Eternal Punishment

Christians have differed as to the subject of everlasting punishment.

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


J N DarbyChristians have differed as to the subject of everlasting punishment.

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).

The Truth

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. 


August 2017


J N Darby – French Letter No. 117 – Universalism and Annihilation

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

London – 2nd March 1878
To Mr P

Very dear Brother,
I bless God with all my heart that those to whom you have been a blessing are standing firm. It is a true subject of joy, especially in these times when there is so much seed that falls into the stony ground and, I fear indeed, where the seed itself does not grow well. It is a time when we have to be much before God so that he may take care of the work Himself, and act in souls so that the work should be solid. However, it is a time of blessing. The desire to hear the Word is striking, and conversions too are not lacking. Ecclesiastical institutions are shaken, and there is unrest everywhere, but the work of God develops, and the unrest makes more seek God and the truth. The shaking of everything also turns hearts more towards the coming of the Saviour, but unbelief takes the high ground. However, I have a slight feeling that there is a certain reaction in the spirit of good people, but this open unbelief invades every country.

I have examined the pretensions of its promoters; I have found them to be based on a bottomless quagmire of doubts. The two principal points are the denial of inspiration, and either annihilation or a fresh upsurge of universalism; annihilation being the game of the mind of man who does not submit to the word of God. This is reproduced in a way to capture the light and lazy minds of women, people disposed to please themselves and to take away the authority of the word of God, or even to appear amiable towards those who are formally opposed. Universalism is fundamentally a question of the estimate which we make of sin, and in consequence of redemption and what it has cost the Lord to make take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; in this way, Christianity is entirely taken away, responsibility in its true character, repentance, expiation. An animal, whatever intelligence it has, has no need of expiation; it does not have a nature which hates the Lord. Universalism, like annihilation, equally destroys Christianity and the conviction of the evil of sin in the soul. The important thing for us, dear brother, is that we should be more with the Lord as to the work; then the work goes from Him in the soul and it is for Him. Let us not be frightened by the progress of evil; He is above all, He has been there in His humiliation; He is there now that He is glorified; only He exercises our souls through the difficulties that we have to pass through. I desire much to see souls exercised before the Lord. They may not walk badly, but the soul is not exercised before Him, there is something superficial; they are always in danger, temptations even are not resisted which may arise, they do not know the Saviour very much; they do not depend much on Him in a practical way. I always say there are three men in me; Christ at bottom, otherwise I am not a Christian; then an outward walk where there is nothing to reproach me; but between these two things, what occupies me all day inwardly, that is to say where my motives are, my thoughts? Is my heart a beaten path, trodden by all the comings and goings, even by the follies of my own heart? It is there that the real state of the Christian is found. Oh! that we may occupied of Christ! May He dwell in our hearts by faith , and that, in our discussions with others, this may flow from its source. Thus also we are rooted and founded in love. Things are happy, there is communion one with another; an assembly may even suffer, but they find patience and support there; hearts refer to Christ in everything; they consider one another for provoking to love and good works .

Remember, dear brother, that there is a work of self-knowledge which is absolutely necessary for rest of soul; a work where it is not a matter of redemption, although things are often mixed in experience; but, assuming that the redemption is known, it is always necessary to know oneself, and while showing, as in the case of the thief, that the blood of Christ has made us fit for the inheritance of the saints in light , in general God leads us through the wilderness to humble us, to prove us, to make us know what there is in our hearts . If redemption is not clearly realised, this work is mixed with the thought of acceptance; if it is realised, it is a painful sounding of the heart so that all should be brought into the light. If one is always manifested to God, as one will be before the judgment seat of Christ, then the atmosphere of the soul is clear, the air serene without cloud. His loving kindness is better than life . It may be that God chastens us along the way if, when we fail, we do not judge ourselves. Sometimes, one sees a soul labouring deeply on a death bed, when Satan draws near to torment them, in making them look over their whole life in which motives have not been judged, but that is a matter of God’s ways, not of His own settled purpose (see Exod 3, 6, 15). These understand the redemption and glory as Christ and with Christ, according to His sovereign grace, at the end of the wilderness. He did not see iniquity in Jacob, nor wrong in Israel . But Moses saw nothing else. It is a question of self-judgment, being always manifested to God, walking in its presence, having the consciousness of it, this is what holds our conscience on the alert.
… Salute the brethren affectionately on my behalf
Yours affectionately in Jesus

Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013
Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.