Forms Of The Denial Of Eternal Punishment
Frederick William Grant
Facts and Theories as to a Future State
In entering upon a subject like the present, it will be desirable in the first place to get as clear a view as possible of what is involved, the questions it is proposed to answer. The denial of eternal punishment has two main forms, that of annihilationism, or, as some prefer to call it now, "conditional immortality," and that of the final restoration and salvation of all men. Of these two there are again several modifications, and even (contradictory of one another as they may seem) amalgamations. Each of these we must briefly notice.
I. Annihilationism is at the present moment very widely spread, and there are perhaps few Christians who have not in some shape or other already met with it. It is a dish dressed up by skilful hands to suit very different tastes. From Dr. Leask and the various writers in the "Rainbow" to the editor and contributors to the Christadelphian; from Mr. Morris, late of Philadelphia, to Miles Grant and the Adventists of various grades, it is found in association with very distinct and very opposite systems of doctrine, from Trinitarianism down to the lowest depths of Socinian and materialistic infidelity. But, on this very account, it will be well to look at it, not only in itself but in its associations, to lead the minds of those who, meeting it in more decent form, may be in danger from its plausible sophistries, to apprehend what it naturally connects itself with and prepares the way for; and, moreover, to arouse the minds of Christians in general to a sense of the practical bearing and results of an evil which is spreading rapidly, and lifting up its head in unlooked for places.
This may be my justification, if I should lead my readers into the examination of points which for the Christian may be deemed unnecessary, and speak too of things which rightly shock his sensibilities as such. Moreover, I do it because upon any point whatever, where Scripture is appealed to, it is due to those whose minds might be injuriously affected by the mere seeming to decline such an appeal. My desire is, God helping me, to meet the honest, need of minds unexercised in the subtleties presented to them, too often with a skill which, alas, shows in whose hands these poor annihilationists are unwitting instruments. And if, in so doing, the very foundations of our faith should have to be examined (and they can sustain no harm by it), it may at least (I repeat) serve to convince my readers of what is brought in question by a false system, which is helping to ripen fast the predicted evil of the later days.
To come now to the point in hand. We have a number of steps to take before we reach the lowest level of so-called Christadelphianism. Materialism is indeed its inevitable tendency; yet a large number of those now holding it are by no means materialists, as Edw. White, Heard, Maude, Morris, Dobney, etc. On the other hand, Mr. Constable is the leader of a very pronounced materialistic section of this school (which we may call the Trinitarian school of annihilationism), and with whom, though differing in many ways, General Goodwyn finds his place. The "Adventist" school, on the other hand, with some exceptions, are not only materialistic but anti-Trinitarian also: to these belong Hudson, Hastings* and Miles Grant. Christadelphianism is all this and more, a system in which no element of real Christianity remains behind. They have rightly, therefore, given up the name of Christian.
*Messrs. Hudson and Hastings are to some extent exceptions.
The psychological question is that upon which these writers differ most among themselves. Some believe in a true trichotomy of body, soul and spirit, as Mr. Heard; some are dichotomists, believing the spirit to be superadded in the case of the regenerate, as Morris of Philadelphia; most are, as already said, materialists wholly. I shall notice briefly the main distinctions on these points.
1. And first as to the spirit of man. Mr. Heard in his "Tripartite Nature of Man" maintains its substantive existence in all men, as that which implies "God-consciousness," which the brute has not. In the unconverted it is deadened and inert, but quickened by the Spirit of God when we are born again. With him, as to the latter part of this, Mr. White agrees, although he can speak of "the royal qualities of spirit, whatever they may be" (!) in a queen bee, "which incite or enable her to take the lead in migrations or swarmings" (!!) so that for him it can scarcely imply what it does for Mr. Heard, and its possession or not by man would seem to be of very small account.* He allows it to be, however, in him "of a superior order, as ‘the candle of the Lord; he has more wisdom than the beasts of the field; nevertheless he shares spirit with all animated natures."†
Mr. Morris, on the other hand, believes that the new nature communicated in regeneration is alone "spirit" in the proper sense. The word is used as to the unregenerate only for the "motions and emotions of the soul." In Eccl. xii. 7 thinks ruach should rather be "breath," or if not, "it may be used to signify the motion of the soul in passing away and passing into the custody of God!"‡
Passing downwards towards the naked materialism in which this doctrine ends, we find General Goodwyn also maintaining the addition of the spirit to man in regeneration only.§
*Life in Christ, p. 18.
‡What. is Man? pp. 18, 19.
§In his. "Holokleria."
Mr. Constable's doctrine, gravitating evidently towards "Christadelphianism," is that the "spirit" (ruach or neshamah) in man is the Spirit of God, yet it is identified by him also with the "breath of life;" the cause of animation to the body.* God withdraws this at death, and the man breaks up and dissolves away. This view Mr. Warleigh (whom Mr. White styles "an able and resolute thinker") has adopted, differing only in this - that in the case of Christian believers, the Spirit, which he describes as the Spirit of God, becomes according to him a distinct individual spirit of thee man separable from the soul; and he thinks that this "Spirit," with all the attributes of an individual mind, survives in paradise till the resurrection, when it rejoins soul and body at the Lord's coming.†
Not many degrees below this comes the materialism of a certain class of Adventists, who may be fitly represented by the editor of the "World's Crisis," Miles Grant, of Boston, Mass. He denies that the spirit is other than the breath in man, and that it is "the thinking accountable part, or that it ever did or ever will think."‡ And this leads him to the denial of the personality of the Spirit of God also. He says:§ "The word spirit is used to denote an influence proceeding from a being. Hence we read of the Comforter or Holy Spirit, that ‘it proceedeth from the Father.' In mesmeric operations there is a spirit proceeding from the operator to his subject, by means of which he controls him. All men and animals exert this influence more or less."
All Adventist annihilationists are not as gross as this. Messrs. Hudson and Hastings, for instance, are not materialists to this extent evidently, although in the same boat with those that are. Messrs. Ellis and Read, in a book which has gone through at least six editions, on the other hand, are as out-spoken as Miles Grant. They lay down these propositions :
*In his treatise on Hades."
†Quoted from "Life in Christ," p. 208
‡Spirit in Man, pp. 31, 32
§Ib. p. 1. Bible vs. Tradition, pp. 13, 84-87.
"First, we shall prove from the Bible the corporeal being and mortality of the soul, and the nature of the spirit of man, which spirit, not being a living entity, is neither mortal nor immortal.
"Ruach (spirit, is derived from ruah, ‘to blow,' and nesme,* to breathe' (I) primarily signifies ‘wind, air, breath'; but it is sometimes used to signify a principle, having some relation to electricity, diffused through universal space, a principle that stimulates the organs of men and animals into activity, and which is used by the animals themselves to control their voluntary motions... This principle, being the principle of life in all creatures, is in the hands of God and controlled by Him, hence in Him we live and move and have our being; and God is the God of the spirits of all flesh; when God taketh away His Spirit and His breath - i. e., God's spirit and God's breath - then man returneth to his earth and his thoughts perish."
From this it is scarcely a step down to Christadelphianism, the system of the late Dr. Thomas and his followers. Their views have been little, if at all, noticed by any who have taken in hand to reply to annihilationist doctrine;† yet there is reason to believe they are spreading, not only in the United States, but also in Britain, where indeed, their first originator had birth. The system is acknowledged in the title page of a book that lies before me, by Mr. Roberts of Birmingham, England, their present leader, to be "opposed to the doctrines of all the names and denominations of Christendom" They adopt professedly an Old Testament basis, and deny almost all that is distinctive in the New: the deity of the Son, the personality of the Spirit, a personal devil, and the heavenly portion of the saints. To quote from Mr. Roberts' book,‡ they believe that "the Father is eternal and underived, the Son has his origin in the creative fiat of the Almighty as Adam had; the Holy Ghost is the focalization of His will power, by means of His ‘free Spirit,' which fills heaven and earth." They believe in "a Lamb of God, guileless from his paternity, and yet inheriting the human sin-nature of his mother." But, being free from actual sin, "He could meet all the claims of God's law upon that nature, and yet triumph over its operation by a resurrection from the dead." God "raised Him from the dead to a glorious existence, even to equality with Himself." "And now life is deposited in Him for our acceptance, on condition of our allying ourselves to Him, yea, on condition of our entry into Him." "Baptism in water is the ceremony by which believing men and women are united with Christ, and constituted heirs of the life everlasting, which He, as one of us, has purchased."
*There is evidently a lapse here. They mean neshamah is from nesme as they put it.
†Mr. Clemance has put forth a reply, but from the standpoint of semi-Universalism.
‡Twelve Lectures, pp. 130, 140, 145.
In this, its suited home, annihilation flourishes. "Spirit" is, according to Dr. Thomas, an element of the atmosphere, existing ordinarily combined with nitrogen and oxygen. "These three together, the nitrogen, oxygen, and electricity, constitute the breath and spirit of lives of all God's living souls"* Mr. Roberts asks:
"What is that which is not matter? It will not do to say ‘spirit,' if we are to take our notions of spirit from the Bible, for the Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost like a mighty rushing wind, and made the place shake, showing it† to be capable of mechanical momentum, and therefore as much on the list of material forces as light, heat and electricity. Coming upon Samson, it energized his muscles to the snapping of ropes like thread; and, inhaled by the nostrils of man and beast, it gives physical life."‡
The questions as to the spirit are, therefore, its being or not an actual living entity in man; its functions; and, connected with this, the personality of the Spirit of God.
2. As to the soul there is still considerable variety of doctrine. Messrs. White, Heard, Morris, Maude and others believe very much according to common orthodoxy of the soul and of its survival too. Mr. Hudson also* admits its immateriality, although he supposes it to be "dependent on embodiment for the purposes of active existence." Mr. Dobney recognizes the probability of the soul being in nature distinct from the body, but denies "a purely disembodied condition."†
*Elpis Israel, p. 30.
†Or the place?
‡Twelve Lectures, p. 31
Ordinarily, for common materialism, the soul is the animal "life," as with Mr. Constable‡ down to Miles Grant.§ It is a view which has the merit of simplicity at least, and a partial foundation in Scripture also; but in this application, as in so many others, a mere partial truth may he an absolute falsehood.
3. General Goodwyn differs from this, and his view seems peculiarly his own. The soul for him is "that combination of parts of the inner man, which is the seat of the mind and affections, and, having the breath of life, gives action to the outer members of the body." That is, the soul is apparently the lungs and heart and their connections!
4. A fourth and a final view (very near akin to Goodwyn's) is common to Messrs. Ellis and Read, and the Christadelphians alike. With these soul and body are one. "A living soul with Dr. Thomas is "a living, natural or animal body¶ "The word soul", says Roberts, "simply means a breathing creature." "That which it describes is spoken of as capable of hunger (Prov. xix. 15); of being satisfied with food (Lam. i. 11-19); of touching a material object (Lev. v. 2.) of going into the grave (Job xxxiii. 22—28); of coming out of it (Psa. xxx. 3), etc. It is never spoken of as an immaterial, immortal, thinking entity... It is not only represented as capable of death, but as naturally liable to it," etc.**
The questions as to the soul are sufficiently plain in these quotations.
*Debt and Grace, p. 250.
†Scripture Doctrine of Future Punishment, pp. 93, 141.
‡Hades. §The Soul.
#Truth and Tradition.
¶Elpis Israel , p. 21
**Twelve Lectures pp. 39 40.
3. As to the future state of the wicked, these writers have the merit of almost complete harmony. The wicked are to be "burnt up," to be "extinct," "destroyed utterly" in this sense of it, "blotted out of existence," etc. The whole vocabulary of Scripture terms they appeal to as affirming this. "Eternal life" is eternal existence, and this alone the righteous have. "Immortality" is conditional to those that seek for it by patient continuance in well-doing. The rest, with the devil (for those that believe in one) will finally - it may be after protracted torment in the lake of fire - perish and come to an end. Evil will be extinguished, and suffering be over forever; the whole universe left free from its incubus, and the restitution of all things be at length effected.
These writers differ as to certain points, however. Some affirm the resurrection of all men; some even deny it as to any of the wicked: but these must be excepted of course from the number of those just spoken of. This denial of any real retribution seems spreading, and from a writer among annihilationists themselves has come forth a book against it.
The followers of Thomas believe in a partial resurrection from which infants, idiots, and the heathen are excluded; and new birth for them is entry into the resurrection state.
Other differences scarcely require to be put forth in an introduction. We must now turn to the opposite views of those who believe in or hope for universal salvation.
II The Restorationist views are more uniform, and will require a much briefer notice here. Those who hold them are divided into two main schools of thought. The first is that of the large Universalist denomination, almost identified with the Unitarian denial of Christ and of atonement. With these we shall have little to do as far as the Scriptural inquiry is concerned, as they have virtually given up Scripture, wherever it would interfere at least with entire freedom of thought. The ethical question is the question of main interest and concern with them, and there we may have to do with them. The second school is mainly a German importation, where it can boast the names of Bengel and Neander, of Tholuck and Olshausen. Through Maurice and others it has grown into notoriety in England, and Dr. Farrar's well-known sermons in Westminster Abbey, now published under the title of "Eternal Hope," have put them before the masses in a way to attract almost universal attention. His book has little in it that is original, however, being in large part a reproduction of one by Mr. Cox, of Nottingham, in which the three words "damnation," "hell" and "everlasting" are challenged as mistranslations in the same way as they are by Canon Farrar. A third, book, from which Mr. Cox himself confessedly got much, is that of Mr. Jukes, more broadly heterodox than either, even to denying in the Swedenborgian manner the resurrection of the dead.* Atonement is also set aside by his work on restitution; an unsaved man in Gehenna becomes his own sin-offering,† and rises up to God, while as to every one saved, he is saved by present death and judgment,‡ not Christ's bearing these for him. These statements Messrs. Cox and Farrar do not indeed reproduce, but the thought of atonement is not in their books,§ and it is fair to infer that it is not in their minds. Saintly souls for Dr. F. their saintliness secures; but for sinners, nay the poor in spirit, praying, striving, agonizing to get nearer to the light, there may be no remedy but æonian fire.# True, it is the fire of God's love, though in Gehenna, but Christ did not die that they might have that.
*Mr. White is my authority for this (Life in Christ. p. 380.
†Restitution of all Things, p. 127.
‡See pp. 72-74.
§Comp Salvator Mundi, pp. 156-158.
And again, 169: "The historical Cross of Christ is simply a disclosure within the bounds of time and space of the eternal passion of the unchangeable God; it is simply the supreme manifestation of that redeeming love which always suffers in our sufferings, and is forever at work for our salvation from them." See "Eternal Hope," p. 86, etc.
These three books, "Eternal Hope," "Salvator Mundi,"* "The Restitution of All Things," may be fairly taken as representative of this rising school. Of these Canon Farrar will not allow himself to be classed as a Universalist.† Two or three difficult passages stand in his way, although these may only "represent the ignorance of a dark age," so that he may still indulge a "hope" for all. It is a hope that may make ashamed, no doubt; but he can at least indulge it. When Scripture is so elastic, there are few hopes we cannot.
The principal texts urged by writers of this school have to do with the doctrine of the "restitution of all things," which is a Scripture phrase, clipped‡ to look broader, and represent a theory of the restitution of the universe. They urge God's being the Saviour of all, and His will that all men should be saved. Eternal fire is not really eternal, and is purgatorial, not penal nor simply retributive. The phrases for eternity are mostly reduplicative expressions, as "ages" or "ages of ages," and which speak of periods however long, yet finite, and in which, according to Messrs. Jukes and Cox, redemptive processes are continually going on.
They all unite of course in opposing the doctrine of a fixed state after death, and find in the everlasting mercy of God a hope, if not quite definite, of all receiving mercy.
III There is a third school of opinion upon these points, which is in its main thought a revival of the views of certain rabbins, and which unites the ideas of annihilation and restoration. The founder is a Mr. Henry Dunn, and he is finding followers among former leaders of pure annihilationism. Mr. Blain, at eighty years of age, has recalled his "Death not Life," to replace it by another entitled "Hope for our Race," in which he advocates Mr. Dunn's theory. From it I learn that Mr. Dobney has also given in his adhesion, and that Mr. Hudson accepted these views before his death. Mr. Storrs also, writer of the "Six Sermons," is at present advocating them in a paper entitled "The Bible Examiner."
* I have quoted little directly from Mr. Cox's book, its arguments being really met in meeting those of Mr. Jukes, his master, or of Canon Farrar, his disciple, both better known.
†Mr. Clemance also refuses the term.
‡In Acts iii. 21, it is literally "all things of which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets." This is not the universe at all. See chapter xxv. of this book.
Mr. Dunn advocates (quite rightly) the pre-millennial coming of the Lord, but wrongly connects this with a general resurrection; after which Christ will be again presented to the wicked by the elect church, and then received by almost all. For those remaining obstinate there is the lake of fire and annihilation.
A recent tract, now being circulated in the United States, modifies this statement by confining the number of those evangelized to those who had not heard the gospel in their former life on earth, and adds the conjecture (startlingly suggestive in view of Matt. xxiv. 26) that Christ may already be upon earth now, and only be waiting the moment to manifest Himself to His people.
IV In conclusion I need only allude to Mr. Birks' view, which I have examined at some length in a separate chapter. He does not deny eternal punishment, but he does reduce it to the minimum; and his views have found an expositor and popular poet in the author of "Yesterday, Today and Forever," as the Restorationists have found theirs in the present poet laureate.
Thus serious, and thus multiform, are the questions raised. They cannot be for many really met without patient, protracted examination of the whole subject from the standpoint of Scripture; which, if it be God's word, is finally authoritative; if it be something less than this we are at sea and in darkness, without rudder and without compass.
Blessed be God, amid the multitude of conflicting statements, one assurance may be the stay and comfort our souls: "He that will do God's will, shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
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