The figurative language of Scripture is a miniature representation of what cannot be fully described in words. The symbol is a symbol yet it is less, not greater, than the thing symbolized. It is sometimes fancied that Jonathan Edwards, when, in his sermon on Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,? he represented the sinner as a worm shriveling in the eternal fire, supposed that hell consists mainly of such physical torments. But this is a misinterpretation of Edwards. He did not fancy heaven essentially to consist in streets of gold or pearly gates, but rather in holiness and communion with Christ, of which these are the symbols. He did not regard hell as consisting in fire and brimstone, but rather in the unholiness and separation from God of a guilty and accusing conscience, of which the fire and brimstone are symbols. He used the material imagery because he thought that this best answered to the methods of Scripture. He probably went beyond the simplicity of the Scripture statements and did not sufficiently explain the spiritual meaning of the symbols he used but we are persuaded that he neither understood them literally himself nor meant them to be so understood by others.
Sin is self-isolating, unsociable and selfish. By virtue of natural laws the sinner reaps as he has sown and sooner or later is repaid by desertion or contempt. Then the selfishness of one sinner is punished by the selfishness of another, the ambition of one by the ambition of another, the cruelty of one by the cruelty of another. The misery of the wicked hereafter will doubtless be due in part to the spirit of their companions. They dislike the good, whose presence and example is a continual reproof and reminder of the height from which they have fallen and they shut themselves out of their company. The judgment will bring about a complete cessation of intercourse between the good and the bad. Julius Muller, Doctrine of Sin, 1:239 ? ?Beings whose relations to God are diametrically opposite, and persistently so, differ so greatly from each other that other ties of relationship became as nothing in comparison.?
In order, however, to meet opposing views, and to forestall the common objections, we proceed to state the doctrine of future punishment in greater detail.
A. The future punishment of the wicked is not annihilation. In our discussion of Physical Death, we have shown that, by virtue of its original creation in the image of God, the human soul is naturally immortal, neither for the righteous nor the wicked is death a cessation of being. On the contrary, the wicked enter at death upon a state of conscious suffering which the resurrection and the judgment only augment and render
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