By Carlyle B. Haynes

Chapter 6— The Punishment of the Wicked

TO MANY people religion is merely a fire escape. They have been scared into accepting it by hearing descriptions of a place which burns eternally, and into which they are told they will be cast at death if they do not get religion and join the church. As we have already seen, a terrible lake of fire is painted, in which the lost will suffer the most excruciating tortures, which will be eternal in their duration, where imps of the devil will torment them in every way known.

Now there is no such place except in worn-out systems of theology. The place itself does not exist. Let it be understood at the very beginning that this statement is not meant to convey the idea that there will be no punishment for sin, or that all men will be saved. What is meant is that the perfervid descriptions of the place of torment, quoted in the preceding chapter, have no place in fact or in the teachings of the Bible.

There is no place of torment now, nor will there be until the end of the world. Men do not go to hell when they die. This has been conclusively shown. Dead men who have been wicked during their lives are not in hell now, but in their graves, at rest, perfectly unconscious.

If the doctrine which teaches that at death a wicked man will go to a place of torment were true, there would be no need of a resurrection from the dead in order that men might receive their reward or their punishment. Why need they be raised from the dead to receive a punishment which they are already receiving in death?

Retribution Is Still Future

If this doctrine of punishment in hell at death were true, there would be no need of a future judgment, which the Bible teaches will take place at the second coming of Christ. If men were already receiving all the torment of hell, what need would there be of judging them? Shall they be brought forth from hell to see if a mistake has been made in their cases, and whether they, after all, should have been sent to heaven instead of hell?

The great Biblical doctrines of the resurrection and the future judgment must be given up if this anti-scriptural doctrine of rewards and punishment at death is retained. They cannot both be believed at the same time. For nineteen centuries the story of Jesus and His love and His sufferings for men has been told with tears. Multitudes have heard it and wept. Hardened hearts have been broken by it, and souls have grown sick of sin because of its love and pathos. Now, can it be possible that the same God whose love was so great for men that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to save them has, during these same nineteen hundred years, compelled innumerable hosts of immortal souls to remain in the most awful torment which could be suggested by His wisdom or inflicted by His power?

Judgment Not at Death

No, the Bible does not teach that there is a place of torment in which the wicked are suffering now. The Bible does teach a future state of rewards and punishments beyond this world, and on the other side of death. This punishment takes place, not while men are dead, but after they are raised from the dead. And it will not be eternal, but will continue only long enough to inflict upon men that just punishment which is their due according to the deeds committed in this life.

Solomon saw clearly the need of a future judgment when he said, “I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.” Ecclesiastes 3:16.

If justice cannot be obtained in this world, if it becomes vitiated by the ungodliness of men, then there must surely be a great and supreme court of final appeal. And this Solomon declares: “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” Verse 17.

The Scriptures, therefore, teach a future judgment. And this judgment is not at death nor in death. Nor does it immediately follow after death. This will be evident from the fact that God holds men responsible, not only for the commission of their own deeds, but also for the consequences resulting from their deeds. Thus Jeremiah declares that God’s “eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 32:19.) And, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10.

Now it is obvious that although the ways of a man may be manifest at his death, the “fruit of his doings” will not be manifest until the very end of time. Thus the streams of poison which had their sources in infidel pens may continue to flow through all time, and the Christian fortitude of the martyrs and the faithful, self-sacrificing zeal and earnestness of true Christians may be a fountain of perpetual blessing to the world until the close of human probation. Therefore the final reward or punishment must be delayed until the ultimate results of every good and evil action can be surveyed at a glance and the fruit of a man’s doings rightly estimated. It is beyond the domain of death that the Scriptures fix the judgment. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27.

The Time of the Judgment

Job fixes the future judgment after death, not in death. Seeing that such a judgment was required by the inequalities of life, he said, “One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow. And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure. They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them. Behold, I know your thoughts, and the devices which ye wrongfully imagine against me. For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? and where are the dwelling places of the wicked? Have ye not asked them that go by the way? and do ye not know their tokens, that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.” Job 21:23-30.

And this same truth that the wicked are not now being punished in hell, but are being reserved in their graves to the day of judgment, is taught by Peter: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities’ of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly,— the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the un-just unto the day of judgment to be punished.” 2 Peter 2:4-9.

Peter’s argument is clear. God in times past has wrought great deliverances and great judgments. Therefore He is a judge of man. And these past acts of God are but types of future deliverances and punishments. God will deliver the godly and will “reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” The day of judgment is not at death; men are only reserved in the prison house of death to “be brought forth to the day of wrath.” The judgment is after death.

Judgment at the Coming of Christ

One of the most ancient prophecies recorded in the Bible fixes the day of judgment at the coming of Christ: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Jude 14, 15.

“These,” of whom Jude spoke, have long since been dead. But judgment was not to be executed upon them while they were dead, but at the time when “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” Then, at the coming of Christ, the Lord will “execute judgment upon all.”

Hence the day of judgment will be when the Lord shall reign in glory upon Mount Zion and in the New Jerusalem. This will be at the time when the new earth is about to be established as the eternal home of the redeemed of the Lord.

In the second chapter of Daniel a dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, of a great image with head of gold, breast and arms of silver, waist and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet and toes part of iron and part of clay. A great stone was thrown by an unseen hand and struck the image upon its feet, and then all of the materials of the image—the clay, the iron, the brass, the silver, and the gold—were ground to powder and blown away by the winds, and the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

According to the interpretation given to this dream by Daniel, the head of gold represented Babylon; the breast and arms of silver, Medo-Persia; the waist and thighs of brass, Greece; the legs of iron, Rome; and the feet and toes of iron and clay, the modern nations of Europe today. The stone represents the kingdom of God, which is to destroy the existing nations and which will take their place in the earth, filling the entire earth and remaining forever.

This destruction has not yet taken place. The stone has not yet struck. But the preceding kingdoms, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, have long since passed away. Those who composed the subjects of these kingdoms are dead. This prophecy, however, informs us that when the stone strikes, when the kingdom of God comes, then the iron, clay, brass, silver, and gold are to be broken to pieces together, and be carried away so that no place will be found for them. But those represented by the gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay are dead, and therefore must be raised from the dead to receive the punishment predicted in this prophecy, for all are to be destroyed together, and sent into eternal destruction, as a punishment for their sins in a day long ago.

Jesus Makes It Plain

Jesus clearly fixed the time of future judgment when He said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matthew 16:26, 27.

The story of Jesus' love has been told for yearsEvery man, then, is to be rewarded when “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father.” All are comprehended in that expression “every man,” both righteous and wicked, living and dead. There can be no doubt from this passage that the rewards and punishments will begin at the second appearing of the Lord.

Jesus said again, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:48.

Every person, wicked or good, those who receive the word of God and those who reject it, will be called to meet God. But the judgment which is pronounced on the rejecters of the word is not in this life, nor in death, but will be “in the last day.”

A passage which proves conclusively that there is no punishment for the wicked while they are dead will be found in Luke 13:25-30: “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”

Here are persons who have been dead for ages, in whose streets Jesus taught, who ate and drank in His presence, and they are lost; but they have known nothing about it, and do not discover it until the day of judgment. So far from having been punished at death, or during death, they do not even know their doom when they enter into the judgment. How, then, could they have been in hell for nineteen hundred years and then when judged never know they were lost? This passage of Scripture would be utterly impossible if the dead were being punished now.

Let us be admonished by this passage. It will not be long before “the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door.” At that time not only those who heard Jesus preach, but we also who have had the privilege of reading and hearing His word, will find our destinies decided. Every soul must appear before that judgment seat. There is no escape from it.

Are You Ready?

Are you ready for that day? Has Christ covered your sins with His own life? Are you safe? Can you face the Judge with confidence? Have you been obedient to the commandments of God? Have you repented of all your sins? Oh, have you believed to the saving of your soul? There is time now, but there will be no time then. While mercy still lingers-while the door is still open, and the Master of the house has not yet risen up to shut it-make your peace with God now!

King Nebuchadnezzar's dream was interpreted by DanielThe instrument which will be used by God to punish the wicked will be fire. This fire is employed not for the purpose of torture, but for the purpose of destruction. The fire will completely destroy the wicked from the earth, and they will never recover from this destruction. This fire will not perpetuate their lives, but will bring them to an end.

That the Lord will destroy the wicked by fire will be seen by reading Matthew 13:40-42: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Another verse bearing on the same point is Matthew 25:41: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

From these verses it is plain that the punishment for sin will be by fire, and that this fire will take place, not at death, but “in the end of this world.” It is plain also that members of the human race were never intended to be cast into this fire, for it was prepared for the devil and his angels. Therefore those of this earth who are cast into this fire will suffer this fate only because they choose to ally themselves with the devil.

This punishment and this fire will be on this earth. God has no special place of punishment which He will keep in perpetual operation to torture the wicked. They will be punished where they have sinned—on the earth.

Two verses from the Scriptures will be sufficient to show this: “And they [the wicked] went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” Revelation 20:9. “Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner.” Proverbs 11:31.

The time at which this final destruction of the wicked will take place is at the end of the thousand years, the millennium. The millennium will begin with the second coming of Christ, at which time all the righteous, both living and resurrected, will be caught up to meet Christ in the air and will be taken to heaven with Him, there to live and reign with Christ during the thousand years. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Revelation 20:4.) At the second coming of Christ also, all the wicked who are alive at that time will be put to death by the brightness of His glory (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9), and will remain unburied on the face of the earth (Jeremiah 25:3 l-33 ) . At the end of the millennium all the wicked dead will be raised to life again (Revelation 20:5) and it is at that time that they will endeavor to capture the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and fire will come down from heaven and devour them (verses 5-9).

Sin Not to Be Perpetuated

The effect of this fire upon the wicked will be seen from Malachi 4:1: “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” When a thing is burned up, there is nothing left of it but ashes; therefore of the wicked it is said, “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.” Verse 3.

Thus it is plain that the wicked are not perpetuated in this fire in which they meet their fate, but entirely consumed. And this does not have reference to the body alone, as is insisted by some who earnestly cling to their favorite doctrine of eternal torment. In Ezekiel 18:4, 20 we read, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

It is for this reason, because there is a complete destruction of the sinner, that the Bible uses such terms as “eternal, ” “everlasting,” and “for ever and ever” in connection with the fate of the wicked. The thing which these expressions are designed to show is that the overthrow of the wicked is a complete overthrow, that there will never be any hope of a recovery from their fate, for it is eternal. Their torment is not eternal; their grief and anguish are not eternal; but their destruction is eternal.

Bearing out this thought of a complete destruction of the wicked, we read in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

Again in Matthew 25:46 we read, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.”

Notice the force of these expressions which have been used so long to teach the doctrine of eternal torment. The “destruction” of the wicked will be “everlasting”; the “punishment” of the wicked will be “ever-lasting”—there will never be any recovery from it.

Neither verse declares what the advocates of eternal torment desire. There is nothing in either verse concerning eternal torment. It is not the torment which is said to be everlasting-it is the destruction and the punishment. Nor does it say “everlasting punishing,” but “everlasting punishment.” There is no dispute at all concerning the length of the punishment of the wicked. The only question is as to what the punishment consists of. If the punishment for sin is torment, then there is no question but that the torment will be eternal. If, however, the punishment for sin is death, then the death is “everlasting.” And no one will dispute the fact that the Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) not eternal life in misery.

Everlasting Fire

It will be urged by some, however, that the Bible not only speaks of “everlasting destruction” and “everlasting punishment,” but also of “everlasting fire.” (Matthew 25:4 1. ) And it will be asked why, if the torment is not continued, there should be need of everlasting fire.

Let the reader turn to the seventh verse of Jude and there notice that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “the vengeance of eternal fire.” Inasmuch as Sodom and Gomorrah are not now burning, notwithstanding the fact that they were destroyed by eternal fire, it is evident that eternal fire is not necessarily fire which perpetuates that which it burns, and never ceases to burn. From 2 Peter 2:6 it is evident that eternal fire completely consumes that which it attacks. The language is, “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.”

The fire will be unquenchable

And that it takes but a very short time for eternal fire to bring that which it attacks to ashes will be plain from Lamentations 4:6, where it is said that Sodom was “overthrown as in a moment.”

From these verses it will be seen that the effect of everlasting or eternal fire is not to perpetuate the existence of that upon which it feeds, but to consume it, to bring it to ashes, and it may accomplish this “as in a moment.”

Unquenchable Fire

Again it will be urged that Mark in speaking of the fire which will punish the wicked says of it that it “never shall be quenched.” (Mark 9:43-45.) But a fire that never shall be quenched is not a fire that never shall go out, but a fire that cannot be put out. Jerusalem was burned with a fire that could not be quenched (Jeremiah 17:19-27; 2 Chronicles 36:19-21)) but it is not burning yet. By this unquenchable fire it was brought to destruction and ashes, just as the fires of the last day will bring the wicked to destruction and ashes. The fire which is to destroy the wicked must of necessity be unquenchable, for if it were not, the wicked would put it out.

Read Chapter 7 —Spiritualism

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