Simple Bible-believing Christians accept that the consequence of rejecting the gospel is eternal punishment in hell. Unfortunately, many modern teachers proclaim lies:
- Eternal does not mean ‘without end’
- Everybody, including unbelievers, will be saved – Universalism
- The wicked will be consumed and annihilated – Annihilationism.
- Souls will return in another body – Re-incarnation
The simple believer has no doubt that persons who reject the glad tidings will suffer in hell eternally. The English Bible leave him/her in no doubt that the punishment of the wicked is eternal. ‘And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever … And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. …And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire’ (Rev 21:10,12,15).
However, the theological intelligentsia has created alternative arguments:
- The Greek word αἰώνιος/aiónios/Strong 166 does not really mean ‘eternal’. For example, some confine both life and punishment to the next age, i.e. the millennium. But that cannot be eternal.
- All will be saved: God is too loving to allow such a thing as eternal misery in the lake of fire. (Universalism)
- The wicked will not be saved. Their souls will no longer be immortal, for that the fire of hell will in time consume (or annihilate) them. (Annihiliationism).
- I add re-incarnation – that the soul is reborn into another being
These arguments are mutually exclusive.
The Greek Word αἰώνιος
Darby was a Greek scholar and he was perfectly satisfied that the word meant ‘without end’ God warns the reader that eternal misery is the portion of the wicked. If that were not the case, would God frighten people with something that was not true? Strong defines αἰώνιος as ‘age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting’.
Rev 5:14 says, ‘And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.’ The worshippers worship for ever and ever. On the other hand, ‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name’ (Rev 14:11). For ever and ever is just that – eternal.
All will be Saved – Universalism
These persons call themselves Christian universalists. The idea that all will be saved is monstrous and unscriptural lie. Scripture makes it clear that some are saved and others are damned. If this were not the case what would be the point of Christ’s atonement, because those who rejected Christ’s work would be saved anyway? It would follow that even the devil would have to be saved – without Christ. When scripture says ‘should not perish’ – they argue that none would perish; when scripture says ‘whose end is destruction’ – they have no answer since they believe that all will come into happiness, but the wicked would have to wait a little longer. They argue that the condemned are such for a time only – like the Catholics believe in purgatory.
Hell will in time consume (or annihilate) the Souls of the Wicked – Annihilationism
This view, Darby said, was much in vogue in Britain during his lifetime. I believe it still is. Annihilationists say that death means simply ceasing to exist, as it does for the animals. If life is to be found only in Christ – ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life’ (1 John 5:12), then those who do not believe have no life. They claim that after a certain quantity of punishment, the wicked will be turned out of existence, annihilated or consumed by the fire of hell, and exist no more. However, if when they died they ceased to exist, how were they to be made alive (without the work of Christ) in order to exist? Are they to be revived just to be punished?
Both of the above subvert God’s claims and the work of Christ.
As far as I can see, there is no reference to reincarnation in Darby’s writings. I am adding it though since, sadly many Christians have, in more recent times, borrowed this notion from Buddhism and Hinduism. It becomes a way of avoiding having a direct experience with God and accepting the work of Christ. ‘Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation’ (Heb 9:26-28).
Christ endured the wrath of a majestic and holy God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Eternal punishment is the terrible consequence of the enmity of man’s heart against God; eternal blessedness is the result of God’s free and blessed grace. Simple-minded Christians believe this, as they believe scripture.
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son’ (1 John 5:10-11)
An Appeal by J N Darby
Poor sinner, you are to meet God. Are you competent to judge how much punishment He should assign to you for your quantity of sin. He is to judge you in love. Love is what He is. But He is God, and does what pleases Him. His love for His Son; His love for those who have accepted the work of His Son, obliges Him to punish you eternally if you refuse His love. Mark this: if the Spirit of God has touched your conscience, you know that you deserve to be shut out of the presence of God for ever. You are conscious that you have deserved eternal wrath and punishment. You are a sinner: — What, in your own conscience, does sin deserve? And further, if it is a question what sin deserves, it is a question of what Christ bore, what His atonement was; for He bore our sins and was made sin for us. (Lightly edited by Sosthenes).
This is a summary of a paper by John Nelson Darby ‘A Brief Scriptural Evidence on the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, for Plain People’. It is published in Collected Writings Volume 7 (Doctrinal 2) page 1.