Here is a mixed reference, figurative and literal, to the
valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, hell. There is a literal allusion to casting the
dead bodies of criminals into the valley, to be burned in the perpetual or
unquenchable fire kept up there for this purpose; but the association of soul
and body in the same destruction indicates the figurative use to represent
entire extinction of being, or annihilation.
Isaiah employs the phrase in a similar way.
The Lord shall kindle a burning like the burning of a
fire,...and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; and
shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul
and body. (x 16-18)
Dr. Clarke says this is "a
proverbial expression," signifying that they should be "entirely and
altogether consumed." So Christ represents God as able to destroy the
wicked and apostate, "soul and body in Gehenna," the word familiarly
used to express any great judgment or calamity.
But the Savior is not to be understood as teaching that God will
annihilate soul and body, because He said
He was able to do it, any more than He is to be understood as teaching that out
of stones God would raise up children to Abraham, because He said He was able
to. Matt. iii 9. And, moreover, He tells them in the very next words not to fear, because God watched over them, numbering
the hairs of their head even, in His special keeping of them, and would surely
protect them so long as they were faithful to Him and His truth.
The method of argument seems to be the same as that pursued
with the Pharisees, when they complained of His keeping company with publicans
and sinners. Matt. ix. "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners
to repentance." If you are righteous, as you pretend, that is good reason
why I should not keep company with you, for I came to save sinners. But He did
not allow that they were righteous. He
only admitted their premises for the time, in order to show the absurdity of
So, here, He says: If you are moved by the selfish consideration
of fear to abandon the Gospel in order to save your lives (as Peter was
afterward tempted to do), then, to be consistent, you ought to fear the power
which can do you most injury. And this surely is God, who can bring destruction
and death, not only on the body, but on the soul also, and that amid the most
terrible of judgments. And to picture the dreadfulness of this destruction more
vividly to their minds, He uses the well-known symbol of Gehenna, or the valley
of Hinnom, the synonym of all that was horrible in the mind of a Jew.
Then, in the next words, He proceeds to tell them that
really they had no cause to fear either God or men. So long as they did their
duty, God, who provided for the sparrow (vs. 29), and numbered the hairs of
their heads, in the watchfulness of His love (vs. 30), would surely protect
them. And, then, as if to convince them that what He had said was only a
supposition, and not a fact, He says: "FEAR YE NOT, THEREFORE, ye are of
more value than many sparrows." (vs. 31.)
In the two passages following, Gehenna seems to be employed
as a figure or symbol of moral corruption.
James says of the tongue, "It defileth the whole body,
and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell" (Gehenna). iii 6. Here Gehenna, that place of filth and
corruption and perpetual fires, is made a fitting emblem of the foul passions
and corrupt appetites, set on fire by a foul and seductive tongue, which
inflames in turn, to the defilement of the whole body.
So, in Matt. xxiii 15, 27, Gehenna or hell, and the whited
sepulcher, "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness," are
fearful symbols of the moral foulness of the "Scribes, Pharisees, and
hypocrites," whom the Savior was addressing. "Two-fold more the child
of hell," signifying that they made their converts two-fold more corrupt
The word Gehenna, or hell, then, in the New Testament is
used as a symbol of anything that was foul and repulsive; but especially as a
figure of dreadful and destructive judgments.
And, now, let us consider some of the facts connected with
this word Gehenna. They are the more
important because this word is specially relied upon as teaching the doctrine
of endless torments, the doctrine of hell, as popularly believed. Whatever
other forms of speech may be employed to express the thought, this is surely
one of the terms clearly declarative of future endless punishment.
Admitting this statement for a moment, let us see what
follows. If this is the word by which
the tremendous fact is to be revealed, we shall have it notified to us in a
fitting manner. We know with what solemn preparations, and awful
accompaniments, the Law was introduced at Sinai; and we may certainly expect
this doctrine will be announced with a solemnity and awfulness corresponding to
its infinitely greater importance, and which shall concentrate upon it the
attention of all the world. Neither the patriarchs, nor Moses, nor the
prophets, have uttered a word on the subject; but now a new teacher is come
from God, and he is to make known the dreadful doctrine; and the words he
selects for this purpose will be employed with a power of emphasis, with a
marked distinction, which will shut out all possibility of mistake.
Let us see if it be so. The first time Christ uses the word Gehenna is in Matt. v 22, 29, 30. But not a word of
preparation or notice that now, for the first time, the terrible dogma is
announced on divine authority. He speaks as calmly as if He were wholly
unconscious of the burthen of such a revelation; and the people seem equally
unmoved under the awful declaration. And what is singular, it is not presented
by itself, in a positive form, unmixed with anything else, as its importance
most surely demanded; but is slipped in merely as a comparative illustration,
among other judgments, of the greater moral demands of the Gospel, and the
strictness with which it enforced obedience.
They, the Jews, had said, "Whosoever shall kill, shall
be in danger of the judgment;" but Christ says, whosoever is angry with
his brother without cause, is in danger of a punishment equal to that of the
judgment (the inferior court of seven judges); and whosoever shall say to his
brother, Raca (a term of contempt, shallow-brain or blockhead), shall be in
danger of a punishment equal to that inflicted by the council (the superior
court of seventy judges, which took cognizance of capital crimes); but
whosoever shall say, "Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire," or
of a punishment equal in severity to the fire of Gehenna.
Now, if Christ used the term Gehenna to reveal endless woe, and that for the first time,
would He not have said this, and fixed forever the meaning of the word? And yet
not the slightest intimation do we have of any such new and awful meaning. The
Jews were familiar with it, and used it constantly to symbolize any great
punishment or judgment coming on the earth; and they must of course suppose He
used it as they did, since He gave them no notice to the contrary. If,
therefore, He did give it the new signification of endless punishment after
death, they could not understand Him, and He failed of His purpose for want of
such explanation as they, and we, had a right to expect.
But there is another consideration deserving notice. The
difference between the sinfulness of saying Raca or Blockhead, and Fool, is
hardly great enough to warrant such a difference in punishment as is involved
in the supposition. Townsend justly says, to imagine that Christ, for such a
slight distinction as Raca and Thou fool,
would instantly pass from such a sentence as the Jewish
Sanhedrim would pronounce, to the awful doom of eternal punishment in
hell-fire, is what cannot be reconciled to any rational rule of faith, or known
measure of justice.
There is no proportion between the
slight difference in guilt and the tremendous, infinite difference in
punishment. But if the comparison is between penalties symbolized by stoning to
death, inflicted by the Sanhedrim council, and burning alive in Gehenna, then
there is proportion, some relation of
parts; because the difference between death by stoning and death by burning is
not certainly very great; but the difference between death by stoning and
endless torment is infinite.
It is impossible, therefore, to believe that Christ, in this
first use of Gehenna, intended to reveal
the doctrine, without an accusation against His fidelity and justice.
But let us note other facts equally pertinent.
1. Though Gehenna occurs twelve times, the Savior actually used it
only on four or five different occasions, the rest being only repetitions. If
this is the word, and the
revelation of this terrible doctrine is in it, how is it possible that Christ,
in a ministry of three years, should use it only four times? Was He faithful to
the souls committed to His charge?
2. The Savior and James are the
only persons in all the New Testament who use the word. John Baptist, who
preached to the most wicked of men, did not use it once. Paul wrote fourteen
epistles, and yet never once mentions it.
Peter does not name it, nor Jude; and John, who wrote the gospel, three
epistles, and the Book of Revelations, never employs it in a single instance.
Now if Gehenna or hell really reveals the terrible fact of endless woe, how
can we account for this strange
silence? How is it possible, if they knew its meaning, and believed it a part
of Christ's teaching, that they should not have used it a hundred or a thousand
times, instead of never using it at all; especially when we consider the
infinite interests involved?
3. The Book of Acts contains the
record of the apostolic preaching, and the history of the first planting of the
Church among the Jews and Gentiles, and embraces a period of thirty years from the ascension of Christ. In all this history, in
all this preaching of the disciples and apostles of Jesus, there is no mention
of Gehenna. In thirty years of
missionary effort, these men of God, addressing people of all characters and
nations, never, under any circumstances, threaten them with the torments of Gehenna,
or allude to it in the most distant manner!
In the face of such a fact as this, can any man believe that Gehenna signifies endless punishment, and that this is a
part of divine revelation, a part of the Gospel message to the world?
These considerations show how impossible it is to establish
the doctrine in review on the word Gehenna.
All the facts are against the supposition that the term was used by Christ or
His disciples in the sense of future endless punishment. There is not the least
hint of any such meaning attached to it, nor the slightest preparatory notice
that any such new revelation was to be looked for in this old familiar word.
We have now passed in review, as far as our limits will
permit, the New Testament doctrine of Hell,
and we have not, surely, found it to be the doctrine of endless punishment, but
something very wide from this. Let us now turn to other phraseology supposed to
embody this thought, and to establish it as a doctrine of divine revelation.
"UNQUENCHABLE FIRE" AND
"THE WORM THAT DIETH NOT"
These expressions are regarded as among the most terrible to
be found in the Scriptures; and by a large portion of Christian believers are
considered as decisive of the endless duration of the punishment of the wicked.
The phrase "unquenchable fire," or "the fire
that shall not be quenched," occurs in the following passages of the New
Testament: Matt. iii 12, Luke iii 17, Mark ix. 43, 44, 45, 46, 48. In the
passages from Mark it is found in connection with the phrase "the worm
that dieth not." The repetitions of the same expression are obvious, the
terms being thrice repeated (of the eye, the hand, the foot) simply for
The origin of the phraseology in the desecration of the
valley of Hinnom, or hell, making it a place for the deposit and burning of
dead bodies and offal, has already been given in the previous section. The
Savior borrows it from the prophet Isaiah; and it is important to observe that
He uses the phrase "unquenchable fire" only on two occasions, and the
phrase "the worm that dieth not" only on one occasion, that recorded
If the language implies as much as is affirmed, this is strange enough for a
ministry of three entire years.
Our first inquiry is into the Scripture usage of the
language, and, this ascertained, we shall be able to decide how much it has to
do with the question of endless punishment.
If ye will not hearken unto me...then will I kindle a fire
in the gates of Jerusalem, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and
it shall not be quenched. (Jer. xvii 27)
This unquenchable fire certainly
belonged to this world, and had relation to the destruction of the gates and
palaces of Jerusalem.
Therefore, thus saith the Lord God: Behold mine anger and
my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon
the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground, and it shall burn,
and shall not be quenched. (Jer. vii 20)
No one, I suppose, would argue that the beasts of the field,
and the fruits of the ground, were made endlessly miserable because it is said
the anger and the fury of God were poured out upon them in fire unquenchable.
Nothing can show more plainly that the expression is a figure, representing the
severity of the divine judgments, in this case, on "the cities of Judah
The prophet Isaiah describes the desolation of Idumea in the
The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the
dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It
shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever. (xxxiv 5-10)
This strong language is employed to
set forth the destruction of a petty tribe, occupying a territory ten or
fifteen miles square; and furnishes an important illustration of the elasticity
with which the phrases in review are used as symbols of temporal judgments.
One more example: The overthrow of the Jews, and the laying
waste of Judea, by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans, is predicted by Ezekiel in
the terms following:
I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every
green tree in thee, and every dry tree; the flaming flame shall not be
quenched, and all faces from north to south
shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled
it: it shall not be quenched. (xx
47, 48. See, also, Isa. I 31; Jer. iv 4, xxi 12; Amos v 6)
These passages are sufficient to show that the sacred
writers used the phrases in review as figures of God's judgments in the earth,
of the calamities which He sent upon wicked nations, through the agency of war,
famine and desolation. In not one of the texts cited is the language employed
as a figure of any judgments or sufferings but such as belong to time and
earth; and these are all the passages in the Old Testament in which it occurs,
with the exception of Isaiah lxvi 23, 24, which has been considered under the
head of Gehenna.
Now, if the Savior used the same phraseology used by the
prophets and the Jews, He would undoubtedly employ it in the same sense, if He
wished or expected them to understand Him. The prophets had employed these
expressions, and the people were familiar with the use of them, as symbols of
terrible judgments and punishments sent upon the guilty nations, falling on the
transgressors in this life. Their Scriptures never use them in any other sense,
and the significance of the language was in regard to the severity, and not the
duration, of the punishment. Hence, as Hammond, an excellent commentator of the
English church, says, "unquenchable fire" is simply "a fire
never quenched till it has done its work," or, in other words, a
thoroughly destructive fire.
Dr. Clarke says, on Matt. iii 12: "He will burn up the
chaff, that is, the disobedient and rebellious Jews, with unquenchable fire, that cannot be
extinguished by man." Le Clerc says:
"By these words is signified the utter destruction of the Jews;" and
Bp. Pearce remarks: "In this whole verse the destruction of the Jewish
state is expressed in the terms of the husbandman." [See Paige's Selections.] These eminent orthodox writers understand the
scriptural usage of the language, and show us that the judgments symbolized by
it are not endless in duration, nor located beyond the earth. It is plain,
therefore, that the Savior employed the phrases in question in the same sense
in which the prophets had employed them, the sense which the people attached to
them; that of a terrible and desolating judgment, without any reference to the
time of its continuance. The idea of endlessness seems never to have been
thought of in connection with the phraseology; nor duration of any length,
indeed, but only the intensity and destructiveness of the punishment or
To illustrate the subject still further, and to show how
utterly groundless is the assumption that these expressions necessarily imply
endless duration, let us call in the testimony of some Greek authors, who
certainly have a right to know the meaning of their own language.
1. Strabo, the celebrated geographer, speaking of the
Parthenon, a temple in Athens, says: "In this was the inextinguishable or
unquenchable lamp" (asbestos,
the very word used in Mark iii 12, Luke iii 17, and Mark ix. 43). Of course,
all it means is that the lamp was kept constantly or regularly burning during
the period alluded to, though extinguished or quenched ages ago.
2. Homer uses the phrase asbestos gelos, "unquenchable laughter." But we can hardly
suppose they are laughing now, and will laugh to all eternity.
3. Plutarch, the well-known author of the biographies familiarly
known as "Plutarch's Lives," calls the sacred fire of the temple
"unquenchable fire" (pur asbeston, the exact expression of Jesus), though he says in
the very next sentence it had sometimes gone out.
4. Josephus, speaking of a festival of the Jews, says that every
one brought fuel for the fire of the altar, which "continued always
unquenchable," (asbeston aei). Here we have a union of the word supposed to mean
specially endless, when in the form of aionios, with the word "unquenchable," and yet both
together do not convey the idea of duration without end; for the fire of which
Josephus speaks had actually gone out, and the altar been destroyed, at the
time he wrote! And still he calls the fire "always unquenchable."
5. Eusebius, the father of ecclesiastical history, describing the
martyrdom of several Christians at Alexandria, says:
They were carried on camels through the city, and in this
elevated position were scourged, and finally consumed or burned in unquenchable
fire (puri asbesto).
Here, again, we have the very phrase
employed by our Lord, and applied to a literal fire, which, of course, was
quenched in the short space of one hour, probably, or two hours at the longest.
All that is implied is, that it burned till it had consumed the victims.
These authors, writing in their own tongue, must have known
the value and import of the phrase "unquenchable fire"; and it is as clear
as demonstration can make it that they did not use it to mean endless. And
shall any one, however learned, presume to understand Greek better than the
Eusebius has given us a perfect illustration of the
scriptural usage and just definition of the term, as relating to intensity and
destructive severity, rather than to length of time. And the Savior, in Mark
ix., employs it as a figure of the terrible judgment which was to destroy the
enemies and the false professors of the Gospel, without any more reference to
duration than Eusebius had when speaking of the unquenchable fire that consumed
the bodies of the martyrs.
The following facts, then, are established.
1. The whole Old Testament usage of
the language in review is against the meaning of endless, as the passages cited
and referred to fully show.
2. The Greek writers quoted above
did not use it to signify endless; which
gives us both scriptural and classical usage against it.
3. There is not one particle of
proof to show that the Savior used it in the sense of endless, or in any other sense than that of the prophets,
viz., a figure or symbol of great temporal judgments.
We do not yet, therefore, find the doctrine of endless
punishment revealed in the New Testament, nor in any way sanctioned by the
authority or language of the blessed Savior. There is one other class of
phrases, or words, which will require attention; and this will close the
inquiry on this head.
WORDS ETERNAL, EVERLASTING, FOREVER, ETC
These words are regarded by many as settling the question of
the endless duration of punishment - with how little reason the facts will
show. It is remarkable that, though the original words rendered
"everlasting," "eternal," &c. (aion and aionios), occur together one hundred and seventy-nine times in the New Testament, they are used only twelve times in connection with punishment.
"Everlasting fire" occurs three times, and "everlasting
punishment" once, "everlasting destruction" once, and
"eternal damnation" once! Matt. xviii 8, xxv 41, 46; 2 Thess. I 9;
Mark iii 29. The other texts are Heb. vi 2; 2 Pet. ii 17; Jude 7, 13. Surely,
if the words everlasting and eternal mean strictly endless by their own
inherent force, this is very singular. The Gospel a special revelation of
endless punishment, and yet the words expressing this awful fact, applied to it
only nine times out of a usage of one hundred and seventy-nine examples!
Let us now attend to the definition and usage of the words
by lexicographers, and classical and scriptural writers, that we may be able to
judge of its value in the present discussion.
and Critics. Schleusner,
whose exact learning makes his authority of great weight, defines the noun aion, thus:
Any space of time, whether longer or shorter, past,
present, or future, to be determined by the persons or things spoken of, and
the scope of the subject - the life or age of man; any space in which we
measure human life, from birth to death.
Aion, time; a space
of time; life time and life; the ordinary period of man's life, the age of man;
man's estate; a long period of time; eternity. Aionios, of long duration; eternal, lasting, permanent.
Aion, an age, a long
period of time; indefinite duration; time, whether longer or shorter, past,
present or future; life, the life of man. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, sometimes everlasting,
sometimes lasting through life.
Authorities might be multiplied to any extent, but these are
sufficient to show that the radical meaning of the Greek words translated
"everlasting," "forever," &c., is not endless, but simply indefinite time, longer or shorter, past or future; and that they
take their force as to duration from the subjects or persons to which they are
applied. If they mean strictly endless in any case, it is not because that idea
is in the words aionios, aion,
"everlasting," "forever;" but because the being or subject
qualified demands it, or is, of itself, necessarily endless.
Hence Dr. Macknight, Presbyterian, says:
These words, being ambiguous, are always to be understood
according to the nature and circumstances of the things to which they are
And though he claims the words in
support of endless punishment, yet he frankly adds:
At the same time, I must be so candid as to acknowledge,
that the use of these terms forever, eternal, and everlasting, in other
passages of Scripture, shows that they who understand the words in a limited
sense when applied to punishment, put no forced interpretation on them.
2. Usage of Greek Authors. The Greek writers constantly
employ these words in a way to exclude the idea of endless, and to illustrate
the meaning of indefinite time, the duration to be determined by the general
scope of the subject.
Plato has the phrase
drunkenness;" but one can hardly believe he meant endless drunkenness.
Eusebius, one of the
early Christian writers, speaking of the Phoenician philosophy as presented by
Sanchoniathon, says of the darkness and chaos which preceded creation:
"They continued for a long eternity" - (dia polun aiona). Here the word is qualified by long, showing that
eternity means simply age or time indefinite, long or short.
"And these they called aionios, eternal, hearing that they had performed the sacred
rites for three entire generations." In Solom. Parab. This
eternity was three generations long, or about one hundred years. "Alter
not the eternal boundaries." If "eternal" implied endless, they could
not be altered.
These examples might be multiplied, but my purpose is only
to furnish the reader with a sufficient number to enable him to judge of the
usage among the Greeks themselves, who, of course, will be allowed to
understand the signification of words in their own language. I shall cite one
more authority from classic usage, because his definition has been claimed as
decisive of the meaning "endless," as the radical idea of aion, from which comes aionios, "everlasting," "forever,"
According to Aristotle,
and a higher authority need not be sought, aion is compounded of aei, always, and on, being; that is, always existing,...interminable, incessant, and
immeasurable duration. (Clarke on Gen. xxi
Others also compel Aristotle into
the same service.
Now, a single passage from the same work in which Aristotle is represented as defining aion to mean radically and strictly endless, duration
without end, will show the uncertainty of such criticism, and the folly of
attempting to press the great philosopher into the support of endless
punishment. The passage referred to (De Mundo), has this expression: "from one interminable
eternity to another eternity" - ex aionos atermonos eis eteron
Now, if Aristotle intended to define aion as signifying strictly endless, as Dr. Clarke affirms, why did he add another word
to increase the force of it? Where the need or sense of saying from one interminable
eternity to another? And even with this
addition he does not convey the idea of duration without limit or end;
otherwise there could not be another such period, which the sentence affirms!
Plainly he uses the words in the ordinary sense, meaning by them only
indefinite time, endless or limited, as the nature of the subject may require.
And even when joined with the adjective atermonos, "without limit or termination," it is not
to be taken too literally, as signifying a strict eternity.
In a poem ascribed to Errina Lesbia there is a similar use
of the adjective "greatest" in connection with aion - "the greatest
eternity that overturns all things," &c., ho megistos aion. The greatest eternity implies a less one; and is
demonstrative proof that the noun aion and the adjective aionios
convey the idea not of strictly endless duration, but only of duration
Philo and Josephus
wrote in Greek, though Jews by birth. The
former uses the very phrase found in Matt. xxv 46, "everlasting
punishment" - kolasis aionios
- as follows: - Speaking of the manner in which certain persons retaliate an
injury, he designates it as "a deep hatred and everlasting
punishment." Of course the everlasting
punishment in this case is inflicted by men in this life, and cannot,
therefore, last much above "three-score years and ten."
Josephus employs the
word in such phrases as these: "the everlasting name of the patriarchs;" "the everlasting glory of the Jewish nation," which ended two
thousand years ago; "the everlasting reputation" of Herod; "the everlasting worship" in the temple, which also ceased
nearly eighteen hundred years ago; "the everlasting imprisonment" to
which John, the tyrant, was condemned by the Romans, though it could not
continue but a few years at most.
These Jewish-Greek authors were contemporary with the New
Testament authors, and are therefore good authority for the usage and meaning
of the words in review, embracing both the Greek and Jewish elements. Philo and
Josephus, Matthew and Luke, allowing for the difference in education, stood in
the same relation to the Greek language, and the Jewish usage of it, and what
may be affirmed of one may be affirmed with equal force of the others. And,
surely, nothing is more obvious than that the first named did not understand
the words aion and aionios as meaning anything more than indefinite time.
Another decisive fact is this: The Sibylline Oracles,
Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, and others of
the Christian Fathers, who are acknowledged believers and teachers of the final
restoration, often use the phrases "everlasting fire,"
"everlasting punishment," &c., in regard to the wicked. Nothing
can more conclusively show that the expressions are not to be taken in the
sense of endless; for, though they believed in everlasting punishment, they
also believed it would end in the restoration of those who suffered.
3. Scripture Usage. The Scripture usage will be found
in perfect harmony with the foregoing facts. The Hebrew word, which is the
equivalent of the Greek, is thus used: "I will give thee the land of Canaan
for an everlasting
possession." Gen. xvii 8. And in verse 12, the covenant of circumcision is
called "an everlasting covenant." And yet the Jews were driven from
the land of Canaan, and the covenant of circumcision was abolished, eighteen
hundred years ago! So the priesthood of Aaron is called "an everlasting
priesthood," and yet it was put aside by God's authority, and the
priesthood of Christ set up in its place. Exod. xl. 15.
Now, did Jehovah use this word "everlasting" to
mean endless? If He did, then He has broken His promise to the Jews in three
several instances; or, if not this, the priesthood of Christ is an imposture,
and the old Covenant of the Law is still in force! See, also, Levit. xvi 34,
xxv 46; Exod. xxi 6.
Jonah ii 1-6, is another illustration, where
"forever" lasted only three days and three nights! showing the folly of arguing for the endlessness of
punishment on the strength of such elastic words as these. The punishment of
Jonah is described by the term "forever," though it lasted only
seventy-two hours; and there is no more reason for supposing the term to mean
endless in other cases, when applied to punishment, than here. There is no more
authority for saying the "everlasting punishment" of Matt. xxv 46, is
endless, than for saying the "forever" punishment of Jonah, or the
"everlasting priesthood" of Exod. xl. 15, is endless.
The word may sometimes be used to signify a strict eternity;
but it takes its force in such cases from the subject or person to whom it is
applied. For example, in the expression "everlasting God,"
everlasting means endless, because God is immortal, not by any force of its
own. The word "everlasting" borrows its endlessness from God, not God
So, in all cases, the adjective is modified by the noun. A
strong horse, a strong mind, a strong chain, strong drink, strong language - in
each one of these phrases "strong" has a different meaning, according
to the nature of the subject or noun. So a wise man, a wise God - in the last
case the word "wise" means infinite wisdom, but not in the first; and
the meaning of infinite is not in "wise," but in "God." And
it is the same with "everlasting" - it never has the force of endless
in itself; and, in order to make it mean endless when applied to punishment, it
must be shown that punishment is in its nature as necessarily endless and
infinite as God is. It will probably take some time to do this.
It may be well to notice the argument that in Matt. xxv 46,
"eternal life" and "everlasting punishment" are set against
each other, and that one is as long as the other. The reply to this is, that
the life of the blessed is not presumed to be endless because of the word
"everlasting," but because of God's infinite goodness; the same
reason which weighs against the presumption that the punishment of the wicked is endless. Show that there is as much reason from the
nature of God to suppose that evil and suffering will be endless, as that good
and happiness will be, and there may be some force to the argument.
Beside, Rom. xvi 25, 26, Titus I 2, Habak. iii 6, show that
the same word may be differently applied in the same sentence.
"Everlasting hills" are not of the same continuance as the
"everlasting God;" and "eternal life" is not the same as
the "eternal times" (English "world"), before which it was
promised. Titus i 2.
The following brief summary will illustrate the scriptural
usage of the words "everlasting," "forever," &c., and
show how impossible it is to build up the doctrine of endless punishment on terms so uncertain.
"We see the word everlasting applied to God's covenant with the Jews; to the
priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the time the Jews were to
possess the land of Canaan; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the
Jewish temple. We see the word forever applied to the duration of a man's earthly existence; to the time a
child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi's leprosy; to
the duration of the life of David; to the duration of a king's life; to the
duration of the earth; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan;
to the time they were to dwell in Jerusalem; to the time a servant was to abide
with his master; to the time Jerusalem was to remain a city; to the duration of
the Jewish temple; to the laws and ordinances of Moses; to the time David was
to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set
up at Jordan; to the time the righteous were to inhabit the earth; and to the
time Jonah was in the fish's belly. We find the phrase forever and
ever applied to the hosts of heaven, or the
sun, moon, and stars; to a writing contained in a book; to the smoke that went
up from the burning land of Idumea; and to the time the Jews were to dwell in
Judea. We find the word never applied
to the time the fire was to burn on the Jewish altar; to the time the sword was
to remain in the house of David; to God's covenant with the Jews; to the time
the Jews should not experience shame; to the time the house of David was to
reign over Israel; to the time the Jews were not to open their mouths because
of their shame; to the time those who fell by death should remain in their
fallen state; and to the time judgment was not executed.
But the law covenant is abolished; the priesthood of Aaron
and his sons has ceased; the ordinances, and laws, and statutes of Moses are
abrogated; the Jews have long since been dispossessed of the land of Canaan,
have been driven from Judea, and God has brought upon them a reproach and a
shame; the man to the duration of whose life the word forever was applied is dead; David is dead, and has ceased to
reign over Israel; the throne of Solomon no longer exists; the Jewish temple is
demolished, and Jerusalem has been overthrown, so that there is not left
"one stone upon another;" the servants of the Jews have been freed
from their masters; Gehazi is dead, and no one believes he carried his leprosy
with him into the future world; the stones that were set up at Jordan have been
removed, and the smoke that went up from the burning land of Idumea has ceased
to ascend; the righteous do not inherit the earth endlessly, and no one
believes that the mountains and hills, as such, are indestructible; the fire
that burnt on the Jewish altar has long since ceased to burn; judgment has been
executed; and no Christian believes that those who fall by death will never be
awakened from their slumbers. Now, as these words are used in this limited
sense in the Scriptures, why should it be supposed that they express endless
duration when applied to punishment?"
The phrase "second death" is peculiar to the book
of Revelations, and is found here four times only. ii 11; xx. 6, 14; xxi 8. It
appears, from the context, that it is used as a figure of judgment, or
punishment; and it is upon the context that we must chiefly depend, as there
are no examples in the Old or New Testament, save those named, which may be
appealed to as scriptural usage to determine the meaning of the expression.
It is a valuable observation of Dr. Hammond, respecting this
phrase, that "it seems to be taken from the Jews, who use it proverbially
for final, utter, irrevocable destruction." This is unquestionably its meaning in the Revelations, being employed
to point out the entire overthrow of those to whom it is applied. If the Jews
were accustomed to use it proverbially in this sense, it is very likely that
John, if he expected to be understood by them would use it in the same manner.
And the Jews, in the habit of speaking and hearing the phrase continually with
this signification, would at once understand it as descriptive of some
destroying calamity or judgment. This will appear more clearly upon an
examination of the several passages in which the expression "second
death" is found.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit
saith unto the churches: He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second
death." Rev ii 11. This, it will be observed, was spoken, not to
individuals, but to the church in Smyrna. In the preceding context, this church
is urged, notwithstanding its trials and persecutions, to be faithful, and it
should receive the crown of glory. At the close of this exhortation, the
passage in review is introduced, in the way of warning, to show that the
unfaithful would be hurt of the second death. Hammond says of this declaration:
"He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death; that is, if this church holds out constant, it shall
not be cut off." This gives the true meaning: he that overcometh, that
endureth through these trials and persecutions, shall continue, and receive
praise of the Lord; but he that is unfaithful, and falleth away from the truth,
as an unprofitable servant, shall be hurt of the second death, shall be cut
off and destroyed. And that this prediction respecting the churches of
Asia was literally fulfilled, - that the candlesticks of the unfaithful were
removed from their places, - history has borne ample witness; as may be seen in
Keith on the Prophecies, ch. viii, and Newton's Diss. iii. After the reader
shall have consulted these authors, he will see the force of Hammond's
testimony, that the Jews used the expression "second death"
"proverbially for final, utter, irrevocable destruction." A more
perfect illustration of this use cannot be found, than in the history of those
churches in relation to which the passage under consideration was spoken.
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection;
on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of
Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." xx. 5, 6. Here, a
different set of persons is introduced, and a different judgment or destruction
pointed out, of course, by the "second death," though still
significant of the complete downfall and ruin of those to whom it is applied.
In verse 14, of this chapter, the phrase occurs again:
"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second
death." Now this looks back, without dispute, to the preceding passage, to
the previous mention of the second death in connection with the first
resurrection. There, the Revelator says that over those who have part in the
first resurrection, the second death is to have no power, and then proceeds to
describe the judgment and the condemnation, which he represents under the
figure of being cast into a lake of fire, and then adds, "This is the second death," that is, of which I had
If we turn to the context, we shall find data by which to
fix the time of this judgment.
I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from
whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was no place found for
them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were
opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead
were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to
their works...And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast
into the lake of fire. (verses 11, 12, 15)
In these verses there are several particulars which will
1. The judgment and the opening of
the books. By comparing this with Dan. vii 9-14, we shall obtain some light:
And I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the
Ancient of days did sit...thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten
thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the
books were opened...I saw in the night
visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven,
and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And
there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people,
nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting
dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be
From this it will be clearly seen that the judgment and the
opening of the books were to take place when the kingdom should be given to the
Son of man, when He should come in the clouds of heaven. He received His
kingdom, and came in the clouds of heaven, when the old dispensation was
abolished at the destruction of the Jewish city and temple. See Matt. xvi 27,
28; xxiv 29-34. It is worthy of note, that this judgment from the books
occurred at the commencement of Christ's kingdom, not at its close.
2. The Revelator represents the
subjects of the judgment as dead; and Daniel (xii 2) represents them in the
same manner, as "sleeping in the dust of the earth," and as coming
forth at the time of judgment. 3. The Revelator says, "And whosoever was
not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire,"
implying of course that those who were written in it were delivered. By
returning again to the prophet, we find similar phraseology, which was
doubtless in the mind of the Revelator: "And at that time thy people shall
be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. (xii 1)
Now, when was all this to take place? We have already seen
that the deliverance was to take place at the judgment, and that this was to be
when Christ received His kingdom at the abolition of the old dispensation; but
happily we have direct testimony on the point, in the words immediately
At that time...there shall be a time of trouble, such as
never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall
be found written in the book. (xii 1)
Now, by turning to Matt. xxiv 21, we
find this fact quoted by Christ, and applied to the destruction of Jerusalem:
"For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning
of the world to this time." The same circumstance, and almost the same
words. Here, then, we begin to see marks of the time of the judgment, the
deliverance of the faithful, and the second death of the unfaithful; or, as
Daniel expresses it, their "awaking to everlasting shame and
But these are not the only marks of time. When the inquiry
is made in Dan. xii 6, 7, "How long shall it be to the end of these
wonders?" the answer was, "When he shall have accomplished to
scatter the power of the holy people, all
these things shall be finished." It is well known that the power of the
holy people was scattered when their city and temple were destroyed, and they
literally scattered over the face of the earth, captives and slaves among the
nations. Here, then, is another mark of time.
Again, we have another mark in verse 11: "And from the
time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that
maketh desolate set up," &c. Now, by turning again to Matt. xxiv 15,
we find Christ quoting these very words, and applying them also to the
destruction of Jerusalem: "When ye, therefore, shall see the
abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoso readeth let him
understand), then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains,"
&c. More definite testimony cannot be asked.
Another mark of time is found in the passage itself, in
relation to which these observations are made. In the description of the
judgment which preceded the destruction represented by the figure of the
"second death," the Revelator says, "I saw a great white throne,
and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled
away." This language, as has often
been shown, is prophetic and figurative, and is constantly used to represent
the overthrow of states and kingdoms, considered both in a civil and religious
aspect. For example, the destruction of Idumea is thus set forth by Isaiah:
"And all the hosts of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be
rolled together as a scroll," &c. xxxiv 4, 5. And so Haggai, and Paul,
who quotes him, speak of the abolition of the Jewish state and church, as a
"shaking" and "removing" of the "earth" and
"heaven." Hag. ii 6, 7; Heb. xii 25-29. In perfect accordance with
this style, the Revelator represents the same event under the same figure: he
speaks of the abolishing of the old dispensation as the fleeing away of
"the earth and the heaven," and this at the time of the judgment,
which, as we have seen from Daniel, was when "the abomination of
desolation" was set up, and "the power of the holy people" was scattered.
What renders this still more certain is, that immediately after the fleeing
away of the old heaven and earth, and the infliction of the punishment of the
"second death," he adds, "And I saw a new heaven and a
new earth" (xxi 1), which language is
well known to be a figure for the establishment of the Gospel kingdom; and this
immediately followed the breaking up of the old dispensation, as here
Lastly, the Revelator has given us one other mark of time.
He says that those whom he represents as dead were judged "every man
according to their works" (xx. 13),
which we find to be the very language used by Christ in reference to the
judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem:
For the Son of man shall come...and then shall he reward every
man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here
which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his
kingdom. (Matt. xvi 27, 28)
Having progressed thus far, we have obtained the following
1. The Revelator speaks of a
judgment from books, the deliverance of those written in the book of life, and
the destruction of the rest, described under the figure of second death. By
referring to Daniel, we find him speaking of the same particulars, a judgment
from books (vii 9-14), the deliverance of those written in the book (xii 1),
and the destruction of others, which he represents under the figure of a
resurrection to everlasting shame and contempt (xii 2). And all this he
describes as taking place when the Son of man receives, or opens, His kingdom,
when the abomination of desolation is set up in the holy place, the power of
the holy people is scattered, and there is a time of trouble such as has never
been before, - which expressions Christ quotes and applies to the destruction
of the Jewish people, thereby fixing the "judgment,"
"deliverance," "second death," at this period.
2. In connection with these events,
the judgment, &c., the Revelator represents the old heaven and earth as
passing away, and a new heaven and earth as being established, - which, by
comparison with the prophets, we find to be precisely the phraseology applied
by them to the abolition of the Jewish dispensation at the destruction of their
city and temple, and the setting up of the Gospel dispensation, thereby
confining the time of judgment, &c., as being at that period.
3. The judgment described by the
Revelator is according to works, which is the exact language used by Christ in
reference to the judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem. These facts, taken
together, lead us to the conclusion that the Revelator, Daniel, and the Savior,
were all treating of one event, and that this event is the destruction of the
Jewish state and church, the city and temple, to which belong the judgment,
deliverance, and second death.
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and
murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall
have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the
second death. ( xxi 8)
This passage seems to be but a repetition of what had
already been said, being a specification of what was before stated in general
terms. After describing the judgment, the destruction under the figure in
question, and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ under the figure of
the new heavens and earth, the Revelator seems, at chap. xxi 2, to have
commenced a brief review or summary of what he had previously written at
length, which extends through verse 8; and then apparently he begins anew at
verse 9, though with yet another repetition, in the opening, in reference to
the New Jerusalem, or the Gospel kingdom. In the preceding verse, he says that
those who overcame, who remained faithful through trial and persecution, would
inherit all things, or these things; while, in the passage in review, he
reiterates, with a more particular specification of character, the destroying
judgment which would fall upon the unfaithful, and upon the enemies of truth
It is due, perhaps, that we say a word in reference to the
ground taken that the book of Revelation was written before the destruction of
Jerusalem. We are not alone in this opinion; for, according to Dr. A. Clarke,
it is "supported by the most respectable testimonies among the
ancients," and we are sure that it is supported by the testimonies of many
of the most distinguished critics of modern times, as Hentenius, Harduin,
Grotius, Lightfoot, Hammond, Sir I Newton, Bp. Newton, Wetstein, &c. To
these we may add Kuinoel, Lucke, Prof. Stuart, &c. The authority of such
men is surely of some weight in the question. Wetstein says that the exposition
of the book on the ground that it was written before the Jewish war, makes it "a well-connected,
certain series of events," but that "the common method of
interpretation, founded on the hypothesis that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, is utterly destitute of
Beside this, the internal evidence is conclusive in favor of
this opinion. We give a specimen: "And there was given me a reed like unto
a rod, and the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God, and the
altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple
leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two
months." xi 1, 2. Here is mention of the court of the Gentiles, which
could of course belong to no other temple than that at Jerusalem, as no other
had such a court. Again, mention is made of the holy city, which was a name given exclusively to Jerusalem. And
this holy city, it is said, "they shall tread under foot;" and, of course, it was not
trodden under foot when this was written. Compare this also with Luke xxi 24:
"And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles," &c. Once
more, in chap. xi 8, we have the following: "And their dead bodies shall
lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and
Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." This most assuredly belongs to Jerusalem, for here
our Lord was crucified; and that it must have been written before its
destruction, needs no proof. Enough has been offered to set forth the grounds
of the position taken, that the book of Revelations was written before the
destruction of Jerusalem.
This closes our inquiry with regard to the New Testament;
and as yet we have found no trace of the doctrine of future endless punishment.
It was the popular doctrine of the day in the time of the Savior, a part of the
common faith of Jews and Pagans. Christ maintains toward it precisely the same
position which Moses assumed - that of entire silence. He repudiates it by His
silence on the one hand, and sets it aside on the other by teaching the doctrine
of universal redemption, the great truth that in the resurrection all are equal
unto the angels of God, and are children of God, being (or because) children of
the resurrection. Matt. xxii; Luke xx.
It remains now to speak of the introduction of the dogma
into the Christian Church, and to show the method of it. The examination will
discover to us that the door for its admission was opened both from the Jewish
and the Pagan side; and that the early corruption of the church encouraged its
entrance, and sanctioned its continuance.
INTRODUCTION OF THE DOCTRINE INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
That the first Christians brought many of their old opinions
and errors with them into the Church, the New Testament itself abundantly shows.
The Jewish converts clung to the Mosaic Law with strongest grasp, and sought to
make it the gate through which all must enter into the Gospel kingdom.
The account given in Acts xv, and the debates in the
apostolic council at Jerusalem, show how powerful were the influences from this
quarter. And even Peter requires the teachings of a special vision, the sheet
let down from heaven with all manner of beasts, and fowls of the air, and
creeping things (Acts x.), before he can see that the law of Jewish ordinances
is no longer in force, and that Jews and Gentiles must stand on the same level
of faith and grace.
The epistles to the Romans and Galatians were written by
Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, expressly to combat this Jewish tendency
among the first converts, and to show that salvation was not of the Law, but of
grace, through faith. The impression among many of the first disciples was,
that the Gospel was only a kind of expanded or perfected Judaism, that the
Messiah was to establish the authority and dominion of the Law, and that all
who refused to conform to the Mosaic faith and ritual, would be excluded from
the privileges and blessings of His kingdom.
As we have seen, the Jews had already grossly corrupted the
religion of the Law, at least the Pharisees, and the body of the people who
followed them, and had adopted, among other Pagan notions, that of endless
punishment. This was to be the portion of all who rejected the Law, or, in
other words, of the Gentiles generally. Of course, the Jewish converts,
entering the Christian church with the impression that it was only the
completion of the Law, the flowering of their own religion, would take this
exclusive spirit and doctrine with them, and apply them as we have seen they
did in the writings already named. In Acts xv, for example, it is written:
Then rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees, which
believed (that is, converts to the Gospel), saying, that it was needful to
circumcise them (the Gentiles), and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.
Speaking of the "Judaism of the infant church,"
Milman justly says that these
old prejudices and opinions even Christianity could not
altogether extirpate or correct in the earlier Jewish proselytes, nor the
perpetual tendency to contract the expanding circle, the enslavement of
Christianity to the provisions of the Mosaic Law, and the spirit of the
antiquated religion of Palestine.
At a later period
that exclusiveness still remained which limited the divine
favor to a certain race, and would scarcely believe that foreign branches could
be engrafted into the parent stock, even though incorporated with it, and still
obstinately resisted the notion that Gentiles, without becoming Jews, could
share in the blessings of the promised Messiah; or in their state of
uncircumcision, or at least of insubordination to the Mosaic ordinances, become
heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
Again he says:
A kind of latent Judaism has constantly lurked in the bosom
of the Church. During the darker ages of Christianity, its sterner spirit
harmonized with the more barbarous state of the Christian mind...while the
great characteristic of the old religion, its exclusiveness, its restriction of
the divine blessings within a narrow and visible pale, was too much in
accordance both with pride and superstition, not to reassert its ancient
The same statements hold good with regard to the Gentile or
heathen converts. They could not in a moment divest themselves of the opinions
and traditions in which they had grown up from childhood. And many of them were
only half-converted, and but partially understood the doctrines and spirit of
St. Paul had frequent conflicts with Pagan notions both of
the vulgar sort, and those that came from Oriental and Greek philosophy. His
epistles abundantly show this, sometimes warning against these errors, and
sometimes elaborately confuting them.
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,
avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so
called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith. (1 Tim. vi 20,
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain
deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not
after Christ. (Col. ii 8)
See, also, the "worshipping of
angels," verse 18; and the "endless genealogies" and
"fables" mentioned in 1 Tim. i 4.
Then there were some also in the church of Corinth who even
denied the resurrection: "How say some among you there is no resurrection
of the dead?" 1 Cor. xv Others there were who denied that Christ came in
the flesh, or, in other words, that He had a real human body of flesh and
blood; affirming that His body was only an appearance, and not a reality. John
speaks of these in strong terms. 1 Epistle iv 1-3; 2 Epistle 7. And in
Revelations there is mention of the Nicolaitanes, a sect who mixed Pagan and
Christian things together, and were half idolaters. ii 6, 15. 2 Pet. ii Beside
these, there were "false teachers," who set themselves up in the
church in direct opposition to the apostles, denying their authority and
These facts show how, even while the personal disciples of
Jesus were yet alive, errors and false doctrines crept into the church from the
Pagan side, as well as from the Jewish. The first converts of course accepted
the great historical facts of the Gospel history, but they retained also many
of their old opinions, some of which were in direct opposition to the genius
and doctrines of Christianity. The apostles, by their diligent watch and ready
refutation, kept these Pagan tendencies measurably in check; but when they had
all departed, the corruption became more rapid, and the mixture of Pagan
doctrines with those of the Gospel more complete.
Very soon after the rise of Christianity, many persons, who
had been educated in the schools of the philosophers, becoming converts to the
Christian faith, the doctrines of the Grecian sects, and especially Platonism,
were interwoven with the simple truths of pure religion.
As the Eclectic philosophy spread,
Heathen and Christian doctrines were still more intimately blended, till, at
last, both were almost entirely lost in the thick clouds of ignorance and
barbarism which covered the earth.
If the four gospels and the apostolic writings had not been
preserved to us in their integrity, it would be impossible to tell what sort of
a Christianity we should have had by this time. Surely it is easy enough to see
how, in such a general corruption of doctrine, such a confused mixing up of
Christian, Jewish and Pagan opinions and dogmas, the doctrine of endless
punishments would get introduction to the church, and foothold in the creed.
Both Jews and Pagans believed it; and, as we have seen, they brought with them
into the church many of their old errors and heathenish superstitions and
traditions, and this even in the life-time of the immediate disciples of
Christ; how much more so, then, at a later period; for this amalgamation of truth
and false-hood, this unseemly union of Christ and Belial, grew worse and worse
from century to century.
I have not room to quote many authorities. One or two
citations from Mosheim must suffice, with this prefatory remark, that one of
the chief causes of the adaptation of Christian doctrines and rites to the
Pagan standard was the hope of alluring them in this way into the church.
Among the Greeks and the people of the East nothing was
held more sacred than their Mysteries. This
led the Christians, in order to impart dignity to their religion, to have
similar mysteries, or certain holy rites concealed from the vulgar. And they
not only applied the Pagan terms, but introduced also their rites. A large
part, therefore, of the Christian observances and institutions, even in this
century (the second) had the aspect of the Pagan mysteries.
Speaking of the 5th century, he says,
As no one objected to Christians retaining the opinions of
their Pagan ancestors respecting the soul, heroes, demons, temples, and the
like; and as no one proposed utterly to abolish the ancient Pagan institutions,
but only to alter them somewhat and purify them; it was unavoidable that the
religion and the worship of the Christians should in this way become corrupted.
This I will also add, that the doctrine of the purification of souls after
death by means of some sort of fire, which afterwards became so great a source
of wealth to the clergy, acquired in this age more development and a more
Finally, he says,
The barriers of ancient simplicity and truth being once
violated, the state of theology waxed worse and worse; and the amount of the
impure and superstitious additions to the religion of Christ is almost
indescribable. The controversial theologians of the East continued to darken
the great doctrines of revelation by the most subtle distinctions, and I know
not what philosophical jargon. Those who instructed the people at large made it
their sole care to imbue them more and more with ignorance, superstition,
reverence for the clergy, &c.
Tytler has the following:
As the Christian religion was received, at first, by many,
from the conviction of its truth from external evidence, and without a due
examination of its doctrines, it was not surprising that many who called
themselves Christians should retain the doctrines of a prevailing philosophy to
which they had been accustomed, and endeavor to accommodate these to the system
of revelation which they found in the sacred volumes. Such, for example, were
the Christian Gnostics, who intermixed the doctrines of the Oriental philosophy
concerning the two separate principles, a good and evil, with the precepts of
Christianity, and admitted the authority of Zoroaster as an inspired personage,
equally with that of Christ. Such, likewise, were the sect of the Ammonians,
who vainly endeavored to reconcile together the opinions of all the schools of
Pagan philosophy, and attempted, with yet greater absurdity, to accommodate all
these to the doctrines of Christianity. From this confusion of the Pagan
philosophy with the plain and simple doctrines of the Christian religion, the
church, in this period of its infant state, suffered in a most essential
Other writers bear similar testimony to the manner in which
Christianity was disfigured and corrupted by the introduction of Pagan dogmas
and rites, and of philosophical speculations, into the place of the pure
doctrines of Christ. Many of the converts to the Gospel, who had studied in the
schools of heathen philosophy, entered upon the office of Christian teachers,
and taking their philosophy with them, they unconsciously, in many cases,
mingled it with the teachings of their new faith. Enfield says,
Under the bias of a strong partiality for Plato and his
doctrine, many of them tinctured the minds of their disciples with the same
prejudice, and thus disseminated Platonic notions as Christian truths; doubtless little aware how far
this practice would corrupt the purity of the Christian faith, and how much
confusion and dissension it would occasion in the Christian church.
A union of Platonic and Christian
doctrines was certainly attempted in the second century by Justin Martyr,
Athenagoras and Clemens Alexandrinus, in whose writings we frequently meet with
Platonic sentiments and language, and it is not improbable that this corruption
took its rise still earlier.
These testimonies are sufficient to show how openly, and to
what extent, the doctrines and speculations of Paganism were, at an early
period, incorporated into the common faith of Christians. And surely it would
be surprising if the doctrine of punishments after death, of endless
punishments, which had acted so important a part in the ancient theology and
politics, should not have found place among these manifold corruptions. It
would be strange enough if the old fables of Hades and Tartarus were not
introduced as a means of governing the ignorant multitude, and used as engines of
terror against their enemies and persecutors.
And, yet, it must be confessed that we meet with very much
less of this than might be expected. It is certainly a matter of wonder that we
do not find the departure, on this point, from the simplicity of apostolic
teaching earlier and greater than it really was. On other points the corruption
of Christian doctrine began much sooner, and spread more rapidly, than on this
of future endless punishment. Among the immediate successors of the apostles,
either there is no allusion to it at all, or it is in a very vague and
questionable manner, or coming in some other shape than that of torment.
The first Christian documents extant after the New
Testament, are the writings of the apostolical fathers, or what pass under that
name. It is proper to say that there is a difference of opinion among scholars
as to the genuineness of a portion of these. It is generally conceded that the
epistle of Clement of Rome is genuine;
and that of Polycarp, with the
exception of one or two interpolations. The epistle of Barnabas is exceedingly doubtful, and it seems certain that
it could not have been the production of that Barnabas who was the companion of
Paul. The Shepherd of Hermas was
not written by the Hermas mentioned in Rom. xvi 14, but by a brother of Pius,
Bishop of Rome, about the middle of the second century. The seven epistles of Ignatius
exist in two forms, one copy very much
shorter than the other, and both of them probably either forgeries outright, or
And, even if they were all allowed to be genuine, large
allowance would be necessary in regard to the statements made in them. As
Jortin remarks in regard to the Christian fathers generally, they
are often poor and insufficient guides in matters of
judgment and criticism, and in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and
sometimes in points of morality also, and of doctrine; as Daille, Whitby, and
Barbeyrac have fully showed.
A.D. 90. CLEMENT OF ROME. The epistle of Clement contains nothing to our point. It says not a
word even of future punishment, unless he refers to it in the following
Shall we think it to be any very great and strange thing
for the Lord of all to raise up those that religiously serve him in the assurance
of a good faith? (Ch. xii, Wake's Trans.)
This might be supposed to intimate
that the righteous only would be raised up by the Lord of all; but a comparison
with Paul's epistle to the Romans (viii 11), shows that this is not necessarily
his meaning, as Paul certainly believed in the resurrection of all, just and
A.D. 110. IGNATIUS. Supposing the epistles ascribed to this father to
be genuine, and the date given correct, we find in them nothing definite on the
question in review. Speaking of those who "by wicked doctrine corrupt the
faith of God," he says: "He that is thus defiled shall depart into
unquenchable fire; and so also shall he that hearkens to him." Ep. iv.
Of course, nothing of endless or of future punishment can be
predicated of the expression "unquenchable fire;" as our previous
examination of the phrase showed its application to judgments and things of an
earthly and temporal character.
The author evidently believed that the wicked would be
denied a resurrection, though not annihilated, but left as disembodied spirits
in Hades or the realms of the dead. He says of those who denied that Christ had
a body of real flesh and blood, the same whom St. John mentions 1st Epist. iv
2, 3, and 2d Epist. 7: "As they believe so shall it happen to them; when,
being divested of the body, they shall become mere spirits." Again he says: "They die in their disputes; but
much better would it be for them to receive the Eucharist, that they might one
day rise through it" - that is, through the body of Christ.
These passages indicate that the writer thought that the
wicked and unbelieving would not rise through Christ, but continue in the
under-world as "mere spirits." This opinion bears mark of its Jewish
origin; and it is worthy of special notice, that, so far as we know, the
doctrine of future punishment makes its appearance in the Christian church in
precisely the same form in which it first appeared in the Jewish church! This is certainly a curious coincidence;
and it is the more remarkable from the fact that at this time the doctrine of
punishment after death had assumed a more positive form both among Jews and
A.D. 112. POLYCARP. The only thing bearing on our inquiry in the
epistle of this father is the following:
Whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own
lusts, and says that there shall be neither any resurrection, nor judgment, he
is the first-born of Satan.
This passage implies the belief of Polycarp in a judgment
after the resurrection; and, though nothing specific is given, it probably
involved some sort of punishment to the wicked, but what sort the epistle does
not hint, whether denial of a resurrection, annihilation, or positive
infliction of torment.
A.D. 130-140. BARNABAS. The epistle bearing the name of this father is
undoubtedly a forgery. One can hardly believe that the apostle so often
mentioned in the New Testament as the friend of Paul, could write such crude
and childish things as are found in this production. It has a passage which says:
The way of darkness is crooked, and full of cursing; for it
is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which they that walk meet with
things that destroy their own souls.
What the author means by "eternal death with
punishment," I cannot tell; unless he believed, with Justin Martyr and
others, that the wicked would be punished, and then annihilated. The phrase
"destroy their own souls" may seem to confirm this supposition. He
believed that Christ, after the resurrection, would judge the world, rewarding
the righteous and punishing the wicked.
A.D. 150. SHEPHERD OF HERMAS. This is one of the most childish and puerile
productions of the early church. It was written at Rome by a brother of Pius,
then bishop of the church there. It is full of pretended visions and interviews
with an angel, and the conversations on both sides, of man and angel, are as
weak and insipid as the talk of those unfortunate persons called
It teaches plainly the doctrine of punishment after death,
and uses the word "forever" or "eternal" in connection with
it. But this, as we have seen, is not decisive of duration.
This is the sum of the evidence furnished by what are called
the writings of the Apostolical Fathers. Though not all genuine, yet, if the
dates have been correctly determined, they are good authority for showing the
opinions of at least a portion of the Christian believers during the first half
of the second century. And though we find that the doctrine of future
punishment had by this time, perhaps, made its way into the church, we have no
testimony to show that this punishment was believed to be endless.
On the other hand, side by side with the orthodox party,
represented by these fathers, was another party known by the name of Gnostics, and regarded as heretics. They mixed up the
speculations of Pagan philosophy with Christian doctrines, till the compound
was as unintelligible as the speech of a lunatic. I refer to them only to show
to what extent some of the early converts brought their old opinions and
superstitions into the profession of Christianity. They differ from the
orthodox party only in degree, the latter bringing less of the heathen element
with them into the church. In some respects they were much nearer the
simplicity of the Gospel than their opponents.
It is curious, however, to note among them the doctrine of
transmigration, of which we have spoken so largely in connection with the Jews.
The Basilidians and Carpocratians are supposed to have believed that those who
faithfully follow the Savior, ascend immediately to heaven; but that the
disobedient and wicked will be punished by being sent into other bodies, of men
or animals, till, purified by this transmigration, they shall be prepared to
join the spirits of the blessed, and so all, at last, be saved.
And it is also worthy of notice that, though we have nothing
definite from the orthodox party during this period (A.D. 90-150), respecting
either endless punishment or universal restoration, they never attack the
Gnostics on the score of their Universalism. They were in continual warfare
with them on other points, on which they were accused of heresy; and it is fair
to infer that, if this had been regarded as heresy by the orthodox party, it
would have been attacked accordingly.
A.D. 140-166. JUSTIN MARTYR. This celebrated personage was a Grecian
philosopher, and the first professed Christian scholar whose writings have come
down to us. He was converted some thirty or forty years after the death of St.
John, and entered zealously into the advocacy of the new religion, having presented
two apologies, or elaborate defenses, one to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, A.D.
150; and the other to Marcus Antoninus, his successor, A.D. 162. His learning
and reputation gave him a prominent place and great influence among the
Christians, though he lacked judgment, was credulous, and often exceedingly
absurd in his interpretation of Scripture. He suffered martyrdom at Rome about
A.D. 166, and hence he is called Justin Martyr.
His conversion did not destroy his individuality, nor
entirely redeem him from the bondage of the past. He retained many of his early
heathen notions, and the dress and profession of a Platonic philosopher; and in
some respects his creed was a sad mixture of Pagan falsehoods with Christian
With regard to the subject of our inquiry, he uses the
"Every one is stepping forward into everlasting misery
or happiness, according to his works."
"Moreover we say that the souls
of the wicked, being reunited to the same bodies, shall be consigned over to
eternal torments, and not, as Plato will have it, to the period of a thousand
"Satan, with all his hosts of
angels and men like himself, shall be thrust into fire, there to be tormented
world without end, as our Christ hath foretold."
These passages are strongly phrased, and might be taken as
evidence that Justin believed in endless punishment, if there was nothing in
his writings to conflict with them. The contrast between the "thousand
years" of Plato and the "eternal torments" believed by the
Christians of his time, would seem to indicate that "eternal" was to
be taken in the sense of absolute eternity. Still it was not, evidently, so
intended; for Justin did not believe in endless torments, but in the final
annihilation of the wicked, as the following will show:
"Souls are not immortal," says he...
I do not say that all souls
will die. Those of the pious will remain (after death) in a certain better
place, and those of the unholy and wicked in a worse, all expecting the time of
judgment. In this manner, those which are worthy to appear before God never
die; but the others are tormented so long as God wills that they should exist
and be tormented. Whatever does or ever will exist in dependence on the will of
God, is of a perishable nature, and can be annihilated so as to exist no
longer. God alone is self-existent, and by his own nature imperishable, and
therefore he is God; but all other things are begotten and corruptible. For
which reason souls (of the wicked) both suffer punishment and die.
This shows us that Justin believed that the punishment of
the wicked after death, which he describes by the terms "eternal,"
"world without end," &c., - and which he contrasts with the
Platonic thousand years in a way significant of endless, - after all,
terminated in annihilation, and was not,
therefore, endless. Nothing, I think, can more conclusively demonstrate the
uncertainty of all these forms of expression, or illustrate more forcibly the latitude
of their use, and the futility of attempting to build upon them the doctrine of
absolutely endless punishment.
A.D. 140-150. THE SIBYLLINE BOOKS. These were pretended oracles of the famous heathen
Sibyl, or prophetess, forged by some Christians about this period, for the
purpose of converting the Pagans to the church. They are a miserable mixture of
heathenism and Christianity, and are valuable only as evidence of the state of
opinion among a portion of Christian believers at the date given.
They repeatedly declare the punishment of the wicked to be
"everlasting," and yet distinctly assert that the wicked will finally
be restored. After describing the horrible torments of the damned, they declare
God will confer another favor on his worshippers, when they
shall ask him; he shall save mankind from the pernicious fires and immortal
agonies. This he will do. For having gathered them, safely secured from the
unwearied flame, and appointed them another place, &c.
The description of this "other place," which he
calls the "Elysium of the immortals," shows a large admixture of
Pagan elements; which was probably necessary to the purpose of the composition,
viz., the conversion of Pagans. The language is adapted to their capacity and
tastes; the same error which led to the monstrous corruptions alluded to in the
beginning of this chapter.
A.D. 160-190. During this period we have several productions
which employ the usual phrases in regard to the subject, such as
"everlasting fire," "eternal punishment," and their
equivalents. The last date brings us to the distinguished IRENAEUS, bishop of
Lyons, in France. He taught that the wicked would be cast into inextinguishable
and eternal fire. And yet he did not believe that they would be
punished endlessly, for he undoubtedly adopted the doctrine of the final
annihilation of the disobedient and unrighteous. He says:
The principle of existence is not inherent in our own
constitutions, but is given us of God; and the soul can exist only so long as
God wills. He who cherishes the gift of existence, and is thankful to the
Giver, shall exist forever; but he who despises it, and is ungrateful, deprives
himself of the privilege of existing forever....He who is unthankful to God for
this temporal life, which is little, cannot justly expect from him an existence
which is endless.
These extracts from his work against heretics, are clear
proof that he was of the same opinion with Justin Martyr, that the souls of the
wicked will be annihilated after a period of punishment in "everlasting
fire." For he believed they would be sent into this fire after the
judgment, which was to succeed the resurrection, according to his creed. His
words are: "Evil spirits, and the angels who sinned and became apostates,
and the impious, and the unjust, and the breakers of the law, and the
blasphemers among men, he will send into everlasting fire."
A.D. 200-220. TERTULLIAN. This father was originally a Pagan; by birth, an
African, and a lawyer by profession. He seems to have believed in the strictly
endless punishment of the wicked, and to have argued against the doctrine of
their annihilation, or, to use his own words, against the doctrine that
"the wicked would be consumed, and not punished," that is, endlessly.
He is the first, as far as can be ascertained, who expressly
affirmed, and argued the question, that the torments of the damned would be
equal in duration to the happiness of the blessed.
Tertullian was of a fierce and fiery temper, when provoked,
and seems a fitting personage to stand godfather in the infernal baptism by
which this doctrine was received into the Christian church. He discourses on
the subject of hell-torments in the following exultant strain:
You (the Pagans) are fond of your spectacles, but there are
other spectacles; that day disbelieved, derided by the nations, the last and
eternal day of judgment, when all ages shall be swallowed up in one conflagration;
what a variety of spectacles shall then appear! How shall I admire, how laugh,
how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many kings, and false gods in heaven,
together with Jove himself, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness! - so many
magistrates, who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer flames
than they ever kindled against Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing
in raging fire, with their scholars whom they persuaded to despise God, and to
disbelieve the resurrection; and so many poets shuddering before the tribunal,
not of Rhadamanthus, not of Minos, but of the disbelieved Christ! Then shall we
hear the tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings;
then shall we see the dancers far more sprightly amidst the flames; the
charioteer all red-hot in his burning car; and the wrestlers hurled, not upon
the accustomed list, but upon a plain of fire.
The man who could write this may well be allowed the honor
of giving to the monstrous doctrine of endless torments a place in the
Christian church; and we should have selected him, of all others, as its
fitting representative in spirit, and in the savage and vindictive character of
his feelings towards his enemies.
And now that we have the foul thing fairly introduced among
the professed followers of the Gospel, let us note the steps of its progress,
and mark its growth from the first departure from the simplicity of Christ, to
the full development of the monster in the time of Tertullian.
First. The denial of
a resurrection to the wicked and unbelieving, the soul remaining in Hades as a
disembodied spirit. A.D. 110, or some ten years after the death of St. John.
Second. The judgment
after death, and the punishment of the unbelieving and wicked. A.D. 112-140.
Third. The future
torment, and final annihilation, of the souls of the wicked. A.D. 140-190.
Fourth. The future
endless torment of the wicked, as set forth by Tertullian. A.D. 200-220.
These seem to be the steps forward, the method of growth,
which marked the reception of the old Pagan doctrine into the faith of the
Christians. And the great wonder is that, considering the extent to which this
dogma was received among both Jews and heathens, it did not get foothold in the
church before; especially when we remember how rapidly other philosophical
speculations and Pagan notions prevailed to the corruption of the pure
doctrines of Christ. And yet it takes a hundred and seventy years from the
death of Christ, and a hundred from the last of His personal disciples, to
establish this abomination as a part of the Christian creed.
Nay, this is granting more than the facts will warrant, for
it cannot be said to have been established as an article of belief at this
period, but only that it was received by some Christians. Others did not
receive it at all; and the Gospel doctrine of universal restoration was held by
some of the most eminent of the Christian fathers at the same time Tertullian
and others avowed their faith in endless punishment.
But slowly the corruption spread, and little by little the
Pagan dogma gained upon the Christian doctrine, till at last, partly in
consequence of personal quarrels among those concerned, the primitive teaching on
this point was condemned in a Church council held A.D. 553 (or 540); and the
doctrine of endless punishment sanctioned as a fundamental article of Christian
faith. I repeat again, it is truly wonderful, considering the general
corruption of the church in these centuries, that it should take five
hundred years for this favorite Pagan dogma to get itself established as
orthodoxy! Yet such is the fact.
In order to prevent all misunderstanding on the point in
question, and for the purpose of shutting off any misrepresentation of the real
position here assumed, I must call attention again to the fact, already
mentioned in chapter v, section iv, and partly illustrated in this chapter,
that the early writers of the church frequently speak of
"everlasting" or "eternal punishment." But these
expressions are used just as freely by those who are known to believe in the
annihilation of the wicked, and by those who are acknowledged on all hands as
believers in universal redemption; so that these phrases are no evidence of a
belief in endless punishment. There is a
great difference, as the Scriptures show, between "eternal" or
"everlasting," and "endless."
For example: Justin Martyr and Irenaeus say the wicked will
be condemned to everlasting punishment,
and after this will be
annihilated. So the author of the Sibylline Oracles, Clement of Alexandria,
Origen, Titus, Bishop of Bostra, Gregory, &c., use the phrase
"everlasting" or "eternal punishment" without reserve,
though they were acknowledged Universalists. It is plain, therefore, that aionios
or "eternal" was not employed by
them in the sense of endless; and
that the use of this phraseology among the early Christians is no evidence of
their belief in endless torments.
Augustine, who flourished about A.D. 400 to 430, was the
first to argue that aionios signified
strictly endless. He attempted a
criticism on the original word, maintaining at first that it always meant
endless; but this being so bold and palpable a blunder, he was compelled to
abandon it, admitting that it did not always mean endless, but did sometimes; and he brings Matt. xxv 46, as proof, arguing that
if the "everlasting punishment" was not endless, the "eternal
life" was not. And this criticism has been handed down from his time to
the present, and is still employed with great confidence, notwithstanding it
forces into the spiritual world a judgment which the Savior expressly declared
should take place in that generation, before some then living should die. Matt.
xxiv 30-34; xvi 28; Luke ix. 26, 27.
I have now followed the inquiry respecting the origin of the
doctrine of Endless Punishment and its introduction among the Jews and
Christians, as far as the purpose I have in view seems to require. The object
has been to furnish the reader with an outline, simply, of the argument, to
present the method of inquiry, and facts and authorities enough to justify the
conclusions. It is possible that the facts and citations may be new to many
believers in this doctrine, not accustomed to examine the foundations of their
belief; and it may induce some to enter into an inquiry on the general subject,
more thorough and critical than the narrow limits assigned to this sketch would
Only one thing remains to complete the plan originally
proposed to myself, and that is to illustrate briefly, from history and facts,
the influence of the doctrine on society, and on the morals and happiness of
its believers. It is a just rule established by the Savior, that "the tree
is known by its fruits;" and though great caution should be used in any
attempt to connect conduct directly with faith, as an evidence of its moral
tendencies, yet I think in this case the connection and dependence are so
obvious, there is little danger of any serious error. The history of the
doctrine of Endless Punishment, in its effects on the character and action of
those believing it, is one of the most painful and shocking in the annals of
mankind; and I know of nothing which exposes with a more terrible eloquence the
shallowness of the remark so often made, that "it is no matter what a man
believes, if he only lives right." If
he lives right! - but, in order to live right, he must believe right, or at
least he must not believe wrong. Always, as history witnesses, the disposition,
character and practices of the individual, or of a people, have been formed, or
in all important features modified, by the character and spirit of their
religion or of the deity or deities worshipped by them.
This I shall illustrate in respect to the doctrine in
review; and, shall endeavor to show that, with the Christian as well as with
other men, a savage creed, if left unchecked to do its legitimate work, will
beget a savage temper and a corresponding conduct; or, in one word, that
"a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit."
CREATES A CRUEL AND REVENGEFUL SPIRIT - ILLUSTRATED FROM HISTORY
It matters not by what name a man is called, whether Pagan, Jew,
or Christian; nor matters it at all where the lot of life has fallen to him,
whether in a land over which broods the night of heathenism, or on which rests
the radiant light of the Gospel. He is still a man, though a Christian; he is
born, lives, and dies; he thinks and feels, hopes and fears, rejoices and
sorrows, after the manner of all other men. Hence, if the Christian believe in
a cruel religion, believe in it with all his heart, it will make him cruel; it
will certainly harden his heart. If he believe in and worship a God of a
merciless and ferocious character, this will eventually be, visibly or
invisibly, his own character. If he believe the God of the Bible hates any
portion of mankind, or regards them with any dislike or displeasure, he also will
come to hate them, and to entertain towards them the same feelings which he
supposes reside in the bosom of God. If he believe that God will, in expression
of those feelings, or for any reason, devote them to flame and torture
hereafter, it is natural and necessary that he should infer it would be, for
the same reason, acceptable to God that he should devote them to flame and
torture here. And if the degree of civilization and the condition of society
shall permit; or, in other words, if no power from without prevent, he will
assuredly do this, as a most acceptable offering to Heaven; and to the utmost
of his power will conform to what he believes to be the disposition and wishes
of God in this respect.
And this is not said without ample means for proving the
correctness of the statement. The history of Christianity, so called, in all
ages and among every people, and in every form which it has taken, will
abundantly establish the truth of the position, that the temper and practice of
a people is determined by the spirit of their religion and their gods.
It is not necessary to enter into a labored description of
the doctrines of the Christian church in the days of its darkness and
corruption, nor of the awful and revolting views entertained of God, of His disposition
towards man, of His government, laws and punishments. It is enough that
Paganism in its worst forms has never surpassed, if it has equaled, the savage
and terrible descriptions which have been given by Christians of their God. The
character ascribed to Him; the dreadful wrath and vengeance with which He is
moved; the cold and malignant purpose of creation in regard to millions of
souls; the stern severity and gloom of His government; the horrible and
never-ceasing tortures which He will inflict on His helpless children - all
this, and much more of like character, defies the power of language to set it
forth in its true light, or to present it in a manner adequate to its shocking
and revolting reality. I give a single example:
Dr. Benson, an eminent English minister, in a sermon on
"The Future Misery of the Wicked," says,
God is present in hell, in his infinite justice and
almighty wrath, as an unfathomable sea of liquid fire, where the wicked must
drink in everlasting torture. The presence of God in his vengeance scatters
darkness and woe through the dreary regions of misery. As heaven would be no
heaven if God did not there manifest his love, so hell would be no hell if God
did not there display his wrath. It is the presence and agency of God which
gives everything virtue and efficacy, without which there can be no life, no
sensibility, no power.
God is, therefore, himself present
in hell, to see the punishment of these rebels against his government, that it
may be adequate to the infinity of their guilt: his fiery indignation kindles,
and his incensed fury feeds the flame of their torment, while his powerful
presence and operation maintain their being, and render all their powers most
acutely sensible; thus setting the keenest edge upon their pain, and making it
cut most intolerably deep. He will exert all his divine attributes to make them
as wretched as the capacity of their nature will admit.
After this he goes on to describe the duration of this work
of God, and calls to his aid all the stars, sand, and drops of water, and makes
each one tell a million of ages; and when all those ages have rolled away, he
goes over the same number again, and again, and so on forever.
Yet, Christians have believed all this; have believed that
God is the enemy of the sinner and unbeliever; that He regards with a fierce
displeasure those of a wrong faith or a wrong life; that heretics and the
impenitent are an abomination in His sight; and that upon these wretched
victims the vials of His wrath will finally be broken, and overwhelm them in
endless and irretrievable ruin. As remarked, it will not need that we should
give a lengthened or labored review of this point. A more important question is
that which regards the influence of this savage creed upon the believer. To
this let us give some attention, and we shall find, what we may expect, that
its tendency in all ages, when believed in right earnest, has been to harden
the heart, to brutalize the affections, and render those receiving it, under
any of its forms, cruel, and ferocious in disposition, and, so far as
circumstances would allow, in practice.
Take as a worthy example the
celebrated passage of Tertullian, already quoted:
How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when
I behold so many kings and false gods, together with Jove himself, groaning in
the lowest abyss of darkness! so many magistrates who persecuted the name of
the Lord, liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against
Christians; so many sage philosophers, with their deluded scholars, blushing in
raging fire! &c.
Without doubt, Tertullian was of a fierce and bitter spirit,
independently of his religious faith; but this fiery ebullition of hate and
ferocity serves to show how perfectly fitted that faith was to add fuel to the
flame, and what an ample field and congenial scenes it furnished for his savage
nature to revel in. Under the influence of such a belief, his wild temper
gathered new vigor, his revengeful feelings were cultivated and strengthened to
a frightful degree, till at last he comes to rejoice and exult in the agonies
of the damned with a relish that a devil might envy. One cannot but see that it
only needed the power to have engaged this ferocious man in the work of torture
on earth, the prospect of which in hell he contemplated with such fiendish
A further illustration may be found
in the crusades against the Albigenses in the thirteenth century, one of the
darkest and bloodiest pages in the history of any religion, Christian or Pagan.
The sacrifices of the Goth and Mexican, and the revolting cruelties of the
Polynesian and the negro of Dahomy, are scarcely equal to the savage butcheries
and the shocking barbarities inflicted by the Catholic crusader, in the name of
his God, upon this gentle and virtuous people. No passage in the history of man
is more to the purpose of our argument, or more conclusive of the direct
influence of religious faith upon the temper and character, than that in which
are recorded the persecutions and sufferings of these unhappy reformers.
Throughout the whole of this merciless crusade, and amid all its scenes of
burning and desolation, of murder and torture, the cry of the ruthless priest
was heard, "It is for the glory of God!" And the brutal multitude,
believing that they were doing God a service, and securing their own salvation
by the slaughter of heretics, rushed forward to the bloody work with the
ferocity of tigers and the joy of a Tertullian.
Sismondi says, speaking of the deliberate savageness of the
monks who occupied the pulpits, and urged on the people to this diabolical
showed how every vice might be expiated by crime; how
remorse might be expelled by the flames of their piles; how the soul, polluted
with every shameful passion, might become pure and spotless by bathing in the
blood of heretics. By continuing to preach the crusade, they impelled, each
year, waves of new fanatics upon those miserable provinces; and they compelled
their chiefs to recommence the war, in order to profit by the fervor of those
who still demanded human victims, and required blood to effect their salvation.
They represented this inoffensive
people as the outcasts of the human race, and the especial objects of divine
hatred and vengeance; and no devotional exercise, no prayer or praise, no act
of charity or mercy, was half so acceptable to God as the murder of a heretic.
The more zealous, therefore, the multitude were for the
glory of God, the more ardently they labored for the destruction of heretics,
the better Christians they thought themselves. And if at any time they felt a
movement of pity or terror, whilst assisting at their punishment, they thought
it a revolt of the flesh, which they confessed at the tribunal of penitence;
nor could they get quit of their remorse till their priests had given them
Amongst them all not a heart could
be found accessible to pity. Equally inspired by fanaticism and the love of
war, they believed that the sure way to salvation was through the field of
carnage. Seven bishops, who followed the army, had blessed their standards and
their arms, and would be engaged in prayer for them while they were attacking
the heretics. Thus did they advance, indifferent whether to victory or
martyrdom, certain that either would issue in the reward which God himself had
destined for them.
And most frightfully did they do the work of religious
butchery and cruelty. Like the Scandinavian pirates, wherever they went they
desolated with fire and sword, sparing neither age, nor sex, nor condition.
They even wreaked their furious vengeance on inanimate objects, destroying
houses, trees, vines, and every useful thing they could reach, leaving all
behind a wide and blackened waste, marked by smoldering and smoking ruins, and
the dead and putrefying bodies of murdered men, women, and children.
At the taking of Beziers the wretched sufferers fled to the
churches for protection, but their savage enemies slaughtered them on the very
altars, and filled the sanctuaries with their mangled bodies. And when the last
living creature within the walls had been slain, and the houses plundered, the
crusaders set fire to the city in all directions at once, and so made of it one
huge funeral pile. Not a soul was left alive, nor a house left standing! During
the slaughter one of the knights inquired of a fierce priest how they should
distinguish between Catholics and heretics.
"Kill them all!" was his reply, "the Lord will know his own." In this one affair from twenty to thirty thousand
human beings perished, because the religion of their butchers assured them that
such bloody sacrifices would be acceptable to God.
But the priests and crusaders were not content with simple
murder. It was often preceded by the most exquisite cruelties. De Montfort on
one occasion seized a hundred prisoners, cut off their noses, tore out their
eyes, and sent them with a one-eyed man as a guide to the neighboring castles
to announce to the inhabitants what they might expect when taken. And often, as
matter of amusement, so hardened had they become, they subjected their victims
to the most dreadful tortures, and rejoiced in their wild cries of agony, and
manifested the highest delight at the writhings and contortions of the dying
wretches. So perfectly fiendish had these fanatics grown through the influence
of their religious belief! And what can more clearly show the connection
between faith and practice, or more conclusively demonstrate the truth that the
worshipper will be like his god, than the revolting barbarities inflicted upon
these humble and innocent people, on the ground that they were hated of the
Deity, and devoted by Him to the flames and torments of an endless hell!
Verily, the Christian is but a man, and that which makes the Pagan ferocious
and blood-thirsty will produce the same effect upon him.
The massacre of St. Bartholomew is
another terrible proof of the power of religious faith to convert man into a
fiend. As a single exhibition of slaughter and cruelty in the name of God and
religion, this is perhaps the most monstrous, and on a more fearful scale, than
any before or since. Probably thirty or forty thousand victims perished in
Paris and in the provinces in this one butchery! And it would be almost
impossible to describe the variety of forms in murder, or to give a catalogue
of the cruelties practiced. Even children of ten or twelve years engaged in the
work of blood, and were seen cutting the throats of heretic infants!
But what is the most impious of all is the manner in which
the news of this massacre was received at Rome by the Church and its head. The
courier was welcomed with lively transports, and received a large reward for
his joyful news. The pope and his cardinals marched in solemn procession to the
church of St. Mark to acknowledge the special providence; high mass was
celebrated; and a jubilee was published, that the whole Christian world might
return thanks to God (!) for this destruction of the enemies of the church in
France. In the evening, the cannon of castle St. Angelo were fired, and the
whole city illuminated with bonfires, in expression of the general joy for this
And when we remember that all this was done in the name of
Christianity and the church, that it was deemed a grateful offering to God,
who, it is supposed, hates heretics, and will give them over to torments
infinitely greater than these, and endless, we shudder to think how terrible an
engine is superstition, and how nearly it has turned the Christian church into
a slaughter-house! Truly, one has well said:
The ancient Roman theater, with its mere sprinkling of
blood, and its momentary pangs and shrieks, quite fades if brought into
comparison with that Coliseum of Papal cruelty, in which not a hundred or two of
victims, but myriads of people - yes, nations entire - have been gorged!
To complete the picture of depravity
and cruelty, and confirm the argument for the influence of religion on the
heart and life, we need only refer to that thrice-accursed institution, the
INQUISITION! In this was concentrated all that was monstrous and revolting. It
were impossible to put into words sufficiently expressive the abominable
principles upon which its ministers proceeded in their persecutions, or the
cold, deliberate, malignant ferocity with which they tortured their miserable
victims. Every species of torment was invented that the united talents of the
inquisitors could devise; and the protracting of life under the most
excruciating agonies, so that the poor wretch might endure to the last degree,
was reduced to a perfect system. The annals of Pagan sacrifice, with all its
horrors, furnish no parallel to the atrocities of the Romish Inquisition. The blackest and bloodiest page in the
history of superstition is that which bears the record of inquisitorial bigotry
and ferocity. One would think that even hell itself might applaud the
refinement of cruelty, were not the devils kept silent through envy of the superior
skill and savageness of their earthly rivals.
But this terrible influence was not
confined to the priests of this religion; the cruel and ferocious spirit of it
was diffused abroad among all its believers; and its pestilential breath spread
over the whole social life of the people. Informers were encouraged, heretics
were hunted, private hatred took its revenge, and the most malignant passions
of the corrupt heart were roused into action in the service of God and the
church. Even the tenderest ties of affection, and the holiest relations of
life, were crushed beneath the iron heel of religious zeal. Husbands betrayed
their wives, and parents their children, and sisters their brothers, and gave
them up to the cruelties of the holy office, and to the flames of the
auto-da-fe; and, so doing, congratulated themselves upon their fidelity to God,
measured by their triumph over the loveliest attributes of humanity. So mighty, in this case also, was the
power of a savage religion to crush every kindly feeling, every emotion of love
and pity, and to train its followers to cruelty and blood.
But this influence is not confined to Catholics; it is found
wherever the doctrines of which it is the offspring are found. The history of
Calvin and Servetus shows the same savage faith, having the power, doing the
same infernal work. And the history of the Puritans of our own land, of the
Dissenters of England, of the Covenanters of Scotland, of the Jews everywhere,
discovers also the same faith; shorn of its power, to be sure, by the progress
of society and civil institutions, but, with a change of circumstances, ready
at any time to seize the dagger or the torch, and spring forth to the work of
death. Reluctant as we may be to admit it, we cannot blind ourselves to these
facts. The cruel butcheries of the past, the dungeon, the rack, the fagot, the
bloody scourge falling upon the back of the meekly suffering Quaker, the cry of
agony, the unheeded prayer for mercy - all these in the past; - and the
exceeding bitterness, the fierce clamor and unblushing falsehoods of
controversy in the present; the refusal of the common courtesies of life, or
the stern hate that often lurks beneath outward civility; the malignant sneer
at the labors of those who seek to unfold the truth of God's saving love for
all; the half exultation at any seeming proof of the final triumph of evil and
the ceaseless torments of the wicked; the hardness of heart with which this
result is sometimes contemplated, and the indifference with which one sect
devotes another to this awful doom - all these show clearly that the Christian
is subject to the same law which governs other men; show with a painful
distinctness that, so far as the refining influences of literature and civilization
would permit, the belief in a ferocious god and an endless hell have done their
legitimate work upon his heart. Like the Aztec of America, and the Norseman of
Europe, he has partaken of the spirit of his deity, and, supposing it a duty
and a most acceptable service, he begins, so far as he can in this world, the
work of torment which he believes his unforgiving god will make infinite and
endless in the next.
Queen Mary of England was right when, as Bp. Burnet says,
she defended her bloody persecutions by appealing to the supposed example of
As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally
burning in hell, there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the
divine vengeance by burning them on earth.
This is legitimate and logical
reasoning, and exhibits the natural fruits of the doctrine.
If, then, we would make mankind what they should be, we must
begin with the object of their worship; we must first make their religion what
it should be. We must cast out from the holy place all the dark and ferocious
superstitions of the past and the present, whether Pagan or Christian, and in
the place of these set up, in all its divine beauty and simplicity, the
merciful and loving religion of Jesus Christ. The views which this unfolds of
God the Father, of His government and its final issues, can alone be favorable
to the spiritual progress of humanity, can alone form the heart of man to
gentleness and goodness, and recreate it in the image of heaven. A celebrated
National religions will not become the friends of virtue
and happiness until they teach that the Deity is not only an inconceivably
powerful, but also an inconceivably wise and good being; that for this reason
He gives way neither to anger nor revenge, and never punishes capriciously;
that we owe to His favor alone all the good that we possess and enjoy; that
even our sufferings contribute to our highest good, and death is a bitter but
salutary change; in fine, that the sacrifice most acceptable to God consists in
a mind that seeks for truth, and a pure heart. Religions which announce these
exalted truths offer to man the strongest preservatives from vice, and the
strongest motives to virtue, exalt and ennoble his joys, console and guide him
in all kinds of misfortunes, and inspire him with forbearance, patience, and
active benevolence towards his brethren.
Even so; let this be the religion of
the nations, and soon the world shall be getting forward toward heaven. And it
was to reveal these truths, and to bring them near to the heart of humanity,
that Jesus gave His life, and labored with all the earnestness of His loving
Let this, then, be the religion of the Christian, and he
will be a Christian indeed. Let him believe in God as the parent of all, as the
dispenser of life and good to all; let him see Him as Christ saw Him, clothed
in robes of light and mercy, and he will love as Christ loved, and, so far as
he may, will live as Christ lived. Let him believe that God always blesses, and
he will not dare, he will not wish, to curse whom God hath blessed. Let him
believe that God never hates, is never angry; and, that he may be like Him, and
approved of Him, he will diligently seek to expel all hatred and passion from
his own heart. Let him believe that all men are brethren, journeying homeward
to the presence of the Father, where, delivered from all evil, we shall be as
the angels; and that it is the earnest entreaty of this Father that we should
not fall out by the way, but bear each other's burdens, and love one another as
He loves us, loves the world: let these be the Christian's views of God, and he
shall indeed be born again from above. Let this be the religion of the nations,
Earth shall be paradise
And man, O God, thine image here.
COMPARATIVE MORAL INFLUENCE OF BELIEF AND DISBELIEF IN ENDLESS PUNISHMENT -
In this chapter I propose, by historical contrast, to show the
influence of endless punishment, and of its opposite, on the general morals of
It is believed by most Christian sects that this doctrine is
the great regulator of social and individual morality. Nothing has been more
frequently and urgently pressed upon public attention, than the necessity of
future endless punishments as the reward of impenitent sinners. It is argued
that it is the only restraint which is effectual in checking presumptuous
transgressors, and that the fear of this removed from the minds of men, and the
world would speedily become a perfect social wreck, the very likeness of the
infernal pit itself. With all possible sincerity this view of the question has
been urged by many honest-minded Christians, from the pulpit and from the press,
in full belief that the danger is real.
And yet in the very face of this argument, stands the whole
heathen world, believing this doctrine for ages prior to the coming of Christ,
and yet, at the time of His coming, utterly lost in corruption and depravity,
in daily practice of the most abominable vices and crimes, and the whole mass
of society sunk in the lowest depths of infamy, shame and wickedness. What sort
of restraining influence did the doctrine of endless punishment have on them?
The Jews, also, as we have seen, were believers in this
doctrine in the time of Christ; and their corruption and wickedness at that
period, and later, are almost proverbial. Josephus witnesses to this in the
most positive language.
I cannot say it without regret, but I must declare it as my
opinion, that if the Romans had delayed to come against these wretches, the
city (Jerusalem) would have been swallowed up by an earthquake, or overwhelmed
by a deluge, or else been consumed by fire from heaven, as Sodom was; for it
produced a generation of men more wicked than those who had suffered such
calamities." Again he says: "To reckon up all their villainies is
impossible; but never did any city suffer so great calamities; nor was there
ever, from the beginning of the world, a time more fruitful of wickedness than
So little influence did the doctrine have on the Jews in the
way of restraint. Such testimonies of the moral condition of those believing it,
do not go far toward fortifying the large claims set up for its conservative
and sanctifying power. The Jews could not have been much worse with no religion
at all, than they were under the pressure of their faith in endless torments.
Paul's description of "both Jews and Gentiles," at
this period, accords perfectly with the facts adduced,
that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is
none righteous, no, not one - there is none that understandeth, there is none
that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way; they are together
become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one! Their throat
is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of
asps is under their lips; their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their
feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the
way of peace they have not known; and there is no fear of God before their
eyes. (Rom. iii 9-18)
Such is the description of the moral condition of Pagans and
Jews, as given by the inspired apostle. How much better were they for having
believed in endless punishment? How far were they restrained from sin, or
hindered in the indulgence of their evil passions and criminal desires, by the
terrors of a future judgment and an endless hell? And yet, in direct
contravention of these notorious facts of history, we are told that the
doctrine of unending punishment is the only safeguard of society, the great
moral force of the world, without which it would speedily fall into
irretrievable wreck and ruin!
The truth is, this assumption is entirely barren of facts
for its support. There is nothing in history to prove that believers in endless
punishment are any better for their faith, or that those denying it are any
worse for their want of faith. I do not say, now, that the belief of this
doctrine makes people more vicious and wicked, though the last chapter shows
that it would not be difficult to demonstrate that this is the fact, at least in some respects - but I do say
that, so far as history speaks to this point, it gives unmistakable witness
that the doctrine of endless torments makes people no more moral, and the
absence of it makes them no less moral.
There is a remarkable passage in Wayland's Life of Judson,
illustrative of the subject at hand. It relates to the religion and morals of
the Burmans, and shows, with singular precision and plainness, the perfect
uselessness of the terror system in restraining men from evil, or in promoting
Speaking of the Buddhists, he says they believe that mankind
pass into other bodies, and the change which then takes place is determined by
their conduct in the present life. They may be sent into the bodies of animals,
birds, beasts, fish, or insects, from a higher to a lower grade, if wicked,
until they reach hell, or to a place of unmixed torment. In cases of atrocious
crime, as the murder of a parent, or a priest, they pass through no
transmigration, but go directly to hell.
There are four states of misery appropriated to the
punishment of atrocious crimes. In the lesser hells are punished those who do
not honor their parents, the magistrates, or old age; who take wine and
intoxicating drinks; who corrupt wells and destroy highways; who are fraudulent
and deceitful, or speak angrily and roughly; who use personal violence, who
disregard the words of pious men; who propagate scandal, who injure their
fellow-creatures, neglect the sick, or cherish forbidden thoughts. All these
will be punished, according to the measure of their sin, with punishments awful
beyond conception. For the least
aberration from rectitude the torment is only less than infinite; and after one
sin, the being is forever helplessly under condemnation, unless he can attain
to annihilation. It is a pure system of rewards and punishments, without
relenting, without pardon, and without hope for the guilty.
Thus, this system seems to have
exhausted the human faculties in conceiving of terrors which should deter us
And now what is the result? The Burmans ought to be a very
good and holy people, if the doctrine really is as restraining and morally
efficacious as is claimed. But what are the facts? Dr. Judson frankly confesses
that "this system of religion has no power over the heart, or restraint on
the passions;" and Dr. Wayland as frankly owns that it "is found
practically to have created no barrier whatever against sin." And the
details given by the latter are certainly good proof that these statements are
strictly correct and reliable, as the following quotation will satisfactorily
While the law of Gaudama, the Deity, forbids to take the
life of any animated being, the Burmans are blood-thirsty, cruel and
vindictive, beyond most of the nations of India. Murders are of very common
occurrence, and the punishment of death is inflicted with every aggravation of
cruelty. While licentiousness is absolutely forbidden, they are said to be
universally profligate. While the law denounces covetousness, they are, almost
to a man, dishonest, rapacious, prone to robbery, and to robbery ending in
blood. The law forbids treachery and deceit on all occasions; and yet, from the
highest to the lowest, they are a nation of liars. When detected in the
grossest falsehood, they indicate no consciousness of shame, and even pride
themselves on successful deceit.
What a complete refutation of the assertion that the fear of
hell is an effectual restraint on the wicked passions of men, a moral force
essential to the security and well-being of society! Can anything be more
conclusive that these facts against this theory? You cannot have a worse hell,
nor a worse people, that the Burman. And I do not see how it is possible, in
the presence of such unquestionable testimony from history, to persist in the
assertion that the belief of endless punishment, or of torments after death,
however terrible, is absolutely necessary to the preservation of social order,
and as a restraint on the desperate depravity of the human heart.
I turn now to the other side of the subject. It was said
that, so far as history goes, those who believed the doctrine of future endless
punishment were no better for their faith; and those who rejected it no worse
for their want of faith. The first, I think, is proved by unimpeachable
testimony. Is it possible to show, in like manner, that those who deny the
doctrine are no worse for their want of faith? Let us see what may be done in
The sect of Sadducees, among the Jews, is well known as rejecting the
doctrine in review, and even all future existence. Of course, all the frightful
descriptions of hell, such as those among the Greeks and Romans and Burmans,
went for nothing with them. They had no faith whatever in devils or torments beyond
death. All restraints from this source they utterly repudiated, and lived
without the slightest reference to any other punishments of sin than such as
are administered by the providence of God in this world.
Now, according to the argument of restraint, which affirms
that this doctrine is the only safeguard of morals, and that, without it, the
vile and dangerous passions of human nature break into a perfect revel of
wickedness - if this be true, then we ought to find the Sadducees among the
most immoral, corrupt and criminal people of any age or nation. But what is the
fact? What is the voice of history? The very reverse of this. And on this point
I shall cite the authority of orthodox witnesses, who, however reluctant, are
compelled to bear testimony against their own favorite theory.
First, I introduce the statement of Brucker, the
distinguished author of the History of Philosophy, which makes the substance of
Enfield's work on the same subject.
It remains that we add something concerning the life of the Sadducees. It might indeed be conjectured
from the character of their doctrine that their life was bad, because they were
destitute of those motives by which true morality is enforced. But we must
pronounce otherwise concerning their morals, if we adhere to the testimony of
the ancients. For Josephus testifies that this class of men was very severe in
judging; whence may be inferred their rigor in punishing crimes. This, indeed,
is what the nature of their system seems to have required; for, as they did not
believe that men were to be deterred from wickedness by the fear of future
torments, they were obliged to guard the public morals and observance of the
law by rigorous punishments. Josephus himself, though a Pharisee, shows, by a
testimony above all exception, that the Sadducees paid a stricter regard to
justice than did the Pharisees.
What can be more directly to the point, or more decisive,
than this? As respects Josephus, it comes from one of the most distinguished
men of the nation, of an opposite sect, an enemy, a Pharisee; and yet the
testimony shows the strictness and moral purity of the lives of those men who
wholly rejected the popular dogma of future endless punishment!
But let us hear Milman, in his history of the Jews. He says
of the Sadducees:
Denying all punishments for crime in a future life, their
only way to discourage delinquency was by the immediate terrors of the law; and
this they put in force, perhaps with the greater rigor, because their disbelief
of future rewards and punishments was represented by their enemies as leading
necessarily to the utmost laxity of morals. (The same thing which is affirmed
in these days.) This effect it would probably have on many of the weak and
licentious; but the doctrine of the Sadducees, which fully recognized the
certain punishment of guilt in this world by Divine Providence, is not justly
chargeable with these consequences.
Now it is plain enough that these facts and admissions, with
regard to the Sadducees, yield the whole question in debate. They are decisive
against the asserted necessity and utility of the doctrine in review; decisive
in support of the declaration we have so often made, that the opposite faith is
not dangerous to the morals of the believer, nor destructive of the good order
and well-being of society.
I think the facts adduced establish, beyond refutation,
1st. The belief of future endless
torments does not restrain nor prevent men from the indulgence of their
criminal passions. Those believing are no better, in character or conduct, because they believe it. The hell of the Burmans is as
horrible as imagination or invention can make it; and yet they are notoriously
corrupt, licentious, bloody-minded - the greatest thieves, liars and cheats in
2d. The disbelief of endless
torments does not make man immoral or wicked; as the character of the
Sadducees, whom their enemies even acknowledge to be strictly just and moral,
I can imagine but one reply to this simple statement of
facts: It may be said the comparison is not just, since the Burmans, as well as
the Greeks and Romans, are heathen, and the Sadducees had the benefit of
revelation, and of the divine law of Moses. But this is yielding the point in debate;
for the ground taken is, that a religion without the doctrine in question
cannot exert a salutary moral influence; that the belief of this is
indispensable as a check on the wicked heart. To say, therefore, that other
elements of the law, or of revelation, might have made the Sadducees moral and
virtuous, is surrendering the argument, and admitting that this doctrine is not necessary to virtue.
Still, there is no difficulty in meeting the objection on
its own ground. The Greeks, Romans, and Burmans are heathen, but the Pharisees
are not. They are believers in divine revelation, having all the benefits of
the Law of Moses, living side by side with the Sadducees, subject to the same
social influences; the only difference between them being precisely the point
in debate - the Pharisees believing the doctrine of future endless punishment,
and the Sadducees denying it.
Of course the Pharisees ought to be great saints, without
spot or blemish; and the Sadducees ought to be great sinners, vile and wicked
to the last degree. But we have already seen that the Sadducees were not great
sinners, but honest, just and moral, by confession of their worst enemies. One
half the argument, therefore, falls to the ground at the outset. Now for the
other half - were the Pharisees great saints? The Savior will answer to this:
"Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites; robbing the widow and fatherless,
neglecting justice, mercy and truth; generation of vipers; whited sepulchers,
full of corruption and all manner of uncleanness!" This does not look much
like being very saintly. So the second half of the argument fares no better
than the first half; and both are perfect failures.
Thus, exactly the reverse of what is claimed for the
doctrine proves to be the historical fact: those believing it are great
sinners, moral vipers, whited sepulchers; while those disbelieving are - not
saints perhaps, but vastly better than the sanctimonious hypocrites, who
charged their doctrine with immoral and dangerous tendencies.
One other thing is worthy of note in this connection, and
with this I close the argument. In all his rebukes and denunciations of the
wickedness of the men of His age and generation, the Savior never includes the
Sadducees. It is always, "Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites;" never Scribes, Sadducees, hypocrites. This is strong presumptive proof of the
unimpeachable morality of the Sadducees, and equally positive proof of the
preeminent wickedness of the Pharisees.
We return, therefore, to the conclusion already stated,
viz.: The belief of endless punishment does not tighten the bonds of morality,
nor lead to a life of virtue; while, on the other hand, the disbelief of it
does not loosen the bonds of morality, nor lead to a life of wickedness.
INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE HAPPINESS OF ITS BELIEVERS - ILLUSTRATED BY
It has seemed to me a fitting conclusion to this work, to
show the effect of a belief in endless punishment on the generous mind and
really Christian heart, in contrast with the effect of faith in the doctrines
of the Gospel, as recorded in the New Testament.
It is impossible that any one, with a human heart in him,
can fully believe this doctrine, with all the horrors it involves, with all the
accusations it brings against the divine wisdom and goodness, and not feel that
it is a terrible weight on his soul, and one from which he would gladly be
There are many shallow minds, many flippant talkers, who
find no difficulty whatever in believing, who are prompt to denounce the
slightest doubt on the subject as impiety or infidelity. There are many small
ministers, who are ready at a moment's notice to clear up all the difficulties
of the moral and scriptural arguments; who are never embarrassed, never
troubled at all in regard to the matter.
But I know that the best and strongest among its believers
never treat the subject in this way. Those who have looked into it most deeply
and patiently, who are distinguished equally for their learning and piety,
confess that, seen from any side you will, it is a fearful thing, and leads to
anguish of mind, and distress of heart, and to painful questionings which
cannot be answered.
The following testimonies are of this class, and they will
show, better than any argument, how completely the effects of faith in this
dreadful dogma are opposed to the rest, and peace, and joy, promised to the
SAURIN. This celebrated divine holds the following
I sink! I sink under the awful weight of my subject; and I
declare, when I see my friends, my relations, the people of my charge, this
whole congregation; when I think that I, that you, that we are all threatened
with these torments; when I see, in the lukewarmness of my devotions, in the
languor of my love, in the levity of my resolutions and designs, the least
evidence, though it be presumptive only, of my future misery, yet I find in the
thought a mortal poison, which diffuseth itself into every period of my life,
rendering society irksome, nourishment insipid, pleasure disgustful, and life
itself a cruel bitter. I cease to wonder that the fear of hell hath made some
mad, and others melancholy.
Now, can any one suppose for a moment that a doctrine,
producing such mental terror and distress as this, can come from Him who said,
so kindly and compassionately, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are
heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For
my yoke is easy, and my burden is light"? Matt. xi 29, 30. Besides, He
expressly says that He was sent "to preach good tidings, to heal the
broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight
to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised." Luke iv
PROF. STUART. But to make the contrast still more obvious, I give
the following from Rev Moses Stuart, the late distinguished professor of
Andover, equally well known for his critical scholarship and Christian
There are minds of a very serious cast, and prone to
reasoning and inquiry, that have in some way come into such a state, that doubt
on the subject of endless punishment cannot without the greatest difficulty be
removed from them.
They commence their doubts, it is
probable, with some a priori reasoning
on this subject. 'God is good. His tender mercy is over all the works of his
hands. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. He has power to prevent it. He knew, before he created man and
made him a free agent, that he would sin. In certain prospect of his endless
misery, therefore, his benevolence would have prevented the bringing of him
into existence. No father can bear to see his own children miserable without
end, not even when they have been ungrateful and rebellious; and God, our
heavenly Father, loves us better than an earthly parent does or can love his
Besides, our sins are temporary
and finite; for they are committed by temporary and finite beings, and in a world
filled with enticements both from without and from within. It is perfectly easy
for Omnipotence to limit, yea, to prevent, any mischief which sin can do; so
that the endless punishment of the wicked is unnecessary, in order to maintain
the divine government, and keep it upon a solid basis. Above all, a punishment
without end, for the sins of a few days or hours, is a proportion of misery
incompatible with justice as well as mercy. And how can this be any longer
necessary, when Christ has made atonement for sin, and brought in everlasting
redemption from its penalty?
The social sympathies, too, of some men are often deeply
concerned with the formation of their religious opinions. They have lost a near
and dear friend and relative by death; one who never made any profession of
religion, or gave good reason to suppose that his mind was particularly
occupied with it. What will they think of his case? Can they believe that one
so dear to them has become eternally wretched - an outcast forever from God?
Can they endure the thought that they are never to see or associate with him
any more? Can heaven itself be a place of happiness for them, while they are
conscious that a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister,
is plunged into a lake of fire from which there is no escape? 'It is impossible,' they aver, 'to overcome such
sympathies as these. It would be unnatural and even monstrous to suppress
them.' They are, therefore, as they view the case, constrained to doubt whether
the miseries of a future world can be endless.
If there are any whose breasts are
strangers to such difficulties as these, they are to be congratulated on having
made attainments almost beyond the reach of humanity in the present world; or
else to be pitied for ignorance, or the want of a sympathy which seems to be
among the first elements of our social nature. With the great mass of thinking
Christians, I am sure such thoughts as these must, unhappily for them, be
acquaintances too familiar. That they agitate our breasts as the storms do
the mighty deep, will be testified by every
man of a tender heart, and who has a deep concern in the present and future
welfare of those whom he loves.
Such a frank and full confession of the difficulties of this
question, from such a man, ought to lead all believers to ask, seriously, if it
is reasonable to suppose that any doctrine coming from God would lay such a
burthen of doubt and suffering on the pious heart and honest mind, or so stand
in the way of the perfect trust and love which He requires of us.
And it is of some consequence that those who have lost
relatives and friends, giving no evidence of special conversion and
regeneration, should consider the question proposed, whether heaven itself can
be happiness, if a parent or child, husband or wife, brother or sister, is
writhing in a lake of fire from which there is no escape? The believers of this
doctrine are very ready to think that those who are dear to them will, somehow,
be saved; but, if the doctrine is really true in all its phases, then they who
are not truly and actually converted, must inevitably be damned! And if they
are not, then the same mercy which saves them may save others, may save all.
BARNES. I add another testimony, which comes from one well
known as a man of thought and of sincere piety, Rev Albert Barnes. It is enough
to soften a heart of stone into sympathy and pity, to listen to the outburst of
anguish with which he acknowledges the crushing effects of this doctrine on
mind and heart:
That the immortal mind should be allowed to jeopard its
infinite welfare, and that trifles should be allowed to draw it away from God,
and virtue, and heaven. That any should suffer forever, - lingering on in
hopeless despair, and rolling amidst infinite torments without the possibility
of alleviation, and without end. That since God can save men, and will save a part, he has not purposed to save all; that, on the supposition that the atonement is
ample, and that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all and every sin, it is
not in fact applied to all. That, in a word, a God who claims to be worthy of
the confidence of the universe, and to be a being of infinite benevolence,
should make such a world as this, full of sinners and sufferers; and that when
an atonement had been made, he did not save all the race, and put an end to sin and woe forever:
These, and kindred difficulties,
meet the mind when we think on this great subject; and they meet us when we
endeavor to urge our fellow-sinners to be reconciled to God, and to put
confidence in him. On this ground they hesitate. These are real, not imaginary difficulties. They are probably felt
by every mind that ever reflected on the subject; and they are unexplained,
unmitigated, unremoved. I confess, for one, that I feel them, and feel them
more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them, and the longer I live. I
do not understand these facts; and I make no advances towards understanding
them. I do not know that I have a ray of light on this subject, which I had not
when the subject first flashed across my soul. I have read, to some extent,
what wise and good men have written. I have looked at their theories and
explanations. I have endeavored to weigh their arguments, for my whole soul
pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and, in the
distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever.
I see not one ray to disclose to me the reason why sin came into the world; why
the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer to
I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these
subjects, that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind; nor have I an
explanation to offer, or a thought to suggest, which would be of relief to you.
I trust other men - as they profess to do - understand this better than I do,
and that they have not the anguish of spirit which I have; but I confess, when
I look on a world of sinners and of sufferers; upon death-beds and grave-yards;
upon the world of woe, filled with hosts to suffer forever; when I see my
friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens; when I look upon
a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger, and when I see the great
mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them,
and yet he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my
soul, and I cannot disguise it.
O, can it be that this "tortured mind," this
"distress and anguish of spirit," this impenetrable gloom, this wild
wail of sorrow, are the natural fruits of faith in God, in Christ, in the
Bible? Can it be that a doctrine producing such dreadful effects on the mind
and heart of the believer makes a part of the message of the blessed Savior,
whose birth was announced by angels as "good tidings of great joy, which
shall be unto all people," bringing "peace on earth, and good will
toward men"? Luke ii Who can believe this? Who can fail to see the direct
opposition in spirit and fact?
HENRY WARD BEECHER. The reader will be interested in the following. It
is from one known at home and abroad as one of the most able, eloquent, and
wonderful preachers of the present day; and its singular accord with the last,
from Barnes, in spirit and in its revelation of anguish and suffering
consequent upon belief in this horrible dogma, is worthy of note. It is
marvelous that a man of Mr. Beecher's intelligence should allow such passages
as that which makes his text to blot out that beautiful and memorable Sermon on
the Mount; strange beyond measure that he should suffer such doubtful
phraseology to overshadow the Savior's tender invitation to those in sorrow and
distress, - "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. Take my
yoke upon you, and learn of me; for MY yoke is easy and MY burden
is light, and ye shall find REST unto
your souls." Is it Christ's yoke and
Christ's burden that Mr. Beecher is bearing? Has he found the promised rest?
Let the following painful confession answer: -
I have felt every difficulty that any man has ever felt. In
my thought I walk around about the terrific fact of the future. I, too, take
into account the Fatherhood of God, and I look upon the unpitied nations of the
globe, and with inexpressible longing and anguish for which there is no word, I
have sought relief. But there is the plain, simple testimony of Jesus Christ. I
cannot get around that, nor get over it. There it is. I have nothing to say. I
cannot fathom the matter. A child can ask me questions that I cannot answer. I
find my soul aching. As it were drops of blood flow for tears. But after all I
do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and I do not believe he would deceive me
nor deceive you. And if you ask me for the reason of the faith that is in me, I
simply say this, "Jesus says so:" that is all. And I cannot give up
his testimony. I preach the love of God, and I do not know what the scope of
that love is; I do not know where it would logically lead. But I am sure that I
am right in preaching that all punitive elements are under the control of love.
I am perfectly sure that love will bring every thing right in the end. I
therefore preach without qualification, and almost without limitation, on that
side. But I am not to be understood on that account, as not believing what
Christ himself deliberately says in respect to the peril of sin, or in regard
to punishment in the life which is to come...
It goes to my heart to say these
things. This is not the side that I seem to myself called to preach. Yet it is
there; and, if I am faithful to my whole duty, I must preach it. As a surgeon
does things that are most uncongenial to himself, so sometimes I do. And I do
this with tears and with sorrow. It makes me sick.
There is not another teaching of the Bible that comes home
to us as does this truth of punishment in the future life. On this subject men
cannot keep down the heart while they are coolly weighing the evidence...My
brethren, it is one thing to read in the Bible the chapter as I read it in your
hearing this morning, and other such passages, and another thing to ponder them
in the face of a dead child. It may not be difficult for a theologian to sit in
his chair and reason abstractly, rebutting and counter-thrusting in argument;
but when he is called to follow his own son, who through a doubtful or an
openly-ignominious career has gone out of life, it is not in human nature any
longer to reason in the same calm mood. To apply this truth in the intensity of
agonized love following its lost companion, like another Orpheus seeking
Eurydice, - these are things that bring this question home as almost no other
is ever brought home to us.
If to be born again, if to begin
to love, if to hate selfishness, if to begin a separation from our animal
nature, are the conditions of joy in the future life, then how few of all the
existing people on the globe have met those conditions! And yet I will defy any
man to look with a sympathetic heart out upon the masses that are moving more
than all the leaves of the forests of the continent, and let the conviction
pass his mind as even the shadow of a shade, without being utterly overwhelmed.
A man cannot have the susceptibility which is cultivated by the gospel of
Christ, and then look boldly in the face the terrific application of this
simple truth to the outlaying masses of mankind, and not shiver and tremble
The eternity of
punishment, when any thing like a conception of its signification and meaning
seizes the mind, seems to paralyze many with grief. The eternity of future
punishment is the point where almost all agonizing doubts and struggles of
Christian theologians have arisen. And of what are called the insoluble
mysteries of divine government, it seems to
me, that, if the doctrine of the eternity of punishment were removed, nine out
of ten would disappear of themselves; for I believe that they result simply
from that one term, 'suffering eternity.'
Such is the confession of this eminent man, and it is
equally honorable to his head and his heart. He has the courage to say what, no
doubt, thousands of his brethren feel without ever giving it utterance. And Mr.
Beecher also has the candor and manliness - speaking of those who have been
forced to abandon the awful doctrine as the only way of vindicating the divine
character and government, the only way to peace of mind - to bear the following
We cannot meet this anguish of men's hearts on cold,
exegetical grounds. We may not believe with them; but we cannot denounce them.
We may think that they have taken an evasive line of reasoning, or that they
have gone off on a fancy, rather than a true line of fact; or we may say that
it is contrary to the testimony of Scripture: but when great natures, in the
anguish of their souls, and with their sympathies enkindled for their
fellow-men, have taken one or the other of these grounds, they are to be
respected, and not persecuted...I do not say that they are right or wrong; but
this I declare, that, if there is any one point on which we are to be tolerant
and charitable and forbearing in our constructions of men's beliefs, it is on
DR. PATTON. A single
testimony more will close this chapter.
Do you imagine that only Universalists shudder at the idea
of eternal ruin of lost souls? All thoughtful men share your dread of the fact,
and would gladly reject the doctrine if they honestly could. Nothing prevents
me personally from welcoming the doctrine that all will finally be saved, but
the want of evidence for it. The Orthodox generally have the same feeling. It
pains us to think so many of our fellow-men are living in sin, and dying
We have had neighbors, friends,
and dear relatives, who have died, giving no evidence of Christian character,
but of quite the opposite; and we should be overjoyed, that at last we should
all meet above, holy and happy. I frankly acknowledge that it would lift a dark
cloud from the world and a heavy load from my heart, could I believe the
The thought is attractive to our reason, that the universe
will be in complete harmony with itself; that God will use methods, in the
lapse of ages, by which sin and misery shall be terminated, and holiness and
happiness characterize all his rational creatures. We can hardly conceive that
a good man should be without sympathy with such longings and hopes...Not a few
Christians lean decidedly towards this belief. John Frederic Oberlin and John
Foster entertained it, after an examination of the subject in the light of
reason and the Word of God; while the contrary view is accepted by others only
with painful doubt and a sense of conflict.
We commend to Dr. Patton the comforting assurances of the
evangelical prophet, which Paul applies directly to the redemption in Christ,
in 1 Cor. xv:
And in this mountain (the gospel) shall the Lord make unto
all people a feast of fat things;...and he will destroy in this mountain
(through the gospel) the covering cast over the face of all people, and the veil that is spread over all
nations. He will swallow up death in
victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from
off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that
day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is
the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad, and rejoice in his
salvation. (Isa. xxv 6-9)
When this grand prophecy is fulfilled, the "dark
cloud" of which Dr. Patton speaks will be "lifted from the
world;" and, when he believes this testimony of the Lord, he will throw
off the "heavy load from his
heart," and realize the truth of the Savior's words, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Let us contrast these records of personal experience with
some found in the New Testament, and we shall see the opposition more clearly.
Among the first accounts we have in the book of Acts, it is
all who believed were together, continuing daily with one
accord in the temple; and, breaking bread from house to house, did eat their
meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with
all people. (chapter ii)
When Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ and
the Gospel to them, and wrought miracles of mercy in the divine name, "the
people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing,
and seeing the miracles which he did; and there was great joy in that
So the Eunuch, whom Philip instructed, when he believed and
understood the doctrine, "went on his way rejoicing" (chapter viii).
And so among the heathen; when the Gospel is preached to
them, "they are glad, and glorify the word of the Lord;" "the
disciples are filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost," &c. (chapter
Add to these the often joyous exclamations of the apostles:
"We that have believed do enter into rest;" "We have peace with
God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in
the hope of God's glory;" "Believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable
and full of glory;" "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say,
rejoice;" "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge
of God!...For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be
glory forever!" "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the
earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in
them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor,
and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the
Lamb forever and ever!" Heb. iv; Rom. v; 1 Peter I; Rom. xi; Rev v.
Now, how marked the opposition between these passages, and
those from Stuart and Barnes, as regards the effects of faith! Is it possible
to believe that the faith is the same in both cases, when the effects are so
different? In the one case, we have rest, peace, joy, rejoicing, and religious
exultation overflowing the hearts of those who believe; in the other, doubts,
anxieties, torture of mind, anguish of heart, and settled religious gloom.
"Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet
waters and bitter?" We have here, plainly enough, sweet waters and bitter
waters, and there must be two fountains. No argument can make this fact more
obvious than these manifest contrasts of the effects of faith.
The simple truth is, the doctrine of endless punishment,
really believed, understood, and felt in all its horrors, is enough to crush
the brain and heart of any man; and we do not wonder that those who allow
themselves to think of it, who begin to look into its awful depths, cry out in
despair, "It is all dark, dark,
DARK to my soul, and I cannot disguise it."
Take the single fact, separated from all its concomitants,
stripped of all its disguises, and exhibited in its naked and revolting
deformity, - the single fact of a human soul made immortal for suffering, kept
in being endlessly only that it may be endlessly tormented; compelled to remain
in sin, shut out from all possibility of repentance and deliverance, - this is
too absolutely horrible for belief, thorough, intelligent belief, without
drifting to the very verge of insanity, unless the heart is made of cast-iron.
And, then, when it is remembered that this is under the
government of a God who has all resources of wisdom, power, and spiritual
influences to prevent it; and who, while permitting and doing this, requires us
to adore and love Him with all the heart and soul, it is not possible to keep
down a feeling of horror and loathing. It is not possible to love such a God,
to worship Him in spirit and in truth, to pray to Him, or praise Him. The whole
being revolts at the thought of it. Reason, reverence, affection, all shrink
away from Him with undisguised terror and disgust; and, instead of the light
and joy of Christian faith, there is nothing for the soul but the darkness of
doubt, perpetual unrest, and the agony of despair.
From all this there is but one refuge; and that is, the
utter rejection of a doctrine so plainly opposed to the spirit of the Gospel,
and to the commandment of faith and love, and the full and hearty reception of
the divine truth that God is the Father of all, Christ the Savior of all, and
Heaven the final home of all; that all sin and evil shall perish, and good and
holiness and happiness be triumphant forever.
One adequate support for the calamities of mortal life
exists, only one, - an assured belief that the procession of our fate, however
sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being of infinite benevolence and power,
Whose everlasting purposes embrace all accidents, converting them to good.
TESTIMONIES ON THE QUESTIONS DISCUSSED IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS
Since the publication of the first editions of this work, I
have come upon other facts and testimonies illustrating and fortifying the
positions taken in the general argument respecting the origin of the doctrine
of endless punishment. It has seemed to me that it might add to the value of
the book and to the satisfaction of the reader, to gather these up, and present
them in an additional chapter of authorities.
Still another chapter might be added to the history of the doctrine, - a chapter showing the amazing
change which has been brought about in all the churches as regards the style
and frequency of preaching it. As Henry Ward Beecher justly says,
The educated Christian mind of all lands, for the last
hundred years, has been changing; and milder expressions and a very different
spirit have prevailed. It is not preached as it used to be, - not as it was in
my childhood. It has not been preached as often as, nor with the same fiery and
familiar boldness that, it used to be. Multitudes of men who give every
evidence of being spiritual, regenerate, and devout, and laborious and
self-denying, find themselves straitened in their minds in respect to this
question, and are turning anxiously every whither to see whence relief may come
I should be glad to devote a chapter
to this interesting, instructive, and prophetic phase of the subject, and
emphasize the contrast between the preaching and writing of Calvin, Boston,
Edwards, Bellamy, the elder Beecher, Park-street Griffin, and others of the
olden times; and Kingsley, Stanley, Brooke, Park-street Murray, and the younger
Beechers of to-day. But this must be postponed to another time; my present
limits allowing only a place for the chapter of authorities already collected.
TO CHAP. II, SECT. II
OF ORTHODOX CRITICS AND THEOLOGIANS TO THE FACT THAT THE DOCTRINE IS NOT TAUGHT
LAW OF MOSES
LEE, in his "Eschatology," says,
If we refer to the Mosaic institute we shall find that its
motives are drawn, not from the future, but from the present world. The rewards
of fidelity and the penalties for disobedience were of time and earth...In the
Pentateuch we find no motives drawn from the future world. The Old Testament
makes no allusion to the mode of existence
that succeeds the present." Again he says, "It must be remembered
that the rewards and punishments of the Mosaic institutes were exclusively
temporal. No allusion is found, in the case of individuals or communities, in
which reference is made to the good or evil of a future state as a motive to
DR. PAYNE SMITH, in his Bampton Lectures, says,
The distinguishing characteristic of prophecy, as it
existed in Moses, is that it gives the whole outline of the gospel truth. There
is, indeed, one remarkable exception. Moses did not clearly teach the
Israelites the doctrine of a future judgment and of an eternal state of rewards
REV F.W. FARRAR of Trinity College, Cambridge, Eng., author
of the article on "Hell" in Smith's Bible Dictionary, says,
The rewards and punishments of the Mosaic law were
temporal; and it was only gradually and slowly that God revealed to his chosen
people a knowledge of future rewards and punishments.
Very slowly, we
should think; for the writer himself admits that it was not till after the
exile, B.C. 536-445, that the Jews divided sheol "into two parts; one the abode of the blessed,
and the other of the lost." And even at this he offers not a single
scriptural text in proof of the assertion, that at this late date, a
thousand years after the giving of the law,
the Hebrews entertained any such notion of sheol. And, even allowing the assertion, it must strike the
careful thinker as very strange that God should reveal this doctrine to His
chosen people, not directly, but through the Babylonians or Persians, as Mr.
Farrar seems to intimate by his allusion to the exile.
DR. STRONG, one of the editors of
Harpers' "Cyclopaedia of Biblical and Theological Literature," gives
the following testimony:
The Egyptian religion, in its reference to man, was a
system of responsibility mainly depending on future rewards and punishment. The
law (of Moses), in its reference to man, was a system of responsibility mainly
depending on temporal rewards and punishments.
H.W. BEECHER says,
The whole Mosaic economy lies open before us; and there is
not one single instance in it where a motive is addressed to a man in
consequence of immortality. All the motives are drawn from secular things.
Virtue shall bring in this life its reward, and wickedness in this life shall
bring its punishment. That is the keynote of that sublime drama of Job.
And he says in another discourse, in substance, that the
strangest thing regarding the doctrine of endless punishment is, that, if
"we had only the Old Testament, we could not tell if there were any future
And is it not a strange thing to Mr. Beecher, that God,
after four thousand years of silence and concealment, should reveal the
horrible thing in that gospel which is declared specially to be "good
tidings of great joy unto all people"?
ADDITIONS TO SECTION III OF CHAP. II
OR THE OLD TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF HELL
DR. FAIRBAIRN, the learned professor of divinity in the
College of Glasgow, and whose volumes on "Prophecy" and
"Typology" have given him high rank among biblical students and
interpreters, says without reserve, "Beyond doubt, sheol, like hades, was regarded as the abode after death, alike of the good and the
bad." Of course, therefore, to translate it by the English word
"hell" is to misrepresent the sacred writers, and mislead the common
EDWARD LEIGH, whom Horne, in his "Introduction,"
says was "one of the most learned men of his time, and his work a valuable
help to the understanding of the original languages of the Scriptures,"
declares unqualifiedly, that "all learned Hebrew scholars know the Hebrews
have no proper word for hell, as we take hell."
F.W. FARRAR says that hell is the word generally and
unfortunately used by our translators to render the Hebrew sheol, - unfortunately, because the English word
"hell" is mixed up with numberless associations entirely foreign to
the minds of the ancient Hebrews. It would perhaps have been better to retain
the Hebrew word sheol, or else
render it always by "the grave," or "the pit."
TO CHAP. IV
THE JEWS BORROWED THE DOCTRINE FROM THE HEATHEN
The corruption of the Jewish religion, and the numerous
pagan dogmas which had been incorporated into the national creed prior to the
time of Christ, are important points in the argument; inasmuch as they show how
the way was prepared for the reception of the doctrine of endless punishment
into the popular belief. We give place, therefore, to the following additional
testimonies under this head.
Says Dr. Mosheim,
Errors of a very pernicious kind had infested the whole
body of the people (Jews). There prevailed among them several absurd and
superstitious notions concerning the divine nature, invisible powers, magic,
&c., which they had partly brought with them from the Babylonian captivity,
and partly derived from the Egyptians, Syrians, and Arabians who lived in their
The ancestors of those Jews who
lived in the time of our Savior had brought from Chaldaea and the neighboring
countries many extravagant and idle fancies which were utterly unknown to the
original founders of the nation. The conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great
was also an event from which we may date a new accession of errors to the
Jewish system, since, in consequence of that revolution, the manners and
opinions of the Greeks began to spread among the Jews. Beside this, in their
voyages to Egypt and Phoenicia, they brought home, not only the wealth of these
corrupt and superstitious nations, but also their pernicious errors and idle
fables, which were imperceptibly blended with their own religious doctrines.
The Hebrews received their doctrine of demons from two
sources. At the time of the Babylonish captivity, they derived it from the
source of the Chaldaic-Persian magic; and afterward, during the Greek supremacy
in Egypt, they were in close intercourse with these foreigners, particularly in
Alexandria, and added to the magian notions those borrowed from this
Egyptic-Grecian source. And this connection and mixture are seen chiefly in the
New Testament. It was impossible to prevent the intermingling of Greek
speculations. The voice of the prophets was silent. Study and inquiry had
commenced. The popular belief and philosophy separated; and even the
philosophers divided themselves into several sects, Sadducees, Pharisees, and
Essenes; and Platonic and Pythagorean notions, intermingled with Oriental
doctrines, had already unfolded the germ of the Hellenistic and cabalistic
philosophy. This was the state of things when Christ appeared.
This witness of the learned and accurate historian is
directly to the point, and opens to us the sources of the gross corruption, the
false doctrines, and pagan superstitions and fables, which overlaid the simple
faith of Moses and the prophets in the days of Christ.
ADDITIONS TO CHAP. V, SECTION IV
WORDS ETERNAL, EVERLASTING, FOREVER, &C.
The ground taken up to this time, that the Hebrew olam and the Greek aionios represent a strict eternity, that this is the
radical and inherent force of the terms, has been abandoned by Dr. Tayler
Lewis, one of the most learned and exact critics of the orthodox school, in a
recent dissertation of his in Lange's Commentary. His testimony is as follows:
The preacher, in contending with the Universalist or
Restorationist, would commit an error, and, it may be, suffer a failure in
his argument, should he lay the whole
stress of it on the etymological or historical significance of the words aion,
aionios, and attempt to prove, that, of themselves, they necessarily carry the
meaning of endless duration.
Again: he says on the Hebrew word in Eccl. i 3, "This
certainly indicates, not an endless eternity in the strictest sense of the
word, but only a future of unlimited length." On Exod. xxi 16 he says, "Olam here would seem to be taken as a hyperbolical term
for indefinite or unmeasured
duration;" and then contrasts it with Deut. xxxii 40, as an example of the
immense extremes which the context shows in the use of the word, -
I live forever, spoken of God in such a way as to mean
nothing less than the absolute or endless eternity. But it is the subject to
which it is applied that forces to this, not any etymological necessity in the
This is the very ground we have always taken in regard to
this entire class of words, that their meaning depends upon the connection, or
the subjects to which they are applied. And Prof. Lewis, after stating that olam in Eccl. i 3 (and the same is true of its Greek
equivalent aionios) "cannot
mean forever in the sense of endless duration," very properly adds, that
"it may be used for such an idea when the context clearly
demands, as when it is employed to denote
the continuance of the divine existence, or of the divine kingdom." Again:
he says on chap. xii 5, where the Hebrew of "long home" is beth
olam, "it certainly does not denote an
absolute endless eternity."
The proper meaning of the words, according to the professor,
"First, as expressive of some great period, cycle, or
age, not having its measurement from without, but which goes beyond any known
historical or astronomical measurement;" second, "in a lower or more
limited sense, - an olam, eon, age, world, or world-time, - which may be
historical; indefinite periods coming one after another during the continuance
of the same earth or kosmos. Thus we say
the ancient world, the modern
world, the Greek world, the Roman world, &c. This would correspond to our use of the word
'ages,' and that would make a good sense, Eccl. i 10, 'the worlds or ages that
have been before.'"
On Matt. xxv 46 he says,
Aionios may perhaps mean an existence, a duration, measured
by eons or worlds (taken as the measuring unit), just as our present world, or eon,
is measured by years or centuries. But it would be more in accordance with the
plainest etymological usage to give it simply the sense of olamic or eonic,
or to regard it as denoting, like the Jewish olam habba, the world to come. These shall go away into the punishment (the
restraint or imprisonment) of the world to come; and these, into the life of
the world to come. That is all we can etymologically or exegetically make of
the word in this passage.
ADDITIONS TO CHAP. VI
INTRODUCTION OF THE DOCTRINE INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The importance of the subject presented in this chapter will
justify the additional proofs which follow. No one familiar with the internal
history of the Church in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age
will require any farther proof than this knowledge will afford him, that it was
scarcely possible that the dogma of endless punishment should not find its way
into such a mass of superstition and wickedness, such a sink of theological and
moral corruption. The following is from an article in the Contemporary Review
on "The Corruption of Christianity by Paganism":
That a vast revolution actually took place in very many of
the doctrines, and in all the external usages, of the Church, between the age
of Constantine and that of Justinian, is simply a matter of history. The truth
is too patent to be denied, account for it how we will. The explanation which
seems most probable is that which ascribes the change in Christianity to its
gradual fusion with the Paganism of the empire.
The revolution had, like most
others, various predisposing causes, which long wrought in silence before their
effect became visible. Three are enough to mention: The irresistible tendency
of the age towards superstition; the familiar intercourse between the heathen
populace and the lower order of Christians; and, lastly, the credulity and
false philosophy of most of the learned Christian divines, and their well-meant
but mistaken policy in dealing with corruptions introduced by the ignorant. The
condition of the Roman world from the very beginning of Christianity was
extremely unpropitious to the preservation of its purity; and, as the ancient
civilization declined through misgovernment and social disorganization, it
became increasingly difficult for the Church to struggle against the
mischievous influences that beset her on every side.
No doubt many Pagan customs were adopted without any bad
intention, or, as in the recommendation of Gregory the Great to Augustine of
Canterbury, with the good object of winning the heathen to the gospel. The
ceremonial and legendary system of Paganism had many romantic charms which are
still retained by them under their Christian dress. But, though some admixture
of Pagan ideas and practices might be innocently tolerated, it is quite another
matter when we see a vast structure of errors, such as apostles and martyrs
died to withstand, superadded to the faith once delivered to the saints.
The facts which are gathered into the note below are painful
enough; but it is necessary to give place to them in order that the inquirer
may fully understand how so abominable a doctrine as that of endless
punishment, and so hostile to the spirit of the gospel, should have found its
way into the creed of the Christian Church.
ADDITIONS TO CHAP. VIII
COMPARATIVE MORAL INFLUENCE OF BELIEF AND DISBELIEF IN ENDLESS PUNISHMENT.
A great many assertions have been made regarding the
necessity of a belief in future endless punishment as the safeguard of society,
and the only sure foundation of public and private morality. The facts set
forth in the chapter to which this section is an appendix show how little
ground there is for such assertions; and the history of Pagan nations and
tribes everywhere, and in all ages, furnishes the same evidence on this point.
No greater wickedness, no more thorough corruption of morals and manners, no
more loathsome customs and practices, exist on the earth, than among those very
heathen who believe in hells and torments as horrible as language can describe.
But the Christian Church itself also bears witness to the
same truth. So long as it was faithful to the doctrines of Christ and to the
divine spirit of His gospel, the believers lived according to the law of love
and holiness, and honored their profession by the purity of their conversation
and con-duct. And, as Luke says, "They did eat their meat with gladness
and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the
people" (Acts ii). But no sooner do we find a departure from the great
truths of Christianity, - the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the
final redemption of all, - than we find a corresponding laxity of morals and
looseness of manners; and this increasing with every new remove from the purity
of the gospel. The historians of the Church testify with one voice to this
corruption and depravity.
After our affairs degenerated from the rules of piety, one
pursued another with open contumely and hatred; and we fought each other with
armor of spite, with sharp spears of opprobrious words: so that bishops against
bishops, and people against people, raised sedition. Last of all, when that
cursed hypocrisy and dissimulation had swum to the brim of malice, the heavy
hand of God's judgment came upon us, at first little by little. But when we
were not moved by sense or feeling thereof, nor sought to pacify God, but
heaped sin upon sin, thinking God would not care or visit us for our sins; and
when our shepherds, laying aside the rules of piety, contended and strove
violently among themselves, and added strife to strife, and threatenings,
mutual hatred and enmity, and tyrannical ambition, - then Jehovah poured his
wrath upon us, and remembered us not.
Although examples of primitive piety
and virtue were not wanting, yet many were addicted to dissipation, arrogance,
voluptuousness, contention, and other vices. This appears distinctly from the
frequent lamentations of the most credible persons of those times.
The presbyters imitated the example
of their superiors, and, neglecting the duties of their office, lived in
indolence and pleasure.
The vices and faults of the clergy,
especially those who officiated in large and opulent cities, were augmented
according to their wealth, honors, and advantages. The bishops trampled on the
rights of the people and inferior clergy, and vied with the civil governors of
provinces in luxury, arrogance and voluptuousness.
Such the moral results following the growth in the Church of
the dogma of endless punishment, or the attempt to drive men, through fear of
hell, into a life of purity and goodness. And this state of things grew worse and
worse, if possible, through that long dismal period so justly described as the
And now let us take another standpoint, and see what
presents itself on the other side. Within the last half-century, there has been
a great change in the theology of the Church, a wonderful softening-down of the
harsh features of all creeds, and a steady approach once more to the simple and
sublime doctrines of the gospel. The great truths of Universalism - the
parental character and love of God, the brotherhood of man, and the final
restoration of all to holiness and blessedness - have, in the last fifty years,
made unparalleled progress in America and Europe; and hundreds of thousands
rejoice in the knowledge and faith of them; while hundreds of thousands more in
churches of every name have already wholly or mostly abandoned the revolting
dogma of endless woe.
And now what is the moral condition of society at the
present time in America and Europe, compared with that of the period already
alluded to, when the principle of brute force and terror prevailed in religion
and governments, and the doctrine of interminable torment ruled the Church and
the people? Have the people grown worse, or better? Have the moral and human
aspects of society brightened, or darkened, under the influence? Let the
history of the present answer.
Look abroad upon the noble philanthropic enterprises which
are rousing the nations to a new and higher life. Behold the asylums for the insane,
the blind, the deaf and dumb; hospitals for the sick and maimed; temperance
societies; associations for the employment and relief of the poor; asylums for
aged men and women; Odd Fellowship, and kindred associations recognizing and
reducing to practice the great principles of human brotherhood, and the duties
of mutual love and aid; associations for Christianizing our laws; peace
societies; prison-discipline societies; the extension of education; the
increase of Christian liberality and toleration, &c.
Do these things indicate a forward, or a retrograde
movement? Do these noble reforms, these Christian enterprises of benevolence
and humanity, look as if the morals of society were on the decline? Do they
show that the wide diffusion of the doctrines of Universalism has had a
dangerous influence on public morals? Or, in other words, do these things show
that the growing doubts and disbelief of endless punishment, and all its
kindred errors, have taken away any salutary restraint, or opened the way to a general
violation of Christian and social laws? Are the people of America or Europe
worse now than in the dark ages? less enlightened, less virtuous, less
Christian, less charitable and loving toward their fellows, less earnest in
their efforts to elevate the moral and social condition of the poor and
ignorant and degraded, and to set the oppressed and captive free?
To all these questions the uniform and emphatic answer is No! So far from society growing worse under these
influences, it is hourly growing better. Its moral life is more and more
developed; and there has never been a period in the political, social, and
religious history of the world, when there were signs of greater promise than
now; never a time when there were at work more elements of improvement and
progress, or when the present and the future looked more hopeful of good than
at this hour.
I am indebted to Dr. Sawyer for these last two authorities, as cited by him in
the Discussion on the Doctrine of Eternal Salvation, p. 36. For additional
witnesses see chap. x., sect. ii.
See chap. x., sect. i, note 5.
It is very notable how perfectly the Book of Job harmonizes with the Law in
respect to rewards and punishments after death. Job's losses are made up in
kind, and his virtues and integrity are rewarded with the divine approbation,
peace of mind, and honor and affection from his neighbors; but not the least
hint of any future reward, or of any future punishment for his wicked enemies.
It is surely very mysterious, if the doctrine was revealed in the time of Job,
that this remarkable moral drama should ignore it altogether; especially when,
if true, it would have fallen in so admirably with the design of the author.
Introduction to Job. The previous quotations are from Stuart's Essay on Future
Punishment, p. 116; Lowth's Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, p. 347, and Note to page
64, Edit. 1829; Herder's Hebrew Poetry, vol. i, Dialogue viii This work of
Herder ought to be in the hands of every one who wishes to understand and to
enjoy the reading of the poetical portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is
written in a very pleasing and engaging style, and abounds in information on
the subject treated.
Exegetical Essays on Future Punishment, p. 113; Bush on the Resurrection, p.
A Catholic Catechism, reviewed by the London Athenaeum, has the following
questions and answers: "Q. Where is hell? A. It is in the middle of the
earth. Q. Is hell very large? A. Not very; for the damned lay packed in it one
upon another, like the bricks in a brick oven." Our Protestant brethren
are not quite so precise in locating the place. "Hell is in any place
where God chooses to have it; or where sinners choose to have it; or where
devils make it. Or it may be in some planet, or between the planets; or it may
be in no particular place. It may be everywhere but in heaven. Hell is
infinite misery. Wherever infinite misery
is endured is hell. If, to produce this, it is necessary to put all wicked men
into one pit, they will be put there; if not, they may have more room." - New
This harmonizes very well with the Christian view on this head; for, beside the
devil and countless legions of demons as inhabitants, we have, according to an
phantoms, hideous specters, shapes which
The damned themselves, and terrify despair.
'Gorgons and Harpies, and Chimeras dire,'
And swarms of twisted serpents, hissing fire."
This also is copied by the Christian delineator:
Here, too, both Catholic and Protestant
strike hands with the heathen, and borrow from them the detestable dogma of
infant damnation, which, as seen above, is older than Calvinism or Catholicism.
"The condemnation of children dying without having been baptized,"
says the Catholic Bossuet, "is an article of firm faith of the church.
They are guilty, since they die in the wrath of God, and in the powers of
darkness. Children of wrath by nature, objects of hatred and aversion, cast
into hell with the other damned, they remain there everlastingly subject to the
horrible vengeance of the devil. Thus the learned Denis Peteau has decided, as
well as the most eminent Bellarmin, the Council of Lyons, the Council of
Florence, and the Council of Trent."
So the Christian poets describe their hell,
employing the same language, as Drs. Trapp and Young below:
The above methods of torment display a
commendable degree of inventive genius; but the following, taken from a
Christian(?) Orthodox sermon, exceeds in devilish ingenuity and torture
anything to be found in the heathen hell. So far, therefore, it is an
improvement on the original:
How black are the Fiends! How
furious are their Tormentors! 'Tis their only music to hear their miserable
patients roar, to hear their bones crack. 'Tis their meat and drink to see how
their flesh rieth, and their fat droppeth; to drench them with burning metal,
and to rip open their bodies, and to pour in fierce burning brass into their
bowels and the recesses and ventricles of their hearts. What thinkest thou of
those chains of darkness, those instruments of cruelty? Canst thou be content
to burn? Seest thou how the worm gnaweth, how the oven gloweth, how the fire
rageth? What sayest thou to that river of brimstone, that gulf of perdition?
Wilt thou take up thy habitation there? O, lay thine ear to the door of hell!
Hearest thou the curses and blasphemies, the weepings and wailings, how they
lament their follies, and curse their day; how they do roar and yell, and gnash
their teeth; how deep are their groans; how feeling are their moans; how
inconceivable are their miseries? If the shrieks of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, were so terrible (when the earth clave asunder and opened its mouth
and swallowed them up, and all that appertained to them) that all Israel fled at the cry to them; O, how fearful would the
cry be, if God should take off the covering of the mouth of hell, and let the
cry of the damned ascend in all its terror among the children of men, and of
all their moans and miseries this the piercing killing emphasis and burden, forever!
Harpers' Edit., p. 338. See, also, the
Egyptian origin of the doctrine abundantly proved in Warburton's Divine Legation,
to which I am indebted for several of the authorities given in this section,
with quotations from the original text. Also Leland on the Necessity of Divine
Revelation, Part III, chaps. i-viiI The supposed beginning and growth of the
doctrine among the Egyptians is briefly shown by Heeren, Historical Researches,
African Nations, vol. ii 189-199, 2d Edit. It is well worthy of a careful
perusal. See also Book of the Dead in Bibliotheca Sacra for 1868, pp. 69-112.
Here unquestionably is the germ of the
Catholic purgatory. The "liberal donations" and "the prayers of
the priests" are family features too marked to be mistaken.
Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, Chap. x.
Harpers' Edit. vol. ii pp. 356-400. See also Bohn's Pictorial Dictionary of the
Bible, and Ree's Cyclopedia, Art. Egypt.
American Encyclopedia, Art. Hieroglyphics.
The Greeks and Romans, when speaking of
religious things, usually employ the word "foreign" to mean Egyptian.
The doctrine was imported into Greece by the lawgivers and philosophers, who
traveled into Egypt in order to learn its wisdom, and to be initiated into its
The poet Ovid in the 15th Book of his
Metamorphoses, alluding to the doctrine of trans-migration, states the case as
Montesquieu has a valuable tract on the
subject of this chapter, entitled "La Politique Des Romains dans la
Religion." He says distinctly that the
Romans "made religion for the state," and that "Romulus, Tatius
and Numa, enslaved the gods to politics" (asservirent les dieux
a la Politique).
Hist. Philos. Judaica. Tom. ii 703.
Milman's Gibbon. Note near the beginning of
chapter xxi With regard to "paradise and hell," we think the matter
overstated - there is no proof of the Babylonian origin of the last at least.
Universalist Expositor, vol. for 1834, p.
History of Philosophy, Book iv c. 1. See
also Murdock's Mosheim, vol. i 39.
Wayland's Life of Judson, vol. i 144-152.
Clarke's Commentary on John ix. 2.
Jewish Antiq., b. xviii, c. i 3; Jewish
Wars, b. ii, c. viii 14; b. iii, c. viii 5.
See Bush on the Resurrection, p. 253, from
which I have taken these quotations.
Whitby and Clarke, on John ix. 2.
Schoettgen says the Jews believed in the preexistence of all souls. Horae
Hebr., as cited by Norton, Translation of
the Gospels, ii 408.
We have seen that it was silent in regard
to endless punishments, and indeed all punishments after death. And it is
precisely at this point where they have most freely copied from the heathen.
Dissertation vi, Pt. ii, where the subject
is discussed with equal candor and ability.
See Jortin's Remarks, i 113. Those who have
seen some of the stupid fables of the Talmud will not think this judgment of Le
Clerc any too severe.
Universal History, Book v, chapter iv Note.
The reader will find other testimonies on
this important point in chap. x., sect. iii
Prelim. Diss. vi, Pt. ii.
Lexicon on Gehenna. The same statements are made by Prof. Stuart,
Whitby, Clarke, and others.
Our Lord may refer to that great day of
wrath, when the Jews and apostate Christians (He is warning against apostasy)
would be destroyed amid "tribulation such as was not from the beginning of
the world to that time; no, nor ever shall be." Matt. xxiV 21. It is
impossible to prove endless misery from
this passage, for the soul is involved in the same destruction with the body.
The advocates of an endless life of suffering find in this text a greater
stumbling-block than any other class of believers; for, if it teaches what is
certain and not what is possible only, it necessitates the doctrine of
Dr. Albert Barnes says: "The extreme
loathsomeness of the place, the filth and putrefaction, the corruption of the
atmosphere, and the lurid fires blazing by day and by night, made it one of the
most appalling and terrific objects with which a Jew was ever acquainted."
Parkhurst says, "Our Lord seems to
allude to the worms which continually preyed on the dead carcasses that were
cast into the valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, and to the perpetual fires there kept
up to consume them." Lexicon on the
Expositor for Sept. 1838; Schleusner's Lexicon
on Asbestos; Iliad, lib. i. 599; Cruse's Eusebius, lib. vi., chap. 41. Note on
Twenty of these examples repeat the word,
making its actual occurrence 199 times - eis tous aionas ton aionon.
Truth of Gospel History, p. 28.
Stephens' Thesaurus Graecae Linguae; Robert
Constant's Lexicon; Universalist Quarterly, ii 133, iv 5-38; Expositor, iii,
&c., have furnished most of the above examples. See, also, Christian
Examiner, articles by E.S. Goodwin, from Dec., 1828, to May, 1833.
See Prof. Tayler Lewis on Olamic and
Aeonian Words, chap. x., sect. iv
Everlasting. - Gen.
17:7, 8, 13; 48:4; 49:26; Exod. 40:15; Lev. 16:34; Numb. 25:13; Ps. 24:7; Hab.
In the preparation of this work, my rule
has been, not to introduce any matter not having a direct bearing on the main
question. For this reason it is sufficient to remark, that the "first
resurrection" is supposed by some to signify a season of tranquillity and
rest from persecution; by others, as Hammond, to represent "the flourishing
condition of the Christian church, reviving after all its persecutions and
corruptions;" by Mr. Whittemore, in his excellent commentary, conversion
from the darkness and spiritual death of heathenism. Of course the phrase
cannot be taken in a literal sense, since a first resurrection implies a second; and there can be but one literal resurrection. And the same remark
applies to death, showing that the "second death" is a figure - the
only question being, a figure of what? This we have endeavored to answer as
Clarke's Preface and Introduction to
Revelations; and Whittemore's Commentary on Revelations.
Milman's Hist. of Christianity, Book ii,
chap. ii See also the same in substance in Neander, vol. i, p. 3, 4, &c;
Mosheim vol. I, cent. 1; and Conybeare's Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. i,
pp. 441-459. Chrysostom complains that the Christians of the 4th century, even,
are half Jews. Between the two corrupting forces, Jewish and Pagan, the pure
doctrines of the Gospel had little chance of coming out of the conflict
unharmed; and the facts show that they did not.
History of Philosophy, Preliminary Obs. See also Book vi, ch. ii, where he repeatedly states
"the fathers of the church departed from the simplicity of the apostolic
age, and corrupted the purity of the Christian faith," "disseminated
Platonic notions as Christian truths," &c.
Murdock's Mosheim, cent. ii, iv, v, vi History
of Theology. See also Neander's History of
Christianity, vol. i 248-254.
Tytler's Universal History, Book v, chapter
For additional testimony see chap. x.,
I have used these writings of the so-called
apostolic fathers, in argument, elsewhere; but a more careful inquiry into
their authority has shaken my faith in their genuineness, or their purity, to
the extent named above.
Epistle to the Smyrneans, chapts. 1. 8, ii
17. Wake's Translation. Compare with Epistle to Trallians and Romans.
Epistle to Philippians, ii Compare this
passage with what Paul says of the same class, 1 Cor. xv 12, and 2 Tim. ii 18.
See Norton's Genuineness of the Gospels,
Note F., on the Apostolical Fathers.
If I were to institute a comparison between
the two parties at this period, it would be something like this: That the faith
of the Orthodox party was one half Christian, one quarter Jewish, and one
quarter Pagan; while that of the Gnostic party was about one quarter Christian
and three quarters philosophical Paganism. It is to be remembered, however,
that all we know of the Gnostics comes to us through the writings of their
enemies, and that, therefore, large allowances are to be made for
First Apology, translated by W. Reeves,
London, 1709, pp. 26, 31, 59. I do not know how far the translation is
reliable, and have no means at hand of comparing with the original the
expressions "world without end," "everlasting misery,"
&c., but suppose the Greek in these cases to be aion and its derivations.
Dialogue with Trypho, cited in the Ancient
History of Universalism, p. 58, 1st edit.
Justin acknowledges that the doctrine of a
future "just retribution of rewards and punishments was a current opinion
in the world," and that God was "pleased to second this notion by the prophetic spirit." This is a curious
confession; that God was not the original mover, but only seconded the motion!
With singular inconsistency he says, in another place, that "the
philosophers and poets took their hints of punishment after death, &c.,
from the prophets." We have already shown that they make not the slightest
allusion to any such thing. First Apology, p. 79.
Ancient History of Universalism, p. 52;
Murdock's Mosheim, I 130; and especially Milman's History of Christianity, B.
ii chap. 7.
Ancient Hist. of Universalism, chap. ii,
sec. xi, where the references are given to the work against the heretics.
Guizot attempts to soften the translation
of Gibbon, but Milman frankly owns that
it would be wiser for Christianity, retreating upon its
genuine records in the New Testament, to disclaim this fierce African, than to
identify itself with his furious invectives, by unsatisfactory apologies for
their unchristian fanaticism. (Decline and Fall, chap. xv, Note 72 and the
Tertullian had no small share of credulity; he proves the
soul is corporeal from the visions of an
illuminated sister, who told him
she had seen a soul! (Probably a 'medium.' Here is a touch of the delusion of our day, in which Tertullian seems
to have been a believer.) He affirms roundly that a fine city was seen for forty
days suspended in the air over Jerusalem. (Remarks on Ecc. Hist., vol. ii 81)
It will be observed that just in the ratio
the church departs, in time, from Christ, and becomes corrupt and heathenish,
just in that ratio the punishment of the wicked increases in cruelty. Compare
the first doctrine and date, A.D. 110,
with the fourth, A.D. 220, when
the abomination is complete.
It may edify the reader, and enable him to
put a just value on the wisdom of this council, to know that the same decree
which established the orthodoxy of endless punishment, also established, as a
fundamental article of Christian faith, that "mankind, in the
resurrection, will rise in an erect posture!"
Sismondi's History of Crusades against the
Albigenses, chap. ii 73-84, &c. The reader will doubtless be reminded of a
passage from Wheaton's Northmen. "The religion of Odin stimulated the
thirst of blood by promising the joys of Valhalla (heaven) as the reward of
those who fell gloriously in battle." Which is the better, the religion of
the Northman or the Catholic? The former has at least the redeeming feature of
bravery, while the last is distinguished only for its ferocity. Mahomet might
be justly indignant if compared with Simon de Montfort.
See the fiendish letter of the pope to the
French king on this occasion, in Smedley's History of the Reformed Religion in
France, chap. ix.
Natural History of Fanaticism, sect. vi I
would recommend this work to the perusal and study of every clergyman, and
every individual, in the land. It is the production of an original thinker, and
an eloquent writer. The comparison of the Roman soldier and the Christian monk, in the sixth section, is seldom surpassed
simply as a piece of composition, aside from its graphic truth and power.
Prescott, speaking of the Aztec or Mexican
human sacrifices and the Inquisition, gives the preference to the former; for
the Inquisition, he remarks, not only "branded its victims with infamy in
this world, but consigned them to everlasting perdition in the next." Vol.
i, p. 84. So on page 77 he says: "Few will sympathize, probably, with the
sentence of Torquemada, who concludes his tale of woe by coolly dismissing the
soul of the victim (of Mexican sacrifice) to sleep with those of his false gods
In Spain the Inquisition has the strongest
hold. Its effects are thus described by M'Crie:
Possessing naturally some of the finest qualities by which
a people can be distinguished - generous, feeling, devoted, constant - the
Spaniards became cruel, proud, reserved and jealous. The revolting spectacles
of the auto-da-fe, continued for so long a period, could not fail to have the
most hardening influence on their feelings. In Spain, as in Italy, religion is
associated with crime, and protected (protects it?) by its sanctions. Thieves
and prostitutes have their images of the Virgin, their prayers, their holy
water, and their confessions. Murderers find a sanctuary in the churches and
convents. Crimes of the blackest character are left unpunished in consequence
of the immunities granted to the clergy. (History of the Reformation in Spain,
Biblical Repository for April, 1843. Dr.
Robertson also has a striking passage on this point, and confirmatory of the
general argument, which, notwithstanding its length, I cannot refuse to quote.
Speaking of the Peruvians, he says:
The sun, as the great source of light, of joy and felicity,
in the creation, attracted their principal homage...By directing their
veneration to that glorious luminary, which, by its universal and vivifying
energy, is the best emblem of divine beneficence, the rites which they deemed
acceptable to him were innocent and humane. They offered to the sun a part of
those productions which his genial warmth had called forth from the bosom of
the earth, and reared to maturity. They sacrificed, as an oblation of
gratitude, some of the animals which were indebted to his influence for
nourishment. They presented to him choice specimens of those works of ingenuity
which his light had guided the hand of man in forming. But the Incas never
stained their altars with human blood, nor could they conceive that their
beneficent father, the sun, would be delighted with such horrid victims. Thus
the Peruvians, unacquainted with those barbarous rites which extinguish
sensibility, and suppress the feelings of nature at the sight of human
sufferings, were formed by the spirit of the superstition which they had
adopted, to a national character more gentle than that of any people in
America. (History of America, B. vii sect. 36. See also the note to this
Jewish Wars, Book v., ch. xiii. sec. 6; ch.
x. sec. 5.
It is a curious fact that the celebrated
work of Bp. Warburton, "The Divine Legation of Moses," has this
proposition for its basis: Society cannot exist without a belief in future
rewards and punishments; or, in the absence of this, by miraculous support from
God. The law of Moses does not contain the doctrine of future rewards and
punishments; therefore his legation, or mission, was divine, and the Jewish
nation was upheld by the miraculous power of God. This argument he elaborates,
with a vast array of learning, and a wonderful display of one-sided logic,
through three octavo volumes, of more than 1500 closely-printed pages!
Wayland's Life of Judson, vol. i, pp.
History of the Jews, vol. ii, pp. 123, 62.
Brucker, ii 728, cited in Expositor, iii 17.
For additional proof see chap. x., sect. vi
Barnes' Practical Sermons, pp. 123-125;
Biblical Repository for July, 1840; Saurin's Sermons. See, also, the
difficulties and painful struggles created by this doctrine, as they appear in
Beecher's Conflict of Ages, and John Foster's celebrated Letter on the subject.
Life and Correspondence, Letter 226.
Beecher's Sermon on Future Punishment, Sunday, Oct. 16, 1870.
Sermon on Future Punishment, preached Oct.
Eschatology; or, the Scriptural Doctrine of
the Coming of the Lord, the Judgment, and the Resurrection. By Samuel Lee,
Boston, 1859, pp. 6, 144-150.
Prophecy a Preparation for Christ. By R.
Payne Smith, D.D., Professor of Divinity, Oxford. Boston, 1870, p. 217.
Cyclopaedia, Art. "Egypt." Dr.
Strong says, that not only Moses, but "every Israelite who came out of Egypt,
must have been fully acquainted with the universally-recognized doctrine of
future rewards and punishments." And yet Moses and Aaron, priest and
Levite, are all as silent as sheol on
Sermon on Heaven, Sunday, Oct. 11, 1870. - Tribune
and World Reports.
Mosheim's Church History, century I pt. I
chap. ii See also Guizot's note in Milman's Gibbon, chap. xxi Neander's
History, I pp. 49-62.
Encyclopedia Americana, art.
Reprinted in Littell's Living Age for April
23, 1870. Other testimonies may be seen in Mosheim, i 115, 125, &c.;
Enfield's Hist. Phil. ii 271, 281, &c., and in Church historians generally.
The great ecclesiastical historian,
Eusebius, heads chap. xxxi of Book 12 of his Evangelical Preparation thus:
"HOW FAR IT MAY BE PROPER TO USE FALSEHOOD AS A MEDICINE, AND FOR THE
BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO REQUIRE TO BE DECEIVED." And he undertakes to defend
the propriety of using falsehood by appealing to pretended examples in the Old
Testament. Origen avowed the same principle (Mosheim's Dissertations, p. 203). Bishop Horsley, in his controversy with Dr.
Priestley, states the same fact. At page 160, he says, "Time was, when the
practice of using unjustifiable means to serve a good cause was openly avowed;
and Origen himself was among its defenders." Chrysostom, Bishop of
Constantinople, defended the same doctrine (Mosh. Diss., p. 205). Gregory of Nazianzen (A.D. 360-390),
surnamed "the Divine," says, "A little jargon is all that is
necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they
admire. Our forefathers and doctors of the Church have often said, not
what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
Synesius (A.D. 400-420), Bishop of
Ptolemais, says, "The people are desirous of being deceived. We
cannot act otherwise respecting them." And
a little further on he says, "For my own part, to myself I shall always be
a philosopher; but in dealing with the mass of mankind I shall be a
priest" (Cave's Eccl. p.
115). St. Jerome (A.D. 380) says,
"I do not find fault with an error which proceeds from hatred towards the
Jews, and pious zeal for the Christian faith" (Opera, iv p. 113). Mosheim "especially includes in the
same charge" Ambrose (A.D.
270), Bishop of Milan, Hilary,
Bishop of Poitiers, and Augustine
(A.D. 400), Bishop of Hippo, "whose fame," says Mosheim,
"filled, not without reason, the whole Christian world. We would
willingly," he adds, "except them from this charge; but truth, which
is more respectable than these venerable fathers, obliges us to involve them in
the general accusation." Dr. Chapman, in his Miscellaneous Tracts, p. 191, says, "The learned Mosheim,
a foreign divine, and zealous advocate for Christianity, who by his writings
has deserved the esteem of all good and learned men, intimates his fears, that
those who search with any degree of attention into the writings of the fathers
and most holy doctors of the fourth century will find them all,
without exception, disposed to lie and deceive whenever the interests of
religion require it." The learned
Dodwell, in a work published by him,
"abstains from producing more proofs of ancient Christian forgeries,"
"through his great veneration for the goodness and piety of the
fathers." What a strange and inconsistent reason was this! - Universalist
Book of Reference, p. 359.
Eusebius (died A.D. 340), Eccl. Hist. lib.
viii chap. 1
Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. centuries iii, iv
For further evidence that the doctrine of
endless punishment does not improve the morals of its believers, or restrain
the appetites and passions, we refer to a little volume, entitled
"Orthodoxy as It Is," chap. iv, containing a record which we are
reluctant to transfer to these pages.