Manual of Theology
by John Dagg, 1857
Section 8. Doctrine Concerning the ETERNAL WORLD
Duty of Preparing For The Future World. (Amos 4:12; 2 Cor 4:18)
The people of God have ever been strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Though in the world, they are not of the world; and, both by their professions and their deportment, they declare plainly, that they seek another country, as their final home. Hence, they walk not according to the course of this world, and are deaf to its enticements, and appear to have their eyes fixed on objects that the world sees not. So Moses endured, as seeing him who is invisible (Heb 11:27). So he turned his back on the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt, and had respect unto the recompense of the reward, to be obtained in the future world. So patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, have lived for eternity, and have left their testimony to mankind, that they were not of this world, and that their treasure, their hearts, and their final home to which they journeyed, were in Heaven. These examples call on us for imitation, and, if we possess the wisdom and spirit by which they were actuated, we too shall make it the business of our lives, to prepare for the future world.
The precepts of revelation call on us to prepare for eternity. "Prepare to meet your God." "Set your affections on things above." (Col 3:2) "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Mat 6:19-21) "O that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end." (Deu 32:29) All revelation calls as with one voice, as with a voice from Heaven, a voice of warning, expostulation, and earnest entreaty, to quit this perishing world, to flee from the wrath to come, to lay hold on eternal life, and to seek a continuing city, an enduring portion, in the world to come. With reference to this future world, every duty is enjoined, every promise made, every motive presented, and he whose eye is not steadfastly fixed on that world, has no reason to hope that he will secure the inheritance of the saints.
Since the motives to holiness, and to diligence in the pursuit of it, are drawn so abundantly from the future world, a knowledge of that world is of great importance to all men. Every man knows that the time of his continuance on earth is short and uncertain; and while fully assured that he must leave this world, and that the time of his departure is just at hand, to make no inquiry concerning the world to which he is going, or to disregard authentic information concerning it, and the means of obtaining happiness there, is folly in the extreme. It is therefore wise to study the doctrine concerning the future world, and to study it as a subject of momentous personal interest. At every step in our progress, we should ask, how does this truth affect my heart? Am I so running, as to obtain? Are my prospects clear? Ought I not to renew my diligence, and to seek more earnestly the guidance and help needed, that I may finish my course with joy?
Chapter I. Immortality and Separate State of the Soul
WHEN THE HUMAN BODY DIES, THE SOUL, WHICH IS IMMORTAL, CONTINUES TO EXIST IN A SEPARATE STATE. (Luke 16:22, 23; 23:43; Mat 22:31, 32; Luke 20:37, 38; Rev 14:13; Heb 12:23; 2 Cor 5:6, 8; Philippians 1:23; 1 Thess 5:10; Ecc 12:7)
When the body dies, the atoms of which it consisted are not annihilated; but they separate from each other, and continue to exist in a different state, or in new combinations. The mind, which had previously existed in connection with the body, and had, in that connection, exhibited phenomena, superior to matter, and peculiar to mind, now disappears, and no longer manifests itself as formerly. Though it has disappeared, analogy suggests, that it has not been annihilated. The same philosophy that teaches the indestructibility of the atoms which compose the body, gives its sanction to the doctrine, that the soul is immortal. As the soul is not a compound substance, like the body, it is not susceptible of decomposition, and, therefore, if it continues to exist, it must exist entire, with the properties peculiar to it.
Though philosophy gives its sanction to the doctrine of the soul's immortality, it arrives at the truth through so many perplexing difficulties, that it grasps it finally with but a feeble faith. Plants are bodies of peculiar organization; and are endowed with vitality, either arising from, or connected with, their organization. Brute animals possess organized bodies, endowed with vitality, and, in connection with this vitality, properties are exhibited, which resemble those of the human mind. In surveying the order of beings, from the most imperfect plant, through the rising scale, up to man, the most exalted of animals, philosophy asks, whether man alone is immortal. This question, with which philosophy is embarrassed, natural religion comes in to answer. The moral faculty of man, and its adaptedness to religion, separate him widely from all other animals, and justify the conclusion that he alone, of all the creatures that inhabit the earth, is destined to immortality.
Philosophy and natural religion have, after all, only an obscure view of this important truth. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Divine revelation was needed, to make the truth clear; and that revelation, in the light of the gospel, has so exhibited the truth, that he who does not see it, is willfully blind. In the dawn of revelation under the former dispensation, so much light was thrown on this truth, that believers of that age regarded themselves as pilgrims and strangers in the earth, and declared plainly that they sought a continuing city, a place of everlasting abode, in another world. But the gospel of Jesus Christ has poured the light of noonday on this momentous truth. The doctrine of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, have lifted the veil that hid the invisible world from our view, and we are now permitted to look into it, with the full assurance of hope.
When the soul leaves its mortal tenement, we are taught by the Scriptures that it is not companionless. The departing spirit of Lazarus was borne by angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22). This discourse of our Savior concerning the rich man and Lazarus, was designed to give us knowledge of the future world. It is not called a parable, but if we regard it as such, it should be remembered, that the parables of Jesus were not like the fables of Aesop, in which beasts and birds spoke and reasoned, but were representations drawn from nature, and conformed to the existing properties of things. In this view, though we are not obliged to regard the account of the rich man and Lazarus, as the actual history of two individuals, it is such a representation as our divine teacher was pleased to employ, to give us some knowledge of the unseen world. In this representation, the angels, who, according to sacred teaching in which is no parable, are ministering spirits (Heb 1:14), sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation, are hovering around the despised beggar, in his last suffering, and receiving his released spirit, to bear it to its final happy abode. Death, to the departing saint, is not a journey through a solitary way. He is no sooner separated from earthly friends, than he finds himself in a company of celestial spirits, who offer themselves as his attendants and guides, to his eternal and blissful home.
Paul has taught us, that believers, who depart from the dissolving tabernacle, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). The promise made to the dying thief, is fulfilled to every expiring saint: "Today, you shall be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) More than this, he has promised: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:3) As the Lord descended on Mount Sinai, with ten thousands of his angels, so he comes with these attendant spirits, to the chamber in which the Christian dies. As he enters the unseen world, he can joyfully exclaim: "I will fear no evil, for you are with me." In company with his blessed Lord, and borne by ministering spirits, the departing saint is conveyed to the mansion which Jesus has prepared for him in the Father's house. Here, he is brought into Abraham's bosom, into intimate communion with the Father of the faithful, and with all the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and with all the spirits of just men made perfect.
The paradise to which the departing spirit goes, is not a place distinct from the Heaven in which God makes the most glorious manifestation of himself, and in which the glorified body of Christ has been received until the restitution of all things. The idea, that the disembodied spirit has a separate existence in Sheol or hades, shut out from the glorious assembly near the throne, has originated from a misinterpretation of Scripture. Sheol or hades means the unseen world into which the spirit enters, when it leaves the body; but nothing is determined, by the use of the term, respecting the place or condition of the departed. The rich man and Lazarus alike went to the unseen world; but the rich man was "in torment," and Lazarus "in Abraham's bosom."
When separated from the body, the soul does not lose the mental powers which belong to it. The power of perception remains: for the rich man, though the eyes of the body were closed and in the grave, lifted up other "eyes" in Hell, and saw Abraham afar off. The power of memory remains: for Abraham said "Son, remember that you," etc. The capacity of enjoying and suffering remains: for Lazarus was comforted, and the rich man tormented. It appears, also, from the discourse between Abraham and the rich man, that disembodied spirits not only know each other, but are allowed to hold converse with each other. Doubtless their modes of perceiving, and of communicating with each other, differ widely from ours; and all attempts to understand what is entirely beyond our experience and conception, must necessarily fail. What the Scriptures teach on the subject, is all that we can possibly know; and they explicitly declare that the instruction which they give on the subject, leaves our knowledge imperfect: "We know in part." (1 Cor 13:9) "We see through a glass darkly." (1 Cor 13:12)
The Scriptures teach us that the departed spirit of the saint is free from suffering. It no longer groans, being burdened (2 Cor 5:4). Lazarus is comforted (Luke 16:25). Together with freedom from suffering, it enjoys freedom from sin. The spirits of just men, when separated from the bodies in which they groaned, are "made perfect." (Heb 12:23) ‘They are admitted into the high and holy place, where nothing impure can enter.
The souls of the wicked, as well as of the righteous, are immortal, and survive the body. They, too, have their companions; for the devil, by whom they have been led captive, and his angels, with whom they are to suffer everlasting punishment, receive them into their society. Their mental powers and capacities remain, to see Heaven and glory at a distance, to remember and bitterly regret their sin against God, and the opportunity of mercy despised, and to endure torments without mitigation, or hope of relief.
Some persons have supposed that departed spirits become angels, and have cited, in proof of this opinion, the words of the angel to John: "I am your fellow-servant, and of your brethren, the prophets." (Rev 19:10) They understand that the angel declares himself to be the spirit of one of the ancient prophets. But this is an erroneous interpretation of the passage, which may be correctly interpreted thus: "I am the fellow-servant of you, and the fellow-servant of your brethren, the prophets." The angels are spirits, but not human spirits. They were never redeemed by the blood of Christ; and therefore, in their joyful announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they said: "Unto you," not unto us, "is born this day in the city of David, a Savior." (Luke 2:11) Hence the song of redemption, when heard in Heaven, is described as a new song (Rev 5:9), having never been sung by the angelic choirs. Paul has clearly distinguished between the innumerable company of angels (Heb 12:22, 23), and "the spirits of just men made perfect," though they are named together, as component parts of the great society into which men are introduced, when they become believers in Christ.
Chapter II. Resurrection
THE BODIES OF ALL WHO DIE, WILL BE RAISED FROM THE DEAD, AND RE-UNITED TO THEIR SPIRITS, FOR THE JUDGMENT OF THE GREAT DAY. (John 5:28, 29; Dan 12:2; Job 19:25-27; Psalm 17:15; Acts 4:2; 24:15; 26:8; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:12-54; 1 Thess 4:14-17; Rev 20:6, 12, 13)
Philosophy and natural religion may attain to an obscure discovery of the soul's immortality; but we should have remained ignorant concerning the resurrection of the body, if we had not been instructed by divine revelation. From God's book we learn that the body is redeemed (1 Cor 6:20), as well as the soul; and that the body shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. That no doubt may remain on the subject, the body which is to be raised again, is described as the corruptible, the vile body, the body deposited in the grave (John 5:28): "This corruptible shall put on incorruption." (1 Cor 15:53) "Who shall change this vile body." (Philippians 3:21) "All that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." (John 5:28) Paul urges not to use the members of the body for sinful purposes, because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19); and, with reference to the same body he says, "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he who raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwells in you." (Rom 8:11) No doubt can remain that the Scriptures teach the resurrection of the mortal body, the body that dies, and enters the grave.
The resurrection of the body is not only taught in the Scriptures, but it is exemplified in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact that he was raised from the dead, is testified by many witnesses, who saw him, and conversed, and ate and drank with him, after his resurrection; and who confirmed the truth of their testimony by astonishing miracles and sufferings. On this grand fact the truth of Christianity depends; and therefore the doctrine of the resurrection is fundamental and vital to the Christian system. If it is not true, Christ is not risen; and, if Christ is not risen, Paul admits "our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain, and we are found false witnesses of God." (1 Cor 15:14, 15)
As the resurrection is a desirable privilege to the just, only, it is treated of, in some passages of Scripture, as if it appertained to them exclusively: but other passages teach that it will be universal: "There shall be a resurrection of the just and of the unjust." (Acts 24:15) "All that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28, 29) The only exception to its universality will be in the case of those who still be found alive at Christ's second coming. Concerning these, Paul has taught us that they will undergo a change (1 Cor 15:52) equivalent to that which they pass through who shall have died and risen again. Their case, therefore, is virtually no exception to the general rule: "It is appointed unto all men once to die." (Heb 9:27) "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor 15:22)
The power by which the dead are raised, is God's. To the Sadducees, who erred respecting the resurrection, the Savior said, "You do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." (Mat 22:29) It is a work which nothing short of omnipotence could accomplish. The Son of God is represented as the immediate agent, "Who shall change our vile body, that it only be fashioned like unto his own glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." (Philippians 3:21) Even when he was on earth, weak and despised, he claimed this power: "The hour is coming when all that are in their graves shall hear his voice [the voice of the Son of God], and shall come forth." (John 5:28) At his command, who said, "Lazarus, come forth," the dead shall quit their graves, and assemble at his tribunal: and the power which he will manifest, in bringing them before him, will demonstrate his right to judge them.
The resurrection, though it will require the same power that created the world out of nothing, will not be another creation. The glorified body will not be created out of nothing, but will be formed out of the vile and mortal body which the spirit once inhabited: "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned," etc. (Philippians 3:21) The same body of Jesus which was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb, was raised from the dead, and was seen by the disciples ascending from Mount Olivet. It had been transfigured on Mount Tabor, and rendered glorious in the view of the disciples who were present; and now it is crowned with glory and honor, in the presence of all the celestial hosts. It is now the "glorious body," into the likeness of which he will fashion our vile bodies, when he fits them to inhabit the mansions that he has prepared.
How the "vile body" will be changed, we know not. We are under no obligation to suppose that all the gross matter of which it consists, will be included in the glorious body into which it will be fashioned. The corruptible body is perpetually losing, in the daily waste which it undergoes, the atoms of matter which compose it, and having their place supplied by other atoms, received from the nourishment taken in to supply the waste. The nails are pared away, and the hair shorn off; and other growth succeeds, to take the place of that which is lost. The bones, muscles, and all other parts of the body, undergo a change as real, though not so apparent, and as unceasing. The fluid parts of the body change more rapidly; and the solid parts are absorbed and renewed by the deposit of other matter, in the processes of nutrition and assimilation. It is not necessary to suppose that all the matter thus lost, during a life of fourscore years, will be gathered again. The identity of the body during life did not imply an identity of the atoms composing it: and much less is an identity of atoms necessary to be preserved, when it is changed into the glorious. Paul's teaching on this point is explicit: "You sow not that body that shall be, but bare grain; but God gives it a body as it has pleased him." (1 Cor 15:37, 38) What is deposited in the ground, is bare grain; but the body which God gives consists of the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear. The body deposited, dies; that is, it is decomposed, and ceases to be the bare grain deposited. Part of its matter is lost, and part enters into the composition of the new plant, and God adds other matter, constructing such a body as pleases him. Such is the illustration which this inspired writer gives of the process by which the dead will be raised; and we are certainly freed by it from the obligation of regarding a philosophical identity of atoms, as necessary to be preserved in the resurrection of the dead.
Yet, let us observe the relation which the glorious body has to the vile body. It is not another body, but the vile body changed. In Paul's illustration, he says: "God gives it a body as it has pleased him, and to every seed his own body." (1 Cor 15:38) So, every man who rises from the grave, will come forth with his own body. However changed, he will recognize himself, and will be recognized by others, as the same. When wheat, rye, barley, and other grains, are sown in the ground, a grain of each may be deposited in the same bed; and when they spring up together, though all have bodies differing from the bare grain that was sown, they differ also from each other. Every seed has "his own body;" and it may be determined with certainty which is the wheat, which the rye, which the barley, etc. The illustration is doubtless incomplete: but the wisdom of inspiration has given it, to assist our conceptions of this mysterious subject; and our faith, without presuming to be wise above that which is written, should thankfully receive the instruction graciously imparted.
What will be the form and the properties of the glorified body, it is impossible for us to know. Even the beloved disciple who lay on the bosom of Jesus did not claim to know this: "Beloved, it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) It ought to satisfy us that we shall be fashioned like the glorious body of Christ. But though this general information ought to be sufficient, the Scriptures, while they do not attempt to describe a glorified body, have given us some information respecting it.
It is incorruptible. Our bodies here undergo perpetual decay and perpetual renewal; and they finally suffer decomposition, and return to dust. The glorified body will suffer no decomposition, no waste, and, therefore, will not need renewal. The process of nutrition by food, and the organs of digestion, will not be needed. "Meats are for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God shall destroy both it and them." (1 Cor 6:13) The glorified body will be adapted to all the purposes for which it will be used; but, as our mode of life will be entirely different, corresponding changes will be made in the members and organs, to adapt the body to the mode of life into which it enters.
It will be spiritual. Paul affirms this. He says, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (1 Cor 15:44) What a spiritual body is, we are unable to say. We shall not be pure or uncompounded spirit, as God is; for we shall have a "body," which God cannot be said to have. But that body will be "spiritual," as distinguished from the natural or grossly material bodies that we now possess. It will be freed from the inactivity, the ponderableness that now binds us to the earth; and will be fitted for swift motion, similar to that of which angelic spirits are capable.
It is immortal. "Now this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Cor 15:53) As there will be no need to supply a daily waste in each individual body, or to preserve it from corruption, so there will be no need to supply a waste of the race by death. "They neither marry, nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels." (Luke 20:35, 36) In a state of being so different from the present, we shall need bodies of far different construction and properties; and, from the likeness which we are to bear to the angels, we may infer that our spiritual bodies will resemble, to some extent the spirituality of these holy and immortal beings. The true and perfect pattern to which we shall be conformed, is the glorious body of the Redeemer, who, though once dead, now lives forever, and who will give us to share his own immortality. "Because I live, you shall live also." (John 14:19)
With what body the wicked will come, and to what likeness they will be conformed, the Scriptures do not tell us. As they will be raised, to stand in the judgment, and receive the sentence under which they will suffer everlasting punishment, in the fire prepared for the devil and his angels; we may conclude that, both in body and spirit, they will be fitted and capacitated for the everlasting endurance of the torments inflicted. We know that their bodies will not be "glorious," for their resurrection will be "unto shame and everlasting contempt." (Dan 12:2) Conjecture, on points which revelation has not enlightened, must be unprofitable.
Chapter III. The Last Judgment
IN THE LAST DAY JESUS CHRIST WILL COME TO JUDGE THE WORLD; AND HAVING ASSEMBLED ALL MEN BEFORE HIM, WILL PASS SENTENCE ON THEM ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS. (Rev 20:11, 12; Acts 17:30, 31; Ecc 11:9; 12:14; Mat 12:36; 1 Pet 4:4, 5; 2 Cor 5:10)
Natural religion leads us to expect future retribution; and of course some sort of judgment, by which that retribution will be awarded. Even the heathen mythology had its judges, Ćacus, Minos, and Rhadamanthus, by whom the dead had their place and condition assigned to them in the other world. But the doctrine of a public, general judgment, is peculiar to revelation. This teaches, that, besides the judgment passed on each individual when he leaves this world, there will be a final judgment, in which all men will stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and receive their final sentence from his lips. "God has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he has ordained." (Acts 17:31) "It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after this the judgment." (Heb 9:27)
As the condition of each soul will be determined, when it leaves the body, another judgment may, to our finite minds, appear to be unnecessary; but the wisdom of God has determined otherwise. All the reasons for this divine appointment, we cannot presume to understand; but we are able to conceive of some important advantages which may arise from a general judgment.
The general judgment will publicly and impressively vindicate the ways of God, in the view of all intelligent beings. The mystery of the divine administration will then be fully unfolded; the wisdom and righteousness of all God's dispensations will then be made apparent; the justice of the sentences then pronounced will be rendered perfectly clear; and, on every creature, as he leaves the tribunal, to go to the place assigned him, an impression will have been made, which will last throughout eternity. It is for the glory of God, that his perfections should thus be displayed, in the view of his intelligent creatures; and the remembrance of this great day will constitute an important element in the happiness or misery to which each individual will be adjudged.
The general judgment will be honorable to Jesus Christ. It is called "the day of Christ." (Philippians 1:6; 2 Thess 2:2) When Jesus stood, as an arraigned malefactor, before the Jewish council, he claimed, in their presence, to be the Christ, and he referred to this day as the time when his claim would be acknowledged. This will be the day of Christ, the day when every knee shall bow to him (Rom 14:11), and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11).
The general judgment will extend to the bodies of men. The previous judgment, at the death of each individual, affects the spirit only. But men are to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, and it is fit that they should be judged in the body, and especially inasmuch as the body is to participate in the final retribution.
The general judgment will suitably mark the final victory over all God's enemies. Among men, days of triumph have been observed, when wars have terminated, and victory has been attained. In the great day of the Lord, all the enemies of God will have been subdued; the kingdom, which, as rebels against him, they have seized and claimed, will have been fully restored; and universal peace and order will have been established in Jehovah's empire. At this day of triumph, it is suitable that all creatures should be present, to do honor to the victory, and to him by whom it has been achieved.
The judge on the last day will be Jesus Christ, the same who was condemned at the bar of Caiaphas and of Pilate. How changed the scene! They who then condemned him to death, will now tremble before him, and be condemned by him to death eternal. "The Father has committed all judgment to the Son." (John 5:22) The transactions of the great day will form a part of his mediatorial administration. Having undertaken to restore order to God's empire, in which the rebellion of the human race had broken out, and having assumed the office of Mediator for this purpose, it will be proper, in this office, to complete the work; and therefore Christ the Mediator will be the Judge in the last great day: "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." (Rom 14:10)
At the day of judgment Christ will make his second coming. This coming is frequently spoken of in the Holy Scriptures. He instituted the Lord's supper, to be observed until he come (1 Cor 11:26). Believers are described as looking for his appearing (Heb 9:28). As men look for a beloved friend who has gone away, leaving a promise of return; so believers in Christ look for the return of their Lord, who has promised, "I come quickly;" (Rev 22:12) and they pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." (Rev 22:20) He came, formerly, with sin; not sin of his own, but the sin of his people, which the Lord laid on him. Having fully expiated this by his death, he will come, the second time, without sin unto salvation (Heb 9:28). On this great and terrible day, Christ will come to the salvation of his people, and will, at the same time, take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel. In a subordinate sense, he is said to come, when he displays his power, either in the deliverance of his people, or in the destruction of his enemies. But all these times are overlooked in the, computation, when, with reference to his appearing for judgment, it is said, "he will come the second time." This will be the great day of deliverance and of wrath. There are other comings mentioned in Scripture, not included in this computation, which are only preparatory and subordinate.
An impression has often prevailed among the followers of Christ, that his second coming was near at hand. This impression, when soberly entertained, has a beneficial influence. Compared with the eternity which is to follow, the interval until the day of judgment is exceedingly short; and but a very little part of this short interval is included in the life of any one individual; whose preparation for judgment must be completed before he is called away by death. It is therefore true concerning every one, that the time is short (1 Cor 7:29), and that the Judge stands before the door (Jam 5:9). But the expectation that Christ's coming will be so hastened as not to leave time for the fulfillment of prophecy, or for the measure of duty and suffering to which he has appointed us, is of injurious tendency. An erroneous impression on this subject had so disquieted the minds of the Thessalonian Christians, that Paul thought it necessary, in his second epistle to them, to free them from its influence: "Be not shaken in mind, or troubled, as that the day of Christ is at hand." (2 Thess 2:2) It may be that they had mistaken his design, when, in his first epistle to them, he said, "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep." (1 Thess 4:15) They may have understood him to intimate, by his use of the word "we," that he expected to be alive and remain when Christ should appear. He may have used this word as including himself, in interest, in the number of those who will be alive at the second coming; or he may intimate that believers of each successive generation should regard themselves as placed, for the time, on the watch-tower, to look for the coming of Christ, and that, compared with those who had fallen asleep, all who at any time are alive and remain, should regard themselves, though looking for his coming, as having no advantage to prevent [go before, or get the start of] those that are asleep. Whatever may have been Paul's design in using this mode of speech, it is clear, from his second epistle, that he did not mean to make the impression that the coming of Christ was so near at hand. He stated explicitly, that the day will not come, "unless there be a falling away first, and the man of sin be revealed." (2 Thess 2:3) It was necessary that time should be allowed for the Romish apostasy. So now, there are various prophecies remaining to be fulfilled; as, the calling of the Gentiles, the conversion of the Jews, and the millennial state of the Church. All these must be accomplished before the coming of Christ; and, while these prophecies remain unfulfilled, believers should not permit themselves to be troubled in mind by those who would persuade them that the end of the world is just at hand.
Some suppose that the coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the righteous dead, will precede the millennium, and that the resurrection of the wicked will be at the end of the thousand years. This opinion, according to which the reign of Christ will be personal, is founded chiefly on Rev. 20:4, 5: "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." In carefully examining this passage, we may observe that the first resurrection here mentioned does not include all the righteous dead, but only the martyrs; and that it is not a resurrection of their bodies, but of their souls: "I saw the souls of them, and they lived," etc. Making due allowance for the boldly figurative language employed in this prophetical book, we may understand this passage to mean, that generations of holy men will arise, at the time here referred to, who will so much resemble the ancient martyrs in zeal and devotion to the service of God, that it will be as if the souls of these martyrs had returned in new bodies.
So Elijah reappeared, in the person of John the Baptist; not literally, but in the figurative sense in which we may interpret the passage before us; which, so understood, teaches a spiritual, and not a personal reign of Christ. It is true that Paul says, "the dead in Christ shall rise first:" (1 Thess 4:16) but the meaning of this is, that the dead in Christ shall rise before the living saints shall be changed. The interval, however, he represents to be exceedingly short: "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor 15:52) Whether the wicked dead will be raised at the precise moment at which the righteous dead will be raised, we are not expressly informed; but, from the representations of the scene which are given in the Scriptures, we may infer that one voice, one trumpet will call forth all the dead, and that one hour (John 5:25) will suffice for the resurrection of all. In one and the same day (Acts 17:31), the great day of the Lord, he will be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God; and will come, to be glorified in his saints, and admired of all them that believe (2 Thess 1:8-10).
The place of the final judgment will be on earth. Here Jesus was humbled, condemned, and crucified; and here he will be glorified, and sit in judgment over all the world. When he ascended from the earth, it was foretold that he would return as he had ascended (Acts 1:11). A cloud received him out of the sight of his disciples (Acts 1:9), who were gazing after him as he went up; and, on his return, he will be soon coming in the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory (Mat 24:30; Rev 1:7). A multitude of angels and the spirits of the just will attend him. The bodies of his saints, called forth from their graves, will rise to meet him in the air, and reunited with their spirits, will appear before him. The living saints will be changed and form a part of the company at his right hand. The wicked dead will be raised, and will stand on the left hand of the Judge. On what part of the earth the Savior way choose to fix the throne of judgment, we are not informed, nor is it a matter of any moment. Why Sinai was selected for the giving of the law, Calvary for the crucifixion, and Olivet for the ascension, we know not. It is enough for us to know, that he will come, and that we must appear before him.
In the description of the great day, contained in the book of Revelation, it is said, that the Judge will be seated on a great white throne, and that the books will be opened; and that another book will be opened, which is the book of life: and the dead will be judged out of the things which are written according to their works (Rev 20:11, 12). The representation is doubtless figurative, but we may learn from it that the decisions will be made in perfect justice; and that the acquittal of the righteous will be an act of grace. Their names will be found in the Lamb's book of life. They will be accepted in that day, because they belong to Christ, and in proof of their attachment to him, their work and labor of love in his cause, and towards his people, will be brought into remembrance (Mat 25:34-40).
In the transactions of this great day, notwithstanding the greatness of the multitude that will be assembled, no individual will feel himself lost in the immense throng, or concealed from the view of the omniscient Judge. Every one will be brought to judgment, as if he were the only creature present, and every one will give account of himself, and receive sentence for himself with as much discrimination and perfection of justice, as if the judge were wholly absorbed in the consideration of his single case. So rapidly do our minds move, even now while bound to our sluggish bodies, that we can review our past history in a few moments, and judge and condemn ourselves before God. With a rapidity beyond our present conception, the deeds, words, and thoughts of our whole lives will pass in review before us on that day, and we shall realize that the eye of God is fixed on each particular with as thorough knowledge of it, as if that deed, word, or thought, were the only one on which he sat in judgment. How can we bear a scrutiny so severe, a knowledge so perfect? How shall we abide a judgment so strict? Who shall be able to stand?
Chapter IV. HEAVEN.
THE RIGHTEOUS WILL BE TAKEN TO HEAVEN, AND MADE PERFECTLY HAPPY FOREVER IN THE PRESENCE AND ENJOYMENT OF GOD. (Mat 25:34; Luke 12:32; John 14:2; Col 3:4; 1 Thess 4:17; Luke 22:29, 30; Acts 14:22; Rev 3:21; 7:15-17; 14:4; 1 Pet 1:3, 4; Mat 25:21; John 17:24; Rev 21:4; 22:3)
Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. It often happens that the believer in Christ has an afflicted lot in the present world; but, in the midst of tribulations, be is enabled, through grace, to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So much does the happiness of his present life depend on the hope of a better portion hereafter, that he is said to be "saved by hope." (Rom 8:24) This hope has for its object an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away (1 Pet 1:3, 4). He is taught by the doctrine of Christ, to look for this portion, not in this world of sin, not in the pursuits and enjoyments of carnal men, but in another and better world, to which his faith and hope are ever directed.
The believer's portion is laid up in Heaven (Col 1:5). That Heaven is a place, and not a mere state of being, we are taught by the words of Christ, who said, "I go to prepare a place for you;" (John 14:2) but in what part of universal space this happy place is situated, the Bible does not inform us. It is sometimes called the third heavens (2 Cor 12:2), to distinguish it from the atmospheric Heaven, in which the birds of Heaven have their habitation, and from the starry heavens, which visibly declare the glory of God. The glory of the third heavens is invisible to mortal eyes; and the place may be far beyond the bounds within which suns and stars shine, and planets revolve. Some have imagined that it is a vast central globe, around which the stars of Heaven are making their slow revolutions, carrying with them their systems of attendant planets. There is something pleasing in this conjecture, which connects astronomical science with the hopes of the Christian: but it must be remembered that it is mere conjecture. No telescope can bring this glorious place within the reach of human view. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor 2:9) Yet, though science cannot give us a knowledge of this happy world, divine revelation has made us to some extent acquainted with it. Paul adds to the words just cited, "but God has revealed them to us by his Spirit." By faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, we look at things unseen and eternal. The light of revelation brings the glories of the distant land before the eyes of our faith; and in the spiritual enjoyment which we are made to experience, even in this land of exile, we have an earnest (Eph 1:14) and foretaste of heavenly joy. These drops of Heaven sent down to worms below, unite with the descriptions found in God's holy word, to give such ideas of Heaven as it is possible for us to form; but at best, we know only in part. "It does not yet appear, what we shall be," or where we shall be, or in what our bliss will consist. But though in looking forward to the inheritance in prospect, we are compelled to see through a glass darkly, we may yet discover that the future happiness of the saints will include following elements:
1. An intimate knowledge of God. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known (1 Cor 13:12). Heaven is "the high and holy place, where God resides, the court of the great King." He says, "Heaven is my throne." (Isa 66:1) Though present everywhere throughout his dominions, he manifests himself in a peculiar manner in this bright abode, of which the glory of God and the Lamb are the light. Here the blessed are permitted to see God. To see God, as human eyes now see material objects, by means of reflected light, will be as impossible then as it is now, for God is a spirit: but we shall have such a discovery of God, as is most appropriately expressed by the word see; otherwise, the promise of Christ would not be fulfilled. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." (Mat 5:8) The knowledge of God will be communicated through the Mediator. "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." (John 1:18) Though God dwells in light which no man can approach unto, and is a Being whom no man has seen, or can see (1 Tim 6:16); yet the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, the same that shines into the hearts of God's people on earth, fills the world of bliss. There no sun or moon shines; but "the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." The glory of God is the illumination, and the Lamb is the luminary from which it emanates. Jesus will still be our teacher there, and through him we shall acquire our knowledge of the perfections and counsels of God.
Our knowledge of God will be forever increasing. On earth, believers "grow in the knowledge of God and our Savior Jesus Christ," and the advantages for attaining to higher knowledge, instead of ceasing at death, will be far greater in Heaven. The perfections and counsels of the infinite God, will be an exhaustless source of knowledge, a boundless subject of investigation; and the Mediator, the equal of the Father, and his bosom-counselor, will be our all-sufficient instructor; and our glorified spirits will be fitted to prosecute the study through eternal ages. It follows, that we shall continue to grow in the knowledge of God, while immortality endures.
The angels diligently study the dealings of God with his people on earth, and, by this means, acquire knowledge of God's manifold wisdom. They saw his creative skill and power displayed, when the creation sprang forth from his hand in its unmarred beauty; and they rejoiced in songs and shoutings. They learned the justice of God, when some of their number were driven from Heaven for their transgression, and doomed to interminable woe. While the angels have been making the dispensations of God's providence and grace their delightful study, we cannot suppose that the spirits of the just, who are their companions in glory, have been indifferent to these subjects; which interested them so deeply while on earth. It must be, that they continue to make progress in the knowledge which, while here below, they so earnestly desired to acquire, and in which they made a small beginning. Here, the ways of God appear dark and mysterious, and the doctrine taught us in his word, is attended with difficulties, which our finite minds labor in vain to remove. We desire instruction on these points; and Jesus has said, "What I do, you know not now, but you shall know hereafter." (John 13:7) We wait now for the fulfillment of this promise; and we hope hereafter, with the spirits that are before the throne, to drink in the knowledge which we are here so desirous to obtain, which we so greatly long to acquire.
How far the learning of the future world will include the sciences which are taught in the schools on earth, it is of little use to inquire. It will certainly include whatever is necessary to the knowledge of God. We shall study his works, his moral government, and the mysterious scheme of redemption. New truths, of which we have now no conception, will be unfolded to our view; and the truths of which we have now some knowledge, will be exhibited in new relations, and with new attractions. The truths which now appear discordant with each other, will have light thrown on their connecting links; and the whole will be seen, in one grand system of beautiful proportion and perfect harmony, and in everything God will be displayed. All our knowledge will be the knowledge of him.
2. Perfect conformity to God. The first man was made in the image of God; and the subjects of regeneration are renewed, after the image of God. But the likeness given in creation has been lost; and that which is reproduced in regeneration is incomplete. God's people are striving and praying for a higher degree of conformity; and they are looking to the future world for the consummation of their wishes: "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake in your likeness." (Psalm 17:15) They are predestined to be conformed to the image of God's Son (Rom 8:29), who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). As they study the divine character here, they grow in conformity to it: "We, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor 3:18) The same transforming influence which the knowledge of God exerts in this life, will continue in the future world. As we make progress in the knowledge of God, we advance from glory to glory, in the likeness of God; and this progress will be interminable, through all our immortal existence. "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
In being conformed to God, who is love, we shall love the display of divine perfection, of which we shall obtain increasing discoveries in our study of the character, works, and government of God. As our knowledge enlarges, our love to the things learned will become more intense, and the new developments which will be made at every stage of our endless advancement will be increasingly ravishing. What would be subjects of barren speculation to merely intellectual beings, will be to us as moral beings, having a moral likeness to God, sources of ineffable bliss, ever rising higher and higher in its approach towards the perfect and infinite blessedness of God.
3. A full assurance of divine approbation. In this world we groan, being burdened. A sense of sin, and God's displeasure on account of it, often fills the mind with gloom. We see, in the gospel of Christ, how God can be just, and the justifier of the believer in Jesus: but our faith is often weak. We are conscious of daily offences against infinite love; and the bitterness of grief possesses the soul. Oh! to see our Father's face, without a cloud between, and to feel that perfect love occupies the full capacity of our hearts, and governs every emotion! We pant after God, the living God. We long for Heaven; because there we shall dwell forever in the light of his countenance. The sentence of the last judgment, "Come, you blessed of my Father," will give an eternal assurance of divine acceptance, and perfect love in the heart will forever exclude all fear.
4. The best possible society. Paul thus describes this society: "You are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in Heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant." (Heb 12:22-24) Our brethren who have gone before us, with some of whom we took sweet counsel here, and went to the house of God in company, are there waiting to welcome our arrival. The angels that attend on us as ministering spirits, during our pilgrimage here, will convey us, when we leave the world, to the glorious abode, in which they ever behold the face of our Father in Heaven, and will form part of the happy society into which we shall be introduced. There we shall be with Jesus, the Mediator, who loved us, and gave himself for us, in whose blood we shall have washed our robes, and made them white; there we shall approach to God, the Judge of all, who is our Father, the object of our love, and the source of our joy. In such society we shall spend eternity. We are traveling to our final home, through a desert land, a waste howling wilderness, but we seek a city; and God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared for us a city (Heb 11:16). A city is a place where society abounds. The rich and noble resort to cities, that they may enjoy life. Here they display their wealth, erect magnificent palaces for their residence, and multiply the means of enjoyment to the utmost possible extent. In our eternal home, we shall not be lonely pilgrims; but we shall dwell in the city of our God; where the noblest society will be enjoyed, where the inhabitants will be all rich, made rich through the poverty of Jesus, and all kings and priests to God; and where the King of kings holds his court, and admits all into his glorious presence.
5. The most delightful employment. The future happiness of the saints is called a rest: but it is not a rest of inactivity; which, however desired it may sometimes be, by those who inhabit sluggish bodies, is not suited to spiritual beings. The rest resembles the Sabbath, the holy day, in which the people of God now lay aside their worldly cares and toils, and devote the sacred hours to the worship of God. Such a Sabbath remains for the people of God, when the cares and toils of this life shall have ceased forever. To the glorified saints, inaction would be torture, rather than bliss. Their happiness will not consist of mere passive enjoyment. They will serve God day and night; and, in this service, will find their highest enjoyment. They pray now, that his will may be done on earth, as it is done in Heaven; and when they are themselves taken to Heaven, they will delight to do his will, as it is done by all the heavenly host. The worship of God, and the study of his holy word, form a part of the delightful employment of the saints on the earthly Sabbath. So, to worship God with joyful songs of praise and suitable ascriptions of glory, constitutes, according to the Scripture representation, a part of the saints' employment in glory. The subjects of their transporting songs, and rapturous ascriptions of praise and glory, will be supplied by their continually fresh discoveries of the divine perfections, the study of which will also form an important part of their blissful employment.
6. The absence of everything which could mar their happiness. Sin, which here pollutes all our joys, will never enter there; for nothing enters that defiles (Rev 21:27). Devils and wicked men will be confined in their eternal prison, and will be able to molest no more. The sorrows and afflictions of this world will have passed away. There will be no more sickness, no more curse; and death, the last enemy, will have been destroyed.
7. A free use of all the means of enjoyment. Future happiness is promised as a kingdom: "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom." (Mat 25:34) A king is superior to all the nobles of his realm, and holds the highest place of dignity in his dominions. Christ, as king, is crowned with glory and honor; and believers also will be exalted to glory, honor, and immortality. The subjects of earthly despots are often deprived of their possessions by the injustice of those who have power over them; but the king is above the reach of such injustice. He commands the resources of his dominions, and makes them contribute to his pleasure. Hence, to minds accustomed to regal government, royalty conveys the idea of the most abundant resources, and the highest measure of undisturbed enjoyment; hence the language of Paul: "Now you are full; now you are rich; you have reigned as kings." (1 Cor 4:8) In this view, the children of God will be made kings. Besides the honor to which they will be exalted, their enjoyments will be boundless. All the resources of creation will be made tributary to them, and no one will dispute their claim, or hinder their enjoyment. Earthly crowns are often tarnished by the iniquity of those who wear them, but the crown bestowed on the children of God is a crown of righteousness, not only because it is righteously conferred, but because, without any unrighteous violence, the wearers will have all the honors and enjoyments of royalty secured to them forever.
Chapter V. HELL
THE WICKED WILL BE CAST INTO HELL, WHERE THEY WILL SUFFER EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR SINS. (Psalm 9:17; Mat 10:28; 13:40-42; 23:29, 33; 25:41-43; Mar 9:43; 2 Thess 1:7-9; 2 Pet 2:4, 9, 10; Jude 7; Rev 14:11; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8)
Natural religion teaches the doctrine of future retribution; and even the heathen had their notions of punishment to be endured in another world, for crimes committed in this. Conscience in every man's breast, as the agent of him who placed it there, inflicts torture, often intolerably severe, for iniquities perpetrated, and it teaches the transgressor, when he hears God's voice in the thunder, or beholds any remarkable display of the divine power, to tremble in the apprehension of suffering the wrath of Heaven. Though conscience often sleeps, for a long period, over the sinner's guilty deeds, yet some special dispensation of Providence sometimes awakens it, and calls upon it to inflict its tortures. So Joseph's brethren, when brought into difficulties in Egypt, were reminded of their cruelty to their brother, and filled with anguish by the remembrance (Gen 42:21). But conscience, in some hardened transgressors, sleeps undisturbed, while life lasts; and natural religion, in view of the proofs that a great God reigns, infers that it will be awakened in another life which is to follow. Moreover, in the allotments of the present life, a partial disclosure of God's moral government is made, in the rewarding of virtue, and the punishing of vice; but it is so incomplete, as here seen, that we are compelled to conclude, that, either the Governor of the Universe is not perfectly righteous, or his distribution of rewards and punishments reaches into a future state. Hence, the expectation of future punishment for crimes committed in this life, accords with the dictates of conscience and reason.
But the strongest and most impressive proof of this momentous truth, is furnished by divine revelation. In God's book, the lessons of natural religion are taught with clearness and force; and the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. From this infallible word, we learn that wicked men treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgments of God (Rom 2:5). We know that this day of God's wrath will be, when he shall be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power (2 Thess 1:8). This day of judgment and wrath will not be in the present life: for "it is appointed to all men, once to die, and after this the judgment." (Heb 9:27) "The rich man died, and in Hell lifted up his eyes, being, in torments." (Luke 16:23) Men will be called from their graves to the judgment; and from the judgment, the wicked will be sentenced to everlasting punishment. God is to be feared, because, beyond the destroying of the body, he can destroy both soul and body in Hell (Mat 10:28). Vain are the dreams of infatuated mortals, who suppose that the only punishment to be endured for sin is in the present life. Conscience and reason unite their voice, to awaken them from their delusion; and revelation depicts the future retribution before their eyes so clearly, that they must see it, unless willfully and obstinately blind.
The magnitude of the evil included in damnation may be inferred from the importance which the Scriptures attach to salvation. It was a great work which Christ undertook, when he came to seek and to save them that were lost (Luke 19:10); to save his people from their sins (Mat 1:21); not to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17); to deliver from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10). If wrath and damnation had been trivial matters, the sending of God's only son into the world, the laying of our sins upon him, and the whole expedient adopted to deliver us from these inconsiderable evils, would have been unworthy of infinite wisdom. It would not deserve to be called "a great salvation;" (Heb 2:3) and the intelligence of the Savior's birth, brought by the angels, would not deserve to be called "good tidings of great joy." (Luke 2:10) Paul declared, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" (1 Tim 1:15) and Paul was of this mind, because he believed the salvation of a sinner to be a work of vast magnitude. In this view of it, he said: "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." (Rom 10:1) In this view, he relinquished every earthly hope, and gave himself to the ministry of the gospel, enduring all hardships and sufferings, if by all means he might save some (1 Cor 9:22). Why did he labor thus, why suffer thus, if wrath and damnation are evils of little magnitude? Paul understood the matter otherwise, when he, said, "Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Cor 5:11) It is said in the Scripture, "Who knows the power of your anger? Even according to your fear, so is your wrath." (Psalm 90:11) The utmost dread with which any finite mind can regard the wrath of God, will be realized, and more than realized, when that wrath is poured out on him. The power of God's anger, finite intelligence cannot conceive; but God understands it well, and the full estimate of it was regarded, in the deep counsels which devised the scheme of salvation. An almighty Savior, able to save to the uttermost, was chosen, because salvation was a work requiring such an agent for its accomplishment. The gospel is sent forth into the world; with the declaration of its great Author, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he who believes not shall be damned." (Mar 16:16) Every sound of the glorious gospel speaks of salvation and damnation. Every accent of mercy, inviting the sinner to come to Christ for life, is a warning to flee from the wrath to come. Diminutive views of sin, and of the wrath of God due to sin, permit the sinner to sleep in neglect of the great salvation that God has provided.
The human heart is prone to doubt the doctrine of eternal damnation. The facts reported in the gospel, that Christ came into the world, died, and rose again, are so abundantly attested, that few have the hardihood openly to deny them. These are past facts, which rational men cannot well permit themselves to doubt; but eternal woe is something future, unseen, and unfelt. The apprehension of it disquiets men, and disturbs their enjoyments; and hence they are prone to drive it from them. The threat of indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, is fearful; but if they listen to it, and interpret it in its full import, they cannot remain at ease. Hence arises a criminal and fatal tendency not to take God at his word, in these fearful warnings and denunciations; but to persuade ourselves that they will never be executed. Some relieving method of interpretation is adopted, or some view taken of God's benevolence and mercy, by which the sinner may be permitted to remain at ease, and hope that all will be well. Hence we see the astonishing fact, that multitudes practically neglect the gospel, who dare not openly deny it. If they truly believed that the wrath of God abides on them; that the treasures of wrath are daily increasing, and that the accumulated vengeance is just ready to burst on their heads in a fearful tempest; they would not, they could not remain at ease. To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation, we must believe, thoroughly believe, the doctrine of eternal damnation. All our misgivings, as to the truth of this doctrine, proceed from an evil heart of unbelief; and lead to a neglect of the great salvation.
Some have sought relief, in the apprehension of future misery, from the idea that the language of Scripture, which describes it, is figurative. The descriptions of future happiness in Heaven, are figurative; but the figures convey very imperfect ideas of the reality. So it is with the figures which describe future misery. The fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mat 25:41); the lake of fire (Rev 20:10); unquenchable fire (Mat 3:12); the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched (Mar 9:44); are terrific descriptions; but they are not exaggerations. They are figures; but they come short of the reality. When God punishes, he punishes as a God. Who knows the power of your anger? What omnipotent wrath can accomplish, all language fails to describe, and all finite minds are unable to conceive.
Of what elements future misery will consist, we cannot tell; but it will include poignant remorse, and a sense of divine wrath, with the absence of all enjoyment, and of all hope. It will produce, in the subjects of it, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. They will realize that they are shut out forever from the kingdom of Heaven, into outer darkness; and they will remember the good things which they once enjoyed, never more to be enjoyed again and the opportunities of mercy, once neglected, never more to return. They will be tormented in the flame, without a drop of water to cool their tongues. Their hatred of God will be complete and they will blaspheme his name, while they feel themselves grasped in the hand of his almighty wrath, without power to extricate themselves. Devils, and wicked men, all under the same condemnation, will be their eternal companions: and the companionship, instead of affording relief, will be an aggravation of their woe. The whole throng, hateful, and hating one another, will be tormentors of one another. The malignant passions, which, on earth, caused wars, assassinations, cruelty, oppression, and every species of injury, will be let loose without restraint to banish peace and brotherhood for ever from the infernal society; and the passions which burn in the hearts of wicked men on earth, and destroy all internal peace, and sometimes drive to suicide, will then be unrestrained, and do their full work of torture; and relief by suicide, or self-annihilation, will be forever impossible. O, who can endure such torments? Who will not, with every energy, and at every sacrifice, seek to escape from devouring fire and everlasting burnings?
As Heaven is a place, so is Hell. Judas went to his own place (Acts 1:25); and the rich man desired that his brethren might not come to this place of torment (Luke 16:28). In what part of universal space this place is situated, we know not. Heaven is above, and Hell beneath; but astronomy has taught us, that, in consequence of the earth's diurnal rotation, the up and down of absolute space is not to be determined by the position of the little ball which we inhabit, If the third Heaven, where God resides, be a region of perfect light and glory, beyond the limits within which stars and planets revolve; and if its inhabitants see the sun and stars, as beneath their feet: the region of outer darkness may be in the opposite extreme of space, where sun and stars shine not, and where the glory of God is forever unseen. But, wherever it is, the broad way that sinners go, leads to it; and they will at length certainly find it.
The duration of future misery will be eternal. This is expressly declared in Scripture. "These shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal." (Mat 25:46) The words everlasting and eternal are renderings of the same Greek word, which is applied alike to the future state of the righteous and the wicked. The punishment of these, and the happiness, of those, will be of equal duration. Both will be eternal or everlasting. The criticism which would take the word in a different sense, in one case, from that which it is admitted to have in the other, is rash and dangerous. The same truth is taught in other passages of Scripture: "Where their worm dies not, and their fire is not quenched." (Mar 9:44) "The smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever." (Rev 14:11) "Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7) The last passage, inasmuch as it refers to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed by fire from Heaven, may contain an allusion to that fire; but this, viewed in itself, was not eternal fire. It was a type of future wrath, and may be regarded as its beginning, and first outbursting. The fire which consumed the cities of the plain, has long since ceased to burn; but the wrath due to their guilty inhabitants did not then cease to burn: for the day of judgment will find Sodom and Gomorrah (Mat 11:21), with guilty Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, all doomed to suffer, according to their several measures of guilt, the vengeance of eternal fire. These cities, in their fearful overthrow, are set forth as an example; and from the visible beginning of their awful doom, we may faintly conceive what will be the end. But it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for those who hear and reject the gospel of Christ; who must, therefore, suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, in its fiercest burnings, and in its everlasting duration.
Future misery will not be purifying in its effect. The afflictions which the righteous endure in this world are fatherly chastisements, inflicted in love, and God designs them for the profit of his children, that they may be partakers of his holiness (Heb 12:10). Future misery will be inflicted not on the children of God, but on the enemies of God; not in love, but in wrath. And it will not be designed for the profit of its subjects, but for the vindication of the law and justice of God, "to show his wrath and make his power known." (Rom 9:22) Affliction purifies the righteous, not by any inherent tendency which it possesses, but by the accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit. The wicked, even in the present life, grow hardened under affliction, and sometimes blaspheme God, while they gnaw their tongues with pain (Rev 16:10, 11). In the world to come, the Holy Spirit will send forth no sanctifying influence to render future torments purifying. Many of the wicked he gives up to hardness of heart, even in the present life; and to all of them the day of grace will be past forever.
The opinion that they will be ultimately restored to the favor of God, and taken to Heaven, is not authorized by the Scriptures (Luke 13:25). On the contrary, it teaches that the Master of the house will "shut the door;" that there is a great gulf (Luke 16:26) between the two worlds rendering passage from one to the other impossible; that the unjust and filthy will remain unjust and filthy still (Rev 22:11). Jesus said to some, "You shall die in your sins; and where I go you cannot come:" (John 8:21) and he said concerning Judas Iscariot, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." (Mat 26:24) The last words cannot be true, if Judas at any future time, however remote, shall be taken to Heaven to enjoy forever the perfect happiness of that world: for the eternal weight of glory which will then be awarded to him, will far more than outweigh all his previous sufferings. The Scriptures teach that the heavens have received Jesus Christ, "until the restitution of all things:" (Acts 3:21) but if his restitution implied a restoration of all to the favor of God, Christ's second coming would be deferred until its accomplishment. But as Christ will come from Heaven to judge the world, and will in the judgment, condemn the wicked to everlasting punishment, we must conclude that the restitution of all things will be regarded as complete and forever fixed; when the final judgment shall have decided the eternal state of all, and the order which bad been disturbed by the enemies of God, shall have been fully restored in his kingdom.
Future misery will not be annihilating in its effect. It is called death, the second death: but the first death does not imply annihilation of either soul or body; and neither does the second. It is called destruction: but as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Luke 17:29) in the overthrow of those cities, but are nevertheless to appear in the day of judgment (Mat 10:15), destruction does not imply annihilation. An immortal spirit suffers destruction when it is separated from God and happiness, and doomed to eternal misery. So the wicked shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thess 1:9). Besides death and destruction, the word corruption is used as the opposite of life. "They that sow to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption, and they that sow to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Gal 6:8) Corruption is not annihilation. The death of the body is followed by corruption and the worm; so that we may say to corruption, You are my father; and to the worm, You are my mother and sister (Job 17:14).
Hence, corruption, and the worm that dies not, are figures employed to denote the consequences of the second death. By the flesh, to which men sow, and of which they reap corruption, we do not understand the material body, but the depraved mind. The corruption of this is its moral disorganization, or utter loss of holiness. Were annihilation intended, the worm that dies not, would cease to have anything on which to feed; and the fire that cannot be quenched, would cease to burn for want of fuel. If the wicked are to be destroyed by instantaneous annihilation, that destruction, instead of being an infliction of torment, will be a termination of all suffering. This does not accord with the Scripture representations of the future portion of the wicked: and no good reason can be assigned for raising the bodies of the wicked, if they are to be immediately annihilated. If destruction is to be a process, whether rapid or lingering, by which annihilation is to be produced, it will not be everlasting destruction, or everlasting punishment; for the process and the punishment will sooner or later cease. To no purpose can it be called eternal punishment, when the subjects of it shall have eternally ceased to exist. To no purpose can any be said to surer the vengeance of eternal fire, when the fire itself shall have eternally terminated their suffering. And to no purpose will the smoke of their torment ascend forever and ever, when the torments themselves shall have eternally ceased.
Some understand the words, "Every one shall be salted with fire," (Mar 9:49) to import, that the fire of Hell, instead of consuming its victims, will, like salt, preserve them. Whether this be its meaning, or not, there is no reason to doubt that the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, will be adapted to the suffering which they will undergo. Instead of wasting away under its influence, or having their powers of endurance benumbed, we may rather conclude, that, as the righteous, will perpetually ascend in bliss, the wicked will perpetually sink in woe. Their deep is bottomless (Rev 20:3), and being banished from the presence of God, they may continue to recede from him forever. Their capacity for suffering, their tormenting passions, their hatred of God, and of one another, may all increase indefinitely, through eternal ages. As wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever, they will continue to fly further and further from God, the eternal source of light and happiness, into deeper, and still deeper darkness and woe. O, that men would seek the Lord, while he may be found.
Objection 1. The justice of God does not require, and will not permit, the infliction of eternal torments for the sins committed in the short period of human life. If eternity be divided by the number of sins which any man commits, during the whole course of his probation on earth, the quotient will be eternity: and it follows, that future misery cannot be eternal, unless an eternity of torment be inflicted for every sin. An eternity of woe for one transgression, shocks all the sense of justice which God has implanted in the human breast.
This objection proceeds on the radical mistake, that men cease to be moral agents, bound by the law of God, when they have passed into the world of woe. God's dominion is universal; and the inhabitants of Hell are as much bound to love and obey him, as those of Heaven or earth. Men who die in their sins, will carry with them not only the guilt accumulated during the present life, but the inclination, confirmed by habit, to continue in sin. They will hate God and blaspheme his name, and their sins cannot cease to be offensive to God, because their moral character has become fixed and unalterable. A sinner cannot become innocent by being confirmed in sin. Were it so, the inhabitants of Hell would be innocent beings; their habitation would be as pure as the high and holy place where God dwells; and their blasphemies would be as little offensive to God and all holy beings, as the songs of angels. All this is manifestly absurd. Sin continued, will deserve and provoke continued wrath; and the future condition of the wicked is chiefly terrible, because they are abandon by God to the full exercise and influence of their unholy passions, and the consequent accumulation of guilt forever and ever.
If God's justice will not permit him to punish sinners with banishment from his presence, and confinement in the regions of woe, beyond a limited period of time; then it will follow, that when this limited period of suffering shall have passed, justice will not only permit, but will absolutely require, that they should be released. Who can believe that, after a thousand years spent in blaspheming God, and strengthening their enmity to his character and government, they shall be turned loose, to roam at large in God's dominions, and to visit at pleasure the holy and happy place where nothing enters that defiles (Rev 21:27)? Who can believe that God's justice will demand this, and will authorize them to demand it? Yet all this will follow, if the ground assumed in the objection be not false.
Objection 2. God's benevolence will not permit him to inflict such misery on his creatures. He claims them as his offspring, and represents himself as their Father: and, as no human parent would so treat his children, it is not to be supposed that the benevolent Father of all will be so unfeeling and unmerciful.
This objection, while it claims to honor God's benevolence, dishonors his veracity. Our inferences from God's benevolence may all be mistake; but God's word must be true: and he who, relying on the deductions of his own reason, rejects the warnings that God has graciously given him, will find, in the end, that he has acted most foolishly and wickedly.
The objection assumes what is inconsistent, not only with the truth of God's declarations as to the future, but also with known and undeniable facts of the past and present. Had the objector been present when man came forth in his original purity from the hand of his Maker, he would, on the principle assumed in his objection, have predicted, with confidence, that God would never permit this fair production of his creative power and skill to become involved in the fall and its consequent evils. Had he been present in the garden of Eden, when the serpent said, "You shall not surely die," he would, in his professed honor of God's benevolence, have confirmed the declaration made by the father of lies. The misery endured by the human race in every age, from the fall to the present moment, in every region of the globe, in every tribe, in every family, in the daily and hourly experience of every individual, is all inconsistent with the principle assumed in the objection. If, at the creation, it would have denied the possibility of what we know has occurred, how can we trust it when it now denies the possibility of what God says shall be? When our inferences oppose fact, and the truth of God, we may be assured that they are wrong.
When pestilence is desolating a land, God sees the wretchedness that is produced, and hears the cries of the suffering, and could, with one breath, drive far away the cause of the fatal malady. When a ship is wrecked in the raging ocean, God hears the cries of the sinking mariners, and understands well their terror and anguish, and could, without effort, bear the shattered vessel at once to its destined port in safety. Were the objector in God's stead, would he be deaf to the cries of his children? Would he not promptly afford the needed relief? He would. What then? Is he benevolent, and is God unfeeling and unmerciful? So the objection would decide; and we know, therefore, that it is not according to truth.
God is of right the Father of his creatures: but he says, "If I be a father, where is my honor?" (Mal 1:6) and he complains, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." (Isa 1:2) By their rebellion, men have become the children of the wicked one. Christ said, "If God were your Father, you would love me;" (John 8:42) implying that those whom he addressed were not the children of God. To such men God is not a Father, but an offended and insulted moral Governor. He is benevolent; but his benevolence does not overthrow his moral government. On the contrary, it enforces the claims of justice. To turn loose the guilty, and to permit the lawless to roam at large through his dominions, to disturb the peace and order of his government, and render the obedient unhappy, would not be benevolence. God's benevolence is against the sinner; and when the walls of the infernal prison are broken down, and its guilty inhabitants are permitted to fill the universe with crime and wretchedness, it will no longer be true that God is love.
In contemplating the awful subject of future misery, and its relation to God's benevolence, our minds may find some relief in regarding the misery as the natural and proper effect of sin. God has so constituted the nature of man, that he feels remorse for crime; and he has so constituted the nature of external things, that drunkenness, and many other sins, produce poverty and suffering. We have not the hardihood to complain that this constitution of things is not benevolent. He who, knowing that fire will burn, voluntarily puts his hand into the flame, has no right to charge God with want of benevolence, because he has made it the nature of fire to burn. Much of future misery may be regarded as the natural effect of sinful passions, tearing the soul by their violence, or of an upbraiding conscience, gnawing within, as the worm that dies not. "God is a consuming fire," ever-present to the workers of iniquity; and his nature must change if his wrath cease to burn against sin. The nature of things, as constituted by God, and as including the nature of God himself, must render the sinner miserable. If he would cease to be miserable, he must escape from himself, and must find another God, and another universe.
This world is not such a habitation as a wise man would desire to live in forever. The young and thoughtless expect to find happiness in it; but experience teaches that the expectation is vain and delusive. Disappointment, care, and sorrow form a large part of human life; and as men approach the end of their course, they can adopt the language of the patriarch Jacob: "Few and evil have been the days of my pilgrimage." (Gen 47:9) This sad experience results from the fact, that God's curse rests on the world, because it is full of sin: and what wise man would wish to live forever in a habitation that God has cursed?
If this were the only world, it would be well for us to make the best of it: but we have abundant proof that another world exists; and a revelation from it has been made, by which we may learn how to obtain a portion there, that will be full of unmixed happiness, and will endure forever. We are called on to relinquish our delusive hope of earthly good, and lay hold on the hope set before us, that is sure and certain: to give up our pursuit of the unsatisfying and short-lived pleasures of the present life, and to seek the substantial and eternal joys of the life to come. It is certainly the part of wisdom to obey this call.
Another fact needs to be considered. Whether we will or not, we are compelled to leave this world, and take up our eternal abode in another habitation, either of joy or woe. If we had all possible enjoyment here, it would be but momentary, and would not deserve a thought in comparison with eternal happiness and misery. We are rapidly passing through this world, to our eternal home. Whether, in this lodging place of wayfaring men, our comforts shall be few or many, is a matter of very little moment, and unworthy of anxious care: but it is extreme folly to be unconcerned about the world to which we are hastening, and where our condition will be fixed forever.
There are some things in religion which are hard to be understood, and about which some persons are inclined to be skeptical: but is there any other thing so incredible, as that intelligent and immortal beings should make the things of this fleeting world their chief care, and give themselves no concern about eternity? If the fact were not daily before our eyes, who could believe it? Were the Bible to inform us that there are intelligent immortals in a remote planet who thus act, the skeptic would appear almost excusable who should doubt the truth of the statement; but that book tells us of men, intelligent and immortal men, who are blinded by the God of this world, and led captive by him at his will, and who do not consider their latter end, but rush on to destruction, as the ox goes to the slaughter. This testimony, than which the Bible contains nothing more incredible, is verified by the whole history of mankind. From this reigning folly even Christian men are but partly delivered. Even they perpetually need the exhortation, "Be not conformed to this world;" (Rom 12:2) and, to preserve them from the fascinating power of "the things seen, which are temporal," they should look habitually at "the things which are unseen and eternal." For this purpose, the doctrine concerning the future world is to them very important. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith:" (1 John 5:4) and faith, being "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen," (Heb 11:1) must lay hold on the realities of the invisible and future world.
The doctrine concerning the future world teaches us to set a proper value on earthly good. If the honors of the world tempt us, let us remember that, in the grave, the king and the meanest of his subjects will lie on the same level, and mingle with the same dust; and that, in the resurrection, the noble of the earth, who have not sought the honor that comes from God, will rise to shame and everlasting contempt. If the pleasures of the world invite, let us conceive of them as the bait with which Satan would ensnare our souls, and lead them into everlasting torments. If our hearts incline, at any time, to covetousness, let us contemplate the rich man in Hell, stripped of all his possessions, and unable to procure a drop of water to cool his parched tongue. So let us keep eternity directly in view; and, in its light, the honors, pleasures, and wealth of this world will lose their luster, and cease to charm.
This doctrine teaches us how to bear the afflictions of life. The heaviest affliction that can crush the spirit here, is far lighter than the weight of wrath which falls on the wicked in the world to come. Why, then, should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins (Lam 3:39)? So long as he still lives, out of torment, out of Hell, his suffering, however severe, is inconceivably less than his sins deserve. Moreover, his afflictions, if endured with humble resignation to God, are conducing to his holiness. Though light and momentary, they work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). With eternity in view, the heaviest and, most enduring anguish of this life appears light and momentary; and we can rejoice to endure it, because of the glorious effects which it will produce in the eternal world.
This doctrine teaches the value of religion. Learning and talent, agreeable manners and amiable disposition, are all worthy to be prized; but they do not secure eternal blessedness. Religion is the one thing needful, the good part that will never be taken from us (Luke 10:42). Let sinners despise religion and curl the lip with scorn, when you speak of its claim on their regard: but even they, when eternity is near in prospect, learn the value of what once they despised. With eternity in view, how precious is religion! How precious the Bible which teaches it!
This doctrine endears Christ to believers. He is precious, for what he is in himself; but this preciousness is enhanced by the consideration, that it is he who delivers us from the wrath to come, who is preparing a place for us in the world of bliss, who will come and take us to himself, and forever lead us to the fountains of living waters, in that land of ever-flowing delight.
This doctrine consoles us, under the loss of Christian friends. We follow them to the tomb, and our tears flow freely: but we sorrow not as those who have no hope. They are not lost to us, but have only gone home before us; and we are waiting to be sent for, when it shall be the pleasure of our heavenly Father. Our separation from them is short, for we are fast approaching our journey's end, and then we shall join them again, never more to part.
This doctrine, if received in lively faith, enables the Christian to meet death with joy. When a man repents of sin, and believes in Christ, he is prepared to die safely; but he may nevertheless, through the weakness of his faith, be afraid to die. To meet death without fear, requires strong faith in Christ, as the Savior of sinners. To meet death with joy, requires strong faith in the doctrine concerning the future world. When we can stand, like Moses on Pisgah's top, and view the good land in all its beauty, our hearts leap forward, with strong desire, to go over Jordan, and possess it. We long to join the happy company who dwell forever in the presence of our God. O to be free from sin, as they are; to behold the face of Jesus, as they do; to partake of their bliss, and unite in their everlasting hallelujahs!
Reader, what are your prospects in the future world? Have you received the love of the truth, that you may be saved? Does the truth as it is in Jesus enter your heart, with sanctifying power? Are you daily striving, by a holy life, to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things?