Sunday, 17 February 2013

MODERN IDEAS REGARDING ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

"Salvator Mundi; or, is Christ the Saviour of All Men !" by Samuel Cox, London: Henry S. King and Co., 1877.
 " Eternal Hope, Five Sermons preached in Westminster Abbey, by the Rev. Frederic W. Farrar, D.D., F.R.S., Canon of Westminster, chaplain in ordinary to the Queen." London : Macmillan and Co., 1878.

There is no change in the thought and feeling of the religious world of the present day more remarkable than that which has taken place with regard to the doctrine of eternal punishment. Although the old belief is still expressed in words by large numbers of orthodox preachers, nothing is more evident than that it is no longer held in the same believing, terribly realistic fashion as in past ages. At the same time, by a large and increasing portion of the Church, representing the greater part of the really active and vital faith of the day, the doctrine is denied or sophisticated away. The tremendous threat of endless infinite torment undergone by material bodies in a material hell, when treated by modern sentimental exegesis, is reduced to something much milder and more tolerable. It is explained as a misinterpretation of a crude localism, as an erroneous translation, as a concession to the barbarous ideas of a barbarous age, or as a mythical growth from texts which necessitate no such explanation. In various ways it is either refined away or attenuated into a metaphor. What was once a dread reality now furnishes matter for popular jests, and the famous decision in the Essays and Reviews case — that a belief in everlasting punishment was not essential in an Anglican clergyman — was said, with laughing satire, to have "deprived orthodox believers of the hope of eternal damnation." In regard to this great change, one or two points are especially noteworthy. It has not been produced by the influence of a few advanced minds impressing their opinions on the many. By many such advanced minds, indeed, from the days of Origen downwards to those of Maurice and Charles Kingsley, this belief has been either doubtfully held or decisively repudiated. But their thought was quite personal and individual, and never became the creed of a communion. What has caused the very considerable abandonment of the doctrine as a prominent article of faith at the present day in Protestant Churches — for it is to be remarked that the belief in a state of purgatory always mitigated and restricted the belief in the Catholic Church — is an alteration apparently in the mind and feeling of the masses of believers. This dogma is no longer taught with the old direct absolutism by the teacher, because a large number of the followers would refuse to believe it if so taught. Finding this to be the case the teachers are emboldened to say that they have had doubts on the subject all the time, and on a careful reconsideration of the texts find that the doctrine has no warrant in any passage of the Bible, and that the passages usually cited as proofs are nothing but mistranslations it is pretty clear that the change produced is not due to any fresh evidence on the subject. The evidence is the same as it has always been. But while it was held sufficient by former generations, it is condemned by large numbers of the present generation as inadequate. There is a prevalent feeling that no conceivable evidence could warrant the belief in a dogma which is considered to be irreconcilable with Almighty justice. Here, again, is seen a fundamental difference between the mind of the present and of past ages. Objecting to the justice of the procedure were in old days Surmounted by the assertion that this was the Divine will, and therefore this was justice. But now the revolt against the doctrine rests on the assertion that this is not justice, and therefore cannot be the Divine will. The necessary identify between the Divine decree and the principles of justice is held with equal firmness in both theories. But whereas our forefathers were content to take the decree for granted, to conform their ethical notions to it as well as they could, now men feel less certain of the asserted fact, and very much more sure of the abstract principle of right and wrong. The result of all is that a profound change has taken place in the aspect of the after-life to mankind, and a potent influence, whether for good or evil, is henceforth to a large degree discarded and dispensed with.
 What the old doctrine was it is hardly necessary to state in crude words. But it may be well, by a few citations which are supplied by the books before us, to show that it was held in all its terrors by some of the greatest and most amiable of mankind. John Milton (from whose vivid creative imagination the current representation of hell is mainly derived), in considering the ultimate destination of those who have been wicked in high places, says that they—
" After a shamefull end in this life (which God grant them) shall be thrown downe eternally into the deepest and darkest gulfe of hell, where, under the despightfull controule, the trample, and spurn of all the other damned, that, in the anguish of their torture, shall have no other ease than to exercise a raving and bestiall tyranny over them as their slaves and negroes, they shall remaine in that plight for ever — the basest, the lowermost, the most dejected, most underfoot and downetrodden vassals of perdition."
 The rich imagination of Jeremy Taylor, the Shakespeare of the English pulpit, fairly revelled in the work of depicting the tortures of the damned. He tells us—
"God's heavy hand shall press the sanies and the intolerableness, the obliquity and the unreasonableness, the amazement and the disorder, the smart and the sorrow, the guilt and the punishment out from all our sins, and pour them into one chalice, and mingle them with an infinite wrath, and make the wicked drink off all the vengeance, and force it down their unwilling throats, with the violence of devils and accursed spirits."
 The stern, hard intellect of Jonathan Edwards thus with calm precision laid down the lines of the future —
" The world will probably be converted into a great lake or liquid globe of fire, in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed, which shall always be in tempest, in which they shall be tossed to and fro, having no rest day or night, vast waves or billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall ever be full of a quick sense, within and without; their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins, and their vital shall for ever be full of a glowing, melting fire, enough to melt the very rocks and elements. Also they shall be full of the most quick and lively sense to feel the torment, not for ten millions of ages, but for ever and ever, without any end at all."
 A divine of our own day, Mr. Spurgeon,  with the same uncompromising directness, informs the wicked man —
"Thou wilt look up there on the throne of God, and it shall be written ' For ever.' 'When the damned jingle the framing irons of their torments they shall say 'For ever!' When they howl echo cries 'For ever.'
" 'For ever' is written on their racks,
'For ever' on their chains,
'For ever' burneth in the fire,
'For ever' ever reigns "
The old doctrine expressly excluded the idea of there being any beneficial end served by these torments. They were not the fires of purification, but were simply tortures inflicted out of a spirit of punishment. But it is not to be concluded that they were represented as utterly devoid of utility, although it would not be easy for a mind untrained is the mysteries of theological lore to guess what useful end could be attributed to them. One alleged good purpose, however, which has been attributed by high authority to these torments is that they would offer a pleasing and entertaining spectacle to the saved, whereby they may at any time add a new zest to their enjoyment. The ferocious passage in Tertullian is well known in Gibbon's translation : —
" You are fond of spectacles; expect the greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgment of the universe. How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I be hold so many proud monarchs and fancied gods groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecute the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red-hot flames with their deluded scholars ; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ."
This expectation of enjoying the view of the torments of the wicked was not confined to the stern African father just quoted. St. Thomas of Aquinas and Peter Lombard agreed that in the world to come the bliss of the saints would, in the words of the former, " please them the more because they are permitted to gaze on the punishment of the wicked." Jonathan Edwards held the same cheerful anticipation. He wrote:— "The damned shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb ; so will they be tormented, also, in the presence of the glorified saints. Hereby the saints will be made more sensible how great their salvation is. The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardor of the love and gratitude of the saints in heaven." Such is the old doctrine in its most revolting, but also, let us add, in its most logical and consistent form, and it is held by the authors under notice that a terrible burden would be raised from the minds and consciences of believers could it he got rid of. Let us see what their works contribute to this result.
The more comprehensive and argumentative treatment of the subject is to be found in the work of Mr. Cox. Indeed, the other book depends for much of its reasoning on Salvator Mundi, Canon Farrar doing little more than qualify from his own point of view many of the conclusions, and reassert them with warm and copious rhetoric. In justifying his taking up and dealing with this question, Mr. Cox says : — " Few of the more thoughtful and cultivated preachers of the gospel now hold the dogma of everlasting torment — in a large circle of acquaintance I hardly know one ; and yet how few seek to replace it, in the mind of the Church, with any doctrine which they hold to be more in accordance with 'the mind of the spirit.'" He holds that what a teacher holds to be true he is called upon boldly to utter. "The Church is not dying, nor likely to die, of too much truth ; but it is sure to languish if its teachers, even for the most amiable reasons, suppress the truth, that is in them." In contending against the doctrine that all men who have not accepted the Christian religion are to be damned, he asks — "Who dare say of any class of men, in any age, that nothing but their own will prevented their salvation ? There are thousands and tens of thousands in this Christian land to-day who have never had a fair chance of being quickened into life. . . . There are multitudes here in England, among the neglected and criminal classes, who have never had any real opportunity of knowing God or Christ, or even the blessedness of a pure and honest life ; and there are multitudes more from whom the light of Life has been concealed by the superstition, or the bigotry, or the immorality of the very Church itself." He proceeds to the examination of the question if, on a consideration of the Scripture passages supposed to prove the doctrine of eternal damnation, it is impossible 'to avoid the dread conclusion that these multitudes are to be everlastingly tormented for not doing what in the nature of things it was impossible for them to do. In entering on this examination he says : —
"The first class of Scriptures we have to examine are those in which the words hell and damnation occur, for it is on these passages mainly that the popular misconception is based. If these two words were expunged from the Bible. I doubt whether most of those who read it would not feel that the whole dogma of future and endless torment had vanished with them. No doubt, therefore, many of you will be surprised — perhaps even astonished and indignant —to bear that neither of these words is to be found in any part of the New Testament, or indeed, in any part of the whole Bible ; nor even any word which at all answers to the conception which they quicken in our minds. 'Not to be found in the New Testament !' you say ; why, I can show you a dozen or a score of places in which these words are to be found.' But are you quite sure that it is the New Testament in which you find them ? It is a version, a translation, of the New Testament in which you find them, of course, but does it necessarily follow that the translation is an accurate one? I am sorry to say that in so far as it uses the words 'hell' and 'damnation' it is demonstrable an inaccurate and misleading one. No such words are to be found in the Greek — that is, in the real, the original Testament, nor any words which convey, as they now do, the conception of a final and ever-during place of torment, and of a Divine sentence which adjudges man to that place of torment."
Our author proceeds to argue that the verb "to damn" — "so frequent in the mouth of Theology" — only occurs 12 times in the New Testament, that in eight of these it is a translation of the Greek verb krinean, to judge, that this verb with, its derivatives occurs more than 170 times in the Greek Testament, and that more than 150 times it is rendered in the English version by our verb to judge, seven times, "very needlessly and misleadingly," it is rendered by "to condemn," twice by "to accuse," and only eight times by "to damn." Another Greek verb kata-krinein, to condemn, which in two places is translated "to damn," is in the other 22 times in which it is used correctly translated "to condemn." "You see how the case stands, then. These two Greek verbs occur some 200 times in the New Testament, and in only 10 instances is this dreadful, this damnable meaning foisted upon them. Is there anything in the intention and contexture of these 10 passages to warrant so grave a departure from the common and admitted meanings of the words? Look at them for yourselves and see.' After examining these passages one by one there remain still two instances in which the word is used in the English version, but these are mistakes "acknowledged by all students of the Bible." Our author sums up thus :—
" I have now cited every passage in which the verb 'to damn,' in any form of it, is used in our version. And as you see in no single case is there, in the original, the slightest warrant for its use. With a clear conscience, therefore, and a thankful heart, we may discharge this horrible word from the pages of the New Testament. It should never have been permitted to defile them. There is no shadow of excuse for retaining it when once we have learned that the Greek words it is employed to render never mean more than 'to judge' and 'to condemn.' We are all of us judged by God every day that we live, and often condemned. And we shall all be judged by Him when we die, and even then some of as may be condemned. But to what we shall be condemned none of the passages we have examined declare. And therefore we have no right to import into them, as we do by our present translation, the notion that we shall be doomed to an endless torment, or even to the final and irrevocable loss of hope."
The word "hell" is similarly examined. In the authorised version "it occurs 16 times, and it is used to render the three Greek words Tartarus, Hades, and Gehenna. The most important of these is Gehenna, which is used 12 times out of the 18, and is, as most readers know, the Greek form of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, the ravine under the south-western wall of Jerusalem, which, having been defiled by idolatrous rites, was by King Josiah declared unclean, and bones of the dead were strewn over its surface. "Thenceforth," says Mr. Cox, " it became the common cesspool of the city, into which offal was cast, and the carcases of animals, and even the bodies of great criminals, who had led a life so vile as to be judged unworthy of decent burial. Worms preyed on their corrupting flesh, and fires were kept burning, lest the pestilential infection should rise from the valley and float through the streets of Jerusalem. To the Hebrew prophets this foul, terrible valley became an apt type or illustration of the doom of the unrighteous. They drew from it their images — images of which such terrible and unwarrantable use has been made, of the worm that never dies, and of the fire which is not quenched. With them, to say that a man was in danger of Gehenna was to say that his sins had exposed him to a judgment the terrors of which were faintly shadowed forth by the sickening horrors of the detestable Ge-Hinnom." After considering separately the various tests in which the word Gehenna occurs, our author proceeds:—
" We have found that for the most part it was used in a purely figurative sense ; that, so often as it is used in a literal sense, it denotes the punishments executed on criminal Jews in this present world ; and that, in the one or two cases in which it veils a reference to the punishments of the world to come, it would be understood by those who heard it as denoting that brief agony which, as they thought, would precede the entire destruction of the wicked, and, therefore, the word ' hell,' in the sense in which we use it, is in every case a monstrous mistranslation of the word 'Gehenna,' and should be replaced by it. . . . The word 'hell,' therefore, has no   sort of right to a place in our Bible, and I can not and will not doubt that those of you who have long felt that the dogma of an everlasting punishment inflicted for the sins of time, threw dark shadows on the very throne, nay, on the very character of God, will thankfully expunge it from the inspired record."
We cannot quote the arguments which Mr. Cox employs to show that the words 'eternal and 'everlasting' are mistranslations of the 'æonial' periods ascribed to the punishment of the wicked, and his conclusion that there is no warrant of Scripture for believing that this is unending or that it is inflicted for other than collective objects. But we may extract as a good specimen of his style the following reply to an anticipated objection: —
" 'Oh, but,' say some, who little think what they are saying, 'the same word is here used of the life promised to the righteous which is used of the punishment of the unrighteous; each is called 'æonial' and if the punishment of the wicked is not to last for ever, what guarantee have we that the felicity of the good, our good, will last for ever? To that question I reply by another. Would you then have the vast majority of men damned to an everlasting torture in order that you may feel quite sure that your timid soul will 'sit and sing itself away in everlasting bliss? If your soul is capable of no higher flight than that, is it worth saving? Is it capable of everlasting bliss ? Moses could wish himself blotted from the Book of Life, St. Paul could wish himself 'anathema' from Christ, so that Israel,their brethren according to the flesh, might be saved. And Christ both could and did far more than wish. He who knew no sin be came sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And he himself has taught us that he who would save his soul must be willing to lose his soul How much of His spirit can we have, then, if instead of wishing ourselves damned for the sake of the world, we are willing that the world should be damned for the sake of our timorous and foreboding souls?"
We have left but scanty room to exhibit the way in which Canon Farrar has treated the subject. He is less systematic and thoroughgoing than Mr. Cox ; his argument is little more than a qualified reproduction of that of Mr. Cox, and he falls short of maintaining, while careful not to deny, the possibility of an ultimate universal restoration. But he holds that if his rejection of the common theory of eternal punishment is not the opinion of the numerical majority, that he has "the best reason to believe" that "it is openly, or more often tacitly accepted by an ever-increasing number of our most thoughtful and educated living divines, and that it will be the professed and deeply-treasured belief of another generation of the English clergy" he is "most unalterably convinced."He says in his preface :—
"Restore the ancient belief in an intermediate state— correct the glaring and most unhappy mistranslations of our English version —judge of the words of our blessed Lord by the most ordinary rules of honest and unprejudiced interpretation; abstain from pressing the literal acceptance of passages most obviously metaphorical— give due weight to the countless passages of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelations, which speak of a love, and a mercy, and a principle of long-suffering over offended justice, which are to us irreconcilable with the belief that the unhappy race of God's children in this great family of man are all but universally doomed to endless torturings, at the very thought of which the heart faints and is sick with horror; give to the Reason and the Conscience of man some voice in judging of a scheme which seems to outrage all that is noblest and holiest within them ; separate from the notions of 'hell' (if the word be restored to its ancient sense) the arbitrary fancies of human ignorance and human passion ; accept the merciful opinions which the Church has always permitted, though she has not formally adopted them, that the fire of Gehenna is metaphorical— that most men will at last be saved ; hold that as the very word 'damnation' once implied the pæna damni—ie., the loss, it may be for ever, of the beatific vision — is far more than any pæna sensus, or physical torture, the essence of the sufferings of the lost — do this, and you have removed the greatest of all stumbling-blocks from the path of faith, and added incomparably to our love of God, and to the peace, the hope, the dignity, the happiness of human life."
In one of his sermons, entitled "Hell, what it is Not," Canon Farrar, after sketching the ordinary traditional opinions on the subject, says : —
"If St. Paul,again and again, flings from him with a 'God forbid !' the conclusions of an apparently irresistible logic, we surely, who have very little logic of any kind against us in this matter, but only questionable exegesis, sup ported in too many instances by spiritual selfishness and impenetrable prejudice— so in the high name of the outraged conscience of humanity —nay, in the far higher names of the God who loves, of the Saviour who died for, of the Spirit who enlightens us— hurl from us representation ; so cruel of a doctrine so horrible with every nerve and fibre of our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. Ignorance may make a fetish of such a doctrine if it will; Pharisaism may inscribe it upon its phylacteries; hatred may write it, instead of 'Holiness to the Lord,' on the sacerdotal petalon in which it degrades and simulates the name of love: — but here, in this vast mausoleum of the glorious dead, here amid the silent memories of the sons of fame and the fathers who begot us, of whom many, though not saints, were yet noble though erring men, and of whom (though they and we alike shall suffer, both here and hereafter, the penalty of unrepentant sin) we yet cannot and will not think as damned to unutterable tortures by irreversible decrees. I repudiate these crude and glaring travesties of the awful and holy will of God; I arraign them as ignorantly merciless ; I impeach them as a falsehood against Christ's universal and absolute redemption; I denounce them as a blasphemy against God's exceeding and eternal love. And more acceptable, I am very sure, than the rigidest and most uncompromising self-styled orthodoxy of all the Pharisees who have ever judged their brethren since time began — more acceptable by far to Him, the friend of publicans and sinners, who on His cross prayed for His murderers, and who died that we might live — more acceptable, I say by far, than the delight which amid a deluge of ruin hugs itself upon the plank which it has seized, would be the noble and trembling pity, so fearfully unlike the language of divines and schoolmen, which made St. Paul ready to be anathema from Christ for the sake of his brethren; which made Moses cry to his God at Sinai— 'Oh, this people have sinned; and now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin ; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book, which Thou hast written.' "
 It has not come within the scope of this paper to indicate the beliefs which the authors advocate as substitutes for the common doctrine of eternal punishment. What we have sought to do was to show the style of reasoning whereby they justify the rejection of this doctrine, and this the extracts we have given sufficiently exhibit.

Melbourne Argus 11 May 1878

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