Punishment, Future

Punishment, Future The obvious fact that the sufferings of the wicked in this life are not in proportion to their sins has led even the heathen of all ages to the belief in a state of retribution after death. The Scriptures abundantly confirm this position, so tha.t few in the present day deny its truth in some form. The only questions that arise are those relating to its character and its duration. The former of these points has been discussed under HELL PUNISHMENTS SEE HELL PUNISHMENTS ; the latter we will briefly consider here.

1. No one approaching the New Testament without preconceived opinions could get any other impression from its language on this subject than that the punishments of the wicked in hell are to be everlasting. (For special passages, see Mt 12:32; Mt 26:24; Mr 3:29; Mr 9:43; Re 14:11; Re 20:10.) Moreover, apart from special passages, the general tone of the New Testament indicates the final and irrevocable ruin of those who persist to the last in sin and in the rejection of Christ the Saviour.

2. In the ancient Church, the Alexandrian theologians were the first to teach that there could be an end to the punishments of hell. According to them discipline and reformation were the only ends of punishment, so that it could not be eternal: the final end is ἀποκατάστασις, the entire freedom from evil. Hence Clement says, "If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! The purification of souls, when separated from the body, will be easier. We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer; to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work; and so will he continue to operate after this life" (Stromata, 6:638). Clement did not deem it proper to express himself more fully respecting this doctrine, because he considered that it formed a part of the Gnosis. Hence he says, "As to the rest, I am silent, and praise the Lord" (ibid. 7:706). Origen infers from the variety of ways and methods by which men are led to the faith in this life that there will be a diversity in the divine modes of discipline after death; notwithstanding this, however, he considers it extremely important that every one should in this life become a believer. Whoever neglects the Gospel, or after baptism commits grievous sins, will sulffer so much heavier punishments after death (In Joann. 6:267). The doctrine of a general restoration he found explicitly in 1Co 15:28. Yet he reckons this among the Gnostic (or esoteric) doctrines; for he says, "It would not be useful for all to have this knowledge; but it is well if at least fear of a material hell keep them back from sin" (Inz Jerem. Hom. xix). (See Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, i, 254.) "But, in opposition to these, the doctrine of the eternity of future punishments was affirmed by other equally distinguished teachers, e.g. Basil, John of Constantinople, among the Greeks, and, among the Latins, by Jerome, Augustine, and others." Gregory of Nyssa, however, defended the restorationism (ἀποκατάστασις) of Origen. Augustine, on the other hand, opposed it strenuously; the whole spirit of his system, and his full and strong conception of the justice of God, were fundamentally opposed to restorationism. "The doctrine of Origen was condemned by the Council of Alexandria, A.D. 399, and afterwards by many other councils, and the doctrine of the eternity of fulture punishments was established as the faith of the Church" (Knapp, Theology, § 158). The doctrine of purgatory soon grew up to take the place of the theory of restorationism. "The doctrine of the limited duration of fiture punishment fell into very ill repute in the Western Church, on account of its being professed by some of the enthusiastic and revolutionary parties in the 16th century (e.g. by the Anabaptists), and from its being intimately connected with their expectations and schemes. The mere profession of the doctrine came to be regarded as implying assent to the other extravagances of these parties, and as the signal for rebellion. Hence it is rejected in the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church as an Anabaptistical doctrine (Augs. Confess. art. xvii). In the form in which this doctrine was held by these sects it deserves the most unmingled disapprobation. Again, among the ill-famed Christian free-thinkers — e.g. the Socinians — there were some who professed it. In modern times it has been the same. This doctrine has been advocated in the Protestant Church both by men who have stood in suspicion of enthusiasm (e.g. Peterson, Lavater, and others) and by some of the free-thinkers in philosophy and theology, although for very different causes and on very different grounds by these two classes" (Knapp,? sup.). See Burnet, De Statu Mortuorum; Cotta, Historia Succincta Dogmatis de Poenarul Infernalinum Duratione (Tiibingen, 1774, 8vo); Dietelmair, Antiq. Comment. Fanatici de ἀποκατάσεως πάντων (Altorf, 1769, 8vo); Tillotson, Sermons, vol. ii; Lewis, The Nature ofJ'ell (Lond. 1720, 8vo); Strong, Doctrine of Eternal Misery (Hartford, 1796, 8vo); Stuart, Exegetical Essays on Future Punishment (Andover, 1830, 12mo); Baumgarten, Vindicioe Poenarum Eternarum (Halle, 1742); Meth. Quar. Rev. April, 1861; New-Englander, 1861, p. 63; Contemporary Rev. April, 1872; Presbyterian Rev. Oct. 1872. SEE PURGATORY, SEE RETRIBUTION, SEE UNIVERSALISM, under which latter title the subject will be more fully treated.

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