Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Fifteen: Unpardonable Sins
"For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, tho he sought it carefully with tears" (Heb. 12:17)
This text has reference to Esau (verse 16) selling the right to his birthright; and afterward, altho he wept sore, he could not get it restored. This is one of the texts that have been used by the enemy to torment oversensitive Christians, and to lead them to believe that they have committed the unpardonable sin, and for them there is nothing left but an unending hell. Every pastor of experience has met a number of such cases. This text, or some other text, has become the ground of their despair. Melancholia, or even a permanent insanity, has often resulted. The book of Hebrews affords several of these texts, and the enemy has made sad use of them.
We will speak at first only of this text, and may discover a principle which will be helpful in understanding a number of others.
This Scripture seems to contradict the words of our Lord when, in answer to Peter's question in The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapter 18:21,22," Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven." This, evidently, means that we should put no limit to our spirit of forgiveness. If our Lord teaches us to have such a spirit of forgiveness, He must desire us to understand that there be no limit to his forgiveness. In our day it is certainly taught that any one who turns to the Lord will find forgiveness.
It may yield some light if we ask what it was that Esau sought to obtain when "he found no place of repentance, tho he sought it carefully with tears." Was it his salvation that he was seeking? Certainly not. Was it forgiveness? No, he could have that. When he lost his birthright, he was still a son; and, as a son, received the blessing from God through his father. In Heb. 11:20 we read that "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come." Esau received a blessing also; but; he had forfeited the honor and reward that was offered him first. It is well to note that in Israel, altho the one born first naturally was offered the birthright first, other requirements were necessary. This may be seen in Jacob's own sons. The first-born and the second-born did not get this honor; but it was given as a reward to Judah and to Joseph.
1Cor. 3:11-15 teaches us that there are some who are not only to be saved, but also rewarded; while others lose their reward and are saved as through fire.
The interpretation of the whole book of Hebrews turns on this thought of winning the honor and reward of a first-born one. This honor was held open for the whole Hebrew nation, but some would forfeit this privilege as Esau did. It is not a question of salvation; but a question of having position with the Lord in His kingdom.
This is entirely parallel to the children of Israel who were redeemed out of Egypt. The attaining of the Land of Promise was a reward. It is impossible to believe that all who perished in the wilderness were lost forever; all perished except Caleb and Joshua, the children and many of the priests. All who died missed the reward of entering the Land. We know that even Moses forfeited this privilege, but no one believes that he was lost. Fifteen hundred years after, we find him in the Land of Promise talking to our Lord. Through sin one may lose an arm or an eye; if he repents God will forgive him, but he does not get back his eye or his arm. We know, however, through God’s help and grace, that he may do much more with the arm and eye left him than he would ever have done with two arms and two eyes. Repentance may not bring back forfeited birthrights, but God has other blessings waiting faith and fidelity.
Altho the Bible says clearly that "all Israel shall be saved" ultimately (Rom. 11:25,26), it appears that many of them may miss the millennial kingdom and not be resurrected till its close. We do not wonder that they may weep as Esau wept; but, for the period, in place of a glorious kingdom, they are shut out in the "outer darkness." In the spirit of Esau they may say, "If I only had been more faithful and self-sacrificing!"
In the parable of the virgins it is not a question of salvation; but it is one of honor and privilege. The foolish and wise virgins had light. The light of the foolish was diminishing (Matt. 25:8, margin). They miss the reward. It is not a question of salvation, but of reward. Even when the foolish virgins went and bought more oil and became, typically, Spirit-filled, they were too late for the kingdom honors. It is one thing to be saved, and another to be saved "with eonian glory" (2Tim. 2:10 literal). It is usually taught that those who are saved will have no regret. The Word of God teaches differently in reference to Israel. He picture even "weeping and gnashing of teeth. "The same principle certainly obtains for us, and the Apostle Paul speaking in our dispensation said: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord." What was he striving for? To win the birthright on a higher plane than that of Israel. The Apostle knew that he was saved, that is, accepted of God; but he was fearful of missing the honor and glory that God held out for him. If he missed he might weep, like Esau, but he would never get it again.
If we examine Heb. 2:3, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, "we shall learn that this text has application to the unconverted, but it is especially addrest to those who have the beginning of salvation, that they may not miss the reward of a first-born one and the glory of the salvation that is to be revealed when Jesus comes (1Pet. 1:5).
This is evidently the principle that is involved in a proper understanding of Heb. 6:4,6, that "it is impossible . . . to renew them again unto repentance." The particular point in question is lost irrevocably; viz., the birthright of a first-born one. Heb. 10:26 is likewise addrest to Hebrew Christians; and these are told that they may lose the birthright utterly if they despise their birthright. In Heb. 10:35,36, the Apostle exhorts them to "cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Also Heb. 10:39, "But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." Only the faithful Hebrews will be resurrected at the first resurrection. The rest of them will not be raised till the first-born ones reign for a thousand years. The overcomers are the first-born and receive their birthright.
Compare this with 1Cor. 11:30, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." Here were believers in the church at Corinth that were suffering certain sicknesses, and others, death as judgment because of their failing to judge themselves. This does not mean that all such are lost, but they lose something and have to suffer the judgment of God.
The Church has eliminated all discipline for the righteous in the life to come, and, as a consequence, has no place for these texts. We do not teach that the righteous suffer punishment in the life to come; but if there is to be progress, there must be training and discipline. Suffering is not punishment when there is no guilt. When all sins have been forgiven, there is no guilt. If any criminal, because of guilt, was condemned to go through the toils and suffering that Admiral Peary had to endure in his attempts to explore the Polar regions and to reach the North Pole, he would have no other word for it than that it was a unendurable hell. To Admiral Peary, it was suffering; but, because it was in line with his ambition; because it would bring him honor and also blessing and knowledge to his fellow men, he gladly and voluntarily endured it. The Master was made "perfect through sufferings" and "the disciple is not above his Master (Luke 6:40, margin). To the Christian who thus suffers in his life, it may be aid, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross," etc.
It will help greatly in the understanding of the New Testament to see that, except in the texts that speak of the ultimate redemption, the subject is in reference to winning the birthright and becoming a first-born one. These are sometimes called "the elect," that is, the first-fruits or earnest of the final glorious harvest. The elect are the first to come. It is a fearful loss not to be among the elect or first-born ones. They will enjoy the glory all through the ages while those who miss it will not enter in till the last age. "God is no respecter of persons," every one who misses the mark, even for the ages, will have no one but himself to blame.
Another text that is especially connected with the unpardonable sin is found in Matt. 12:32; “and whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." This text looks formidable at the first glance, but it is not difficult if we rightly divide the Word of Truth. We need to notice that the word "world" in this verse is the word for "age," and it should be read, "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come."
We know from the diagram of the Ages (See Chapter on the Ages Presented) that this age is this present age, and the age to come is the millennial age. This text may reasonably imply that some sins committed in this age may be forgiven in the Millennium, but not this particular one against the Holy Ghost.
We have learned that the great age of universal reconciliation and acceptance of the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ is not the age nor the millennial age but the great age which follows it, viz., the age of the ages. Some sins are so grievous that the sinner is given up or given over to them, so that it may not be of use to plead further with him; but in the final age he will accept the proffered mercy. The most obstinate class will endure punishment and discipline till this last age. This is the time of "the dispensation of the fulness of times" when He gathers "together in one all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10). (See Chapter on The Great Neglected Age.)
Another text that needs examination is 1John 5:16, "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." The question here discust is a totally different matter from what is usually thought in connection with unpardonable sins.
First, it is well to note that the one who commits this sin is converted, for he is called a "brother." The question of being finally lost is out of the question for those who hold that the Father will lose none that are committed to His hand (John 10:27-29). This text is akin to the one already referred to in 1Cor. 11:30 where many in the church of Corinth were weak and sickly and many had fallen asleep. These last words imply that they had committed a sin unto death. If was of no use to pray for their recovery when they became ill; they must die as truly as the unbelieving Israel died on the way to the Land of the Promise. The physical chastisement of death had to be meted out to them. Their spiritual destiny after death is quite another question. In 1Cor. 5:5, the Apostle Paul, under divine direction, tells the church at Corinth "to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This deliverance to Satan certainly brought sickness and death, but it was in order to salvation at the coming of the Lord."
In Jer. 14:11 the Lord said, "Pray not for this people for their good." And in Jer. 15:1, He says: Tho Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people." The same principle as the "sin unto death" (1John 5:16,17) obtains here. The Kingdom of Judah in Jeremiah’s time had despised all warning and gone deeper and deeper into sin. They had all sinned, some unto captivity and some unto death. Prayer could not avail. No one could pray in the Spirit and in faith for their deliverance. It would have wrought more harm than good to have such a prayer answered. Their highest good demanded exile and captivity. But this is not final: God still has purposes for Israel. In our day a great stride has been made toward their return to their own land, their repentance and salvation. The same book of Jeremiah contains, in Chapter 16:14,15, these words "Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, the Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither He had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers." A few Israelites in past times have returned, but this great promise has not yet been fulfilled. The rejection of Israel was for a time, even a long time. In the days of the Apostles Paul wrote to the Romans (11:26), "And so all Israel shall be saved."
It is the failure to notice the distinction between the time when God's plan was to a first-fruit, and the time when He will have every knee bow (Phil. 2:10); and also to distinguish what is for time and yet not for eternity, that brings confusion to the understanding of the Scriptures and dishonor to the character of God.
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