The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, W. T. Shedd

W. T. Shedd, one of my favorite theologians, has written a learned and excellent book on hell , incorporating his phenomenal grasp of the philosophers. Shame about the first part of the book, where he makes a number of exegetical missteps, as the second part is absolute dynamite.

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Excerpts

v
The fall and eternal ruin of an immortal spirit is the most dreadful event conceivable. That some of God’s rational and self-determined creatures will forever be in deadly enmity to him, cannot be thought of without sorrow and awe. But from the nature of finite free will, it is a possibility; and it is revealed to us as a fact, as clearly as the facts of incarnation and redemption.

5
Suffering that is merely educational does not require a vicarious atonement in order to release from it. But suffering that is judicial and punitive can be released from the transgressor, only by being inflicted upon a substitute. He, therefore, who denies personal penalty must, logically, deny vicarious penalty. If the sinner himself is not obliged by justice to suffer in order to satisfy the law he has violated, then, certainly, no one needs suffer for him for this purpose.

12-13
The Apostles enter far less into detailed description, and are far less emphatic upon this solemn theme, than their divine Lord and Master. And well they might be. For as none but God has the right, and would dare, to sentence a soul to eternal misery, for sin; and as none but God has the right, and would dare, to execute the sentence; so none but God has the right, and should presume, to delineate the nature and consequences of this sentence. This is the reason why most of the awful imagery in which the sufferings of the lost are described is found in the discourses of our Lord and Saviour.

42
Plato (Gorgias, 235) describes this class of transgressors as “forever (τὸν ἀεὶ χρόνον) enduring the most terrible, and painful sufferings.” It is noteworthy, that the place in which they suffer is denominated Hades, by both Homer and Plato—showing that in the classical use, Hades is sometimes the equivalent of Tartarus and the modern Hell, and the contrary of Elysium.

135
But the Divine tribunal, in the last great day, is invariably and exactly just, because it is neither reformatory, nor protective. In eternity, the sinner is so hardened as to be incorrigible, and heaven is impregnable. Hell, therefore, is not a penitentiary. It is righteous retribution, pure and simple, unmodified by considerations either of utility to the criminal, or of safety to the universe. In the day of final account, penalty will not be unjustly mild for the sake of the transgressor, nor unjustly severe for the sake of society.

142-143
Consequently, the great and distinguishing element in hell-torment is despair, a feeling that is impossible in any man or fallen angel who knows that he is finally to be happy forever. Despair results from the endlessness of retribution. No endlessness, no despair. Natural religion, as well as revealed, teaches the despair of some men in the future life. Plato (Gorgias 525), Pindar (Olympia II.), Plutarch (De sera vindicta), describe the punishment of the incorrigibly wicked as eternal and hopeless.

152
3. In the third place, endless punishment is rational, because sin is an infinite evil; infinite not because committed by an infinite being, but against one. We reason invariably upon this principle. To torture a dumb beast is a crime; to torture a man is a greater crime. To steal from one’s own mother is more heinous than to steal from a fellow citizen. The person who transgresses is the same in each instance; but the different worth and dignity of the objects upon whom his action terminates makes the difference in the gravity of the two offences.

161
Founded in ethics, in law, and in judicial reason, as well as unquestionably taught by the Author of Christianity, it is no wonder that the doctrine of Eternal Retribution, in spite of selfish prejudices and appeals to human sentiment, has always been a belief of Christendom. From theology and philosophy it has passed into human literature, and is wrought into its finest structures. It makes the solemn substance of the Iliad and the Greek Drama. It pours a sombre light into the brightness and grace of the Æneid. It is the theme of the Inferno, and is presupposed by both of the other parts of the Divine Comedy. The epic of Milton derives from it its awful grandeur. And the greatest of the Shakespearean tragedies sound and stir the depths of the human soul, by their delineation of guilt intrinsic and eternal.

Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment, Robert Peterson

Robert Peterson has written what is in my estimation the greatest defense of the doctrine of hell. It is thorough, biblical, logical, and persuasive. There is good exegesis of the major passages on hell and refutations of both universalism and annihilationism.

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Excerpts

ix foreword
A secularized faith is therefore not one marked by outright unbelief but rather one in which that belief has become tame and harmless.

4-5, quoting Bertrand Russell

I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world….I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.

50
Upon reflection, however, we realize that the Redeemer paints such pictures out of kindness. By announcing the fate of the wicked before the Last Judgment, he affords them opportunity to escape that fate. In fact, all who heed his warnings, repent, and cast themselves upon his mercy will be delivered from hell.

55
Jesus speaks frequently of hell because he is the Savior of the world. He warns of unspeakable torment in order to move his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. We who name his name should not shrink from following his good example. We must tell people the truth: without Jesus as Lord and Savior they are headed for the eternal judgment of God.

57, quoting Leon Morris
We can understand that there are those who do not like the idea of hell. I do not like it myself.

64, quoting Larry Dixon
It was a teenagers sense of guilt-and rightfully deserved judgment in hell-but I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit used fear to bring me to Christ.

71
Some have been troubled that this verse may teach salvation by works. It does not. It teaches judgment based on works. The righteous will be rewarded with eternal life for the good they have done, and the good produced in them by “God who works in [his people] to will and to act according to his purpose” (Phil. 2:13). These good works are the fruit the Holy Spirit produces (Gal. 5:22-23) in those saved freely by God’s grace (Rom. 3:24).The resurrected wicked, however, will be condemned for the evil they have done. It is just of God to base his judgment of the unsaved on their deeds, rather than on whether or not they have heard the gospel. Though no one is saved apart from believing the gospel, it is fair for God to judge people according to their to their deeds. And the wicked get what they deserve for their evil deeds-damnation.

80
First, the expression “eternal destruction” seems an unlikely way to denote the obliteration of the wicked. If extinction were meant, why not just say “destruction”?

81
Third, Paul’s next words rule out annihilation:”…and [they will be] shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (v. 9). Unbelievers will be excluded from the gracious presence of the Lord. This cannot be annihilation, for their separation presupposes their existence.

81, quoting J. I. Packer
“The subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.”

83
This passage shows the importance of the doctrine of hell to the early church. It was a part of the foundational teaching given to new converts. It was, therefore, considered basic to a Christian view of life.

87
The damned “will be tormented with burning sulfur” (Rev. 14:10; cf. Gen. 19:24). This refutes the annihilationists’ claim that the main purpose of fire in judgment is to destroy. To the contrary, it’s main purpose is to inflict pain, as this text shows. We need not, however, insist that there is literal fire in hell. “Such language… must be taken as symbolical of a fearful and final reality which no man can describe.”

89
As one who often struggles to submit to the challenges to God’s Word, I call on those Christians who espouse annihilationism to repent and give glory to God by submitting their minds to his truth.

99, quoting Tertullian
It would be most absurd if the flesh should be raised up and destined to the “killing of hell,” in order to be put an end to, when it might suffer such an annihilation (more directly) if not raised again at all. A pretty paradox, to be sure, that an essence must be refitted with life, in order that it may receive that annihilation which has already in fact accrued to it!

109, quoting Aquinas
The magnitude of the punishment matches the magnitude of the sin….Now a sin that is against God is infinite; the higher the person against whom it is committed, the graver the sin-it is more criminal to strike a head of state than a private citizen- and God is of infinite greatness. Therefore an infinite punishment is deserved for a sin committed against him.

109
The pains of hell involve both “the pain of loss” (poena damni) and “the pain of sense” (poena sensus). The former is the deprivation of the joyful vision of God, while the latter is the suffering of positive punishments in body and soul.

111, quoting Luther
Since God is a just Judge, we must love and laud His justice and thus rejoice in God even when He miserably destroys the wicked in body and soul; for in all this His high and inexpressible justice shines forth. And so even hell, no less than heaven, is full of God and the highest Good. For the justice of God is God himself; and God is the highest Good.

124, quoting Edwards
Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to fright persons to heaven, but I think it is a reasonable thing to endeavor to fright persons away from hell. They stand upon its brink, and are ready to fall into it, and are senseless of their danger. Is it not a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire?

164
The Bible uses five main pictures to speak of hell: darkness and separation, fire, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” punishment, and death and destruction.

179
I pray that God would spark a revival of the knowledge of the true doctrine of hell in the Christian church. I have no doubt that such a revival would result in gratitude for grace, amendment of life, and gathering of the lost such as we have not seen in our time. May God grant it!

187
God not only pronounces sentence, but he also reigns over hell. Unfortunately, some have missed this point. John Gerstner, for example, writes, “Hell is where Satan rules… where his complete fury is unleashed.” Gertsner doesn’t deny that God rules in hell. He says, however, that, under God, Satan also reigns there.

188
Jesus is a wonderful savior. He is also a terrible Judge. Think of it: the Savior of the world is also its Judge! He offers the free water of eternal life to everyone who believes that he is who he claims to be. Everyone who refuses to drink this water, however, “will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath” (Rev. 14:10).

201
First, studying hell increases my appreciation for the Savior’s sufferings.

206
Although it cuts across the grain of modern thinking, the Bible teaches that thanksgiving is due God for his wrath.

207
Studying God’s qualities helps us to view hell from an important perspective, that of God himself. God is majestic beyond all our imagining. He, therefore, deserves the eternal praise of every one of his creatures. Many human beings, however, refuse to bow before him as Lord, and because God is holy and righteous, he must punish their rebellion. Revelation, therefore, declares the wrath of almighty God against unrepentant sinners.

212
God will bring relief to his persecuted people and punish those who have persecuted them. This punishment is retributive: God “will pay back” the wicked with eternal ruin.

213, quoting Charles Spurgeon
When men talk of a little hell, it is because they think they only have a little sin, and they believe in a little Savior. But when you get a great sense of sin, you want a great Savior, and feel that if you do not have him, you will fall into a great destruction, and suffer a great punishment at the hands of the great God.

Whatever Happened to Hell? John Blanchard

John Blanchard draws from an exceptionally deep well and along with Peterson’s Hell on Trial is one of the best defenses of the biblical doctrine of hell available today and is almost certainly among the most comprehensive. No one does quotes, illustrations, and anecdotes better. If this book doesn’t make my top 5 list of books on hell, it is very close.

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Excerpts

59, Quoting Blaise Pascal on fallen man
What a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a marvel! Judge of all things and imbecile earthworm; possessor of the truth and sink of uncertainty and error; glory and rubbish of the universe.

67
The only satisfying aternative to the injustices of this life is perfect justice in the next one; the only remedy for the present triumph of evil over good is the future triumph of good over evil. In a moral universe all bills must be paid and all accounts settled; but annihilationism throws all these hopes out of the window.

101, quoting J. I. Packer
Even though we are fallen sinners we remain moral beings, with an innate, God-given sense of right and wrong; one theologian has said, “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.”

105
Nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture than that there will be a final and universal judgment. Two-thirds of the parables Jesus told were related to the subject.

124, quoting John Murray
The fact that Jesus will sit upon the throne of judgment will be the consternation of his enemies and the consolation of his people.

130
It has been calculated that of 1,870 verses recording words which Jesus spoke, thirteen percent are about judgment and hell. Jesus spoke more about these two topics than about any other (angels came second and love third).

 

135

Things are very different in hell, where the prisoner is incarcerated “soul and body” (Matthew 10:28); his spirit is as crippled and confined as his body, with no instinct to worship god and no interest in doing so. An imprisoned spirit is stilted, stale, and sterile.

[and on destruction, same page]

Drawing together what the Bible says about hell as a prison, it seems that its inmates have neither the instinct nor the opportunity to achieve anything but that they are helpless, hopeless, and powerless, utterly drained of all ideas and inspiration.

154
In hell, no relationship of any kind will exist; everyone there will be there alone.

161
Preachers often warn people about the danger of “eternal separation” from God and describe hell in this way, but the Bible never uses the term. it would be more biblical to warn people about the danger for them of the eternal presence of God.

163, quoting Henri Blocher
What is more, the sinner in hell will have a greater knowledge of himself. As one scholar has put it, “All creatures will share in God’s abhorrence of sin and evil; the sinner will hate himself, he will appreciate the value of his life and see it as God does. Hell is nothing but full knowledge of the truth, remorse in agreement with God.”

165
God’s anger is not a piece of moral mechanism.

174, quoting William Crockett
There is no meaningful way to say that God loves the wicked after death.

221, quoting Paul Helm
Hell is not a demonic colony which has gained unilateral independence from God. Because there is full recognition of God’s justice, God’s character is vindicated.

225
If annihilation is the punishment, what is the purpose of the suffering? If the horrors of hell are a meaningless prelude to extinction, surely God is seen as the supreme sadist?

A Theodicy of Hell, Charles Seymour

A good resource that is among the best of the "free will" defenses of hell. So not completely biblical, but surveys a wide swath of the historical literature on hell and deals fairly with almost all of it. Among the more useful philosophical resources, if limited because of its conclusions.

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Excerpts

p5
It would be odd to say that someone believes in hell but is convinced that no one experiences it

p41, interacting with Aquinas
One problem with this argument is that not all unrepentant sinners have the intent of sinning forever. Some may be too immersed in sensual pleasures to think much about the future at all. Among those sinners who do think about the future are some who do not believe in eternal life; these sinners cannot intend to sin forever.

54
I have suggested there is no such thing as infinite punishment, and so Anselm faces a dilemma: if sin is infinitely grave, then any possible punishment is unjustly lenient, but if sin is finitely grave, then unending punishment would at some point become unjustly harsh.

72, interacting with Jonathan Kvanvig
We can imagine people who disobey God in such a way that it is questionable whether they deserve eternal punishment; for instance, someone who reveals military secrets under torture. Kvanvig’s point is strong enough to cast doubt on Edwards’ belief that all sin deserves eternal punishment. Edwards could maintain that some souls sin without any extenuating circumstances such as ignorance or passion to excuse their action. These souls, he might say, deserve hell. But, for theological reasons, Edwards would not want to make that concession.

74
Anselm assumes that it is intolerable for a sin to be forgiven without either proportionate punishment being endured or proportionate satisfaction being made. But I suggest that a number of thought experiments suggest otherwise.

77
The purpose of punishment is to induce some sort of repentance–preferably direct repentance, in which the sinner is sorry for her sins because they are sins, but at least indirect repentance, which makes the sinner realize that crime does not pay. Given this theory of retributive punishment, it is evident that no single sin will likely merit everlasting hell. After all, punishment is justified by a result that takes place in time: namely, the repentance of the sinner. If the repentance takes place in time, however, then after the sinner repents, she no longer needs punishment.

162
As an aside (though an important one), I admit that there are scriptural passages inconvenient for my thesis; for example, the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids… In this case the doors of heaven, not of hell, seem to be locked from the inside. The lost are asking to be let in, but the lord forbids them entrance. Presumably the interpretation of the parable needs to be stretched a bit in order to accommodate the freedom view. If this seems dishonest, I can only plead that I am not alone. The philosophers who have dealt with hell have all departed from the literal interpretation of scripture in various ways.

Hell and the Problem of Evil, Andrei Buckareff & Allen Puig

Contains philosophical objections to the doctrine of hell.

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Excerpts

2
Diminished capacities: The third problem comes from the limited powers of agents that impede their ability to make good choices prior to death. If God is omniscient, then God would be aware of the powers possessed by agents that both enable them and serve to block them from satisfying conditions for avoiding eternal punishment. Divine aid in the form of prevenient grace notwithstanding, agents do not have it in their power to fully appreciate the gravity of their circumstances and respond appropriately.

5
The problem, according to the vagueness objection, is that any possible criterion would admit of borderline cases. That is, there will be individuals on the border of wither side of the cut-off line. Consider a pair of individuals, one of whom barely meets the criterion to enter heaven and the other barely fails to meet that criterion… It would be impossible to treat these two individuals in a more disparate manner – one receives the ultimate good, communion with God; the other receives the ultimate punishment, eternal damnation. According to the vagueness objection this difference in punishment is unjust.

8
If a person can commit an infinite amount of harm in one act it is only by harming an infinite being. The only infinite being would be God. But the problem here is that according to classical theism, God cannot be harmed. On the classical conception of God, God is impassible and, hence, not liable to being harmed by another being. So we cannot harm God. Since God is the only possible infinite being, it is impossible to commit an infinite harm by harming an infinite being.

Heaven and Hell in the Preaching of the Gospel: A Historical Survey, David Larsen

Great article which surveys the preaching on eternal matters in the history of the church. Concise, encouraging and emboldening. Highly recommended.

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Excerpts

Famous sermons mentioned include:
  • Billy Sunday, “Tormented in Hell”
  • Pusey, “What is Faith as to Eternal Punishment”
  • Spurgeon, “Heaven and Hell”, “Turn or Burn”
  • Robert Murray McCheyne “Eternal Punishment”
  • Wesley “The Great Assize”
  • Watts, “The Nature of the Punishments of Hell”, “The Eternal
  • Duration of the Punishments of Hell”
  • Bunyan, “A few sighs from hell”
  • Lancelot Andrewes

The Promise of the Future, Cornelis Venema

Highly recommended although it is far wider in scope that hell and judgment.

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Excerpts

52
It also confuses what is constitutive with what is declarative: the final judgment does not constitute or determine the destiny of believers and unbelievers, but only declares publicly, vindicating  God’s grace and justice, what that destiny is.

55, concerning Sheol
In some instances it connotes punishment and judgment upon the wicked, from which the righteous are ultimately delivered (Psa. 9:17; 55:15; 16:10; 49:14,Prov. 15:24).

422
Those who have lived in enmity against God will find themselves forever banished from his blessed presence, in a state of conscious awareness of his disfavour.

Species of Hell, Kronen & Reitan

Probably the best objection to hell I have ever read, or at least it seemed so to me at the time of reading. There are longer and more substantial works, like Talbott, but none as subtle and sophisticated.

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Excerpts

281
Despite all His infinite resources, despite infinite time in which to work, despite His perfect knowledge of every nuance of the souls of the damned, despite His unrelenting love, His efforts will be for naught. At least in some human souls, sin will prove more powerful than God. This seems an unavoidable implication of any of the “liberal” versions of DH, and it is an implication that should give every defender of DH pause. In fact, it strikes us as verging on blasphemy. And this may be a main reason why the classical doctrine of hell has not entirely gone away despite its drawbacks. If God’s salvific aims simply do not include the damned, then we are not driven to the unsettling conclusion that God’s aims are, in some human souls, ultimately defeated. In the various forms of the classical version of DH, the eternal alienation of the damned is directly intended by God, and so cannot be viewed as God’s failure or defeat.

281
To see the full magnitude of the difficulty here, it may help to reflect for  a moment on exactly what is so bad about sin. Sin at its heart is a failure to value things according to their objective degree of value. It is a failure to appropriately express, in actions and dispositions, due reverence for the inherent worth of things. The most significant element of sin, on classical theology, is the failure to do this with respect to God. God has infinite worth, and thus ought to be valued above all things. To fail to do so is an objective affront to the divine majesty, akin to the sociopath’s failure to properly value his victim but magnified in severity by the infinite worthiness of God.

According to the classical doctrine of hell, God responds to this infinite affront against his dignity by deliberately acting to ensure that this affront to His dignity continues for all eternity. While he could stop it from continuing, he chooses instead to make sure that this most intolerable of all evils persists forever in the souls of the damned by deliberately withholding the necessary condition for bringing it to an end. And so the defender of any form of the classical version of DH must explain why it would be a demand of justice to bring it about that a criminal never stop committing his crime. We, at least, cannot conceive of any coherent conception of justice under which this would make any sense at all.

The Problem of Hell: A Philosophical Anthology, Joel Buenting

An uneven collection of essays from a philosophical perspective on hell. Among the more useful and engaging are Kronen & Reitan’s “Species of Hell”, and “Hell, Wrath, and the Grace of God,” by Stephen Davis.

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Excerpts

The Attenuation of Traditional Doctrine, Paul & Linda Badham

Chapter in Immortality or Extinction. Merely skim-read the rest of the book. A few useful contrary illustrations.

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Excerpts

59
As David Hume pointed out ‘heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad; but the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue. Were one to go round the world with an intention of giving a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked, he would frequently be embarrassed in his choice, and would find the merits and demerits of most men and women scarcely amount to the value of either’.

61
Rudolf Hess as the Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich must be regarded as at leas partially responsible for the appalling crimes of that vile regime. Yet after he had served more than thirty years of his life-imprisonment the conscience of the western world began to clamour for his release: ‘Enough is enough; no purpose is served in continuing to incarcerate that frail old man for his crimes committed so long ago.’ Few civilised countries are prepared to regard a sentence of life imprisonment as binding upon the prison authorities. no matter how dreadful the offense a time will come when parole is considered and eventually release granted. Is God less merciful than we are?

61-62
I now turn to the most dreadful aberration of the Christian conscience, namely that the spectacle of the sufferings of the damned will provide one of the greatest joys of the saints in heaven.