The Undying Worm

"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Undoubtedly Jesus had reference to the language of the prophet. "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched: and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." Isa. 66: 23, 24.

The prophet and the Savior both referred to the overthrow of Jerusalem, though by accommodation we may apply the language generally, understanding by Hell, or Gehenna, that condition brought upon the soul in this world by sin. But the application by the prophet and the Savior was to the day then soon to come. The undying worm was in this world.

Strabo calls the lamp in the Parthenon, and Plutarch calls the sacred fire of a temple "unquenchable," though they were extinguished ages ago. Josephus says that the fire on the altar of the temple at Jerusalem was "always unquenchable," asbeston aei, though the fire had gone out and the temple was destroyed at the time of his writing. Eusebius says that certain martyrs of Alexandria "were burned in unquenchable fire," though it was extinguished in the course of an hour, the very epithet in English, which Homer has in Greek, asbestos gelos, (Iliad, 1: 599), unquenchable laughter.

Bloomfield says in his Notes: "Deny thyself what is even the most desirable and alluring, and seems the most necessary, when the sacrifice is demanded by the good of thy soul. Some think that there is an allusion to the amputation of diseased members of the body, to prevent the spread of any disorder." Dr. A. A. Livermore adds: "The main idea here conveyed, is that of punishment, extreme suffering, and no intimation is given as to its place, or its duration, whatever may be said in other texts in relation to these points. Wickedness is its own Hell. A wronged conscience, awakened to remorse, is more terrible than fire or worm. In this life and in the next, sin and woe are forever coupled together, God has joined them, and man cannot put them asunder."

Says the Universalist Assistant: "Will any one maintain that our Lord meant to contrast the life his gospel is calculated to impart, and the kingdom he came to establish, with the literal horrors of the valley of Hinnom? I think not. Every one it appears to me must see the horrors of this place are used only as figures; and the question at once arises-Figures of what?

I answer-Figures of the consequences of sin, of neglect of duty, of violation of God's law.

And these figures are not used so much to represent the duration of punishment, as to indicate its intensity, and its uninterrupted, unmitigated continuous character so long as it lasts, which must be as long as its cause continues, i.e., sin in the soul."

Dr. Ballou says in Vol. 1, Universalist Quarterly: "This passage is metaphorical. Jesus uses this well-known example of a most painful sacrifice for the preservation of corporeal life, only that he may the more strongly enforce a corresponding solicitude to preserve the moral life of the soul.And if so, it naturally follows that those prominent particulars in the passages which literally relate to the body, are to be understood as figures, and interpreted accordingly. If one's eye or hand become to him an offense, or cause of danger, it is better to part with it than to let it corrupt the body fit to be thrown into the valley of Hinnom. . . . It is better to deny ourselves everything however innocent and even valuable in itself, if it become an occasion of sin, lest it should be the means of bringing upon us the most dreadful consequences-consequences that are aptly represented in the figure by having one's dishonored and putrid corpse thrown into the accursed valley of Hinnom."

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