The doctrine of eternal punishment has never been popular. It is troubling, however, that the attack on this doctrine now comes from within evangelicalism. The New International Version, as we have pointed out in a previous article, has all but eliminated hell from the Word of God, and leading evangelicals are teaching what is called conditional immortality.
Conditional immortality is the teaching that the ungodly go to hell for a time but are eventually annihilated, so that in the end there will be no one in hell. There is punishment, but it is not eternal. One of those who holds this view has said that though their smoke goes up forever, there will be no one burning.
We believe that the doctrine of eternal punishment is not only Biblical, but a very important doctrine as well. That it is Biblical is clear from such passages as Revelation 14:11 (cf. also Matt. 25:46), the passage that speaks of their smoke going up forever. The reference is to those who worship the beast, and it takes a very vivid imagination to figure out how their smoke could go up forever without their even being present in hell-fire.
That the doctrine of eternal punishment is important should not be difficult to see either. For one thing, it is important in relation to a proper understanding of sin and judgment. That punishment is eternal emphasizes the fact that it is committed against the eternal and most high majesty of God. A denial of eternal punishment belittles sin.
Closely related, a denial of eternal punishment calls into question the very nature of God. That God should first send people to hell and later end that punishment by annihilating them does not speak well of the unchangeableness or the justice and righteousness of God. Rather it suggests that He changes His mind about their punishment, and to some degree at least relents in His wrath against their sins.
So too, a denial of eternal punishment destroys the urgency of the gospel demand for repentance and faith. The ungodly would not be so terrified of the judgments of God if they knew they would be annihilated. If anything, it is the thought of eternal suffering which is so terrifying to them.
That is not to say that anyone is ever saved by being frightened into heaven. Nevertheless, it is very often the terrors of eternal punishment that God uses to begin the great work by which He brings His people to Himself and for that reason the doctrine of eternal punishment is an important part of gospel preaching.
It even calls into question the atoning work of Christ, since there is nothing from which sinners need to be saved if they are not on the way to Hell. To preach Christ one must also preach that from which He alone is able to save us, that is, from the terrors of being eternally cast out of the presence of God into darkness.
We must, therefore, bow to Scripture's teaching concerning eternal punishment, as disagreeable as that teaching may be to us. But we must also believe in Christ in order that we may be delivered from the fear of eternal punishment.
- Volume: 8
- Issue: 11
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address13823 Clear Lake Rd.
State or ProvinceWA