Eternal Punishment: Orthodoxy (Chapter 2)




OUR orthodox friends walk with us in our theology only a part of the way. They believe as we do, that God is the Creator of all souls, and that Christ is the Savior of men, – but not of all men.

The orthodox and the Universalist hold the same theological belief in salvation. That Jesus died for the sins of the world is not the point of disagreement. The orthodoxy believes the number of men saved by Christ’s crucifixion is small. The Universalist believes that Christ died for the sins of all men; not a few men, not most men, but all men.

The orthodoxy and the Universalist walk the same doctrinal paths in most of the basic Christian doctrines. The respective theologies of the orthodox and of the Universalist branch at the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. The orthodoxy’s path leads to everlasting torment. The Universalist’s theological path leads to an everlasting Father who loves His whole creation.

The orthodoxy’s path leads to eternal conscious torment for most of God’s creation. There is a debate within orthodoxy regarding those who will not suffer eternally. Conspicuous in both is that no matter their persuasion their group is ordained for salvation. Some of the orthodoxy believe God’s creatures will choose Him, yet others will be chosen by Him. Some will have worked for their invitation to salvation while others may have accepted grace from God.

The Universalist’s path leads to Ultimate Reconciliation. All will one day bow. All will one day acknowledge Him as Savior and Lord. Every creature that ever lived; whether in water or on the land or under the land; every creature will bow.

The Universalist’s path is the Blessed Hope.

That is the core of the discussion. Which is true? Is eternal conscious torment true? Ultimate Restoration?

As to the extent of his salvation, they differ widely among themselves. Some, as we shall see, make it very narrow, while others make it relatively very broad. Some believe that Christ came to seek and to save only a part, and many but a small part, of the human family, while others teach that his object was to save all. But they all agree that finally a portion of mankind, either through the foreordination of God, or through their own fault, will be excluded from the benefits of his grace, and either be annihilated at last, as a few believe, or suffer the torments of hell during the endless ages of eternity, which is the doctrine commonly maintained and preached.

Orthodox churches make the pronouncement of their denominational faith that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is settled. Some will say they have been saved because they had the foresight to exercise their will to follow Jesus. Others will say they have been saved because God ordained their salvation from before eternity.

Orthodox churches hardly agree on what salvation really means. They disagree on baptism, membership, worship, prayers, charismatic gifts and all manner of church doctrines. Yet they all seemingly possess superior knowledge and inspiration when it comes to God’s judgment of the rebellious. They believe God is going to condemn the unsaved rebel to eternal conscious torment.

The orthodox pastors teach they and those that follow them have been chosen by God. They believe it was “pre-destined” that God created you for salvation, but countless others for wrathful vengeance.

The orthodox pastors teach they and others like them have been blessed with a knowledge of God that surpasses their will. Because God opened their eyes and because they were blessed to see salvation in Christ Jesus these men chose to believe Jesus is Christ. God did not open the eyes of many and many are not blessed to see salvation.

Both paths are the paths of the orthodox pastor be he a Calvinist or be she an Arminian. Both trips end with an all knowing God condemning multitudes by sentencing them to eternal conscious torment. Both trips end with family members being singled out as unbelievers. They will stand before a just and loving Father and He will condemn them for their rebellion in this short life to an eternity being tormented by flame. That is the understanding of the orthodox pastor and preacher.

Think of your own immediate family. Do all of them believe in Christ Jesus? Is there anyone in your immediate sphere of influence not saved by Jesus? People we know, family, created by God sentenced to suffer eternal conscious torment.

It terrifies me that I once believed this way. I was convinced that people I loved were bound to suffer eternal conscious torment because they did not believe in Christ Jesus. My heart became hardened and their eternal judgment didn’t really affect the way I interacted with them. I knew these good people and I knew they did not believe in salvation by faith alone. I knew these people were going to hell. And, it didn’t bother me. There was nothing I could do about it. Even praying for them became a chore.

My burden has been lifted. I am a Universalist, I guess. I was taught the doctrine of eternal conscious torment and I taught it, too. I am convinced that what I learned and what I taught is wrong.

The Universalist’s path is to surrender to Him and know that He will reconcile all to Himself. This is the real Good News. It is Gospel to say Jesus loves, Jesus Saves.

I call both these opinions orthodox, because they both rest on the same principles and move in the same circle of thought. They both involve the same unaccountable purpose in God to create human beings whom he could not govern, and whom he knew from the beginning he must finally in some way destroy. They differ only in the kind of destruction he chooses to employ. As yet, however, the doctrine of annihilation, which has nothing to recommend it except that it is not so bad, not so horrible, as endless punishment, has few advocates, and hardly deserves more than a passing notice.

I shall, therefore, devote my attention wholly, or almost wholly, to that form of orthodoxy which has

been prevalent in the Church for nearly fifteen centuries, and under some modifications, which are assumed to be improvements, is prevalent still.

Dr. Sawyer points out that the orthodoxy is split by their denominations, but they are in general agreement with regard to eternal conscious torment. They both agree that God created all persons and many of those, perhaps most of those, will be rebellious to the degree God is unable to govern them. God, knowing that much of His creation would be rebellious, also knew that He would have to destroy the rebellious ones. Some believe God will annihilate the rebellious. A larger majority believe God will judge the rebellious and condemn the offender to eternal conscious torment.

Dr. Sawyer remarks there is little scriptural support for annihilation as a doctrine. However, suffering this form of punishment would be more palatable than the other. Annihilation is more humane an outcome.

I hope it will be observed that I use the word “orthodox” in no invidious (tending to rouse ill will, animosity, or resentment) manner, but merely as a convenient term to designate that form of religious faith, or system of theology, which, in the point of view now under consideration, is directly opposed to Universalism.

The orthodoxy is well established in Western cultures, particularly in America. The orthodoxy consists of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostal and almost every other denomination. The orthodoxy are not malignant people. To be a person persuaded by the orthodoxy does not change God’s perspective of each of us. He loves the person persuaded by a belief in eternal conscious torment in the same way He loves any other person not so persuaded.

Universalism is rebuked by the orthodoxy. It is the orthodoxy that uses the term “Universalist” with derision. Universalist is used to describe their opposition. And often members of the orthodoxy ascribe all kinds of meaning to the term Universalist. The term is used to malign the character of the Universalist.

It is the orthodoxy that ridicules the Universalist when the orthodoxy describes Universal Reconciliation as an “All Roads Lead to Salvation” theology. The orthodoxy knows that claim is untrue, yet it is still used today to explain away Universalism.

The animus of the orthodoxy toward the Universalist is folly. The orthodoxy has built a wall around their theology of eternal conscious torment. They defend their belief vehemently. A person who disagrees with the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is shunned. He’ll be forgiven and welcomed back into the orthodoxy when he recants.

Peter Hiett is the Pastor of a church in Denver, Colorado named The Sanctuary Downtown. Mr. Hiett’s testimony is powerful and relates to the power of the orthodoxy.

Mr. Hiett was ordained to preach by major denomination. He served many churches under that denominational umbrella. Prior to leading the The Sanctuary downtown his last posting was to Lookout Mountain Community Church. He served at Lookout for fifteen years until his ordination was withdrawn by the denomination.

Mr. Hiett had recently completed a thorough study on the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. He learned that God does not intend to annihilate His creation nor does He intend to lock any of His creation into a place the orthodox calls “hell.” Mr. Hiett learned that God intends to reconcile all men to Himself.

He preached a sermon regarding what he had recently learned. Some in his congregation were alarmed and reported their concerns to the denomination’s hierarchy. There was a “hearing” and Mr. Hiett was offered an opportunity to save his ordination. All he had to do was confirm his adherence to the Westminster Confession. He said he could comply with all but two of the points. The board was not impressed and formally withdrew their ordination of Peter Hiett.

Mr. Hiett has since started another church. He tells his story and what his church believes in an article.

And I trust my friends of that school will not think it an offense that I designate them, and the scheme of religion they hold, by a name that has always been held honorable, and for the exclusive title to which they and their predecessors of like faith have contended for many, many ages. If the doctrine which I am about to exhibit is orthodox, I willingly forego the honor it would confer, and as willingly wear the opprobrious (reproached, scorned, disgrace; shameful or infamous) name of heretic.

Dr. Sawyer is taking a bold step. He has laid honor at the feet of the orthodoxy. They are convinced of what they believe. Their beliefs form their values and they proclaim themselves to be orthodoxy.

Then Dr. Sawyer says this, “If the doctrine which I am about to exhibit is orthodox, I willingly forego the honor it would confer, and I willingly wear the opprobrious name of heretic.”

His challenge to the orthodoxy is backed by his conviction to Ultimate Reconciliation. He is going to lay out the orthodoxy’s doctrine of eternal conscious torment. By his conviction if what he uncovers about eternal conscious torment is the common and accepted belief (orthodoxy) then he willingly takes on the mantle of the heretic in his professed disagreement.

To Dr. Sawyer and many others like him it is inconceivable our Father’s love for His creation is shown by eternal conscious torment. He will gladly wear the shame of the label of heretic. Look back at Christian history. There have always been upstanding men who stood against common and accepted human reasoning. There have been upstanding men who willfully chose or those today who choose to live in the Truth as they understand it leaving aside any comfort of being inside the orthodoxy.

Dr. Sawyer is “all in.”

Familiar as the doctrine of endless punishment is, much as it has been preached, and widely as it is still professed, there is great reason to think that few give it, in any adequate degree, the consideration which a doctrine of this frightful and amazing character ought to command. It seems to enter but very little into the real thought and convictions of those who professedly believe it, and affects them far less, both mentally and morally, than such a doctrine should naturally be expected to do.

It is a very just remark of Dr. Emmons, that “hearers must feel what they hear, or what they hear will be like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. That discourse which fails of penetrating the mind immediately vanishes without producing any desirable or permanent fruit.”

The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is prevalent to this day. The doctrine of endless punishment is preached in the majority of Christian churches. It is a theological fact in those churches that eternal conscious torment is God’s justice meted to those who continue in rebellion.

The orthodox consider themselves saved and not subject to God’s chastisement. The orthodox will not suffer the consequences of displeasing God by rejecting Him. That is what they believe. They believe they have either been chosen by God or that they chose to believe in God. Because of their status as chosen ones they will not suffer the pain of punishment for their sin. Those who do not agree with them are not the chosen ones and are therefore condemned.

Is this subject of eternal conscious torment studied or discussed frequently? It is such a critical doctrine to the outcome of billions and billions of those created by God. The majority of humanity will be the subject of eternal torment. Yet, it seems the subject is not broached often. And, considering the consequences of such a doctrine should not the professor of it be on his knees seeking God’s strength to help steer others away from His wrath?

No one, I am sure, can seriously reflect upon the doctrine of endless punishment, even as the remotest possibility, without being appalled by it. The mere thought of such a state of existence as that in which the damned are said to be placed, impresses both the mind and heart with a sense of its strange and awful character.

Formerly, and not unfrequently even at the present day, we find it represented as embracing everything most painful and most terrible in the whole range of human thought, or indeed possible to the omnipotence of God.

Preachers and poets have vied with each other in their endeavors to describe its multiplied torments. The scene of its unspeakable sufferings is HELL, generally represented as an ocean of literal fire and brimstone, into which sinners are cast, soul and body, and where, alive and endowed with the keenest sensibility, often described as rendered supernaturally acute by miraculous power, and maintained unimpaired, they are to endure all the tortures such a condition would necessarily imply, not for a moment, an hour, or a day, not for a year, an age, or a century, not for a thousand years, a million, or ten thousand millions, but absolutely through all eternity.

The thought is simply overwhelming!

Every Christian walking should be severely stricken sick by the concept of eternal conscious torment. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is hideous. Pain and suffering on the back of the unbelieving not for an established time, but established to last eternally.

Hell is a lake of fire; an unquenchable tormenting fire. This is a fire hotter that the fire stoked to burn three young Jews.

Dan 1:6, 7
Now there were among them some of the sons of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. When the chief of the eunuchs assigned names to them, he assigned to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-nego.

We cannot imagine the pain and torment of that fire on the bodies of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. We know how this story ends. When the king looks into the inferno in which he commanded the Jewish boys to be burned he sees the three of them with another, a fourth person. The fire and heat had no effect on the Jewish boys.

Great theologians who represent the orthodoxy concur the fourth person in that incinerator was Jesus the Christ.

I think we all agree that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were blessed and saved by Christ Jesus. We marvel at His love for these Jewish boys. We think how blessed are the Jews for being able to experience God’s love directly. We have a sense of relief that God saves good guys. And it helps if we believe we are part of that good guy club.

Orthodox Christians seemingly don’t sense remorse for the lost souls. Their punishment of endless conscious torment is their lot. Either God chose them or they did not choose God. Either way they will receive exactly what they deserve. The orthodoxy doesn’t feel for them. Even though the orthodoxy is convinced they will suffer extraordinary and eternal torment because of their unbelief; their rebellion, the orthodoxy does not feel for them.

Universalists do sense remorse for lost souls in this life. We, like the orthodoxy, preach the Good News of Christ Jesus. We do not preach endless conscious torment, however. We live our lives in Liberty in Christ. We believe that the Christ who saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego from the fire is the Power that will save all men from eternal fire. Christ’s Body broken and His Blood shed for the salvation of all mankind.

I see hypocrisy in the orthodox view of hell. We are taught to love everyone, including, our enemies. We are taught to forgive endlessly. The orthodoxy teaches Jesus does not forgive endlessly. There comes a time for every man to have a spiritual awakening. That’s not exactly true, though. Calvinists believe that God forgives endlessly those people who He chooses. The Arminians believe a man chooses to believe God Who forgives them endlessly. Those who are not chosen or have chosen to reject Christ are consigned to endless conscious torment.

The hypocrisy is this; Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies endlessly, but according to the orthodoxy He does not do what He commands us to do.

That we may understand and know what the doctrine of endless punishment, as it has been preached and believed in the Christian world, really is, that we may be enabled, nay, forced, to form some faint and imperfect conception of its various and unspeakable horrors, I propose to offer here some extracts from accredited authors, both Catholic and Protestant, at home and abroad, in past ages and of the present day, – authors who have believed the doctrine, and appeared as its promulgators and advocates.

Dr. Sawyer has engaged the discussion. He wants to understand where the doctrine of endless conscious torment gets its strength. It is a doctrine that is taught expertly by pastors, teachers and others. What are the arguments to support endless conscious torment?

There are opinions, it is said, whose honest statement is their best refutation; and at the head of these, I think, must stand the doctrine under consideration. The task I have assumed is not a grateful one. It is more agreeable to a Christian temper to proclaim wholesome truth than to expose noxious errors; but I believe such an exposition as I here propose is needed, and will prove useful to both my Universalist and my orthodox friends.

To the former it will be a confirmation of their severest judgment of the doctrine in question, while to many of the latter I am sure it will be a revelation of torments which, for variety, ingenuity, cruelty, and uselessness, have never been urged upon their attention, and of which they have hitherto never really dreamed.

As it was for Dr. Sawyer it is for me, too. I would rather never disagree with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would wish never to challenge my Pastor’s sermon or leadership. However, this issue is of great importance. It is a subject the must be examined closely, especially, if we are going to make it a doctrine of Christian acceptance and life.

Dr. Sawyer understands the controversy and he understands the theology being challenged. He is going to challenge the doctrine of endless conscious torment by examining the theology head on. He will reference Biblical Scholars as he explains where the error began. What kinds of torments does God have in store for the rebellious?

The Universalists will see the work of Dr. Sawyer and their belief in Ultimate Reconciliation will be affirmed in their hearts.

The orthodoxy will see the work of Dr. Sawyer and they will be exposed to the words of learned men who describe the fate of the majority of mankind. Hopefully what they read will cause them at least to reexamine their belief.

We will see.

Preachers and writers who feel it their duty to advocate this doctrine will be obliged to me, I am certain, for bringing to their notice, and placing in their hands, some of the finest and most impressive

things ever uttered upon it. It shall be my constant care to make my quotations accurate, and the reader may rely on having here ipsissima verba (the very words) of the authors whose names are given.

In the great majority of cases I copy directly from their published works. In a very few instances, and those of little importance, I quote second-hand. I will only add, that the library of the Universalist Historical Society has furnished most of the authorities here employed; and I might, had it seemed advisable, have referred to a much greater number of writers upon many of the points here presented to view. If it should seem to some that I have made too frequent use of the works of President Edwards, my apology must be that he was really one of the great thinkers and preachers of this country, and that he dominated the religious thought of New England especially, for a whole century; and his mighty influence is still powerfully felt in all the Calvinistic churches on this side of the Atlantic.

Dr. Sawyer offers his research to the students of the orthodoxy. Dr. Sawyer has compiled resource material. He has the letters and books of Christian scholars. He has articles written by the theological giants of their day. If after the evidence is presented and the orthodoxy remains compelled to preach eternal conscious torment, then they will have gathered for them in one place the words of the stalwarts of the orthodoxy.

Dr. Sawyer offers an apology for referencing Jonathon Edwards frequently. Dr. Sawyer affirms that President Edwards an accomplished man and that President Edwards thoughts had affected the church in New England. Dr. Sawyer points out President Edwards “…influence is till powerfully felt in all the Calvinistic churches on this side of the Atlantic.”

My limited experience suggests that President Edwards doctrine of eternal conscious torment still reigns in churches throughout the Western World.

About Jim Barnes

A man seeking to please the Lord. A man striving to abide in Christ Jesus. A man whose hope is to see just one more come into the fold.
This entry was posted in Dr. Thomas Sawyer - Eternal Punishment: In The Very Words Of Its Advocates, Reconciliation Of All. Bookmark the permalink.

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