A REPLY TO JUDGMENT TO COME
BY: ADOLPH E. KNOCH
“JUDGMENT TO COME”
UNDER this heading the monthly magazine of the Los Angeles Bible Institute, “The King’s Business,” publishes an article by the late Sir Robert Anderson, of London. As we have repeatedly urged them to explain the passages and facts on which we base our faith in God’s ultimate achievement in Christ, and they dare not so much as mention them in their publications, we suppose that this article is given as a substitute.
A large part of the discussion is outside the Scriptures entirely and terms are used in an unscriptural way. It will help us to mark these carefully, and, if possible, restore the argument to a scriptural basis. This alone will usually be a sufficient answer.
It is, in some respects, a most remarkable production, in that it seems, on the surface, to be a strong plea for eternal torment, yet, on closer examination, we find that the author of “Human Destiny” himself clings to that “larger hope” which he so disdainfully repudiates.
We shall be much interested to know whether the Bible Institute, by publishing this article, intends to modify its own creed, “The Endless Punishment of the Impenitent,” or whether the desire to buttress it with a great name led them to insert that which demolishes their own position and opens the door wide for the doctrine of ultimate reconciliation.
His first argument, on degrees of punishment, is marred by that medieval conception of “hell” which can form the premise of nothing but error. He seems to know of only two destinies–heaven and hell. He entirely ignores the fact that the great bulk of the redeemed of mankind will be blessed on the earth, along with the nation of Israel. Only those belonging to the body of Christ have a celestial destiny. This, however, does not destroy the force of his argument concerning the impenitent.
His speculations concerning judgment are all founded upon this false conception of “hell.” By this term he evidently does not refer to the passages, which are so rendered in the Authorized Version, but rather to the lake of fire. For instance,
The figment of a hell of limited duration either traduces the character of God, or practically denies the work of Christ.
Now we may take “a hell of limited duration” in two ways. Either hell itself will cease or those in it will be released.
If we confine ourselves to the various “hells” of the Bible- -gehenna, Tartarus, or hades – we will find that this “figment” is a fact. Gehenna is found only in the millennial kingdom, Tartarus is a temporary prison, and hades, or the unseen, comes to a conclusion when it is cast into the lake of fire. But we suppose that he really refers to the lake of fire. Surely that has no end! It is defined for us as the second death. Does death continue endlessly? No! It is the last enemy to be abolished. It continues longer than any other power opposed to God, but the consummation actually consists, in part, of the abrogation of the death state (1 Cor.15:26). So that, allowing him every possible definition of “hell,” the scriptures are all unanimous in teaching the “figment” of “a hell of limited duration.”
But let us suppose that he means that no one entering any one of these “hells” may ever emerge again. All we need to do is to quote our Lord’s own words. He went to hell and came back again, and should surely be sufficient authority on this point. Listen to His cry: “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell!” His single case destroys the premises of the argument. If One has emerged from “hell” we cannot lay down the law that its hold is unlimited. For the very One Who has come back is able to bring others back.
In explaining further how a hell of limited duration “traduces the character of God,” he denounces the doctrine commonly called “annihilation.”
If the extinction of being were the fate of the impenitent, to keep them in suffering for an aeon or a century would savor of the cruelty of a tyrant who, having decreed a criminal’s death, deferred the execution of the sentence in order to torture him. Far worse than this, for ex hypothesi, the resurrection of the unjust could have no other purpose than to increase their capacity for suffering.
But further, unless the sinner is to be made righteous and holy before he enters hell–and in that case, why not let him enter heaven at once?- he will continue unceasingly to sin; and as every fresh sin will involve a fresh penalty, his punishment can never end.
The subject of this article is “Judgment to Come.” Previously he has correctly referred the Judgment of the impenitent to the “great white throne” which cannot take place for at least ten centuries from the present time. It is evident that the question of guilt is not settled until the judgment, or it would not be a judgment at all. From his standpoint it is, indeed, beyond all measure cruel and vindictive to torture for any length of time those who are devoted to extinction of being. But we understand that those who hold annihilation have no such difficulty, for they do not believe in any punishment, other than death, before the judgment. The problem for them is rather the necessity for any judgment or affliction at all, for it cannot do anything but embitter its objects until they are annihilated, and displays God’s righteousness in a light wholly incompatible with His love.
The gravest difficulty is entirely overlooked by Sir Robert. He was well acquainted with the procedure of criminal courts and the treatment of prisoners before they were brought before the judge. Until the question of guilt has been established no prisoner serves his sentence. Only such restraints are imposed as will insure his appearance in court at the time of trial. The idea of torture in “hell” for a thousand years before a man is brought before the great Judge is irrational, immoral, and unscriptural.
This was powerfully impressed on the writer during many years of gospel preaching in the local jail. We were allowed to see only those who had been judged and convicted, who were serving their time. Those whose trial had not come off were kept in a different “tank” and were not permitted to come to the gospel meetings, lest some of the workers should recognize them and it should reflect upon their reputation, should they prove to be innocent. They could not be put to work on the “chain gang” or suffer any of the penalties of a sentence, for the simple reason that their guilt was not yet legally established and their sentence had not been passed.
This principle is just as true in divine judgment as it is among men. Whatever the condition of the impenitent between this life and the resurrection for judgment – a condition scripturally described as death – it cannot be the fulfillment of the sentence passed at the great white throne.
What a travesty on divine judgment to torture a man more than a thousand years and then bring him before the Judge to be tried and to ascertain the penalty to be imposed! Yet this is orthodox!
But the “figment of a hell of limited duration…practically denies the work of Christ.” To support this we are told that
…if we adopt the alternative heresy – that hell is a punitive and purgatorical discipline through which the sinner will pass to heaven – we disparage the atonement and undermine the truth of grace. If the prisoner gains his discharge by serving out his sentence, where does grace come in? And if the sinner’s sufferings can expiate his sin, the most that can be said for the death of Christ is that it opened a short and easy way to the same goal that could be reached by a tedious and painful journey.
The “alternative heresy” that “hell is a punitive and purgatorical discipline through which the sinner will pass to heaven,” is, thank God, not the only alternative. Indeed, it is no alternative at all to one who has a scriptural conception of “hell.” The hell (hades, the unseen), which precedes the judgment cannot be either punitive or purgatorical without transforming the awful judgment of the great white throne into a farce. The “hell” (the lake of fire), which follows is definitely described as death – the second death – and every attempt to make it a mode of life is futile. Where is there any hint in the scriptures that sinners continue to sin in “hell?” Or that there is suffering in “hell?” To cite the single case of the Rich Man and Lazarus only shows to what extremes we are driven when we forsake the plain teachings of the text. For, if we take the Rich Man literally we must also take the Prodigal Son in the same way, for they are part of the same parable. The Prodigal was dead to the father, so, dispensationally, Israel is like the Rich Man and Lazarus – they are nationally dead. The unbelievers are tormented and the believers find comfort in the faith of Abraham. “Hell” is not the place of judgment. Men such as the patriarch Jacob and his son Joseph went to “hell” and will go to “hell,” believers and unbelievers, saints and sinners. Those who belong to Christ will never come into judgment; and those who are not His will not be tortured before they have been judged at the great white throne.
The “hell” after the judgment is the same in its effects as that before it. The lake of fire ushers the sinner into the death state from which he was raised. It is the second death. It is not life in any form. Except for a few special cases, there is no more suffering in it than in the state preceding the judgment. Sinners cannot endure suffering for sin in death. If they could, why should they be raised at all? Why not set up the judgment throne in the domains of death? Why work the stupendous miracle, which will recall untold millions from death, only to return them to its dark domains after the judgment session?
This is the question, which has baffled theologians, and no satisfactory answer has been possible so long, as they insisted that the pains and penalties of sin are endured in death. The resurrection of the dead and their judgment after the millennium has become an unnecessary and disconcerting excrescence on holy writ. If punishment is immediate, what call is there for any judgment after the lapse of thousands of years? If it is endured in death what need for any resurrection of the unjust? No marvel that the subject is “difficult” and defies all the doctors of theology!
It is this false, unscriptural conception of judgment which involves the “alternative” we are considering.
If, then, the unjust are not judged in the “hell” (hades) before the great white throne, nor in the “hell” (lake of fire) after it, when are they judged? The answer is given us in the divine prediction concerning it in the twentieth chapter of the Unveiling of Jesus Christ. “And the dead were judged by that which is written in the scrolls, in accord with their acts.” This is usually diluted to a mere trial and sentence. But it includes far more than this, as the usage of the word “judge” in this scroll abundantly testifies. Under the fifth seal (6:10) the souls under the altar exclaim “Till when, O Owner, Holy and True, art Thou not judging and avenging our blood on those who are dwelling on the earth?” It is evident that this includes the execution of judgment, rather than a sentence alone. Under the third bowl, the messenger of the waters says: “Just art Thou, Who art, and Who wast, Benign One, seeing that Thou judgest these…” It is judgment in action to which reference is made. Babylon‘s judgment consisted in calamities – death and mourning and famine (Rev.18:8) as well as in being burned up with fire. See also 19:2, 11.
Such is the meaning of judge in this scroll. And shall we not give it the same force in the last two occurrences? “The dead were judged by that which is written in the scrolls, in accord with their acts.“ (Rev.20:12) Later on we read “And if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.” The judgment of the dead occurs while they are alive, before they are cast into the lake of fire.
The basis of this judgment is described for us in the second chapter of Romans. (2:6-10) The punishment consists in “indignation and fury, affliction and distress, on every human soul which is effecting evil.” The length of time is conspicuously absent.
We are, of course, dealing with God’s judgment, not with the natural effects of sin. The ration of Sin is death. (Sin does not give wages to its slaves). This is in contrast to the eonian life of the believer, which is God’s gracious gift. (Rom.6:23) The future judgment, then, of the unjust, is not to be found in death or “hell,” but in that era between their resurrection and reentrance into death in the lake of fire. This is where God puts it. Let us leave it there.
The sinner is raised from the dead because he cannot be judged in the death state or “hell.” Once raised, he has tasted of the power of God and sees the acts of his previous life in the light of the divine presence, hence acknowledges the justice of every infliction. Undoubtedly, in a conventional “hell,” he would “Continue unceasingly to sin” and thus infinitely prolong his sufferings, but what right has any man to add to this book and say that even the most abject specimen of humanity will not be awed by the stupendous realization of resurrection and the august Presence before Whom he stands, so that he is restrained from further sin? No one enduring it could ever acknowledge the justice of everlasting torment amid associations, which would effectually debar any possible amendment. But I am sure that all those raised before the great white throne will see their sins in His light and will acknowledge His justice, and find no further influence from without to tempt to further offenses.
We repudiate, with every fiber of our being, the false thought that the sinner’s death or suffering contributes in the least measure to his final salvation. That is entirely the work of Christ.
It is utterly false to say that, if all are ultimately saved, they reach the same goal as those who are Christ’s during the eons. The gift bestowed on the believer now is eonian life. The unbeliever has no share in this life. What, is it nothing at all to live and reign with Christ for thousands of years, to be like Him and with Him in His great and glorious work of restoring a lost creation to the Father? The unbeliever looses all this high honor and overflowing joy. Eonian life is not for him.
We have endeavored, time and again, to get those who oppose the doctrine of the eons to come out and prove their position. It has been hard for us to refrain from challenging them to give an explanation of the differences between the three Greek phrases, which our version renders “for ever and ever.” How does “the eon of the eon” differ from “the eon of the eons?” How does this differ from “the eons of the eons?” If all alike are endless how can there be any difference between them?
We would be willing to have our whole position rest on an intelligent and satisfactory explanation of these phrases. Why do they not offer some solution? Can it be that they are not able? In view of this, what can we think of the following, which they know is not true? How could any critic turn the uniform English phrase “for ever and ever” into three different Greek phrases? How could he use the genitive auxiliary of to translate and? Sir Robert’s argument follows:
“Every treatise in support of these heresies relies on the argument that the words in our English Version, which connote endless duration, represent words in the original text which have no (such) significance. But this argument is exploded by the fact that the critic would be compelled to use these very words if he were set the task of translating our version into Greek. For that language has no other terminology to express the thought. And yet it is by trading ad captandum argument of this kind, and by the prejudices, which are naturally excited by partial or exaggerated statements of truth, that these heresies win their way. Attention is thus diverted from the insuperable difficulties which beset them, and from their bearing on the truth of the atonement.”
If we prove that Peter is Paul it will not be difficult to prove that Paul is Peter. If we suppose that “the eons of the eons” is the equivalent of our “forever and ever” it would naturally follow that we could reverse the process. But this does not prove that we are right in either case. It is as irrational as it is untrue. We shall not appeal to the Greek scholarship of our readers on this point, for it will not be necessary. The statement that Greek has no other terminology to express the thought can best be disproved by giving other terms, which actually do express the thought of the English rather than the ones, which are so translated.
For instance, “everlasting” has a very close equivalent in Greek, aperantos, unending, interminable. The LXX uses it in Job 36:26, which we can render: “Unnumbered His years, and unending.” It is used in 1 Tim.1:4, “interminable genealogies.”
Another word which would suit our terms for endlessness is akatalutos, indissoluble, which our translators rendered endless in Heb.7:16. Still better is the true scriptural method of denoting, that which is eternal, as the kingdom (Luke 1:33), which has ou telos, no consummation, or end. All of these are much closer equivalents of our English terms than aionios, which never should have been rendered in terms significant of endless duration.
We now come to the most remarkable part of this exposition of Judgment to Come. Hitherto we have been under the impression that he recognized but two classes – believers and unbelievers, saved and unsaved, those who are in Christ and those who are eternally lost. But the transparent injustice of this troubles him. Hence he concludes:
“This much is as clear as words can make it – and nothing more than this concerns us–that the consequences of accepting or rejecting Christ are final and eternal. But who are they who shall be held guilty of rejecting? What of those who, though living in Christendom, have never heard the Gospel aright? And what of the heathen who have never heard at all? No one can claim to solve these problems without seeming profanely to assume the role of umpire between God and men.”
Like all philosophic statements for which there is no real basis in holy writ, the assertion that “the consequences of accepting or rejecting Christ are final and eternal” “are clear as words can make them.” Whose words? There is no statement to this effect in God’s word. If there were, they would not be either clear or true. Few, indeed, of us who believe but can look back to the time or times when we rejected Christ. That it was not final or eternal is evident from the fact that, at some later time, we accepted.
It is a sense of the insuperable moral difficulties connected with the eternal torment of all unbelievers, which leads men to invent the theory that they refer only to Christ rejectors. Well may he ask “who are they who shall be held guilty of rejecting?” What kind of a gospel is correct enough to put them in this category? What of the heathen who have not heard? Heed well the astounding statement, which follows: No one can claim to solve these problems without seeming profanely to assume the role of umpire between God and men.
What does this mean? That by far the greater part of humanity are not Christ rejecters, having heard of Him imperfectly or not at all, and he does not know what becomes of these! He does not consign them to the “hell” he has been speaking of, or to the “heaven” set apart for believers. Let us seek to grasp the tremendous import of this confession. We all know that the overwhelming majority of the human race, up to the present time, cannot be included in the two classes concerning, which he has any sure convictions. A feeble few accept Christ. We do not know how many definitely reject Him, but we are sure that both combined are not to be compared with the vast multitude concerning which we are warned to be in ignorance.
Thus mankind is divided into three classes, believers, Christ rejecters and the great mass outside of these. Where is such a division to be found in the scriptures? It is totally foreign to holy writ. That the hearing of the truth affects the measure of guilt and will help determine the sentence is clearly thought in the opening chapters of Romans. The gentile without law is not going to be judged as the Jew who had the divine oracles. Yet “as many as sinned without law, shall also be lost without law.” We are denounced because we do not believe in the “endless conscious punishment of the lost.” However much the rejection of Christ may affect the measure of future judgment, we emphatically deny that the scriptures draw any such division. We protest against it. It is darkening counsel by words without knowledge. The article closes with the words “whole Scripture is silent let us keep silence.” But his whole scheme of future judgment is based on injecting a theory into the scriptures and refusing to entertain its plainest declarations.
But what shall we do with this innumerable company? Here is his naive reply, which does great credit to his heart, though it refuses to follow his head:
“We know, and it is our joy to know, that the decision of all such questions rests with a God of perfect justice and infinite love. And let this be our answer to those who demand a solution of them. Unhesitating faith is our right attitude in presence of divine revelation but where Scripture is silent let us keep silence.”
It is needless to speak thus unless they at least had the hope that such as these would not be punished everlastingly. Those who use such language are the real adherents of that “larger hope” of which they love to accuse others.
“A God of perfect justice and infinite love” is to settle the destiny of the great mass of mankind in a way unrevealed in the scriptures. Let any sane human being weigh their case in the scales of justice and decide it according to the dictates of infinite love, and what can be his conclusion but a just sentence for their sins to answer the dictates of His righteousness and an ultimate reconciliation to satisfy the deeper demands of limitless love?
Of course, being based on an unscriptural premise, it will lead to difficulties in the logical mind. For, if the case of those who have never heard of Christ is so much more hopeful than those who reject, the preaching of the evangel becomes the sole means of eternal damnation. To the majority of those who hear it, it proves the source of infinite woe. In the light of orthodox “eternity,” would it not be better not to preach the gospel at all?
In effect Sir Robert Anderson and the Los Angeles Bible Institute teach that all (who are not Christ rejecters) will be reconciled to God! This is good. This is so near the scriptural doctrine of universal reconciliation that we rejoice to hear it. We hope they will make some public statement in definite terms renouncing their previous public position on the damnation of infants and the heathen, and boldly avow the new doctrine. They will doubtless find opposition from the American branch of the C. I. M. as well as the great body of the orthodox, but we, and all sincere students of the Scriptures are glad to see them renounce a doctrine as unreasonable as it is unscriptural.
How we long that these dear brethren should share with us the light and joy and exultation, which comes from a knowledge of God’s revealed ultimate! There is no satisfaction in ignoring a matter, which so vitally affects the glory of our God and the work of His Christ. Why evade it or plead ignorance? All that is needed is faith. Believe what is written. Refuse to add to or subtract from it. All such subtle and labored arguments have left you in darkness. We are thankful that the dictates of your heart demand this “larger hope.” Faith will dispel the gloom and illuminate your hearts with the grandest of all God’s glories. Only believe! © Concordant Publishing Concern
A REPLY TO “JUDGMENT TO COME” [Adolph E. Knoch] 1