CHAPTER 6-THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN-NUMBER 1
We are about to write upon a very solemn theme. The flesh will not be entertained, but the spirit may be profited. Much grace is always needed for a profitable hearing of God's word; the flesh which profiteth nothing will hinder. Our treatment of this theme will be admittedly heavy reading and it will require interest and effort on the part of the reader to get the truth. Many people have ruined their taste for good reading by feeding their minds upon trashy literature. What many people read is a revelation of their mental laziness and moral depravity. They demand that which will gratify their fleshly lusts. We are sometimes accused of speaking over people's heads, dealing with subjects they cannot understand. Well, the only way we could keep from speaking over the heads of some people would be for us to quote nursery rhymes and talk about rag dolls and stick horses.
No criminal will enjoy a lecture on the time, place and nature of the punishment to be meted out to him, and no lost man will enjoy a sermon on the punishment he will receive for his violation of the law of God. When "Pastor" Russell was speaking to a large crowd, in denial of the truth on this theme, a thoroughly worldly man promised him a liberal donation because he said it made him so comfortable to feel that there is no hell. And when Robert Ingersoll was once inveighing against the doctrine of eternal punishment, a drunkard stood up and said, "Make it mighty strong, Bob, for a lot of us fellows are depending on you." And every lost man vainly hopes that there is no such a thing and place as hell.
There is widespread denial of the truth about eternal punishment. I expect there is more literature being circulated today against this truth than against any other truth of the Bible. My good friend and brother, Dr. T.O. Reese, says: "The subject of eternal punishment is confessedly the most horrible and offensive doctrine held by evangelical Christians. It has been stigmatized as unreasonable, cruel, and God dishonouring, and those who teach and preach it have been called narrow bigots, Pharasaic dogmatists, and heartless theologians."
You can hardly name a modern sect that does not either deny or eviscerate this Bible doctrine. Besides such groups as Christian Science, Russellites, Seventh Dayists, and Christadelphians, there are many individuals in the evangelical denominations who boldly and brazenly deny this truth. We allow that no truth should be rejected merely because heretics may hold it, but when such an imposing array of them is on one side of a question, there is certainly need for serious reflection, and a challenge to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
We are to preach upon this subject, first of all, because it is a part of the once delivered faith. Whatever God has revealed is to be our study and proclamation. Then, a discussion of this truth will increase the gratitude of the saints for their glorious salvation. They will see that they have been saved from something as well as to something. Moreover, a sermon on this solemn subject may, under God, put fear into the hearts of sinners, and cause them to flee the wrath to come. "Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee" (#Job 36:18). "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (#Heb 9:27). "Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." (#Lu 13:3).
Man is a compound being of three elements: body, soul, and spirit: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (#1Th 5:23). We can also think of man as a dual being when we wish to differentiate between that which is material and that which is immaterial. Our Lord divided man into two constituent parts when he admonished us not to fear Him that can only kill the body, but to "fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (gehenna)." (#Mt 10:28).
The soul being the principal part of man is often employed for the man himself. In "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (#Ge 2:7), we read that God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life (Heb. lives) and he became a living soul, that is, a living person, or a living man. In "And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already" (#Ex 1:5), we are told that seventy souls came out of the loins of Jacob, meaning seventy persons. In "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water" (#1Pe 3:20), we learn that eight souls, that is, eight persons were saved by water. The word soul is even applied to a dead person. #Nu 6:6: "...he shall come at no dead body." The word here for body is nephesh (soul), and the clause, if literally rendered, would be, "And he shall not approach a dead soul, "that is, a dead person. The word nephesh (soul) is translated body eight times in our English Bible. But this must not be taken to mean that soul and body are the same, for our Lord clearly distinguished between soul and body.
In the New Testament the immaterial part of man is spoken of as the real person in distinction from the body as the house in which he lives. #2Co 5:1: "...we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, ...for in this we groan, ..."The pronoun "We" so often occurring in this passage stands for the immaterial and invisible part of man, which dwells for a while in the mortal body, and then moves out to go to be with Christ. This certainly teaches conscious existence with the Lord after death.
The Scriptures also teach the conscious existence of the lost after death. The rich man was in conscious suffering after the death of the body, and Lazarus was in conscious comfort. The rich man's body was buried and the soul or spirit of Lazarus was taken into Abraham's bosom by angels. Their experiences after death could not have been bodily experiences, therefore, they were possessed of another element which had conscious existence after death.
I do not call the story of Lazarus and the rich man a parable. Our Lord did not say, "Hear another parable" neither does the Holy Spirit say that He was speaking in parables. The following extract from a well-known writer is worthy of consideration:
"The rich man and Lazarus I am not free to regard as a parable, while having no controversy with those who so regard it. Not only is it not called a parable, but names are introduced, a thing without precedent in our Lord's parables. I prefer to look at the rich man and Lazarus as actual characters, whose history in this world and beyond is solemnly traced by the Lord for the moral profit of men everywhere."
What is said of the two men in this life is quite in keeping with actual occurrence, therefore, what is said of them in death and afterwards must also be true to facts. We grant that the physical torment is symbolical, but it is a symbolism of soul torment. Is the symbolism terrible? Then the truth intended to be taught is also terrible.
When Stephen was martyred his body fell in death under a hail of stones, but he said to Christ, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. James says that "the body without the spirit is dead" (#Jas 2:26).
Paul had some wonderful experiences on account of which he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Once he was caught up into paradise, where he heard "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (#2Co 12:4). He says that he did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body; only God knew. This certainly teaches that a disembodied spirit can consciously exist and be intelligently active. Paul, as some today do, did not think a disembodied spirit is a self contradiction.