Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
ERRONEOUSNESS OF POPULAR BELIEF
This follows as a conclusion from what has gone before. If the dead are really dead-in the absolute sense contended for in this lecture-of course they cannot have gone to any state of reward or punishment, because they are not alive to go.
We might well leave the matter in this position, as an inevitable conclusion from the premises established, but its grave importance justifies us in carrying the matter further. The belief in question is not only erroneous in supposing that the dead go to such places as the popular heaven or hell, immediately after death, but, in thinking that they ever go there at any time.
According to the religious teaching of the present day, the place of final reward is a region beyond the stars-remote from the farthest limit of God's universe, "beyond the realms of time and space." The ideas entertained concerning the nature of this place are very vague. So far as they take shape, whether in picture or in discourse, they take their cue from the earth. Hence, "The plains of Heaven." In these "plains" the inhabitants are generally represented as singing a perpetual song of praise. The numbers are supposed to be constantly recruited by arrivals from the earth "below." A man dies, and according to orthodox idea, the liberated soul flies with inconceivable rapidity to the realms above, safely installed in which, bereaved friends console themselves with the idea that the dead are "not lost, but gone before." Friends think of them as better off in that "happy land, far, far, away," than they were in this vale of tears.
Doubtless if it was true, that they were gone to a happy land, the contemplation of their state would be consoling. Whether true or not, it must strike every reflecting mind as an exceedingly discordant element in the case that the righteous after enjoying years of celestial felicity, should have to leave the abode of their bliss, on the arrival of the day of judgment, come down to earth, reenter their bodies for arraignment at the bar of eternal judgment. What is this judgment, "according to what they have done," for? It seems natural to suppose that admission into heaven in the first instance is proof of the fitness and acceptance of those admitted. Why, then, the trial afterwards? Judgment in such a case seems a mockery. The same remark applies to those who are supposed to have gone to the place of woe.
What is the escape from this distracting inconsistency? It is to be found in the recognition of the unfounded character of the whole heaven going idea of popular religion. This going to heaven is a purely gratuitous speculation. There is not a single promise throughout the whole of the Scriptures to warrant a man in hoping for it. There are, doubtless, phrases which, to a mind previously indoctrined with the idea, seem to afford countenance to it, such, for instance, as that used by Peter (1st Epistle, chap. i, v. 4): "An inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you;" of which also we have an illustration in the words of Christ (Matt. v, 12): "For great is your reward in heaven;" and more particularly in his exhortation to "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust cloth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."
But the countenance which these phrases seemingly afford to the popular idea, disappears entirely when we realise they express an aspect of the Christian hope, viz., its present aspect. God's salvation is not now on earth; indeed, it is not yet an accomplished fact anywhere, except in the person of Christ. It merely exists in the divine mind as a purpose, and, in detail, that purpose is specially related to those whom Jehovah foreknowingly contemplates as the "saved," who are said to be "written in the book," that is, inscribed in the book of His remembrance (Malachi iii, 16). Therefore the only localisation of reward, at present, is in heaven, to which the eye instinctively turns as the source of its promised manifestation. This is especially the case when it is taken into account that Jesus, the pledge of that reward, yea, the very germ thereof, is in heaven. In his being there, who is our life, the undefiled inheritance at present is there; for it exists in him in purpose, in guarantee, and in germ. It has no other kind of existence anywhere else at present; but it is only in heaven in "reserve;" "reserved in heaven," is Peter's phrase. When a thing is "reserved," it implies that when it is wanted, it will be brought forth. And thus it is that Peter speaks in the very same chapter. He says the salvation that is reserved in heaven is a "salvation that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter i, 13). We shall see in future lectures that it is not bestowed upon any until its manifestation at "the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ," of whom it is said that "His reward is WITH HIM" (Rev. xxii, 12; Isaiah xl, 10).
The phrases in question indicate in a general way that "Salvation cometh from the Lord"; and, the Lord being in heaven, it cometh from heaven; and, being yet unmanifested, can properly be said to be at present in heaven. But, on the specific question of whether men go to heaven or not, the evidence is conclusive, as showing that no son of Adam's race is offered entrance to the holy and inaccessible precincts of the residence of the Deity. "God dwelleth in light which no man can approach unto" (I Tim. vi, 16). The emphatic declaration of Christ is, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven" (John iii, 13).
Agreeably to this declaration, we have no record in the Scriptures of anyone having entered heaven. Elijah was removed from the earth; so was Enoch; but Christ's statement forbids us to suppose that they were conducted to the "heaven of heavens "which" is the Lord's." The statement that they went "into heaven" does not necessarily imply that they went to the abode of the Most High. "Heaven" is used in a general sense as designating the firmament over our heads, which we know is a wide expanse, while "the heaven of heavens" points to the region inhabited by Deity. If it be asked, Where are they? The answer is, No one knows; because there is no testimony on the subject beyond that of Christ's, which proves that they did not go to the heaven of which he was speaking.
And especially is it true that there is no record in the Scriptures of any dead man having gone to heaven. The record is the other way-that the dead are in their graves, knowing nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing, awaiting that call from oblivion which is promised by resurrection. Of David it is specifically declared that he has not attained to the sky translation which in funeral sermons is affirmed of every righteous soul. And David, remember, was "a man after God's own heart," and certain, therefore, of admission into heaven at death, if anybody were. Peter says:-
This is emphatic enough. If you say Peter is speaking of David's body, then it proves that Peter recognized David's body as David, and the departed life as the property of God taken back again. Again, let Paul speak of the "great cloud of witnesses," who have passed away-the faithful saints of old times, who are supposed to be before the throne of God, "inheriting the promises," and he tells us:-
And in the same chapter, verses 39-40, he repeats:-
Let us now consult those cases in which consolation is administered in the Scriptures in reference to the dead. You know the doctrines which are enforced with such peculiar urgency by the religious teachers of the present day, when they have to discourse of the departed, such as in the funeral sermons, by way of "improving the occasion." You will find a great contrast to these in Scriptural cases of consolation concerning the dead. When Martha told Jesus that Lazarus was dead, he did not tell her he was better where he was. He said (John xi, 23), "Thy brother shall rise again."
When death had removed some of the Thessalonian believers, the survivors, who had evidently calculated upon their living until the coming of the Lord, were filled with sorrow. In this condition, Paul writes to comfort them. Suppose a minister of the present day had had the duty to perform, what would have been his language? "You must rejoice, my friends, for those who are dead, for they are gone to glory. They are delivered from the trials and vexations of this life, and are promoted to a felicity they could never experience in this vale of tears. It is selfish of you to grieve, you ought rather to be glad that they have reached the haven of eternal rest."
But what says Paul? Does he tell them their friends are happy in heaven? This was the time to say so if it were true, but no; his words are:-
The second coming of Christ and the resurrection are the events to which Paul directs their minds for consolation. If it be true that the righteous go to their reward immediately after death, Paul would certainly have suggested such a consolation, instead of referring to the remote, and (in the orthodox view) comparatively unattractive event of the resurrection. The fact that he does not do so, is circumstantial proof that it is not true.
The earth we inhabit is the destined arena in which Jehovah's great salvation will be manifested. Here, subsequently to the resurrection, will the reward be conferred and enjoyed. There is no point more clearly established than this by the specific language of Scripture testimony. Old and New Testaments agree. Solomon declares, "Behold the righteous shall be recompensed IN THE EARTH" (Prov. xi, 31).
In Psalm xxxvii, 911, the Spirit, speaking through David, says:-
Some corroboration is to be drawn from the following promise to Christ, of which his people are fellow-heirs with him:-
In celebrating the approaching possession of this great inheritance, the redeemed are represented as singing:-
And the end of the present dispensation is announced in these words:-
Finally, the angel of the Most High God, in announcing to Daniel, the prophet, the same consummation of things, says:-
Without going into the particular question involved in these passages of Scripture, which will be considered afterwards, it is sufficient to remark that they unmistakably prove that it is on the earth that we are to look for the development of that divine programme of events, so clearly indicated in the Scriptures of truth, which is to result in "glory to God in the highest. and ON EARTH peace, goodwill toward men."
DESTINY OF THE WICKED
If we seek for information on this question at the religious systems, we shall be told of an unfathomable abyss of fire, filled with malignant spirits of horrid shape, in which are reserved the most exquisite torments for those who have been displeasing to God in their mortal state. In the foreground of the lurid picture we shall see cursing fiends mocking the damned; men and women wringing their hands in eternal despair; and stretching away on all sides, and down to the deepest depth, a weltering ocean of blackness, fire, and horrible confusion. We shall be told that God, in His eternal counsels of wisdom and mercy, has decreed this awful triumph of Devilry!
Do we believe it? There are certain elementary truths, that. by an almost intuitive logic, exclude the possibility of its being true. If God is the merciful Being of order, and justice, and harmony, exhibited in the Scriptures, how is it possible that, with all His foreknowledge and omnipotence, He can permit ninetenths of the human race to come into existence with no other destiny than to be tortured? The Calvanistic theory has, of course, its answer, but its answer is mere words, it does not touch, or alter, or even soften the difficulty, the difficulty-the dreadful difficulty-remains to agonize the believing mind that really grasps what the popular idea of hell torments means. The effect on the majority of reflecting minds is disastrous, in a too easy revolt against the Scriptures.
Rather than believe such a doctrine, most men reject the Bible altogether, and even dispense with God from their creed, and take refuge in the calm, if cheerless, doctrines of Rationalism. This is what many are driven to, in unfortunate ignorance of the fact that the Bible is not responsible for the doctrine. It is a pagan fiction. It ought to be known, for the comfort of all who have been perplexed with the awful dogma, and who have yet hesitated to renounce it, in fear of being also compelled to cast aside the Word of God, that it is as thoroughly unscriptural as it is distressingly dreadful.
The whole teaching of the Bible in regard to the destiny of the wicked is summed up in four words from the 37th Psalm, verse 20, "The wicked shall PERISH." Paul gives the explanation of this in Rom. vi, 23: "The wages of sin is DEATH." Death, the extinction of being, is the predetermined issue of a sinful course. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. vi, 8). That reaping corruption is equivalent to death, is evident from Rom. viii, 13: "If ye live after the flesh ye shall DIE." Corruption results in death, so that the one is equal to the other.
The righteous die, as well as the wicked; therefore, it is argued, there must be some other than physical death. The answer is that the death that all men die is not a judicial death-not the final death to be dealt to those who are responsible to judgment. Ordinary death but closes a man's mortal career. There is a SECOND death-final and destructive. The unjust are to be brought forth, at Christ's appearing, for judicial arraignment, and their sentence is, that, after the infliction of such punishment as may be merited, they shall, a second time, by violent and divinely wielded agency, be destroyed in death. To this Jesus refers, when he says, "He that loses his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it; but he that (in the present life) saveth his life, shall (at the resurrection) LOSE IT" (in the second death). All the phraseology of Scripture is in agreement on this subject.
We read in Malachi iv, 1:-
Again, in II Thess. i, 9:-
The Spirit of God by Solomon in the Proverbs uses the following language:-
And again, Prov. ii, 22:-
Zophar gives the following emphatic testimony:-
David employs the following graphic figure to the same purport:-
And we read in Ps. xlix, 6-20:-
Of their final state we read in Isaiah xxvi, 14:-
The teaching of these testimonies is selfelucidatory; it is expressed with a clearness of language that leaves no room for comment. It is the doctrine expressed by Solomon when he says: "the name of the wicked shall rot" (Prov. x, 7). The wicked, who are an offence to God, and an affliction to themselves, and of no use to anyone, will ultimately be consigned to oblivion, in which their very name will be forgotten. They do not escape punishment; but of this, and of those passages which seem to favour the popular doctrine, we shall treat in the next lecture.
It may seem to the reader that the word "hell" as employed in the Bible, presents an obstacle to the views advanced in this lecture. If the Greek word so translated carried with it the idea represented to the popular mind in its short, pithy Saxon form, the popular view would be capable of demonstration, for the word is frequent enough in the Bible, and is used in connection with the destiny of the wicked. But the original word does not carry with it the idea popularly associated with the word "hell." The original word has no affinity with its modern use. One does not require to be a scholar to see this. A due familiarity with the English Bible will carry conviction on the point, though conviction is undoubtedly strengthened by a knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew. What, for instance, has the orthodox believer to say to the following:-
It is but necessary to ask if men's immortal souls take swords and guns with them when they "go to hell?" This may sound irreverent, but it shows the bearing of the passage. The hell of the Bible is a place to which military accoutrements may accompany the wearer. The nature and locality of this hell may be gathered from a statement only five verses before the passage quoted. "Asshur is there and all her company; his graves are about him, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, whose graves are set in the sides of the pit, and her company is round about HER GRAVE." The references point to the Eastern mode of sepulture, in which a pit or cave was used for burial-the bodies of the dead being deposited in niches cut in the wall. As a mark of military honour, soldiers were buried with their weapons, their swords being laid under their heads. They went down to "HELL with their weapons of war."
It will be seen that hell is synonymous with the grave. This is proved, so far at least as the Old Testament is concerned. The original word is sheol, which, in the abstract, means nothing more than a concealed or covered place. It is, therefore, an appropriate designation for the grave, in which a man is for ever concealed from view. Every use of the word hell in the Old Testament, will fall under this general explanation. As regards the New Testament, there is the same simplicity and absence of difficulty. The original word is, of course, different being Greek instead of Hebrew; it is in nearly all cases, hades. That hades is equal to the Hebrew word sheol is shown by its employment as an equivalent for it in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Hebrew Scriptures; and also in its use by the writers of the New Testament when they quote verses from the Old Testament where sheol occurs in the Hebrew. For instance, in David's prophecy of the resurrection of Christ cited by Peter on the day of Pentecost ("Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell" a.v.), the word in Hebrew is sheol, and in Greek hades. In this instance, hell simply and literally means the grave, in view of which, we see the point of Peter's argument. Understood as the orthodox hell, there is no point in it at all; for the resurrection of the body has no point of connection with the escape of a so-called immortal soul from the abyss of popular superstition. A similar consideration arises upon I Cor. xv, 55; "O grave (hades), where is thy victory?" This is the exclamation of the righteous in reference to resurrection, as anyone may see on consulting the context. Our translators, perceiving this, instead of rendering hades by "hell," have given us the more suitable word "grave"; but if hades may be translated "grave" here, it may, of course, be translated so anywhere else.
There is another word translated hell, which does not mean the grave, but which at the same time affords as little countenance to orthodox belief as hades. That word is Gehenna. It occurs in the following passages: Matt. v, 22, 29, 30; x, 28; xviii, 9; xxiii, 15, 33; Mark ix, 43, 45, 47; Luke xii, 5; Jas. iii, 6. The word ought not to be translated at all. It is a proper name, and like all other proper names, should only have been transliterated. It is a Greek compound signifying the valley of the Son of Hinnom. Calmet in his Bible Dictionary, defining it, has the following:-
The valley was used in ancient times for the worship of Moloch, in which Israel, lamentably misguided, offered their children to the heathen god of that name. Josiah in his zeal against idolatry, gave the valley over to pollution, and appointed it as a repository of the filth of the city. It became the receptacle of rubbish in general, and received the carcases of men and beasts. To consume the rubbish and prevent pestilence, fires were kept perpetually burning in it. In the days of Jesus it was the highest mark of ignominy that the council of the Jews could inflict, to order a man to be buried in Gehenna. In one of Jeremiah's prophecies of Jewish restoration, the obliteration of this valley of dishonour is predicted in the following words:
This is the Gehenna to which the rejected are to be given over at the judgment. That it should be translated "hell," and thus made to favour popular delusion, is simply due to the opinion of the translators that ancient Gehenna was a type of the hell of their creed. There is no true ground for this assumption. It is the assumption upon which Calmet's remarks are based, notwithstanding his knowledge of the subject. He was of the orthodox school, and makes the common orthodox mistake of begging the question to begin with. Let the orthodox hell be proved first before Gehenna is used in the argument. If it is a type of anything, it must be interpreted as a type rather of the judgment revealed, than of one imagined. And the orthodox "hell" is mere imagination, based on Pagan speculations on futurity.
The judgment revealed is indeed related to the locality of Gehenna and is one that will take the same form as regards circumstance and result. "They (who come to worship at Jerusalem in the future age, Is. Ixvi, 20-23) shall go forth and look upon the carcases 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" (v. 24). The reader will observe a similarity between these words and the words of Christ in Mark ix, 44-48 -- "Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."
These words are frequently quoted in support of eternal torments, but they really disprove them. In the first place, the undying worm and the unquenchable fire must be admitted to be symbolical expressions. The worm is an agent of corruption ending in death. Fire is a means to the same end, but by a more summary process. When, therefore, they are said to be unarrestable in their action, it must be taken to indicate that destruction will be accomplished without remedy. The expression cannot mean immortal worms or absolutely inextinguishable fire.
A limited sense to an apparently absolute expression is frequently exemplified throughout the Scriptures. In Jer. vii, 20 Jehovah says, His anger should be poured out upon Jerusalem, and should "burn and should not be quenched." He says also in Jer. xvii, 27, "I will kindle a fire in the gates of Jerusalem, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, and it shall not be quenched." This does not mean that the fire with reference to itself should never go out, but that in relation to the object of its operation, it should not be quenched till the operation was accomplished. A fire was kindled in Jerusalem, and only went out when Jerusalem was burned to the ground. So also God's anger burned against Israel, until it burnt them out of the land, driving them out of His sight; but Isaiah speaks of a time when God's anger will cease in the destruction of the enemy (chap. x, 25).
The same principle is illustrated in the 21st chapter of Ezekiel, verses 3, 4, 5, where Jehovah states that his sword will go forth out of its sheath against all flesh, and shall no more return. It is not necessary to say that in the consummation of God's purpose, His loving kindness will triumph over all exhibitions of anger, which have for their object the extirpation of evil. In the absolute sense, therefore, His sword of vengeance will return to its sheath, but not in the sense of failing to accomplish its purpose. So that the worm that preys upon the wicked will disappear when the last enemy, death, is destroyed, and the fire that consumes their corrupt remains will die with the fuel it feeds on; but in relation to the wicked themselves, the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. The expressions were borrowed from Gehenna, where the flame was fed, and the worm sustained, by the putrid accumulations of the valley.
The statement in Matt. xxv, 46 is more apparently in favour of the popular doctrine, but not more really so when examined. "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal." Even taken as it stands in the English version, this does not define the nature of the punishment which is to fall on the wicked, but only affirms its perpetuity. The nature of it is elsewhere described as death and destruction. Why should this be called "aionion" (translated "everlasting")? Aionion is the adjective form of aion, age, and expresses the idea of belonging to the age. Understood in this way, the statement only proves that at the resurrection, the wicked will be punished with the punishment characteristically pertaining to the age of Christ's advent, which Paul declares to be "everlasting DESTRUCTION from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (II Thess. i, 9). The righteous receive the life related to the same dispensation-a life which Paul declares to be immortality (I Cor. xv, 53).
It is usual to quote, in support of the eternal torments, a statement from the Apocalypse, "They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev. xiv, 11; xx, 10). On the face of it, this form of speech does lend countenance to the popular idea, but we must not be satisfied with looking on the face of it in this instance, because the statement forms part of a symbolical vision, which has to be construed mystically in harmony with the principle of interpretation supplied in the vision. If Apocalyptic torment "for ever and ever" is literal, then the beast, the woman with the golden cup, the lamb with the seven horns and seven eyes, are literal also. Is the orthodox believer prepared for this? Surely, Christ is not in the shape of a sevenhorned lamb, or a man with a sword in his mouth; surely, the false Church is not a literal prostitute, or the Church's persecutor a literal wild boar of the woods. If these are symbolical, the things affirmed of them are symbolical also, and torment (or judicial infliction, for this is the idea of basanizo, the Greek word), "for ever and ever" is the symbol of the complete and resistless, and final triumph of God's destroying judgment over the things represented.
Failing Scriptural evidence, the orthodox believer takes refuge among "the ancient Egyptians, the Persians, Phoenicians, Scythians, Druids, Assyrians, Romans, Greeks, etc.," and among "the wisest and most celebrated philosophers on record." All these people-the superstitious and darkminded heathen of every land, the founders of the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God-all these believed in the immortality of the soul, and, therefore, the immortality of the soul is true!
Logic extraordinary! One would think that the opinion of the ignorant and superstitious in favour of the immortality of the soul would be rather against, than for, the likelihood of its being true. The Bible does not rate our ancestors very highly as regards their views and ways in religious things. Paul speaks of the period prior to the preaching of the Gospel (and referring to Gentile nations), as "the times of this IGNORANCE." (Acts xvii, 30). Of the wisdom which men had educed for themselves through the reasonings of "the wisest and most celebrated philosophers," he says, "Hath not God made FOOLISH the wisdom of this world?" "The wisdom of this world is FOOLISHNESS with God" (I Cor. i, 20: iii, 19). Wise men will prefer being on Paul's side.
The orthodox believer glories in the wisdom of ancient philosophy and paganism, which Paul pronounces foolishness. What can we do but stand with Paul? Paul says that immortality was brought to light by Christ in the Gospel (II Tim. i, 10). If so, how can we believe in the version of it put forward by the "wisest and most celebrated philosophers," centuries before Christ appeared, and whose wisdom Paul, speaking by the Spirit, pronounces "foolishness"? Either Christ brought the truth of the matter to light, or he did not. If he did, the doctrines before his time were darkness; if the doctrines before his time (rejoiced in by the orthodox believer) were not darkness, but light, then Christ did not bring the truth to light in the Gospel, for in that case it was brought to light before the gospel was preached.
But many who were once orthodox are losing their orthodoxy, and are beginning to see that the teaching of the Bible is one thing and popular religion another. The following extract, from a work published in America ("The Theology of the Bible," by Judge Halsted), will illustrate this:-
Yes, the Bible and the seminaries are at variance on this important subject. The seminaries light up the future of the wicked with a lurid horror, which the worthy of mankind even now feel to be a great drawback from the satisfaction of the prospects of the righteous. How can there be perfect joy and gladness with the knowledge that fierce Despair reigns among tormented millions in another place? The Bible gives us a glorious future unmarred by such a blot. It exhibits a future free from evil-a future of glory and everlasting joy to the righteous, and of oblivion to all the unworthy of mankind-a future in which the wisdom of God combines the glory of His name with the highest happiness of the whole surviving human race.
The Dead Unconscious, The Resurrection,
and Consequent Error of Popular Belief
In Heaven and Hell