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And what does Holy Scripture teach concerning CHAP. XH. the woes and suffering which God inflicts upon the children of men, as to their character and design? As to their nature and intent in relation to Christians there cannot be any doubt; it is distinctly said that they are 'for our profit, that we might Heb. xii, 10. be partakers of his holiness.' And with this corre
sponds the confession of God's saints at all times,
that it was good for them to have been afflicted. Ps. cxix. 71, 75. They are the chastisements of a Father, visiting us with stripes for our faults, and so marking his holy displeasure of sin; yet none the less, nay, all the more, are they expressions of his love, because designed to wean us from that which is our curse and misery, insomuch that the Apostle bids us regard such visitations as proofs of the divine regard, 'for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.' Heb. xii. 6. It would not be love to let us alone in our sins; therefore, looking to the end of them, punishments are to be interpreted as indications not of destroying wrath but of saving love.
And are we to put a different interpretation upon the judgments of God in the world at large? Are they not intended to witness for God, and to produce wholesome and salutary impressions on the minds of men? Is He not the Father of all, and can it be, therefore, that while in the case of some his visitations of woe are meant to improve, in the case of the rest they are meant only to express wrath? What says the Prophet? Lord, when Isa, xxvi. 9. thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.' And he gives as a signal instance of this, how the Lord
136 Future Punishment Corrective, not Vindictive.
will make Himself known to Egypt in the day Iøa. xix. 21–25. of judgments, and how it shall cry unto the Lord in the day of its oppression, and how, having smitten it, the Lord shall heal it, and its people shall return to Him.
If such, then, be the character and design of divine judgments in this era of the kingdom, viz., improvement and correction, not vengeful destruction, does it not prepare us to expect that such, too, will be their nature and purport in the age to come of Christ's visible and personal reign on the earth, more especially when the very word, which is used here and elsewhere, distinctly denotes corrective punishment?
THE FIRE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENT A RECTIFYING
PURSUING the subject of the foregoing chapter, the
And first, that term demands consideration, which, perhaps, more frequently than any other is associated with future punishment, I mean fire. Certainly this most prominently figures, and is most emphatically appealed to, in the arguments of those who hold endless torment to be the portion of the wicked. Much time need not, I suppose, be spent in disputing the notion that actual material flame is to be employed in the punishment of sinners. The notion has, indeed, been held commonly enough, and hell fire, as a literal reality, glares with fierce frequency in the sermons and systems of many a preacher and many a divine. Take, for instance
CHAP. XHI. the following passage from the writings of a very
learned and celebrated divine, Jonathan Edwards: "The world," he says, "will probably be converted into a great lake or liquid globe of fire, a vast ocean of fire, in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed, which will always be in tempest, in which they shall be tossed to and fro, having no rest day or night, vast waves or billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall for ever be full of a quick sense within and without ; their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins, and their vitals shall for ever be full of glowing, melting fire, enough to melt the very rocks and elements; also they shall be full of the most quick and lively sense to feel the torments; not for one minute, not for one day, not for one age, nor for two ages, nor for a thousand ages, nor for ten thousand of millions of ages, one after another, but for ever and ever, without any end at all, and never, never be delivered." Now, upon what is this awfully elaborated picture founded? It stands, I am bold to say, in the imagination of the writer only, and not on any plain warrants of God's Word. But, it may be asked, does not Scripture speak of dwelling with 'devouring fire' and with everlasting burnings'? Does not our Mark ix. 43–48. Lord Himself bid us cut off a hand or foot, or pluck out an eye, if causes of offence, for that it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one hand, or one foot, or one eye, than with two hands, or two feet, or two eyes, to be cast into hell fire, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched? Does He not also, in one of his parables, represent
Isa. xxxiii. 14.
Luke xvi. 24.
the rich man as begging that Lazarus might be CHAP. XIII. sent to dip the tip of his finger in water and to cool
xx. 14; x.ci. &..
his tongue, 'for,' said he, 'I am tormented in this Rev. xix. 20; flame'? Does not, moreover, the Apocalypse more than once speak of the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and in which the worshippers of the beast and his image are to be tormented? True, and each of these passages shall in due course be considered; for I will not consciously evade a single difficulty. But, for the present, with reference to the point immediately in hand, it may fairly be asked, why the term 'fire' in these passages is to be understood literally any more than various other expressions relating to future punishment? If, for instance, by the fire that is not quenched' is meant actual material flame, then by the worm that dieth not' must be meant a literal worm, ever living and ever preying on the body, whereas the very interpreters who take the one literally regard the other as representing the gnawings of conscience and remorse. If the lake burning with brimstone is to be literally understood, why should not an equally literal interpretation be put on such expressions as the 'chains 2 Pet. ii. 4. of darkness,' into which the fallen angels are said to be delivered, and 'the wine-press of the wrath Rev. xiv. 19. of God,' under which some are represented as being crushed? It is said of those who worship the beast and his image that they shall drink of the wine Rev. xiv. 10. of the wrath of God, which is poured into the cup of his indignation,' and that they shall be tormented with fire and brimstone.' If the first part be obviously figurative, and is universally