"The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment, to be punished."--2 PET. ii: 9.
THE theme selected for this discourse is one of transcendent importance to every accountable human being. All who have any respect for the Bible speak and think of it as containing the law of God. The idea of law without a penalty is nothing short of the most idle fiction. All law contains penalty. Indeed, the very idea of law implies penalty. The law of God, the highest, the grandest, and most sublime law known to mortal man, has not only a penalty, but the most terrible, fearful, and awful penalty ever described by human tongue as its divine sanction. Its salvation, therefore, means something. Its pardon, justification, and deliverance of the soul from sin means something. It is not the empty vaporings of a Universalist about salvation, who denies that any man is saved from sin in this life, and maintains that all men, not excepting such a man as Paul the apostle, are sinners as long as they live in this world; who also denies that there will be any sin, lake of fire, hell, second death, or punishment of any kind in the world to come, from which any human being can be saved. Such a man knows not the meaning of the word salvation, and certainly attaches no idea to it, except one the most vague and unintelligible. The penalty of the Bible means something. Our glorious Lord did not ask "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" nor speak of "eternal condemnation" and "everlasting punishment;" of men being "cast into hell, where the fire shall never be quenched, and where the worm dies not;" or of "the false prophets" being "tormented day and night forever and ever," to scare people, but to warn them. "Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men," says Paul. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The Lord speaks of a man for whom it would have been better not to have been born.
None have ventured to deny right out that the law of God, as recorded in the Bible, has any penalty. None, till in very modern times, have had the temerity to deny that those who die in their sins will be punished after death. In history there is mention of a class of men, in comparatively ancient times, who were restorationists. These held that there would be a punishment after death, but maintained that it would terminate, and all its subjects would finally be saved. But, among other queer and novel things in our own time, a class of religious adventurers have made their appearance, who entertain the envious, credulous, and gullible with harangues, both extemporaneous and written, exhibiting their adroitness, shrewdness, and sharpness in explaining all the scriptures that speak of the devil or Satan in some way so as to avoid the idea of any literal or personal devil, or real being, or any thing more than the personification of evil or the evil principle; as also so explaining all those scriptures that speak of, or in any way imply a judgment or punishment after death, so as to accord with, or, at least, not refute their theory of ineffable bliss for all beyond this life. The demoralizing tendency of such teaching and theorizing has been immense, all going to strengthen unbelievers in their unbelief and harden their hearts. As the prophet expresses it: "With lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life." Ez. xiii: 22.
Without detaining you, please turn at once to the consideration of the following points:
1. An adequate punishment is not inflicted in this life. 2. There will be a judgment and punishment after death. 3. It is reasonable and just that the punishment after death should be of great duration. 4. The Scriptures clearly teach that the punishment after death will be unlimited in its duration.
Then, without delay or further preliminary, at once please give attention to the first point to be considered:
1. An adequate punishment is not inflicted in this life. That men receive not a full and adequate punishment for their sins in this world, is clear from Scripture. This is more than intimated in the text: "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished." In this scripture the teaching is, that the unjust are "reserved to the day of judgment to be punished," and not that they are judged or punished as they go along in this life. This one scripture ought to settle the matter with men who tremble at the word of God. But hear the scripture again: "The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." 2 Pet. iii: 7. Here, too, instead of fitting out punishment to men as they pass along through this life, the very heavens and earth, which are now, are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. This, beyond dispute, points forward to the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, and does not refer to it as something now going on.
Paul says, "He who despised the law of Moses died without mercy, on the testimony of two or three witnesses;" and follows this statement with the following question: "Of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, he shall be considered deserving, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has accounted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?" Heb. xx: 29. Here, beyond all doubt, "a sorer punishment than death without mercy," or a severer punishment, is threatened, which can not be inflicted in this life. Death without mercy is the severest punishment possible in this life; and yet the apostle, by implication, brings to view a severer punishment than death without mercy, which must be the punishment to which wicked men are reserved.
Again, hear an apostle: "Because the time is come that Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the Gospel of God?" 1 Pet. iv: 17. The question here is not what shall be the punishment, as they pass along through this life, of them who obey not the Gospel of God, but "what shall be the end?" The punishment that the apostle looked to is not inflicted as men pass along through this life, but in winding up; it is their end, last or final state. Paul, Heb. vi: 8, does not speak of those whose lot is to be burned as they pass along through this world; but, speaking of the final condition of the wicked, he says, "Whose end is to be burned." That "end" is not the life of wicked men, or something occurring as they pass along in life, but something beyond life, the last state--the end. You can not find a heaven for a man beyond his last state or end.
Many other scriptures could be referred to, showing, beyond all doubt, that a full and complete punishment is not inflicted in this world. But some men can regard what they see and hear, who will not regard the Bible. What may be observed in this world, with people who think and reason for themselves, ought to convince any man that a full and complete retribution is not awarded in this life, either to the good or bad. On the one hand, some of the purest and best of mankind suffer in mind and body in this life, almost without mitigation. Their last days are filled up with troubles of mind, by the transgressions of those allied to them by the ties of the flesh. They languish for long months, and in some instances for years, in beds of affliction. In this life, there appears to them to be but little else than bitterness, sorrow, and suffering. On the other hand, there are those who never know want, sickness, or suffering; whose relations bring no scandal on them, or cause them any grief, but who are not simply ungodly, but blasphemers, drunkards, and lecherous persons till the last; who give others trouble indescribable, but never have any trouble themselves, and, at last, go out of this world without an hour's suffering. No one need talk of what such men suffer in their conscience. They know not the meaning of the word conscience. Now, it is simply a matter of fact, that in these two cases the award is not made in this life. To say that it is, is to say that the reward of the righteous is so insignificant that persons receive it, as they pass along through this life, without knowing that they had received it at all, or knowing what it was; and that the punishment of the wicked, or the hell threatened in the Bible, is so light, so exceedingly mild, that thousands are actually passing through it, suffering its torments, without knowing it at all! Is it the case that men may have all the rewards promised the righteous in the Bible on the one hand, and suffer all the torments threatened in the Bible on the other hand, and never know it? If the heaven of the righteous is in this world, and the righteous enjoy it in this life; and if the hell of the wicked is in this life, and they suffer its torments in this world, then heaven and its happiness, as well as hell and its torments, are of much less consequence than men have generally supposed.
But this is not true, or the apostle could not have said, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." Then the Lord could not have said, "Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father and the angels;" nor could any one conceive how we could "lay up treasure in heaven," or "lay up a good foundation against the time to come, in order to lay hold of eternal life." Nothing can be more clear than that the first Christians did not receive their reward in this world, and that they did not think they received it. All the martyrs looked for a reward beyond this life, and refused to deny the Lord, because they feared they would lose the eternal reward. But now your attention will be called to a second proposition:
2. There will be a judgment and punishment after death. An account of the case of the rich man and Lazarus is recorded Luke xvi: 19-36. In verse 22 we are informed that "The rich man died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." This is the Lord's own statement. The rich man himself testified, as reported by the Lord, saying, "I am tormented in this flame." Abraham testified, as the Savior reports him, saying, "Thou art tormented." The only use here made of this case is to show clearly that a man was in torment after death. This the case does show as clearly as language can express any thing. In connection with this case, see Luke xii: 4, 5: "Be not afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yea, I say to you, fear him." Here the Lord is admonishing his disciples to fear God, because he not only can kill, but, after that, cast into hell. This could not be true if there were no hell beyond this life, or beyond death; but "after that"--after the death of the body--the Lord speaks of casting into hell. This Hinnom, or Gehenna, is after death, and the soul may be cast into it as well as the body. It is useless to speak of the ancient Valley of Hinnom, as its fires had been done away more than four hundred years before the Lord uttered this language, and then souls after death never were cast into it.
But in the text, with which this discourse commences, the apostle says, "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished." In the same letter, chapter iii, verse 7, the apostle says: "The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." These passages are both in the same spirit, setting forth the fact that the world is reserved to the day of judgment. In connection with this, please hear Paul giving charge to a young preacher: "I charge you, therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearing and kingdom." 2 Tim. iv: 1. Here is a reference to the judgment of the dead at the appearing and kingdom of Christ. This connects the coming of Christ and judgment together; and shows, by the reference to the judgment of the dead as well as the living, that the judgment will be after death. The apostle Peter--Acts x:42--teaches the same in the following words: "And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained of God the Judge of the living and the dead." Here again is a reference to the judgment of the dead. There must be explicit light afforded on this point to show that the dead will be judged, as some are slow to learn. This same apostle Peter, speaking of a certain class of the dead, viz., the antediluvians, tells us the divine purpose in preaching the Gospel to them in the days of Noah, in the following words: "That they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." 1 Pet. iv: 6. In the verse preceding this, speaking of other vile characters, "who shall give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead," the dead are included, showing that the Lord will judge the dead.
If the foregoing is not sufficient to satisfy any candid man that the Lord will judge the dead, look at the following: "But I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, in the day of judgment, than for you." Matt. xi: 22. Hear the Lord again: "For I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for you." Sodom had been buried in ruins ages before the Lord uttered this language, and the cities of Tyre and Sidon had been destroyed from the face of the earth many long centuries before the Lord uttered these words; yet he declared that they should appear in the judgment of which he was speaking, and that it should be more tolerable for their inhabitants than for the Jews, to whom he spoke. No man ever made even a plausible show of argument on the question under review, who denies that these passages clearly show that there will be a judgment after death.
But, if you please, attend to our Lord's teaching still further. He says: "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here." Matt. xii: 41, 42. From the Scriptures now quoted, it is clear that the antediluvians, those of Tyre and Sidon, the Sodomites, the Ninevites, and the Queen of Sheba, all dead and gone ages before the Lord uttered the words quoted, are all to appear in the judgment of which he spoke. But this is not all; there are more than all these to be there. Look at the following: "For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell; and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved to judgment." Here is the clear teaching that the angels are reserved to judgment. They will, then, be in the judgment. Please hear of these angels that sinned once more: "And the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness to the judgment of the great day." Jude 6. There has been no judgment in this world, since the writing of the Scriptures, at which the citizens of Tyre and Sidon, of the land of Sodom, of Nineveh, the Queen of Sheba, the antediluvians, the angels who sinned, and those to whom the Savior, in his ministry, spoke, to say nothing of all who have lived since, were present. The reason is, that "it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment." Heb. xi: 27. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them who look for him shall he appear the second time without sin (sin offering) to salvation."
The next thing shall be to show that the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, will all be connected together. Indeed, the passage just quoted places the judgment after death and the coming of Christ at the same period. Paul quotes Isa. xlv: 23-25, and applies it to the resurrection state, Rom. xiv: 10, 11. Hear him: "But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at naught your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." Now hear him prove this last statement. "For," says he, "it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So, then, every one of us shall give an account of himself to God." Thus, you perceive, the very passage quoted thousands of times to prove that all men will be saved, and applied to the resurrection state, from the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, is quoted by Paul--Rom. xiv: 10, 11--and also applied to the resurrection state, to prove that we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and every one of us give an account of himself to God. This settles the question about the judgment after death.
But now turn to 1 Cor. xv: 22, 23, and hear Paul: "As by Adam all die, even so by Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own proper band: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." The making all alive mentioned here will be in the resurrection of the dead. This passage is very elliptical, and, filling up the ellipsis, will read as follows: "As by Adam all die, even so by Christ shall all be made alive. But every one made alive in his own proper band: Christ the first-fruits made alive; afterward they that are Christ's made alive at his coming." When shall this making alive be? The apostle says "at his coming." This making alive will be in the resurrection and "at his coming." This, beyond doubt, places the resurrection at the coming of Christ. But it does more than this: it discriminates between those who are Christ's and those who are not Christ's at the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. The expression "they that are Christ's" implies that there are others who are not Christ's; and this discrimination between those who are Christ's and those who are not Christ's is at the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Paul makes the same kind of discrimination in his allusion to the resurrection of the dead, in his reply to Tertullus, Acts xxiv: 14. He says, "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." The Lord himself makes the same discrimination in the words, "You shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." An intimation of the same discrimination is found Luke xx: 35, in the following words: "They who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead." See, also, Dan. xii: 2: "And many of them that slept in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." The prophet follows in the same connection: "And they who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever." The same in substance is found in the Lord's own words, John v: 28, 29: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all those who are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they who have done good to the resurrection of life; and they who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." Thus it is clear that in all these grand allusions to the resurrection of the dead, the grand and awful discriminations are kept up between the righteous and the wicked. This part of the argument will be closed with John's account of the matter, as the whole was represented to him in the island of Patmos. He appeared to have had passed before him, in grand pantomimic view, the whole period called "time," the delivering up of the souls in the unseen state, the raising and collecting of the bodies of the dead from sea and land, and says: "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."
Now turn your eye back, and take one candid look at these wonderful expressions touching the resurrection, and see the continual discriminations between the righteous and the wicked, such as "they who are Christ's," "they who shall be accounted worthy," "the resurrection of the just," "a resurrection both of the just and the unjust," "they who shall be wise," "they who shall turn many to righteousness," "they who have done good and they who have done evil," "were judged every man according to his works," and then tell what these continued and oft-repeated discriminations between the righteous and the wicked mean, made in reference to men in the resurrection of the dead, the coming of the Lord, and the day of judgment. Bear in mind, it is in reference to the state of things after death, where the living and dead, as they are now, shall be present. The antediluvians, those of Tyre, Sidon, of the land of Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, the Queen of Sheba, and the angels who sinned; those to whom the Lord spoke while in his great mission on earth; all who are in their graves, and all alive on earth, are to appear in that judgment, and be judged according to their works. Those whose names are not found written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire. Here is the last state of the disobedient, or those who die in their sins.
But while grasping and condensing as much as possible into a narrow space, that all may have a glance at it, please turn your attention to another class of testimony touching the state of those who die in their sins. The passages now to be introduced are negative proofs, some of which have already been quoted. The Lord says, "He who believes on the Son, has everlasting life: but he who believes not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him." John iii: 36. This passage looks forward as far as unbelievers can be found, and declares, in the most unequivocal terms, that "he who believes not the Son shall not see life. In Jude 12, 13, these are described: "They are clouds without water, carried about by winds; trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." This description certainly follows those to their last state. Hear the apostle again: "For many walk, of whom I have told often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction." Phil. iii: 18, 19. If the last state or the end of these persons is destruction, it is certainly useless to speak of their ever being saved. The same high and holy authority, comparing persons of corrupt character to "thorns and briers," says they are "rejected and nigh to cursing, whose end is to be burned." Heb. vi: 8. Here is the last state or the end of persons whom the apostle declares it impossible to renew again to repentance; they "are nigh to cursing, and their end is to be burned." Hear the Lord while this momentous question is under investigation. He says, "If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins." John viii: 24. Just before, he had said, "You shall seek me and shall die in your sins: whither I go you can not come." One of these expressions declares that those who believe not shall die in their sins, and the other that those who die in their sins shall not go where the Lord is, or shall not enjoy him. These scriptures never were and never can be harmonized with the theory that all will be saved.
One man, like many idle and speculative persons now, while the Lord was engaged in his public mission, inquired of him, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" Had some religious guides been there, they would have responded, Blessed Master, they will all be saved. But our Lord gave that man a much more solemn lesson than that. He replied to the man: "Strive to enter in at the straight gate: for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter in, but shall not be able. When once the Master of the house is risen up, and has shut the door, and you begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us; and he shall answer and say to you, I know you not whence you are: then shall you begin to say, We have eat and drank in thy presence, and thou has taught in our streets. But he shall say, I know not whence you are; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity." Luke xiii: 23-27. This language can never apply to men in this world. "Those who seek, shall find;" "those who ask, shall receive;" to "those who knock, it shall be opened;" "whoever will, let him come;" "he who comes to me, I will in nowise cast out," is the language of the Lord to men in this world. As we sing, "The doors of Gospel grace stand open night and day." But the language of the Lord to the idle man, inquiring "Are there few that be saved?" refers to a period of time when the doors of grace shall be shut; when applicants for admission shall not gain an entrance; when they shall seek to enter in, but shall not be able; when they shall be thrust away, with the awful words, "Depart, you workers of iniquity: I know you not." Here follows the Lord's reason why he would not receive them: "Because I have called, and you refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but you have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof. I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes; when your fear comes as desolation, and your destruction comes as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish comes on you. Then shall you call on me, but I will not answer; you shall seek me early, but shall not find me." Prov. i: 24-28. This reaches beyond time, beyond the day of grace, beyond this world, beyond all Gospel invitation, beyond all space for repentance. To this list but one more shall now be added. That one contains the closing words of the New Testament: "If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book." Rev. xxii: 19.
Please now glance your eye over this list, and grasp as far as possible the amount contained in it. What, then, shall be thought of the man who will try to prove that all will be saved, when the Lord declares of some that they "shall not see life"--that "the wrath of God abides on them"--who "die in their sins," of whom the Lord said, "Whither I go you can not come;" those whom he compares to "trees twice dead, and plucked up by the roots;" "to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever;" "whose end is destruction;" who are "rejected, nigh to cursing; whose end is to be burned;" who shall "seek to enter in, but shall not be able," but shall be thrust away, followed by the sentence, "Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;" whom the Lord shall "mock when their fear comes," and who shall have "their part taken away out of the book of life, and out of the holy city?" Let it be repeated: what shall be thought of the man who shall teach and try to prove that those to whom this language applies shall be saved? Does he believe his Bible?
Having now followed the punishment of those who die in their sins, not only to the state after death, to hades, but to the day of judgment; to the coming of the Lord, and beyond the resurrection of the dead; to the period when those whose names are not written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire; as the Lord expressed it, "cast into hell, where the worm dies not, and the fire shall never be quenched;" into the gehenna of fire. The next point to consider is the duration of this punishment. This opens the way for the third proposition, submitted at the commencement of this discourse.
3. It is reasonable that the punishment of those who die in their sins should be of great duration. One fallacy common in reasoning on this subject must now be exposed. Men are apt to speak of the shortness of the time the wicked are engaged in sinning, and, with an air of triumph, exclaim, Can it be possible that the sins committed in a finite state can have an infinite punishment? or can it be possible that the sins committed in this limited space of time should incur a punishment of unlimited duration? Those who put the matter in this way maintain that it is unreasonable that sins committed in such a short space of time shall incur a punishment of vast duration. But it is one thing to hear to sophistry, and another and a very different thing to hear to sound reason and common sense. The question then comes up in this form first: Does the time employed in transgression, in any court, human or divine, have any thing to do in determining the duration of the punishment? Who is prepared to affirm on this proposition? Who argues in court that the murderer must have only a very limited punishment because he committed the crime in a very short space of time? Certainly no man whose legal advice is worth any thing. What jurist, in making out and giving a legal opinion, ever mentions the short space of time employed in the commission of crime as a reason for limited punishment? No one whose opinion is of any weight. The duration of time employed in violating the law has nothing to do in determining either the duration or the severity of the punishment. It is nothing but a sophistry to gull the simple that refers to the duration of the time occupied in the commission of crime, as having any thing to do in determining the duration or the severity of penalties.
What, then, is it that has to do in determining the term and severity of punishment? The greatness of the crime. What do men reason from in considering and determining the magnitude of transgression? From considerations such as the following:
1. The greatness, goodness, and majesty of the authority violated by the transgressor. 2. The design of the transgressor. 3. The deliberation with which the offense is committed. 4. The results of the transgression.
It is no difference whether the transgressor was a minute, an hour, a day, or a year engaged in committing the offense, so far as determining the penalty is concerned. Questions come up touching the greatness, goodness, and majesty of the law violated; the malignity of the design of the transgressor; the coolness, deliberateness, and premeditation with which the offense was committed; the nature, importance, and duration of the results of the transgression. When a man is being tried for murder, the attorneys do not dwell on the duration of time occupied in committing the murder; they speak of the great authority and majesty of the law violated, its importance in maintaining order, protecting property and life; of the malignant design of the murderer; the coolness, deliberation, and premeditation of the murderer; the terrible results of the crime, in striking down the noble son of a father and mother, the affectionate husband, and support of a wife; a kind and good father of children; the reckless and awful deed of sending a man into eternity without a moment's reflection or preparation, and thus cutting him off from all that is dear to him on earth. These are the themes dwelt on in making up a decision in regard to the penalty.
In the government of God, what proportion does the duration of time occupied in sin bear to the results of the sin committed? How long was Paine employed in writing his infidel book, falsely styled "The Age of Reason?" At most, only a short space of time. But where will be the end of the results of that book? None but omniscience can see. Shall men of sense maintain that the duration of the punishment for the sin of writing such a book must be short because he did it in a short space of time? Certainly not. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will look at the results of the sin; the terrible nature of those results, and the duration of them. The results of the sin of writing that book will last while time shall last, and extend into eternity. The results of the sin will never disappear. So the results of the works of a good man will last while time shall last, and be seen in eternity. This is one reason why the world is not ready for final judgment. The works of men have not wrought out their results yet. In the final judgment, all the works of men will have run their course, and their results will all be open before an assembled universe, while the Lord shall render to every man according to his works.
If a man, then, in a short life-time can set on foot schemes of sin that shall continue their results, working ruin among men while time shall last, and the consequences extend into eternity, is any thing clearer than that the punishment for such sins should be of great duration? The effects of a man's transgressions do not cease at death; but, in numerous instances, not only continue after his death, but widen and abound vastly more after his death than while he was living. The consequences of sin are by no means of short duration. They will last till time shall end, nor will they then terminate. They will last co-existent with the years of God. If the injury a man can do in a short space of time has eternal results, is it any wonder that he should suffer eternal punishment?
But the closing proposition of this discourse is the following:
4. The Scriptures clearly teach that the punishment after death will be unlimited in its duration.
Many have been the idle things said by men who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God touching the duration of the final punishment. Among these, it has been frequently said we never read of "an endless hell in the Bible." To this it may be replied, that we do not. Hell is a place--not time, either limited or unlimited. Of course, neither the Bible nor any book from an intelligent source speaks of an endless place. The Bible does not speak of the length nor the breadth of the place of punishment, but the Bible does speak of the duration of the punishment of those in that place. This is the matter in hand now.
The Lord gives some pretty plain intimations on this point--Mark iii: 29--in the words: "He who shall sin against the Holy Spirit has never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal condemnation." There could be no danger of "eternal condemnation," if there was no such thing in existence as eternal condemnation; nor would the Lord have spoken of a person who shall never be forgiven, unless a person might never be forgiven. A person never forgiven, of course, remains under eternal condemnation. Here, the terms used to express the duration of the condemnation are as strong as language can afford in both the original and the English. The man who shall never be forgiven, and remains under eternal condemnation, is unquestionably lost. The duration of his condemnation is unlimited. How can you express the unlimited duration of a man's unpardoned state, if the words "has never forgiveness" do not do it?
The same wonderful language is used to express the fire of hell. The Lord says "it shall never be quenched." What is the meaning of this, and what shall we think of him who shall try to prove that the punishment in this fire, that "shall never be quenched," shall terminate? This punishment can never terminate till that which our Lord says "shall never be" shall come to pass, or till some man shall prove these words of the Lord not true.
Those who have argued most stoutly against all punishment after death, have thousands of times quoted and applied the words "The Lord God shall wipe off all tears," to the eternal state. In this they are correct. John so applies this language of the prophet--Rev. xxi: 4. But he soon finishes his description of those in the holy city, New Jerusalem, and, just four verses further on, gives an account of others not in the holy city, in the following words: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Notice, this is in the resurrection state, at the precise same period when all tears shall be wiped away forever from those in the holy city. Some have desired to know something of the object of this "lake of fire." It would be well, probably, to furnish them a little light on that important subject. Matt. xxv: 41, the Lord says that it was "prepared for the devil and his angels." This is the "everlasting fire," or fire that "shall never be quenched," where "the worm dies not," is "prepared for the devil and his angels," and is the "lake of fire" into which the wicked shall be cast after the resurrection and the last judgment.
The angels who sinned, we are informed--Jude 6--the Lord has reserved in everlasting chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day. "Chains," here, figuratively represent the power by which the angels who sinned are bound. "Everlasting chains" is the everlasting power by which they are bound. "Everlasting," here, does not come from the Greek aionion, as it does usually, but from aidios, which occurs in but two places in the New Testament, viz., Rom. i: 20 and Jude 6. In the former place it expresses the unlimited duration of the existence of the godhead, and the latter the duration of the power by which the angels that sinned are bound. Matt. xxv: 41, the Lord calls the fire, into which the wicked shall be cast, "everlasting fire." Matt. xxv: 46, he says of the wicked, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." The same Greek word that the Lord uses to express the duration of the fire and the punishment, he uses, in the same connection, to express the duration of the life of the righteous or the state of glory. At the same time that the righteous enter "life eternal," or the state of glory, the wicked "go away into everlasting punishment"--"into everlasting fire;" and the same Greek word aionion, that expresses the duration of the fire and punishment, in the same connection expresses the duration of the life of the saints or the state of glory; and it is as likely that the happiness of the righteous shall cease as that this fire, which the Lord calls "everlasting fire," and which, he says, shall "never be quenched," and this punishment which he calls "everlasting," shall terminate. As certain as "life eternal" is endless, or unlimited in its duration, so certain the punishment of those who die in their sins will be endless or unlimited in its duration.
The expression, "forever and ever," occurs some twenty-three times in the New Testament, and is not used in a limited sense in a single instance. It expresses endless or unlimited duration in every instance. It is used to express the duration of the existence of God, of Christ, of the praises of God, and the punishment of the wicked. It occurs in such expressions as the following: "Him that lives forever and ever;" "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever." That this expression means unlimited duration in those passages--in the one case the unlimited duration of the Deity, and, in the other, the unlimited duration of the ascriptions of praises to him, no one denies. This expression is found thirteen times in the book of Revelation. In ten of those occurrences it expresses the duration of the life of God, the life of Christ, and the duration of the ascending praises to heaven. In all those places, that it means unlimited duration, all admit. The same expression precisely is applied to the punishment of the wicked, three times, in the same book. Twice it is said, "The smoke of their torment ascended forever and ever;" and once it is said that "The devil who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever."
Do you say the conclusion is terrible? It is terrible. So is it terrible that intelligent men and women will not listen to the voice of God--will not obey their Creator! Nothing but ruin can befall them. Repent, then, turn to the Lord, and live forever.