With the earliest history of man, Satan began his efforts to deceive our race. He who had incited rebellion in Heaven desired to bring the whole creation to unite with him in his warfare against the government of God. His envy and jealousy were excited as he looked upon the beautiful home prepared for the happy, holy pair, and he immediately laid his plans to cause their fall. Had he revealed himself in his real character, he would have been repulsed at once, for Adam and Eve had been warned against this dangerous foe; but he worked in the dark, concealing his purpose, that he might more effectually accomplish his object.
Employing as his medium the serpent, then a creature of fascinating appearance, he addressed himself to Eve, "Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" [GEN. 3:1]. Had Eve refrained from entering into argument with the tempter, she would have been safe; but she ventured to parley with him, and fell a victim to his wiles. It is thus that many are still overcome. They doubt and argue concerning the requirements of God, and instead of obeying the divine commands, they accept human theories, which but disguise the devices of Satan.
"The woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." [GEN. 3:2-5]. Eve yielded to temptation, and through her influence Adam also was deceived. They accepted the words of the serpent, that God did not mean what he said; they distrusted their Creator, and imagined that he was restricting their liberty, and that they might obtain great light and freedom by transgressing his law.
But what did Adam, after his sin, find to be the meaning of the words, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die"? Did he find them to mean, as Satan had led him to believe, that he was to be ushered into a more exalted state of existence? Then indeed there was great good to be gained by transgression, and Satan was proved to be a benefactor of the race. But Adam did not so understand the divine sentence. God declared that as a penalty for his sin, man should return to the ground whence he was taken: "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." [GEN. 3:19]. The words of Satan, "Your eyes shall be opened," proved to be true only in this sense: After Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, their eyes were opened to discern their folly; they did know evil, and they tasted the bitter fruit of transgression.
Immortality had been promised on condition of obedience to the requirements of God. It was forfeited by disobedience, and Adam became subject to death. He could not transmit to his posterity that which he did not possess; and there would have been no hope for the fallen race, had not God, by the sacrifice of his Son, brought immortality within their reach. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." [ROM. 6:23]. In no other way can it be obtained. But every man may come in possession of this priceless blessing if he will comply with the conditions. All "who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality," will receive eternal life. [ROM. 2:7.]
The one who promised Adam life in disobedience was the great deceiver. The first sermon ever preached upon the immortality of the soul was preached by the serpent to Eve in Eden, -- "Ye shall not surely die;" and this declaration, resting solely upon the authority of Satan, is echoed from the pulpits of Christendom, and received by the majority of mankind as readily as it was received by our first parents. The divine sentence, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," [EZE. 18:20.] is made to mean, The soul that sinneth, it shall not die, but live eternally. We cannot but wonder at the strange infatuation which renders men so credulous concerning the words of Satan, and so unbelieving in regard to the words of God.
The fruit of the tree of life had the power to perpetuate life. Had man after his fall been allowed free access to that tree, he would have lived forever, and thus sin would have been immortalized. But a flaming sword was placed "to keep the way of the tree of life," and not one of the family of Adam has been permitted to pass that barrier and partake of the life-giving fruit. Therefore there is not an immortal sinner.
But after the fall, Satan bade his angels make a special effort to foster the belief in man's natural immortality; and when they had induced the people to receive this error, they led them on to conclude that the sinner would live in eternal misery. Now the prince of darkness, working through his agents, represents God as a revengeful tyrant, declaring that he plunges into hell all those who do not please him, and causes them ever to feel his wrath; and that while they suffer unutterable anguish, and writhe in the eternal flames, their Creator looks down upon them with satisfaction.
Thus the arch-fiend clothes with his own attributes the Creator and Benefactor of mankind. Cruelty is Satanic. God is love; and all that he created was pure, holy, and lovely, until sin was brought in by the first great rebel. Satan himself is the enemy who tempts man to sin, and then destroys him if he can; and when he has made sure of his victim, then he exults in the ruin he has wrought. If permitted, he would sweep the entire race into his net. Were it not for the interposition of divine power, not one son or daughter of Adam would escape.
He is seeking to overcome men today, as he overcame our first parents, by shaking their confidence in their Creator, and leading them to doubt the wisdom of his government and the justice of his laws. Satan and his emissaries represent God as even worse than themselves, in order to excuse their own malignity and rebellion. The great deceiver endeavors to shift his own horrible cruelty of character upon our heavenly Father, that he may cause himself to appear as one greatly wronged because he will not submit to so unjust a governor. He presents before the world the liberty which they may enjoy under his mild sway, in contrast with the bondage imposed by the stern decrees of Jehovah. Thus he succeeds in luring souls away from their allegiance to God.
How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented with fire and brimstone in an eternally burning hell, that for the sins of a brief earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live. Yet this doctrine has been generally embodied in the creeds of Christendom. Says a learned doctor of divinity: "The sight of hell-torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. When they see others who are of the same nature and born under the same circumstances, plunged in such misery, and they so distinguished, it will make them sensible of how happy they are." Another uses these words: "While the decree of reprobation is eternally executing on the vessels of wrath, the smoke of their torment will be eternally ascending in view of the vessels of mercy, who, instead of taking the part of these miserable objects, will say, Amen, Alleluia! praise ye the Lord!"
Where in the pages of God's word are such sentiments expressed? Those who present them may be learned and even honest men; but they are deluded by the sophistry of Satan. He leads them to misconstrue strong expressions of Scripture, giving to the language the coloring of bitterness and malignity which pertains to himself, but not to our Creator.
What would be gained to God should we admit that he delights in witnessing unceasing tortures; that he is regaled with the groans and shrieks and imprecations of the suffering creatures whom he holds in the flames of hell? Can these horrid sounds be music in the ear of Infinite Love? It is urged that the infliction of endless misery upon the wicked would show God's hatred of sin as an evil which is ruinous to the peace and order of the universe. Oh, dreadful blasphemy! As if God's hatred of sin is the reason why he perpetuates sin. For, according to the received theology, continued torture without hope of mercy maddens its wretched victims, and as they pour out their rage in curses and blasphemy, they are forever augmenting their load of guilt. God's glory is not enhanced by thus perpetuating continually increasing sin through ceaseless ages.
It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment. The religion of the Bible, full of love and goodness, and abounding in compassion, is darkened by superstition and clothed with terror. When we consider in what false colors Satan has painted the character of God, can we wonder that our merciful Creator is feared, dreaded, and even hated? The appalling views of God which have spread over the world from the teachings of the pulpit have made thousands, yea, millions, of skeptics and infidels.
The theory of eternal torment is one of the false doctrines that constitute the wine of the abominations of Babylon, of which she makes all nations drink. That ministers of Christ should have accepted this heresy and proclaimed it from the sacred desk, is indeed a mystery. They received it from Rome, as they received the false Sabbath. True, it has been taught by great and good men; but the light on this subject had not come to them as it has come to us. They were responsible only for the light which shone in their time; we are accountable for that which shines in our day. If we turn from the testimony of God's word, and accept false doctrines because our fathers taught them, we fall under the condemnation pronounced upon Babylon; we are drinking of the wine of her abominations.
A large class to whom the doctrine of eternal torment is revolting are driven to the opposite error. They see that the Scriptures represent God as a being of love and compassion, and they cannot believe that he will consign his creatures to the fires of an eternally burning hell. But, holding that the soul is naturally immortal, they see no alternative but to conclude that all mankind will finally be saved. Many regard the threatenings of the Bible as designed merely to frighten men into obedience, and not to be literally fulfilled. Thus the sinner can live in selfish pleasure, disregarding the requirements of God, and yet expect to be finally received into his favor. Such a doctrine, presuming upon God's mercy, but ignoring his justice, pleases the carnal heart, and emboldens the wicked in their iniquity.
To show how believers in universal salvation wrest the Scriptures to sustain their soul-destroying dogmas, it is needful only to cite their own utterances. At the funeral of an irreligious young man, who was killed instantly by an accident, a Universalist minister selected as his text the Scripture statement concerning David, "He was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead." [2 SAM. 13:39.]
"I am frequently asked," said the speaker, "what will be the fate of those who leave the world in sin, die, perhaps, in a state of inebriation, die with the scarlet stains of crime unwashed from their robes, or die as this young man died, having never made a profession or enjoyed an experience of religion. We are content with the Scriptures; their answer shall solve the awful problem. Amnon was exceedingly sinful; he was unrepentant, he was made drunk, and while drunk was killed. David was a prophet of God; he must have known whether it would be ill or well for Amnon in the world to come. What were the expressions of his heart? -- 'The soul of King David longed to go forth unto Absalom; for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.'
"And what is the inference to be deduced from this language? Is it not that endless suffering formed no part of his religious belief? -- So we conceive; and here we discover a triumphant argument in support of the more pleasing, more enlightened, more benevolent hypothesis of ultimate universal purity and peace. He was comforted, seeing his son was dead. And why so? -- Because by the eye of prophecy he could look forward into the glorious future, and see that son far removed from all temptations, released from the bondage and purified from the corruptions of sin, and after being made sufficiently holy and enlightened, admitted to the assembly of ascended and rejoicing spirits. His only comfort was, that in being removed from the present state of sin and suffering, his beloved son had gone where the loftiest breathings of the Holy Spirit would be shed upon his darkened soul; where his mind would be unfolded to the wisdom of Heaven and the sweet raptures of immortal love, and thus prepared with a sanctified nature to enjoy the rest and society of the heavenly inheritance.
"In these thoughts we would be understood to believe that the salvation of Heaven depends upon nothing which we can do in this life; neither upon a present change of heart, nor upon present belief, or a present profession of religion."
Thus does the professed minister of Christ reiterate the falsehood uttered by the serpent in Eden, -- "Ye shall not surely die." "In the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods." The vilest of sinners, -- the murderer, the thief, and the adulterer, -- will after death be prepared to enter into immortal bliss.
And from what does this perverter of the Scriptures draw his conclusions? -- From a single sentence expressing David's submission to the dispensation of Providence. His soul "longed to go forth unto Absalom; for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead." The poignancy of his grief having been softened by time, his thoughts turned from the dead to the living son, self-banished through fear of the just punishment of his crime. And this is the evidence that the incestuous, drunken Amnon was at death immediately transported to the abodes of bliss, there to be purified and prepared for the companionship of sinless angels! A pleasing fable indeed, well suited to gratify the carnal heart! This is Satan's own doctrine, and it does his work effectually. Should we be surprised that, with such instruction, wickedness abounds? Is there not need of contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints?
The course pursued by this one false teacher illustrates that of many others. A few words of Scripture are separated from the context, which would in many cases show its meaning to be exactly opposite to the interpretation put upon it; and such disjointed passages are perverted and used in proof of doctrines that have no foundation in the word of God. The testimony cited as evidence that the drunken Amnon is in Heaven, is a mere inference, directly contradicted by the plain and positive statement of the Scriptures, that no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God. It is thus that doubters, unbelievers, and skeptics turn the truth into a lie. And multitudes have been deceived by their sophistry, and rocked to sleep in the cradle of carnal security.
If the souls of all men pass directly to Heaven at the hour of dissolution, then we may well covet death rather than life. Many have been led by this belief to put an end to their existence. When overwhelmed with trouble, perplexity, and disappointment, it seems an easy thing to break the brittle thread of life, and soar away into the bliss of the eternal world.
God has given in his word abundant evidence that he will punish the transgressors of his law. Witness the visitation of his judgments upon the angels who kept not their first estate, on the inhabitants of the antediluvian world, on the people of Sodom, on unbelieving Israel. Their history is placed on record for our admonition.
Let us consider what the Bible teaches further concerning the ungodly and unrepentant, whom the Universalist places in Heaven as holy, happy angels.
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." This promise is only to those that thirst. None but those who feel their need of the water of life, and seek it at the loss of all things else, will be supplied. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." [REV. 21:6, 7]. Here, also, conditions are specified. To inherit all things, we must resist and overcome sin.
"No fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." [EPH. 5:5, REV. VER]. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." [HEB. 12:14]. "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." [REV. 22:14, 15.]
God has given to men a declaration of his character: "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty." [EX. 34:6, 7]. The power and authority of the divine government will be employed to put down rebellion; yet all the manifestations of retributive justice will be perfectly consistent with the character of God as a merciful, long-suffering, benevolent being.
God does not force the will or judgment of any. He takes no pleasure in a slavish obedience. He desires that the creatures of his hands shall love him because he is worthy of love. He would have them obey him because they have an intelligent appreciation of his wisdom, justice, and benevolence. And all who have a just conception of these qualities will love him because they are drawn toward him in admiration of his attributes.
The principles of kindness, mercy, and love taught and exemplified by our Saviour, are a copy of the will and character of God. Christ declared that he taught nothing except that which he had received from his Father. The principles of the divine government are in perfect harmony with the Saviour's precept, "Love your enemies." God executes justice upon the wicked, for the good of the universe, and even of those upon whom his judgments are visited. He would make them happy if he could do so in accordance with the laws of his government and the justice of his character. He surrounds them with the tokens of his love, he grants them a knowledge of his law, and follows them with the offers of his mercy; but they despise his love, make void his law, and reject his mercy. While constantly receiving his gifts, they dishonor the Giver; they hate God because they know that he abhors their sins. The Lord bears long with their perversity; but the decisive hour will come at last, when their destiny is to be decided. Will he then chain these rebels to his side? Will he force them to do his will?
Those who have chosen Satan as their leader, and have been controlled by his power, are not prepared to enter the presence of God. Pride, deception, licentiousness, cruelty, have become fixed in their characters. Can they enter Heaven to dwell forever with those whom they despised and hated on earth? Truth will never be agreeable to a liar; meekness will not satisfy self-esteem and pride; purity is not acceptable to the corrupt; disinterested love does not appear attractive to the selfish. The destiny of the wicked is fixed by their own choice. Their exclusion from Heaven is voluntary; it is just.
Like the waters of the flood, the fires of the great day declare God's verdict that the wicked are incurable. They have no disposition to submit to divine authority. Their will has been exercised in revolt; and when life is ended, it is too late to turn the current of their thoughts in the opposite direction, -- too late to turn from transgression to obedience, from hatred to love.
In mercy to the world, God blotted out its wicked inhabitants in Noah's time. In mercy he destroyed the corrupt dwellers in Sodom. Through the deceptive power of Satan, the workers of iniquity obtain sympathy and admiration, and are thus constantly leading others to rebellion. It was so in Noah's day, and in the time of Abraham and Lot; it is so in our time. It is in mercy to the universe that God will finally destroy the rejecters of his grace.
But the doctrine of never-ending torment has no sanction in the Bible. John in the Revelation, describing the future joy and glory of the redeemed, declares that he heard every voice in Heaven and earth, and under the earth, ascribing praise to God. There will be no lost beings in hell to mingle their shrieks with the songs of the saved.
"The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." [ROM. 6:23]. While life is the inheritance of the righteous, death is the portion of the wicked. The penalty threatened is not merely temporal death, for all must suffer this. It is the second death, the opposite of everlasting life. God cannot save the sinner in his sins; but he declares that the wicked, having suffered the punishment of their guilt, shall be as though they had not been. Says an inspired writer, "Thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be." [PS. 37:10]. In consequence of Adam's sin, death passed upon all mankind. All alike go down into the grave. But through the provisions of the plan of salvation, all are to be brought forth from their graves. Then those who have not secured the pardon of their sins must receive the penalty of transgression. They suffer punishment varying in duration and intensity according to their works, but finally ending in the second death. Covered with infamy, they sink into hopeless, eternal oblivion.
Upon the fundamental error of natural immortality rests the doctrine of consciousness in death, a doctrine, like eternal torment, opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures, to the dictates of reason, and to our feelings of humanity. According to the popular belief, the redeemed in Heaven are acquainted with all that takes place on the earth, and especially with the lives of the friends whom they have left behind. But how could it be a source of happiness to the dead to know the troubles of the living, to witness the sins committed by their own loved ones, and to see them enduring all the sorrows, disappointments, and anguish of life? How much of Heaven's bliss would be enjoyed by those who were hovering over their friends on earth? And how utterly revolting is the belief that as soon as the breath leaves the body, the soul of the impenitent is consigned to the flames of hell! To what depths of anguish must those be plunged who see their friends passing to the grave unprepared, to enter upon an eternity of woe and sin! Many have been driven to insanity by this harrowing thought.
What say the Scriptures concerning these things? David declares that man is not conscious in death. "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." [PS. 146:4]. Solomon bears the same testimony: "The living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything." "Their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun." "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." [ECCL. 9:5, 6. 10.]
When, in answer to his prayer, Hezekiah's life was prolonged fifteen years, the grateful king rendered to God a tribute of praise for his great mercy. In this song he tells the reason why he thus rejoices: "The grave cannot praise thee; death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day. The father to the children shall make known thy truth." [ISA. 38:18, 19]. Popular theology represents the righteous dead as in Heaven, entered into bliss, and praising God with an immortal tongue; but Hezekiah could see no such glorious prospect in death. With his words agrees the testimony of the psalmist: "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." [PS. 6:5; 115:17.]
Peter, speaking through the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, said: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day." "For David is not ascended into the heavens." [ACTS 2:29, 34]. The fact that David remains in the grave until the resurrection proves that the righteous do not go to Heaven at death. It is only through the resurrection, and by virtue of the fact that Christ has risen, that David can at last sit at the right hand of God.
Paul declares: "If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." [1 COR. 15:16-18]. If for four thousand years the righteous had gone directly to Heaven at death, how could they be said to perish, even though there should never be a resurrection?
When about to leave his disciples, Jesus did not tell them that they would soon come to him. "I go to prepare a place for you," he said. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself." [JOHN 14:2, 3]. And Paul tells us, further, that "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." And he adds, "Comfort one another with these words." [1 THESS. 4:16-18]. How wide the contrast between these words of comfort and those of the minister previously quoted. The latter consoled the bereaved friends with the assurance, that, however sinful the dead might have been, he was received among the angels as soon as he breathed out his life here. Paul points his brethren to the future coming of the Lord, when the fetters of the tomb shall be broken, and the "dead in Christ" shall be raised to eternal life.
Before any can enter the mansions of the blest, their cases must be investigated, and their characters and their deeds must pass in review before God. All are to be judged according to the things written in the books, and to be rewarded as their works have been. This Judgment does not take place at death. Mark the words of Paul: "He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." [ACTS 17:31]. Here the apostle plainly stated that a specified time, then future, had been fixed upon for the Judgment of the world.
Jude refers to the same period: "The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the Judgment of the great day." And again he quotes the words of Enoch: "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all." [JUDE 6, 14, 15]. John declares that he "saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened;" "and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books." [REV. 20:12.]
But if the dead are already enjoying the bliss of Heaven or writhing in the flames of hell, what need of a future Judgment? The teachings of God's word on these important points are neither obscure nor contradictory; they may be understood by common minds. But what candid mind can see either wisdom or justice in the current theory? Will the righteous, after the investigation of their cases at the Judgment, receive the commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," when they have been dwelling in his presence, perhaps for long ages? Are the wicked summoned from the place of torment to receive the sentence from the Judge of all the earth, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire"? Oh, solemn mockery! shameful impeachment of the wisdom and justice of God!
Nowhere in the Sacred Scriptures is found the statement that the righteous go to their reward or the wicked to their punishment at death. The patriarchs and prophets have left no such assurance. Christ and his apostles have given no hint of it. The Bible clearly teaches that the dead do not go immediately to Heaven. They are represented as sleeping until the resurrection. In the very day that the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl broken, man's thoughts perish. They that go down to the grave are in silence. They know no more of anything that is done under the sun. Blessed rest for the weary righteous! Time, be it long or short, is but a moment to them. They sleep, they are awakened by the trump of God to a glorious immortality. As they are called forth from their deep slumber, they begin to think just where they ceased. The last sensation was the pang of death, the last thought that they were falling beneath the power of the grave. When they arise from the tomb, their first glad thought will be echoed in the triumphal shout, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
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