Eternal Punishment: Chapter 5, Some Peculiar Properties of Hell-Fire

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT: IN THE VERY WORDS OF ITS ADVOCATES

C H A P T E R V.

SOME PECULIAR PROPERTIES OF HELL-FIRE.

The preceding descriptions, full and astonishing as they are, give after all a very imperfect conception of the fire of hell. It is further represented as possessing several very remarkable characteristics. In the first place it emits no light. The pious Matthew Henry, as he is always called, when speaking of hell, says, “There is fire but no light: it is utter darkness: darkness in extremity; the highest degree of darkness without any remainder, or mixture, or hope of light, nor the least gleam of it.”

So Prosper speaks of seeing “no light in that fire, but to feel that it burneth.”

Milton naturally seizes upon a fact so singular, and employs it thus:

Yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow.

Dr. Trapp, with Milton obviously in mind, has attempted to improve upon him, thus:—

For all that mass of fire projects no light,
But darkness visible, and glaring night;
Which to the eye serves only to reveal
Sad scenes of woe, and add affright to hell.

St. Theresa, who had often been in hell, also says: “There was not the least light there, but only the thickest, blackest darkness.”

The orthodoxy of Dr. Sawyer’s day describe hell as a place that is darkness greater than darkness. It is fire in darkness and fire has no light in it. Further there is no hope of light of any kind.

The descriptions of hell by today’s orthodoxy is not dissimilar. Gene Taylor is an evangelist at Centreville Road Church of Christ in Tallahassee, Florida. Mr. Taylor provides this definition of hell from his church’s website.

Hell is eternal. It is described that way in Matthew 25:46. In Romans 16:26 God is said to be eternal.

The Holy Spirit, in Hebrews 9:14, is also described as eternal. The same word in the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written was used in all three of these passages. The word means eternal, everlasting, without end, never to cease. Hell and the punishment meted out there will last as long as God forever.

Hell is a place of darkness. Jude 13 speaks of “the blackness of darkness” to which false teachers will be confined forever. God is light (1 John 1:5) and the Father of lights (Jas. 1:17). Hell is described as darkness because it is the place farthest removed from God. There will be no God to listen to pleas for mercy or give hope of release.

Hell is a place of fire. Matthew 13:42 speaks of it as a furnace of fire. Matthew 25:41 calls it an everlasting fire. Mark 9:44-45 says the fire is never quenched. Revelation 21:8 refers to it as the lake of fire. There will be no relief from its fires because Revelation 14:11 says the smoke from the fires of torment ascends forever and ever.

There is no rest there. Revelation 14:11 says the wicked will have no rest from their torment day or night.

As there is no rest, there will be no relief. The rich man in Luke 16, even while awaiting the final judgment in Tartarus, wanted a drop of water to cool his tormented tongue but he did not get it.

The Church of Christ claims to be free of denominational links. They profess to be a model of the first church as shown in Acts. They claim to be beholden to no other church or hierarchy. However the definition of hell Mr. Taylor proposes is remarkably similar to almost every other orthodox church.

Dr. R. C. Sproul was referenced earlier and is here referenced again. He describes hell.

Hell is trivialized when it is used as a common curse word. To use the word lightly may be a halfhearted human attempt to take the concept lightly or to treat it in an amusing way. We tend to joke about things most frightening to us in a futile effort to declaw and defang them, reducing their threatening power.

There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself.

Almost all the biblical teaching about hell comes from the lips of Jesus. It is this doctrine, perhaps more than any other, that strains even the Christian’s loyalty to the teaching of Christ. Modern Christians have pushed the limits of minimizing hell in an effort to sidestep or soften Jesus’ own teaching. The Bible describes hell as a place of outer darkness, a lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God, a prison, a place of torment where the worm doesn’t turn or die. These graphic images of eternal punishment provoke the question, should we take these descriptions literally or are they merely symbols?

I suspect they are symbols, but I find no relief in that. We must not think of them as being merely symbols. It is probably that the sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image. If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. The function of symbols is to point beyond themselves to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols.

It is a little confusing that Dr. Sproul would suggest the description of hell that he reports are scripturally referenced are to his suspicion “symbols.” Then Dr. Sproul says we should assume the symbols are demonstrative of a suffering far worse than what the symbol denotes.

But what deserves more special notice is the inconceivable intensity and power of the fire of hell. All orthodox writers speak of this. President Edwards always speaks of it as fierce and terrible, and, as we have seen, represents it as inconceivably more penetrating and causing vastly greater pain than we should experience if cast into a great blazing furnace. “The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in a storm of fire and brimstone,” he says, “was but a shadow of the destruction of ungodly men in hell, and is no more to it than a shadow or picture is to the reality, or than painted fire is to real fire.”

Jonathan Edwards is not slack and he is certainly endeared in the hearts of many theologians. It is probably a safe statement to say his theology affects the theologies of hundreds, even thousands. He declares the fire that destroys Sodom and Gomorrah is simply a picture. The fire that burns “ungodly men in hell…” is exponentially more intense.

Dr. Edwards seemingly forgets that God restores Sodom.

Ezekiel 16:53-54 “I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst, that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them.

Sodom is restored. The fire from heaven destroyed them. “…Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). But, He restores Sodom to be an example to Israel.

Jeremy Taylor speaks in the same way or to the same purpose. “Such are the torments and miseries of hell,” he says, “that if all the trees in the world were put in one heap, and set on fire, I would rather burn there till the day of judgment, than suffer only for the space of one hour that fire of hell.”

This doctrine of the intense burning quality of the fire of hell is old. The Catholic Church has enjoyed and inculcated it for ages. She practised burning heretics to such an extent, and many of them bore the suffering so heroically, that our common fires lost their power of excessively frightening people. But the fire of hell was a very different sort of thing.

The temperature in hell is seemingly to be constant. Hell will be the hottest place ever conceived. It’s conception can only be the handiwork of God. Only God could perpetually stoke the flames of hell. He is the only eternal God. Satan was created and scripture says he will be cast into the lake of fire. Only God can keep the flame in the lake going.

I came across this description of hell while on the Internet. I find it interesting.

Since there could possibly be a lot of party people in hell, one might think that it will be one big party. However, the problem is that the likes of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and other unsavory characters will be there also. In order to keep those people from tormenting their neighbors excessively, all the inhabitants will be restrained through punishment (with the amount increasing with the degree of restraint required). This list below tells of some of the things that the inhabitants of hell will be going through:

Not only is hell eternal torment, but God will apply greater degrees of torment to keep the really bad rebels from harming or unfairly tormenting the lesser rebels.

Many of the Catholic saints enjoyed the privilege of going to hell and seeing it and making themselves acquainted with its torments. Among these, as I have said above, was St. Theresa, who tells us, as the

result of her own observation, that the fire of earth is but a picture of the fire in hell. I am glad that I am able to give her own words on this subject. “All I have read or heard about hell,” she says, “is as different from the real pains of hell as a picture is different from the thing painted. To be burnt in the fire of this world is a mere nothing, a trifle, compared with being burnt in hell. It is now six years since I saw hell. Yet even now I cannot write about it without feeling my blood frozen with horror. When I think about the pains of hell, all the pains of this world seem to me not worth thinking about.”

Dr. Sawyer exposes the testimony of St. Theresa and her description of the pains of eternal torment. It will be a fire of such intensity that the hottest fire known is only a trifle. Her testimony is offered here:

St. Faustina (Kolwaska) was born in 1905 and died in 1938. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1993. St. Faustina has an interesting history. St. Faustina testifies she has seen the proverbial hell.

Sister Faustina, the beatified [canonized April 30, 2000] Polish nun was shown Hell in 1936. Here is her account from her Diary (741):

“Today, I was led by an angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw:

  • the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God;
  • the second is perpetual remorse of conscience;
  • the third is that one’s condition will never change; (160)
  • the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it-a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger;
  • the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own;
  • the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan;
  • the seventh torture is the horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.

These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses.

Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me.

Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. (161)

I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence.

I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.

When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.”

St. Faustina describes seven conditions of hell. These are levels or degrees of fire put upon the person who dies still in rebellion against God. Not only are there degrees of fire, but there are special provisions made to torment the unrepentant sinner’s senses. This is her testimony. It is part of the evidence that led the Roman Catholic Church to elevate her to sainthood.

The Catholic Church has elevated many to sainthood in large part because of the saint’s having been to hell or seeing a vision of hell. Josepha Menendez testifies of having been shown hell. She is a reluctant witness, however. St. Fatima is canonized in part because she showed visions of hell to children in Fatima, Portugal. St. John Bosco raised a boy from the dead. The boy testified that he had seen hell. The boy had a chance to give his confession to St. John Bosco. The boy chose to be in heaven and he died in a heavenly state.

The World Assemblies of God Fellowship is a Christian Church denomination. They are Pentecostal and many are charismatic. They publish a statement of faith to which the body of member churches agree. From that we read item 11:

11. The End of Time

We believe in the premillenial, imminent, and personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ to gather His people unto Himself. Having this blessed hope and earnest expectation, we purify ourselves, even as He is pure, so that we may be ready to meet Him when He comes (John 14:1-3; Titus 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 John 3:2 – 3; Revelation 20:1-6).

We believe in the bodily resurrection of all humanity, the everlasting conscious bliss of all who truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that everlasting conscious punishment is the portion of all whose names are not written in the Book of Life (John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:22-24; Revelation 20:10-15)

“Everlasting conscious punishment” is explained by the Pentecostal theologians. Eternal conscious torment is, according to these learned men, experienced during “the second death.”

The Second Death

The Bible calls this final separation from God “the second death.” In the Book of Revelation the lake of fire is so described (Revelation 20:14). Jesus also identified Gehenna as a second death when He warned: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]” (Matthew 10:28; see also Luke 12:4,5).

This clearly refers to another death after the physical death of the body. It is also clear that this death is different in order and in kind. As physical death is separation from the body and from the environment of this life, so the second death is a final and eternal separation from God and from the life to be enjoyed in the new creation.

Among those consigned to this second death will be all who take the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:9–11). These will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the angels and Christ. That is, though shut off from the new creation in the lake of fire, they will be able to see the Lamb of God they rejected, just as Lazarus was able to see across the great gulf between Hades and Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:23).

Again, they will not be annihilated, for “the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11). They will be forever denied the rest promised to the saints.

The unrepentant sinner dies the first death, but then he is resurrected in body and soul to be judged. His name will not be found on “The Book of Life” and therefore the unrepentant sinner is condemned to a second death. This death is eternal.

According to the World Assemblies of God Fellowship theologians God then watches His creation in torment from a safe distance. Christ and His Angels look from their place in heaven upon the wretched part of His creation that willfully rejected Him. He is their Lamb and they rebelled against Him. The rebellious will suffer the fate of eternal conscious torment not for a little while, but for all time.

The World Assemblies of God Fellowship have also disqualified Universal Reconciliation even as a possibility.

None of these passages indicates any promise of rehabilitation or restoration once the final judgment is pronounced. No sanctifying agent is revealed in connection with the lake of fire or Gehenna. The fire is parallel to the “worm” of Mark 9:44,46,48 (KJV). It is looked at as punitive, not purifying. There will be no second chance. This should stir the Church to proclaim the message, “Now is the day of  salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

It is finished. That closes the argument. I am reminded of two scriptures. The first is James 3:1; “Not many should strive to be teachers, for they will be judged more strictly.” The second is 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (my paraphrase) “A teacher should be patient and kind able to explain the hope of our salvation. He should teach with gentleness. He knows that he does not change people. He knows that the Holy Spirit of God may grant understanding and thereby releasing the hearer from Satan’s trap.”

The same God will judge the Pentecostal preacher and me. We will be judged more strictly. I pray, Father, Your Spirit leads us to glorify You. We are unable to teach without Your Presence and blessing. Lead us to teach the Truth. Amen.

Painted fire may have an imposing look, but it does not burn. I have before me a very interesting little book by Rev. Michael Muller, published, with the approbation of the Bishop, by Patrick Donahoe, Boston, 1872, which throws great light upon this point. The work is entitled “Charity to Souls in Purgatory.”

In this book Rev. Mr. Muller says:

The souls in Purgatory are poor souls, because they suffer the greatest pain of the senses, which is that of fire. Who can be in a poorer or more pitiful condition than those who are buried in fire?

Now this is the condition of these poor souls. They are buried under waves of fire. It is from the smallest spark of this purgatorial fire that they suffer more intense pains than all the fires in the world put together could produce. In this fire they suffer more than all the pains of distempers and the most violent diseases; they suffer more than all the most cruel torments undergone by malefactors or invented by the most barbarous tyrants; they suffer more than all the tortures of the martyrs summed up together.

Could these poor souls leave the fire of Purgatory for the most frightful earthly fire, they would, as it were, take it for a pleasure-garden; they would find a fifty years’ stay in the hottest earthly fire more endurable than an hour’s stay in the fire of Purgatory.

Our terrestrial fire was not created by God to torment men, but rather to benefit them; but the fire in Purgatory was created for no other purpose than to be the instrument of God’s justice, and for this reason it is possessed of a burning quality so intense and penetrating that it is impossible for us to conceive of it even the faintest idea!”

And this, the reader will observe, is only the fire of Purgatory, which is the place in which God’s saints expiate, by suffering, such sins as chance to cling to them at the moment of death. What, then, should we reasonably suppose the fire of hell itself to be, – hell, where God vindicates his infinite justice against rebels and enemies?

I always thought Purgatory was a kind of spiritual holding cell without windows. It was a place where folks who once were saved strayed from the straight and narrow and then died without proper absolution. The were in a kind of limbo. I had this idea that a person could be prayed out of Purgatory.

“Got Questions.org” is a popular website that provides answers to scriptural questions. They offer distinctive characteristics of many Christian perspectives. Here they answered the question:

Question: What does the Bible say about Purgatory?

Answer: According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Purgatory is “a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” To summarize, in Catholic theology Purgatory is a place that a Christian’s soul goes to after death to be cleansed of the sins that had not been fully satisfied during life.

Got Questions’ writers then go on to discount or discredit the scriptural support for Purgatory. Using this definition it is not clear what Purgatorial punishment is? Is it like the punishment meted out in hell?

Catholic doctrine does, however, encourage prayers for those supposed to be in Purgatory.

The Catholic doctrine of purgatory supposes the fact that some die with smaller faults for which there was no true repentance, and also the fact that the temporal penalty due to sin is at times not wholly paid in this life. The proofs for the Catholic position, both in Scripture and in Tradition, are bound up also with the practice of praying for the dead. For why pray for the dead, if there be no belief in the power of prayer to afford solace to those who as yet are excluded from the sight of God? So true is this position that prayers for the dead and the existence of a place of purgation are mentioned in conjunction in the oldest passages of the Fathers, who allege reasons for succouring departed souls.

Saints on earth can pray the sins of a deceased beloved away and their loved one will escape the bindings in Purgatory. He will meet God in heaven. His sins forgiven.

It seems Roman Catholicism is part way to Universal Reconciliation. What if all the rebellious died with venial sin (mortal sin) and all were sentenced to Purgatory? What if only one man prayed that all in Purgatory be forgiven would God not hear that man’s prayer? All things are possible with God. His mercies are fresh every day. God is love!

What but something “inexpressible and inconceivable,” as President Edwards would say?

I am so fortunate as to have in our Historical Library a little Catholic tract, prepared by Father Furniss, of Ireland, for the instruction of children, and published permissu superiorum (by permission of his

superiors) and consequently with their approbation. It bears the rather startling title of “Sight of Hell,” with the imprint of both Dublin and London. And I beg to say that, after reading a great many orthodox tracts and books on the subject of hell and its torments, some of which seemed bad enough, I can conscientiously aver that this is the worst, and for thorough-going devilishness, in conception and execution, surpasses anything I could imagine.

For grossness of representation, it would do honor to a Modoc Indian. Besides, it is a tissue of lies from

beginning to end, and lies so enormous, so transcendent, and withal so abominable, that it is amazing that any man, and least of all a professed minister of the gospel, could write them out; and more amazing still that any church could publish them, or permit them to be published, for the education of children.

In this little tract Father Furniss, to show the terrible intensity of the fire of hell, says: “Take a spark out of the kitchen fire, throw it into the sea, and it will go out. Take a little spark out of hell, less than a pin-head, throw it into the sea, and it will not go out. In one moment it would dry up the waters of the ocean, and set the whole world on a blaze.”

Such amazing intensity in the fire of hell naturally suggests some difficulties. If a spark of it, less than a pin-head, would thus dry up the ocean in a moment and set the whole world on a blaze, as Father Furniss affirms, and as Jeremy Taylor leaves us to infer, how is a human body to withstand its fury for a single hour, to say nothing of eternity?

It is clear Dr. Sawyer has little use for Father Furniss’ description of the intensity of the heat of just one ember from the lake of fire. The intensity of heat from that one ember would dry the oceans and physically destroy the earth by fire.

Christian scholars describe hell as a place deserving of full consideration. The consequences for failing to believing is disastrous.

Some interpreters take the Bible’s descriptions of hell to be symbolic. The reason is that (for example) hell cannot be both fire (Matthew 25:41) and outer darkness (Matthew 8:12). However, even if the descriptive language is symbolic, the place itself is real—and the reality will no doubt be worse than the symbols.

The scriptural descriptions of hell are meant to emphasize the torment and suffering that will be experienced by those sent there. The “fire” may picture the wrath of God that is experienced by unbelievers in hell, whereas the “outer darkness” may picture the alienation from God’s love, mercy, and grace. Whether the vivid language is symbolic or literal, we can be assured that hell is a terrible, terrifying place. Possibly the most terrifying aspect of hell is its duration. The suffering is eternal. It has no end. For us, here and now, the concept of hell should drive us to the cross of Christ. It is only by repentance and faith in Christ that we can be saved from the wrath to come. (http://www.gotquestions.org/what-does-hell-look-like.html)

The heat of hell is not described as neatly as by Father Furniss. But, it cannot be said that the intention is only to motivate others by way of fear. “…The concept of hell should drive us to the Cross of Christ.”

The authors of this answer to the question, “What does hell look like?” close their answer with this:

Hell, although we do not know exactly what it will look like, will be a place of unending suffering and torment from which there will be no escape. Therefore, now is the day of salvation. Now is the day for all to repent and believe the gospel. Now is the day for us to proclaim the good news that Christ has come to save sinners who trust in Him for forgiveness. Those who look to Christ now will be saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10).

Ron Thomas was the Pastor of Rodgers Baptist Church in 2008. Pastor Thomas prepared sermon notes regarding “You Think It’s Hot Now – The Reality of Hell.” He cites as fact four things about hell. He describes hell in a way that is consistent with orthodoxy today.

Fact two: Hell is a place of torments. Jesus’ words teach us that there is a fate worse than death. There is a fate worst than being murdered! The man on that bus in Canada was just taking a nap. He woke up to some stranger stabbing him repeatedly with a hunting knife! What a horrible way to die, yet this earth’s worst suffering, cannot be compared to the torments of hell. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The torments of hell are pictured in Gehenna.

In hell, there is unquenchable fire. Gehenna was a place of unquenchable fire! The garbage kept coming, and the fire kept burning! So it is in hell! Jesus speaks of hell as a place of “…everlasting fire.” Fire inflicts the greatest pain! In Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus said, “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

In hell, there is separation from God and loved ones. Gehenna was a garbage heap. It is the place where people deposit things or cast things they no longer care about anymore and have forgotten; things that are judged to be worthless and useless. No one will care about you in hell. It is an existence spent in isolation and separation. You will be separated from those who are “in Christ,” but worst of all, you will be separated from the presence of God! There is no sympathetic ear, no helping hand, no mercy extended in hell.

In hell, there is smoke and darkness. Gehenna was always burning. Smoke never ceased to ascend from this refuse heap. Jesus refers to those who are rebellious and unprofitable as being cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In II Peter 2:24, it speaks of those angels who rebelled against God and sinned with Lucifer, as cast down to hell, delivered into “chains of darkness,” reserved for judgment. Revelation 9:2 says, “And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.”

In hell, there is hopelessness. Being condemned to hell for eternity, is not to be compared with a life sentence in prison. That term in prison could end with a pardon, parole, or at worst, death. Hell is described as the “second death.” There is no redemption in hell, therefore there is no hope.

In hell, there is unbelievable, undeniable, physical, emotional, spiritual pain and suffering! Jesus described hell as a place of perpetual “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Words or the most vivid imagination cannot grasp the torments of hell! Just think of living in a burning, stinking garbage dump, where there are creatures that gnaw, bite, sting, and tear, inflicting pain on their victims, yet never consuming them! All of this, and you are surrounded with the sound of continual weeping and anguish.

It is amazing how people every day speak of hell. People often tell others they are irritated with to “go to hell,” but if they could see or hear it’s torments but a moment, it would keep them up at night!

(http://www.gospelweb.net/ronsermons4/YouThinkItsHotNow.htm)

The Reverend Pastor Thomas is convinced hell is a place for certain and that is a place for the unforgiven. The place Pastor Thomas calls hell is a place where “a vivid imagination cannot grasp the torments of hell.” According to Pastor Thomas there is a fire that at first burns completely and then has the miraculous characteristic of healing what it has burned. Then the body is burned again, healed and on and on. The Pastor is correct in saying, “…If they could see or hear its torments but a moment, it would keep them up at night!”

In my humble opinion those who profess a belief in eternal conscious torment should hardly ever feel comfortable in sleep. It is a gruesome thought to allow into our minds the torments to be experienced by our family, our friends and our neighbors because they were unrepentant. They will suffer or are suffering now torments that should make us cry out, “Abba Father, Please.”

“Just think,” says Pastor Thomas, “… of living in a burning, stinking garbage dump, where there are creatures that gnaw, bite, sting, and tear, inflicting pain on their victims, yet never consuming them! All of this, and you are surrounded with the sound of continual weeping and anguish.”

I wonder aloud if Christian hearts have been hardened. Do we pray diligently for the lost? How do we reconcile our hearts with the joy that comes from being a chosen child when look on a child not chosen? All families probably have someone in their group who remains in spiritual rebellion. Some of our family members have died in their rebellion. Should not our Christian hearts cry out in agony?

And, add this thought to that from heaven you’ll be looking down at those burning in hell. For an eternity the believers will look down on the unbeliever, perhaps their own mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Perish the thought.

To solve this mystery, two dissimilar theories have been adopted. The first and the oldest attempts to explain the difficulty by assuming that hell-fire possesses the remarkable property of burning without

destroying, or rather of repairing as fast as it burns.

This is an old doctrine of the Church; and it would be interesting to trace it back through the ages, and see whence it came and how it has been employed. There was a notion among the ancients, we know, that there are two distinct kinds of fire,—one, that we are familiar with, and the other, of which we see the effects, but know little or nothing of its nature. Thus it was supposed that volcanic fire differed from common fire, because, as they said, volcanic mountains were always burning, and yet were never consumed.

So lightning was supposed to possess some singular properties, as Tertullian informs us: “As the philosophers know the difference between the secret fire and common fire, so that fire is of one kind which we make use of, and that of another that serveth the judgment of God, whether it pierce or strike

through the clouds of heaven in thunder, or break out of the earth through the tops of the mountains. For this doth not consume what it burneth, but repaireth what it preys upon; so that the mountains which always burn remain, and he that is struck with fire from heaven is not to be reduced to ashes by any other fire. And this may be a testimony of the eternal fire; this one example of that fire which continually nourisheth and preserveth those that are punished by it. The mountains burn and endure, and why not the guilty and enemies of God?”

Minucius Felix entertained the same opinion, then thought to be wise, but now known to be false and foolish. He calls the fire of hell sapiens ignis, a wise or discriminating fire, and tells us that “it burns and yet restores, gnaws away and still sustains.”

Lactantius in like manner assures us, that “the same divine fire by one and the same force and potency both burns the wicked and re-creates them, and as much as it consumes of their bodies so much it restores, and supplies the eternal food for itself: which the poets transferred to the vulture of Tityus; thus it only burns, without any loss to the bodies always growing again, and affects with a sense of pain.”

And our eminently orthodox poet, Robert Pollock, seems to have adopted the same opinion:—

Through all that dungeon of unfading fire
I saw most miserable beings walk,
Burning continually, yet unconsumed;
Forever wasting, yet enduring still;
Dying perpetually, yet never dead.

Lactantius proceeds to tell us how this “knowing fire,” while it torments the wicked, has no power to touch the righteous. “So great is the efficacy of innocence,” he says, “that fire flies harmless from it.” It not only distinguishes, as he and many others teach, between the good and the evil, but it is also able to adjust its severity to the peculiar moral status of every individual. Those who are remarkable for the greatness or the number of their sins are in a corresponding degree touched and burned by this discriminating fire.

This is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Vicar-General Preston, quoted above, speaks of power being given it “to burn and not consume.”

The theologians of old preach about a wise and discerning fire. It is a fire that understands its purpose in burning flesh and all the while knows which parts of the flesh to burn. It is a fire that knows the degree of the sinner’s sin and sets the burn to correspond with that degree. Sins are cumulative and the degree of the burn will be set higher for the greater number of sins.

The other method of preserving bodies in this intense fire through all eternity is not less remarkable. In one case God gives a most wonderful power to fire; in the other, as we shall see, he confers quite as wonderful a nature upon human bodies.

Augustine discussed this subject in his De Civitate Dei, and came to this conclusion: “I have before disputed,” he says, “that animals may live in fire, burning without being consumed, in pain without dissolution, by the miraculous appointment of our almighty Creator. And he who denieth that this is

possible with him knoweth not who it is that doeth everything that is wonderful in all natures.”

The learned Jesuit, Drexelius, who had evidently been reading Augustine, caught his idea, and applied it in a similar way. He first referred to asbestos, which, he says, “being once set on fire, burneth continually;” and there is no difficulty in God’s converting the bodies of the damned into asbestos, or something analogous to it. But he found an illustration more apposite to his purpose in the salamander, to which Augustine had directed his attention.

This creature,” says the good-natured Jesuit, “is generated of showers, and consequently of a very cold nature; the sun or drought immediately kills it. According to Pliny, it lives in the fire like ice. Of its skin can be made lights for perpetual lamps, which are always burning. The good God who created the salamander out of earth and clay, from the very same matter gave being unto man, but he endowed him with a nobler nature. But man, by his wickedness, has made himself such a salamander, who must always live and always die in flames eternal.”

Our Protestant friend, Rev. John Whittaker, in his work on “the four last things,” Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, tells us that when the damned are cast into hell, “they find their bodies now fitted for the first time to resist all the consuming powers of fire, but are as much alive as ever to all the painful violences of it. Their bodies are now, as our Savior declared they should be, ‘all salted with fire;’ all so tempered and prepared as to burn the more fiercely, and yet never consume.”

The pious Dr. Goodwin assures us that “in hell their bodies shall be nealed [annealed], as we speak of glass, that they may endure this fire.”

In one or the other of these ways, then, either by miraculously fitting the bodies of the damned so as to render them indestructible, or by miraculously fitting the fire so that it shall restore as fast as it consumes, orthodoxy considerately prepares for an endless existence and endless tortures in hell-fire.

For eternal conscious torment to be true our bodies either change to being something eternally fire proof or the flame contains a restorative power to heal the body the whip of flame just tore. Either prospect seems to me to be frighteningly fanciful thinking. We make something from whole cloth that supports our theology. Never mind there is nothing in scripture that addresses either alternative. The body is not made flame proof and the flame of so-called hell does not heal.

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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