by Arthur W. Pink

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Studies in the Scriptures

by Arthur W. Pink

March, 1942

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

Our lot is cast in a day when the truth of the eternal punishment of Christ-despisers has almost entirely disappeared from the pulpit, for though a verse or two thereon may occasionally be quoted in some places, where shall we go to hear a whole sermon on the subject? Some imagine that it is impolite to mention Hell but shall we pretend unto a refinement superior to the Scriptures? Some say sinners are not to be terrified into Heaven but won by the cooing of love: then why did the Lord Jesus speak so often of “the fire that never shall be quenched”? Others argue that such preaching would drive the people from the churches—fidelity and not popularity should be our aim. Certain preachers seek to excuse themselves on the pretext that the subject is so unspeakably awful they do not feel in a suitable frame of soul to handle it—then they should retire into their closets and beg God to fit their souls for the task and come not out till He does so.

It is far more than a mere coincidence that side by side with the disappearing of the truth of eternal punishment from the pulpit there is also the departing of the Spirit's presence and power from the churches. We have heard it said, It is not the Spirit's way to drive, but to draw. Yet Christ did not say that when the Paraclete should come He would “woo the world.” No, rather did He declare, “He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8). Nevertheless the Spirit is pleased to use means—the Truth proclaimed by God's servants. And what is better suited to beget in careless and callous souls a fear of sin and evil-doing than for the pulpit to announce in plain terms the fearful retribution which awaits the same? If the preacher maintains a studied and guilty silence thereon, on what ground shall the Spirit convict his hearers of their dire peril and their urgent need of fleeing from the wrath to come?

Side by side with the Spirit's departure from the churches is the withdrawal of His restraining hand from the world. The masses have become bolder and more brazen in wrong-doing and protests against their iniquities fewer and weaker. Crimes which formerly were dealt with severely have become gradually tolerated and winked at. Criminals are no longer regarded as rebels who must be made to feel the majesty of the law but are looked upon as objects of pity who should be reformed by gentle treatment. Corporal punishment has been banished from the schools. First offenders are let off with a “warning.” Lawbreakers are lightly fined instead of being sent to prison. Murderers are frequently reprieved. A generation has arisen which has no conscience of sin, no fear of the hereafter, no regard for the rights of others—who give free rein to their lusts and are quite indifferent as to what anyone thinks of or says to them.

There are more and more sound preachers expressing shock at the rising tide of evil—but what are they doing to stem it? They express their horror at the lawlessness which now abounds on every side but how far are they conscious that they and their unfaithful predecessors are largely responsible for it? If the foundations are removed what shall the righteous do? and if the awful doom awaiting the unrighteous be concealed from them, if they are encouraged to believe they may sin with comparative impunity, then what remains to check them in their sinning with both hands and drinking in iniquity like water? The mercy of God has been stressed and His justice ignored. His love has been emphasized and His wrath concealed. His character as Father has been exalted and His office as Judge disregarded—there are scarcely any now left who believe “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

Almost two hundred years ago conditions in Britain and America were well nigh as bad as they are today. The churches were as dead and heretical. Wickedness abounded in high places. The Sabbath was profaned on all sides. The masses were utterly indifferent to the claims of the Most High. And what was the turning point? What was it that produced such a radical change for the better? What was the chief means used by God when the Enemy had come in like a flood? The records of history give a plain answer. The Lord was pleased to raise up a handful of men who went forth proclaiming that God, “hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psa. 3:5) and that “the wicked shall be turned into Hell” (Psa. 9:17). Whitefield and his fellows in this country and Jonathan Edwards and his companions in New England dwelt mainly on the terrors of Hell, and the masses were sobered, the churches revived, and many were turned unto God.

The Divine promise is, “them that honour Me I will honour” (1 Sam. 2:30) and God is not honoured by those who caricature Him and convey a false conception of His perfections. God is honoured by those who shun not to declare “all His counsel” and not by those who withhold those parts of it which are most distasteful to flesh and blood. God was superlatively honoured by His incarnate Son, and none ever portrayed the doom awaiting the damned in such vivid colours and unmistakable terms as He did. He who shall Himself be the Judge of the quick and the dead spoke of “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29) and announced that He will say unto the lost, “Depart from Me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). He it was who asked the Pharisees, “How can ye escape the damnation of Hell?” (Matt. 23:33). He it was that told of “the furnace of fire” where “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42). What right has any minister to be regarded as a servant of Christ's if he is silent on such matters?

When the Lord Jesus commissioned His servants to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” He immediately added, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). It is a great mistake to suppose that threats and terrors pertain alone to the Law of Sinai. Not so—a fearful punishment is annexed to the despising of the Gospel. Said the chief of the Apostles, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3). That there might be no uncertainty on the point, he declared in this same Epistle: “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense saith the Lord” (Heb. 10:28-30). And again, “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh: for if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from Heaven” (12:25).

Eternal punishment is an essential part of the Gospel message and they who withhold it deal deceitfully with the souls of men and keep back an integral portion of the whole counsel of God. It is meet that the Gospel should be armed with solemn threats as well as attended with gracious promises. It is honouring to Christ, the Author and Center of the Gospel, that it should be so. Christ is King of Zion, and a sceptre without a sword, a crown without a rod of iron would be impotent and useless. He has been given both. God has said to His ascended and enthroned Son, “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies” (Psa. 110:2). “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel” (Psa. 2:9). And it is because He has been invested with such power that the rulers of the earth are told to “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling: Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psa. 2:10-12). “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel” (2 Thess. 1:7, 8).

We have by no means exhausted the contents of the Gospel by presenting Christ on the Cross as a Saviour for sinners, nor by proclaiming Him as the great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for those who come unto God by Him. He must also be magnified as “King of kings and Lord of lords” who shall one day vindicate His honour and make a footstool of His enemies. He shall come forth in righteousness to “judge and make war,” having eyes “as a flame of fire.” “Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:11-16). It is therefore the duty of the evangelist to plainly warn the rejecters of Christ that He is unto them “a saviour of death unto death” (2 Cor. 2:16)—that is, the sentence of death passed upon them by the Law shall be aggravated by the additional wrath they incur because of their contempt of the Gospel.

A few words now upon the spirit in which this subject needs to be taken up. It becomes us to approach such a theme with deep solemnity of soul. Everything in the Word of Truth is sacred and calls for sobriety and seriousness of attention. But surely among all that God has been pleased to reveal to us, there is nothing which, in its own nature, is so calculated to produce profound awe as Jehovah's announcements of His purposed vengeance on the rebels against His government—the revelation of the righteous wrath of the Almighty. A careless and flippant attitude ill-becomes either speaker or hearer on such a subject as this. Yet in no hesitant and excusing manner should the pulpit treat of it. This doctrine needs no apology on our part but a bold yet reverent witnessing thereto. If the preacher reminds himself that it is nothing but sovereign grace which has plucked him as a brand from the everlasting burnings, he will be delivered from speaking thereon in an unholy manner.

This is a subject which requires to be examined and handled dispassionately. Unless all prejudice is banished from our minds we shall view it through distorted lenses. Surely it ill-becomes worms of the dust to take their place at the feet of Infinite Wisdom, all the time determined to hold fast their own foregone conclusions. What more impious than to pretend to examine God's written revelation that we may learn His mind, when we have already predetermined the matter? A Puritan said that we ought to bring our mind to God's Word as blank paper is brought to the printing press, that it may receive only the impressions of the type. We need to get away from all systems of theology, abandon all prejudices and preconceptions, and seek only “What saith the Lord?” We need to approach this awe-inspiring subject in the attitude of little children, saying to God, “That which I see not teach Thou me.”

This is a subject which needs to be investigated in a spirit of confiding submission. It is not at all a matter of what do the majority of professing Christians believe thereon. Nor is it a question of what appears to us to be most in accord with God's revealed character. It is not for us to decide what shall best vindicate the Divine benevolence and wisdom. How can the finite determine what most becomes Him who is Infinite? He who has known and believed the love of God will not question His love because he is unable to reconcile with it all that he is taught of God to believe. If I am incapable of understanding how an omniscient, omnipotent, infinitely holy and benevolent God should permit sin to enter this world, with all its attendant woes, then why should I be staggered by my inability to perceive the need for the penalty of everlasting punishment being passed upon those who die in their sins? There is much in God's present Providences we cannot understand, yet we know that the Judge of all the earth does right and in the confidence of that fact we may trustfully bow to His decisions in the Day of Judgment.

I. Its Inflicter.

The One who passes sentence of eternal punishment upon the lost is the Lord God— in the exercise of His vindictive justice. Vindicatory justice is that perfection in the Divine character which inclines God to punish sin according to its deserts, to render unto it the wages which are its due thereby clearing His own honour and establishing the majesty of His Law. The manifestative glory of God has been greatly sullied in this world. Consider Him as Creator. The greatest of His works in this mundane sphere is man, yet scarcely was he called into existence than he revolted against his Maker. Consider Him as the Ruler of this world. His laws have been made known only to be treated with utter contempt by those who have received them. Consider Him as the Gracious One. He sent forth His own dear Son into this world on a mission of mercy but the world hated and crucified Him. Nor was that crime peculiar to the men of the first century A.D., for by each succeeding generation of men since then Christ has been “despised and rejected.”

Now is the Most High to be mocked with impunity? Shall He regard with indifference the despising of His authority and the contempt of His grace? Are His majesty, His holiness, His omnipotence but empty titles? Shall His enemies defy Him forever? No, He has appointed a Day when He shall exonerate Himself and vindicate His great name. That solemn day has already been anticipated in part. From time to time God has interposed and given plain proof of His hatred of sin and His wrath upon sinners. At the beginning sentence was passed upon Adam and Eve and they were driven out of the garden of Eden. In the fearful flood sent in the days of Noah God made manifest His detestation of evil. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are “set forth for an example” of those who shall yet suffer “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). In the drowning of Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea the Lord evidenced the certain fate of all who shall fling themselves against the bosses of His buckler.

Yet fearful as have been God's judgments in the past they are but portents and a faint shadowing forth of that which is yet to come. They were for the most part local but finally shall be upon all the wicked. They were only upon the bodies of men, but shall be upon their souls as well. They were merely temporal but shall be eternal. “Thine hand shall find out all Thine enemies: Thy right hand shall find out those that hate Thee. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them” (Psa. 21:8, 9). How little are the masses aware of what a terrible and loathsome thing sin is in the sight of the ineffably Holy One. The great multitudes all around us regard sin as a mere trifle, as though it were but a thing of today which would never come up against them in the future. They go on unconcernedly peacefully in their iniquities, as though God had no Book of Remembrance in which is recorded their every word and deed.

In His Word God has plainly made it known that He is not going to ignore the transgressions of His righteous Law but rather that He will judge every defiant rebel. “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God with Me: I kill, and I make alive, I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to Heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet My glittering sword and Mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me. I will make Mine arrows drunk with blood, and My sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy” (Deut. 12:39-42). That is the Lord's own solemn declaration, yet for all that is ever heard of it from the pulpit, it might not be in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, it is the declaration of Him who cannot lie and it shall most assuredly be made good in every detail.

Such a passage as the last quoted must not be regarded as revealing some blemish in the Divine character or blot upon His government. The justice of God is as truly a Divine perfection as His mercy, His wrath as His love. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; and because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner. So far from the Scriptures making any attempt to conceal this Divine perfection, they speak more frequently of God's anger and wrath than they do of His love and compassion and make no apology for His “fierceness” and “fury.” “The LORD is known by the judgment which He executeth” (Psa. 9:16), as truly as His wisdom and power are displayed in the wonders of creation.

When the Most High announced the destruction of the Moabites and Ammonites He said, “I will execute judgments upon Moab, and they shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 25:11). Observe how this striking sentence, “they shall know that I am the LORD” is repeated in connection with His judgment upon Edom (25:14), the Philistines (25:16), Tyre (26:7), etc. Those decimating judgments are represented as conduct worthy of the Holy One, as displays of His vindictive justice.—A.W.P.

1942 | Main Index

 

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