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Here and Hereafter

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    3. — EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT

    Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” This text is one which has great apparent force in favor of the doctrine of eternal conscious misery. But the secret of this apparent strength lies in the fact that the term “punishment” is almost invariably supposed to be confined to conscious suffering, and that when any affliction is no longer realized by the senses, it ceases to be a punishment at all. Now if it can be shown from sound reason, and from the analogy of human penalties, that punishment is estimated by the loss involved, and not merely by the amount of pain inflicted, the objection vanishes at once, and will cease to hold back many devout and reverent minds from adopting the view here advocated.HHMLD 278.2

    On the duration of the punishment brought to view in the text, no issue is taken. It is to be eternal; but what is to be its nature? The text says, “Everlasting punishment;” popular orthodoxy says, “Unending misery;” the Bible, in other places, says, “Eternal death.”HHMLD 279.1

    Is death punishment? If so, when a death is inflicted from which there is to be no release, is not that punishment eternal, or everlasting? Then the application of this scripture to the view here advocated is very apparent. The heathen, to reconcile themselves to what they supposed to be their inevitable fate, used to argue that death was no evil. But when they looked forward into the endless future of which that death deprived them, they were obliged to reverse their former decision, and acknowledge that death was an endless injury. 1Cicero, “Tusc. Disp.” 1, 47.HHMLD 279.2

    Why is the sentence of death in our courts of justice reckoned as the greatest and most severe punishment? It is not because the pain involved is greater; for the scourge, the rack, the pillory, and many kinds of minor punishment, inflict more pain upon the petty offender than decapitation or hanging inflicts upon the murderer. But it is reckoned the greatest because it is the most comprehensive and lasting. It deprives its victim at once of all the relations and blessings of life, and its length is estimated by the life the person would have enjoyed if it had not been inflicted. It has deprived him of every hour of that life he would have had but for this punishment; and hence the punishment is considered as co-existent with the period of his natural life.HHMLD 279.3

    Augustine says:—HHMLD 280.1

    “The laws do not estimate the punishment of a criminal by the brief period during which he is being put to death, but by their removing him forever from the company of living men.” 1“De Civitate Dei.” xxi 11.HHMLD 280.2

    The same reasoning applies to the future life as readily as to the present. By the terrible infliction of the second death, the sinner is deprived of all the bright and ceaseless years of everlasting life. The loss of every moment, hour, and year of this life is a punishment; and as the life is eternal, the loss or the punishment, is eternal also. “There is here no straining of argument to make out a case. The argument is one which man’s judgment has in every age approved as just.”HHMLD 280.3

    The original sustains the same idea. The word for punishment is kolasis; and this is defined, “a curtailing, a pruning.” The idea of “cutting off” is here prominent. The righteous go into everlasting life, but the wicked, into an everlasting state in which they are curtailed, or cut off. Cut off from what? — Not from happiness; for that is not the subject of discourse, but from life, as expressly stated in reference to the righteous. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And since the life given to man through Christ is eternal life, it follows that the loss of it, inflicted as a punishment, is eternal or “everlasting punishment.”HHMLD 280.4

    The same objection is again stated in a little different form. As in the ages before our existence we suffered no punishment, so, it is claimed, it will be no punishment to be reduced to that state again. To this we reply, that those who never had an existence cannot, of course, be conceived of in relation to rewards and punishments at all. But when a person has once seen the light of life, when he has lived long enough to taste its sweets and appreciate its blessings, is it then no punishment to be deprived of it? Says Luther Lee, “We maintain that the simple loss of existence cannot be a penalty or punishment in the circumstances of the sinner after the general resurrection.” 1“Immortality of the Soul,” p. 128. And what are these circumstances? — He comes up to the beloved city, and sees the people of God in the everlasting kingdom. He sees before them an eternity, not of life only, but of bliss and glory indescribable, while before himself is only the blackness of darkness forever. Then, says the Saviour, addressing a class of sinners, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God. What is the cause of this wailing? It is not that they have to choose between annihilation or eternal torture. Had they this privilege, some might perhaps choose the former; others would not. But the cause of their woe is not that they would prefer another, but because they have lost the life and blessedness which they now behold in possession of the righteous. The only conditions between which they can draw their cheerless comparisons are the blessed and happy state of the righteous within the city of God, and their own hapless lot outside of its walls. And we may well infer from the nature of the case, as well as the Saviour’s language, that it is because they find themselves thus thrust out, that they lift up their voices in lamentation and woe. “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out”! Luke 15:28.HHMLD 280.5

    The sinner then begins to see what he has lost; and the sense of it, like a barbed arrow, pierces his soul; while the though that the glorious inheritance before him might have been his, but for his own self-willed and perverse career, sets the keenest edge upon every pang of remorse. And as he looks far away into eternity, to the utmost limit which the mind’s eye can reach, and gets a glimpse of the inconceivable blessedness and glory which he might have enjoyed but for his idol sin, the hopeless thought that all is lost will be sufficient to rend the hardest and most obdurate heart with unutterable agony. Say not, then, that loss of existence under such circumstances is no penalty or punishment.HHMLD 282.1

    But again: the Bile plainly teaches degrees of punishment; and how is this compatible, it is asked, with the idea of a mere state of death to which all alike will be reduced? Let us ask believers in eternal misery how they will maintain degrees in their system? They tell us the intensity of the pain endured will be in each case proportioned to the guilt of the sufferer. But how can this be? Are not the flames of hell equally severe in all parts? and will they not equally affect all the immaterial souls cast therein? But God can interpose, it is answered, to produce the effect desired. Very well, then, we reply, cannot he also interpose, if necessary, according to our view, and graduate the pain attendant upon the sinner’s being reduced to a state of death as the climax of his penalty? So, then, our view is equal with the common one in this respect, while it possesses a great advantage over it in another; for, while that has to find its degrees of punishment in intensity of pain alone, the duration in all cases being equal, ours may have not only degrees in pain, but in duration also; for, while some may perish in a short space of time, the weary sufferings of others may be long drawn out. But yet we apprehend that the bodily suffering will be but an unnoticed trifle compared with the mental agony, that keen anguish which will rack their souls as they get a view of their incomparable loss, each according to his capacity of appreciation. The youth who had but little more than reached the years of accountability and died, perhaps with just enough guilt upon him to debar him from heaven, being less able to comprehend his situation and his loss, will of course feel it less. To him of older years, more capacity, and consequently a deeper experience in sin, the burden of his fate will be proportionately greater. While the man of giant intellect, and almost boundless comprehension, who thereby possessed greater influence for evil, and hence was the more guilty for devoting those powers to that evil, being able to understand his situation fully, comprehend his fate, and realize his loss, will feel it most keenly of all. Into his soul, indeed, the iron will enter most intolerably deep. And thus, by an established law of mind, the sufferings of each may be most accurately adjusted to the magnitude of his guilt.HHMLD 282.2

    Then, says one, the sinner will long for death as a release from his pains, and experience a sense of relief when all is over. No,friend, not even this pitiful semblance of consolation is granted; for no such sense of relief will ever come. The words of another will best illustrate this point:—HHMLD 283.1

    “‘But the sense of relief when death comes at last.’ We hardly need to reply: Then can be no sense of relief. The light of life gone out, the expired soul can never know that it has escaped from pain. The bold transgressor may fix his thoughts upon it now, heedless of all that intervenes; but he will forget to think of it then. To waken from a troubled dream, and to know that it was only a dream, is an exceeding joy; and with transport do the friends of one dying in delirium, note a gleam of returning reason, ere he breathes his last. But the soul’s death knows no waking;its maddening fever ends in no sweet moment of rest. It can never feel that its woe is ended. The agony ends, not in a happy consciousness that all is past, but in eternal night — in the blackness of darkness forever!” 1Hudson’s “Debt and Grace,” p. 424.HHMLD 283.2

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