Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Fourteen: The Punishments of God Illumined
"Ye . . . pass over judgment and the love of God" (Luke 11:42). These words, that were spoken of the Pharisees in reference to their lives, may be applied to most of us in reference to our conception of the judgments of God. In fact, the love of God is rarely associated with the judgments of God. Even when judgment is discerned as having a loving purpose in reference to believers, it is always thought of as having a purpose of another kind toward unbelievers, as if God could change His nature, or as if God could have two purposes, one of love and another of hate. The philosophy of God's judgments is too little understood.
We have said in the Chapter on Punishment, that God does not manufacture any punishment that it is the sinner who makes his own punishment, "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This is true of God's judgments. God does not manufacture, or arbitrarily get up certain judgments for certain cases. Every judgment of God is the fruit and the natural consequence of self-will, rebellion, and sin; and has had its source in the creature separated from God. Our God of Love would not have permitted such self-will with its direful consequences unless He could make it work ultimate good.
There is an erroneous idea that, when one accepts forgiveness of his sins, he thereby escapes all the consequences of his sins. This is by no means the case, as every one may know by experience. The consequences last until there is no longer need of their warning and judging lesson. Some of them continue to the end of this life, and even extend much further.
The power of the cross of Christ is too little apprehended. It is true that salvation is spoken of as the initial step of the Christian life; viz., accepting Him as one's personal Savior and then, by complete surrender, believing for and receiving the fulness of His Spirit; but this is but the bare beginning. Salvation in its fulness is a continuous process. We are perfect when our hearts are entirely set Godward, that is, perfect in love and purpose; but by no means are we perfected. The Apostle Paul many years after His conversion and sanctification wrote in Phil. 3:10: "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." It is one thing to be converted, and another to be fully consecrated; but the work that takes time is this of conformity to His death. More and more, even in his old age, the Apostle Paul longed for this conformity, and welcomed everything that would make him appropriate it. This is what is meant by the power of the cross in a life; for the cross means judgment. Judgment in all that is carnal and selfish, all that is worldly, and all that is demoniacal or Satanic. But "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14, margin). (See also Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20 and Col. 2:14.) In other words, in Christ the work is wrought out for us; but that does not mean that it does not have to be wrought out in us; and to be wrought out in us may involve pain, suffering, loss, heart-breaks, and anguish. There is no merit in any kind of suffering, and it is not the suffering that saves us; but through it there is preparation to receive more of Christ. Every advance step demands deeper judgment, and every advance step is nothing less nor more than a larger appropriation of Himself. If I desire more grace, I may never take it unless I have the spur of some great need. Christ "learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). "The disciple is not above his Master; but . . . shall be perfected as his Master" (Luke 6:40, margin).
When we understand that we have to be made perfect even "as our Master," we can clearly see that there is no escape from the process. If we play truant and endeavor to escape any lesson, we will not only be made to learn the lesson from which we thought we could flee, but also we will have the other lesson added, which is, that we can not permanently flee anything that God has for us to be or to do. We know the goal and standard that He has set for mankind. "Till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13, margin). This is not only His goal for the elect, who are the first fruits; but also for the whole harvest of mankind, when God becomes "all in all" (1Cor. 15:28). Be not deceived, no one can escape any of the process of the cross of Christ. We may take a longer time to it, but we can not escape it. The seeds that will spring forth into God's judgments are in one’s own nature, and in one's own words and deeds. There is no such thing as "chance" in the universe of God. It is the same law for the sinner as for the saint. "God is no respecter of persons." There is no other way than the way of Christ. It is this path that brings all the blessings for which our hearts yearn. Our spiritual imaginings fall so far short! Our prayers are offered in too great blindness, He will "do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20).
It is necessary to note that if we are to be made perfect in the same manner as Christ, we need to find the source of our suffering and judgments not alone in ourselves, but in others. There is much vicarious suffering in the world today, fathers and mothers suffer for children; children suffer for parents; wives suffer for husbands and husbands for wives; friends suffer for friends, etc. The Christian worker suffers for his converts; the missionary suffers for the heathen; the pastor for his people; and the people for the pastor. A Christian's judgments and sufferings, to be like Christ's, need to be more for others than for himself. What a field is provided in this life, and what fields in the ages to come! God alone knoweth; and has made all things ready for our perfecting. It is but the working out of the principle of the cross in us and through us for all time.
This principle explains why the Apostle glories in the cross of Christ. This makes clear the statement in Rom. 5:3, "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience." Tribulation is not pleasant; it involves suffering. It is a judgment; it is a portion of the cross. Why glory in it? Because when taken aright, it leads us to take more of the very patience of Christ. We do not have any for the new trial, and He gives us His patience. It was through recognizing the necessity and beneficence of judgments that the Apostle again said "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, than am I strong" (2Cor. 12:9,10). There is no virtue in judgment for judgment's sake, nor in manufacturing some new cross for ourselves. There will be His cross that meets us and brings its judgments. He will make al of His judgments be in order to grace. Let that suffice.
When we understand that this law is inexorable, that it will keep on following us till we learn its lesson, and all blessing and the beatific vision with the unveiled face is ours, we will gladly welcome the next judgment. This explains the seeming paradox of the Psalmist when he said, "I have hoped in Thy judgments" (Ps. 119:43,120). We will never separate love from God's judgments (Luke 11:42). We will love the cross and welcome it. "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times" (Ps. 119:20).
While we are writing this, we have brought to our attention the recent decision of a certain criminal who was condemned to death. He was told that he could choose the time of his execution, either on Wednesday or Thursday of the same week. He said, "I will choose Wednesday; since it has to be, I want it to be over with." Just as soon as sinner and saint get to realize the absolute certainty of having to endure judgments in order to the full conformity to Christ, there will be the sooner yielding, and the learning what God wants us to learn, and the becoming what He wants us to be.
Notice in Jude, verses 14, 15, we have revealed to us the purpose and the outcome of the Lord's coming and His judgments; viz., "to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all." The return of judgment is always unto righteousness (Ps. 94:15). The Father suffers judgment to come upon us only to bless us. If we learn our lessons speedily, and judge ourselves, we will escape many judgments (1Cor. 11:31). The redemption of Zion is with judgment (Isa. 1:27). And when God's judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants learn righteousness (Isa. 26:9). Our Lord will keep on "till He have set judgment in the earth" (Isa. 42:4). Christians will not escape, for "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1Pet. 4:17).
If this principle of divine love in judgment were seen, the words "judge" and "judgment" would never have been translated "damn" and damnation." The usage of language also precludes such a translation. The word "to judge" (krinein) signifies "to judge," and is so translated over eighty times. In one place, 2Thes. 2:12, it is incorrectly translated "damned." "That they all might be damned who believed not the truth." It would make great confusion to use the word "damn" in most of these eighty cases; for instance, in Acts 16:15, in place of "if ye have judged me to be faithful," it would read, "if ye have damned me to be faithful." This would make gross nonsense. Only a preconceived theory would cause any one to translate "to judge" by the word "damn." It is contrary to the normal meaning of the word.
The word "to condemn" (katakrinein) occurs nineteen times in the New Testament; in every instance but two it is translated "condemn." In these two, Mark 16:16, it reads, "but he that believeth not shall be damned"; and in Rom. 14:23, "he that doubteth is damned if he eat." It should have the same translation, "condemned," in every case.
The word "judging" (krisis) denotes the process of judging. In over forty passages this word is rendered "judgment," in three, it is rendered "damnation." These places are Matt. 23:33; Mark 3:29; and John 5:29. If we would try to apply this word "damnation" to all the passages where this word occurs, it would be foolish; for instance, it is the same word translated "judgment" in John 5:30. It reads, "As I hear, I judge, and My judging (krisis) is just." To be consistent, this verse should read, "As I hear, I damn, and My damning is just." Any one would know that this is not what is meant. All these words are stretched to bolster the false theory of an eternal hell. We have learned in the Chapter on "Time and Eternity" that the word translated "eternity" and "everlasting" can mean no longer than time lasts; they never mean "eternal" or even "everlasting."
The word "judgment" (krima) denotes the sentence pronounced, or the result of judging. This word is used thirty times in the New Testament. Fourteen times it is translated "judgment"; Matt.7:2; John 9:39; Acts 24:25; Rom. 2:2; 2:3; 5:16; 11:33, etc., and seven times the word "damnation" is used, Matt. 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47; Rom.3:8; 13:2; 1Cor.11:29; and 1Tim. 5:12. The reason the word "damnation" is employed seems to be to so construe the words referring to judgment that they could signify only eternal punishment. This is contrary to the very nature of God and to the correct meaning of the words.
The judgment on Hymenaeus and Alexander was their delivery over to Satan. This meant sickness and death, even instant death. The purpose was loving; viz., "That they may learn not to blaspheme" (1Tim. 1:20).
The case of the wicked man in the church at Corinth (1Cor. 5:5), was "to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh." Here, through this judgment, Paul desired to have the man's spirit "saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Here is salvation, at least reclamation, after death; and judgment is part of the means used. Again, in the passage in 1Pet. 3:18, etc., our Lord, after His death, "went and preached unto the spirits in prison"; who "were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah." Here is preaching to those who had refused the light and preaching of Noah. Especially notice the reference to judgment in the next Chapter; viz.,1Pet. 4:6. He is speaking of the same preaching, for this Chapter should not be divided from the former one where it is divided. The Apostle Peter continues and says, "For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." Here was the gospel preached to the dead. Here also is judgment on the dead. Here is the Gospel, with judgment, bringing salvation; for they were changed to "live according to God in the spirit."
We have known many in this life who never yielded to God till they met with some great bereavement, sorrow or loss. God used the sorrow and judgment to make them willing to accept the Lord Jesus Christ. "Start not at the plow that makes deep furrows in thy soul, God purposeth a crop."
In the cases given above, we learn that God will use the judgments, punishments and sorrows of the life to come as one of the means to bring souls to Him. The judgments are not the Savior, but they are sanctified to prepare the way for Him. Salvation in this age, or any age, is only through the Christ.
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