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Eternal Punishment 1. Objections Considered

By A.W. Pink

      In taking up the objections made against the truth of eternal punishment it would be a hopeless task were we to attempt to notice every argument which the fertile mind of unbelief (under the control of Satan, as it is) has devised. We shall, however, consider those of greatest weight, and those which have received the widest acceptance among unbelievers. These we shall classify as follows: First, deductions drawn from the Divine perfections. Second, passages appealed to by Universalists. Third, passages appealed to by Annihilationists. Fourth, assertions that punishment is not penal and retributive but disciplinary and remedial.


      (1)   God is love, From this scriptural premise the conclusion is drawn that He will never cast any of His creatures into endless woe. But we must remember that the Bible also tells us that "God is light," and between light and darkness there can be no fellowship, Divine love is not a sentimental passion which overrides moral distinctions. God's love is a holy love, and because it is such He hates all evil; yea, it is written, "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:5). Startling as it may sound, it is nevertheless a fact, that the Scriptures speak much more frequently of God's anger and wrath, than they do of His love and compassion. Let any one consult Young's or Strong's Concordance and they may verify this for themselves. To argue, then, that because God is love, He will not inflict eternal torment on the wicked, is to ignore the fact that God is light, and is to asperse His holiness.

      (2)   God is merciful. Man may be a sinner, and holiness may require that he should be punished, but it is argued that Divine mercy will intervene, and if the punishment be not entirely revoked it is imagined that the sentence will be modified and the term of punishment be shortened. We are told that the eternal torment of the lost cannot be harmonized with a God of mercy. But if by the mercy of God be meant that He is too tenderhearted to apportion such miseries to His creatures, then we might as logically reason that seeing God's mercy, like all His attributes, is infinite, therefore, none of His creatures will be permitted to suffer at all. Yet this is manifestly erroneous. Facts deny it. His creatures do suffer, ofttimes excruciatingly, even in this life. Look out on the world today and mark the untold misery which abounds on every hand, and then remember that, however mysterious all this may be to us, nevertheless, it is all permitted by a merciful God. So, too, read in the Old Testament the accounts of the deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone from heaven, the plagues upon Egypt, the judgments which were visited upon Israel, and then bear in mind that these were not prevented by the mercy of God! To reason, then, that because God is merciful He will not cast into the Lake of Fire every one whose name is not found written in the book of life, is to fly in the face of all God's judgments in the past!

      (3)   God is just. It is often said it would be unjust for God to sentence any of His erring creatures to eternal perdition. But who are we to pass judgment upon the justice of the decisions of the All-Wise? Who are we to say what is consistent or inconsistent with God's righteousness? Who are we to determine what shall best vindicate the Divine benevolence or equity? Sin has so enfeebled our power of righteous judgment, so darkened our understanding, so dulled our conscience, so perverted our wills, so corrupted our hearts, that we are quite incompetent to decide. We are ourselves so infected and affected by sin that we are altogether incapable of estimating its due merits. Imagine a company of criminals passing judgment on the equity and goodness of the law which had condemned them! The truth of the matter is--and how often is it lost sight of!--that God is not to be measured by human standards.

      But have we realized that to deny the justice of eternal punishment is also to repudiate the grace of God? If endless misery be unjust, then exemption from it must be the sinner's right, and if so, his salvation could never be attributed to grace, which is unmerited favor! Moreover, to deny the justice of eternal punishment is to fly in the face of Christian consciousness, which universally witnesses to the fact that punishment, and only punishment, is all that each of us deserves. Moreover, if the sinner has despised and rejected eternal happiness, is there any reason why he should complain against the justice of eternal misery? Finally, if there is an infinite evil in sin--as there is--then infinite punishment is its due reward.

      (4)   God is holy. Because God is infinitely holy, He regards sin with infinite abhorrence. From this scriptural premise it has been erroneously concluded that, therefore, God will ultimately triumph over evil by banishing every last trace of it from the universe; otherwise, it is said, His moral character is gone. But against this sophistry we reply; God's holiness did not prevent sin entering His universe, and He has permitted it to remain all these thousands of years, therefore a holy God can and does coexist with a world of sin! To this it may be answered: There are good and sufficient reasons why sin should be allowed now. Quite so, is our rejoinder; and who knows what these reasons are? Conjecture we may; but who knows? God has not told us in His Word. Who, then, is in the position to say that there may not be eternal reasons--necessities-- for the continued existence of sin? That God will triumph over evil is most certainly true. His triumph will be manifested by incarcerating every one of His foes in a place where they can do no more damage, and where in their torments His holy hatred of sin will shine for ever and ever. The Lake of Fire so far from witnessing to Satan's victory, will be the crowning proof of his utter defeat.


      Universalists may be divided, broadly, into two classes: those who teach the ultimate salvation of every member of Adam's race, and those who affirm the ultimate salvation of all creatures, including the Devil, the fallen angels, and the demons. The class of passages to which both appeal are verses where the words "all," "all men," "all things," "the world" are to be found. The simplest way to refute their contentions on these passages is to show that such terms are restricted usually modified by what is said in the immediate context.

      The issue raised by Universalists narrows itself down to the question of whether "all men" and "all things" are employed, in passages which speak of salvation, in a limited or unlimited sense. Let us, then, point to a number of passages where these general terms occur, but where it is impossible to give them an absolute force or meaning:

      "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:5). "And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not" (Luke 3:15). "And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all come to Him" (John 3:26). "And early in the morning He came again into the temple," and "all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them" (John 8:2). "For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard (Acts 22:15). "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2).

      In none of the above passages has "all," "all men," "all the people" an unlimited scope. In each of those passages these general terms have only a relative meaning. In Scripture "all" is used in two ways: meaning "all without exception" (occurring infrequently), and "all without distinction" (its general significance), that is, all classes and kinds--old and young, men and women, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, and in many in-stances Jews and Gentiles, men of all nations. Very frequently the "all" has reference to all believers, all in Christ.

      What we have just said concerning the relative use and restricted meaning of the terms "all" and "all men" applies with equal force to "all things." In Scripture this is another expression which often has a very limited meaning. We give a few examples of this: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs" (Rom. 14:2). "For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure" (Rom. 14.20). "I am made all things to all, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient" (1 Cor. 10:23). "Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things" (Eph. 6:2 1). I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). In each of these passages "all things" has a restricted force.

      Another class of passages appealed to by Universalists are verses where "the world" is mentioned. But a careful examination of every passage where this term occurs in the New Testament will show that we are not obliged to understand it as referring to the entire human race, because in a number of instances it means far less. Take the following examples. "For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world" (John 6:33). Mark that here it is not a matter of proffering "life" to the world, but of giving "life." Does Christ "give life"--spiritual and eternal life, for that is what is in view--to every member of the human family? "If thou do these things, show Thyself to the world" (John 7.4). Here it is plain that "the world" is an indefinite expression--show Thyself in public, to men in general, is its obvious meaning here. "The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how we prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after Him" (John 12:19). Did the Pharisees mean that the entire human race had "gone after" Christ? Surely not. "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). Must this mean that the faith of the Roman saints was known and spoken of by all the race of mankind? Did all men everywhere "speak" of it? Did one man out of every ten thousand in the Roman Empire know anything about it? "The word of the truth of the Gospel, which is come unto you, as it is in all the world" (Col. 1:5, 6). Does "all the world" here mean, absolutely and unqualifiedly, all mankind? Had all men everywhere heard the Gospel? Surely the meaning of this verse is, that the Gospel, instead of being confined to the land of Judea and the lost sheep of the house of Israel, had gone forth abroad without restraint, into many places. "And all the world wondered after the beast" (Rev. 13:3). That the reference here cannot be to all men without exception we know from other scriptures.

      It will be seen, then, from the passages cited above that there is nothing in the words themselves which compel us to give an unlimited meaning to "all men," "all things," "the world." Therefore when we insist that "the world" which is saved, and the "all men" who are redeemed, are the world of believers and the all men who receive Christ as their personal Saviour, instead of interpreting the Scriptures to suit ourselves we are explaining them in strict harmony with other passages. On the other hand, to give to these terms unlimited scope and to make them mean all without exception is to interpret them in a way which manifestly clashes with the many passages which plainly teach there are those who will be finally lost.

      One other remark may be made upon Universalism before turning to our next sub-division, and that is, the very fact that Universalism is so popular with the wicked, is proof irresistible, that it is not the system taught in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." That the natural man does receive the teaching that every one will ultimately be saved, is a sure sign it does not belong to "the things of the Spirit of God." The wicked hate the light, but love the darkness; hence, while they deem as "foolishness" the truth of God and reject it, they esteem as reasonable the Devil's lies, and greedily devour them.


      Truth is one: consistent: eternally unchanged. Error is hydra-headed, inconsistent and contradictory, ever wavering in its forms. So determined are men to persuade themselves that the eternal punishment of the wicked is a myth, the enmity of the carnal mind has devised a variety of ways of ridding themselves of this truth which is so hateful to them. "God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:29). One of these inventions is the theory that at death the wicked pass into oblivion, and that after their resurrection and judgment at the Great White Throne, they are annihilated in the Lake of Fire. Incredible as this view appears, nevertheless it has had and still has many advocates and adherents; and what is even more unthinkable, the Word of God is appealed to in support of it. It is because of this that we make a brief notice of it here.

      The first class of passages to which they appeal are verses where "death" is mentioned. Death is regarded in the most absolute sense. Death they take to mean the passing from existence into non-existence; an utter extinction of being. Death is applied to the soul as well as the body. How, then, is this error to be met? We answer, By an appeal to God's Word. The meaning of a word is to be defined not from its derivation, not from its employment by heathen writers, not from the definition supplied by a standard English dictionary, nor from the lexicons, but from its usage in the Holy Scriptures. What, then, does death mean as used by the Holy Spirit?

      Let us turn first to 1 Corinthians 15:36: "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." Here is the Holy Spirit's illustration and type of the death and resurrection of a believer. Now, does the living germ in the seed sown become extinct before it brings forth fruit? Surely not. There is a decaying, of course, of its outer shell--and therein lies the analogy with the death of man--but the living germ within dies not, otherwise there could be no harvest. Death, then, according to this illustration of the Holy Spirit is not annihilation. The same illustration was used by our Lord. Said He, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). The stalk and ear of corn in harvest time are but the life-germ fully developed. So it is with man. The body dies; the soul lives on. Note how this comes out, unmistakably, in the Saviour's words as recorded in Matt. 10:28: "And 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." The "soul" man is unable to kill! But God is able--and mark carefully the distinction--"to destroy (not kill) both soul and body in hell." As the word "destroy" is another word misused and erroneously defined by the Annihilationists, a few words must be said upon it.

      As used in Scripture the words "destroy," "destruction," "perish" etc. never signify cessation of existence. In Matthew 10:7 one of the principal Greek words for "destroyed" is rendered "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Those Israelites had not ceased to be, but were away from God! In Mark 2:22 the same word is translated "marred" in connection with "bottles" of skins which the new wine burst. So, too, the word "perish" never signifies annihilation in Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:6 we read, "The world" that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." The "world" that perished, whether the reference be to the pre-Adamic earth or the world destroyed by the Flood, was not reduced to nothing. When, then, Scripture speaks of the wicked as perishing and as being destroyed, it is in order to expose the error of those who assert that they have a gospel for those who die unsaved, That the wicked have "perished" excludes all hope of their subsequent salvation. 1 Timothy 5:6 tells us there is a living-death even now--"She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth"--so will there be in eternity.

      The absurdity and unscripturalness of Annihilationism are easily exposed. If at death the sinner passes out of existence, why resurrect him in order to annihilate him again? Scripture speaks of the "punishment" and "torment" of the wicked; but any one can see that annihilation is not these! If annihilation were all that awaits the wicked, they would never know that they had received their just deserts and the "due reward" of their iniquities! Scripture speaks of degrees of punishment for the lost; but annihilation would make this impossible; annihilation would level all distinctions and ignore all degrees of guilt. In Isaiah 33:14 we are told, "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" So far from sinners being annihilated they shall dwell with the devouring fire! Scripture speaks again and again of the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" of those who are cast into hell, and this, at once, gives the lie to those who affirm extinction of being.


      There are those who allow that the wicked will be cast into hell, and yet they insist that the punishment is corrective rather than retributive. A sort of Protestant Purgatory is invented, the fires of which are to be purifying rather than penal. Such a conception is grossly dishonoring to God. Some who hold this view make a great pretense of honoring Christ, yet in reality they greatly dishonor Him. If men who died rejecting the Saviour are yet to be saved, if the fires of hell are to do for men what the blood of the Cross failed to effect, then why was the Divine Sacrifice needed at all--all might have been saved by the disciplinary sufferings of hell, and so God could have spared His Son. Again; if God compassionates His enemies and cherishes nothing but gracious designs of infinite pity toward those who have despised and rejected His Son, we may well ask, Then why does He take such dreadful measures with them? If loving discipline be all that they need, cannot Divine wisdom devise some gentler measure than consigning them to the "torment" of the Lake of Fire for "the ages of the ages?" This is an insuperable difficulty in the way of the theory we are now refuting. But once we see that the Lake of Fire is the place of punishment, not discipline, and that it is Divine wrath and not love that casts the reprobate into it, then the difficulty entirely disappears.

      Utterly inconsistent though it be, there are those who argue that the fires of hell owe their disciplinary efficacy to the blood of Christ. These enemies of the truth have been well answered by Sir Robert Anderson: "Such punishment, therefore, must be the penalty due to their sins; else it were unrighteous to impose it. If, then, the lost are ultimately to be saved, it must be either because they shall have satisfied the penalty; or else through redemption--that is, because Christ has borne that penalty for them. But if sinners can be saved by satisfying Divine justice in enduring the penalty due to sin, Christ need not have died. If, on the other hand, the redeemed may yet be doomed, though ordained to eternal life in Christ, themselves to endure the penalty for sin, the foundations of our faith are destroyed. It is not, I repeat, the providential or disciplinary, but the penal consequences of sin, which follow the judgment. We can therefore understand how the sinner may escape his doom through his debt being paid vicariously, or we can (in theory, at all events) admit that he may be discharged on payment personally of "the uttermost farthing;" but that the sinner should be made to pay a portion of his debt, and then released because someone else had paid the whole before he was remitted to punishment at all--this is absolutely inconsistent with both righteousness and grace" ("Human Destiny").

      Again; if it be true that the damned in the Lake of Fire are still the objects of Divine benevolence; that as the creatures of His hand, the Lord still looks upon them with the most benign regard, and the unquenchable fire is nothing more than a rod in the hand of a wise and loving Father, we ask, How can this be harmonized with the manner in which Scripture uniformly speaks of unbelievers? God has not left us in ignorance of how He regards those who have openly and persistently defied Him. Again and again the Bible makes known to us the solemn fact that God looks upon the wicked as cumberers of the earth, as repugnant to Him. They are represented as "dross" not gold (Ps. 119:119); as worthless "chaff (Matt. 3:12); as "vipers" (Matt. 12:34); as "vessels unto dishonor" and "vessels of wrath" (Rom. 9:21, 22); as those who are to be made the Lord's footstool (1 Cor. 15:2 7) as "trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots" (Jude 12) and therefore fit for nothing but the fire; as those who will be "spued out of the Lord's mouth" (Rev. 3:16), that is, as objects of revulsion. Some of these passages describe Jewish reprobates, others sinners of the Gentiles; some refer to those who lived in a by-gone dispensation, others belong to the present; some speak of men this side of the grave, some of those on the other side. One purpose in calling attention to them is to show how God regards his enemies. The estimate expressed in the above passages (and they might easily be multiplied) cannot be harmonized with the view that God still looks upon them in love and entertains only the most tender regards for them.

      Another class of passages may be referred to in this connection. "For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me. I will make Mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy" (Deut. 32:40-42). Can this be made to square with the theory that God has naught but compassion toward those who have despised and defied Him?

      "Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would none of My reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me" (Prov. 1:24-28). Is this the language of One who still has designs of mercy toward His enemies?

      "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me; for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment" (Isa. 63:3). Weigh this carefully, and then ask if such treatment is meted out toward those unto whom the Lord cherishes nought but compassion.

      Should it be said, Each of these passages is from the Old Testament, it would be sufficient to say, True, but it is the same God as the New Testament reveals that is there speaking. But consider one verse from the New Testament also. The Christ of God is yet going to say to men, "Depart from Me, ye cursed into everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41). Is it thinkable that the Son of God would pronounce this awful malediction upon those who are merely appointed to a season of disciplinary chastisement, after which they will be forever with him in perfect bliss!

      Thus we have sought to show that the various objections brought against eternal punishment will not stand the test of Holy Writ; that, though often presented in a plausible form, and with the avowed intention of vindicating the Divine character. yet, in reality, they are nothing more than the reasonings of that carnal mind which is enmity against God.

      Having disposed of the principal objections brought against the truth of Eternal Punishment, we now turn to consider:

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See Also:
   1. Objections Considered
   2. The Destiny of the Wicked
   3. The Nature of Punishment Awaiting the Lost
   4. The Application of the Subject


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