The Doctrine of
Endless Punishment

Topic: Hell Type: Book Chapter Author: W. G. T. Shedd 

Chapter 3


The chief objections to the doctrine of Endless Punishment are not Biblical, but speculative. The great majority of students and exegetes find the tenet in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Davidson, the most learned of English rationalistic critics, explicitly acknowledges that,

. . . if a specific sense be attached to words, never-ending misery is enunciated in the Bible. On the presumption that one doctrine is taught, it is the eternity of Hell torments. Bad exegesis may attempt to banish it from the New Testament Scriptures, but it is still there, and expositors who wish to get rid of it, as Canon Farrar does, injure the cause they have in view by misrepresentation. It must be allowed that the New Testament record not only makes Christ assert everlasting punishment, but Paul and John. But the question should be looked at from a larger platform than single texts--in the light of God’s attributes, and the nature of the soul. The destination of man, and the Creator’s infinite goodness, conflicting as they do with everlasting punishment, remove it from the sphere of rational belief. If provision be not made in revelation for a change of moral character after death, it is made in reason. Philosophical considerations must not be set aside even by Scripture [Last Things, pp. 133, 136, 151].

Consequently, after presenting the Biblical argument, for Endless Punishment, it becomes necessary to present the rational argument for it. So long as the controversy is carried on by an appeal to the Bible, the defender of endless retribution has comparatively an easy task. But when the appeal is made to human feeling and sentiment, or to human reasoning, the demonstration requires more effort. And yet the doctrine is not only Biblical, but rational. It is defensible on the basis of sound ethics and pure reason. Nothing is requisite for its maintenance but the admission of three cardinal truths of theism, namely, that there is a just God; that man has free will; and that sin is voluntary action. If these are denied, there can be no defense of endless punishment--or of any other doctrine, except atheism and its corollaries.

The Bible and all the creeds of Christendom affirm man’s free agency in sinning against God. The transgression which is to receive the endless punishment is voluntary. Sin, whether it be inward inclination or outward act, is unforced human agency. This is the uniform premise of Christian theologians of all schools. Endless punishment supposes the liberty of the human will, and is impossible without it. Could a man prove that he is necessitated in his murderous hate, and his murderous act, he would prove, in this very proof, that he ought not to be punished for it, either in time or eternity. Could Satan really convince himself that his moral character is not his own work, but that of God, or of nature, his remorse would cease, and his punishment would end. Self-determination runs parallel with Hell. 40[Many of the arguments constructed against the doctrine of endless punishment proceed upon the supposition that original sin, or man's evil inclination, is the work of God--that because man is born in sin [PSA 51:5] he was created in sin. All the strength and plausibility of John Foster's celebrated letter lies in the assumption that the moral corruption and impotence of the sinner, whereby it is impossible for him to save hi mself from eternal death, is not self-originated and self-determined, but infused by his Maker. "If," says he, "the very nature of man, as created by the Sovereign Power, be in such desperate disorder that there is no possibility of conversion and salvation except in instances where that Power interposes with a special and redeeming efficiency, how can we conceive that the main proportion of the race, thus morally impotent (that is, really and absolutely impotent) will be eternally punished for the inevitable result of this moral impotence?" If this assumption of concreated depravity and impotence is correct, Foster's objection to eternal retribution is conclusive and fatal].

Guilt, then, is what is punished, and not misfortune. Free and not forced agency is what feels the stroke of justice. What, now, is this stroke? What do law and justice do when they punish? Everything depends upon the right answer to this question. The fallacies and errors of Universalism find their nest and hiding-place at this point. The true definition of punishment detects and excludes them. 41[For a discriminating and thorough statement of the aim of punishment, and its distinction from chastisement, see Muller on Sin, I., 244-251].

Punishment is neither chastisement nor calamity. Men suffer calamity, says Christ, not because they or their parents have sinned, but that the works of God should be made manifest in them [JOH 9:3]. Chastisement is inflicted in order to develop a good, but imperfect character already formed. The Lord loves whom He chastens, and what son is he whom the earthly father chastens not? [HEB 11:6, 7]. Punishment, on the other hand, is retribution, and is not intended to do the work of either calamity or chastisement, but a work of its own. And this work is to vindicate law; to satisfy justice. Punishment, therefore, as distinguished from chastisement, is wholly retrospective in its primary aim. It looks back at what has been done in the past. Its first and great object is requital. A man is hung for murder, principally and before all other reasons, because he has voluntarily transgressed the law forbidding murder. He is not hung from a prospective aim, such as his own moral improvement, or for the purpose of deterring others from committing murder. The remark of the English judge to the horse-thief, in the days when such theft was capitally punished, "You are not hung because you have stolen a horse, but that horses may not be stolen," has never been regarded as eminently judicial. It is true that personal improvement may be one consequence of the infliction of penalty. But the consequence must not be confounded with the purpose. Cum hoc non ergo propter hoc. The criminal may come to see and confess that his crime deserves its punishment, and in genuine unselfish penitence may take sides with the law, approve its retribution, and go into the presence of the Final Judge, relying upon that great atonement which satisfies eternal justice for sin; but even this, the greatest personal benefit of all, is not what is aimed at in man’s punishment of the crime of murder. For should there be no such personal benefit as this attending the infliction of the human penalty, the one sufficient reason for inflicting it still holds good, namely, the fact that the law has been violated, and demands the death of the offender for this reason simply and only. Kant says:

The notion of ill-desert and punishableness, is necessarily implied in the idea of voluntary transgression; and the idea of punishment excludes that of happiness in all its forms. For though he who inflicts punishment may, it is true, also have a benevolent purpose to produce by the punishment some good effect upon the criminal, yet the punishment must be justified, first of all, as pure and simple requital and retribution: that is, as a kind of suffering that is demanded by the law without any reference to its prospective beneficial consequences; so that even if no moral improvement and no personal advantage should subsequently accrue to the criminal, he must acknowledge that justice has been done to him, and that his experience is exactly conformed to his conduct. In every instance of punishment, properly so called, justice is the very first thing, and constitutes the essence of it. A benevolent purpose and a happy effect, it is true, may be conjoined with punishment; but the criminal cannot claim this as his due, and he has no right to reckon upon it. All that he deserves is punishment, and this is all that he can expect from the law which he has transgressed [Praktische Vernunft, 151. Ed. Rosenkranz].

These are the words of as penetrating and ethical a thinker as ever lived.

*Beccaria and Bentham are the principal modern advocates of the contrary theory, viz.: that punishment is founded on utility and expediency. Beccaria’s position is, that the standard of crime is the injury which it does to society. He refers exclusively to the public good, and never appeals to the moral sentiment (Penny Cyclopaedia, Art. Beccaria). Bentham takes the same view, connecting it with the utilitarian ethics. From these writers, this theory has passed considerably into modern jurisprudence. Austin, a popular writer on law, follows Bentham.

The theory which founds morality upon righteousness, and punishment upon justice, is historical. Plato [Laws, X. 904, 905] held that punishment is righteous and retributive. Cicero (De Legibus, I. 14 sq.) contends that true virtue has regard to essential justice, not to utility. Grotius defines penalty as "the evil of suffering which is inflicted on account of the evil of doing." The great English jurists, Coke, Bacon, Selden, and Blackstone, explain punishment by crime, not by expediency. Kant, Herbart, Stahl, Hartenstein, Rothe, and Woolsey, define punishment as requital for the satisfaction of law and justice (Woolsey’s Political Science, Pt. II. Ch. viii).

Neither is it true, that the first and principal aim of punishment, in distinction from chastisement, is the protection of society, and the public good. This, like the personal benefit in the preceding case, is only secondary and incidental. The public good is not a sufficient reason for putting a man to death #[Hence, those who found punishment upon utility, and deny that it is retributive, endeavor to abolish capital punishment. And if their theory of penalty is true, they are right in their endeavor]; but the satisfaction of law is. This view of penalty is most disastrous in its influence, as well as false in its ethics. For if the good of the public is the true reason and object of punishment, the amount of it may be fixed by the end in view. The criminal may be made to suffer more than his crime deserves, if the public welfare, in suppressing this particular kind of crime, requires it. His personal desert and responsibility not being the one sufficient reason for his suffering, he may be made to suffer as much as the public safety requires. It was this theory of penalty that led to the multiplication of capital offenses. The prevention of forgery, it was once claimed in England, required that the forger should forfeit his life, and upon the principle that punishment is for the public protection, and not for strict and exact justice, an offense against human property paid the penalty by human life. Contrary to the Noachic statute, which punishes only murder with death, this statute weighed out man’s life-blood against dollars and cents. On this theory, the number of capital offenses became very numerous, and the criminal code very bloody. So that, in the long run, nothing is kinder than exact justice. It prevents extremes in either direction--either that of indulgence, or that of cruelty.

This theory breaks down, from whatever point it be looked at. Suppose that there were but one person in the universe. If he should transgress the law of God, then, upon the principle of expediency as the ground of penalty, this solitary subject of moral government could not he punished--that is, visited with a suffering that is purely retributive, and not exemplary or corrective. His act has not injured the public, for there is no public. There is no need of his suffering as an example to deter others, for there are no others. But upon the principle of justice, in distinction from expediency, this solitary subject of moral government could be punished.

The vicious ethics of this theory of penalty expresses itself in the demoralizing maxim, "It is better that ten guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should suffer." But this is no more true than the converse, "It is better that ten innocent men should suffer than that one guilty man should escape." It is a choice of equal evil and equal injustice. In either case alike, justice is trampled down. In the first supposed case, there are eleven instances of injustice and wrong; and in the last supposed case, there are likewise eleven instances of injustice and wrong. Unpunished guilt is precisely the same species of evil with punished innocence. To say, therefore, that it is better that ten guilty persons should escape than that one innocent man should suffer, is to say that it is better that there should he ten wrongs than one wrong against justice. The maxim assumes that the punishment of the guilty is not of so much consequence as the immunity of the innocent. But the truth is, that both are equally required by justice.

The theory that punishment is retributive honors human nature, but the theory that it is merely expedient and useful degrades it. If justice be the true ground of penalty, man is treated as a person; but if the public good is the ground, he is treated as a chattel or a thing. When suffering is judicially inflicted because of the intrinsic gravity and real demerit of crime, man’s free will and responsibility are recognized and put in the foreground; and these are his highest and distinguishing attributes. The sufficient reason for his suffering is found wholly within his own person, in the exercise of self-determination. He is not seized by the magistrate and made to suffer for a reason extraneous to his own agency, and for the sake of something lying wholly outside of himself--namely, the safety and happiness of others--but because of his own act. He is not handled like a brute or an inanimate thing that may be put to good use; but he is recognized as a free and voluntary person, who is not punished because punishment is expedient and useful, but because it is just and right; not because the public safety requires it, but because he owes it. The dignity of the man himself, founded in his lofty but hazardous endowment of free will, is acknowledged.

Supposing it, now, to be conceded, that future punishment is retributive in its essential nature, it follows that it must be endless from the nature of the case. For, suffering must continue as long as the reason for it continues. In this respect, it is like law, which lasts as long as its reason lasts: ratione cessante, cessat ipsa lex. Suffering that is educational and corrective may come to an end, because moral infirmity, and not guilt, is the reason for its infliction; and moral infirmity may cease to exist. But suffering that is penal can never come to an end, because guilt is the reason for its infliction, and guilt once incurred never ceases to be. The lapse of time does not convert guilt into innocence, as it converts moral infirmity into moral strength; and therefore no time can ever arrive when the guilt of the criminal will cease to deserve and demand its retribution. The reason for retribution today is a reason forever. Hence, when God disciplines and educates His children He causes only a temporary suffering. In this case, He will not keep His anger forever [PSA 103:9]. But when, as the Supreme Judge, He punishes rebellious and guilty subjects of His government, He causes an endless suffering. In this case, their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched [MAR 9:48].

The real question, therefore, is, whether God ever punishes. That He chastises, is not disputed. But does He ever inflict a suffering that is not intended to reform the transgressor, and does not reform him, but is intended simply and only to vindicate law, and satisfy justice, by requiting him for his transgression? Revelation teaches that He does. Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord [ROM 12:19]. Retribution is here asserted to be a function of the Supreme Being, and His alone. The creature has no right to punish, except as he is authorized by the Infinite Ruler. The powers that be are ordained of God. The ruler is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon those who do evil [ROM 13:1, 4]. The power which civil government has to punish crime--the private person having no such power--is only a delegated right from the Source of retribution. Natural religion, as well as revealed, teaches that God inflicts upon the voluntary transgressor of law a suffering that is purely vindictive of law. The pagan sages enunciate the doctrine, and it is mortised into the moral constitution of man, as is proved by his universal fear of retribution. The objection, that a suffering not intended to reform, but to satisfy justice, is cruel and unworthy of God, is refuted by the question of Paul: Is God unrighteous Who takes vengeance? God forbid: for how then shall God judge the world? [ROM 3:5, 6]. It is impossible either to found or administer a government, in Heaven or on Earth, unless the power to punish crime is conceded.

The endlessness of future punishment, then, is implied in the endlessness of guilt and condemnation. When a crime is condemned, it is absurd to ask, "How long is it condemned?" The verdict "Guilty for ten days" was Hibernian. Damnation means absolute and everlasting damnation. All suffering in the next life, therefore, of which the sufficient and justifying reason is guilt, must continue as long as the reason continues; and the reason is everlasting. If it be righteous today, in God’s retributive justice, to smite the transgressor because he violated the law yesterday, it is righteous to do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and so on ad infinitum; because the state of the case ad infinitum remains unaltered. The guilt incurred yesterday is a standing and endless fact. What, therefore, guilt legitimates this instant, it legitimates every instant, and forever.

The demand that penal suffering shall stop when it has once begun, is as irrational as the demand that guilt shall stop when it has once begun. The continuous nature of guilt necessitates the endlessness of retribution. A man, for illustration, is guilty of profanity today. God, we will suppose, immediately begins to cause him to suffer in his mind, as the righteous requital for his transgression of the third commandment. The transgressor immediately begins to feel remorse for his sin. Why, upon principles of justice, should he feel remorse for his profanity today, and not feel it tomorrow? Why should he feel it tomorrow, and not feel it a million years hence? Why should he feel it a million years hence, and not feel it forever? At what point should remorse stop? If we suppose the state of the case to be unchanged; if we suppose no penitence for the profanity, and no appropriation of the only atonement that cancels guilt; then the mental suffering which the profanity deserves and experiences now, it always must deserve and experience. The same reasoning will apply to whatever suffering besides remorse enters into the sum-total of future punishment. 42[The intrinsic endlessness of guilt is vividly enunciated by Carlyle. "From the purpose of crime to the act of crime there is an abyss; wonderful to think of. The finger lies on the pistol; but the man is not yet a murderer: nay, his whole nature staggering at such a consummation, is there not a confused pause rather--one last instant of possibility for him? Not yet a murderer; it is at the mercy of light trifles whether the most fixed idea may not yet become unfixed. One slight twitch of a muscle, the death-flash bursts; and he is it, and will for Eternity be it; and Earth has become a penal Tartarus for him; his horizon girdled now not with golden hope, but with red flames of remorse; voices from the depths of Nature sounding, Wo, wo on him! Of such stuff are we all made; on such powder-mines of bottomless guilt and criminality--'if God restrained not,' as is well said--does the purest of us walk? There are depths in man that go to the length of lowest Hell, as there are heights that reach highest Heaven--for are not both Heaven and Hell made out of him, made by him, everlasting miracle and mystery as he is?" (French Revolution, Book I., Chap. iv). That such a view as this could be adopted of the nature of man's sin and guilt, and yet the Christian doctrine of atonement and redemption be rejected, is one of the contradictions in the history of human opinion].

Again, the endlessness of punishment follows from the indivisibility of guilt. The nature of guilt is such that it cannot be divided up and distributed in parts along a length of time, and be able to pay the penalty in parts, but is concentrated whole and entire at each and every point of time. The guilt of the sin of profanity does not rest upon the transgressor, one part of it at twelve o’clock, and another part of it at half past twelve, and another part of it at one o’clock, and so on. The whole infinite guilt of this act of sin against God lies upon the sinner at each and every instant of time. He is no more guilty of the supposed act, at half past twelve, than at twelve, and equally guilty at both of these instants. Consequently, the whole infinite penalty can justly be required at any and every moment of time. Yet the whole penalty cannot be paid at any and every moment, by the suffering of that single moment. The transgressor at any and every point in his endless existence is infinitely guilty, and yet cannot cancel his guilt by what he endures at a particular point. Too long a punishment of guilt is thus an impossibility. The suffering of the criminal can never overtake the crime. 43["Those who are sent to Hell never will have paid the whole debt which they owe to God, nor, indeed, a part which bears any proportion to the whole. They never will have paid a part which bears so great a proportion to the whole as one mite to ten thousand talents. Justice, therefore, never can be actually satisfied in the sinner's damnation, but it is actually satisfied in Christ" (Edwards on the "Eternity of Hell Torments"). The suffering of man is only relatively infinite; that of the God-man is absolutely infinite. The first is the suffering of finite persons in an endless but not strictly infinite time. The last is the suffering of a strictly infinite Person in finite time. The element of infinity in the first case is relative; in the second case is absolute]. And the only way in which justice can approximately obtain its dues, is by a never ceasing infliction. We say approximately, because, tested strictly, the endless suffering of a finite being is not strictly infinite suffering; while the guilt of sin against God is strictly infinite. There is, therefore, no over punishment in endless punishment *[It must be remembered, that it is the degree, together with the endlessness of suffering, that constitutes the justice of it. We can conceive of an endless suffering that is marked by little intensity in the degree of it. Such, according to Augustine, is the suffering of unbaptized infants (mitissima omnium). It is negative banishment, not positive infliction. An evil that is inflicted in a few hours may be greater than one inflicted in endless time. One day of such torment as that of Satan would be a greater distress, than a slight physical pain lasting forever. The infinite incarnate God suffered more agony in Gethsemane, than the whole finite human race could suffer in endless duration [emphasis added - aal]. Consequently, the uniformity in the endlessness must be combined with a variety in the intensity of suffering, in order to adjust the future punishment to the different grades of sin].

It will be objected that, though the guilt and damnation of a crime be endless, it does not follow that the suffering inflicted on account of it must be endless also, even though it be retributive and not reformatory in its intent. A human judge pronounces a theft to be endlessly a theft, and a thief to be endlessly a thief, but he does not sentence the thief to an endless suffering, though he sentences him to a penal suffering. But this objection overlooks the fact that human punishment is only approximate and imperfect, not absolute and perfect like the Divine. It is not adjusted exactly and precisely to the whole guilt of the offense, but is more or less modified, first, by not considering its relation to God’s honor and majesty; secondly, by human ignorance of the inward motives; and, thirdly, by social expediency. Earthly courts and judges look at the transgression of law with reference only to man’s temporal relations, not his eternal. They punish an offense as a crime against the State, not as a sin against God. Neither do they look into the human heart, and estimate crime in its absolute and intrinsic nature, as does the Searcher of Hearts and the Omniscient Judge. *["Human laws," says Paley (Moral Philosophy, Bk. I. Ch. iii.), "omit many duties, such as piety to God, bounty to the poor, forgiveness of injuries, education of children, gratitude to benefactors. And they permit, or, which is the same thing, suffer to go unpunished, many crimes, such as luxury, prodigality, caprice in the disposition of property by will, disrespect to parents, and a multitude of similar examples"]. A human tribunal punishes mayhem, we will say, with six months’ imprisonment, because it does not take into consideration either the malicious and wicked anger that prompted the maiming, or the dishonor done to the Supreme Being by the transgression of His commandment. But Christ, in the final court session, punishes this offense endlessly, because His All-seeing view includes the sum-total of guilt in the case: namely, the inward wrath, the outward act, and the relation of both to the infinite perfection and adorable majesty of God. The human tribunal does not punish the inward anger at all; the Divine tribunal punishes it with Hell fire: For whoever shall say to his brother, You fool, is in danger of Hell fire [MAT 5:22]. The human tribunal punishes seduction with a pecuniary fine, because it does not take cognizance of the selfish and heartless lust that prompted it, or of the affront offered to that Immaculate Holiness which from Sinai proclaimed, You shall not commit adultery [EXO 20:14]. But the Divine tribunal punishes seduction with an infinite suffering, because of its more comprehensive and truthful view of the whole transaction. And, in addition to all this imperfection in human punishment, the human tribunal may be influenced by prejudice and selfishness.

In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offense's gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft ’tis seen, the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above.
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence
.--Hamlet, III. iv.

Again, human punishment, unlike the Divine, is variable and inexact, because it is to a considerable extent reformatory and protective. Human government is not intended to do the work of the Supreme Ruler. The sentence of an earthly judge is not a substitute for that of the last day. Consequently, human punishment need not be marked, even if this were possible, with all that absoluteness and exactness of justice which characterizes the Divine. Justice in the human sphere may be relaxed by expediency. Human punishment may sometimes be more severe, and sometimes less severe, than exact requital demands, but Divine punishment may not be. The retributive element must, indeed, enter into human punishment; for no man may be punished by a human tribunal unless he deserves punishment–unless he is a criminal. But retribution is not the sole element when man punishes. Man, while not overlooking the guilt in the case, has some reference to the reformation of the offender, and still more to the protection of society. Here, in time, the transgressor is capable of reformation, and society needs protection. Hence civil expediency and social utility modify exact and strict retribution. For the sake of reforming the criminal, the judge sometimes inflicts a penalty that is less than the real guilt of the offense. For the sake of shielding society, the court sometimes sentences the criminal to a suffering greater than his crime deserves. Human tribunals, also, vary the punishment for the same offense--sometimes punishing forgery capitally, and sometimes not; sometimes sentencing those guilty of the same kind of theft to one year’s imprisonment, and sometimes to two.

But the Divine tribunal, in the last great day, is invariably and exactly just, because it is neither reformatory, nor protective. In eternity, the sinner is so hardened as to be incorrigible, and Heaven is impregnable. Hell, therefore, is not a penitentiary. It is righteous retribution, pure and simple, unmodified by considerations either of utility to the criminal, or of safety to the universe. 44["Wrath will be executed in the day of judgment without any merciful circumstances. The judgments which God executes upon ungodly men in this world are attended with many merciful circumstances. There is much patience and long-suffering, together with judgment; judgments are joined with continuance of opportunity to seek mercy. But in Hell there will be no more exercises of divine patience" [Edwards, Sermon XII]. In the day of final account, penalty will not be unjustly mild for the sake of the transgressor, nor unjustly severe for the sake of society. Christ will not punish incorrigible men and demons (for the two receive the same sentence, and go to the same place, MAT 25:41), for the purpose of reforming them, or of screening the righteous from the wicked, but of satisfying the broken law. His punishment at that time will be nothing but just requital. The Redeemer of men is also the Eternal Judge; the Lamb of God is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah; and his righteous word to wicked and hardened Satan, to wicked and hardened Judas, to wicked and hardened pope Alexander VI., will be: Vengeance is Mine; I will repay. Depart from Me, you cursed, who work iniquity [ROM 12:19; MAT 25:41; 7:23]. The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven, with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and who obey not the gospel [2TH 1:7, 8]. The wicked will receive their desert, and reap according as they have sown. The suffering will be unerringly adjusted to the intrinsic guilt: no greater and no less than the sin deserves. That servant who knew his lord’s will [clearly], and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he who knew not [clearly], and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. As many as have sinned without [written] law, shall also perish without [written] law; and as many as have sinned under [written] law, shall be judged by the [written] law [LUK 12:47, 48; ROM 2:12].

It is because the human court, by reason of its ignorance both of the human heart and the true nature of sin against a spiritual law and a holy God, cannot do the perfect work of the Divine tribunal, that human laws and penalties are only provisional, and not final. Earthly magistrates are permitted to modify and relax penalty, and pass a sentence which, though adapted to man’s earthly circumstances, is not absolute and perfect, and is finally to be revised and made right by the omniscient accuracy of God. The human penalty that approaches nearest to the Divine, is capital punishment. There is more of the purely retributive element in this than in any other. The reformatory element is wanting. And this punishment has a kind of endlessness. Death is a finality. It forever separates the murderer from earthly society, even as future punishment separates forever from the society of God and Heaven.

The difference between human and divine punishment is well stated by Paley:

The proper end of human punishment is not the [exact] satisfaction of justice, but the prevention of crimes. By the satisfaction of justice, I mean the retribution of so much pain for so much guilt; which is the dispensation we expect at the hand of God, and which we are accustomed to consider as the order of things that perfect justice requires. Crimes are not by any government punished in proportion to their [exact] guilt, nor in all cases ought to be so, but in proportion to the difficulty and the necessity of preventing them. The crime must be prevented by some means or other; and consequently whatever means appear necessary to this end, whether they be proportionable to the [exact] guilt of the criminal or not, are adopted rightly. It is in pursuance of the same principle, which pervades indeed the whole system of penal jurisprudence, that the facility with which any species of crime is perpetrated has been generally deemed a reason for aggravating the punishment. This severity would be absurd and unjust, if the [exact] guilt of the offender was the immediate cause and measure of the punishment.

On the other hand, from the justice of God we are taught to look for a gradation of punishment exactly proportioned to the guilt of the offender. When, therefore, in assigning the degrees of human punishment we introduce considerations distinct from that of guilt, and a proportion so varied by external circumstances that equal crimes frequently undergo unequal punishments, or the less crime the greater, it is natural to demand the reason why a different measure of punishment should be expected from God; why that rule which befits the absolute and perfect justice of the deity should not be the rule which ought to be preserved and imitated by human laws. The solution of this difficulty must be sought for, in those peculiar attributes of the Divine nature which distinguish the dispensations of Supreme wisdom from the proceedings of human judicature. A Being whose knowledge penetrates every concealment; from the operation of whose will no act or flight can escape; and in whose hands punishment is sure: such a Being may conduct the moral government of his creation in the best and wisest manner, by pronouncing a law that every crime shall finally receive a punishment proportioned to the guilt which it contains, abstracted from any foreign consideration whatever, and may testify his veracity to the spectators of his judgments, by carrying this law into strict execution. But when the care of the public safety is intrusted to men whose authority over their fellow creatures is limited by defects of power and knowledge; from whose utmost vigilance and sagacity the greatest offenders often lie hid; whose wisest precautions and speediest pursuit may be eluded by artifice or concealment; a different necessity, a new rule of proceeding results from the very imperfection of their faculties. In their hands, the uncertainty of punishment must be compensated by the severity. The ease with which crimes are committed or concealed, must be counteracted by additional penalties and increased terrors. The very end for which human government is established requires that its regulations be adapted to the suppression of crimes. This end, whatever it may do in the plans of Infinite Wisdom, does not, in the designation of temporal penalties, always coincide with the proportionate punishment of guilt [Moral Philosophy, Book V. Ch. ix].

Blackstone, also [Com. Book IV., Ch. i], alludes to the same difference in the following words: "The end, or final cause of human punishments, is not atonement or expiation for the crime committed; for that must be left to the just determination of the Supreme Being."

The argument thus far goes to prove that retribution in distinction from correction, or punishment in distinction from chastisement, is endless from the nature of the case: that is, from the nature of guilt. We pass, now, to prove that it is also rational and right.

1. Endless punishment is rational, in the first place, because it is supported by the human conscience. The sinner’s own conscience will "bear witness" and approve of the condemning sentence, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ [ROM 2:16]. Dives, in the parable, when reminded of the justice of his suffering, is silent. Accordingly, all the evangelical creeds say with the Westminster [Larger Catechism, 89] that "the wicked, upon clear evidence and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them." If in the great day there are any innocent men who have no accusing consciences, they will escape Hell. We may accommodate Paul’s words [ROM 13:3, 4], and say: "The final judgment is not a terror to good works, but to evil. Will you, then, not be afraid of the final judgment? Keep the law of God perfectly, without a single slip or failure, inwardly or outwardly, and you shall have praise of the same. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid." But a sentence that is justified by the highest and best part of the human constitution must be founded in reason, justice, and truth. It is absurd to object to a judicial decision that is confirmed by the man’s own immediate consciousness of its righteousness.

For what, my small philosopher, is Hell?
’Tis nothing but full knowledge of the truth,
When truth, resisted long, is sworn our foe:
And calls eternity to do her right

The opponent of endless retribution does not draw his arguments from the impartial conscience, but from the bias of self-love and desire for happiness. His objections are not ethical, but sentimental. They are not seen in the dry light of pure truth and reason, but through the colored medium of self-indulgence and love of ease and sin.

Again, a guilty conscience expects endless punishment. There is in it what the Scripture denominates the fearful looking-for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries of God [HEB 10:27]. This is the awful apprehension of an evil that is to last forever; otherwise, it would not be so fearful. The knowledge that future suffering will one day cease would immediately relieve the apprehension of the sinner. A guilty conscience is in its very nature hopeless. Impenitent men, in their remorse, sorrow as those who have no hope [1TH 4:13]. Unconverted Gentiles have no hope, and are without God in the world [EPH 2:12]. The hope of the wicked shall be as the giving up of the spirit [JOB 11:20]. The hypocrite’s hope shall perish [JOB 8:13]. Consequently, the great and distinguishing element in Hell-torment is despair, a feeling that is impossible in any man or fallen angel who knows that he is finally to he happy forever. Despair results from the endlessness of retribution. No endlessness, no despair

*"If," says Pearson (Creed, Art. V), "we should imagine any damned soul to have received an express promise of God, that after ten thousand years he would release him from those torments and make him everlastingly happy, and to have a true faith in that promise and a firm hope of receiving eternal life, we could not say that that man was in the same condition with the rest of the damned, or that he felt all that Hell which they were sensible of, or all that pain which was due unto his sins; because hope, and confidence, and relying upon God, would not only mitigate all other pains, but wholly take away the bitter anguish of despair." It is obvious, that if God makes any such promise in his word, either expressly, or by implication, despair is not only impossible to the believer of Scripture, but is a sin. No man should despair. And if God does not make any such promise, but man makes it to his fellow sinner, in saying, as Satan did to Eve, You shall not surely die," and the human promise is believed, the effect will be the same. There will be no despair, until the reckless human falsehood is corrected by the awful demonstration at death.

Natural religion, as well as revealed, teaches the despair of some men in the future life. Plato [Gorgias 525], Pindar [Olympia II], Plutarch [De sera vindicta], describe the punishment of the incorrigibly wicked as eternal and hopeless.

In Scripture, there is no such thing as eternal hope. Hope is a characteristic of Earth and time only. Here, in this life, all men may hope for forgiveness. Turn, you prisoners of hope [ZEC. 9:2]. Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation [2CO 6:2]. But in the next world there is no hope of any kind, because there is either fruition or despair. The Christian’s hope is converted into its realization: For what a man sees, why does he yet hope for it? [ROM 8:24]. And the impenitent sinner’s hope of Heaven is converted into despair. Canon Farrar’s phrase "eternal hope" is derived from Pandora’s box, not from the Bible. Dante’s legend over the portal of Hell is the truth: "All hope abandon, you who enter here"

#The words of Paul, in 1CO 13:13, are sometimes cited to prove the eternity of hope, because it abides. But in this passage, faith, hope, and love are contrasted with the supernatural charismata of chapter 12. These latter are transitory, but the former abide, because they are essential to the Christian life here upon Earth. But in respect to the eternity of faith, Paul teaches that it is converted into sight [2CO 5:7]; and that hope is converted into fruition [ROM 8:24]. Love is greater than faith and hope, because it is not changed into something else, but is eternal.

That conscience supports endless retribution, is also evinced by the universality and steadiness of the dread of it. Mankind believes in Hell, as they believe in the Divine Existence, by reason of their moral sense. Notwithstanding all the attack made upon the tenet in every generation, by a fraction of every generation, men do not get rid of their fear of future punishment. Skeptics themselves are sometimes distressed by it. But a permanent and general fear among mankind cannot be produced by a mere chimera, or a pure figment of the imagination. Men have no fear of Rhadamanthus, nor can they be made to fear him, because they know that there is no such being. An idol is nothing in the world [1CO 8:4]. But men have the fearful looking-for of judgment from the lips of God, ever and always. If the Biblical Hell were as much a nonentity as the heathen Atlantis, no one would waste his time in endeavoring to prove its non-existence. What man would seriously construct an argument to demonstrate that there is no such being as Jupiter, Ammon, or such an animal as the centaur? The very denial of endless retribution evinces by its spasmodic eagerness and effort to disprove the tenet, the firmness with which it is entrenched in man’s moral constitution. If there really were no Hell, absolute indifference toward the notion would long since have been the mood of all mankind, and no arguments, either for or against it, would be constructed.

And finally, the demand, even here upon Earth, for the punishment of the intensely and incorrigibly wicked, proves that retribution is grounded in the human conscience. When abominable and satanic sin is temporarily triumphant, as it sometimes has been in the history of the world, men cry out to God for his vengeance to come down. "If there were no God, we should be compelled to invent one," is now a familiar sentiment. "If there were no Hell, we should be compelled to invent one," is equally true. When examples of great depravity occur, man cries: How long, O Lord, how long? The non-infliction of retribution upon hardened villainy and successful cruelty causes anguish in the moral sense. For the expression of it, read the imprecatory psalms and Milton’s sonnet on the Massacre in Piedmont.

2. In the second place, endless punishment is rational, because of the endlessness of sin. If the preceding view of the relation of penalty to guilt be correct, endless punishment is just, without bringing the sin of the future world into the account. Man incurs everlasting punishment for the things done in his body [2CO 5:10]. Christ sentences men to perdition, not for what they are going to do in eternity, but for what they have already done in time. It is not necessary that a man should commit all kinds of sin, or that he should sin a very long time, in order to be a sinner. Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all [JAM 2:10]. One sin makes guilt, and guilt makes Hell 45

O fearful thought! one act of sin
Within itself contains
The power of endless hate of God,
And everlasting pains.
-- Fabers Hymn on Predestination.

But while this is so, it is a fact to be observed, that sin is actually being added to sin, in the future life, and the amount of guilt is accumulating. The lost spirit is treasuring up wrath [ROM 2:5]. Hence, there are degrees in the intensity of endless suffering. The difference in the grade arises from the greater resoluteness of the wicked self-determination, and the greater degree of light that was enjoyed upon Earth. He who sins against the moral law as it is drawn out in the Sermon on the Mount, sins more determinedly and desperately than the pagan who sins against the light of nature. There are probably no men in paganism who sin so willfully and devilishly as some men in Christendom. Profanity, or the blaspheming of God, is a Christian and not a Heathen characteristic

*[It is related by Dr. Scudder, that on his return from his mission in India, after a long absence, he was standing on the deck of a steamer, with his son, a youth, when he heard a person using loud and profane language. "See, friend," said the doctor, accosting the swearer, "this boy, my son, was born and brought up in a heathen country, and a land of pagan idolatry; but in all his life he never heard a man blaspheme his Maker until now"].

They are "Christian" peoples who force opium and rum on helpless pagans. These degrees of sin call for degrees of suffering. And there are degrees in future suffering, because it is infinite in duration only. In intensity, it is finite. Consequently, the lost do not all suffer precisely alike, though all suffer the same length of time. A thing may be infinite in one respect and finite in others. A line may be infinite in length, and not in breadth and depth. A surface may be infinite in length and breadth, and not in depth. And two persons may suffer infinitely in the sense of endlessly, and yet one experience more pain than the other.

The endlessness of sin results, first, from the nature and energy of sinful self-determination. Sin is the creature’s act solely. God does not work in the human will when it wills antagonistically to Him. Consequently, self-determination to evil is an extremely vehement activity of the will. There is no will so willful as a wicked will. Sin is stubborn and obstinate in its nature, because it is enmity and rebellion. Hence, wicked will intensifies itself perpetually. Pride, left to itself, increases and never diminishes. Enmity and hatred become more and more satanic. "Sin," says South, "is the only perpetual motion which has yet been found out, and needs nothing but a beginning to keep it incessantly going on." Upon this important point, Aristotle, in the seventh book of his Ethics, reasons with great truth and impressiveness. He distinguishes between akolasia and akrasia; between strong will to wickedness, and weak self-indulgence. The former is viciousness from deliberation and preference, and implies an intense determination to evil in the man. He goes wrong, not so much from the pull of appetite and passion, as purposely, knowingly, and energetically. He has great strength of will, and he puts it all forth in resolute wickedness. The latter quality is more the absence than the presence of will; it is the weakness and irresolution of a man who has no powerful self-determination of any kind. The condition of the former of these two men, Aristotle regarded as worse than that of the latter. He considered it to be desperate and hopeless. The evil is incurable. Repentance and reformation are impossible to this man; for the wickedness in this instance is not mere appetite; it is a principle; it is cold-blooded and total depravity.

Another reason for the endlessness of sin is the bondage of the sinful will. In the very act of transgressing the law of God, there is a reflex action of the human will upon itself, whereby it becomes unable to perfectly keep that law. Sin is the suicidal action of the human will. A man is not forced to kill himself, but if he does, he cannot bring himself to life again. And a man is not forced to sin, but if he does, he cannot of himself get back where he was before sinning. He cannot get back to innocency, nor can he get back to holiness of heart. The effect of vicious habit in diminishing a man’s ability to resist temptation is proverbial. An old and hardened debauchee, like Tiberius or Louis XV, just going into the presence of Infinite Purity, has not so much power of active resistance against the sin that has now ruined him, as the youth has who is just beginning to run that awful career. The truth and fact is, that sin, in and by its own nature and operation, tends to destroy all virtuous force, all holy energy, in any moral being. The excess of will to sin is the same thing as defect of will to holiness. The human will cannot be forced and ruined from without. But if we watch the influence of the will upon itself; the influence of its own wrong decisions, and its own yielding to temptations; we shall find that the voluntary faculty may be ruined from within--may surrender itself with such an absorbing vehemence and totality to appetite, passion, and selfishness, that it becomes unable to reverse itself and overcome its own inclination and self--determination. And yet, from beginning to end, there is no compulsion in this process. The transgressor follows himself alone. He has his own way, and does as he likes. Neither God, nor the world, nor Satan, forces him either to be, or to do, evil. Sin is the most spontaneous of self-motion. But self-motion has consequences as much as any other motion. And moral bondage is one of them. Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin, says Christ [JOH 8:34].

The culmination of this bondage is seen in the next life. The sinful propensity, being allowed to develop unresisted and unchecked, slowly but surely eats out all virtuous force as rust eats out a steel spring, until in the awful end the will becomes all habit, all lust, and all sin. Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death [JAM 1:15]. In the final stage of this process, which commonly is not reached until death, when the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it [ECC 12:7], the guilty free agent reaches that dreadful condition where resistance to evil ceases altogether, and surrender to evil becomes demoniacal. The cravings and hankerings of long-indulged and unresisted sin become organic, and drag the man; and he goes after them as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till a dart strike through his liver [PRO 7:22, 23]. For though the will to resist sin may die out of a man, the conscience to condemn it never can. This remains eternally. And when the process is complete; when the responsible creature, in the abuse of free agency, has perfected his moral ruin; when his will to good is all gone; there remain these two in his immortal spirit: sin and conscience, brimstone and fire [REV 21:8].

Still another reason for the endlessness of sin, is the fact that rebellious enmity toward law and its Source is not diminished, but increased, by the righteous punishment experienced by the impenitent transgressor. Penal suffering is beneficial only when it is humbly accepted, is acknowledged to be deserved, and is penitently submitted to; when the transgressor says, Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired servants [LUK 15:18, 19]; when, with the penitent thief, he says, We are in this condemnation justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds [LUK 23:41]. 46[St. Paul, in 2CO 7:11, describes the willingness of a true penitent to suffer the punishment justly due to his transgression. "For behold this very thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness [against sin] it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves [apology], yea, what indignation [at sin], yea, what fear [of sin], yea, what vehement desire [of deliverance from sin], yea, what zeal [in resistance], yea, what revenge [self-condemnation]." The "indignation" and "revenge" arise from the sense of the intrinsic ill-desert and damnableness of sin.

[Though the primary reference of this description was to the sin of the incestuous member of the Corinthian church, yet it had also a secondary reference to the sin of the church itself [1CO 6:1, 2]. The several emotions mentioned by the apostle are elements in the godly sorrow which the individual Christian experiences when he contemplates his own sin. He feels moral indignation at his own wickedness, and acquiesces in the retribution which it deserves]. But when in this life retribution is denied, and jeered at; and when in the next life it is complained of, and resisted, and the arm of hate and defiance is raised against the tribunal; penalty hardens and exasperates. This is impenitence. Such is the temper of Satan; and such is the temper of all who finally become his associates. This explains why there is no repentance in Hell, and no meek submission to the Supreme Judge 47[Muller (Sin, I., 246) exposes the error of supposing that punishment is remedial in its nature, and adapted to produce penitence and reformation, in the following terms: " The distinctive purpose of divine punishment cannot be the improvement of the person punished, because this is the object of redemption. If punishment were the means appropriate to this end, there would be no need for redemption; or rather, if this object is attained by redemption, of what use is the severity of punishment? Are we to suppose that when redemption proves ineffectual for the improvement of man, punishment must be resorted to, to attain the object? It would then follow that punishment is more effectual for man's regeneration than redemption. The conflict between the sphere of punishment and that of redemption becomes all the more perplexing when we recollect that the main feature of redemption is the doing away with punishment by the forgiveness of sins. If punishment be remedial, is it a kindness to free man from it before it has accomplished its work? And how is it possible that redemption, which is the removal of punishment, should renovate, if punishment itself does so also?

[And yet the influence of punishment in preserving and reestablishing the power of moral goodness in the sufferer must not he wholly denied. Punishment, on the one hand, acts as a barrier against the desolating inroads of sin by reasserting the fixed ordainments of the law ; and, on the other hand, it bears witness to the sinner of the crushing power wherewith evil recoils upon himself, and makes him tremble when he surrenders himself to it. In these two ways, it prepares man for the work of redemption. But in its own distinctive nature, it is not adopted or calculated to produce a true improvement, an inward renovation of the sinner. On the contrary, the two spheres, that of redemption, which alone can accomplish a true renewal, and that of punishment, mutually exclude one a nother. Whenever a living participation in the blessings of redemption begins, punishment, properly so called--dikh, ekdikhsiV, timwria--ceases; but, so long as man continues to be the subject of God's righteous punishment, he is excluded from those blessings [JOH 3:36]."

[Twesten [Dogmatik, Th. II., § 39] argues in the same manner. "Punishment is not a proper means of reformation; for true reformation can issue only from free self-determination. It is voluntary in its nature. But a self-determination that is brought about by the fear of pain would not be moral, and of the nature of virtue. Any reformation effected from a selfish motive is not genuine reformation. Furthermore, if true reformation could be produced by punishment, why should not the legal and punitive method of the Old Testament have been the only one? The old economy was full of threatenings and penalties, and of fearful examples of their actual execution. Why did God send His Son, and make a new covenant and economy of mercy? Of what use is redemption, or the remission of punishment, if punishment is in itself healing and remedial? The Scriptures never represent punishment as reformatory. The proper punishment of sin is death [ROM 6:23]. As temporal death, which is the extreme penalty in human legislation, is not intended to reform the criminal, and reinstate him in human society, but forever cuts him off from it, so eternal death, in the Biblical representation, is not intended to be a means of educating the sinner and fitting him for the Kingdom of Heaven, but forever banishes and excludes him from it."] This is the reason why Dives, the impenitent sensualist, is informed that there is no possible passage from Hades to Paradise, by reason of the great gulf fixed [LUK 16:26] between the two; and this is the reason why he asks that Lazarus may be sent to warn his five brothers, lest they also come into this place of torment [LUK 16:28], where the request for a drop of water, a mitigation of punishment, is solemnly refused by the Eternal Arbiter. A state of existence in which there is not the slightest relaxing of penal suffering is no state of probation.

3. In the third place, endless punishment is rational, because sin is an infinite evil; infinite not because committed by an infinite being, but against one. 48[The doctrine that sin is an infinite evil and involves infinite guilt, because of its objective reference to an infinite Being, is one of the commonplaces of theology. Those who deny it, forget that the principle upon which it rests is one of the commonplaces of jurisprudence. The principle is this, namely, that crime depends upon the object against whom it is committed, as well as upon the subject who commits it. The merely subjective reference of an act is not sufficient to determine whether it is a crime. The act may have been the voluntary act of a person, but unless it is also an offense against another person, or persons, it is no crime. To strike is a voluntary act; but to strike a post or stone is not a culpable act. Furthermore, not only crime, but degrees of crime depend upon the objective reference of a personal act. Estimated only by the subjective reference, there can be not only no culpability, but no difference in culpability. Killing a dog is no worse than killing a man, if merely the subject who kills, and not the object killed, is considered. Both alike are voluntary acts, and of one and the same person. If, therefore, the gravity of the act is to be measured solely by the nature of the person committing it, and not by that of the thing against whom it is committed, killing a dog is as heinous as killing a man.

[Now this principle of jurisprudence is carried into theology by the theologian. The violation of the moral law is sin and guilt only when viewed objectively in reference to God primarily and man secondarily. Viewed merely and wholly in reference to the transgressor himself, it is not sin and guilt at all. It is sin only as committed against God and mankind. Again, it is only the objective reference that will yield degrees of sin. One and the same act may be simultaneously an offense against an individual, a family, a state, and God. Measured by the nature and qualities of the offender himself, it has no degrees. But measured by the nature and qualities of these moral objects against whom it is committed, it has degrees of turpitude. As the first three are only finite in worth and dignity, the culpability is only certain degrees of the finite. As the last is infinite in worth and dignity, the culpability is infinite also]. We reason invariably upon this principle. To torture a dumb beast is a crime; to torture a man is a greater crime. To steal from one’s own mother is more heinous than to steal from a fellow citizen. The person who transgresses is the same in each instance; but the different worth and dignity of the objects upon whom his action terminates makes the difference in the gravity of the two offenses. David’s adultery was a finite evil in reference to Uriah, but an infinite evil in reference to God. Against You only have I sinned [PSA 51:4], was the feeling of the sinner in this case. Had the patriarch Joseph yielded, he would have sinned against Pharaoh. But the greatness of the sin as related to the fellow-creature is lost in its enormity as related to the Creator, and his only question is: How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God [GEN 39:9]? *[On this point, see Edwards On the Justice of God. Works, IV. 228-229].

The incarnation and vicarious satisfaction for sin by one of the persons of the Godhead, demonstrates the infinity of the evil. It is incredible that the Eternal Trinity should have submitted to such a stupendous self-sacrifice, to remove a merely finite and temporal evil. The doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement, logically, stands or falls with that of endless punishment. Historically, it has stood or fallen with it. The incarnation of Almighty God, in order to make the remission of sin possible, is one of the strongest arguments for the eternity and infinity of penal suffering.

The objection that an offense committed in a finite time cannot be an infinite evil, and deserve an infinite suffering, implies that crime must be measured by the time that was consumed in its perpetration. But even in human punishment, no reference is had to the length of time occupied in the commission of the offense. Murder is committed in an instant, and theft sometimes requires hours. But the former is the greater crime, and receives the greater punishment.

4. In the fourth place, that endless punishment is reasonable, is proved by the preference of the wicked themselves. The unsubmissive, rebellious, defiant, and impenitent spirit prefers Hell to Heaven. Milton correctly represents Satan as saying: "All good to me becomes bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state"; and, also, as declaring that "it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." This agrees with the Scripture representation, that Judas went to his own place [ACT 1:25].

The lost spirits are not forced into a sphere that is unsuited to them. There is no other abode in the universe which they would prefer to that to which they are assigned, because the only other abode is Heaven. The meekness, lowliness, sweet submission to God, and love of Him, that characterize Heaven, are more hateful to Lucifer and his angels, than even the sufferings of Hell. The wicked would be no happier in Heaven than in Hell. The burden and anguish of a guilty conscience, says South, is so insupportable, that some "have done violence to their own lives, and so fled to Hell as a sanctuary, and chose damnation as a release." This is illustrated by facts in human life. The thoroughly vicious and ungodly man prefers the license and freedom to sin which he finds in the haunts of vice, to the restraints and purity of Christian society. There is hunger, disease, and wretchedness, in one circle; and there is plenty, health, and happiness, in the other. But he prefers the former. He would rather be in the gambling-house and brothel than in the Christian home. "Those that, notwithstanding all gracious means, live continually in rebellion against God; those that impenitently die in their sins; those that desire to live here forever, that they might enjoy their sweet sins; those that are so hardened and naturalized in their vices, that if they were revived and brought again into this world of temptations, would certainly return to the pleasures of sin; is it not right that their incorrigible obstinacy should be punished forever?" [Bates, On Eternal Judgment, Ch. III].

The finally lost are not to be conceived of as having faint desires and aspirations for a holy and heavenly state, and as feebly but really inclined to sorrow for their sin, but are kept in Hell contrary to their yearning and petition. They are sometimes so described by the opponent of the doctrine, or at least so thought of. There is not a single throb of godly sorrow, or a single pulsation of holy desire, in the lost spirit. The temper toward God in the lost is angry and defiant. They hate both Me and My father, says the Son of God, without a cause [JOH 15:24, 25]. Satan and his followers love darkness rather than light, Hell rather than Heaven, because their deeds are evil [JOH 3:19]. Sin ultimately assumes a fiendish form, and degree. It is pure wickedness without regret or sorrow, and with a delight in evil for evil’s sake. There are some men who reach this state of depravity even before they die 49[That the perdition of some men seems to be settled in this life, is taught by Paul in 1TI 5:24. Some men's sins are evident beforehand (prodhloi), going before them to judgment]. They are seen in the callous and cruel voluptuaries portrayed by Tacitus, and the Heaven-defying atheists described by Simon. They are also depicted in Shakespeare’s Iago. The reader knows that Iago is past saving, and deserves everlasting damnation. Impulsively, he cries out with Lodovico: "Where is that viper? bring the villain forth." And then Othello’s calmer but deeper feeling becomes his own: "I look down towards his feet--but that’s a fable: If that you be’st a demon, I cannot kill you." The punishment is remitted to the retribution of God

*[It ought to be noticed, that the hatred of Himself, and of His Father, which Christ attributes to the world [JOH 15:18, 19], and which is a distinguishing element in impenitence, does not necessarily imply sensuality and vice. Sin may be wholly intellectual--what Paul denominates spiritual wickedness (EPH 6:12). The most profound of Shakespearean critics calls attention to "the passionless character of Iago. It is all will in intellect" [Coleridge’s Works, IV. 180, Harper’s Ed.]. The carnal mind manifests itself in two ways. The proud spirit of the moralist is one phase of it; the self-indulgent spirit of the voluptuary is the other. The Pharisee represents the first; Dives the last. Both alike confess no sin, and implore no forgiveness. In illustration of the former, consider the temper of a certain class of intellectual men toward the cross of Christ. They are perhaps austerely moral. By temperament, taste, study, and occupation, they have even an antipathy to sensuality. They "scorn delights, and live laborious days." But present for their acceptance those truths of the New Testament which involve the broken and contrite heart, and their whole inward being rises in vehement recoil. Of the effect of the doctrine of election, Calvin remarks that "when the human mind hears of it, its irritation breaks all restraint, and it discovers as serious and violent agitation as if alarmed by the sound of a martial trumpet" [Institutes. III. xxii. 1]. So, too, when the authoritative demand of Jesus Christ, to confess sin, and beg remission through atoning blood, is made to David Hume, or David Strauss, or John Stuart Mill, none of whom were sensualists, it wakens intense mental hostility. Now without asserting which theory in religion is true, that of the New Testament, or that of the skeptic, is it not clear, that if there be another life, and if the teaching of the New Testament shall prove to be the absolute truth, the latter person must be classed with the "haters of God"? Will not the temper of this unsensual and intellectual man towards what is found, in the end, to be eternal verity, be as thoroughly of the nature of enmity, as that of the most immoral and hardened debauchee? 50[Muller alludes to unsensual and intellectual sin in the following terms : "That which makes sin to be sin, and which is the evil of evil, is the selfish isolation of the man which it involves. There are cases--with some it is the rule of life--where a man keeps himself free from wild ungovernable passions, and only seldom is guilty of overt acts which conscience recognizes as sins; yet in his inmost heart 'the I, that gloomy despot,' rules supreme; he stands alone in the world, shut up within himself, and in a chaos of selfish endeavors, preferences, antipathies--without any true participation in the joys and sorrows of mankind--estranged from God. In such a state, the principle of sin, though shut up within, rules with no less real power than where its dominion is manifest in glaring wickedness and vice, and a wild disorder of the outward life" [Sin, I., 136]. He also notices that mere intellectuality is no certain preservative against sensuality and vice. "A superficial observation of life has led to the conclusion that immorality decreases in proportion as the growth of the intellectual nature increases, and the 'children of this generation' pride themselves in no small degree upon the discovery that culture and not Christianity is the means of true freedom, and the panacea for all the disorders of the world. But a single unbiased and penetrating glance at life will suffice to dissipate these illusions. We oftentimes find the deepest moral degradation and disorder in the very highest stages of culture, a frivolity of mind resolving all relations of life into rottenness, an utter insensibility to every impulse of holy love, and a cold, calculating, self-conscious egotism, which puts from it the call to sacrifice anyone of its own interests as something altogether absurd--the men with whom it comes in contact being regarded merely as ciphers, by whose help its own aggrandizement may be attained. Mental culture does not eradicate a single tendency of moral depravity; it only veils and refines them all; and so far from redeeming the man, if it be not sanctified by a higher principle, it really confirms within him the dominion of sin" [Sin, I., 306, 307].

5. In the fifth place, that endless punishment is rational, is proved by the history of morals. In the records of human civilization and morality, it is found that that age which is most reckless of law, and most vicious in practice, is the age that has the loosest conception of penalty, and is the most inimical to the doctrine of endless retribution. A virtuous and religious generation adopts sound ethics, and reverently believes that the Judge of all the Earth will do right [GEN 18:25]; that God will not call evil good, and good evil, nor put darkness for light and light for darkness [ISA 5:20]; and that it is a deadly error to assert with the sated and worn-out sensualist: All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked [ECC 9:2].

The French people, at the close of the last century, were a very demoralized and vicious generation, and there was a very general disbelief and denial of the doctrines of the Divine existence, the immortality of the soul, the freedom of the will, and future retribution. And upon a smaller scale, the same fact is continually repeating itself. Any little circle of business men who are known to deny future rewards and punishments are shunned by those who desire safe investments. The recent uncommon energy of opposition to endless punishment, which started about ten years ago in this country, synchronized with great embezzlements and breaches of trust, uncommon corruption in mercantile and political life, and great distrust between man and man. Luxury deadens the moral sense, and luxurious populations do not have the fear of God before their eyes. Hence luxurious ages, and luxurious men, refuse to obey Hell, and kick against the goads. No theological tenet is more important than eternal retribution to those modern nations which, like England, Germany, and the United States, are growing, rapidly in riches, luxury, and earthly power. Without it, they, will infallibly go down in that vortex of sensuality and wickedness that swallowed up Babylon and Rome. The bestial and shameless vice of the dissolute rich, that has recently been uncovered in the commercial metropolis of the world, is a powerful argument for the necessity and reality of the lake which burns with fire and brimstone [REV 21:8].

[The following two paragraphs are wishful thinking and certainly not Biblical–see MAT 7:13, 14–aal]. A single remark remains to be made respecting the extent and scope of Hell. It is only a spot in the universe of God. Compared with Heaven, Hell is narrow and limited. The kingdom of Satan is insignificant in contrast with the Kingdom of Christ. In the immense range of God’s dominion, good is the rule, and evil is the exception. Sin is a speck upon the infinite azure of eternity; a spot on the sun. Hell is only a corner of the universe. The Gothic etymon (Hohle, Hölle) denotes a covered-up hole. In Scripture, Hell is a pit, a lake; not an ocean.. It is bottomless, but not boundless. The Gnostic and Dualistic theories, which make God, and Satan, or the Demiurge, nearly equal in power and dominion, find no support in Revelation. The Bible teaches that there will always be some sin, and some death, in the universe. Some angels and men will forever be the enemies of God. ["There is this certainty," says Hooker [Polity, V., xlix], "that life and death divide between them the whole body of mankind. What portion either of the two has, God Himself knows; for us he has left no sufficient means to comprehend, and for that cause has not given any leave to search in particular who are infallibly the heirs of the Kingdom of God, and who are castaways. Howbeit, concerning the state of all men with whom we live, we may till the world's end always presume that as far as in us there is power to discern what others are, and as far as any duty of ours depends upon the notice of their condition in respect to God, the safest axioms for charity to rest itself upon are these: 'He who believes, already is the child of God; and he who believes not as yet, may become the child of God.' It becomes not us, during life, altogether to condemn any man, seeing that for anything we know there is hope of every man's forgiveness, the possibility of whose repentance is not cut off by death. And therefore charity which 'hopes all things,' prays also for all men"]. But their number, compared with that of unfallen angels and redeemed men, is small [SEE MAT 7:13, 14 -- aal]. They are not described in the glowing language and metaphors by which the immensity of the holy and blessed is delineated. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, and thousands of angels [PSA 68:17]. The Lord came from Sinai, and shined forth from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of His saints [DEU 22:2]. The Lord has prepared His throne in the Heavens, and His Kingdom rules over all [PSA 103:21]. Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory [MAT 6:13]. The Lord Christ must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet [1CO 15:25]. St. John heard a voice from Heaven as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder [REV 14:1]. The New Jerusalem lies four square, the length is as large as the breadth; the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; the kings of the Earth do bring their honor into it [REV 21:16, 24, 25]. The number of the lost spirits is never thus emphasized, and enlarged upon. The brief, stern statement is, that the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone [REV 21:8]. No metaphors and amplifications are added, to make the impression of an immense multitude which no man can number

*Calvin, explaining the elect seven thousand, in ROM 11:4, remarks, that "though this stands for an indefinite number, it was the Lord’s design to specify a great multitude. Since, then, the grace of God prevails so much in an extreme state of things, let us not lightly give over to the Devil all those whose piety does not openly appear to us." Zuingle thought that all who died in early childhood are regenerated and saved. Edwards [Against Chauncy, Chap. XIV] denies that it is an article of his faith, that "only a small part of the human race will finally be saved." Hopkins [Future State, Section V] asserts that "there is reason to believe that many more of mankind will be saved than lost; yea, it may be many thousands to one." Hodge [Theology III. 879] says that "we have reason to believe that the number of the finally lost, in comparison with the whole number of the saved, will be very inconsiderable".

We have thus briefly presented the rational argument for the most severe and unwelcome of all the tenets of the Christian religion. It must have a foothold in the human reason, or it could not have maintained itself against all the recoil and opposition which it elicits from the human heart. Founded in ethics, in law, and in judicial reason, as well as unquestionably taught by the Author of Christianity, it is no wonder that the doctrine of Eternal Retribution, in spite of selfish prejudices and appeals to human sentiment, has always been a belief of Christendom. From theology and philosophy it has passed into human literature, and is wrought into its finest structures. It makes the solemn substance of the Iliad and the Greek Drama. It pours a somber light into the brightness and grace of the Aeneid. It is the theme of the Inferno, and is presupposed by both of the other parts of the Divine Comedy. The epic of Milton derives from it its awful grandeur. And the greatest of the Shakespearean tragedies sound and stir the depths of the human soul, by their delineation of guilt intrinsic and eternal.

In this discussion, we have purposely brought into view only the righteousness of Almighty God, as related to the voluntary and responsible action of man. We have set holy justice and disobedient free-will face to face, and drawn the conclusions. This is all that the defender of the doctrine of retribution is strictly concerned with. If he can demonstrate that the principles of eternal rectitude are not in the least degree infringed upon, but are fully maintained, when sin is endlessly punished, he has done all that his problem requires. Whatever is just is beyond all rational attack.

But with the Christian Gospel in his hands, the defender of the Divine justice finds it difficult to be entirely reticent, and say not a word concerning the Divine mercy. Over against God’s infinite antagonism and righteous severity toward moral evil, there stands God’s infinite pity and desire to forgive. This is realized, not by the high-handed and unprincipled method of pardoning without legal satisfaction of any kind, but by the strange and stupendous method of putting the Eternal Judge in the place of the human criminal; of substituting God’s own satisfaction for that due from man. In this vicarious atonement for sin, the Triune God relinquishes no claims of law, and waives no rights of justice. The sinner’s Divine Substitute, in his hour of voluntary agony and death, drinks the cup of punitive and inexorable justice to the dregs. Any man who, in penitent faith, avails himself of this vicarious method of setting himself right with the Eternal Nemesis, will find that it succeeds; but he who rejects it, must through endless cycles grapple with the dread problem of human guilt in his own person, and alone.

The Christian Gospel--the universal offer of pardon through the self-sacrifice of one of the Divine Persons–should silence every objection to the doctrine of Endless Punishment. For as the case now stands, there is no necessity, so far as the action of God is concerned, that a single human being should ever be the subject of future punishment. The necessity of Hell is founded in the action of the creature, not of the Creator. Had there been no sin, there would have been no Hell; and sin is the product of man’s free will. And after the entrance of sin, and the provision of redemption from it, had there been universal repentance in this life, there would have been no hell for man in the next life. The only necessitating reason, therefore, for endless retribution, that now exists, is the sinner’s impenitence. Should every human individual, before he dies, sorrow for sin, and humbly confess it, Hades and Gehenna would disappear.

For the Scriptures everywhere describe God as naturally and spontaneously merciful, and declare that all the legal obstacles to the exercise of this great attribute have been removed by the death of the Son of God for the sins of the whole world [1JO 2:2]. In the very midst of the holy revelations of Sinai, Jehovah proclaimed it to be his inherent and intrinsic disposition to be merciful and gracious, long suffering, forgiving iniquity and transgression [EXO 34:6, 7]. Nehemiah, after the exile, repeats the doctrine of the Pentateuch: You are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, and of great kindness [NEH 9:17]. The Psalmist declares that the Lord is ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all that call upon Him [PSA 86:5]. The Bible, throughout, teaches that the Supreme Being is tenderly sensitive to penitence, and is moved with compassion and paternal yearning whenever He perceives any sincere spiritual grief. He notices and welcomes the slightest indication of repentance. The eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him, upon those who hope in His mercy [PSA 33:18]. The Heavenly Father sees the prodigal when he is yet a great way off. He never breaks the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax [MAT 12:20--ISA 42:3]. If there be in any human creature the broken and contrite heart, the Divine Pity immediately speaks the word of forgiveness and absolution. The humble confession of unworthiness operates almost magically upon the Eternal. Incarnate Mercy said to the heathen woman of Canaan who asked for only the dog’s crumbs, O woman, great is your faith; be it unto you even as you wish [MAT 15:28]. The Omnipotent is overcome, whenever He sees lowly penitential sorrow. As the foolishness of God is wiser than man [1CO 1:21], so the self-despairing helplessness of man is stronger than God. When Jacob says to the Infinite One, I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies," yet wrestles with him until the breaking of the day, he becomes Israel, and as a prince has power with God [GEN 32:10, 24, 28]. When Jehovah hears Ephraim bemoaning himself, and saying, Turn me, and I shall be turned, He answers, Ephraim is My dear son. I will surely have mercy upon him" [JER 31:18, 20].

Now the only obstruction, and it is a fatal one, to the exercise of this natural and spontaneous mercy of God, is the sinner’s hardness of heart. The existing necessity for Hell-punishment is not chargeable upon God. It is the proud and obstinate man who makes Hell. It is his impenitence that feeds its perpetual fires. For so long as the transgressor does not grieve for sin, and does not even acknowledge it, it cannot be pardoned. Almightiness itself cannot forgive impenitence, any more than it can make a square circle

*[Impenitence after sinning is a more determined form of sin, than sinning is in and of itself. For it is a tacit defense and justification of sin. If after transgression the person acknowledges that he has transgressed, and asks forgiveness for so doing, he evinces that he does not excuse his act, or defend it. On the contrary, he renounces his act, condemns it, and mourns over it. But if after transgression the person makes no acknowledgment, and asks no forgiveness, he is really repeating and intensifying his sin. He virtually justifies himself in his act of rebellion against authority, and thus aggravates the original fault. It is for this reason, that impenitence for sin is more dreadful than sin itself. A penitent sinner can be forgiven; but an impenitent sinner cannot be. The former God pities, and extends the offer of mercy to him. To the latter God holds out no hope, because He cannot].

This is what gives to human existence here upon Earth its dark outlook. Men are impenitent. They pay no heed to the voice of conscience; know little of remorse, nothing of genuine sorrow. They are stolid and lethargic in sin; or else angrily deny the fact. They bend no knee in self-abasement before the All-Holy; they do not cry, "O Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, grant me Your peace." Human life is gloomy and despairing, not because there is no mercy in the sweet Heavens, but because there is no relenting, no softening, in the human heart. One is weary of hearing the incessant wail of the agnostic, and the cynic, over the "mystery" of this existence; the monotonous moan of the pessimist, that life is not worth living. One sincere confession of what the immediate consciousness of every man will tell him is the absolute truth respecting his character and conduct, when tried by a spiritual and perfect standard, would drive away this false view of earthly existence as the miasmatic fog is blown by the winds. But instead of confessing sin, and imploring its forgiveness, men stand complaining of its punishment, or employing their ingenuity in endeavoring to prove that there is none; and then wonder that the Heavens are black and thunderous over their heads. Not by this method, will the sky be made clear and sunny. Whoever will cast himself upon the Divine Compassion will find life to be worth living; but he who quarrels with the Divine Justice will discover that he had better not have been born.

What the human race needs is--to go to the Divine Confessional. The utterance of the Prodigal should be that of every man: Father, I have sinned [LUK 15:21]. The utterance of the Psalmist should be that of every man: O You Who hear prayer, unto You shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, You shall purge them away [PSA 65:2, 3]. So long as man glosses over, or conceals, the cardinal fact in his history, he must live under a cloud, and look with anxiety and fear into the deep darkness beyond. It is useless to contend with the stubborn fact of moral evil by the ostrich-method of ignoring, and denying. The sin is here, in self-consciousness, terrible and real, the lancinating sting of pain and the deadly sting of death, in this generation and in all generations. Kant, the ethical and the metaphysical, is right when he affirms that the noumenon of sin is the dark ground under the phenomenon of life. Confession, therefore, is the only way to light and mental peace. The suppression of any fundamental form of human consciousness necessarily results in unrest. Man’s words about himself must agree with his true character and condition; otherwise he becomes insincere, miserable, and false. The denial of moral evil is the secret of the discontent and melancholy with which so much of modern letters is filled. Rousseau made a confession, but not truthful, not humble; and hence it brought him no repose. Augustine made a confession, genuine, simple, thoroughly accordant with the facts of human nature; and the outpouring of his confidences into the ear of Eternal Purity and Mercy brought the peace that passes all understanding, and the immortal life that knows no melancholy, and no dissatisfaction. These historic persons are types of the two classes into which all men fall--the penitent and the impenitent.

The king in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, writhing with selfish remorse but destitute of unselfish sorrow, in his soliloquy exclaims:

Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it, when one cannot repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul; that struggling to be free
Art more engaged!

Bunyan’s man of Despair, in the iron cage, when assured by Christian that "the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful," replies: "I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent."

In these powerful delineations, these profound psychologists of sin bring to view a peril that environs free will. Pardon may be proffered by God, but penitence may become impossible through the action, of man. "There are some sins," says Augustine, "that follow of necessity, from fore-going sins that occurred without necessity." The adoption of atheism is a sin without necessity. It is the voluntary action of man. But the hardness of heart that results from it, results of necessity. No man is forced to be an infidel; but if he is one, he must be an impenitent man. A luxurious and skeptical age should remember this. That man cannot repent, who drowns himself in pleasure, and never seriously reflects upon his accountability to his Maker. That man cannot repent, who expends the energy of his mind in the endeavor to prove that all human action is irresponsible, and the threatenings of Revelation an idle tale. They who have eyes full of adultery cannot cease from sin [2PE 2:14]. Absorption in worldliness, and adoption of infidel opinions, make repentance an impossibility. Sensuality and atheism harden the human heart, and render it impervious to the Christian Religion.

Return To Main Index

This Page Last Updated: 12/16/98 A. Allison Lewis