The Gospel of the Hereafter - Part 12

Part 12

Even that if it be true is some relief. We should no longer be forced to believe of G.o.d what Conscience declares to be unworthy of Him. But is it true? I can already see the Bible turned over for the dark array of texts beginning with "He that believeth not shall be d.a.m.ned," "How can ye escape the d.a.m.nation of h.e.l.l?" "These shall go away into everlasting punishment," etc.

Let me explain.

If we examine the Bible carefully we shall find that, while there are a great many clear proofs of the certainty and awfulness of h.e.l.l, the proofs of this theory of Everlasting Torment are not much to be depended on. Practically they can all be gathered into three groups.

In the first the chief word is d.a.m.n or d.a.m.nATION.

In the second the chief word is h.e.l.l.

In the third the chief word is EVERLASTING.

It is not too much to say that if these three sets of pa.s.sages were removed from the Bible n.o.body would think of believing in everlasting torment. Now let me make the a.s.sertion straight out--There is no word in the original language of the Bible that at all justifies the use of either of these words in the meaning that we have attached to it--and therefore the Revised Version of the Bible has practically swept them all away.

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Take first the words d.a.m.n, d.a.m.nation which convey to us the idea of doom to a h.e.l.l of never-ending torment and never-ending sin. The original word conveyed no such idea to our Lord or the Apostles. It conveyed no such idea to the translators of the Authorized Version.

When they translated it d.a.m.n and d.a.m.nation they did not at all mean what we now mean.

There are two Greek words, _krino_ which means simply _to judge_, and _kata-krino_ which means to _judge adversely_, to _condemn_, and it is sometimes the first and sometimes the second of these words which is translated "d.a.m.n." Why is it so translated? Surely the translators did not think so evil of G.o.d as to believe that He could never judge a man without condemning him and that He could never condemn him except to everlasting torment. Not at all. They had no thought of this. The English word "d.a.m.n" at that time had no such awful meaning as has grown into it in our day through the wide-spread influence of the theory which I am criticizing. It simply meant what the Greek word meant. I find an interesting ill.u.s.tration of this in the Wycliffe Bible in the pa.s.sage about the woman taken in adultery. Jesus saith, "Woman, hath no man d.a.m.ned thee?" "No man, Lord." "Neither do I d.a.m.n thee." That is to say the English word d.a.m.n at that time only meant "_condemn_."

But words are dangerous things if not carefully watched, owing to their tendency to change their meaning as a language grows. A new, darker meaning has grown on to the English word since. Once an innocent word, it has now become dangerous and misleading. Therefore, the Revisers have swept it away, and _the words d.a.m.n and d.a.m.nation have now vanished entirely and for ever out of the pages of the English Bible_.

Unfortunately the public do not read the Revised Version.

With this explanation I ask the reader to turn back to his Bible. In our sense of the word did our Lord say, "He that believeth not shall be d.a.m.ned"? Most certainly not. He said that he should be _condemned_ for wilfully disbelieving, but He did not say to what he should be condemned, nor for how long. I should condemn you for doing a selfish act, but that would hardly mean sending you to endless torment. Did He say that those who had done evil should rise to the resurrection of d.a.m.nation? (1 John v. 29). No. He said, "to the resurrection of judgment." (See R. V.) Did St. Paul say, "He that doubteth (about eating certain meats) is d.a.m.ned if he eat"? (Rom. xiv. 23). Did he say that a church widow should have d.a.m.nation for marrying again? (1 Tim. v. 12). Of course not; the word only means judgment or condemnation. There is no thought at all in it of this endless h.e.l.l as the Revised Version has plainly shown. So we see that at any rate all these texts about "d.a.m.nation" can no longer be used in proof of everlasting torment and everlasting sin.

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Something similar is true about the texts whose chief word is "h.e.l.l."

The word "h.e.l.l" occurs eighteen times in the Authorized Version. Once it is a translation of a Greek word Tartarus (2 Peter ii. 4) cast down to h.e.l.l to be reserved "_unto the Day of Judgment_." That certainly was not everlasting. Five times it is a translation of the word Hades whose meaning we already know, and which certainly did not mean everlasting. The other twelve times it is a translation of the word Gehenna used by our Lord, and no scholar with the least regard for his reputation would dream of stating that our Lord certainly meant it to convey the idea of endlessness. It was the name of a horrible valley outside Jerusalem where things were cast out to be burnt, to keep the city pure. The Jewish prophets took the word as a metaphor to express the fate of wicked men. From it they drew their images used by our Lord of "the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched"

(Mark x. 46). To be in danger of Gehenna was to be in danger of a hereafter doom suggested by this dread place.

Our Lord simply took up the vague Jewish word and did not define it.

What exactly had He in His mind when He used this word? This is a question of terrible importance. He certainly meant something very stern and awful. He seems to indicate also something final and irrevocable. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that He meant to convey the idea in our minds of a vast prison, in which the souls of the lost are pierced through with agony for ever and ever.

You ask, How can I know what He meant? How could I know what Shakespeare meant by a certain word? I should read up all the books and letters of Shakespeare's times in which the word occurs, and whatever it commonly meant to the people of Shakespeare's time I should accept as being what Shakespeare meant. That looks sensible, does it not? Well, a very interesting investigation has been made by various scholars. They have examined all the existing Jewish writings where the word Gehenna was used from 300 B. C. to 300 A. D. Then they have examined the Jewish Talmuds which run on to the fourth and fifth century. A modern English scholar, Dr. Dewes, says (_Plea for a New Translation_, p. 23): "Every pa.s.sage has been carefully examined which is quoted in the works of Lightfoot, Schoetgen, Buxtorf, Castell, Schindler, Gla.s.s, Bartoloccius, Ugalino and Nork, and the result of the whole examination is this: _there are only two pa.s.sages which even a superficial reader could consider to be corroborative of the a.s.sertion that the Jews understood Gehenna to be a place of everlasting torment_."

I give a few specimens from the Talmuds. "Gehenna is ordained of old because of sins." "The unG.o.dly will be judged in Gehenna _against the day of judgment_." "The unG.o.dly shall be judged in Gehenna _until the righteous shall say of them, We have seen enough_." "The judgment of the unG.o.dly is for twelve months." "Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned." "The sinners ... shall descend into Gehenna; at the end of twelve months the body shall be consumed and the soul burned up and the wind shall scatter it under the feet of the just."

The reader sees, of course, that the vague Jewish opinions have no authority for us except to help us to get at the meaning of our Lord when speaking to Jews about Gehenna. We may a.s.sume that He used their familiar word in the sense in which they would naturally understand it.

They certainly would understand Him to proclaim some terrible doom, probably also an irrevocable doom. But can any one affirm that they must have understood Him to mean endless torment, in the face of this evidence--and its powerful confirmation by the greatest of all modern Jewish students of the Talmud, Emanuel Deutsch. "There is no everlasting d.a.m.nation in the Talmud" (_Remains_, p. 53), and again, "There is not a word in the Talmud which supports the d.a.m.nable dogma of endless torment" (Conversation with Mr. c.o.x, _Salvator Mundi_, p. 72).

The American Revised Version has very wisely removed the word h.e.l.l altogether on account of the misleading a.s.sociations connected with it.

It subst.i.tutes the word Gehenna, leaving the reader to ascertain its meaning. The English Revisers have retained the word h.e.l.l and put the word Gehenna beside it in the margin. I think this was a pity, as it will be hard for the ordinary reader to dissociate the word h.e.l.l from the theory which has unwarrantably grown on to it. But at any rate I think we may safely say that no reader who understands the position will ever again use the texts in which our Lord speaks of h.e.l.l to prove the absolute certainty of the theory of Endless Torment and Endless Sin. So vanishes another group of the proof texts for this theory.

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Now take the group of texts with the word "everlasting." It is surely significant that the Revisers have completely removed this word also in every case and subst.i.tuted for it the word "eternal," a less definite word and which in scholarly usage means rather the opposite of temporal--that which is above the sphere of time and s.p.a.ce--that which belongs to the other world. At any rate the fact that they have removed it in every case shows that the word "everlasting" did not seem to them a correct translation.

There is only s.p.a.ce for a brief explanation. The original word is the adjective _aionos_ (aionios) (Eng. aeonian), coming from the noun _aion_ (aion) (Eng. aeon), an age, an epoch, a long period of time.

This noun cannot mean eternity for it is repeatedly used by St. Paul in the plural "aeons" and "aeons of aeons." As we speak of great periods of time, "the Ice Age," "the Stone Age," etc., so the Bible speaks of "this age" (aeon), "the coming age" (aeon), and "the end of the age,"

etc. These aeons or ages are thought of in Scripture as vast periods past, present and future in which the Divine purpose is working itself out, _e. g._, G.o.d's purpose is the purpose of the ages (aeons) (Eph.

iii. 11). Christ's name is above every name not only in this age (aeon) but in that which is to come (Eph. i. 21). "That in the ages (aeons) to come He might shew," etc.

From this noun, then, conies the adjective _aionios_ (aionios)--aeonian which may be defined "age long" or "belonging to the ages," etc. Any Greek scholar will a.s.sert unhesitatingly that of itself it does not mean endless or everlasting. Sometimes, as when applied to G.o.d, it may be thus translated but only because the meaning is inherent in the noun to which it is applied. The word _aionios_ of itself would not positively prove the endlessness of G.o.d. This adjective when applied to any thing or any state of being cannot of itself be used to prove its endlessness.

It is worth notice too that in the Septuagint Greek Bible, the version usually quoted in the Gospels and Epistles, this word _aionios_ is frequently applied to things that have ended, _e. g._, the gift of the land of Canaan, the priesthood of Aaron, the kingdom of David, the temple at Jerusalem, the daily offerings, etc. When the noun always means a finite period and the adjective is applied both to that which is ended and to that which is endless it would surely be poor scholarship if the Revisers allowed the word "everlasting" to remain as its translation, or if students of theology should argue from it the endlessness of anything. To which we may add that there are Greek adjectives and phrases which _do definitely mean_ "endless" and which are never used in the Bible of men's fate in the Hereafter.

Be it observed that all this does not prove that the punishment of the future ages _may not_ be everlasting. It only proves that Scripture nowhere a.s.serts unmistakably that _it must be so_. It simply a.s.serts that it is aeonian.

The thoughtful advocates of Everlasting Torment are of course aware of all this. But they honestly feel that in spite of the indefiniteness of the adjective, our Lord has fixed His meaning beyond question in the one pa.s.sage that has become so famous as the great proof text in this controversy, "These shall go away into _aeonian_ punishment, but the righteous into _aeonian_ life" (Matt. xxv. 46). Very reasonably they say, "If the word a.s.serts everlastingness in the one case it must also in the other." The answer is that the word _of itself_ cannot a.s.sert everlastingness in either case. If this word were our only proof of everlasting life then everlasting life would be a doubtful matter. But the everlastingness of that life like the everlastingness of G.o.d is evident all over the Bible quite apart from this. The words here simply tell that the one shall go into the aeonian life and the other into aeonian punishment, _i. e._, that the one shall go into the life of the future age and the other into the punishment of the future age without exactly specifying the duration of either.

I quite feel that the close connection of the words suggests at least the probability that one is as lasting as the other. Yet even that consideration is weakened by asking if people are willing to apply it to St. Paul's statement, "As in Adam _all_ die even so in Christ shall _all_ be made alive" (the context suggests eternal life). I would point out, too, that a somewhat similar verse is in the Septuagint Bible of our Lord's day in Hab. iii. 6, where the (aeonian) everlasting mountains were scattered before G.o.d, whose ways are (aeonian) everlasting. Yet it does not prove that the one is as endless as the other. And in Rom. xvi. 25-26 the mystery hid in the (aeonian) times "before the world began" is now manifested according to the command of the (aeonian) eternal G.o.d. But the age "before the world began" is ended.

At any rate I must leave the matter here. I have no s.p.a.ce for fuller statement. If any man feels that a world of increasing sin and awful torment growing no nearer to its end after millions and millions of ages does not disturb his conscience or the thoughts of G.o.d which he has learned from the whole trend of Scripture this text will probably weigh strongly with him in spite of all that I have said. But to him who is tortured by such a thought of G.o.d and yet feels that Scripture binds him to it, it must surely be some relief to feel that even in this great bulwark text of Everlasting Torment our Lord only a.s.serts that these shall go away into the aeonian punishment or chastis.e.m.e.nt[3]

whatever that may mean.

Reluctantly, impelled by a sense of duty, I have dealt with this theory more fully than with the others. Should any G.o.dly people fear that I am lightening an awful deterrent to sin let me say what long experience has taught me of the danger of this common theory.

It is making sad loving hearts whom G.o.d has not made sad and making earnest Christians, who feel forced to believe it, perplexed about the love and justice of G.o.d and the prophecies of the final victory of good.

It is forcing into the background the true and awfully solemn teaching about h.e.l.l which ought to be prominent in all our pulpits. When men cannot see any possible reconciliation between the doctrine of G.o.d's love and their doctrine of h.e.l.l they are very apt to find an easy way out. "We cannot reconcile them," said a young layman to me one day, "therefore we drop out one of them--h.e.l.l." Do not be shocked at it.

Many besides my young layman are unconsciously doing it. Nowadays more than ever we, clergy, are teaching much about the love of G.o.d. But nowadays more than ever we are holding our tongues about h.e.l.l. We know the horrible idea which h.e.l.l commonly conveys. Therefore we keep it in the background trusting that our hearers will leave it there during the sermon on G.o.d's love. But they do not, and so we are very unconvincing about both doctrines.

Again, this common theory of h.e.l.l is so unreasonable that it has lost its power as a deterrent. No teaching from which Conscience revolts can long hold its power over men. The rough common sense, the rough moral sense of careless men makes them reject it and treat it as a subject of jest. When men can stupidly laugh together over jests about h.e.l.l-fire, when the devil is presented as a clown in the pantomime it indicates something very wrong in the teaching. No doctrine has any real hold on the crowd when they can lightly jest about it. And because of their unbelief in this false notion of h.e.l.l they are ceasing to believe in any h.e.l.l at all--ceasing to believe in that awful real h.e.l.l which is taught in the Bible and of which G.o.d is giving some men foretastes even in this life.

And this false notion of h.e.l.l tends to shake men's belief in the reality of Heaven. For if the redeemed could enjoy their bliss in Heaven, knowing that myriads are existing for ever and ever in endless suffering and still worse in endless sin, one feels that they have grown so selfish and opposite to Christ that they have no business in any heaven.

We dare not leave out the love of G.o.d and we dare not leave out the doctrine of h.e.l.l. Both are certainly true. Therefore they must be capable of reconciliation. The reconciliation must not come in ignoring h.e.l.l or believing in a kindly, good-natured G.o.d who does not judge severely about moral character and who only cares that His child should stop crying and be happy. We are having too much of this sentimentalism nowadays. It is a miserable misconception of that awful holiness which is "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity." It would never explain the need of Christ dying on the cross to put away sin.

Whatever reconciliation we find here or hereafter it must have at bottom G.o.d's unutterable hatred of sin but also G.o.d's unutterable love and pain over every sinful soul which He has made. This theory of Endless Torment and Endless Sin certainly does not appear to satisfy this test, and it has in addition to face the stern revolt of Reason and Conscience.


_The theory of Universalism, i. e., that all men shall at length be saved_.

This opinion is based on the more hopeful side of Scripture that we have referred to, but it ignores or explains away what contradicts it in the darker and sterner side. If one could forget that, it would be the most inspiring of all the guesses that have been made. As presented by its best exponents, such men as Allen and Jukes and c.o.x, it is wonderfully attractive and at first sight seems to satisfy many of the conditions of the problem. It takes account of a just and awful retribution for every sin, and takes account also of the mysterious hope in the Hereafter which runs through the Bible. It believes that the power of G.o.d has infinite resources and that the love of G.o.d has unwearying persistence and that no soul can ultimately resist such resources and such love. Even h.e.l.l itself it deems G.o.d's final effort when all other means have failed.

The reader who thinks there can be no possible excuse for such a theory should glance at a few of the pa.s.sages quoted in its favour:

"G.o.d who wills that _all men_ should be saved" (1 Tim. ii. 4), and "who wills that _all men_ should come to repentance" (2 Peter iii. 9). And this will or determination of G.o.d is "_immutable_" (Heb. vi. 7).

Again, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the Prince of this world be cast out, AND I, if I be lifted up, will draw _all men_ unto Myself" (John xii. 31, 32). "_All flesh_ shall see the salvation of G.o.d" (Luke iii. 6). "His grace bringing salvation to all men" (t.i.tus ii. 11). "We trust in the living G.o.d who is the Saviour of _all men, especially_ of those who believe" (1 Tim. iv. 10). "He is the propitiation _not for our sins only, but also_ for the sins of the _whole world_" (1 John ii. 2). "He was manifested that He might _destroy_ the works of the devil" (1 John iii. 8) [and _destroy_ the devil (bruise the serpent's head) Gen. iii. 15]. "He shall _overcome_ the strong man armed (the devil) and take away his armour and divide his spoils" (Luke xi. 21, 22). "He was manifested to _put away_ sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. ix. 26). "G.o.d hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew ... and so _all Israel shall be saved_" (Rom.

xii. 25-33). "The times of the _Restoration of all things_ which G.o.d hath promised by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts iii. 21). "As in Adam _all_ die, even so in Christ shall _all_ be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming. Then cometh the end ... when all things have been _subjected unto Him_[4]

... then shall the Son also be subjected unto Him that put all things under Him that G.o.d may be all in all" (1 Cor. xv. 22-29).