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At the request of the editor of the North American Review, the author of this book prepared an argument in defence of the doctrine of Endless Punishment, which was published in the number of that periodical for February, 1885. It was agreed that the writer should have the right to republish it at a future time. Only the rational argument was presented in the article. The author now reproduces it, adding the Biblical argument, and a brief historical sketch.
Every doctrine has its day to be attacked, and defended. Just now, that of Eternal Retribution is strenuously combated, not only outside of the church, but to some extent within it. Whoever preaches it is said, by some, not “ to preach to the times”. as if the sin of this time were privileged, and stood in a different relation to the law and judgment of God, from that of other times.
The argument from Scripture here given turns principally upon the meaning of Sheol and Hades, and of the adjective aiúvis. In determining the signification of the former, the author has relied mainly upon the logic and aim of the inspired writers. The reasoning of a writer is a clue to his technical terms. When his object unquestionably is to alarm and deter, it is rational to infer that his phraseology has a meaning in his own mind that is adapted to this. When, therefore, the wicked are threatened with a Sheol and a Hades, it must be an erroneous interpretation that empties them of all
the force of a threat. And such is the interpretation which denies that either term denotes the place of retributive suffering
It is freely acknowledged, that if the meaning of Sheol, or Hades, is to be derived from the usage of a majority of the fathers, and the schoolmen generally, it has no special and exclusive reference to the wicked, and is not of the nature of an evil for them alone. If Sheol, or Hades, is nothing but an underworld for all souls, then it is morally nondescriptive, and whatever of danger there may be in an underworld pertains alike to the righteous and the wicked. But if the Scriptures themselves, and their interpretation by a portion of the fathers, and the reformers generally, are consulted, it is claimed that the position taken in this book, that Sheol, or Hades, is the equivalent of the modern Hell, will hold. It is with eschatology as it is with ecclesiastical polity. If the authority of the Post Nicene fathers and the schoolmen is conceded to be the chief determinant of the questions at issue, the prelatist will carry the day. But if the Bible and the interpretation of the Apostolic and Reformation churches are appealed to, he will lose it. The simplicity of the faith was departed from, when under Hellenizing influences in the church the Heathen Orcus was substituted for the Biblical Hades. A superstitious and materializing eschatology came in along with the corruption of the Christian system, and held sway for a thousand years, until the return to the Scriptures themselves by the leaders of the Reformation, restored the older and purer type of doctrine.
Although the author, in the prosecution of the argument, does not turn aside to enlarge upon the awfulness of the doctrine of Endless Punishment, it must not be supposed that he is unimpressed by it. It is a doctrine which throws in its sol
emn shadows upon even the most careless human life. No man is utterly indifferent to the possible issues of the great Hereafter. The fall and eternal ruin of an immortal spirit is the most dreadful event conceivable. That some of God's rational and self-determined creatures will forever be in deadly enmity to him, cannot be thought of without sorrow
But from the nature of finite free will, it is a possibility ; and it is revealed to us as a fact, as clearly as the facts of incarnation and redemption. Neither the Christian ministry, nor the Christian church, are responsible for the doctrine of Eternal Perdition. It is given in charge to the ministry, and to the church, by the Lord Christ himself, in his last commission, as a truth to be preached to every creat
If they are false to this trust, his message to the church of Ephesus is for them : “ Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5). The question, How many are to be saved ? the Son of God refused to answerthereby implying that his mercy is unobligated and sovereign. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). It becomes man the sinner, not to murmur at this. That incarnate God who has vicariously suffered more for man's sin, than any man has or will personally, surely has the right to determine the method and extent of his own self-immolating compassion. To the transgressor who says, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean," he answers, “I will, be thou clean” (Mark 1:40). But to the transgressor who looks upon redemption as something to which he is entitled, he replies, as in the parable, “ Is it not lawful for me, to do what I will with mine own ?” (Matt. 20:15).
The kindest way, therefore, for both the preacher and the
hearer is, to follow the revealed word of God, and teach the plain and exact truth. Eternal perdition is like any other danger. In order to escape danger, one must believe in it. Disbelief of it is sure destruction. To be forewarned, is to be forearmed. They who foresee an evil, prepare for it and avoid it; but "the simple pass on and are punished.” Speaking generally, those who believe that there is a hell, and intelligently fear it, as they are commanded to do by Christ himself, will escape it; and those who deny that there is a hell, and ridicule it, will fall into it. Hence the minister of Christ must be as plain as Christ, as solemn as Christ, and as tender as Christ, in the announcement of this fearful truth. “When he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41, 42).
The dogmatic bearings of Universalism are not to be overlooked. The rejection of the doctrine of Endless Punishment cuts the ground from under the gospel. Salvation supposes a prior damnation. He who denies that he deserves eternal death cannot be saved from it so long as he persists in his denial. If his denial is the truth, he needs no salvation. If his denial is an error, the error prevents penitence for sin, and this prevents pardon. No error, consequently, is more fatal than that of Universalism. It blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune, instead of guilt ; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the piacular work of Christ into moral influence; and makes it a debt due to man, instead of an unmerited boon from God. No tenet is more radical and revolutionizing, in its influence upon the Christian system. The attempt to retain the evangelical theology in connection with it is futile.