Hell, at Last and Forever
"And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments." Luke 16:23.
The indescribably solemn subject with which we close the present volume, does not necessarily grow out of our exposition of the Psalm we have been considering; nevertheless, the work would be incomplete were it entirely omitted. Having considered the heaven which awaits the flock of Christ, it is proper that we should place in direct contrast the condition and doom of all those of the race who, on the great day of account and division, will be found outside the fold, when "before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: and shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on His left." It is with the profoundest awe that we venture upon a theme so solemn, and yet so momentous. It is one in which the whole human race have individual interests at stake more precious than the universe itself; for what will be the destruction of this material planet, which the conflagration of the last day will consume, in comparison with the loss of one soul? The words we have selected as the foundation of the present subject, shall guide us in its discussion- "In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments."
That there is a hell- the place of the finally lost- is as clearly revealed as that there is a heaven- the place of the finally saved. Before advancing some of the arguments upon which we base the doctrine, a passing observation upon the exact definition of the term may be instructive. The word "hell" has two different significations in the Bible- both, however, referring to the condition of the soul after death. In the original Greek the word translated "hell" in some passages is, 'hades'- which refers to the whole unseen world, and not especially to the place of torment. In those instances in which the word "hell" occurs with a direct reference to the condition of the lost, the original word is 'Gehenna'- and quite distinct in its origin and import from the other. Concerning the English word "hell," it may be instructive to remark that it is derived from an Anglo-Saxon, word, 'helan', which is, "to cover." Hence the old English verb, "to hell," has an apt appellation as being 'helled over,' that is to say, hidden or covered in obscurity. And in some parts of the West of England a man employed as a thatcher, who covers a barn, or a slater, who roofs a house, is called in the provincial dialect "a heller;" that is, an individual who covers a thing. In this sense, as I understand, we are to interpret the familiar phrase which occurs in the Apostles' Creed in reference to Christ, and which has occasioned perplexity to so many- "He descended into hell." The original word, doubtless, in the minds of the learned and holy compilers of the "Book of Common Prayer," was 'hades'- the place of departed spirits; and not 'Gehenna'- the place of lost spirits, which is the signification we assign to it in our popular theological language. It is nowhere intimated in the Bible that the soul of our blessed Lord went into Gehenna- the word expressive of the state of final suffering- but into hades- the place of disembodied spirits. We may adduce a passage corroborative of this idea from the Psalms, quoted by the apostle Peter as referring to our Lord- "You will not leave my soul in hell; neither will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption;" that is, "My soul will not remain in Hades, and my Body will not see corruption."
In these words, therefore, there is no foundation whatever for the extraordinary theory as sustained by some, that, in order to the complete Atonement of Christ, it was necessary that He should actually suffer the torments of the damned! There is not the vestige of a reasonable argument in favor of an idea so absurd and groundless. To maintain, therefore, that our Lord's sufferings were those of the consciously guilty, who were enduring the insufferable torments of remorse, is not only forced and unnatural, but goes far to invalidate the perfection of the Atonement He presented upon the cross, when, before His soul departed, He exclaimed, "It is finished." The only passage that would seem to give the slightest shadow of support to the absurd theory we are combating is that found in the Epistle of Peter, "By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison." Interpreting these words by the context, it appears clearly that the apostle refers to the Holy Spirit preaching to the Antediluvians through the instrumentality of Noah; not after they were confined in prison, but, "while the ark was being prepared," and which, doubtless, some of them had aided to build! "By which [Spirit] He also went and preached unto the spirits [now] in prison." Noah was "a preacher of righteousness," and by the Holy Spirit he preached the gospel of salvation- of which the ark was the type- to the sinners before the flood, but who, when the apostle wrote, were "now in prison."
Let us direct our thoughts to a consideration of the solemn subject before us- the argument by which the existence of a hell- the final and eternal place of suffering is established.
And in the first place we remark that, it is clearly a divinely-revealed truth. We predicate our belief of this appalling state mainly on the authority of the Bible. The fact is too vital and solemn to place it exclusively on any other ground, though there are other evidences which will presently occur. If the Bible does reveal this truth, woe unto us if, carried away by the sophistical teaching of men, endorsed by the depravity of our own hearts, we deny and reject a fact upon which are suspended interests of such eternal consequence! There can be but two conditions of the soul after death, and but two are revealed in the Scriptures of truth- heaven and hell. On a question of such vital moment, it were insanity of the worst kind to accept any authentic guide other than the Bible. Among the "Books that will be opened" in the great day of judgment, the Word of God will be pre-eminent; for, upon the things written in this volume will the equitable decisions of the judgment, and of each individual, be made. Disbelieve the Bible as you may- bring your philosophy- falsely so called- and the results of your scientific researches, to disprove the Divine Inspiration and integrity of the whole, or of any part of this Book, if you will- but, remember that out of it you will be judged in the great day when, "every one of us must give account of himself to God." Oh, what will be your dismay when you see that Book unfold its awful leaves, whose truth you denied- whose revelation you disbelieved- and whose great salvation you rejected! But what are some of the more direct and conclusive Scripture proofs of the existence of hell? "What says the Scripture?"
The passage which introduces our subject would seem conclusive were there no other to sustain it. They are the words of Christ Himself, of Him who had descended from the invisible and eternal world, and who is described as the "Faithful Witness." It may be objected that our Lord spoke a parable only; but we must not forget that the parabolic mode of communicating His revelations was a familiar and common one of the Great Teacher. "Without a parable spoke He not unto them." The parable, then, is that of the rich man and Lazarus; and it must be acknowledged by every thoughtful mind, that it forms one of the most vivid and instructive word-pictures our Divine Artist ever painted. It is with the state of the "rich man" we are at present concerned. The Lord describes his place of abode- the suffering he endured- and the fruitless petition he made. And what was the place in which he was? "in Hell." And what was his condition? "lifting up his eyes in torments." And what his fruitless prayer? "Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this fame." No statement could be more lucid- no argument more conclusive- and no picture more appalling concerning the place and condition of the lost: he was in Gehenna- the final and inevitable abode of the damned!
Take again the words of our Lord as revealing this doctrine. "Fear not them who can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: but fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell." Gehenna- the place of torment- is the word our Lord here employs- a mode of expression which no ingenuity can disturb, or sophistry gainsay.
In two passages taken from the Old Testament, we find the awful truth for which we contend distinctly and solemnly stated. Job, speaking of the Infinite immensity of God, illustrates it thus, "Can you by searching find out God? Can you find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what can you do? deeper than hell; what can you know?" Heaven has its heights of knowledge, glory, and happiness, to which, perhaps, the glorified will be ever ascending- yet never fully reach! Hell, too, has its depths of place, of suffering, and of woe- termed, "the bottomless pit"- into which the lost soul will be ever descending, and yet never touch! Oh, could there possibly be an idea more appalling- an image more horrific, than this- the soul ever and forever sinking, yet never reaching the ocean-bed of its unquenchable flames? The Psalmist is not less pointed in his allusion to the place of suffering, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." In both these passages the word 'sheol' is used, which clearly teaches that, not to the place of departed spirits only- 'hades'- but, to 'Gehenna'- the abode of the condemned- is that to which the writers refer.
We turn to two more passages taken from the New Testament. How terrible and withering our Lord's denunciation of the subtle and hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! "You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?" Could language be more distinct or awful? and, coming from the lips of the Lamb of God, they are tenfold more emphatic and expressive. The words of the Apostle Peter shall close our Scripture testimony. "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." To this place of torment our Lord refers when He speaks of Gehenna as "prepared for the devil and his angels" -observe, 'prepared,' not for men, but for demons. Suggestive and solemn thought! But from the Scripture proof, let us turn to another and scarcely less striking and conclusive line of argument. Two only shall suffice.
The first argument is drawn from the Personal Character and the Moral Government of God. God is holy- and His holiness must be vindicated; God is just- and His justice must be honored. Thus, from the very necessity of the case, God is bound, both by His holiness and justice, to punish sin and condemn the sinner. What would be the impression of the Celestial Intelligences were God to allow sin to pass unnoticed, and the guilty to remain unpunished? What would be their idea of His character and government but the very reverse of what they are, were this the case? But, God is holy; and Holiness is the bond and perfection of all the Divine Attributes. A denial of God's Holiness involves a denial of God Himself- it would be the worst species of Atheism- Infidelity in its most repulsive and malignant form. It were an infinitely less wrong done to God to count Him as nothing, than, acknowledging His existence, yet deny His Holiness. Thus, Holiness is the bond of perfectness of all God's attributes. Omnipotence is His Arm; Omniscience, His Eye; Mercy, His Affections; but Holiness is the girdle and beauty of them all.
"Who is a God like unto You, glorious in holiness?" The greatness of this, His most glorious perfection, is inferred from the fact that, it is the ground of His oath- "Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David." To swear by His holiness is to attach a confirmation and solemnity to His oath which no other perfection could supply; thus placing the crown of honor upon this His most illustrious and sublime perfection. He has demonstrated His holiness in the most emphatic and solemn way. Go to Mount Sinai- and behold the awesome emblems of His holiness! Travel to Mount Calvary- and gaze upon the Son of God impaled upon the cross- the Sin-bearer of His Church suffering and dying, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God! Look into Hell- and behold the quenchless flames, and hearken to the awful groans of the lost! Gaze up into Heaven, and behold its glory, and bend your ear to the song of Cherubim and Seraphim- "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of heaven and earth,"-and then deny, if you will, the holiness of God, and the equity of His moral government in that, "by no means will He clear the guilty."
There remains yet one other reason why the wicked should be punished with everlasting destruction, and with which we close the argument. We refer to hell as the most befitting place and condition of the finally impenitent and unbelieving. There is a moral fitness of the soul, progressing in the present life, for its future state. See how this reasoning applies. Heaven is holy- the abode and state of the holy- consequently, the sinner after death could not enter there. Heaven would be Hell to him. Dying unconverted, unpardoned, unsanctified, he could not exist in Heaven. Its atmosphere would be too pure- its society, too holy- its employments, too sacred- its music, too divine- and he would exclaim, "Take me out of here! for this world of holiness I am unfitted- with its employments I have no sympathy- with its society I have no congeniality- and for its condition I never prepared!" It is recorded of the betrayer of Christ that, "he, went to his own place"- words pregnant with the most solemn meaning! It is not said to what place Judas went- but, "to his own place." The studied obscurity that veils it, renders the expression all the more significant and impressive. We are left to the most strictly logical and scriptural inference it is possible to draw; namely, that, Judas went to the place most suitable to his nature, befitting his character, and congenial to his spirit. If he were a holy and righteous man, then he went to the most fitting and proper place- he went to Heaven. If, on the contrary, he was a sinful and ungodly man, then, the place for which he was fitted was the one to which he went- he went to Hell. He "went to, his own place," is the record of the sacred penman, and there he leaves it. What a momentous truth are we here taught! Not one revealed in the Bible is more true than this, that, every individual of the race is educating for a future state- is training for Eternity- is going to his own place- Heaven or Hell! Retribution will be just what Probation makes it. "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Reader! for which are you preparing- for which are you fitted? Of Heaven it is recorded- "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." And of Hell it is written- "Whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." All who have departed the present life are gone to their own place; and we who survive shall die and go to ours: if it be Heaven- to heaven; if it be Hell- to hell. Which, my reader, is your present place? Is it beneath the cross of Jesus- the place of penitence and pardon, of faith and love? Is it among the sons of God, the holy and the good? Is it in the house of God- listening to His gospel, and worshiping Him in the beauty of holiness? Is it at the Table of the Lord's Supper- spiritually and believingly eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood? In a word- are you enrolled among the 'poor in spirit,' the 'pure in heart,' -the 'meek and peaceful'- those who 'hunger and thirst after righteousness'-and the loving, cross-bearing followers of Jesus?- then, when you die, you will go to your own place- and that place will be- Heaven forever!
One most solemn aspect of our subject yet remains. The Eternity of Future Punishment, and the consequent Deathlessness of the soul, are truths as clearly revealed as is any doctrine of the Bible. The word of God nowhere- not in a solitary instance- speaks of either the annihilation of the lost, or, of the terminable nature of their punishment. We hold that the idea of the annihilation of the wicked is as un-philosophical as it is unscriptural. It is un philosophical. Man has an immaterial, invisible property, which we call the soul: and a material, visible substance which we call the body. The soul is spiritual, pure and uncompounded, and, therefore, indestructible- nothing can touch, separate or destroy it. There is but one Being in the universe who could annihilate the soul- He who created alone can uncreate. He who made, alone can destroy it. If, then, God does not annihilate the soul, it cannot be annihilated. And is it conceivable that, having made man in His own image- intellectual, moral, and immortal- He will everlastingly destroy the chief work of His creative power- marred and tainted though that image be? Would the Sovereign of a nation command the coin of the realm to be utterly destroyed, simply because time and use had defaced the royal image and superscription, rendering it almost invisible? And, is it reasonable to suppose that God will command to utter annihilation that which partakes the most essentially of His own immortal nature, and which reflects the most distinctly His own Divine image- even though that nature be fallen, and that image be obscured? We maintain, then, that it is purely un-philosophical to suppose the soul capable of annihilation. The immortality of man is not 'conditional,' as some teach. It is entirely independent of 'life in Christ.' Life in Christ is totally and essentially distinct from the natural immortality of the soul- the soul of man lives forever, independently of spiritual life from Christ. Saved or lost, my reader, you are born to immortality as your intrinsic and inalienable inheritance- it is the birthright of your soul, of which none can divest you but God Himself. Your being, once commenced, never eases to exist–
"The inextinguishable flame burns on,
And shall FOREVER burn."
The doctrine of the soul's annihilation, and the terminable nature of future punishment, is as contrary to sound theology, as it is to sound philosophy. We can only select a few, from among the many, Scripture evidences. The writings of the Old Testament teach the certain punishment and endless damnation of the lost. When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed forever. Destruction nowhere in the Bible can be predicated of annihilation, without the most ingenious perversion of the term. We speak of the destruction of a person- of a house- of a city. Who with the most ordinary understanding of the term would attribute to it the idea of annihilation? A fortune- a picture- a reputation may be destroyed- but neither one nor the other can resolve itself into its original element of nothingness. Take a yet stronger passage: "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." Mark the words, "everlasting destruction"- if the destruction of the wicked means in the Bible annihilation, this everlasting destruction is a misnomer- words to which we can attach no definite or intelligible meaning whatever. "Everlasting destruction" must- grammatically and intelligibly interpreted- be accepted as meaning the interminable punishment, and not the utter annihilation of the finally lost. If annihilation is the final condition of the wicked, what meaning are we to attach to the solemn words which our Lord spoke concerning His betrayer: "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." If there were no future punishment- or if that punishment were ever to terminate- how inexplicable the words of Christ thus used of Judas! But to him- as to all who die in their sins- will be addressed by the same Redeemer and Judge the appalling sentence- "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." and then comes the great separation- "these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." If the happiness of the saved is eternal, equally eternal is the condemnation of the lost!
Let us close these solemn passages with one of the most momentous, searching questions, ever propounded- "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Who? Who that reads these pages shall come under this "eternal damnation"? Lord is it I? Oh banish from your creed- eject from your mind- efface from your thoughts of the future- the idea that your soul will ever cease to be- or, that, if lost- which God of His infinite mercy in Christ Jesus forbid! -your righteous doom will ever be reversed; or your indescribable sufferings will ever terminate! Ally yourself with false doctrine- abandon yourself to superstitious worship- sell yourself to sin- and make a covenant with Hell- as you will- then will follow the appalling, righteous, and inevitable doom- "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever."
But, why will you die? Jesus Christ came down into this fallen, sinful world to save the lost- to save sinners- the vilest. The God against whom you have sinned is "ready to pardon." He has pledged His word, confirmed with an oath- swearing by Himself- "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?" God is prepared to treat with you. If you have no merit- as merit you have none- if your unworthiness is great- as immeasurably great it is- Christ supplies all. It is all the merit and all the worthiness God demands, or you require. What if your sins are countless as the stars- your guilt, deep as crimson- fly to His pierced heart- wash in His cleansing blood- hide in a cleft of this smitten Rock- and you shall be saved. Let your place now, be the sheltering cross- then, when you die, you will go to your own place, God had from eternity ordained- which Jesus has gone to prepare- and for which- by all His dealings in providence and grace- He is preparing you. Relinquish every false hope- escape from every lying refuge- renounce every other name; and, "None but Jesus" be your boast in life- your hope in death- your song through eternity. "There is salvation in n o other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved"- but the one name of Jesus. "This man receives sinners, and eats with them."
"None but Jesus Christ I see;
Other Saviors I have none;
Jesus died on Calvary,
Jesus has the battle won.
Many waters could not drown
His deep love for you and me;
Love from glory brought Him down,
Love o'ercame Gethsemane.
"None but Jesus, still I cry;
Other Saviors cannot save;
Jesus made death's channel dry,
Opened up the gloomy grave.
Jesus sets an open door,
Earth and Hell can never close,
That we may for evermore
Follow Him wherever He goes.
"None like Jesus can do good,
Other remedies are vain;
Plunged beneath His healing flood,
He my soul restores again.
He my nature sanctifies
By His Holy Spirit's power
Gives the hope which purifies,
Gives me strength in Satan's hour.
"None but Jesus I would see
In my trouble and my grief;
He alone can comfort me,
He alone can bring relief.
'None but Jesus,' I shall cry
When in Heaven His face I see;
Lesser lights escape the eye
Near the sun's bright majesty."