Why I Believe in Endless Punishment

by Pastor Harry Bultema

Print This Article

No doctrine is more repugnant to the unsanctified heart than the doctrine of endless suffering of the lost. In former ages it was the general belief of Christendom, but especially in the last half century a rebellion great and strong has broken out against this doctrine. The reason of man is not a competent judge in this matter, because human reason is darkened, fallen, at enmity with God, and a malefactor is never the qualified Judge of what strict justice demands in his own case. God the impartial Judge of the Universe Himself is the only competent Judge in this matter and He has given His final verdict in His Word.

1. The tender and compassionate Saviour, who wept for our sins and died for our transgressions, has taught more about eternal suffering than any other writer of the Bible. See Matthew 5:22, 29 and 30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45; Luke 12:5; John 3:16, 36.

2. Knowing the absolute holiness of God by which He forever must react against sin the presumption is a thousand to one that He will forever react against the sinners, namely, the devil and his angels for whom he made the place of punishment, and against those who voluntarily have cast in their lot with Satan and his angels. They will always sin and consequently there must always be punishment. The devil has been sinning for six thousand years and he has not improved by God’s longsuffering. Unsanctified suffering has no tendency to soften and subdue the obdurate Satan and sinner. We have examples of wicked men in the Bible to show that the punishment of God had rather a tendency to exasperate and provoke the impenitent to greater wickedness. Such was the effect at least upon Pharaoh, Saul, and Ahaz of whom we read: “In his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that King Ahaz” II Chronicles 28:22. Solomon says: “Though thou shouldst bray a fool with a pestle in a mortar, yet will not his foolishness depart from him,” Proverbs 27:22. The damned are incurable fools, and the foolishness will not depart from them any more through the wrath of God than through the love of God on Calvary.

3. The argument based upon the etymology of the word “Johanna”, coming as it does from the valley of Hind, is puerility itself. All human language, in and out of the Bible, is based upon metaphor, and the material images are used to represent spiritual ideas. This is true even of the sublime epistle to the Ephesians. In regard to all human language the statement of the Apostle fully applies: “That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.” I Corinthians. 15:46. Words like understand, apprehend, comprehend, imagine, aspire, inspire, recollect, infer, deduce, inchant, capitulate, reclaim, and a multitude of words although originally drawn from the actions of the human body are now used to express actions of the mind, but the mental actions are just as real as the physical, and so also Gehenna, translated “hell”, is just as real as the physical valley of Hinnom. This dark valley served only as a background for something far worse.

4. The argument against endless punishment derived from the identification of life and death with existence and nonexistence is worthless rubbish. Not for a moment can death be identified with non-existence. A dead tree is not a nonexistent tree, but a tree that is just as really existing as a living and fruit-bearing tree. It only exists in a different way. It does not fulfill the purpose for which it was planted: fruit-bearing. A dead church is not a non-existent church, but a church that runs in line with sin and Satan away from God. A joke that fell dead simply did not tickle the risibilities. A dead capital does not enrich the owner, but it exists. It only exists in the wrong way, in the wrong place, with the wrong party, and without practical point and progress. Abraham’s body and Sara’s womb were dead, Romans 4:19, and this simply means that they lost the generative function; in the same way the Bible speaks of the dead burying the dead, Matthew 8:22; of dead works and dead faith, Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14; James 2:17, 20, 26. Sardis was dead, Revelation 3:11. The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 to 6; Colossians 2:13. In another sense the saints are dead to sin and the world, Galatians 2:19, 20; Colossians 3:3; Romans 6:1 to 11. “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death,” John 8:51; John 11:26; John 6:47 to 54. Whoever lives in pleasure is dead while he or she liveth, I Timothy 5:6. After Lazarus and Dives died they were existing in different ways with a gulf fixed between them. And so the second death is just as real as the first, but no resurrection will ever follow it. The wages of sin is death in all its fearful extent and implication, death in its three-fold form: spiritual, natural, and eternal death, and in this text: Romans 6:23 stands in the immediate contrast to eternal life. Neither do the words destruction, perish, perdition, burn, condemnation and others, used to express the doom of the lost, signify cessation of being, but always, without exception, a continued, perpetuated state of suffering and misery.

5. Of late much has been made of the word aionian. We can freely admit that this term in itself does not express the thought of endlessness. In fact it not only can be applied to something that exists, for an eon, a long period with a definite beginning and end, but it has been used in the Scriptures in that sense several times. Time and again, however, the Word uses the word aionian for something that is endless. It speaks of aionian redemption, Hebrews 9:12; aionian inheritance, Hebrews 9:15; an aionian comfort, II Thessalonians 2:16; an aionian weight of glory, II Corinthians 4:17; aionian tabernacles, Luke 16:9; an aionian Kingdom, II Peter 1:11; the aionian Spirit, Hebrews 9:14; the aionian King, I Timothy 1:17; aionian life, John 3:15, 16 the aionian God, Genesis 21:33, and so also aionian punishment, destruction, and burnings, Isaiah 33:14. And often these are put in contrast so that it is evident that if the one is lasting forever the other must be. “The things which are seen are proskaira, temporal, but the things which are not seen are aionian. If this last word were also temporal, Paul would have stated here a bit of nonsense. Then, although it is clear from the above examples that the word aionian often does mean endless, everlasting, the Holy Spirit has doubled this word in regard to the suffering of the lost to emphasize the endlessness of it. The term aionian life” is used in two senses: As a present possession and as a future possession. John generally uses it in the first sense and Paul uses it as a rule in the future sense. In Romans 6:23 he uses it as a present gift and possession and in I Timothy 6:12,19 he uses it in the sense of a future attainment and reward on which we now must lay hold by means of good works. See also Titus 1:2 and 3:7. The word aionian then has a wide range. The phrase “in the ages of the ages”, used more than twenty times, invariably denotes endless duration. In Revelation it is used fourteen times and in every case the limited and restricted sense is excluded.

6. The Bible explicitly teaches that the miseries of the wicked shall have no end. The fire shall never be quenched, their worm death not, Mark 9:44 to 46. The fire is unquenchable Matthew 3:12. The smoke of their torments ascendeth up forever and ever, Revelation 14:11. Satan is thrown into the lake of fire after the thousand years and is tormented forever and after (into the ages of the ages) Revelation 20:10, and from Matthew 25:41 we know that the wicked shall be sent into this everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Of the beast worshippers is said in Revelation 14:10 and 11 that they shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Jude 13 says that the apostates are wandering stars “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever,” Peter has also: “to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever II Peter 2:17. Daniel puts the everlasting contempt opposition to the everlasting life, Daniel 12:2. “And these shall go into aionian punishment, but the righteous into life aionian. Matthew 25:46.

7. The Annihilationists and Restorationists, and whatever the Universalists may be called today, misjudge all the great concepts of the Word of God. They misjudge the character of God’s holiness and vindictive justice and also the character of His punishment. They look upon punishment as simply disciplinary, but even in human justice as capital punishment a murderer is not electrocuted for his own good, but to satisfy the majesty of the trespassed law and to flash a warning into the hearts of men for the good of society. Sodom and Gomorrah were set forth for a warning example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. There is holy vengeance in the punishment of the wicked. The Lord is slow to anger, eager to forgive, long-suffering, wonderfully kind, but Nahum says twice: “The Lord revengeth, the Lord revengeth, and is furious who can abide in the fierceness of His anger?” Nahum 1:3, 5, 6. The word Wrath appears in the New Testament alone fifty-five times with three Greek words. The Restorationists neither do appreciate what it means to be justified and, saved by grace. They have never understood what the grace of God includes. What grace could there be bestowed upon people that have endured all that they deserve either in this life or in an aion to come. One that has endured his punishment may lift up his head and spurn pardon, grace and forgiveness. How would such persons need the interposition of Christ? What could Christ ever do for them? They have suffered all they deserve and have nothing to dread. They cannot have a Mediator, they need not an atonement, or a Redeemer, they need not even a Deliverer and Helper, they can fully do without a Saviour for they themselves fully propitiate and satisfy the justice of God. They can never glory in the cross of Christ, never shout the redemption songs about the cleansing power of the blood for they themselves have suffered the whole penalty of a broken law, they have paid the debt, paid it all, and all glory is to themselves. Hence Restorationism is abhorrent and utterly at variance with the gospel of grace and, glory. It has been affirmed that the Restorationists do glory in the grace of God. In the very nature of things that can not be. Their vision of holiness, justice, sin, and grace is sadly blurred.