by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
IV. Its Dreadfulness.
If God is not slack in fulfilling His promises, equally certain is it that He will not be so in executing His threats. He has told us plainly in His Word how He regards sin and has faithfully warned us that He will by no means clear the guilty—that the penalty which He has pronounced shall surely be inflicted upon them. Sin, says the Lord, is that “abdominal thing that I hate” (Jer. 44:4) and the reality and intensity of His hatred will be evidenced by the vengeance which He visits upon it. Dreadful beyond words, beyond our power to conceive, beyond the bounds of human imagination will be the doom of the damned, even the “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Impossible is it for us to exaggerate the frightfulness of those torments which are prepared for the lost: the most blood-curdling descriptions which poets and artists have furnished of the same fall very short of the dreadful reality itself.
“Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? Even according to Thy fear so is Thy wrath” (Psa. 90:11). It will be seen from the title of this Psalm that Moses was the instrument selected by the Holy Spirit for the writing of it, and his eminent suitability and fitness for this particular task appears in many of its details. Again and again he expresses therein that which comported with his own experiences and observations. Notably is that the case with the verse before us: Moses had witnessed the outpourings of God's anger and the irresistible power thereof as none belonging to any other generation (save Noah's) before or since has beheld. He had seen the horrible plagues upon Egypt, culminating with the death of all her firstborn. He had been a spectator of the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea. He had been present when “there went out fire from the LORD and devoured” Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron (Lev. 10:1, 2) because they had used strange fire in the tabernacle. Awe-inspiring demonstrations were those of the wrath of a holy God burning against them who scorned His authority and insulted His majesty.
Well, then, might Moses exclaim, “Who knoweth the power of Thine anger?”! Had he not also been present when “the ground clave asunder” that was under the feet of Korah, Dathan and Abiram so that “the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah and all their goods: they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the Pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (Num. 16:31-33)? He had witnessed the awful doom which overtook the unbelieving Hebrews when the Lord “sware in His wrath” that they should not enter Canaan, “whose carcasses fell in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:11-18). What terrifying exhibitions were these of the Divine displeasure! How impotent is the creature when the Most High rises up to smite him—less capable is he then of defending himself than is a worm to resist the tread of an elephant.
“God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries and He reserveth wrath for His enemies. Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (Nahum 1:2, 6). When the Almighty shall come forth to execute vengeance upon His enemies, the whole Creation will tremble and so intense will be the fire of His wrath that this world and all that is therein shall be burnt up and its very elements “melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10). Then will be exposed those perversions and misrepresentations of the Divine character which men had fondly framed as a sop to their conscience and a salve to their fears. Then shall be swept away their refuges of lies that God is too gentle and merciful to ever make good His threats. No confederacy of His foes shall be successful in withstanding the storm of His fury—though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not pass unpunished. There will be no avenue of escape available—His goodness had been abused, His mercy refused, so that His wrath must then be endured.
The fearfulness of the punishment awaiting the wicked was adumbrated in the unspeakable sufferings of the Saviour. Divine justice dealt with Christ as the Substitute of His guilty people and there was meted out to Him the penalty which was due them. Had Christ been nothing but a mere creature the awful punishment visited upon Him had utterly crushed Him, but because God had “laid help upon One that is mighty” He was able to “endure the whole of wrath Divine.” Being God and Man in one Person, the Lord Jesus was capable of enduring infinite suffering—to endure compressed into a brief season that which shall be spread out through all eternity upon the wicked. How terrible the suffering which the Redeemer experienced is intimated in both Old and New Testament alike, where His inward anguish and His outward afflictions are made known to us. It is by solemnly and reverently pondering them that we are enabled to form some faint conception of the intolerable wrath which God pays out to sin.
Concerning the Redeemer's passion we read of “the travail His soul” (Isa. 53:11)—that which His body received at the hands of men was nothing in comparison with what He experienced within from the hand of God. His inward anguish was evidenced when the full cup of God's wrath was put into His hands. “Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say?” (John 12:27). He was put to such a strait that, considered as Man, He was in a manner nonplussed, at a loss for words. The horror of what lay immediately before Him was so great that He could not give expression to it. As our blessed Lord approached the Cross the horizon darkened for Him more and more. From earliest infancy He had suffered at the hands of man. From the beginning of His public ministry He had suffered at the hands of Satan: but at the Cross He was to suffer death at the hands of God. Jehovah Himself was to bruise Him and put Him to grief, and it was this which now overshadowed everything else.
In Gethsemane Christ entered the awful gloom of the three hours of darkness at Calvary. There we hear the Holy One saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death . . . O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:38, 39). He views the black clouds arising, He sees the fearful storm about to burst upon Him, He premeditates the unspeakable horror of being abandoned by God. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful”: the Greek signifies He was begirt with sorrow, that He was immersed in the anticipated wrath of Heaven. All the faculties and powers of His soul were wrung with anguish. Mark employs another form of expression, “He began to be sore amazed” (14:33)—a remarkable expression that to describe the God-man!—the Greek term denotes the greatest extremity of amazement, such as makes one's hair to stand on end and flesh to creep. Mark adds, “and to be very heavy,” which intimates an utter sinking of spirit. His heart was melted like wax at the sight of the awful cup. Luke tells us that He was “in an agony” the Greek word meaning to be engaged in a combat, for His holy soul shrank from encountering the undiluted wrath of a sin-hating God.
So intense was the Saviour's agony, that cold as was the night, His sweat was “as it were great drops of blood pouring down to the ground” (Luke 22:44), yet no hand of man was smiting Him! And here we perceive the fitness of the place chosen for the scene of Christ's terrible but preliminary suffering, for “Gethsemane” means “the olive press”—the olive press being where the life blood of the olives was pressed out drop by drop. It was indeed a fit footstool to the Cross, a footstool of an agony unutterable and unparalleled. On the cross Christ actually drained the cup which was presented to Him in Gethsemane—producing that terrible cry—“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” There it is we behold what a horrible thing sin is, what a terrible thing God's wrath is, and what madness it is to contend with Him who will by no means clear the guilty. The death of Christ was “the wages of sin” and that death was a violent and cursed one which had extreme anguish of soul and body going before and along with it. Said Christ, “For if they do these things in a green tree what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). If God inflicted such sufferings upon the Holy One, what must be the portion of those who are full of sin, fit fuel for the flame!
Consider now the awful sentence itself: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Mark the Judge: this is none other than Christ, for “God hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). It is an error to suppose there is a greater austerity in the Father than there is in the Son toward sinners, imagining that the latter is easier to deal with than the former. So it is equally wrong to conclude the Son is more tolerant toward sin than is the Father, that He is more willing to acquit the guilty. The self-same One who cleansed the temple of its traffickers and who pronounced such awful denunciations upon the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23) shall in the Day of Judgment utter this irrevocable doom upon the wicked. Then shall they learn how terrible is “the wrath of the Lamb.”
“Depart,” says He to them. “Depart from Me,” the alone Saviour, the One you scorned, whose easy yoke you refused. “Depart from Me”: get out of My sight; I never wish to behold you again. “Ye cursed”: O what a malediction! You have cursed others and now you are cursed yourselves—cursed in your bodies and cursed in your souls. You are cursed of God, cursed of angels, cursed of the saints, and henceforth you shall curse yourselves for your folly and madness. All your curses shall now recoil upon your own heads. “Into everlasting fire”: the most fearful and tormenting of the elements. “Into everlasting fire” which because of its intensity is termed “a furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42), even “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). The stench of the brimstone rendering it the more intolerable. It is “unquenchable fire” for the wrath of God is inextinguishable, and “everlasting fire” for an eternal God shall preserve eternally all who are cast into it.
No ordinary fire is this, any more than that which burned in the bush which consumed not (Exo. 3:2). It is a “prepared” fire, prepared by God. It is prepared “for the devil and his angels,” that is, for God's arch-enemy and his fellows. Yet it is a fire which torments the body, evoking “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Nevertheless it is different from any fire now known unto man, for this infernal fire has no light or brightness attending it and those cast into it experience “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). It is a fire which shall everlastingly burn and yet consume not its victims. As the bodies of the wicked as well as the bodies of the righteous are to be raised by God, so a miracle of Divine power shall be wrought upon the one as truly as upon the other. As the latter are vessels of mercy “prepared unto glory” (both their souls and bodies fitted for Heaven), so the former are “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22)—having both souls and bodies capacitated for enduring the everlasting fire.
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46). The Greek word which is here rendered “punishment” is rightly translated “torment” in 1 John 4:18 (“fear hath torment”), which affords clear proof that so far from the wicked being annihilated or in a condition of insensibility they consciously suffer excruciating anguish. So also the words “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7): note the present tense of the verb—only one who is conscious is capable of “suffering.” How dreadful that torment is may be gathered from other passages, as in “tormented day and night, forever” (Rev. 20:10). The same word is found again in “their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man” (Rev. 9:5)—the virulent poison of which produces horrible agony. In Revelation 12:2 it is employed to express the travail pangs of a woman “pained to be delivered.” In Matthew 14:24 it is used to describe the experience of a ship in an angry sea, “tossed with waves.” Said the demons to Christ, “Art Thou come to torment us before the time” (Matt. 8:29).
In addition to the agony entailed by physical suffering there will be unbearable mental anguish, for all the faculties of the soul will be preserved in the lost. The understanding, which had been atrophied by unbelief, shall then fully understand the sinfulness of sin and the madness of fighting against the Most High. The conscience, whose voice was so often silenced by the clamourings of pleasure, shall then perform its functions and be fully alive to the wrath of God. But most awful of all will be the workings of memory. O what repining, what remorse, what self-condemnation shall fill the hearts of the damned as they recollect opportunities wasted, privileges abused, warnings spurned, entreaties despised! Then shall they recall those faithful sermons to which they turned a deaf ear and the offers of mercy they refused. Here they took no time to seriously consider the welfare of their souls and preparations for the hereafter but in Hell they shall have time enough, for there will be no other employments to hinder. When it is too late they will have no other work than to reflect and consider.
V. Its Duration.
We shall not attempt to enter upon a critical discussion of the Hebrew and Greek words which the translators of the King James Version rendered “eternal,” “everlasting,” and “forever and ever.” In the first place, we believe its translators were endowed with quite as much honesty and scholarship as any who have followed them, so that it would be both trivial and arrogant to challenge their renditions. In the second place, we are fully assured that the Providence of God so superintended the preparation of that particular version which was to prevail in the English-speaking world for three centuries, that its translators were graciously preserved from any serious errors. In the third place, any critical inquiry of the Hebrew and Greek terms is quite needless: the plain and unlettered man can verify for himself the accuracy of our English equivalents from collateral considerations which render him independent of the schools. When he reads, “these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46), he has no difficulty in perceiving that the suffering of the lost is as endless as the bliss of the saved.
Among the reasons which forbid us to believe that the wicked will ever be released from punishment and restored to the Divine favour are the following. First, the nature of sin. Sin and guilt are inseparably connected and therefore sin deserves punishment: if, then, guilt cannot be eradicated, the punishment must be interminable. Before the punishment could end the guilt must cease to exist and before a lost sinner can be guiltless his criminal actions must become innocent ones. But can vice become virtue even though a million years should pass over it? Vice and virtue, sin and holiness are founded in the very nature of things and therefore must forever remain immutable so that what once deserved punishment will forever deserve punishment. As then the nature of sin cannot be changed nor its guilt obliterated, therefore the punishment of the damned must of necessity be eternal.
Second, the character of the damned. That their character is irremediably and irrevocably fixed is clear from many considerations. Their resurrection is termed “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29) which expressly excludes all hope of their regeneration in the next life. The fact that their Judge shall say unto them, “Depart from Me ye cursed” intimates plainly there is no possibility of their reclamation. As we have pointed out in an earlier article God's aim in their punishment is not their personal benefit but the taking of satisfaction unto His vindicatory justice. It is not to save but to destroy them that they are cast into the Lake of Fire. It is not to express His tender mercy but to manifest His indignation and wrath that the torments of Hell are designed. God's end in chastising the righteous in this life and punishing the wicked in the next are diametrically opposite. Punishment has never softened the unregenerate. The plagues sent upon Pharaoh only served to harden his heart and the six thousand years of punishment which Satan has already experienced has not rendered him any less the inveterate enemy of God. The punishment of the damned will but confirm their malignant disposition. Therefore it is written in the very last chapter of God's Word, “he that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11): as the tree falls, so will it forever lie.
Third, the Atonement. In previous sections we have appealed to the sufferings which Christ endured at the hand of God when He received the requital which was due the sins of His people—as proof of the nature of the punishment awaiting the wicked—that it is penal in its character and not disciplinary or reformative. We have also directed attention to Christ's sufferings as illustrative of the intolerable portion awaiting the lost: if the anticipation of bearing God's wrath caused the Saviour such horror and anguish, moving Him to make supplication “with strong crying and tears” (Heb. 5:7) and making Him to sweat great drops of blood, how much more will feeble creatures sink down and be utterly overwhelmed by God's vengeance? We revert once more to the Cross as indicating the duration of the punishment awaiting the damned. If the Sacrifice needed by the Church must be one of infinite worth, could her guilt be only of limited proportions? That sin for which none but an eternal Person could make expiation must have penal consequences of unlimited continuance. And since there “remaineth no more (further) sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26)—when the Sacrifice of Christ has been spurned, then the doom of the lost is irremediable.
Fourth, the never-dying worm. In the space of six verses (Mark 9:43-48), during a single discourse, the Lord Jesus referred no less than five times to 1. “the fire that never shall be quenched” and three times to “where their worm dieth not,” and never was He guilty of idle repetition. When a man dies and his body putrefies it breeds worms which prey upon his carcass—a fearful adumbration of that which shall afflict the souls of those suffering “the Second Death.” That never-dying worm typifies the reflections of memory and the reproaches of conscience tormented by the wrath of God which will forever gnaw at the soul. This is “the sting of death” (1 Cor. 15:56) which “at the last biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder” (Prov. 23:32): unpardoned sin being the venom of death's dart. This expression at once gives the lie to the theories of annihilation and future restitution to happiness, for on either of these suppositions their worm would die. Christ affirms “their worm dieth not”—forever and ever finding that to prey upon in the lost. Consequently, we read, “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11) without cessation or termination.—A.W.P.