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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    29 THE WAGES OF SIN

    One question,ore than others all,
    From thoughtful minds implores reply;
    It is, as breathed from star and pall,
    What fate awaits us when we die? -Alger.
    MND 247.2

    WE have now examined the teaching of the Bible relative to man, in his creation in his life, in his death, and in the intermediate state to his resurrection; and we have found its uniform and explicit testimony to be that he has no inherent, inalienable principle in his nature which is exempt from death; but that the only avenue to life beyond the grave is through the resurrection. We have found also that such a resurrection to a second life is decreed for all the race; and now the more momentous question, what the issue of that existence is to be, presents itself for solution.MND 247.3

    Natural, or temporal, death we die in Adam. This death visits all alike, irrespective of character. The sincerest saint falls under its power as inevitably as the most reckless sinner. This cannot be our final end; for it would not be in accordance with justice that our ultimate fate should hinge on a transaction, like the sin of Adam, for which we are not responsible. Every person must be the arbiter of his own destiny. To secure this, the redemption which intervenes through Christ, provides for all a release from the death entailed upon us by the Adamic transgression, in order that every person’s individual acts may constitute the record which shall determine his destiny beyond the grave. What is that destiny to be?MND 248.1

    Our inquiry respects, not the future of the righteous, concerning which there is no material controversy, but that of the sinner. Is his fate an eternity of life in a devouring fire which is forever unable to devour him? an eternal approach of death which never really arrives?MND 248.2

    Blinded by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, two opposite conclusions are reached by those who connect this doctrine with two different classes of Scripture declarations. For one class, reading that the punishment of the sinner is to be eternal, and holding that man has an inherent immortality which can never be alienated, at once comes to the terrible conclusion of an eternity of conscious suffering, an eternal hell, as taught by Augustine. Another, connecting it with the declarations that God’s anger shall not always burn against the wicked, but that a time comes when every intelligence in the universe, in the plenitude of joy, is heard ascribing honor, and blessing, and praise to God, speedily reaches the conclusion of universal restoration as taught of Origen. And if the doctrine of the immortality of the soul be a scriptural doctrine, then the Scriptures are found supporting these two diametrically opposite conclusions.MND 248.3

    We have seen that the Scriptures do not teach any such inherent immortality as is claimed for man; this, therefore, cannot fetter us in our investigation of this question. God can continue the existence of the wicked to all eternity after the resurrection, if he so chooses; but if so, the doctrine must rest on explicit statements of the Scriptures to that effect. Paul says plainly that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); and as we do not receive wages for the work of another, this must be a declaration of what will result to every individual for a course of sin; and before this can be made to mean eternal life in misery, the present constitution of language must be destroyed, and new definitions be given to established terms. We hold this declaration of Paul’s, on which we take our stand, to be the true ground between the errors above mentioned, and it is one which not only harmonizes all the Bible on this question, but which has abundance of positive testimony in its favor.MND 249.1

    1. The future punishment threatened to the wicked is to be eternal in its duration. The establishment of this proposition of course overthrows the universal restoration of Origen; and the nature of this punishment, involving a state of death, overthrows alike the restoration view of Origen, and the eternal hell of Augustine.MND 249.2

    One “Thus saith the Lord” is sufficient for the establishment of any doctrine. One such we offer in support of the proposition now before us. Speaking of the reprobate, Christ says, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment,” and immediately adds concerning the righteous, “but the righteous, into life eternal.” Here the same Greek word, aionios, is used to express the duration of these opposite states. If, as must be admitted, the word expresses unending duration in the case of the righteous, it must mean the same in that of the wicked.MND 250.1

    To the same end we might refer to the words of Christ on two other occasions: John 3:36; Matthew 26:24. In the first of these passages he says: “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life;” that is eternal life. But if, after a certain period of suffering, such persons are released from that state by a restoration to God’s favor, this declaration could not be true. In the second, he speaks of some of whom he says that it would be good for them if they had not been born. And this utterly precludes the idea that they should ever be released to enter the bliss of heaven; for the first moment of such release would make amends for all past suffering; and throughout eternity they would praise God that they had been born.MND 250.2

    The punishment of the wicked, alike with the reward of the righteous, is therefore to be eternal. Two unending conditions are held out to men, and between the two they have the privilege in this life of choosing.MND 250.3

    2. In what will the eternal state of the wicked consist? Before presenting an argument to show that it is death in the literal sense, it may be necessary to notice the few passages of Scripture which are put forth as evidence that it is eternal misery.MND 250.4

    1. Daniel 12:2: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The shame spoken of in this text is coupled by the objector with the contempt, and claimed to be like that, everlasting; and if the shame which is an emotion to be exercised by the individuals themselves, is to be eternal, they must be awakened to everlasting life and consciousness.MND 251.1

    The fact that they are raised to shame proves indeed that they have a veritable resurrection to life and consciousness, and that this is no figure of speech which is applied to them. But the reader will notice that the shame is not said, like the contempt, to be everlasting. Contempt is not an emotion which they feel; they are not raised to the contempt of themselves; but it is an emotion felt by others toward them; and this does not imply the consciousness of those against whom it is directed, inasmuch as contempt may be felt for them as well after they have passed from the stage of consciousness as before. The Syriac sustains this idea. It reads, “Some to shame and the eternal contempt of their companions.” And thus it will be. Shame for their wickedness and corruption will burn into their very souls, so long as they have conscious being. And when they pass away, consumed for their iniquities, their loathsome characters and their guilty deeds excite only contempt on the part of the righteous, unmodified and unabated, so long as they hold them in remembrance at all. The text, therefore, furnishes no proof of the eternal suffering of the wicked.MND 251.2

    2. Matthew 25:41: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels.” What is here said to be everlasting? Wicked men? - The Devil? - No. His angels? - No. But only the fire. And how can the application of this term to the fire prove the indestructibility and eternal life of those who are cast therein? It may be answered. What propriety could there be in keeping up the fire everlastingly, if its victims were not to be eternally the objects of its power? And we reply, This word is sometimes used to denote the results and not the continuance of the process. Everlasting fire may not be fire which is everlastingly burning, but fire which produces results which are everlasting in their nature. The victims cast therein will be consumed, and if from that destruction they are never to be released, if the fiery work is never to be undone, it is to them an everlasting fire. This will appear more fully when we come to speak of the “eternal fire” through which God’s vengeance was visited on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.MND 251.3

    There are several passages of scripture in which the same word, aionios, is unquestionably used in this sense. In Hebrews 5:9 we read of “eternal salvation;” that is, a salvation which is eternal or everlasting in its results, not one which is forever going on, but never accomplished. In Heb. 26: Paul speaks of “eternal judgment;” not judgment which is eternally going forward, but one which, having once passed upon all men (Acts 17:31), is irreversible in its decisions and eternal in its effects. In Hebrews 9:12 he speaks in the same way of “eternal redemption,” not a redemption through which we are eternally approaching a redeemed state which we never reach, but a redemption which releases us for all eternity from the power of sin and death. It would be just as proper to speak of the saints as always redeeming, but never redeemed, as to speak of the sinner as always consuming, but never consumed, or always dying, but never dead. This fire is prepared for the Devil and his angels, and will be shared by all of the human race who choose to follow the Devil in his accursed rebellion against the government of Heaven. It will be to them an everlasting fire; for once having plunged into its fiery vortex, there is no life beyond. Other texts are noticed in the following chapters.MND 252.1

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