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To revert, then, to the sentence passed upon those at the left hand, I submit that neither the Matt. xxv. 41, 46. πορεύεσθε ἀπ ̓ ἐμοῦ οἱ κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον nor the ἀπελεύσονται εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, warrant the idea of their consignment to endless torment. But, it may perhaps be objected, the fire is specified as that which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. True, and so far we have additional proof that actual material flame cannot be intended, seeing that could have no power to touch beings of spirit, which the devil and his angels are. Nor do these words forbid the notion of the remedial character of the punishment which the fire in ques tion symbolizes. Three distinct and notable instances Job i. 12; ii. 6. are recorded in Scripture of a giving over to Satan, not for perdition, but for improvement. Put for a
time under the power of Satan, what a 'fiery trial' Job xl. 4, 5; had Job to pass through, and for what end? That his patience might be exercised and strengthened, while at the same time he should be made to know his own infirmity, and be humbled to the dust be- 1 Cor. v. 4, 5. fore the holiness and majesty of God. Armed with
the authority of the Great Head of the Church, St.
Paul decreed to deliver to Satan an evil doer, for 1 Tim. i. 20. the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord. So, on another occasion, he delivered to Satan two who had made shipwreck concerning the faith, in order that they might be disciplined, (πaidevßŵσi), not to blaspheme. With these instances before us, need we count it a strange thing that some should go away into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, not in order to their never ending torture
or their annihilation, but as a kóλaσis, a corrective discipline, through which and out of which they shall ultimately come forth, as trophies of the all-subduing power of the grace of the Saviour King.
NOTE. In this chapter I have made use in part of an admirable sermon by the Rev. A. Maclaren, on the Baptism in Fire.
FUTURE PUNISHMENT NOT ANNIHILATION
PROCEEDING with our examination of passages supposed to favour the notion of endless torment, the next to be considered is that one in which our Lord pronounces that it were better for a man to enter Mark ix. 43—48. into the kingdom of God with one foot or one eye, than to be cast εἰς τὴν γέενναν, εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. To this passage very confident appeal is often made on behalf of the dogma in question. "See," say its advocates, "does not Christ Himself declare that the fire of hell is not quenched, and that the worm does not die?" In reply to this, let it first be noted (what indeed has already been remarked), that actual material flame can no more be intended here than an actual worm. No one contends for the literal meaning in the one case; it is simply arbitrary, therefore, to insist upon it in the other. Further, let it be observed that though the fire be unquenchable, and the worm undying, it by no means thence follows that what is cast upon the fire, or given up to the worm, is for ever being consumed by the one and preyed upon by the other. The perpetuity of the fire and
the worm, so far from suggesting, excludes rather the idea of the perpetuity of the thing subjected to them, seeing that in the ordinary and natural course of things utter consumption would be the result. Hence the upholders of the dogma in question are driven to maintain that not only will the apparatus of torture be eternal, but that those consigned to it will be eternally kept alive for the purpose of being eternally tormented. But whatever the unquenchable fire or the undying worm may mean, certainly no such hideous theory as that can be extracted from the passage now under consideration. Nay, press these expressions unduly and they will land us rather in the theory of annihilation, for surely unquenchable fire and neverdying worm must at last utterly consume and devour that which is given up to them, as they actually did the bodies thrown into the valley of Hinnom. Before these terms could legitimately be adduced in support of eternal torment, it would have to be shown that in the actual case, from which our Lord's language was borrowed, the fire and the worm only preyed on but never consumed or devoured that which was thrown to them; whereas we know that the very purpose of the fire in Gehenna being kept ever burning was utterly to consume the carcases flung into it.
That the whole passage is highly figurative, the most cursory examination will show. No one supposes that our Lord means that if a hand or a foot or an eye becomes a cause of offence, we are literally and actually to deprive ourselves of them, but that it is better to mortify or submit to the
loss of anything most dear or useful to us, rather than incur something far more dreadful, the being cast into the Gehenna (for that is the word in the original) where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Now, Gehenna is the Greek name for the valley of Hinnom, where once the idolatrous Jews offered their children to Molech. On account 2 Kings xxiii. of this it was polluted by King Josiah, and subsequently it became a place of abomination, the dead bodies of executed criminals being cast into it, with all the refuse of the city, and fires being kept continually burning to consume what was thrown into it. In his Sermon on the Mount Christ adopts the same expression to denote the extremest stage of punishment. 'I say unto you, Whosoever is Matt. v. 21, 22 angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of judgment,' i.e., death inflicted by the sword, and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the Council,' or Sanhedrim, i.e., death by stoning; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the Gehenna of fire,' the end of the malefactor whose body was thrown into the valley of Hinnom to be consumed by the fire or devoured by the worm. Here our Lord draws a distinction between certain degrees of anger, and illustrates their different degrees of guilt by different kinds of punishment practised among the Jews, the last being deemed the most terrible and disgraceful. Figurative as the whole passage is, those who appeal to it in support of the dogma of endless torture have obviously no more right to apply the last with rigid literality to future punishment than the other two; else this in