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CHAP. XIV. ference would become inevitable, that whereas
certain stages of guilt will be visited with neverending torment, other degrees will be exempted from it altogether, an inference that would lay the axe to the root of their entire theory. The truth is, that while these two passages do intimate different degrees of punishment, some more dreadful than others, they disclose nothing as to the specific nature of that punishment, nor afford the slightest warrant for believing that it will consist of literal fire, or of any other element, as an apparatus of never-ending torture.
Another passage demands attention, where St. 2 Thess. i. 3—10. Paul speaks of some who, at the revelation of the Lord
Jesus from heaven, δίκην τίσουσιν όλεθρον αιώνιον from the presence of the Lord and from the glory
Let us carefully examine this passage. Expressing his thankfulness at their having been enabled, in faith and patience, to endure the persecutions and tribulations to which they were being subjected, the Apostle comforts the Thessalonians by telling them that these very afflictions were a proof or manifestation of the righteous judgment of God, in order to their being counted worthy of the kingdom of God on behalf of which they were suffering. In passing, it may be remarked that we have here another instance of the character and intent of God's judgments as corrective and improving; in this case the subjects thereof were to be thereby ripened and fitted for the kingdom. Further, the Apostle tells the Thessalonians that in the exercise of his justice God will requite tribulation to those that troubled
of his power.
them, and to themselves rest and relaxation from trouble at the revelation, the manifestation from heaven, of the Lord Jesus in flame of fire, accompanied by the angels of his might. Here, it is to be observed, the same emblem of bright flame is used as the symbol of the divine energy and presence, in agreement with that continuous use of fire as a symbol which has been already noticed. Further, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians, what has been already learnt from the gospel of St. Matthew, that the second advent of Christ, when He shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all those that believe, shall be ushered in by judgments. He says that on the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with the angels of his power in flame of fire, He will exact punishment upon all them that know not God, and on all them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the which δίκην τίσουσιν όλεθρον αιώνιον from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power.
The punishment thus to be awarded is in part the same as that inflicted on the foolish virgins, the unfaithful servant, and those on the left hand, viz., exclusion from the glory and blessedness of the millennial kingdom. Here, however, that exclusion is described as destruction for the era from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power. And this brings us to the notice of that class of terms under which future punishment is so frequently set forth, as destruction, death, perdition, and the like. What, then, is the import of these terms as applied to future punishment? This much may at once be said, that none of these terms favours the notion of
never-ending torment, but rather militates against
It is a strange inconsistency of diction to say that death, destruction, perdition, perishing, mean the being everlastingly kept alive to be everlastingly tormented. On the contrary, were these terms to be pressed to the utmost extremity of their meaning, they would rather, I repeat, land us in the doctrine of annihilation as the end of the wicked ; and, indeed, those who hold that view appeal to these expressions in support of their opinion. Seeing, however, that the annihilation of beings which God made and which Christ died to redeem, though infinitely less horrible an idea than that of unending torture, is still wholly irreconcilable with the character and design and predicted issue of Christ's kingdom, I cannot understand these terms as enunciating the doctrine of annihilation. A fatal objection to that doctrine, as it seems to me, is that it argues an impotency of remedial and restitutive grace on the part of Him to whom the kingdom has been given that He may reconcile and subdue all things to God. If, after all, millions upon millions of souls are to be absolutely blotted out of existence, then the victory of grace will be but a poor and partial one, and satanic might and malignity will have had no inconsiderable a triumph.
Assuming, then, that the terms cannot be understood in their rigid literality, they must necessarily be taken in a modified meaning, and interpreted as intended to express terrible and grievpus loss and tribulation, such as while it shall have, as before noticed, a corrective influence, shall be a punishment fitted to express the displeasure of a holy God against sin, and to occasion to the sinner wailing, CHAP. XIV. anguish, and remorse. And in so understanding these terms, we are confirmed by more than one consideration. In the first place, let it be observed that the destruction here spoken of, in the passage immediately before us, is described as aicvlov öne pov, that is, as has already been shown in connection with the word punishment, a destruction belonging to the age or age-lasting. That cannot be either endless torment or annihilation which is so designated. Secondly, the terms 'destroy,' 'perish,' and the like, occur in many passages where neither annihilation nor endless suffering is for a moment to be thought of. The reader has only to consult his Concordance in proof of this. One signal Deut. iv. 26 ; instance may be referred to by way of example. Again and again, Moses warns the Israelites that in the event of their disobedience they will be utterly destroyed. They were most disobedient, yet they remain as a people to this day. Indeed, in the full view of their ultimate re-establishment in the divine favour was this destruction predicted, and in order to it have they been marvellously preserved through most terrible calamities. Indisputably, therefore, in this case the terms 'destroy' and 'perish ’ do not predicate endless sufferings or annihilation. Thirdly, it is very distinctly intimated in Scripture that future punishment, whatever its specific nature may be, will not be absolutely one and the same for all, but that there will be degrees in it. Our Lord's Luke xii. 47, 48. words are express on this point, that the servant who knew his Lord's will, and did not according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes, but that he
CHAP. xiv. who knew not his Lord's will, and yet committed
things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. That such would be the case, we should a priori have concluded from the justice of God, whom we cannot conceive as visiting with an equal degree of punishment all alike, notwithstanding the enormous difference between the wickedness of one man and another, and who has distinctly declared that He will judge every man according to his deeds. But if there are to be degrees in future punishment, then plainly it cannot be annihilation, nor can it be endless torture. Some indeed contend that the degrees will consist not in the duration but in the intensity of the suffering. But surely that suffering, however modified, which is never to have an end, could scarcely be called a being beaten with few stripes. Fourthly, I submit that while the words death, destruction, perdition, and the like, do not carry within themselves the idea of either torture or annihilation, so could they not be intended to express a ceasing to be, the causing an entity to become a nonentity. On the contrary, the whole analogy of nature teaches us that death, decay, destruction, decomposition, are only preliminary to other and higher forms of life. Both Christ and St. Paul appeal to this analogy in the vegetabie world. As in the natural, so in the spiritual world, it is through death and out of death that the higher life comes forth. Through death and out of death the salvation of man is evolved. It is through death and out of death that the power of death is to be destroyed. It is through death and out of death that the body of humiliation becomes the body of
2 Cor, v. 10.
Heb. ii. 14.
John xii. 24. 1 Cor. xv. 36.