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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. Pendleton
From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878
It is evident that the decisions of the judgment will be final and unchangeable. In accordance with these decisions, the righteous, in their complete glorified persons, will be admitted into heaven, and the wicked will be cast into hell. These two places will be the ultimate receptacles of all the human race.
It is everywhere assumed in the Scriptures, and especially in the New Testament, that there is a heaven. Jesus referred to himself as having "come down from heaven," and when he ascended it is said, that he was "carried up into heaven." (John 6:38; Luke 24:51) During his ministry he said in his Sermon on the Mount, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matt. 6:20) At another time he spoke of the enrolment of the names of his disciples "in heaven" as the source of their highest joy. (Luke 10:20) Paul in writing to the Colossians (1:5) uses the words, "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven." In addition to this use of the term “heaven” there are many other terms and phrases equivalent to it in import, but to these I shall not refer particularly.
Some have considered it a debatable question whether heaven is a state or a place. I see no objection to the union of the two views. We may regard heaven as a state most exalted and glorious, but it is also a place. Jesus said to his disciples, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2, 3) Christ has gone to prepare for his followers a place in the many mansions of his Father's house. There is one truth which for ever settles the point that heaven is a place. That truth is that the glorified body of Jesus is in heaven. His body is, of course, a material body, composed of matter, however refined, for otherwise it would not be a body. But whatever is material is local has relation to place. The two ideas of the material and the local are inseparable.
Heaven as a place is the most glorious of all places, the select locality in the wide realm of the universe. Its attractions are unspeakably great and the following are some of them:
1. It is a place of enlarged knowledge. "That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good." (Prov. 19:2) This is said of knowledge in this world. A thirst for knowledge is one of the things which distinguish men from the beasts that perish. The knowledge pertaining to this world answers important purposes, but "the excellency of knowledge" has to do with Christ and salvation. (Phil. 3:6) Saints on earth, as compared with sinners, know much; yet, as compared with saints in heaven, they know but little. There are many Scriptures which indicate the imperfect knowledge of Christians in the present state. They are said to "know in part," and not to know now what they shall know hereafter, while the assurance is given that "it doth not yet appear what we shall be." (I Cor. 13:12; John 13:7; 1 John 3:2)
Limitations are imposed on the attainment of knowledge on earth which will be removed in heaven. The intellect will no longer be fettered in its action by the body, for the latter, as we have seen, will be made spiritual and incorruptible. The acquisition of knowledge in heaven will be amazing. The saints in their ignorance now cannot conceive how much they will know then. When Paul says, in a passage just referred to, "Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known," it is difficult to imagine how he could have expressed more fully the vast extent of his future knowledge. To know as he is known seems to be as much as even Gabriel or Michael can say.
The saints in heaven will know a thousand times more about the works and ways of God than they can know in this life. As the light of eternity falls on these works and ways, now in great part obscured, how often will be heard the exclamation, "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints"! Rev. 15:3. In heaven the many perplexing problems now connected with dark providences will receive solutions so satisfactory, so brilliant, as to call forth the most rapturous hallelujahs. There will be a constantly increasing knowledge of the wonders of redemption, for the subject of salvation is inexhaustible. It will be fresh when a million centuries have passed away and fresh to endless ages.
"The cross, the manger, and the throne
Are big with wonders yet unknown."
Truly, heaven is a place of enlarged knowledge.
2. It is a place of perfect holiness. Earth is full of sin. The effects of sin are seen everywhere, and will be seen till the earth is destroyed by fire, when from the burning mass will emerge, according to the promise of God, "a new earth" more beauteous than Eden in its primeval glory. But this blessed change is in the future. Sin is in the world now. It has dominion over the impenitent. In the regenerate its power is broken, but how bitterly they often have to deplore its polluting presence in their hearts! Sin is their worst enemy. In heaven there will be no sin. It is a holy place. The angels are holy. The redeemed are without fault before the throne. The holiness of heaven is one of its most powerful attractions. How deeply are we impressed with the purity of the place when we remember that our souls cannot enter into it till the last stain of sin is washed from them, and that our bodies must be resolved into dust, and then be reconstructed without a taint of sin, before they can inherit the kingdom of God! However much Christians may now be annoyed and distressed by sin, when they enter heaven they will be troubled by it no more. They will dwell forever in the realms of perfect purity.
3. It is a place of holy love. In this respect, how greatly it differs from earth! Here hatred often prevails among nations and individuals. Injustice in its many forms may be traced to it. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is a command the violation of which it has been the chief business of history to record. Feelings of hatred rankling in the human breast have too often made earth an Aceldama— a field of blood." Nor can it be said that the passion of hatred is entirely extinct in the regenerate people of God. Who has not seen proofs of its existence in various forms of envy, jealousy, and evil-speaking? Alas love among brethren is by no means perfect on earth. But in heaven there is an undisturbed reign of holy love. All the inhabitants of that bright world love God supremely and love one another subordinately. Every saint can there say, "I love every one of these saints, and every one of them loves me." The satisfaction arising from this consciousness will never be disturbed by a single doubt or a solitary suspicion. I do not wonder that Rowland Hill said, "My chief conception of heaven is that it is a place of love."
4. It is a place of perfect rest and endless joy. Earth is the place for labor, toil, fatigue, but there "remaineth a rest to the people of God." (Heb. 4: 9) John, listening to a voice from heaven, wrote, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors." (Rev. 14:13)
"In heaven there's rest: that thought hath a power
To scatter the shades of life's dreariest hour."
Baxter well said, "O glorious rest! Where they rest not day nor night, crying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" The joy of heaven will be fulness of joy. All the faculties of glorified saints will be filled with it. There will be a rich plenitude of bliss. The joy of heaven will be endless. The joy of earth is imperfect while it lasts, and soon passes away. The joy of heaven is perpetual. Through the long cycle of everlasting years it will continue, ever increasing as the capacity of the saints to enjoy will increase. The blessedness of heaven depends much on the eternity of its joy. That blessedness would be greatly impaired if the joy were to end when ten thousand times ten thousand centuries pass away. Truly has it been said, “Perpetuity of bliss is bliss.”
5. It is a place of blessed companionships. We are made for society. Christianity does not destroy the social principle, but sanctifies it on earth, and will perfectly sanctify it in heaven. There are many allusions in the Scriptures to the social enjoyments of the heavenly state. The select society of the universe is in heaven. We read of angels, principalities, powers, cherubim, seraphim. These terms most probably denote the various orders of heavenly intelligences. But in addition to these there will be a multitude of the redeemed which no man can number. How blessed will be the associations of heaven! How delightful for the saints to cultivate an acquaintance with the very angels who rejoiced over the beginning of their saintship in their repentance! The social intercourse of the redeemed with one another will be productive of exquisite enjoyment. They will renew their acquaintance with those whom they have known on earth, and of whom they have heard and read, while they will form new acquaintances among the millions of unknown ones, to whom they will be drawn by the fact that they were all redeemed by the precious blood of a common Mediator. How blessed will be the companionships of heaven!
6. It is the place in which the divine glory is displayed in the highest degree. The glory of God is a manifestation of his perfections, or rather it is the splendor resulting from the manifestation. Hence it is said, "The heavens declare the glory of God;" that is, they exhibit such perfections as his wisdom and power. In the plan of redemption there is a much brighter display of the glory of God than is to be seen in the firmament, which is the work of his hands. There is an exhibition of moral perfections, which must ever eclipse a manifestation of natural attributes. We therefore read of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (II Cor. 4:6) It is such an exhibition as the universe never saw before—the glory of God in the face of the crucified Christ.
Now, in heaven there is a still fuller and brighter manifestation of the divine perfections. This is often called glory—the glory of God. Christians are said to rejoice "in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:2) Jesus prayed for his disciples, saying, “Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." (John 17:24) It is plain, therefore, that heaven is a place in which the divine glory is supremely displayed—the glory of God, the glory of Christ, who is God. It is manifest, too, that the inhabitants of heaven will ever find their highest happiness in beholding the exhibitions of this glory. That is what the "old theologians" properly termed "the beatific vision." It will be productive of such happiness as language has never described nor imagination conceived.
While it is a delightful privilege to refer to heaven as the abode of the righteous, it is a solemn duty to recognize the teachings of the Bible concerning hell as the place in which the wicked will be punished. The proper tendency of the doctrine of future punishment is to deter from sin, even as the doctrine of future blessedness in heaven should stimulate and allure to holiness. Obviously, all that can be known of hell as a "place of torment" must be ascertained from the Scriptures. Our own unaided reasonings are not trustworthy, and those who die in their sins come not back from the eternal world to tell us of their experiences there.
That there is a hell is undeniable in view of the following Scriptures: "For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell;" "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell;" "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matt. 5:29; 10:28; 23:33); "And if thy hand offend [ensnare] thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched." (Mark 9:43); "Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:5)
These passages prove beyond doubt that there is a hell, and that it is an inexpressibly dreadful place; for we are taught that it is the part of wisdom to avoid it at the expense of the mutilation, or even the killing, of the body. That it is a place of excruciating pain is clear, because it is described as "the fire that shall never be quenched." Here, as well as anywhere, I may notice the oft-repeated assertion, that what Christ says of unquenchable fire is to be understood, not literally, but figuratively.
Suppose this is conceded; and I do concede it—that is to say, I do not think that Jesus referred either to literal "fire" or a literal "worm." But what follows? That the punishment of the wicked will be less dreadful than if they should be cast into literal, material fire? By no means. The philosophy of language rather prompts us to inquire, if the symbol of punishment be so fearful, what must the reality be? Worse, far worse. It is impossible for any symbol to exaggerate the idea of pain which Christ intended to convey.
Satan may try to delude men, and men may try to delude themselves, into the belief that there is nothing alarming in the miseries of hell, but it is tremendously true that these miseries defy description and surpass adequate conception. It is specially worthy of notice that the most awful things in the Bible concerning the punishment of the wicked are the words of Jesus. He was love incarnate, but he spoke of "outer darkness," "weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth," a "place of torment," "the worm that dieth not," "the fire that is not quenched," "everlasting punishment," "eternal damnation." (Matt. 8:12; Luke 16:28; Mark 9:44; Matt. 25:46; Mark 3:29) These are expressions of startling significance. Indeed, the future retribution of the wicked is a most copious as well as awful subject, which I shall discuss only so far as to refer briefly to the words of Christ as recorded in Matt. 25:46:
"These shall go away into everlasting punishment." Here two points claim attention:
1. The wicked will be punished. What is punishment? It is the infliction of pain for disobedience. Thus a father punishes a disobedient child. Pain inflicted without regard to disobedience would be calamity, and not punishment. Punishment has reference to sin, and under the government of God it is the executed penalty of his law. It is God who executes this penalty, which is death, eternal death.
Strange views on this subject are held by some, for they think that the wicked will only be punished by painful memories, remorse of conscience, agony of despair. No doubt, memory has to do with the miseries of the lost, but an operation of memory is not the penalty of the divine law. Remorse of conscience is inseparable from the penalty, but it is not the penalty. Has a murderer's remorse of conscience ever exhausted the penalty of the law of murder? Never. The thing is impossible. Nor is the despair which lost sinners feel the penalty of God's law. How can despair as to a change in their doom satisfy the law, a violation of which determined their doom? The thing cannot be. All them view fail to meet the point.
The truth is that the penalty of God's law is death. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23) That eternal death is referred to is evident from its contrast with eternal life. There can be no consistent interpretation of the passage which does not make the death and the life equal in duration. God executes the penalty of his law. He inflicts on his incorrigible enemies the punishment they deserve. He punishes them because they deserve to be punished. This is the only true philosophy of punishment.
Incidental effects may result from punishment, but the supreme reason why sinners are punished is that because of their sins they deserve punishment. God as moral Governor of the universe executes the penalty of his law. This fact enables us to understand what is meant by "the wrath of God." This is a scriptural phrase, and it denotes God's just and holy indignation against sin. This indignation arises from the fact that sin is a transgression of his law; and therefore his justice and holiness—yes, and his goodness too—imperatively require that incorrigible sinners be punished. According to the teaching of the Scriptures, they will be punished as their demerits require. This shows that punishment will be graduated by the degree of ill-desert —graduated in intensity, though not in duration; for the second point claiming attention is
2. The punishment will be everlasting. The words of Jesus are, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." (Matt. 25:46) Of the wicked, Paul says, "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power." (II Thess. 1:9) The destruction referred to is not annihilation, for it is everlasting destruction. The process of destruction will go on forever. It is scarcely necessary to refer to the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, for it has no scriptural support. Its advocates can give no example of annihilation in the world of matter; and to suppose that mind or spirit will cease to be, is as contrary to philosophy as it is to the Word of God.
When Jesus says, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal," he employs one and the same word, which in the Common Version of the Bible is translated "everlasting" and "eternal." The same word is used in Rom. 16:26, where the apostle speaks of the "everlasting God," while in passages too numerous to quote it is, in its application to the future life of the saints, translated "everlasting" and "eternal." Now the question is this: Does a word which, when applied to God and to the future life of the saints, denotes endless duration, as all admit, indicate limited duration when it is applied to the punishment of the wicked? He who answers this question affirmatively must do so in conflict with Scripture, reason, and common sense.
Interpretation of language is not a matter of feeling. Sound exegesis does not permit us to consider what we may wish any passage of Scripture to mean, but it restricts our attention to the question, what does it mean? What is the import of its words? Much that is now (1878) said and written against the doctrine of endless punishment is a vain attempt to magnify God's goodness at the expense of his justice and truth; whereas God would cease to be good if he should cease to be just and true. In other words, his justice and truth cannot be severed from his goodness. Alas for those who, under the frown of God, sink to hell! They come not out of the prison, the gloomy prison of despair. They "will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power." What fearful words are these! Away from the presence of the Lord, his glorious presence, in which the saints will rejoice forever!—
"As far from God and light of heaven
As far from the centre thrice to the utmost pole."
There is no probation after death. He that dies in his sins remains in his sins forever. Moral character is unchangeable in eternity. The righteous continue righteous. The wicked continue wicked.
What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Jesus taught, by solemn affirmation and solemn negation, the doctrine of the endless punishment of the wicked, saying, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment," they "shall not see life," "their worm dieth not," "the fire is not quenched." These are the words of the benevolent Son of God and Son of man.
"Come, sinners, seek his grace
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of his cross,
And find salvation there"