The Apoclayptic Visions - 1
Frederick William Grant
Facts and Theories as to a Future State
At the very mention of Revelation there is a well-nigh unanimous exclamation. The cause is believed almost confessedly hopeless that appeals to this book of symbols for its support. It is principally, of course, with reference to it that Canon Farrar enters his vigorous protest against "the tyrannous realism of ambiguous metaphors," and he is only giving fresh utterance to protests that have been again and again put forth by writers and speakers of every grade of orthodoxy or its opposite, in every case perhaps in which it ever was appealed to. In this regard the minds of many, who otherwise listen with reverence to the word of God, are under a cloud of unbelief which forbids their seeing some of the very plainest things that were ever written. While we look then particularly at these Apocalyptic visions, let us remember for our encouragement, that the title of the book is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to Him to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass;" and that He has added, "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of the book of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein."
Plainly we have nowhere else in Scripture the full and orderly detail of "last things" which we have in this one book of New Testament prophecy, the priceless gift of a love so little realized, for which we have been so little thankful. Nowhere are eternal things so vividly pictured to us, "the city which hath foundations" on the one side, the awful solemnity of the "lake of fire" upon the other. Glad would Satan be to withdraw from us the joys which beckon us forward in it, the judgments which warn men to accept the grace that now beseeches. Has God written it so badly as to be unintelligible? Are the metaphors ambiguous? Shall we not at least look into it earnestly and reverently, before we thus dishonour the blessed Master and Lord who calls it His "Revelation"?
We have already traced the outline of the 19th chapter, and have seen how, after the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, the armies there, clothed in the fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints, follow the white-horsed Leader to the judgment of the earth. The beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth with their armies, are the objects of the judgment. The mass are slain with the sword, two being exempted from this to share a special doom, being "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."
The next chapter shows us Satan bound and shut up in the bottomless pit a thousand years, while for the same time Christ and his saints reign together, the wicked dead not yet being raised.
At the end of the thousand years Satan is loosed out of his prison, and after having deceived the nations, and the judgment of God overtaking his followers, he is again taken, and this time cast into the lake of fire. There we are told expressly, a thousand and more years after they have been cast in, "the beast and the false prophet are,"* and it is added of them, "and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of ages" (ver. 10).
* "Are" is not in the original, but necessarily implied there. The word "they" is also omitted in the common version from the next part of the verse, which runs, "and shall be tormented." The difference between this and what I have given is, that the ordinary translation seems to confine the torment to the beast and false prophet, while mine includes the devil in it. The Greek is capable of either, but the connection calls for the sense given.
Now, if the lake of fire be extinction, how is it that two men remain in it a thousand years unannihilated, and that then we are told they are to be further tormented for eternity? The expression is "unto the ages of ages" one of the strongest expressions ever used for eternity, as we have seen; and, if it were not so, as far as annihilationism is concerned, the use of such language would at all events preclude the possibility of reasoning, as this class of writers love to do, from the nature of fire, and the present constitution of human bodies, that it must imply the total consumption of those condemned to it. For if a man could live there a thousand years, why not ever so many thousand? if for ages of ages, why not for a proper eternity?
Details we are not now attempting, but only seeking to get hold in the first place of the general outline of what is here presented, and presented with abundant plainness. It is not from any peculiar difficulty in these chapters indeed, that people stumble at them, but simply because they do not harmonize with the views they have elsewhere learned. But the plainest reading of these Scriptures is what is in most real harmony with all others. We have assured ourselves of this in part already. We may yet find equal assurance as to all here presented.
Man, unsaved man, then, here shares the destiny appointed for the devil and his angels. That destiny is "everlasting punishment" in "everlasting fire." Quite true, we have not as yet seen all the unsaved sharing it. But that this twentieth chapter gives: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." This is spoken of the dead, standing in mass before the great white throne.
Into this lake of fire "death and hell," or hades, are also said to be cast; and people claim in this case (and many unthinkingly, too, concede) that this must at least as to them mean their coming to an end. It does not do this at all, as we may see, on looking more closely at the words. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to their works." Thus death and hell were emptied (it is "hades" as we have seen) and emptied of inhabitants, who, standing before God to be judged on the ground of their natural responsibility, "according to their works," come forth only to hopeless condemnation. Long before have the saints ceased to be tenants in hades. Nor does Scripture seem to speak of death for the saints living during the millennium.* The result would be that, as none but the "blessed" have part in the first resurrection, so none but the wicked have part in the second. It is the resurrection of judgment. And it is thus, as figuratively presenting their inhabitants, that death and hades are cast into the lake of fire.† It is immediately added, as if to show that the people are intended, "This is the second death:" of course, not of death or of hell, but of those represented by them. And I press it again, that the second death is the lake of fire; not extinction, for if there has been no first extinction, there CAN be no second. Yet so the first death (death, as we ordinarily call it) comes to an end. The last enemy is destroyed. The second death is deathless, and yet the "ages for ages" for most have but just begun.
*Comp. Isa. lxv. 20.
†See Isa. xiv. 9 for a similar putting of "hell "(sheol) for its inhabitants. It is the constant thing when speaking of cities: "O Jerusalem, that killest the prophets," etc.
It would seem that all this was clear, simple and conclusive. The metaphors are not ambiguous, and their "tyrannous realism" amounts only to this, that they are in fact very positive in what they represent, because so clear. We shall have, however, to consider, with a care in some degree commensurate with their importance, the comments of those who read them differently, and in so doing we shall learn the force of them still better, and find what ambiguity there is in them, if any.
As they have usually preceded, we may give precedence still to the advocates of "conditional immortality," and then listen to Dr. Farrar and the restorationist school.
We may begin with Mr. Dobney. He says on Rev. xx. 9, 10: -
"On the present text I submit - (i.) that the writer simply affirms that the devil shall be tormented forever and ever; which whatever be the legitimate meaning (concerning which we need not inquire) no one disputes. [!] At all events, I am not disposed to embarrass my present subject with any inquiry into the fate of fallen angels. What I have undertaken is sufficient. And so I simply remind my reader that this text says nothing at all about sinners of the human race... (ii.) Whatever this lake of fire may really symbolize, it is before the great day of judgment that the devil is represented as cast into it. It is moreover that into which the beast and the false prophet were previously cast, long before the final close of human history. Now the beast and false prophet are not individual and historical persons really. They are symbolic persons. Many expositors tell us that they symbolize a system, which is to come to an utter end, rather than particular individuals. If so, the idea of torment is not to be literally understood. But this I waive altogether."*
* Script. Doctrine, pp. 229, 230.
Mr. Dobney is careful not to commit himself too much, where he is evidently not sure of his ground. The doom of Satan he admits to be torment forever and ever, and does not want to "embarrass" the doctrine of annihilation by considering it. No wonder, because Satan himself is to be "destroyed," and if that, may consist with eternal torment, it would "embarrass" an annihilationist. But then man is to share Satan's doom: how can Mr. Dobney refuse to consider this then?
Again, (ii.) no men are concerned in this judgment. The beast and false prophet are personifications and not persons. At least "many expositors" tell us so, and Mr. Dobney will accept their judgment upon a point so immaterial as this! Why, Mr. Dobney, not "many" but the mass of expositors tell us that eternal torment is the portion of men also. Are you satisfied to abide by this? Surely not, if I can believe your book. Why are you more credulous here?
It seems to be immaterial whether or not two men are here said to be tormented with the devil forever and ever! But Mr. Dobney prefers to believe that the personal devil shares the lake of fire with two symbols, and is literally tormented, while they are figuratively tormented in the selfsame fire! Surely Mr. Dobney cannot blame us if we read the facts the other way. We should argue that, if the devil be a real person, and the torment real for him, his associates must be as real persons and as real sufferers. But he does not tell us what these "symbols" mean, and we must wait till another does, before we examine this.
He dwells more at large upon ver. 11-15: -
"Orthodoxy ingeniously connects this 15th verse with the one we have just considered, and pronounces thus: - ‘ The lake of fire is the symbol of the torment the devil shall undergo. This torment is to be day and night forever and ever. Into this lake the wicked are to be cast. Therefore they also are to be tormented forever and ever therein.' "
To this he objects: -
"(i.) The inference is not a necessary one. Because in the lake of fire the devil shall be tormented forever, it does not necessarily follow that quite another race of intelligences, cast into the same lake, must therefore exist as long as be does, and endure the same torment. If the orthodox use it, it proves too much for them... they must affirm that all men, even the least guilty, will endure precisely the same torment as the devil himself, seeing that the least guilty of the lost are cast into precisely the same fire as the devil. If they shrink from this.... they surrender the entire case. If it may produce different effects, it may torment the one and destroy the other."
This is somewhat more like argument. But to it I answer: -
Mr. Dobney is not putting all the facts of the case. We have seen that death is forever gone when the lake of fire (for most) begins; and that "the second death is the lake of fire." If we are to learn in any way therefore what the lake of fire is, we look back of course to the prior account. We find two men - we must take them as such, till they show us otherwise - a thousand years in it alive, and then the devil sentenced with these to eternal torment in it. We argue, necessarily, this is no repetition of the first death; nor could it be, for the first death is over, and not existing still under another name. If the second death is the lake of fire, extinction of being the lake of fire is not. Can any one show us the fallacy of such a conclusion?
But, says Mr. Dobney, every one must suffer then "precisely the same torment as the devil himself:" There is not the least reason for that; for if the lake of fire mean torment forever and ever, all may suffer that, and yet in almost infinitely different degrees. "They were judged every man according to their works."
Mr. Dobney is thinking and arguing really about material fire. In a material fire for eternity it would be natural to say all would suffer alike - the degrees could not at least be very far removed. But then how could the devil suffer in material fire? Doubtless it is a figure and to be explained by the use of such a figure elsewhere. It is indeed the true "ignis sapiens", the discriminative wrath of God which must be the portion of all the impenitent, yet not alike to each.
The Lord has Himself taught us to speak of stripes few or many, of judgment greater or less.
As to even material fire and its effect, it is not conceded that the devil is in such sense of "quite another race of intelligences," as to be less susceptible to its action than the spirit of man: while as to his resurrection body, we can argue nothing, for we know nothing about it. But material fire we may be sure is not meant, as these very considerations show.
Mr. Dobney's second objection is: -
"(ii) The inference is not a fair one... What does the being cast into the lake of fire mean, iii v. 14? It denotes the utter ceasing to be of death and hades. There is to be no more death. And this plain fact is poetically set forth by the striking image of death cast into a lake of fire; fire being the acknowledged symbol of the prophets for destruction. So ‘death, the last enemy, is to be destroyed.' This is the undisputed sense of v. 14. When then, in the very next verse, sinners are represented as cast into the lake of fire, is it not obvious and legitimate to retain the sense necessarily attached to the symbol of fire in the verse before, rather than to overlook the near and go back to the remote passage?"
This objection has been already met. It is strange how little Mr. Dobney can see the fallacy of an argument which asserts death to be destroyed when cast into the lake of fire, and yet that death is to reign still in that very place! It is quite true that death is in fact destroyed in that very way. Not as if the fire destroyed it, but its prisoners being given up finally, and cast into the lake of fire, death exists no more; but that is not what casting into the fire as a symbol means.
Mr. Dobney reinforces his argument by reference to the book of life, and the threat of being blotted out of it. This, too, we have looked at, and need not return to it.
Mr. Hudson's main argument* also turns upon death and hades being cast into the lake of fire, and he says that if Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are immortal in it, by parity of reasoning death and hades ought to be. "Death and hades, symbolical personages, are supposed to cease from being; while their subjects, ‘the dead'... are supposed to be immortal! Who does not see (he asks) that hades and thanatos are only other names for the dead?" That is what I believe and contend for, and. that the passage does not represent their ceasing to exist at all. It is quite true they do so, but that is inference only, although a sound one; for if all who make them up are gone from them, they are, of course, gone too. But if death be gone at the beginning of those ages of ages for which the torment of the lake of fire lasts, how can its subjects ever "die"?
*Debt and Grace, p. 213.
Mr. Hudson also regards the beast and false prophet as symbols of systems, and that they must come to an end with those who are their worshippers, but this again is not proved but taken for granted. If they are systems, come to an end for lack of supporters, how are they tormented for the ages of ages? "This might be said," he answers, "of the beast and the false prophet as impersonations, henceforth without power or worshippers." Death might indeed symbolize that, but it is the very thing they do not suffer. They are cast "alive" into the lake of fire, and remain alive a thousand years, and still to be tormented on forever and ever. How can there be life in systems without power or worshippers forever? Mr. Hudson does not even himself believe it, for he adds, "But we think the language describes their utter and irrevocable destruction in a dramatic form," and he compares it to Isa. xiv. 9-12: that is, the welcome given by the dead to the dead king of Babylon !
As he gives no reason further than this, we have not much to answer. As to Satan himself he answers the question, "Is he mortal ?" by saying, "the prophecies all look that way." He produces but two, however: one, "that the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent;" the other, Dan. vii. 11, 12! His proofs are perfectly conclusive as to the untenableness of his position.
As to the second death,* Mr. Hudson quotes various rabbinical statements to show that for the rabbis the phrase meant annihilation. If so, it would only show that Scripture in the most decisive way reverses their judgment.
*Debt and Grace, p. 178.
We will now look at Mr. Morris' view, and shall give it in his own words:†
"A two-fold destiny awaits the devil - the one, political and the other, personal . . the dramatic representation of the personal policy and scheme of Satan is that of ‘a great red dragon' (Rev. xii l-.3). In the doom of his policy, his person and the persons of his host are involved. But it is the personal policy of Satan that the ‘great red dragon' more especially represents. And it is the great red dragon that is caught, and chained, and cast into the abyss, and is imprisoned there a thousand years, and is then let loose, and is afterwards cast into the lake of fire. The policy of Satan as we have just remarked, involves his person; and so the doom of his policy involves his personal doom. But it is the political doom of the devil, or the devil as politically considered, that is intended, and is dramatically described when it is said, ‘And the devil that deceived them (the nations) was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and THEY shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.' The passive verb in the original, "basanistheesontai", is a plural verb, and so requires to be read, ‘and THEY shall be tormented,' or, as divested of the dramatic dress, ‘and they shall be PUT TO THE PROOF unto the ages of the ages.' That trinity of evil, called the dragon and the beast and the false prophet, shall be together involved in the same final doom."
In a note he adds,
"The dramatic force and design of this plural verb, "basanistheesontai", is not - they shall be tortured, as some men count torture. As we have noticed before: That the verb basanizo, and the noun basanismos, are derived from basanos, the name of a stone found in Lydia, in Asia Minor, by which gold was tried - a touch-stone. From the literal meaning of basanos came the metaphorical use of basanismos - that which tests or puts to the proof. In the mind of a Roman inquisitor - both ancient and modern - both secular and ecclesiastical - this word and its verbs came to mean torture, and torturing to elicit evidence, to extort a confession. But even in this there was an end proposed to be obtained by means of the torture, and so an end to the torture itself. The torment inflicted was, professedly at least, a means to an end, and not for the mere sake of tormenting... In common discourse, the word basanismos and its verbs came to represent the ideas of painful toil and great bodily affection... and the infliction of torture. But basanismos and its verbs always retain their radical meaning when used in relation to the jurisprudence and penal administration of God. The feminine symbol called ‘Babylon the great,' and the masculine symbols called ‘the beast' and ‘the false prophet,' are said to be tormented; that is, the systems of ecclesiastical and of secular and moral polity and power, which these symbols represent, shall be tested and put to the proof."
†What is Man, p. 120, etc.
Thus far Mr. Morris. We have all these words in the New Testament. basanos three times, Matt. iv. 24; Luke xvi. 23, 28, always given as "torment;" basaniomos similarly "torment" five times, Rev. ix. 5; xiv. 11; xviii. 7,10, 15; basaniotes once, Matt. xviii. 34, "tormentors;" basanizo once rendered" tossed," Matt. xiv. 24; once "toiling," Mark vi. 48; once "vexed," 2 Pet. ii. 8; once "pained," Rev. xii 2; and the other eight times "torment," Matt. viii. 6,29; Mark v. 7; Luke viii. 28; Rev. ix. 5; xi. 10 xiv 10; xx. 10.
Mr. Morris' canon of interpretation is a very simple one. These words, so uniformly rendered by some word expressive of suffering and pain, may be allowed to retain that meaning in every case where the penal administration of God is not in question, that is, wherever the theories of annihilationists do not require it otherwise, but there we must absolutely exclude the idea of torment: it must be "put to the proof" in all such cases.
In vain we ask, is there another instance which requires or would allow this rendering in the New Testament? Mr. Morris is sufficient authority evidently in the matter, for he condescends give no other, nor even to reason about it.
But he is somewhat unfortunate nevertheless. For in the very text in question the canon strangely fails. "Divested of the dramatic dress," he says, the passage reads: "and they shall be PUT TO THE PROOF unto the ages of the ages." "That trinity of evil," is his own comment upon it, "called the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, shall be together involved in the same final doom."
That is, these three, two of them symbols, are "doomed" to be put to the proof (without torture) in a lake of fire and brimstone forever. The end of the "putting to proof" is never to come! For this putting to the proof; is to "elicit evidence"! The strange trial is to go on forever, and come to no result!
But this is not what Mr. Morris means. Possibly not. It is only what he says. They are tested forever. The fire and brimstone, too, are of course "dramatic," and it is only the devil's political doom, as personally he is to be destroyed! Perhaps that makes it plainer. If not, it is pretty certain to bewilder, which is apparently the next best thing.
But Mr. Morris comes at last to the question for which we have been waiting, "who or what are the beast and the false prophet?" And he answers: "They are symbols of governmental and of moral polity and power." "The beast is a composite symbol of the secular polity and power of the Roman world in the last stage of its history." "He ascendeth out of the abyss, and he ‘goeth into perdition,' - eis apoleian, that is, unto destruction - final and eternal destruction; but he is first to be put to the proof."
"‘The false prophet,' " he goes on, "is in the first instance, called ‘another beast,' which is represented as coming up out of the earth." He "is the symbol of the moral polity and power of the Roman world in the last stage of its history. It will be accredited of Satan, who will display in it most marvellous powers - miraculous powers, in imitation of the powers of the Holy Ghost. . . This second beast is first called the ‘false prophet' in Rev. xvi. 13, and he is so called because the moral polity which is thus described will claim to be the mature result of manly wisdom.
"In Dan. vii. 11, the destiny of the Roman beast is spoken of thus: ‘I beheld till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.'... But here in Rev. xix. 20, an additional truth is supplied... John saw the beast and the false prophet cast alive into the lake of fire, and they are represented as being still there and alive at the end of the thousand years, when Satan is let loose out of his prison. And this is intended to teach... that during and throughout the thousand years, it shall be left as an open question, as to whether those same systems of secular and moral power ‘will ever be able to rise up again and be re-established upon the earth... and so the beast and false prophet are represented as alive in an open pool, or lake of fire burning with brimstone upon the surface of the earth and in view of all. And when Satan is let loose the great experiment is tried... Instead of an escape and a re-establishment on the part of the beast and false prophet, by the assistance of the devil, he himself is cast into the same lake of fire with them, and to share their doom: and it shall not any longer be an open question as to whether moral evil will reappear and become rampant on the earth, or in any department of the universe of God."
The great question which concerns us here, and on account of which I have quoted so much from Mr. Morris, i8, are the beast and false prophet men, or are they simply systems or polities as he represents it? I shall attempt no interpretation of the prophecy, save so far as it is needed for the purpose of definitely settling this; and it may be definitely settled, for God's metaphors are not ambiguous, and scarcely so hard to read as Mr. Morris' interpretations.
The book of Daniel conclusively settles that the seven-headed, ten-horned "beast" of Revelation is the Roman empire, as Mr. Morris states it, although in a somewhat different form. In Rev. xvii. 11, however, there is a feature of the case which seems to have escaped him, for there the beast is identified with his own eighth head. Now "the Seven heads are seven kings." The imperial beast of Revelation is thus stated to be the last king, for in his day it "goes into perdition."
In Daniel, at the commencement of the Gentile empires, of which Rome is the last, we find a statement very similar to that in Revelation. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream the head of the image is of fine gold, and typifies the Babylonian power; but Daniel applies it personally to Nebuchadnezzar himself: "Thou art this head of gold." This double identification of the golden head may help us to understand that as in the days of Babylon one man represented in fact the empire so it will be in the time of the fulfilment of Rev. xvii. 11. One man will represent the empire for God; and of this as to the last beast an intimation at least is given in the book of Daniel also.
"I beheld then," says the prophet, "because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake, I beheld even till the beast was slain." The beast is judged for the words of the horn: beast and horn are one as to responsibility before God. Now a "horn" too is a "king" (Rev. xvii. 12); and here even in Daniel is one morally so identified with the beast as to draw down the judgment of God upon it.
More than this, when we look at the picture in the Old Testament we find this horn to be an eleventh horn, feeble in its beginnings, but rising to superiority over the rest at last. In Revelation this eleventh horn, so all important in Daniel, does not appear at all; but there is an eighth head of the beast in Revelation, which on the other hand did not appear in Daniel, and which is in its place identified with the beast. Who can resist the conviction that these two (both "kings ") are really one?
But the great words of the horn bring down judgment upon the beast: and this assures us still more of the horn's personality. For a "polity" is not a responsible agent, for that we must have a living being. Nor could we think of ten polities, of which an eleventh subdued three, as is said of the "horn;" whereas, if a real king be intended, nothing is more natural. Now, a king is the interpretation both of "horn" and "head," and this ought to be simple enough not to need another interpretation to explain it to us. The simplest is the best.
The beast is " worshipped" too by all that dwell on earth, and the number of the beast is the number of a man. He is found, when Christ comes, with the kings of the earth, (literal kings, as Isa. xxiv. 21, assures us), heading their opposition, and receives signal, awful judgment as the head of it.
That judgment we shall look at directly; but first as to the "false prophet." Apart from all interpretation he is manifestly the same as the second beast of the 13th chapter, as again Mr. Morris truly says. His character and time and end couple him unmistakably also with the "man of sin" in Thessalonians, and who, however much he too may represent a "polity," is plainly yet (or should be so) a man.
A "false prophet" hardly even can represent a polity; save as it represents one who may be identified with it. His miracles are Elias-like: he makes fire come down from heaven in the sight of men; he exercises all the power of the first beast in his presence; he gives breath to an image of the beast; he causes all to receive the latter's mark. Why and upon what warrant we should believe that this is not a personal agent, who can tell us? And when we find such an one united with the beast and kings of the earth in opposition to the Lord and cast alive with the beast into the lake of fire into which first Satan and afterward all the wicked are cast, and suffering torment there for ages and ages, why should we allow the dreams of men, who seem only to know how to darken daylight itself, turn us from or make us hesitate in the assured belief, that these two are men, and nothing but men?
But Mr. Morris' interpretation of the judgment must detain us a little, wild and incongruous as it surely is. Examination can only deepen the conviction of the reality of what we have to do with here, and of its simplicity also, a simplicity worthy of the Divine Author. It is not without profit ever to be occupied (if one's heart be in it) with the word.
Does "taken and cast alive into a lake of fire" mean judgment? Surely one would think so. But no; they are systems it seems, still alive in men's minds, it remaining an open question whether they will come up again in power upon earth or not. After the loosing of Satan and his failure, and being cast into the lake of fire also, it is not an open question any more, he says, but strangely enough they are still tested on and on for ages and ages in the same lake of fire!
And that lake of fire receives others also. Men are judged, and after judgment cast in, to be tested of course further still.
The lake of fire is on earth, too. But the earth and the heavens flee away from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and still the lake of fire abides as before.
I might, perhaps, conclude with Mr. Morris here; but he, too sees in the crushing of the serpent's head the personal annihilation of the devil, and (again with Mr. Hudson) his personal destiny involved in the destruction of the Roman beast in Dan. vii. 11. As for the first, the annihilation of the serpent as such is allowed to be complete when Satan is cast into the lake of fire, but his personal annihilation is by no means implied. As for the last, they must show us how they argue it before we can treat it as other than imagination.
We will now listen to Mr. Constable, and it need not be for any length of time, for he fairly gives the matter up. He says:*
"The sense we would put upon the passages in Revelation is, that they convey in highly wrought figures suitable to the character of the entire book, only the old idea which we have already gathered from the rest of Scripture, ‘viz., that the punishment of all consigned to hell will be of an eternal nature, and that its fearful effect - the plunging of its subjects into death and destruction - will ever remain visible to the redeemed and angelic worlds. We will not try to establish this sense by examining the force of each word. We deny that language so highly figurative is capable of any such dialectical analysis, or that such is the manner in which we ordinarily interpret language of the kind."
*Nat. and Dur. of Etern. Punishm., p. 199.
He prefers to go to other passages to show the use of similar language. Of these, he produces two: Isa. xxxiv. 9, 10, and Jude's reference to Sodom. Isaiah says of Edom, "The land thereof shall become burning pitch: it shall not be quenched night nor day, the smoke thereof shall go up forever." Mr. Constable asks:
"Will the advocates of Augustine's hell tell us that if we went to Idumea, we should see people suffering pain from some period subsequent to Isaiah's prophecy to the present time?... The present condition of Edom is the explanation of the poetic figure: its cities have fallen into ruin: the whole land is a desert. The burning pitch, the unquenchable fire, the smoke ascending forever, is reduced to this sober hue in the language of prose."
This is only saying that the language is that of poetic exaggeration. We utterly and absolutely deny it. The present condition of Edom is not what Isaiah prophesies of. He speaks of a yet future time, as ver. 2-8 distinctly show, and then this terrible judgment will be fulfilled. If Scripture language were so deceptive, who could trust it? But Isaiah says nothing about "endless life in pain" - not a word. It is Mr. Constable who has foisted the thought upon him. Nor is the Old Testament "forever" the "ages of the ages" of the New.
Next as to Jude 7, where it is said that "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire," Mr. Constable says this cannot refer to any suffering in hades, for their condition there is never alluded to in Scripture, and is therefore no "example"; that hell is a future thing for all, and Jude speaks of something "which had long been a plain and palpable warning to the ungodly of this earth." He concludes therefore it can only refer to "their overthrow in the days of Lot, and their abiding condition ever since." "They and their works were burnt up; and this ruined, lifeless, hopeless condition has remained to the present time. The whole transaction conveys the idea of conscious pain for a time, followed by ruin and death forever. This is, according to Scripture, to ‘suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.' "
This is, rather, the way in which men venture to interpret the word of God, until it becomes the bye-word and scorn of infidelity. The cities are burnt up and not to be found, and the land lies desolate, and this is the vengeance of eternal fire! Words may mean anything in this way; they are made not to express sense, but to hide it. But it is not very hard to see that Jude in speaking of these "cities" speaks of the people in them. The people had sinned, and upon the people the judgment fell, the "fire and brimstone" from heaven being the type or pattern of that "eternal fire", in which they suffer still. The temporary fire by which they perished from the earth was not the eternal one, nor is it stated to be such. But the wrath of God manifested upon them is a sample or specimen (deigma) of what could not be temporary, that wrath against sin which is the "eternal fire." Mr. Constable confounds the people with the mere material cities, and thinks of a present condition of palpable judgment, of which not a word is said. The fire which destroyed them was "eternal fire," if you look, not at the material fire which was at once its instrument and symbol, but at the divine wrath so manifested. There is then no difficulty in the matter.
Nor need we discuss therefore the principle which Mr. Constable obtains from this passage, "that the judgments of God upon individuals or nations, in destroying them here for sin, is the pattern and example of that destruction which He will inflict on them hereafter for sin;" although he presses to the same end also our Lord's words in regard to the Galileans, "Unless ye repent ye shall all likewise perish," and even Paul's statement that the things that happened to Israel in the wilderness "happened to them for ensamples," where the margin reads "types." We have been ourselves largely reading such types, and it is not to be supposed that we are afraid of the latter principle. But when we are told that "the slaying of the Galileans by Pilate essentially resembles the death of the wicked in hell," we may be allowed to ask for some further proof than his saying so can afford us.
Thus neither Jude nor Isaiah are in the least sympathy with Mr. Constable in his endeavour to give a sense to Scripture which he "will not try to establish by examining the force of each word." It is a very real, however little ingenuous a confession, that the words, if sifted, are against him. He does, however, try to do somewhat even here, and with reference to basanizo "to torment," he points out, that "it is as applicable to things without life as to living things," because it is applied once (metaphorically) as we have seen, to the tossing of a boat! So he thinks the devil might be "tossed" in a lake of fire and brimstone forever! If that will not do, Schleusner, it seems, has said that it is used, not only for actual pain, but "for death produced by such pain," and "in this sense (he thinks) it is peculiarly applicable to future punishment." No doubt; so the devil is to be killed by torment day and night forever and ever!
We may leave Mr. Constable then, to look at some fresh arguments with Mr. Minton (ch.34). It is strange how fresh the arguments are, and how little one writer accepts those of another; each seems satisfied only with his own. But we must be as brief as the case will allow.
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