The Origin and History of the
Doctrine of Endless Punishment
Thomas B. Thayer, 1881: It is now quite extensively known and allowed, by believers in the doctrine of endless punishment, that it is not revealed nor recognized by the Law of Moses. The facts in this regard are so palpable and conclusive to every diligent student of the Bible, that it would be difficult to deny that the Mosaic dispensation is altogether a dispensation of earthly rewards and punishments; that its retributions follow promptly on the steps of transgression. Both the records of the Law, and the history of the Jewish people through a period of fifteen hundred years, show this with a distinctness and fullness beyond all question, as we shall presently see.
ARGUMENT PROM THE LAW ITSELF, AND FROM THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS.
Let us first examine the remarkable statement of the question contained in Deuteronomy 28. Space will allow me to quote only a few verses, but I earnestly solicit the reader, before going any further, to take up the Bible and carefully peruse the entire chapter, which is exceedingly important to our inquiry.
"It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy cattle, and the flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation and rebuke in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do .... He shall smite thee with consumption, and with a fever, with blasting and mildew; and the Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he shall have consumed thee from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
"Moreover, all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes, which he commanded thee. Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things, therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things. And thine enemy shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst. Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee."
Now here, in this important document, we have set out at great length, and with every variety of specification, the judgments and punishments with which God threatens to visit the Jews for their transgressions of his laws; but not a word is uttered in respect to the punishments of an endless hell after death. All the evils which are to fall upon them are of a temporal character, such only as can be inflicted on them while in the body, while on the earth: plagues and sickness, murrain on the cattle, and mildew on their vines and grains; locusts in the fields and orchards; hunger, thirst and nakedness; curses on the city and country, curses at home and abroad; the desolation of their country by their enemies, exile and captivity.
These are the only penalties annexed to the Law of Moses of which we have any information; and these were fully visited on the heads of the offending and rebellious people. "There runs through their history a system of strict retributive justice, whereof the God of Jacob is the administrator. Within the pale of this peculiar dispensation, virtue met its recompense, and vice its punishment, with a regularity that was at once unfailing and notorious. The nation is presented to us under very different attitudes; under judges, under kings, in peace and in war, victorious and vanquished, prosperous and afflicted, at home and abroad, free and in bondage; but whatever the situation or period in which we view their history, we are met at once by the principle in question."
This is strictly true. The entire history of the Jewish people as a nation, and as individuals, from generation to generation, shows with what exactness the threatenings of the law were fulfilled in judgments. When they were obedient, the Lord prospered them, and rewarded them with fruitful seasons, with increasing wealth and power, and made them superior to their enemies, But when they were rebellious and wicked, then followed adversity, defeat, captivity, and all the physical calamities threatened in the Law.
But all this while we have not one syllable of an endless woe which is to be added to all the other woes. In no instance of rebellion against God, not when their corruption and idolatry were at the highest reach of crime and blasphemy, do we find them threatened with the torments of a hell beyond the present life.
Now, if they really were exposed to this, if they have been actually cast into this hell, it is the most unaccountable thing, in the government of God, that He should do this without one note of warning to the victims; and at the same time leave not a line or a word of their awful fate on record, as a terror to future transgressors!
But let us now look at one or two cases of individual crime, where we may justly expect to find some open declaration of the doctrine, if true.
1. The case of Abimelech. Judges 9. We have his offence stated in verses 5 and 6: "And Abimelech went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren, the sons of Jerubbaal, being three-score and ten persons, upon one stone .... And all the men of Shechem gathered together at the house of Millo, and went and made Abimelech king."
Here is the sin, and it is horrible enough. Nothing can surpass this bloody sacrifice on the altar of ambition. At one fell stroke seventy murders, save one, and the victims his own brethren, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh; and through this sea of kindred blood, he waded to the throne! Surely, if ever there was a sinner of the hue of "the blackness of darkness," this Abimelech was the man; and if the flaming pit of endless woe is not a fiction, but a solemn fact, we shall now hear something of it in the way of recompensing the sin of this guilty wretch.
Well, here is the record: "And Abimelech came unto the tower and fought against it, and a certain woman cast a piece of millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to break his skull. Then he called hastily to the young man, his armor-bearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword and slay me, that men say not of me, a woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died .... Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren: and all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads." Verses 52-57; also 46-49.
This is the whole record of judgment; but, as we see, not a word of endless punishment. The cruel and bloody man is followed with evil, with rebellion from his former friends, who made him king; and at last, after many struggles, he is slain in battle, and the men of Shechem are burned alive in their strongholds. And there the account ends, with only this brief statement: "Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech," etc. Of course if it was thus, or in the way set forth, then it cannot be that he is to be recompensed by endless woe. The recompense is complete, is a past event of earth, and cannot therefore be in a future world, perpetuated through eternity.
And of the men of Shechem it is armed, that God rendered upon their beads "all the evil" they had done. Past time again - then and there he recompensed them - and not for a part, but for all their evil doings. In the words of Bishop Patrick, "God, the Judge of all, punished Abimelech and the men of Shechem according to their deserts, and made them the instruments of each other's destruction; and it is remarkable that this punishment overtook them speedily, within less than four years after their crime was committed."
As yet, then, we have no revelation of the doctrine in review, but only the infliction of the temporal punishments of the Law. But one more example, of another sort.
2. Ahithophel, the Suicide. 2 Sam. 17. In the wickedness and death of this man we have a case of great moment. He was a very bad, unprincipled and cruel man; and, as Dr. Clarke says, "died an unprepared and accursed death." He laid violent hands on himself, and this too in the midst of his wickedness! Of such persons, the reader well knows what is said by believers in endless punishment: "There is no hope for them - they die in sin, without repentance - their very last act is a crime, for which there can be no punishment in this life - there is no change after death; therefore they must sink into the endless torments of hell."
This being the case, then, we shall surely hear of it now. If true, and we are to have any revelation of it under the Law, we have come at last to the very occasion which will call it out. The doom of the guilty suicide will be clearly and distinctly announced as a warning to all who shall attempt to follow in his steps. Let us then turn to the record:
"And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father." vs. 23.
This is all - every word! Not a syllable of his being sent to a place of perpetual torture after his death. We are told that he hanged himself, died, and was buried; and there the sacred historian leaves him, without one word of comment. Now, if there ever lived a man likely to come into the pit of torments, if there be such a place, this wicked suicide was the man; and is it a supposable case that, such being his doom, the divine writer would or could have passed it over in silence?
Would he be careful to mention the unimportant matters, that he saddled his ass, put his household in order, was buried in his father's sepulchre, etc., and yet not utter so much as one word in regard to the awful subject of the interminable torments beyond the burial and the grave? Who can believe this without an accusation against the justice and mercy of God toward all coming generations?
So far, then, the Law itself in its statement of penalties, the history of the nation of the Jews, and of the most remarkable cases of crime under the Law, preserve a profound silence on the subject in band. Not a word, not the most obscure allusion to the doctrine of unending punishment, is to be met with in any of the divine records of transgressions or judgments.
THE TESTIMONY OF ORTHODOX CRITICS AND THEOLOGIANS.
The purpose of this section is to confirm the argument of the preceding section by calling in as witnesses some of the most learned and impartial scholars and divines of the Orthodox school, themselves believers in the dogma of an endless hell, but confessing that it is not taught in the Law of Moses, nor in the Old Testament.
1. MILMAN. "The sanction on which the Hebrew Law was founded is extraordinary. The lawgiver (Moses) maintains a profound silence on that fundamental article, if not of political, at least of religious legislation - rewards and punishments in another life. He substituted temporal chastisements and temporal blessings. On the violation of the constitution followed inevitably blighted harvests, famine, pestilence, defeat, captivity; on its maintenance, abundance, health, fruitfulness, victory, independence. How wonderfully the event verified the prediction of the inspired legislator! how invariably apostasy led to adversity - repentance and reformation to prosperity!"
2. BISHOP WARBURTON. "In the Jewish Republic, both the rewards and punishments promised by Heaven were temporal only. Such as health, long life, peace, plenty, and dominion, etc. Diseases, premature death, war, famine, want, subjections, and captivity, etc. And in no one place of the Mosaic Institutes is there the least mention, or any intelligible hint, of the rewards and punishments of another life.
"When Solomon restored the integrity of religion, he addressed a long prayer to the God of Israel, consisting of one solemn petition for the continuance of the old covenant, made by the ministry of Moses. He gives an exact account of all its parts, and explains at large the sanctions of the Jewish Law and Religion. And here, as in the writings of Moses, we find nothing but temporal rewards and punishments."
Warburton, and also Whateley, quoted below, take ground that the doctrine of a future existence is not recognized in the Old Testament. In this they are wrong, as we have attempted to show in the fifth section of this chapter.
3. ARNAULD. This author is quoted by Warburton, who calls him "a great and shining ornament of the Gallican (Catholic) church." His testimony is the following: "It is the height of ignorance to doubt this truth, which is one of the most common of the Christian Religion, and which is attested by all the Fathers, that the promises of the Old Testament were temporal and earthly, and that the Jews worshipped God only for earthly blessings (les biens charnels)."
4. PALEY. "This (Mosaic) dispensation dealt in temporal rewards and punishments. In the 28th of Deuteronomy you find Moses, with prodigious solemnity, pronouncing the blessings and cursings which awaited the children of Israel under the dispensation to which they were called. And you will observe, that these blessings consisted altogether of worldly benefits, and these curses of worldly punishments."
5. PROF. WINES. "It is conceded that Moses did not annex to his laws the promised joys and threatened terrors of eternity ..... The Hebrew legislator was restrained from annexing future punishments as sanctions to his laws, by considerations arising out of the character of his mission, etc."
6. JAHN, whose excellent work is a text-book in Andover Theological Seminary, says: "We have not authority, therefore, decidedly to say, that any other motives were held out to the ancient Hebrews to pursue good and avoid evil, than those which were derived from the rewards and punishments of this life."
7. PROF. MAYER, late of the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Dutch Church, in Pennsylvania, has the following in a recent volume of Sermons: "It is evident to the careful reader that, both in the book of Job and in the Pentateuch, the divine judgment which is spoken of is always a judgment that takes place in this life; and the rewards which are promised to the righteous, and the punishments that are threatened to the wicked, .are such only as are awarded in the present state of being ..... No mention is anywhere made, in the writings of Moses, of a judgment at the end of this world. The idea that God is the judge of the world, pervades them everywhere; but it has always relation to this earthly existence."
8. ARCHBISHOP WHATELEY. After a lengthy argument on the subject, he says: "Is not, then, the conclusion inevitable, that, if the doctrine of future retribution had been to be revealed, or any traditional knowledge of it confirmed, we should have found it explicitly stated, and still more frequently repeated than the temporal sanctions of the Law? And when, instead of anything like this, we have set before us a few scattered texts, which, it is contended, allude to, or imply, this doctrine. Can it be necessary to examine whether they are rightly interpreted? Surely it is a sufficient reply, to say that, if Moses had intended to inculcate such doctrine, he would have clearly stated and dwelt on it in almost every page. Nor is it easy to conceive how any man of even ordinary intelligence, and not blinded by devoted attachment to an hypothesis, can attentively peruse the books of the Law, abounding as they do with such copious descriptions of the temporal rewards and punishments which sanction that Law, and with such earnest admonitions grounded on that sanction, and yet can bring himself seriously to believe that the doctrine of a state of retribution after death, which it cannot be contended is even mentioned, however slightly, in more than a very few passages, formed a part of the Mosaic Revelation."
(Milman's History of the Jews, vol. i. 117; Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses, vol. iii. 1, 2, 10th ed. London; Paley's Works, vol. v. 110, Sermon xiii.; Wine's Commentaries on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 275; Jahn's Archaeology p. 398; Whateley's Essays on some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion, p. 44, 2d ed, The same argument is repeated in his Scripture. Revelations concerning a Future State, pp. 18, 19, American ed..)
Lee, in his "Eschatology," says, "If we refer to the Mosaic institute we shall find that its motives are drawn, not from the future, but the present world. The rewards of fidelity and the penalties for disobedience were of time and earth .... In the Pentateuch we find no motives drawn from the future world. The Old Testament makes no allusion to the mode of existence that succeeds the present." Again he says, "It must be remembered that the rewards and punishments of the Mosaic institutes were exclusively temporal. No allusion is found, in the case of individuals or communities, in which reference is made to the good or evil of a future state as a motive to obedience." (Eschatology; or, the Scriptural Doctrine of the Coming of the Lord, the Judgment, and the Resurrection. By Samuel Lee, Boston, 1859, pp. 6, 144-150.)
Dr. Payne Smith, in his Bampton Lectures, says, "The distinguishing characteristic of prophecy, as it existed in Moses, is that it gives the whole outline of gospel truth. There is, indeed, one remarkable exception. Moses did not clearly teach the Israelites the doctrine of a future judgment and of an eternal state of rewards and punishments." (Prophecy a Preparation for Christ. By R. Payne Smith, D.D., Professor of Divinity, Oxford, Boston, 1870, p. 217.)
F. W. Farrar of Trinity College, Cambridge, England, author of the article on "Hell" in Smith's Bible Dictionary, says, "The rewards and punishments of the Mosaic law were temporal; and it was only gradually and slowly that God revealed to his chosen people a knowledge of future rewards and punishments." Very slowly, we should think; for the writer himself admits that it was not till after the exile, B.C. 536-445, that the Jews divided sheol "into two parts; one the abode of the blessed, and the other of the lost." And even at this he offers not a single scriptural text in proof of the assertion, that at this late date, a thousand years after the giving of the law, the Hebrews entertained any such notion of sheol. And, even allowing the assertion, it must strike the careful thinker as very strange that God should reveal this doctrine to his chosen people, not directly, but through the Babylonians or Persians, as Mr. Farrar seems to intimate by his allusion to the exile.
Dr. Strong, one of the editors of Harpers' "Cyclopaedia of Biblical and Theological Literature," gives the following testimony: "The Egyptian religion, in its reference to man, was a system of responsibility mainly depending on future rewards and punishment. The law (of Moses), in its reference to man, was a system of responsibility mainly depending on temporal rewards and punishments."
(Cyclopaedia, Art. "Egypt." Dr. Strong says, that not only Moses, but "every Israelite who came out of Egypt, must have been fully acquainted with the universally-recognized doctrine of future rewards and punishments." And yet Moses and Aaron, priest and Levite, are all as silent as sheol on the subject.)
H. W. Beecher says, "The whole Mosaic economy lies open before us; and there is not one single instance in it where a motive is addressed to a man in consequence of immortality. All the motives are drawn from secular things. Virtue shall bring in this life its reward, and wickedness in this life shall bring its punishment. That is the keynote of that sublime drama of Job."
And he says in another discourse, in substance, that the strangest thing regarding the doctrine of endless punishment is, that, if "we had only the Old Testament, we could not tell if there were any future punishment." (Sermon on Heaven, Sunday, Oct. 11, 1870. - Tribune and World Reports.)
And is it not a strange thing to Mr. Beecher, that God, after four thousand years of silence and concealment, should reveal the horrible thing in that gospel which is declared specially to be "good tidings of great joy unto all people"?
Such is the testimony of these learned men, all of them believers in the doctrine of future endless punishment, but compelled by their superior knowledge to confess that the doctrine is not revealed, or alluded to by Moses, nor in any way made the motive of obedience to the laws he promulgated as the servant of God. Nothing but the strongest array of facts, nothing but the utter impossibility of finding any trace of it in the institutes of the old dispensation, could have induced these men to take a position so fatal to the truth of this doctrine; to make acknowledgments which render it forever impossible to establish the doctrine in harmony with divine justice and honor.
But the statements of these men, and the truth of our argument, are both confirmed by still higher authority. In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul himself gives this positive and final testimony to the point, viz., that under the Law, "every transgression and disobedience RECEIVED a just recompense of reward." Heb. 2:2.
This ought to settle the question forever; for, if every transgression actually received its just punishment, then endless punishment cannot be true; or, if true, this statement is a grand mistake, or a deliberate misrepresentation.
I really do not see any way of avoiding the decisive force of this open and unequivocal passage. The apostle certainly knew what he was writing, and could not have made any mistake in the expression of his thoughts. If, then, the words mean what they express, - if the text is a true statement of facts, and every transgression did actually receive a just recompense or retribution, - how is it possible to affirm that any one of these transgressions will be punished over again with endless torments, without charging God with the most monstrous injustice and cruelty?
It seems as if no honest mind, no sincere believer in the authority of God's word, could appeal from a testimony so positive and unmistakable as this. There is no room for comment or criticism. In the presence of such an unimpeachable witness, the question is reduced to its simplest form: either to abandon the Bible argument, or to abandon the doctrine of endless punishment.
But we would not silence by mere authority, but convince. The statement of the apostle is supported and illustrated by the whole course of Bible history; and fix on what offence you will, be it national or individual, be it offence of priest, king, prophet, or peasant, and it will be found that every instance of disobedience was promptly met with its just recompense. And it is a most instructive and morally profitable study to follow the traces of this present retribution, as they appear in the Old Testament; and with this view I give the following condensed summary, taken from a work entitled, "A System of Temporal Retribution indicated from Scripture and Observation;" written singularly enough, and with marvelous inconsistency, by a Presbyterian minister, believing in a future retribution:
"The chosen people, in their passage through the wilderness, sinned frequently and provoked their God to anger. They are punished by hunger and thirst, fire belched forth from the bowels of the earth, and consumed some of the offenders, a plague came down upon them, fiery serpents invaded their camp, and stung great numbers of the people, their journey was drawn out into a weary wandering for forty years in a barren desert, and finally there were but two of that whole generation who were suffered to enter into the land of promise. Moses and Aaron, the two leaders of the host, although faithful in the main, yet having sinned, the one by anger, and the other by countenancing the people in their idolatry, are not permitted to set foot on Canaan.
"The sons of Eli disgrace the office of the priesthood by their unholy acts; a sentence from on high is pronounced against them, and they are slain as they bore the ark in battle with the Philistines.
"Balaam contends against Israel in spite of God's command to the contrary, and in return for his frowardness is killed in battle.
"The whole career of Saul bears testimony to a system of temporal retribution. Throughout his reign he was guilty of continual declensions from the law of that God who had given him the scepter, and accordingly he was visited with frequent reverses; his unchecked passions distempered his mind, and subjected him to seasons of madness and frenzy; tue life is poisoned with jealousy, fear and remorse and at length, when he had refused reproof and persisted in sin, he dies by his own band on the field of battle.
"David, the man after God's own heart, is guilty of the heavy offenses of adultery and murder; he is expressly punished by the death of the child, and there was a series of misfortunes from this time to the close of his reign, which were sent as further chastisements of his dark crimes.
"Joab is guilty of deeds of wanton violence and bloodshed. Prosperity attends him throughout the reign of David, but under Solomon his sin finds him out, and he who had shed the blood of war in peace is in his turn slain by the sword.
"Solomon carries too far the indulgence given the Jewish monarchs of a plurality of wives. His wisdom raised him above their evil influence during the vigor of his life, but in his declining years his wives become a snare to him, seduce him to adopt their idolatrous practices, and leave it a matter of considerable doubt whether the wise king really died in the faith of his fathers.
"Jeroboam encouraged his people in the worship of idols, and, in consequence, the favor of the Lord departed from him and his household and kingdom.
"Ahab and Jezebel favored the false prophets, insulted the prophets of the Lord, practiced oppression, fraud and cruelty, and they are notably punished for their dark offenses; the one is slain in battle, the other is cast from her window and devoured by the dogs.
"The princes and the people in general having through many generations grievously departed from the law of the Lord, they are carried into captivity in Babylon, where during seventy years they endure all the bitter evils of exile, bondage and oppression.
"Nebuchadnezzar insults the majesty of heaven by his pride, ambition, and ungodliness. He is cast down from his high place, and he who aspired to be equal to Jehovah is debased below the condition of the meanest among men, being doomed during seven years to herd with the beasts of the field, to feed with them on the same fare, and to repair with them to the same caverns.
"Belshazzar, forgetful of the warnings and the judgments that befell his grandsire, exhibits the same overweening arrogance, conjoined with profligacy and profanity. Vengeance descends upon him in the hour of his loftiest pride and exaltation. As he sat in the midst of his nobles and captains, rioting in drunkenness, sacrilege and licentiousness, a spectral hand is seen by him to write his doom in mystical characters on the wall, the sentence is expounded to him by the prophet of the Lord, and that very night his city was taken and sacked, he himself was slain, and his kingdom was given to another.
"Haman cherishes a deadly jealousy against the upright Mordecai, and carries his hatred so far as to erect a gallows on which he proposes to hang the object of his enmity. His dark schemes are discovered and turned against himself, and he and his sons are hanged on the gibbet which he had prepared for another,"
Thus we see how perfectly the facts illustrate the declaration of the apostle, that under the law "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward," This of necessity excludes the idea of a future endless retribution; as well as the important fact, already named, that through all this long and various record of sin and its punishments, no mention is made, nor the least intelligible hint given, of any such thing, We cannot, therefore, suppose it to be true, without a most extraordinary violation, on the part of God, of every principle of honor, justice, and mercy.
ARGUMENT FROM THE WORD "SHEOL," OR THE OLD TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF HELL.
The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered "hell" thirty-two times, "grave" twenty-nine times, and "pit" three times.
1. By examination of the Hebrew Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The place or state of the dead.
The following are examples: "Ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave," Gen. 17:38, "I will go down to the grave to my son mourning." 38:35, "O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave!" Job 14:13. "My life draweth nigh to the grave." Ps. 88:3. "In the grave who shall give thee thanks?" Ps. 86:5. "Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth." Psa. 141:7. "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." Eccl. 9:10. "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there." Ps. 139:8. "Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee, at thy coming. It stirreth up the dead for thee," etc. Isaiah 14:9-15.
These passages show the Hebrew usage of the word sheol, which is the original of the word "grave" and "hell" in all the examples cited. It is plain that it has here no reference to a place of endless torment after death. The patriarch would scarcely say, "I will go down to an endless hell to my son mourning." He did not believe his son was in any such place. Job would not very likely pray to God to hide him in a place of endless torment, in order to be delivered from his troubles.
If the reader will substitute the word "hell" in the place of "grave" in all these passages, he will be in the way of understanding the Scripture doctrine on this subject.
2. But there is also a figurative sense to the word sheol, which is frequently met with in the later Scriptures of the Old Testament. Used in this sense, it represents a state of degradation or calamity, arising from any cause, whether misfortune, sin, or the judgment of God.
This is an easy and natural transition. The state or the place of the dead was regarded as solemn and gloomy, and thence the word sheol, the name of this place, came to be applied to any gloomy, or miserable state or condition. The following passages are examples: "The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me." Psalm 17:4-6. This was a past event, and therefore the hell must have been this side of death. Solomon, speaking of a child, says, "Thou shalt beat him, and deliver his soul from hell;" that is, from the ruin and woe of disobedience. Prov. 23:14. The Lord says to Israel, in reference to their idolatries, "Thou didst debase thyself even unto hell." Isaiah 57:9. This, of course, signifies a state of utter moral degradation and wickedness, since the Jewish nation as such certainly never went down into a hell of ceaseless woe.
Jonah says, "Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardst me." 2:2. Here we see the absurdity of supposing sheol or hell to mean a place of punishment after death. The hell in this case was the belly of the whale; or rather the wretched and suffering condition. in which the disobedient prophet found himself.
"The pains of hell got hold on me: I found trouble and sorrow." Ps. 116:3. Yet David was a living man, all this while; here on the earth. So he exclaims again, "Great is thy mercy towards me. Thou bast delivered my soul from the lowest hell." Ps. 86:13. Now here the Psalmist was in the lowest hell, and was delivered from it, while he was yet in the body, before death. Of course the hell here cannot be a place of endless punishment after death.
These passages sufficiently illustrate the figurative usage of the word sheol, "hell." They show plainly that it was employed by the Jews as a symbol or figure of extreme degradation or suffering, without reference to the cause. And it is to this condition the Psalmist refers when he says, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." Ps. 9:17. Though Dr. Allen, President of Bowdoin College, thinks "the punishment expressed here is cutting off from life, destroying from earth by some special judgment, and removing to the invisible place of the dead" (sheol).
It is plain, then, from these citations, that the word sheol, "hell," makes nothing for the doctrine of future unending punishment as a part of the Law penalties. It is never used by Moses or the Prophets in the sense of a place of torment after death; and in no way conflicts with the statement already proved, that the Law of Moses deals wholly in temporal rewards and punishments.
This position, also, I wish to fortify by the testimony of Orthodox critics, men of learning and candor. They know, and therefore they speak.
1. CHAPMAN. "sheol, in itself considered, has no connection with future punishment." Cited by Balfour, First Inquiry.
2. DR. ALLEN, quoted above, says: "The term sheol does not seem to mean, with certainty, anything more than the state of the dead in their deep abode."
8. DR. CAMPBELL. "sheol signifies the state of the dead without regard to their happiness or misery."
4. DR. WHITBY. "sheol throughout the Old Testament signifies not the place of punishment, or of the souls of bad men only, but the grave only, or the place of death."
5. DR. MUENSCHER. This distinguished author of a Dogmatic History in German, says: "The souls or shades of the dead wander in sheol, the realm or kingdom of death, an abode deep under the earth. Thither go all men, without distinction, and hope for no return, There ceases all pain and anguish; there reigns an unbroken silence; there all is powerless and still; and even the praise of God is heard no more."
6. VON COELLN. "Sheol itself is described as the house appointed for all living, which receives into its bosom all mankind, without distinction of rank, wealth, or moral character. It is only in the mode of death, and not in the condition after death, that the good are distinguished above the evil. The just, for instance, die in peace, and are gently borne away before the evil comes; while a bitter death breaks the wicked like as a tree."
(I am indebted to Dr. Sawyer for these last two authorities, as cited by him in the Discussion on the Doctrine of Eternal Salvation, p. 36.)
Dr. Fairbairn, the learned professor of divinity in the College of Glasgow, and whose volumes on "Prophecy" and "Typology" have given him high rank among biblical students and interpreters, says without reserve, "Beyond doubt, sheol, like hades, was regarded as the abode after death, alike of the good and the bad." Of course, therefore, to translate it by the English word "hell" is to misrepresent the sacred writers, and mislead the common reader.
Edward Leigh, whom Horne, in his "Introduction," says was "one of the most learned men of his time, and his work a valuable help to the understanding of the original languages of the Scriptures," declares unqualifiedly, that "all learned Hebrew scholars know the Hebrews have no proper word for hell, as we take hell."
F. W. Farrar says that hell is the word generally and unfortunately used by our translators to render the Hebrew sheol, - unfortunately, because the English word "hell" is mixed up with numberless associations entirely foreign to the minds of the ancient Hebrews. It would perhaps have been better to retain the Hebrew word sheol, or else render it always by "the grave," or "the pit."
These witnesses all testify that sheol, or hell, in the Old Testament, has no reference whatever to this doctrine; that it signifies simply the state of the dead, the invisible world, without regard to their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery. The Old Testament doctrine of hell, therefore, is not the doctrine of endless punishment. It is not revealed in the Law of Moses. It is not revealed in the Old Testament. To such result has our inquiry led us - and now what shall we say of it?
THE MORAL APPLICATION OF THE PRECEDING ARGUMENTS.
There is no doubt that Moses was acquainted with the doctrine of future endless punishments. It was the common doctrine of Egypt, as all agree, and "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." Acts 7:22. And yet, knowing it as thoroughly as he must have done, he never alludes to it once in all his laws and penalties, but rejects it utterly from his doctrines and institutions. He will have nothing to do with it. He not only repudiates the gross fables and superstitions of the Egyptians in regard to the future world, but the entire substance of future punishments; and, by his studied silence, shows he has no faith in their truth or utility.
Is it possible to imagine a more conclusive proof against the divine origin of the doctrine? If he had believed it to be of God, if he had believed in endless torments as the doom of the wicked after death, and had received this as a revelation from heaven, could he have passed it over in silence? Would he have dared to conceal it, or treat so terrible a subject with such marked contempt? And what motive could he have had for doing this?
I cannot conceive of a more striking evidence of the fact that the doctrine is not of God. He knew whence the monstrous dogma came, and he had seen enough of Egypt already, and would have no more of her cruel superstitions; and so he casts this out, with her abominable idolatries, as false and unclean things.
But, if the doctrine be true, there is another consideration of still greater moment. If it be true, and for four thousand years the wicked have been plunging into the flaming pit, how, as we have said, are we to clear the character of God from the charge of the most cruel indifference, the most monstrous injustice? What can be said in defence of such a course of proceeding?
Look at it. He resolves to inflict unutterable and endless tortures on his guilty children; he annexes this as a penalty to his law; he reveals the law, but he carefully conceals the awful penalty. His children know nothing at all of the terrible fate which awaits them - they are entirely ignorant of the tremendous fact that their transgressions of the law involve this dreadful result, this woe immortal and infinite, stretching into duration without end.
And God, their Father, sees them rushing on, year after year, age after age, and stumbling blindfolded down into the black gulf of death and torment, and yet speaks not one word of warning, gives not the slightest intimation to any of them that they are coming to such a doom! There he sits on the throne of the universe, with arms folded in the consciousness of power, with lips sealed in determined silence. He knows all, sees all; while his poor victims are walking in darkness, wholly ignorant of the frightful risk they are running, and of the deadly purpose of evil against them which their Maker has shut up in his own heart.
One word from him might break the fatal spell; but that word is not spoken. His arm, stretched out for a moment, might turn back the rushing tide of ruin; but it remains motionless. No movement of his, no sound nor look, indicates the least interest in the shocking tragedy which is passing under his eye, and of which he is the author. For four thousand years he beholds this torrent of immortal souls pouring over the precipice of sin into the bottomless pit of damnation below; and through it all remains silent - never once speaks to them of their awful fate; nor seeks, by the terrors of it, to save the living from the doom of the dead!
What kind of a God is this? What claim has be to the name of Father? What kind of a Lawgiver is this, who publishes the law, but keeps the penalty concealed, a secret, with himself only? What would be said of a king who should enact a code of laws, annexing to every one of them, as a warning to evildoers, the punishment of death; but never make this fact known to the people? And what if every transgressor were seized, and put to a most horrible death by torture, and this also kept secret from his friends and relations, and from all the world?
Yet this is precisely what God has done, as our argument shows, for four thousand years, if the doctrine of endless punishment be true! But even this is not the worst.
Suppose a parent, sending his child into a distant part of the country, should carefully specify every thorn-bush, and sharp stone, and difficult spot, along the road, and urge him to avoid them; but should with equal care conceal from him the fact that the road ended in a sheer precipice a thousand feet down into a fearful gulf of volcanic fire and flame - knowing at the same time that his son, if not warned, would certainly fall into this roaring crater and perish.
Yet this is exactly the course God has pursued with his children. He has carefully set out all the lesser penalties, as famine, disease, blasted fields and ruined flocks, defeat and captivity, as the punishments of their disobedience; but he has as carefully concealed that greater judgment beyond all these, and in comparison with which all these a thousand fold increased are less than the dust in the balance.
Nay, in particular cases he even mentions the height of the waters, the going forth of a dove, the burning of a tower, a piece of millstone, the saddling of an ass, every smallest thing, but not a word of the great woe of woes!
I cannot help feeling, in view of this argument, how appropriate and forcible are the words of the author of the "Conflict of Ages:"
"God has made the human mind to have decided intuitive convictions as to what is consistent with equity and honor. These we are not violently to suppress by preconceived theories, or assumed facts. If any alleged actions of God come into collision with the natural and intuitive judgments of the human mind concerning what is honorable and right on the points specified, there is better reason to call in question the alleged facts, than to suppose those principles to be false which God has made the human mind intuitively to recognize as true. Moreover, we have divine authority for so doing; since, in a debate with the Jews, involving these points, God does not hesitate to appeal to these very principles, and to reason in perfect accordance with their common and obvious decisions. Ezek. 18:1-4, 19, 22, 25, 29, and 33:11, 17-20."
Nothing is truer than this. God has given us intuitive convictions as to what is consistent with equity and honor; and there never was a man on earth, however perverted or blinded by his creed, who could say, in his soul, that the conduct ascribed to God in the preceding argument, by the doctrine of endless punishment, is consistent with equity and honor. And this being the case, he has no right to say that God will do this thing; be has no right to attribute to his Father in heaven actions which any human parent would shrink from with horror and disgust.
But, if the doctrine be true, there is a darker feature yet in the case. Not only is God's word silent on this point, but it virtually denies it by asserting the opposite, Take the words of Paul, already quoted, that every transgression under the law has actually been justly recompensed. So David asserts that Jehovah "is a God that judgeth in the earth." Ps. 58. And by the Prophet Jeremiah be says himself, "I am the Lord, which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth." Chap, 9. So again, "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day" - that is, every day he judges the righteous and the wicked, rewarding the one, and punishing the other. Ps. 7:11. Once more: Solomon says, "Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner." Prov. 12:31.
Now these passages, part of a multitude, are in perfect chord with the Law, and declare a system of temporal rewards and punishments on the earth. Suppose future endless punishments after death to be true; then not only has God concealed the fact, but has done worse than this, by positively announcing that he exercises judgment in the earth, and that the righteous and the wicked are recompensed in the earth! Now, if endless punishment after death be true, these statements are false; but if these are true, then endless punishment is false, They cannot both be true; they cannot both be of God; for "it is impossible for God to lie." Heb. 6:18.
We are compelled, therefore, to look for the origin of this doctrine elsewhere than in the mind of God. One thing, at all events, is certain. No trace of it is found in the Old Testament, which is all the written record we have of the divine mind and purpose for the space of four thousand years. The Patriarchs knew nothing of it. Moses, who did know of it, having learned it in Egypt, repudiates it by his silence. The Law contains no vestige of it among all its penalties and threatenings". The Lamentations of Job,* the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, the Predictions of the Prophets, make no mention of the horrible thing.
(It is very notable how perfectly the Book of Job harmonizes with the Law in respect to rewards and punishments after death. Job's losses are made up in kind, and his virtues and integrity are rewarded with the divine approbation, peace of mind, and honor and affection from his neighbors; but not the least hint of any future reward, or of any future punishment for his wicked enemies. It is surely very mysterious, if the doctrine was revealed in the time of Job, that this remarkable moral drama should ignore it altogether; especially when, if true, it would have fallen in so admirably with the design of the author.)
So far, then, the doctrine is not divine in its origin. It is not of that "wisdom from above," which "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." But it must have come rather out of that wisdom which the apostle says is "earthly, sensual, devilish." James 3:15-17.
Of course, if the doctrine was in existence during the Law period, if we find it among other nations, contemporary with the Jews, the conclusion is certain - since it was not of divine origin, it must have been of earthly origin; since it did not come from God, it must have had its source in the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God. To this point we shall direct our inquiries in the following chapter; but, before proceeding to this, we shall give attention; in the next section, to some objections which have been entered against the arguments of these first two chapters.
In a review of the argument of the two preceding chapters, the following question has been proposed to the author: "Admitting that your argument drawn from the Old Testament sustains your position with regard to endless punishment, does it not apply with equal force against the doctrine of endless happiness? Does it not apply with equal force against all future existence, whatever?"
In replying to this, the last branch of the question legitimately comes first:
1. "Is not the argument equally good against any future existence whatever?"
No; for though the ideas of a future existence presented in the early Hebrew Scriptures are certainly very wide from those set forth in the Gospel, yet it would be equally wide of the truth to say they do not recognize any future life at all.
The very word sheol conveys the idea of existence, [this is definitely disputable], though it gives no intimation of the conditions or character of it. And in order to set out this point in clear light, which its great importance seems to demand, I shall quote at some length from several distinguished Orthodox critics, whose testimony will help both to confirm the arguments already offered, and to answer the question in review.
PROF. STUART Says: "sheol designated the world of the dead, the region of umbrae or ghosts. It was considered as a vast and wide domain or region, of which the grave was only a part, or a kind of entrance-way. It appears to have been regarded as extending deep down into the earth, even to its lowest abysses, In this boundless region lived and moved, at times, the manes (or ghosts) of departed friends."
BISHOP LOWTH says: "In the underworld of the Hebrews there is something peculiarly grand and awful. It was an immense region, a vast subterranean kingdom, involved in thick darkness, filled with deep valleys, and shut up with strong gates; and from it there was no possibility of escape. Thither whole hosts of men went down at once; heroes and armies with their trophies of victory; kings and their people were found there, where they had a shadowy sort of existence as manes or ghosts, neither entirely spiritual, nor entirely material, engaged in the employments of their earthly life, though destitute of strength and physical substance."
HERDER says, among the early Hebrews "souls of the departed were regarded as powerless as shadows, without distinction of members, as a nerveless breath; having an animate though shadowy existence, they wandered and flitted in the realms of the dead, in the dark nether world, as limbless and powerless beings. Ghostly kings were seated upon shadowy thrones; kingdoms and states were there, and armies of the slain, but all was voiceless and still."
There is a perfect illustration of this in what is, perhaps, the finest poem in the Bible. Isaiah 14:3-23. It celebrates the downfall of the king of Babylon, and represents him as cast down to hell, sheol, or the underworld of spirits, and the former kings of the earth, whom he had destroyed, now inhabitants of that region, as exulting over him. [An alternative interpretation applies parts of this section to Lucifer's fall.] I give a portion of the translation of Herder which the reader can compare with the common version:
"The ghostly realm beneath was roused for thee;
It moved to meet thee at thy coming;
It stirred up for thee the ghostly shades,
Even all the mighty ones of earth;
It raised them up from their thrones,
All the kings of the nations.
They all welcomed thee, and said,
Art thou also become a shadow like us?
Art thou, too, made even as we?
Brought down even to the dead is thy pride,
And low the triumphal sound of thy harps.
The couch beneath thee is the worm,
The mould of death thy covering.
How art thou fallen from heaven,
Bright star! thou son of the dawn!
How art thou crushed to the earth,
That didst conquer the nations!"
These testimonies are sufficient to show that the early Hebrews believed in a future existence, though their views of the world of the departed, and of their condition there, were very obscure. In the words of Dr. Barnes, "The apprehension seems to have been that all the dead would descend through the grave to a region where only a few scattered rays of light would exist, and where the whole aspect of the dwelling was in strong contrast with the cheerful region of the land of the living." "Even Job had not such cheerful anticipations of the future state as to cheer and support him in the time of trial."
(Introduction to Job. The previous quotations are from Stuart's Essay on Future Punishment, p. 116; Lowth's Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, p. 347, and Note to page 64, Edit, 1829; Herder's Hebrew Poetry, vol, i., Dialogue viii. This work of Herder ought to be in the hands of every one who wishes to understand and to enjoy the reading of the poetical portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is written in a very pleasing and engaging style, and abounds in information on the subject treated.)
It is certain that the Hebrews had not such faith respecting the future existence of the soul, as those entertained by Christians of this day. God did not reveal all truth to them, and instruct them in that knowledge which constituted the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. Had it been so, there would have been no occasion for the coming of the Saviour, for his death and resurrection, no room for the Christian revelation.
It was reserved for the Gospel to bring forth the great doctrine of the life immortal and ever-blessed in the fullness of its glory and worth. Dimly and imperfectly did the old patriarchs and their people see through the mists of death to the land beyond. The Law kindled no beacon fires in the shadowy valley, whose light revealed the country of the soul in all its beauty. This was the peculiar office of Christ and the Gospel, as Paul so distinctly affirms, when he speaks of the grace of God, "made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light (into light, or into the full light) through the Gospel." 2 Tim. 1:8-10.
Of course, if this passage has any point or meaning, the doctrine of life and immortality was not fully revealed to the Jews, its conditions, and the character of its blessedness. The fact of a future life was made known to them; but the foregoing statements, based on the Old Testament Scriptures, show how far their views fell below the clear, spiritual doctrine of the Gospel.
As Prof. Bush observes, "The informations couched in the Old Testament on this theme are comparatively dark and shadowy, more like the dim and feeble glimmerings of the morning twilight, than the unclouded blaze of the noon-day sun." In the same strain Prof. Stuart says, the Hebrews "had not those distinct and definite notions on this subject, which we of the present day have. We should never forget that it is the glorious pre-eminence of the Gospel to have brought life and immortality to light. Christians too often forget this while reasoning from the Old Testament." Again he says: "I am far from coinciding with those who find the nature of a future world as fully and plainly revealed in the Old Testament as in the New, But I am equally far from those who do not find it at all intimated there, Both these positions are extremes." (Exegetical Essays on Future Punishment, p. 113; Bush on the Resurrection, p. 93.)
This is a just statement of the case. The nature of the future existence is not set out, neither in the patriarchal, nor in the prophetical times of the old dispensation, as fully and as luminously as under the new dispensation of grace. But then it is absurd to say that there are no indications of this great truth in the Old Testament. When it is recorded that Abraham was "gathered to his people," we must understand something more than burial with his fathers or ancestors; for they were buried in Chaldea, and not in Canaan, Gen. 15:15, 25:8. So Jacob says, "I will go down into sheol mourning, unto my son;" though he supposed his body had been rent in pieces by wild beasts, Gen. 38:35. And at his death, the historian says, he "yielded up the ghost, and was gathered to his people;" though he was not buried with his people till seven weeks after that. Gen. 49:33.
"I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:6), is interpreted by the Saviour as an intimation of the future life of the spirit, since God is the God of the living, and not of the dead - and, therefore, these patriarchs were living. Matt. 22:31, 32. And his declaration to the Sadducees, that they erred on this point, "not knowing the Scriptures," shows that those Scriptures did contain the knowledge of a future life.
So the language of David, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption" (Ps. 16:8-11), is explained by Peter as prophetic of the resurrection of Christ; which necessitates the idea of David's belief in a future existence. Acts 2.
And then the several instances of a miraculous restoration to life, by Elijah and Elisha, must have suggested the thought of a separate existence of the soul. The people did not suppose that these men of God created the soul anew, and united it to the body; but only that they called it back, as it were, which of course implies its continued existence out of the body. The cases referred to are the son of the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings 17:17-23; the son of the Shunamite woman, 2 Kings 4:33-36; and the man let down into the sepulchre of Elisha, 2 Kings 13:21.
These passages, which might be greatly multiplied, demonstrate the error of Bishop Warburton and others, who attempt to show that the earlier Hebrew Scriptures do not contain "even the idea of a future state." They certainly do, but that this idea is as clear and satisfactory as the view given in the Gospel, no one would think of affirming. There is evidently a growth in this respect, as it is easy to see that the faith of the Psalmist and the prophets is much more full and rounded than that of their ancestors. God instructed mankind by degrees, removing the darkness, and adding to their knowledge little by little, till at last Christ brought the doctrine of life and immortality out of all shadow, and set it before the world in the clear and perfect light of the Gospel.
Nothing is plainer than that God operates in the moral and spiritual world by the same method which governs his action in the physical or material world. He does not make an oak in a moment, but begins with the acorn, and causes it to grow up year by year to the perfect tree. So he does not enlighten the world all at once, by miracle, but educates them step by step, adding truth to truth, knowledge to knowledge, till the work is complete, and earth, like a mirror, reflects the light, and beauty, and blessedness of heaven.
Hence the Law is represented as the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, who is to finish our education in the school of God, and instruct us in the perfect glory of his wisdom and truth, and in the nature and extent of his love and salvation.
The chief element of this argument will receive further elucidation in what follows.
2, "If the argument against endless misery, drawn from the silence of the Old Testament, is sound, is it not equally good against the doctrine of universal salvation?"
What has been said in the foregoing reply, regarding the method of divine instruction and revelation, has equal force in respect to this question. God does not reveal all the truth at once, but by degrees - yet at no period does he leave the world entirely in the dark, without any ray of light or hope.
In the very beginning, when the first transgression shadowed the beauty of Eden, and destroyed the innocence and happiness of our first parents, there was a voice of mercy heard, and a single star of promise rose upon the darkness of the night.
"And the Lord God said unto the serpent, I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; and it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Gen. 3:14-16. This passage is universally regarded as a promise of the Messiah, who, as the seed of the woman, should destroy the kingdom of evil, symbolized by the serpent; or, as Paul expresses it, "who took the part of flesh and blood, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Heb. 2:14.
Of course it did not appear to Adam and Eve in the full glory with which it came, in its fulfillment, to the disciple of the Messiah himself. Still the fact of a promise revealing the final destruction of evil, the crushing of the serpent's bead, as reported by Moses; is enough to show that these unhappy transgressors were not left without some hope that their evil would be overcome of good.
Doubtless, if the original communication to them from God was couched in the language of the sacred historian, or in any similar phrase or figure, the light that fell from it was faint and dim; but any light served to keep them from utter darkness and despair, They could not learn from the promise, as it stands, when, or where, or how, the evil they had introduced into the world was to be removed, and innocence and happiness restored to them and their posterity; but, since God had spoken these words of mercy, they could not be entirely hopeless.
In Genesis 5:24, we are informed that "Enoch walked with God; and he was not; for God took him." Speaking of this event, Paul says: "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God," Heb. 12:5. Here is plainly a declaration of the continued life of the soul after removal from the earth. It is of no consequence how we interpret the manner of this translation, the record shows that the idea of a future existence was not absent from the minds of men at that period.
If it was understood that Enoch did not see death, then, of course, he lived after he left the earth [again disputable]; and, though nothing is said directly of the character of that life, the expression "God took him," and the peculiar character of his removal from earth, would indicate that the life to which he was called was not less desirable than that on earth. No particulars are given, it is true; nothing is specified as to the nature of this life; but the fact is left in a way to shadow forth, however dimly, something indicative of hope and expectation of a new and closer relation to God.
So the promise to Abraham: "In thee, and in thy seed, shall all the families and nations and kindreds of the earth be blessed." Gen. 12:3, 22:18; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8. Doubtless Abraham did not comprehend the full spirit of this promise; nor should we, indeed, if the Christian apostle had not interpreted it to us; but, by faith, he saw in the distant future the dawn of a day whose brightness was to illuminate the nations, and to renew the early beauty and blessings of Eden. Like Adam and Eve, he had the promise of a great good to come, through his seed, to all the kindreds of the earth, and he rejoiced; but the nature of the blessing, the shape in which it was to come, the spiritual and heavenly direction of it, were not revealed to him. These were reserved as the special announcements of him who gave assurance that in the resurrection we are equal unto the angels, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Matt. 22; Luke 21.
And when the Preacher says, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7), the distinction between the body and the soul is so obvious, that there is no room for doubting the writer's belief in a future life [unless spirit=nephesh=breath, in which case the Preacher is merely reversing the process of Adam's creation]. And the statement that the spirit returns to God, though given without any specifications as to its future happiness, is surely strong presumptive proof that it would be in a heavenly state. [This would imply that all the dead, good and bad, are "in a heavenly state"!?]. If to be with God is indicative of good, then the spirit, returning to God, may justly be regarded as having attained to good, and that necessarily a spiritual good. Further than this the testimony does not go; but observe that the statement is general, and that whatsoever good is predicated of one soul is predicated of all.
Isaiah 25:6-8. "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things .... And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth."
Paul applies this to the resurrection: "When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Cor. 15:54.
We have apostolic authority, then, for saying this passage of the evangelical prophet, as Isaiah has been called, is a foreshadowing of the great doctrine of immortal life and blessedness brought into the light by the Gospel. But it is a question if Isaiah comprehended the exact nature of the blessing, or the method of its application to "all people and nations." Filled with the Holy Spirit, he seems to have foreseen the distant glory of the new era under the Messiah. God permitted him, with anointed vision, to behold afar off the universal blessing which Christ was to bring to mankind; but that he saw death swallowed up in victory, with a spiritual sight as clear as Paul's, can scarcely be supposed.
Even the disciples of Jesus did not fully understand the method of the great redemption, till after the enlightenment on the day of Pentecost. And Peter must have the vision of the sheet let down from heaven knit at the four corners, and drawn up again with all its contents, before he can be made to see that all peoples, Gentiles as well as Jews, come from God, and through Christ return to him again, as his children, and not as disciples of Moses. We cannot, therefore, reasonably suppose that the Gospel plan of redemption and grace was better understood by the Hebrew prophet than by the personal disciple of Jesus.
Still it is manifest that there had been growth from Adam to Isaiah. There is a marked contrast between the figurative promise, that the serpent's head should be bruised; and the exultant language of the prophet, that all nations should share in the feast which the Lord was to prepare, under the Messiah, in the mountain of his holiness. The light of divine truth was dispensed more largely to the prophet than to the patriarch.
However dim the prophecy might have seemed to the people of that age, it appears clear enough to our minds. And yet, if we had not the inspired apostle for our interpreter, it is quite probable we should have been as much in the dark as the Jews, and have mistaken the nature of the promised blessings as widely as they have. We must judge of the clearness of these prophecies to the people of that day, not from the Christian, but from the Jewish stand-point; not by the full light of our noon-tide, but by the dim gray twilight of their morning.
Still it is certain enough that there has been light on this question, however faint, in all ages from the beginning. God has never left the world wholly under a cloud, as regards the future. As we have seen, the promise of redemption, of the final destruction of evil, and of the universal reign of good, may be traced back even up to the first transgression.
But, supposing it were not so, - supposing no indications of this great truth were to be found in the Old Testament, - it would not affect the argument against endless punishment. It may be perfectly consistent with justice and mercy, for a ruler to keep his own counsel in regard to any good he intends to confer on his people; but it does not follow from this that it would be equally consistent with justice and mercy, to conceal from them any great evil he intends to inflict, especially when this evil might be avoided by timely warning on his part, which warning, nevertheless, he refuses to give.
A father might purpose giving a splendid feast to all his children, but no principle of honor would be violated, he would be chargeable with no wrong toward them, if he did not inform them of the fact till the day they were invited. But if be should dig an immense pit before his door, and kindle a sulphurous fire at the bottom, and know that his children, when they came, it being night, would fall into it and perish, if he did not give them notice of it, and yet never mention the thing to them, nor give them the least hint of their danger; would this be honorable, and just, and merciful? Would they have no right to complain of this as an unheard-of wickedness?
And this is an exact statement of the difference between Universalism and endless punishment, and of the moral principles involved in the asserted silence of the Old Testament. Even if the promise to our first parents had not been given, nor that to Abraham; even if the purpose of God to destroy the reign of sin, and restore all souls to himself, had not been mentioned at all to patriarchs or prophets; still it would only show that he intended better than he promised - that he has in store for his children greater blessings than he has ever given them reason to expect. And in this there is surely no great room for fault-finding on their part, nor for accusation against his goodness.
But, as we have shown, if he concealed from them his purpose of endless woe against those who transgressed his laws, the case is very different, and an injury is done them beyond all calculation, beside the violation of justice and honor on his part. He is like the father who digs the pit of death in the way of his children, and sees them walking straight into it, knowing that they are utterly ignorant of their danger; and knowing also that, if he had warned them, they would have turned away, and gone by some other path. For such a father, earthly or heavenly, there is no apology or defence possible.
by Thomas B. Thayer, New and enlarged edition. Boston: Universalist Publishing House. 1881.
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