A Series of Sermons in Defense of The Doctrine of Universal
By Otis A. Skinner, 1842
The Doctrine of Endless Misery
Not Taught in the Bible
Thou Art weighed in the balances, and art found
-- Daniel 5:27
In this discourse, I shall ask your attention to the
following question, viz. -- Does the Bible teach the doctrine of endless
misery? This is a question of great importance. If there is a state of
ceaseless woe, all should know it, that they may see the danger to which they
I am aware that thousands, in this city, suppose there is no
doubt whatever in regard to endless suffering. So confident are they of its
being a scripture doctrine, that they look upon all who differ from them as
trifling with things sacred, and wilfully rejecting the truth. We do not wonder
at this. We know how such persons are educated. They are deceived with respect
to the words and phrases employed in the Bible to describe the punishment of
sinners. They read the Bible under that deception; and, therefore, they entirely
misapprehend its meaning, whenever it speaks of the consequences of iniquity.
Here is one of the great errors of the church. Remove this, and no man would go
to the Bible to prove the endlessness of suffering.
Do you say, it is unreasonable to suppose terms have been
thus changed in their signification? I answer, such changes are very common in
language. Let me give a few instances. "Knave" once signified a servant; and in
early translation of the New Testament, instead of "Paul the servant,"
we read, "Paul the knave of Jesus Christ." "Wretch" was originally, and
is now in some parts of England, used as a term of softest and fondest
endearment. "Villain" originally signified simply a servant or bondsman. "Hell"
meant originally, concealed or covered over. Dr. Campbell says, "at first it
denoted only what was secret or concealed, and is found with precisely the same
meaning in all the Teutonic dialects." Dr. A. Clarke says, "The word hell comes
from the Anglo-Saxon helon, to cover or hide; hence the tiling or
slating of a house is called, in some parts of England, heling, to this
very day; and the covers of books (in Lancashire) by the same name."
If these words have thus changed their signification, why may
not others have done the same? It is not enough, therefore, to ask how
certain terms are now understood -- we must know how they were used by the
writers of the Bible. Grant me your attention, and I will consider some
of the terms on which the doctrine of endless misery is supposed to rest.
I. Everlasting, Eternal, Ever, &c.
If we turn to the Old Testament, we find that these words are
often used in a limited sense. "He shall serve his master forever." -- (Exod.
21:6) Here forever means during life. David says, he asked life of God, and he
gave it to him, even length of days forever and ever. -- (Ps. 21:4) This phrase
signifies only a long life. Jeremiah, speaking of the calamities to come upon
his enemies says, they shall stumble; they shall not prevail; they shall be
greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall
never be forgotten. -- (Jer. 20:11) Now unless this was a limited confusion, how
could the prophet say, It shall never be forgotten? To forget refers to what is
passed. Jonah says, "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; to the earth
with her bars was about me forever." -- (Jonah 2:6) Here forever means three
days and three nights.
If we pass from the Old Testament to the New, we find the
word used in the same sense. Thus the Savior, alluding to the homes of the rich,
called them everlasting habitations; and urged his disciples to seek
the friendship of such, that they might be received to those homes. Recollect,
these everlasting habitations were earthly houses. -- (Luke 16:9) The following
expressions may be quoted without comment. "Such as was not, no, nor ever
shall be." -- (Matt. 24:21) "Desire him to do as he had ever done." --
(Mark 15:8) "Son, thou art ever with me." -- (Luke 15:31 "A man told me
all things that ever I did." -- (John 4:29) (See also John 8:35; 10:8;
8:20; Acts 23:15; Eph. 5:29; 1 Thes. 5:15; 2 Tim. 3:17; Mark 11:14; Philemon 16)
In all these places, the terms ever and forever, signify human
life, or part of life.
If we turn to lexicographers, we shall find that their
definitions fully accord with the foregoing view. Take what they say of (aion)
ever and forever. Phavorinus says, it means, life, existence, eternity.
Grove: eternity,; an age; life; duration or continuance of time; a period; a
revolution of ages; a dispensation of Providence; this world, or life; the world
or life to come. Parkhurst defines it: duration or continuance of time,
but with great variety. He then gives seven senses in which it is used, two
signifying eternity and five a limited period. Jones is equally as
favorable; he says, it means, everlasting; age; eternity; eis ton aiona,
forever; a period of time; age, life, the present world; the Jewish dispensation.
Donnegan says: time; a space of time; life time. Odyss. 5, 152, and 160
life. Iliad, 22.58, Hes. Seut. 331, the ordinary period of a
man's life. Homer and Pindar frequently, the age of man, man's estate, Iliad,
24, 725, a long period of time; eternity. Schweighaeuser defines it: aevum,
vita, age, life. Valpey: age; length of time. Hincks: a period
of time; life; and age; the world, eternity; same as Latin aevum,
which was formed from it, by means of the digamma. Hedericus says, it
means, aevum, aeternitas, or age, eternity. Pickering: an
age; a long period of time; indefinite duration; time whether longer or shorter,
past, present or future. Schrevilius gives the following: aevum,
mundas, saeculum, vita, or age, world, life.
This view of these words is confirmed by the fact, that the
primitive Universalists, in speaking of punishment, used the words everlasting,
eternal and ever, just as they are used in the New Testament. They threatened
sinners with everlasting punishment, the same as Jesus and the apostles did.
Now, would they have done this, if the words eternal, everlasting, &c.,
signified endless? Surely we must not charge such a man as Origen with
There is another fact. In Maclaine's Mosheim, we find a note
which states that the original signification of eternal, ever, &c., was
life, age, &c., but not eternity. "The word aion or
aeon is commonly used among Greek writers, but in different senses: its
signification in the Gnostic system is not very evident, and several learned men
have despaired of finding out its true meaning. Aionor aeon
among the ancients was used to signify the age of man, or the duration of human
life. In after times, it was employed by philosophers to express the duration of
spiritual and invisible beings." Hence the circumstance that punishment is
called everlasting and eternal is no proof whatever that it is endless. The same
rule which would prove that Jesus and Paul taught endless misery by this word,
would prove that Origen taught it. And yet, that he was a Universalist, is
unquestionable. Here, then, is a key by which to explain all the texts where
eternal and everlasting are applied to misery. Late as the year 250 these words
were used by Universalists to describe the duration of punishment. Consequently,
not till after that period, were they employed to teach endless misery.
Therefore, they could not have been so used by Jesus and the Apostles; and those
passages in which they are coupled with punishment, can be no proof of its
eternity. This argument, in our opinion, amounts to demonstration.
"Besides, those Greek fathers, who, on the contrary, did not
believe in Universal salvation, and who began at length zealously to oppose that
doctrine, never quoted the terms now in questions, against their opponents, but
resorted to other arguments. I speak of the most ancient Greek Christians; those
who lived before the fifth century.
The controversy between Universalists and Partialists, in
regard to what the Scriptures teach concerning hell, has been reduced to a small
compass. The principal texts on which they differ about this word are, "Thy
whole body be cast into hell." -- (Matt. 5:29-30) "Able to destroy both soul and
body in hell." -- (Matt. 10:28) "be cast into hell fire." -- (Mark 9:47) "How
can ye escape the damnation of hell?" -- (Matt. 23:33) The word (gehenna)
which in these verses is rendered hell, is the only one about which any
controversy remains. The words found in Psalm 9:17, Luke 16:23, 2 Peter 2:4, are
admitted not to teach endless woe. Our remarks, therefore, will be confined to
the word first mentioned, (gehenna.)
This was originally employed to signify the valley of Hinnom,
a place near Jerusalem. Here the Jews sacrificed their children to Moloch."
(Josh. 15:8) The good king Josiah defiled Tophet, the valley of the son of
Hinnom, that no man might make his son or daughter pass through the fire to
Moloch. -- (2 Kings 23:10) He defiled it by having the offals of the city thrown
into it, and burned there. It was also a custom of the Jews to burn alive there,
the worst offenders against their laws. Those less criminal were thrown into the
valley and left unburied. This was considered a great disgrace, and dreaded much
by all the people.
By such means Hinnom became terribly obnoxious to the Jews;
and, therefore, the prophets very naturally chose it as a figure of temporal
judgment. They could have selected nothing more appropriate. And as the
punishments connected with this valley were more dreadful than any other, it was
natural that Hinnom should have been chosen as a figure of that great judgment
by which the Jewish nation was to be destroyed. Accordingly, we find the
prophets representing the destruction of the Jews by a figure drawn form this
valley. Thus Jeremiah says -- "Cut of thine hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away,
and take up a lamentation on high places; for the Lord hath rejected and
forsaken the generation of his wrath. For the children of Judah have done evil
in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their abominations in the house which
is called by my name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of
Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and
their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my
heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more
be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of
slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place. And the
carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the
beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease
from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth,
and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the
bride: for the land shall be desolate." -- (Jeremiah 7:29-34)
Such are the two senses which gehenna has in the Old
Testament. Here all critics are agreed. Let us pass now to the New Testament,
and inquire whether it is there used in any different sense. The plan of our
sermon will not allow us to take up the several texts where it occurs, and show
from their connection, that they can have no reference to futurity. We have
marked out a briefer course, and one which we think will be equally as
convincing and satisfactory. What word had not acquired its present
signification till after the New testament was written. And,
It is not used in the Apocrypha -- writings composed
just before the Christian era. Its allusions to future punishment are made
by a different word, (hades,) which shows that this word (gehenna)
was not hen used in its present popular sense.
In all the writings extant in the period between the Old
and New Testaments, future punishment is never represented by fire, but
always by darkness, night, and death. This shows, therefore, that the word
we are considering was not then used in its present sense; for all those
writers that in after times employ it to represent hell, always speak of
the place as an abode of fire.
Josephus, whose writings bear date between the year A.D.
70 and A.D. 100, never introduces this word (gehenna) in those
passages where he speaks of the state of the wicked after death, nor in any
other part of his works. This brings us down to A.D. 100; and we find that
the word we are considering had acquired no new signification. Its meaning
was the same at this time as among the Jews. Consequently, it has the same
signification in the New Testament that it has in the Old Testament. [These
facts are gathered from the writings or Rev. H. Ballou, 2d.]
Perhaps it will be argued that Christ gave it a new meaning.
But I ask, on what occasion did he say -- "I use this word differently from what
the prophets did. I mean by it endless punishment?" Such a statement was
essential to prevent his being misunderstood; and, therefore, unless we are
willing to accuse him of dishonesty, we must allow that he did not apply the
word to the future state.
But I have another class of reasons to sustain my
No person, in the New Testament, except our Lord, ever
threatened the punishment of gehenna. We find nothing of it in the
writings of Paul, Peter or John. They do not even warn sinners against it.
James uses the word, but not with reference to punishment. Now, why this
silence? Why withhold this great truth, if there be such a place of fire?
Why not dwell upon it as preachers do now? Let the candid answer.
If the word denoted endless misery, why were only the
Jews threatened with it? Why were not the Gentiles asked how they could
escape the damnation of hell? Paul's ministry was chiefly confined to this
class; and yet he says nothing of (gehenna) hell! Shall we say the
apostles shrunk from declaring the whole truth? Why, according to the
popular opinion, the doctrine we oppose is the chief means by which to
convert sinners and yet the Gentiles heard nothing of it!!!
In all the passages where our Lord threatened the
punishment of hell, (gehenna,) except in one instance, he
addressed himself to his disciples. Why was this? Why not urge this
punishment chiefly upon the attention of sinners? How unlike his course is
that of the terrific preachers of the present day!
These facts are unanswerable. They show beyond all question,
that (gehenna) hell did not mean, in the days of the apostles, a place
of endless suffering. If it did, all the apostles would have preached it. They
would have preached it to Gentiles ans well as Jews; and chiefly to sinners
rather than saints.
The Truth is, this word retained its primitive signification,
and was used by the Savior to describe the calamities to come upon the Jews at
the end of their dispensation. Here is the reason why the Gentiles were not
threatened with this punishment. It was not an evil to which they were in any
manner exposed; and hence nothing was said to them respecting it. If therefore,
any ever speak to you of (gehenna) hell, tell them that no word was
used by Jesus or the apostles to denote a place of endless misery. Hell (gehenna)
has acquired its present signification since their day.
These remarks upon the words everlasting, eternal, ever
and hell, are sufficient to show the importance of going back to the
primitive use of terms. We have found, by our examination, that the terms on
which our opposers rely to prove the eternity of suffering, were not used by the
authors of the Bible in any such manner. The authors of this book used the words
just as Universalists do. With these facts before us, how easy it would be to
take up all the texts in which these words occur, and show that they are
misapplied when employed to prove endless suffering. But I have no time for this
labor. Besides, it appears wholly unnecessary; for in the texts which read --
"These shall go away into everlasting punishment," and "How can you escape the
damnation of hell," the proof of endless woe is thought to be in the words
everlasting and hell; and, consequently, if those words were never
used by Jesus in their present popular signification, the texts afford no proof
against that salvation of all men.
There is another method by which we can show that the
Scriptures give no proof of the eternity of suffering; and to this I will ask
your attention for a few moments.
III. The Penalty of God's Law Is Not Endless
In deciding what the penalty of God's law is, we must look at
those portions of his statute book where his law is published, and its penalties
A law was given to Adam and a penalty annexed. Now as
Adam was the first man, and as to him God first revealed his law, it is
natural to suppose that, if the penalty was endless misery, it would have
been distinctly stated to him, in order that he and his posterity might
know the consequence of transgression. But what was the penalty made know
to Adam? "In the day thou eatest of the fruit thereof thou shalt surely
die." Here is the penalty. In the day. Hence the
penalty of the law is not endless misery in the future world; because it
was immediately to follow transgression, whereas Adam lived many
hundred years after this. Neither is the penalty of the law temporal death;
for, in that case, God did not execute his threatening. It is,
therefore, moral death, such as Adam suffered on
the day he transgressed. We are told he was guilty, and hid himself from
the Divine presence. This guilt is death. The sinner is morally dead. Moral
death, then, was the only one which Adam experienced on the day he
Cain was a great sinner. Without the least provocation,
he slew his brother. What was the punishment denounced upon him? Turn to
God's statute book, and you have the answer -- "And the Lord said unto
Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said, I know not: am I my
brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy
brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed
from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood
from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield
unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the
earth." Here is the penalty. Does it afford any proof that Cain was doomed
to endless woe? Does it favor the common opinion respecting the penalty of
God's law? Not the least. A vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he
said, "Shall I hide from my servant Abraham the thing which I do?" No; he
would make him fully acquainted with the judgment he was preparing to
inflict. But were did he inform Abraham that he would send those guilty
people to endless suffering? Look at what he says: "And the men turned
their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet
before the Lord. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy
the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within
the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty
righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner,
to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as
the wicked, that be far from thee. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do
right? And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous withing the
city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes." -- Gen 18:22-26.
Destroy the righteous with the wicked -- destroy the city. Does
this favor the idea of endless suffering in the future state?
The penalty of God's law is thus stated by Moses: "But
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 his 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 kine, 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, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of
the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The LORD shall
make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off
the land, whither thou goest to possess it. The LORD shall smite thee with
a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an
extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew;
and they shall pursue thee until thou perish. And thy heaven that is over
thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.
The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall
it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed. The LORD shall cause thee
to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them,
and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms
of the earth. And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and
unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away." -- Deut.
28:15-26. Here is an enumeration of curses, but where is the curse of
endless woe? It is not here! No man would ever adduce these curses as any
evidence against Universalism. But why was nothing said of the great curse
of all curses? Why was it not said God intended to punish these offenders
with endless woe? Would it be right and good to withhold a knowledge of
such a curse, when it was laid up in store for them?
These are important facts, and they lead irresistibly to the
conclusion, that the Bible does not contain the penalty which we are
considering. And so far as the Old Testament is concerned, this is the opinion
of many learned orthodox writers. Thus, Bishop Warburton says: "Both rewards and
punishments promised by Heaven were temporal only." Dr. Paley says: "This
dispensation dealt altogether in temporal rewards and punishments." The same
opinion was entertained by Grotius, Episcopius, Dr. Campbell, Bishop Burnett,
Dr. Burnett, Dr. Hey, and Mr. Ludliem.
That we are right, then, seems perfectly evident. I wish now
to ask, whether God could justly inflict a curse never threatened. Let us hear
President Fiske in regard to this point. He says, "The curse cannot be more than
is threatened, for more would charge upon God the injustice of inflicting
sufferings upon his children beyond what his law requires." Hence, all who lived
under the old dispensation are sure of salvation, for God is not so unjust as to
inflict a punishment never threatened.
Do I hear an objector say, "The New Testament contains the
penalty in question?" I reply, before admitting that, it may be will to ask, why
a penalty, so essential, should never have been revealed before? Why was it
withheld for four thousand years? Did God first attempt the plan of limited
punishment, and find it necessary to change that for endless punishment? We
should be truly glad to have an answer to these queries. Those who attempt an
answer are requested to bear in mind the following facts.
Christ is said to have brought life and immortality to
light; but never said to have brought a state of endless woe to light.
He is said to be the Savior of the world, the Savior of
the lost; but never the destroyer of any portion of mankind.
His dispensation is said to be better than the old, and
the covenant he established to have better promises than the Jewish. But
how could this be, if he taught the eternity of suffering, while the
prophets taught only limited punishment? Is endless misery better than
When the Savior was born, the angel who announced it
declared that it was a joyful event for all people. But why describe it
thus? Why not call it sorrowful, if he was to publish the awful doctrine of
endless torture? Surely, if he was the first messenger from God who
proclaimed the eternity of suffering, we should think it would have been
more suitable to say, Behold, I bring you bad news of great misery
which shall be to a vast proportion of the world!
Why is it said that grace came by Jesus Christ,
if he was the first to preach the doctrine of endless woe, on divine
authority? Would it not be more just to say wrath and torture came by Jesus
I have no time for farther queries of this character, and will proceed to
IV. The Silence of the Bible With Regard To a
Place of Endless Misery.
Having shown that the words rendered hell do not signify a
place of ceaseless suffering, I wish to call your attention to the fact, that no
allusions are made, in any part of the Bible, which warrant us in concluding
that there is such a place. The allusions to a state of blessedness are very
frequent. Thus we read -- "In the resurrection we shall neither marry nor be
given in marriage, but be as the angels of God." There, too, we shall be
children of God, being children of the resurrection. That this is a description
of our state in the resurrection, is unquestionable; and we learn from it the
happy condition of the soul there. St. Paul describes it in the same manner. He
says, we shall be incorruptible, immortal, glorious, and blessed. He represents
the kingdom of God as a state of perfect purity and joy. And the Savior, when
taking a farewell leave of his disciples, said -- "In my Father's house are many
mansions. I go to prepare a place for you."
From these references we have a distinct idea of heaven or
the resurrection state. It is a place of immortal life, of uninterrupted joy, of
perfect purity, and of endless blessedness.
"There sickness never comes;
There grief no more complains;
Health triumphs in immortal bloom,
And purest pleasure reigns.
No strife nor envy there
The sons of peace molest,
But harmony and love sincere
Fill every happy breast.
No cloud those regions know,
Forever bright and fair;
For sin, the source of mortal woe,
Can never enter there."
While such are the distinct views given of heaven, we find no
language descriptive of a state of endless suffering. We never read that such a
place was created or prepared, and in no instance is it said, when sinners die,
they go there. We are told of Ahitophel, who hung himself, and of Saul, who slew
himself; but nothing is said of their going to endless perdition. We have
accounts of the grief of mourners, and of parents weeping over the death of
profligate children; but no allusion is made to any hopeless sorrow. Now, why is
this, if the inspired writers believed in a place of endless torture? Look at
those who now believe it. They can tell you all about it, they know its
dimensions, and can give you a better geographical description of it than of the
state in which they live. They know who has gone there, and who is going, and
will even doom to it those whom they never saw, and of whose Christian character
they are entirely ignorant. We demand the scriptural authority for this. We
demand a single passage which says any man, after death, was doomed to endless
Am I pointed to the rich man in hell? I reply, the learned,
as I have already shown, admit that the hell in which he was suffering was not a
place of endless misery. Dr. Allen, of Bangor, admits this; Professor Stuart of
Andover admits this; Dr. Campbell admits it. The word, therefore, is no proof
that when a wicked man dies he is doomed to a state of endless misery.
The doctrine we oppose teaches that for the sins of this life
some will be sent, at death, to such a state of torture. But in the account of
the rich man there is nothing like this. Admit that the account is a literal
history, and it only proves a limited future punishment; for if the hell was
limited where he was suffering, it could not certainly teach anything more than
a limited punishment.
But we deny that the account is a literal history; we
maintain that it is a parable; and that the story of the rich man was
introduced, not for the purpose of recognizing its truth, but to illustrate the
national death of the Jews, and the evils they were bringing upon themselves.
In ascertaining the meaning of the parable, we have no more
to do with the story on which it is founded, than we have with the story about a
conversation between the trees, the vine and the bramble, in the parable of
Jotham. -- (Judges 9:7-16) The truth conveyed is in the thing signified, and not
in the figure or story chosen as an illustration. It matters not, therefore, if
the Jews had a story among them about a rich man that died and went to hell, and
that Jesus chose it as the foundation of a parable. By founding a parable upon
it, he did not declare the story true; he merely employed it to illustrate and
enforce truth. I say, therefore, again, we have no instance where any are said
to have gone to endless woe; and that the Bible is entirely silent in regard to
such a place. I do not say that the Bible teaches a perfect equality at death;
but I say that it reveals no place where a portion are to be tortured without
end. Indeed, it is explicit in saying, "all go to one place;" that "the dust
returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it." Not only
does the Bible teach that all go to one place, but that, in the resurrection,
all shall be in the kingdom of God, and rejoice together in the possession of
We have many other considerations on which we should be glad
to dwell at length; but our limits forbid, and we must be content with a brief
allusion to the most important of them. They may all be classed under the
following head, viz.
V. The Strongest Terms Employed to Express the
Evil of Sin Are Applied to Sufferings Which We Know Are Limited.
Unquenchable fire. This term is thus used by
Jeremiah -- But if you will not hearken unto me, . . . . then will I kindle
a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem,
and it shall not be quenched." -- (Jer. 17:27) Here we have the phrase --
not be quenched. But the fire to which it refers ceased to burn
when the temple at Jerusalem was consumed. The term, therefore, does not
imply endless burning.
Worm dieth not. Isaiah thus uses this
expression -- "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the
men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die,
neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto
all flesh." -- (Isa. 66:24) Here the prophet alludes to the worms which
preyed upon the dead carcasses, that were left unburied in the valley of
Hinnom, when Jerusalem was destroyed. Those worms wee not more than any of
our own day; and were said to die not, because worms were always preying
there. The expression, therefore, does not denote endless suffering.
Destruction. God says -- I will sweep Babylon
with the besom of destruction. -- (Isa. 14:23) This refers to the overthrow
of that city; so hat destruction gives no evidence of endless woe. Men are
said to be destroyed when their integrity is gone, or their habits become
bad. The word if often applied to temporal evils. (See Esth. 8:6; 9:5; Job
5:23; 21:27; Ps. 35:8; Prov. 16:18)
Utterly destroyed. "They utterly destroyed the
Canaanites." -- (Numb. 21:23) "We utterly destroyed Sihon and his people."
-- (Deut. 2:34) "We utterly destroyed the cities of Og." -- (Deut. 3:6)
These cases show that the expression simply signifies being reduced to a
state of extreme dependence and wretchedness, or being cut off from the
Fierceness of his anger, wrath and indignation.
These strong terms were employed by David to represent the temporal evils
which God sent upon Egypt. (Ps. 78:49) Paul, speaking of those Jews who
would not allow the Gospel to be carried to the Gentiles, said, wrath is
come upon them to the uttermost; not shall, but is
come to the uttermost. (1 Thess. 2:16)
Cursed. Joshua said, "Now, therefore, are ye
cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondsmen, and
hewers of wood and drawers of water." -- (Josh. 9:23) Thus, cursed is used
to signify a state of degrading servitude and great suffering, but not
Lost. This represents the condition of all
sinners. They are lost to usefulness and happiness; but they are not
irrecoverably lost, for Jesus came to seek and save them, and the Bible
says, "This my son was lost and is found."
The foregoing expressions, which are relied upon to prove the
eternity of suffering, are among the strongest which the Bible contains; and
yet, they are all used with reference to limited evils. This is a fact which
cannot be disputed; and it proves, beyond all question, that in these
expressions there is no evidence of endless torture.
What, then, if the Bible speaks of unquenchable fire, of
a worm which dieth not, of destruction, of being utterly destroyed, of a fierce
anger, of the curse of sinners, and of their being lost; unless it can be
shown that these expressions denote a suffering which never ends, they are no
proof against us. But how can that be proved, when we find them used to denote
sufferings which we know are limited?
I have one topic more which I wish to introduce, and that is,
VI. The Kind of Evidence Necessary to Prove
Blackstone, in treating of the nature of crimes and their
punishment presents six considerations which claim attention. 1. The general
nature of crimes and punishments. 2. The persons capable of committing crimes.
3. The several degrees of guilt as principals or accessories. 4. The several
species of crimes, with the punishment annexed to each. 5. The means of
preventing their perpetration. 6. The method of inflicting those punishments
which the law has annexed to each several crime and misdemeanor.
Here you see what this distinguished man deemed requisite in
regard to human laws. But if such distinct views on each of these points are
requisite, how much more necessary are distinct views in regard to sin against
God, and the punishment which it deserves. We ought, at least, to know,
What the punishment of sin is. This should be expressed
in terms which admit of no dispute. Such terms might be found. We have no
doubt about the meaning of the language employed by our present advocates
of endless misery. God, then, could have expressed himself equally as plain
and strong. That he has not, is a fact which is undisputed. He has nowhere
said when a man dies his spirit goes to a place of endless torture.
We do not know in what endless punishment is to consist.
Is it to be literal fire? Is it horror of conscience? Is it banishment from
God? Is it confinement in a prison? Is it being in a place where we shall
be alternately exposed to the extremes of heat and cold? Some say one
thing, some another. In what consists the punishment of those who
transgress the laws of our land? God to the statute book, and there you
have the answer. But would not God be as plain as earthly lawgivers are?
We do not know who are capable of committing crimes
which expose to endless misery. Are children? Are idiots? Are the heathen?
Some say, yes -- some, no. But human laws define who are capable of
We do not know what degree of sin will subject us to
endless misery. There are none without sin -- none without some unbelief,
some unreconciliation. How much of this is requisite to justify God in
cutting us off? Now I ask, if we can believe that matters, involving
infinite consequences, are thus loosely and indefinitely stated? The idea
charges injustice upon God and makes him cruel and unmerciful. The only
evidence which should be admitted in a case like this, is that of the most
positive and distinct character, and which defines particularly the
punishment, its nature, its degree, its duration, the causes for which
inflicted, and on whom it will be inflicted.
But we have no such evidence. You see this in the fact that
there is no agreement in regard to these points. Some entertain one view, and
some another. The views are vastly more various than the opposing Christian
Thus, when weighed in the balances of candid investigation,
the doctrine of endless misery is seen to be without any support from the Bible.