When considering the threatenings of the Bible, it must never be forgotten that they are always to be interpreted and understood in harmony with the great principles declared in the Scriptures, and more especially with the revealed character of God, and his promises to man. They must be so explained as to harmonize with the rest of the book that contains them. For instance, we read that "God is a spirit," and yet the same book speaks of the eye, hand, arm and ear of God. As an infinite spirit can have no such organs, we must not say either (1) that God is not a spirit, or (2) that one part of the book contradicts another part. Such passages must be interpreted so as to agree with the great central fact that God is a spirit.
Now we read that "God is Love"—is a "Father." And at the same time we are told that he will cast the wicked into hell—into everlasting fire—will punish them forever, etc. On the same principle we must not (1) deny that God is Love and a merciful Father, nor (2) believe that the Bible contradicts itself; but we must believe that the threatenings harmonize with the promises, and that no penalty can be accepted as taught in the Bible, that would prove God not a father, or destitute of love towards each and all of his children. In other words, we must shed the light of infinite, boundless, unending love on all threatened penalties, and interpret them in perfect accord with the Divine character. Believing that God is love, we must not only be prejudiced against believing that endless or any other cruel punishment is threatened in the Bible, but we must, with all the resistance of which our moral natures are capable, refuse to credit any statement that represents God as permitting any penalty to befall the sinner which will not result in his final welfare. The love of God, the Divine Paternity, is an efficient guaranty against the possibility that unending agony can be experienced by any human creature. So that, if the letter of Scripture seemed to teach endless punishment—which it does not, when properly understood-the light of the great central fact of revelation-God's Love—would dispel all darkness from the declaration as soon as the light of that truth should fall upon it. In this frame of mind we should consider the threatenings of the Bible.
ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN (Greek mythology)
We should also bear another fact in mind. When the doctrine of endless punishment began to be taught in the Christian Church, it was not derived from the Scriptures, but from the heathen converts to Christianity, who accepted Christ, but who brought with them into their new church that doctrine which had for centuries been taught in heathen lands, but which neither Moses nor Christ accepted. And having received the idea from heathen tradition, it was natural that the early Christians should transfer it to the Bible, and seek to find it there.
That heathen invented this doctrine is undeniable. Much of the Christian understanding of Hell has more to do with Greek mythology than anything from the Bible.
Says Cicero" "It was on this account that the ancients invented those infernal punishments of the dead, to keep the wicked under some awe in this life, who without them, would have no dread of death itself."
Says Polbius, the Greek historian: "The multitude is ever fickle and capricious, full of lawless passions and irrational and violent resentments. There is no way left to keep them in order but by the terrors of future punishment, and all the pompous circumstances that attend such fiction! On which account the ancients acted, in my opinion, with great judgment and penetration, when they contrived to bring those notions of the gods and a future state into the popular belief."
Strabo, the Greek geographer and philosopher, says: "it is impossible to govern women and the gross body of the people, and to keep them pious, holy and virtuous, by the precepts of philosophy. This can only be done by the fear of the gods, which is raised and supported by ancient fictions and modern prodigies." And again he says: "The apparatus of the ancient mythologies was an engine which the legislators employed as bugbears to strike a terror into the childish imagination of the multitude."
This horrible heathen dogma sought entrance into the Christian church in vain for the first three centuries after Christ, and though here and there a heathenized Christian announced it, it did not become an accredited Christian doctrine till after more than five centuries. Dr. Edward Beecher candidly confesses that as late as three hundred years after Christ it had hardly obtained a foothold.
He says: "What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world in the age of Origen and some centuries after? It was, in brief, this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and ony one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihiliation of the wicked. Two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia."
That is to say, here were four times as many Universalist theological schools, where clergymen were educated, as there were schools in which endless punishment was taught, even as late as A. D. 300. But from that time onward, as darkness increased, the heathen idea was more and more transferred to the sacred page, till it entirely overlaid and obscured the truth, and it was not until the light of the Reformation began to dawn that the profane inscriptions of heathen tradition were erased from the palimpsest of the Scriptures, so that the meaning of the inspired authors could be apprehended.
We propose in this volume to show that the texts quoted in behalf of the heathen error do not contain it; that none of the threatenings of the Bible teach endless punishment.
"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."—Gen. ii : 16,17.
The penalty that God intended to threaten to Adam would certainly be found at the very promulgation of the consequences of his sin. But it is nowhere intimated in the account of the first human transgression that he had incurred endless torment.
Adam was told: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," or, as a literal translation would read, "Dying thou shalt die." Whatever death Adam died, it was in the day he sinned. What death did he die, in that day?
This threatened death is not (1) of the body, for physical dissolution was the natural result of physical organization, and the death threatened was to be "in the day he sinned." His body did not die in that day. (2) It was not eternal death for the same reason. He certainly went to no endless hell "in the day" of his transgression. It was (3) a moral, spiritual death, from which recovery is feasible. Paul describe it:
"Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."—Eph. iv: 18. "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins."-Eph.ii:l
Jesus describes it in the parable of the Prodigal son: "It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this, thy brother, was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."—Luke xv:32
So does Moses: "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."—Deut.xxx:15-19
Adam died this kind of death, and no other, "in the day" he sinned. This is apparent from the description of his fate subsequent to his transgression."
"And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."-Gen.iii: 17-19
If the reader will carefully consult the accounts of the sin and punishment of Cain, the Antediluvians, the Diluvians, Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the transgressors whose sins are recorded for four thousand years, he will find not a whisper, not a hint, that any but a limited and temporal penalty was received. This is agreed by all scholars.
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