Douglas MacLeod, Charlottetown, PEI
As believers, we are deeply stirred and burdened when we think about eternal punishment. One blessed truth, however, does come to mind again and again – that not one person need go to a place of eternal torment.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The Bible speaks about a place of eternal torment where souls cry in vain for water amid flames that they cannot ever escape. The very possibility that such a doom may await the sinner demands that each person face this issue. How can anything that we face today – whether it is hunger or feasting, lack of clothing or rampant materialism, pain or pleasure – compare in importance with the millions of years of pain and torment of body, mind, and conscience that a sinner faces in hell? We plead with the sinner to consider what God says about eternal punishment.
The Word of God most clearly and fully teaches that punishment is eternal. The words “everlasting” or “eternal” occur about 70 times in the New Testament. Here are a few examples:
Matt 18:8, “cast into everlasting fire.”
Matt 25:46 “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.”
John 3:15, 36 “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”
2 Thess 1:9, “who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.”
Heb 9:12, “having obtained eternal redemption.”
Jude 7, “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
The only source of knowledge regarding hell is obtained from the Bible. Man’s science can tell us nothing beyond death. Human experience does not reach beyond the grave. If men on earth are ever to know what is beyond this life, we must learn it from the Bible. Matters of heaven and hell, reward and punishment, happiness and sorrow beyond the grave are matters about which the Word of God is the only authority. Jesus said more about hell than did Moses or David, the Apostle Paul, Peter or John, or any other individual in the Scripture. The Lord Jesus is the authority in this matter. We are compelled to hear His words and dare not take away from the awful solemnity of the torments of a doomed soul in the lake of fire forever.
The Lord Jesus addressed the subject of hell on many occasions. People often speak of Jesus as “the lowly Nazarene” or “the meek and lowly,” and rightly so. Even though Jesus is the very essence of God’s love made manifest in human form, His message of warning against the terrible consequences of sin was the plainest and sharpest of all in the Bible. Consider the following Scriptures, from the teaching of the Lord Jesus, about hell:
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.”
Matt 13:41-42, “And they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Men may reason as they will about divine benevolence and goodness, about its inconsistency with the mercy of God to permit such a thing as eternal punishment, as to the strange want of proportion between a few years of sin and an endless eternity of punishment. A single line of Holy Scripture is amply sufficient to sweep away ten thousand such reasonings: Mark 9:46, “Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”
Solemn statement! Let men beware of trifling with it or reasoning about it! Let them believe it and flee from the wrath to come! We should urge them to flee now to the Savior Who died on Calvary’s cursed tree to deliver them from everlasting burnings.
I am aware that those who oppose the doctrine of eternal punishment endeavor to prove that the word “everlasting” does not mean “forever.” If they maintain this when applied to the punishment of the wicked, what security do they have that it means forever when applied to life hereafter for those that are saved? The truth of eternal punishment in Scripture is laid down as clearly as the eternal existence of God Himself. It flows as a necessary truth from other truths in Scripture that are generally received without a single question. Consider the doctrine of redemption. If anything less than eternal punishment were due for sin, what need was there for an infinite sacrifice to give deliverance from that punishment? Could anything less than the peerless, priceless, divine sacrifice of the Son of God deliver any from hell fire, and that fire not be eternal? Did Jesus shed His precious blood to deliver us from the consequences of our sin, and those consequences be only temporary? We can never admit any such proposition. From the truth of an infinite sacrifice we argue the truth of eternal punishment. We attach no weight whatever to the argument drawn from the lack of proportion between a few years of sin and an eternity of woe. The cross is the only measure by which to understand this matter. We believe the deniers of eternal punishment offer dishonor to the cross by lowering it into a means of deliverance from a doom which is not eternal in its duration.
Some feel that eternal misery could never comport with God’s divine mercy and goodness. However, those that support this have overlooked God’s justice, divine holiness, and truth. We fall into the danger of being selective when it comes to God’s attributes. The cross of Christ has harmonized all of God’s characteristics for all to see. In that cross God has set forth His perfect love to the sinner and His perfect hatred of sin. If a man deliberately rejects that only way of escape, if he rejects that perfect remedy, that divine provision, what is to be done? God cannot let sin into His presence. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. The unconverted should not be deceived into thinking that the word “eternal” could possibly mean anything less than eternal or that God is too kind to consign any of His creatures to eternal fire. God was so kind as to give “His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).