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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    THE only remaining texts to be urged in favor of the eternal torment of the wicked, are two passages which are found in the book of the Revelation. The first is Revelation 14:11: “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”MND 267.2

    It is proper first to inquire of whom this is spoken. The question before us relates to the destiny of all the wicked. No text is therefore conclusive on this question, which speaks of only a certain class, or a limited number, of the wicked; for a particular class might for good reasons be set apart to a certain punishment, and that punishment be exceptional in their cases, and not such as awaits the whole race of the guilty. The passage just quoted speaks not of all the wicked, but only of a limited class - the worshipers of the beast and his image. The beast, according to evidence which no Protestant will be disposed to question, means the papal power (Revelation 13:1-10); and the image is to be formed near the close of the career of that power. Revelation 13:14-18; 14:1-5. The text, therefore, embraces only comparatively a small portion of the wicked of the human race. The ancient world, with its teeming millions, and the present heathen world, knowing nothing of this power, are alike exempted from the punishment here brought to view. This text might, therefore, be set aside as inconclusive, since even if it should be admitted to prove eternal torture for some, it does not for all.MND 267.3

    But we claim that no text affirms eternal torment for a single conscious intelligence in all the universe, and hence undertake to show that this passage does not prove it in reference to even the limited class which it brings to view. The expression, “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever,” is the one upon which the doctrine of eternity of suffering is in this case suspended. But the same may be said of this expression that was said in the last chapter in reference to the undying worm and the quenchless fire. It was not new in John’s day, but was borrowed from the Old Testament, and was one which was well understood at that time.MND 268.1

    In Isaiah 34:9, 10, the prophet, speaking of the land of Idumea, says: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day: the smoke thereof shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.” But two applications can be made of this language. Either if refers to the literal land of Edom east and south of Judea, or it is a figure to represent the whole world in the day of final conflagration. In either case it is equally to the point. If the literal land of Idumea is meant, and the language has reference to the desolations which have fallen upon it, then certainly no eternity of duration is implied in the declaration that the smoke thereof shall go up forever. For all the prediction against the land of Idumea have long since been fulfilled, and the judgments have ceased. If it refers to the fires of the last day, when the elements melt with fervent heat, no eternity of duration is even then implied in the expression; for the earth is not to be forever destroyed by the purifying fires of the last day. It is to rise from its ashes, and a new earth come forth purified from all the stains of sin, and free from all the deformity of the curse, to be the everlasting abode of the righteous.MND 268.2

    Here is an instance in which the word “forever,” apply it in either of the only two ways possible, must denote a limited period. And here the Hebrew has olam, and the Septuagint the corresponding Greek word aion, the same as is used in Revelation 14:11; and from this passage in Isaiah, the language in Revelation was probably borrowed. That the words aion and aioniox sometimes denote a limited period, and not invariably one of eternal duration, will appear in the examination of the only remaining text that calls for consideration, namely, Revelation 20:10: “And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.”MND 269.1

    The same limitation is apparent in this text that was observed in the preceding. It does not refer to all the wicked, but speaks only of the Devil, the beast, and the false prophet. The lake of fire, the place and means of their torment, is again mentioned in verse 14; but there it is the symbol of complete and utter destruction. Death and Hades, it says, were cast into the lake of fire, and after this it is said, “There shall be no more death,” Revelation 21:4. Whatever, then, is cast into the lake of fire, after it has wrought its work of destruction upon them, no longer exists. This is the plain inference from what is here asserted respecting death. Then follows the testimony of verse 15, that “whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.” And this makes a final disposition of all who are not saved in the kingdom of heaven.MND 269.2

    There is nothing in the way of this application, unless the words “forever and ever” denote absolutely an eternity of duration. These words are translated in the New Testament from aion and aionios, respecting which the following facts may be stated:-MND 270.1

    Aion is defined by different lexicographers as follows:-MND 270.2

    Greenfield: “Duration, finite or infinite, unlimited duration, eternity, a period of duration past or future, time, age lifetime; the world universe.”MND 270.3

    Schrevelius: “An age, a long period of time; indefinite duration; time, whether longer or shorter.”MND 270.4

    Liddell and Scott: “A space or period of time especially a lifetime, life, aevum; an age, a generation; long space of time, eternity; in plural, eis tous aionas ton aionon, unto ages of ages, forever and ever, N. T. Galatians 1:5-3. later, a space of time clearly defined and marked out, an era age, period of a dispensation: ho aion houtos, this present life, this world.”MND 270.5

    Parkhurst: “Always being. It denotes duration or continuance of time, but with great variety. I. Both in the singular and the plural it signifies eternity, whether past or to come. II. The duration of this world. III. The ages of the world. IV. This present life. V. The world to come. VI. An age, period, or periodical dispensation of divine providence. VII. Aiones seems, in Hebrews 11:3, to denote the various revolution and grand occurrences which have happened in this created system, including also the world itself. Comp. Hebrews 1:2, and Macknight on both texts. Aion in the LXX. generally answers to the Hebrew holam, which denotes time hidden from man, whether indefinite or definite, whether past or future.”MND 271.1

    Robinson: “Duration, the course or flow of time in various relations as determined by the context; viz, (A) For human life, existence. (B) For time indefinite, a period of the world, the world, in Gr. writers, and also in Sept. and N. Testament. (C) For endless duration, perpetuity, eternity.... Sept. mostly for Heb. holam, ‘hidden time,’ duration, eternity. Hence, in N. T. of long continued time, indefinite duration, in accordance with Greek usage, but modified as to construction and extent by the example of the LXX., and the Rabbinic views.”MND 271.2

    Schleusner gives as the first meaning of aion, “a definite and long continued time,“MND 271.3

    Wahl has arranged the definition of aion thus: “(1) Time, unlimited duration, aevum. (2) The universe, mundus. (3) An age, period of the world,” as the Jewish age, Christian age, etc. This reference to Schleusner and Wahl we find in Stuart on Future Punishment, pp.91,93.MND 271.4

    Holam, the Hebrew word which corresponds to the Greek aion, is applied, according to Gesenius, to things which endure for a long time, for an indefinite period. It is applied to the Jewish priesthood, to the Mosaic ordinances, to the possession of the land of Canaan, to the hills and mountains, to the earth, to the time of service to be rendered by a slave, and to some other things of a like nature. - Stuart, p.72.MND 272.1

    Cruden, in his Unabridged Concordance, under the word “eternal,” says:-MND 272.2

    “The words, ‘eternal, everlasting, and forever’ are sometimes taken for a long time, and are not always to be understood strictly. Thus, ‘Thou shalt be our guide from this time forth even forever,’ that is, during our whole life. And in many other places of Scripture, and in particular when the word ‘forever’ is applied to the Jewish rites and privileges, it commonly signifies no more than during the standing of that commonwealth, until the coming of the Messiah.”MND 272.3

    Dr. Clarke places in our hands a key to the interpretation of the words “forever’ and “forever and ever,” which is adapted to every instance of their use. According to his rule, they are to be taken to mean as long as a thing, considering the surrounding circumstances, can exist. And he illustrates this in his closing remarks on 2 Kings 5, where, speaking of the curse of the leprosy pronounced upon Gehazi forever, he says:-MND 272.4

    “Some have thought, because of the prophet’s curse, ‘The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and to thy seed forever,’ that there are persons still alive who are this man’s descendants, and afflicted with this horrible disease. Mr. Maundrell, when he was in Judea, made diligent inquiry concerning this, but could not ascertain the truth of the supposition. To me it appears absurd; the denunciation took place in the posterity of Gehazi till it should become extinct; and under the influence of this disorder, this must soon have taken place. The forever implies as long as any of his posterity should remain. This is the import of the word, leolam. It takes in the whole extent of duration of the thing to which it is applied. The forever of Gehazi was till his posterity became extinct.”MND 272.5

    The word aionios is derived from aion, and its general meaning may be determined from the definitions given above to the latter word.MND 273.1

    That these words are frequently applied to the existence of divine beings, and the future happiness of the saints, is true; and that in these cases they denote eternal duration is equally evident; yet, according to the definition of the words and the rule laid down by Dr. Clarke, that eternal duration could not be made out by the use of these words alone. They denote duration or continuation of time, the length of that duration being determined by the nature of the objects to which they are applied. When applied to things, which we know from other declaration of the Scriptures are to have no end, they signify an eternity of being; but when applied to things which are to end, they are correspondingly limited in their meaning. That the existence of God and the future happiness of the righteous are to be absolutely eternal, we are abundantly assured by scriptures which applied to these they therefore signify a period of duration which is never to end. Just as plainly are we assured that the existence of the wicked is at last to cease in the second death; and when applied to this, the words aion and aionios, must be limited according to their signification. Overlooking this plain principle of interpretation, Prof. Stuart (p.89) comes to this erroneous conclusion respecting these words, because they are applied alike to the sufferings of the lost and the happiness of the saved, that “we are under no such necessity. The words aion and aionios, according to Dr. Clarke, cover the whole of the existence of the two classes in their respective spheres, and that only. The one is, after a season of suffering and anguish, to come to an end; the other is to go on in bliss to all eternity.MND 273.2

    So when it is said that the beast and the false prophet, and they who worship the beast and his image, are to be tormented day and night forever and ever, we must understand this expression to cover only the duration of their future existence beyond the grave. If we are anywhere given to understand by other scriptures and by other terms which are more rigid in their meaning, that this is to be eternal, the terms must here be so understood; if not, we have no warrant for so defining them here.MND 274.1

    That the forever and ever, eis tous aionas toll aionon, of the suffering of the wicked, denotes a period of long duration, there is no question; and it may be much longer that any have been disposed to conceive who deny its eternity; yet it is to come to an end, not by their restoration to God’s favor, but by the extinction of that life which has in it no immortality, and because they have refused to accept of the (zoe) life freely offered to them, which is to continue through ages without end.MND 274.2

    We have now examined all the more prominent passages which are urged in favor of the eternal suffering of the lost. Though others may by some be brought forward to prove this doctrine, we may safely take the position that, if it is not proved by those we have examined, it cannot be proved by any in all the Bible; for these use the strongest terms, and are most explicit in their nature. And of these how many are there? - Five in all. Those who have never before examined this subject, will perhaps be surprised to learn how small is the number of such texts. And should they take into the account every text which is thought to have even the slightest semblance of proving the immortality of the lost, it would not be calculated to abate that surprise to any great degree.MND 274.3

    It now remains that we examine those texts, more in number, and more explicit in statement, which prove that the wicked shall be at last as though they had not been.MND 275.1

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