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by Arthur W. Pink

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1942 | Main Index


Studies in the Scriptures

by Arthur W. Pink

April, 1942

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The solemn truth which we are here considering is no invention of the Church in the dark ages of ignorance and superstition but is a revelation of Holy Scripture which gives light to all who receive it by faith. The Author of eternal punishment is not the Devil acting in the desperation of his malignity but the Lord God in the exercise of His vindicatory justice. The One who made and sustains us and who shall yet judge us according to our deeds has an infinite abhorrence of sin and has evidenced the same by passing sentence of infinite severity upon it, which sentence will in due course be enacted upon every soul which has not fled to Christ for refuge. God has not left His enemies in ignorance of the indescribably awful doom awaiting them: He has in His Word solemnly and plainly announced, again and again, the inexorable retribution which shall overtake those who spurn His authority, trample upon His laws, and mock His ambassadors. He has placed within themselves a monitor which assures them that “they which commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. 1:32).

Vindicatory justice in the Deity has nothing in its nature inconsistent with His infinite goodness, as His infinite goodness has nothing in its nature inconsistent with His vindicatory justice—for all the Divine perfections are harmonious, blending together as do the varied colours in the rainbow. It is generally lost sight of that the very love of God is “a consuming fire” with respect to sin. If the more holy a man becomes the more he abhors evil, then the greater his love for virtue the stronger his hatred of vice. How much more so must this be true of Him who is the Holy One. In His pure sight sin is an infinitely odious, hateful, ill-deserving thing. Therefore as He announced, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). The malediction of the Most High rests upon every unpardoned transgressor of His Law. When a wise and righteous monarch puts a traitor to death, it is not because he takes pleasure in the destruction of his subjects but because he delights in the honour of his crown and the good of his kingdom.

The vindicatory justice of God was eminently displayed at the Cross. The incarnate Son who never did any wrong and in whose mouth was no guile became the Surety of His guilty people and God dealt with Him accordingly. The sins of the unjust were laid upon the Just and therefore did Divine justice exact full satisfaction from Him. God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up” (Rom. 8:32) unto a penal and painful death. “Awake O sword (He cried) against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the LORD of Hosts, smite the Shepherd” (Zech. 13:7). The awful wages of sin must be paid Him to the fullest—the righteous requirements of the Law shall not be abated one iota and therefore Christ was “made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him,” He “put Him to grief” when He made “His soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53:10). “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me,” cried the Sin-bearer as the storm of God's judgment burst upon Him. “Thy wrath lieth hard upon Me” (Psa. 88:7), Christ exclaimed.

II. Its Design

In creation, in redemption, and in the destruction of the wicked, God has one grand end in view—His own glory. Whatever subordinate ends may be accomplished by the punishing of the lost, the principal aim which God has in view is the manifesting and magnifying of His own perfections. Yet it is only as we perceive the origin and true nature of the Divine government that this will be evident to us. Alas, the view which obtains almost universally in Christendom today is that the primary design of the Divine government is the good of its subjects, which is to confuse the ultimate end with a subordinate advantage. It is true that the creature can only be really happy while rendering full obedience to the Divine Law but so far from that proving the Law was established because of its tendency to promote the felicity of its subjects, it merely makes plain those benevolent tendencies because the subject was adapted to the Law. The government of God was not adjusted to the nature and benefit of man, rather was man constituted with reference to it

To make the creature an end to the Creator and not the Creator an end to the creature is to turn things upside down, making that supreme which is subordinate and that subordinate which is truly supreme. The happiness of the creature was not the end which God designed in the promulgating of His Law—that was contemplated as an effect—a subordinate and incidental effect which would certainly follow from the accomplishment of the nobler purpose which actuated the Lawgiver. No, the true end of the Divine government, as in all the institutions of the Most High, must be sought not in the good of the creature, however much that may be promoted, but in the glory of God. That is the only object worthy of the Almighty, for it includes in itself all that is exalted in excellence, illustrious in truth, sublime in holiness. Because God is independent and self-sufficient, it is impossible that His manifold works should proceed from any other motive but the counsel of His own will. How blessed that this is so when we are assured it is the will of Him who is possessed of infinite perfections and unchangeable blessedness!

Why was God pleased to go forth into acts of creation? Was it not to reveal Himself, to declare what He is, to make known the attributes of His being, to manifest His glory by inscribing His character upon the works of His hand? When He made man was it not in His own image and likeness? Why did He give to man His Law? As a matter of expediency?—perish the thought! Was it not rather to make known the fact that to those creatures whom He has endowed with intelligence and moral accountability He sustain the relationship of Ruler? Through His Law a faithful and permanent exhibition is made of the eternal principles of rectitude and holiness which belong to the essence of the Godhead. Why did the Most High permit the entrance of sin into His domains? Must it not have been because its presence afforded more occasion for the display of His perfections than had its absence?—the wonders and glories of redemption can only shine forth as evil supplies the dark background.

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever, Amen” (Rom. 11:36) is a Divine summary of all the institutions and achievements of Jehovah. “Of Him”—they are as their originating Cause: “Through Him”—they are as their Director and Sustainer. “To Him”—to His honour and glory they necessarily tend as their supreme End. Nor is the doom of the damned any exception. The government of God is founded in His right to exact obedience from His creatures and His Law reveals the requirements of His holy will. The punishment of those who transgress it is clearly revealed—“He will by no means clear the guilty” (Exo. 34:7)—is the authority of the Ruler, the majesty of His Law, the way He regards disobedience, the manifestation of His detestation of sin and His satisfaction unto His justice. In the everlasting fires of Hell will be displayed the inextinguishable hatred of God to all iniquity.

It is because sin has blinded men's judgment that they do not perceive the glory of God is as truly evidenced in Hell by the damnation of the lost as it is in Heaven by the salvation of the redeemed. If the salvation of the latter be “to the praise of the glory of His grace,” the damnation of the wicked is equally to the praise of the honour of His holiness and justice. The fact is that the unregenerate are concerned only about their own private and personal interests, having no regard to the honour of God. But once a sinner is renewed by the gracious power of the Holy Spirit, He begins to see (though as “through a glass darkly”) the beauty of vindicatory justice. He is able to discern that “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious” (2 Cor. 3:7). As he is convicted of his sinfulness, he perceives not only that eternal punishment is his just due but that God had been honourable and glorious had he been made to suffer the due reward of his iniquities in the everlasting burnings of Hell.

But it is not only through an experimental acquaintance with Sinai that the believer discovers the glory of' God's punitive justice—it is also and supremely at Calvary that his eyes are opened to see the loveliness of that Divine perfection. As faith beholds the spotless Lamb bearing his sins, it also beholds the excellence of Divine justice in smiting the Lamb. Filled with horror and anguish at the multitude and heinousness of his crimes, overwhelmed with wonderment that the Just should be willing to take the place of the unjust, through tear-dimmed eyes he perceives the grandeur of that justice which exacted full satisfaction from the Vicarious One. There at Calvary the eyes of faith perceive that “mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psa. 85:10). Though the preaching of Christ crucified is to the self-righteous Jews a stumblingblock and to the philosophic Greek foolishness, the believer glories in the Cross, for he sees therein the supreme display of all the Divine perfections!

Illumined from on high the believer perceives the evicting of the sinning angels out of Heaven down to eternal darkness and despair, the turning of our first parents out of Paradise and sentencing them and all their posterity to death and the final sentence passed upon the apostate at the day of judgment as so many glorious displays of the Divine character, punishing sin according to its deserts. It was such an illumined spirit which moved Moses to say—as he beheld Pharaoh and his hosts (types of finally impenitent sinners) dead upon the sea shore—“I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously . . . Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power; Thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy . . . Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the gods (or “mighty ones”), who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!” (Exo. 15:1, 6, 11). In the execution of His vindicatory justice Jehovah appeared most excellent in the eyes of His servant.

God will receive infinitely more honour from the judgment which He will finally execute upon His enemies than He has received dishonour from all their rebellions. Their revolt was, comparatively, for a moment, but the penal satisfaction He shall exact will last through the endless ages of eternity. When mystical Babylon shall sink like a millstone into the sea under the vengeance of the Almighty and many shall be cast into Hell at that moment, there shall be heard “a great voice of much people in Heaven, saying, Alleluia, salvation and glory, and honour and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgments, for He hath judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia; And her smoke rose up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:1-3).

Because the vindicatory justice of God is so excellent a Divine perfection it was a becoming and glorious thing in God to “bruise Him and put His soul to grief” who had espoused the cause of His elect and appeared as their Representative, even though He were His own Son—and for the same reason it was a becoming and glorious thing in the incarnate Son to say, “Thy will be done.” And since vindicatory justice is a blessed and glorious perfection in God, He is altogether lovely—there is no blemish in His character. If it were otherwise it would be impossible to conceive of the Lord Jesus Christ making such a glorious appearance as He will at the Day of Judgment—rather would He be draped in sackcloth. In “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5), He whose meat it is to honour the Father shall without the least reluctance pronounce the final sentence on the wicked; yea it will give Him ineffable delight to put an end to the controversy which has existed between God and His rebellious subjects.

III. Its Nature.

Under this head we do not propose to examine the constituent elements which will comprise the retribution visited upon the wicked: rather would we take note of its intrinsic character. From what has been said under the previous divisions there will be the less need for us to dwell upon this aspect of our subject at much length, yet we cannot ignore it entirely because it is at this very point that enemies of this truth are most accustomed to introduce their errors. Romanists are not alone in believing that the fires of “purgatory” have a purifying effect upon the souls of those who enter “limbo”: the great majority of Universalists contend that the final punishment meted out upon unbelievers is disciplinary in its character, that the Lake of Fire so far from being the ultimate Penitentiary of the universe is a grand Reformatory, and that after a season therein its inmates will emerge as purged of their depravity and fit to take their place among the citizens of Heaven

It should be sufficient refutation of such an opium dream to point out that there is not a single verse in all the Scriptures which substantiates it. There are many, many verses which speak of the wicked being cast into Hell but there is not one which declares that any shall escape therefrom, or that after serving a term therein (be that term a brief or lengthy one) any shall come forth fitted to dwell with God's people. Not only is there nothing in the Word of God which warrants us to entertain any hope for those who die in their sins but on the contrary there is much which excludes, which utterly forbids, such a hope. The very nature of the punishment inflicted upon the finally impenitent cuts away all ground from under the feet of “Universalists,” for the intrinsic character of it is retributive and not educative: the sentence passed upon the lost is a penal and not a remedial one.

The nature of God's punishment upon sin appears with unmistakable plainness at Calvary. There we behold One who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners” dying a criminal's death and what is infinitely stranger, suffering not only at the hands of men but of God, too. The Psalmist declared, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken” (37:25), but here is the Righteous One Himself forsaken of Heaven and earth alike! What is the explanation of this mystery? Why, the Righteous One had voluntarily taken the place of the unrighteous. The sentence which stood over the head of God's elect was “cursed are the guilty” and out of unfathomable love Christ interposed saying, Let that curse fall on Me. The elect of God were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3), but Divine grace provided a deliverance for them from that wrath: not by making light of their sins, not by abolishing the penalty of His Law, but by admitting a Surety to take their place, assume their liabilities and being dealt with accordingly.

That is why Christ's perfect obedience was followed by such terrible punishment: fulfilling the requirements of the Law's precepts He must also endure its penalty. Being charged with His Church's guilt, He receives the wages which were due her. The justice which pursued God's sinful people smote their Substitute. Christ had presented Himself before the Divine tribunal on their behalf and God was avenged by Him for their crimes, wounding Him for their transgressions and bruising Him for their iniquities. The Saviour offered Himself unto God as a satisfaction for their wrongs and gave Himself a ransom for their debts. The sufferings of Christ were punitive and propitiatory. The very mode of His death demonstrated the penal nature of it. Under the Mosaic law death by hanging on a tree was reserved for the greatest of criminals and Christ's execution on the Tree (1 Peter 2:24) was the public testimony that God's curse rested on Him (Gal. 3:13), that He endured the wrath of Jehovah! The sufferings which the Redeemer experienced were a judicial infliction, imposed upon Him by a sin-hating God.

It is not out of love to them that the wicked will be cast into Hell, as being designed for their ultimate happiness but rather that in them God means to “show His wrath and make His power known” as their being “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22). The righteous are considered as “wheat” but the wicked are likened unto “tares” and “chaff” and when it is said, “but the chaff will He burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17), it is certainly not for their refining or purifying. The “damnation of Hell” (Matt. 23:33) and being “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9) are expressions very far from connoting a process of remedial discipline. “They that perish” (1 Cor. 1:18) and “which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9) is language the very opposite of conveying the idea that the portion awaiting those who die in their sins is nothing worse than a means for their reformation. The “second death” (Rev. 21:8) closes the door of hope upon all who experience it.

It has been rightly pointed out that “Even in human governments, which contemplate the injury rather than the wickedness of actions, penal laws cannot be sustained upon the sole basis of expedience. Nothing can be punished as harmful which is not felt to be vicious” (J. H. Thornwell). That is true and it is both an instructive and solemn task to study history in the light of that fact, particularly the marked change for the worse during the last fifty years by those termed “Christian nations.” Where the blessing of God rests on a people, side by side with His gracious power being exerted in the churches He quickens the public conscience so that crime is made odious in their sight and their moral instinct demands that it should be punished severely. Providence so orders things that self-interests and the good of the State make a majority feel that if evil is to be suppressed evil-doers must be dealt with a firm hand and thus God's disapprobation of sin is reflected in the conscience of society.

Consequently, when the penal nature of Divine punishment is plainly and faithfully proclaimed, God's abhorrence of sin is held up to public view, and not only does this produce a salutary effect upon those who receive such teaching, but they in turn become the “salt” of society—staying the unregenerate carcass from utter corruption. Conversely, the disappearance of the doctrine of eternal punishment has had the most disastrous consequences upon the pew and the masses outside. Necessarily so—for when the Spirit is quenched in the churches His restraining hand is removed from the world, the fruits of which quickly become apparent. Conscience goes to sleep, moral sentiment is dulled, horror at evil-doing wanes. Judges are fearful of imposing adequate sentences lest they be regarded as heartless tyrants. Government becomes more and more lax, for the leaders know the masses will no longer tolerate stern measures and so expediency rather than moral principle shapes their policy. The outcome must be the complete breakdown of law and order unless God is pleased to intervene, either in desolating judgment or restoring mercy.—A.W.P.

1942 | Main Index

 

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