Loading...
Larger font
Smaller font
Copy
Print
Contents

Here and Hereafter

 - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "undefined".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font
    Copy
    Print
    Contents

    4. — THE UNDYING WORM AND QUENCHLESS FIRE

    Mark 9:43, 44: “And if thy hand offend 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: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”HHMLD 284.1

    Twice our Lord repeats this solemn sentence against the wicked, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Verses 46, 48. These passages are relied on with as much assurance, perhaps, as any, to prove the eternal conscious misery of the reprobate. If this language had never been used by any of the inspired writers of the Scriptures, till it was thus used in the New Testament, it might be urged with some degree of plausibility, as an expressive imagery of eternal torment. But, even in this case, it might be replied, that fire, so far as we have any experience with it, or knowledge of its nature, invariably consumes, instead of preserving, that upon which it preys, and hence must be a symbol of complete destruction; and that the expression, as it occurs in Mark 9:44, can denote nothing less than the utter consumption of those who are cast into that fire.HHMLD 284.2

    But this expression was well known and understood by those whom Christ was addressing. Isaiah and Jeremiah frequently use the figure of the undying worm and quenchless fire. In their familiar Scriptures the people daily read these expressions. Let us see what idea they would derive from them. We turn to Jeremiah 17:27, and read:—HHMLD 284.3

    “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath-day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”HHMLD 285.1

    From this text we certainly can learn the meaning that was attached to the expression, “unquenchable fire,” by the Hebrew people. This fire was not to be “quenched;” therefore it was “unquenchable.” But it was to be kindled in the gates of Jerusalem, and devour the places thereof. It was therefore literal, natural fire. But how could a fire of this kind, thus kindled, be supposed to be a fire that would burn eternally. They certainly would not so understand it. No more should we. Moreover, this threatening of the Lord by Jeremiah was fulfilled. 2 Chronicles 36:19: “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.” Verse 21: “To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah.” Thus Jerusalem was burned according to Jeremiah’s prediction that it should be consumed in “unquenchable” fire. But how long did that fire burn? — Only till it had reduced to ashes the gates and palaces on which it preyed. Unquenchable fire is therefore simply a fire that is not quenched, — that is, is not arrested and subdued by any external force, — and does not cease, till it has entirely consumed that which causes or supports it. Then it does out of itself, because there is nothing more to burn. The expression does not mean a fire that must absolutely eternally burn, and that consequently all that is cast therein to feed the flame must forever be preserved by having the portion consumed immediately renewed.HHMLD 285.2

    To the wicked, the threatened fire is unquenchable, because it will not be quenched, or caused to cease, till it has entirely devoured them.HHMLD 286.1

    Psalm 37:20: “But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” Malachi 4:3: “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this; saith the Lord of Hosts.”HHMLD 286.2

    Ezekiel speaks of unquenchable fire in a similar manner. Ezekiel 20:47, 48. “Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.”HHMLD 286.3

    Though this is doubtless figurative language, denoting sore calamities upon a certain land called “the forest of the south filed,” it nevertheless furnishes an instance of how the expression, “unquenchable fire,” was then used and understood; for that generation many ages ago perished, and those judgments long since ceased to exist.HHMLD 286.4

    Isaiah not only speaks of the unquenchable fire, but he couples with it the undying worm, the same as the language in Mark:—HHMLD 286.5

    Isaiah 66:24: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die; neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.”HHMLD 286.6

    This is undoubtedly the language from which the expression in Mark is borrowed; but a moment’s examination of it will show that the worm is not the remorse of a guilty conscience, but that, like the fire, it is something external to, and distinct from, the objects upon which it preys; and moreover, that those upon whom it feeds are not the living, but the dead: it is the “carcasses” of the men that have transgressed against the Lord. In Isaiah 14:11 and 51:8 the prophet again speaks of the worm as an agent of destruction, but it is always in connection with death. It is thus evident that the terms employed by our Lord in describing the doom of the wicked would convey to the minds of his hearers the very opposite of the idea of eternal life in misery.HHMLD 286.7

    There is other evidence, though no other is necessary, to show that the idea which would be conveyed, and which the language was designed to convey, to their minds, was that of complete extinction of being, an utter consumption by external elements of destruction. The word translated “hell” in the passage under consideration is ge-enna. It is better to enter into life maimed than to go, in full possession of all our members and faculties, into ge-enna. Did those to whom Christ spoke know anything about this place, and what kind of fate awaited those who were cast therein? A vivid picture of the place of torment to which our Lord refers was in constant operation before their eyes, just outside the walls of Jerusalem.HHMLD 287.1

    Greenfield (New Testament Lexicon) defines the word thus:” (Hebrew,), Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, once celebrated for the horrid worship of Moloch, and afterward polluted with every species of filth, as well as the carcasses of animals and dead bodies of malefactors; to consume which, in order to avert the pestilence which such a mass of corruption would occasion, constant fires were kept burning.”HHMLD 287.2

    Such was the fire of Gehenna; not a fire into which people were cast to be kept alive and tortured, but one into which they were cast to be consumed; not one which was designed to prey upon living beings, but upon the carcasses of animals and the dead bodies of malefactors. Hence we can see the consistency of associating the “fire” and the “worm” together. Whatever portion of the dead body the fire failed to consume, the worm would soon seize upon and devour. If a person had been condemned to be cast alive into this place, as the wicked will be cast into their Gehenna, what would have been his hope of escape? If the fire could have been speedily quenched before it had taken his life, and the worms which consumed what the fire left, could have been destroyed, he might have had some hope of coming out alive: but if this could not be done, he would know of a surety that his life would soon become extinct, and then even his lifeless remains would be utterly consumed by these agents of destruction.HHMLD 288.1

    This was the scene to which Christ pointed his hearers to represent the doom that awaits the wicked; in order that, as they gazed upon the work of complete destruction going on in the valley of Hinnom, — the worms devouring what the flames spared, — they might learn that in the future Gehenna which awaited them, no part of their being would be exempt from utter and complete destruction, one agent of death completing what another failed to accomplish.HHMLD 288.2

    As the definition of the word ge-enna throws great light on the meaning of this text, so the definition of another term used is equally to the point. The words for “unquenchable fire” are pur-asbeston; and this word, asbeston, primarily means simply “unquenched,” that is, not caused to cease by any external means: the idea of eternal is an outside theological definition which has been brought in and attached to it. Ancient writers used it in this sense. Homer, in the Iliad (xvi, 123, 294), speaks of the Trojans’ hurling “unquenchable fire” upon the Grecian ships, though but one of them was burned by it. And Eusebius, who was a learned Greek, employs the same expression in two instances in recounting the martyrdom of Christians. Cronion and Julian, after being tortured in various ways, were consumed in an “unquenchable fire” (puri asbesto). The same is also said of Epimachus and Alexander. “The pur asbeston,” says Wetstein, “denotes such a fire as cannot be extinguished before it has consumed and destroyed all.”HHMLD 288.3

    Such is the evident meaning of this passage, and the sense in which it must have been understood at the time. It is a most powerful testimony to prove the utter extinction of being. Yet commentators, eighteen hundred years this side of that time, presume to turn this whole representation upside down, and give to the terms a meaning exactly opposite to that which they were intended to convey. That sense alone can be the correct one in which they were first spoken; and concerning that there can be no question.HHMLD 289.1

    There is another text often urged to prove the eternal conscious misery of the wicked. It is one in which fire is mentioned as the instrument used for the punishment of the wicked; and this fire, being called eternal, is understood in the same sense as the unquenchable fire of Mark 9:43. It may therefore properly be examined in this connection.HHMLD 289.2

    Jude 7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in life manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”HHMLD 289.3

    This text, when rightly understood, will, we think, like that in Mark 9, be found to convey a meaning exactly the opposite of that popularly given to it. The sense of the passage appears very evidently to be this: The Sodomites, giving themselves up to their wicked practises, and, as a consequence, suffering an eternal overthrow by fire rained down upon them from heaven, are thus set forth as an example to the ungodly of all coming ages, of the overthrow they will experience if they follow the same course.HHMLD 290.1

    Peter speaks of the same event as an example to the wicked, and tells what effect that fire had upon the cities of the plain. It did not preserve them in the midst of the flame in unceasing torture, but turned them into ashes. He says (2 Peter 2:6): “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.” This language is too plain to need comment. How are the Sodomites made an example? — By being overthrown and turned “into ashes” for their open and presumptuous sins. It is God saying to the wicked of all coming time, Behold, how your sins shall be visited upon you, unless you repent.HHMLD 290.2

    But those fires are not now burning. Seek out the site of those ancient and abandoned cities, and the brackish waters of the Dead Sea will be found rolling their sluggish waves over the spot where they once stood. Those fires are therefore called “eternal,” because their effects are eternal, or age-lasting. They never have recovered, nor will they ever recover while the world stands, from that terrible overthrow.HHMLD 290.3

    And thus this text is very much to the purpose on the question before us; for it declares that the punishment of Sodom is an exact pattern of the future punishment of the wicked; hence that punishment will not be eternal life in the fiery flame, in some invisible dungeon or place of torment, but an utter and open consumption, even as Sodom was consumed, but its resistless vengeance.HHMLD 290.4

    Larger font
    Smaller font
    Copy
    Print
    Contents