I have allowed to stand in the Essay (pp.76-81) the views I held at the time it was composed respecting the interpretation of Matt. xxv.46, because I considered that these views, although in certain respects they are inconsistent with those I maintain in this Appendix, might contribute, by comparison with the latter, towards an understanding of the passage. The interpretation which, after long consideration, I have finally adopted, was first published in two letters, contained under the head of "Correspondence," in the numbers of the Guardian for December 27, 1877, and January 16, 1878. With the view of offering some additional arguments in support of that interpretation, and making it more generally intelligible, I propose to begin with producing in extenso the two letters referred to.



"After reading attentively the letters of your correspondents to which the sermon of Dr. Farrar has given occasion, it appeared to me that some views in addition to those which have hitherto been proposed, and in certain respects controverting them, may be worthy of consideration. I beg, {126} therefore, to be allowed space for making the following remarks: --

"We are taught in the Scriptures that hereafter there will be a new constitution of the universe, 'new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness' (2 Peter iii.13), and that in this perfect social state 'there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain' (Rev. xxi.4). To reconcile this revelation, so intelligible and so comprehensive, with the meaning of passages which seem to say that the punishment of the wicked will be 'endless,' presents a very great difficulty. We are not at liberty in such cases to accept some parts of Scripture and reject others in order to get rid of the difficulty, but must believe that the truth, if it should be reached, will establish the consistency of all, and that seeming contradictions are only due to our ignorance. I propose for consideration the following solution of the above-stated difficulty: --

"Jesus Christ in his ministration on earth said, in the course of giving instruction to his disciples (Matt. xxiv.3), 'These [on the left hand] shall go into eternal punishment, and the righteous into eternal life' (Matt. xxv.46). Considering that in all he said and did he had in view his Father's purpose of making the spirits of men meet for immortality, it may be asked, In what way was such teaching contributory to this end? May we not conclude from our Lord's words, apart from all other inferences, that eternal life is necessarily preceded by righteousness, and eternal punishment is as necessarily consequent upon sin, and that the knowledge of these divine decrees contributes to the formation of spirits for the life to come? This inference might be accepted as abstractedly true; but then the question arises, What is meant by duration as signified by the word 'eternal'? It should be remarked that in the statement of the doctrine I have employed the word 'necessarily' in a sense that is not unusual, and is generally thought to be intelligible. But it is to be taken into account that no such use of the term occurs in Scripture, where, in fact, it would be wholly {127} incongruous. The reason of this is that the Scriptures contain no abstract truths which are not expressed, or expressible, in terms understood from the facts and conditions of human experience. This may especially be said of the discourses of our Lord, in consequence of which they are much misunderstood by the many who are incapable of discerning the spiritual through the literal, who, as he said, 'have eyes and see not, and ears and hear not.' Assuming, therefore, that there is truth in speaking of righteousness and life as being necessarily connected, as also of sin and punishment as being in like manner connected, we have to inquire in what way these abstract truths are expressed in the language of Scripture. I venture to make answer that this is done by its recognition of a special faculty we are all conscious of possessing, that of thinking and speaking of time (and space also) as indefinitely extended. (The mathematician knows that without the supposition, whether as to greatness or smallness, of ad libitum extent of space and time, he is unable to conduct his reasoning.) On this principle Scripture speaks of duration through 'ages, and ages,' because by such emphatic reference to our capacity for thinking of unlimited duration, the anterior necessity of certain abstract truths, as especially the being and attributes of Deity, and the characters of divine judgment, is expressed in terms drawn from common thought and experience.

"But the omnipotent Creator, who, for purposes towards us, made time and space to be what we perceive them to be, has also the power to change or unmake them. If it were not so, there would be a power above that of the Creator, which is impossible. The difficulty concerning the duration of future punishment appears to be attributable to a preconception tacitly, perhaps unconsciously, entertained by most persons that time and space have an independent existence, although the teaching of Scripture is directly opposed to this view. St. Paul speaks of 'height' and 'depth' as of things created (Rom. viii.39); St. Peter has, 'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day' (2 Epist. iii.8); and in {128} Rev. x.6 it is expressly said that when the scheme of redemption is finished 'time shall be no more.' The foregoing argument suffices, I think, to show that 'endless' and eternal are not convertible terms, for the special reason that the latter is significant of time as being derived from [oe]tas, whereas the other has per se no necessary relation to time. (For the same etymological reason I consider 'eternal' to be preferable to 'ever-lasting.') I cannot forbear adverting here to a serious misstatement, as it seems to me, in Mr. Churton's letter in the Guardian of December 12 (p.1714). He says that the teaching of Holy Scripture as to the matter of duration, is precisely the same with respect to eternal life and eternal death, having apparently overlooked the remarkable expression in Heb. vii.16, 'indissoluble life' (zoes akatalytou), in which endlessness is signified by an epithet not explicitly indicative of time. No such epithet is applied in Scripture to future punishment. This difference is of great importance when taken with reference to the declaration in Scripture that time itself has an end.

"It would certainly appear that the apostle Paul did not teach that the future punishment of the wicked will be endless; otherwise, how could he have written, 'God is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe' (1 Tim. iv.10)? Is not this to assert that all are saved in the same sense that some who believe are saved, although there may be difference as to the order or mode of the salvation? We know that in the present age faith avails to save if it rests on the assurance given by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ that by passing through the same gate of suffering we are prepared to enter into life; for such faith yields the fruit of patience and righteousness. But in the age to come there is neither faith, nor repentance, nor probation, but 'a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation' (Heb. x.27). The appointed Judge is the Son of man, who, having suffered an unjust and painful death at the hands of sinful men, is entitled to execute the vengeance on sinners. All men are judged; but the elect, {129} who have been sealed by faith and good works, escape condemnation, and are those that are 'specially' saved. The rest are condemned to undergo the second death. This is that 'threefold woe' and 'great tribulation' so plainly foretold in Scripture. It was by these 'terrors of the Lord' that St. Paul sought to 'persuade' men, and not, as it would seem, by saying that the misery will be without end. As matter of experience, the preaching of this hopeless destiny does not deter from sin, but only makes sad tender spirits whom God has not made sad. Why should we not rather believe that the purpose of avenging justice is fulfilled when that great and final tribulation (Mark xiii.19) has availed, in virtue of the suffering whereby the Son of God 'consecrated' the way to life, for the purification and salvation of the condemned, seeing that even saints and martyrs have need to be purified by suffering (see Dan. xii.10)? This view reconciles all apparent contradictions, and accords with the gospel declared in Rev. xxi. In making the foregoing statements I have necessarily tried to be brief; but I hope, ere long, to be able to publish a justification of them by arguments drawn at greater length from Scripture.

"Cambridge, December 21, 1877."


"After the publication of my letter in the Guardian of December 27 (p.1786), I received from various quarters interrogations and arguments, which led me to see that there was an omission in one part of my reasoning, by supplying which the whole of the argument might be made much more complete. In particular, it was maintained by my correspondents, I admit quite logically, that if eternal punishment in Matt. xxv.4:6 could be taken to mean punishment which has an end, by parity of reasoning 'eternal life' must there mean life which has an end. As I find that the same argument has been adduced in the correspondence of the Guardian, I hope I may {130} be allowed, notwithstanding the length to which the discussion of the subject has gone, the opportunity of a supplementary letter for showing how, by rectifying the above-mentioned defect, the views I have proposed meet this difficulty.

"In the Scriptures definite mention is made of only two ages, the present age and the future age, or, in other words, 'this world and the world to come' (Matt. xii.32). The plural ages (aiones) and 'ages of ages' are expressions to which we can by no mental effort attach a definite signification, and consequently, as I endeavoured to show in my former letter, they admit of various abstract applications. As in the present age, so in the age to come, there is a succession of events which take place under conditions of time. These events have received comparatively but small attention in the theology of the present day, apparently because it is not generally seen that they are spoken of much more largely by the prophets of the Old Testament than in the New Testament, in which it is assumed that the old prophets are understood; and again, because the epitome given in the Book of Revelation (see Rev. x.7) of the communications vouchsafed to the prophets is expressed in symbols which we find it hard to interpret. There are, however, passages in the New Testament which expressly make known the relation of deeds and events of the present age to those of the age to come; as especially our Lord's discourse 'as he sat on the Mount of Olives,' and the apostles 'Peter and James and John and Andrew' asked Him privately to tell them what would be the sign of his coming, and of the end of the world (tes synteleias tou aionos). There is also that remarkable passage in which St. Matthew records that Jesus said to Peter, 'Ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' The number 'twelve' in Scripture symbolism always signifies 'election;' the judges may be presumed to be of the order of prophets and apostles -- the elect of the elect -- and the twelve tribes of Israel the whole number of the elect (see Rev. vii.4-8). Now, these {131} twelve times twelve thousand, symbolizing the complete number of the redeemed of every age and nation, are 'the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb,' and being made perfect by suffering and judgment, farther on in the events of that age 'follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,' and together with him execute the final judgment on the whole world (Rev. xix.14), inclusive even of the judgment on Satan and his angels. This doctrine seems to have been generally taught in the days of the apostles, inasmuch as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Epist. vi.2, 3), 'Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?' 'Know ye not that we shall judge angels?' Even in the Psalms we read, 'This honour have all His saints' (see Psalm cxlix.6-9).

"On these premises, it seems to me, the following argument may be founded relative to the interpretation of Matt. xxv.46. In that chapter the separation between the sheep and the goats is spoken of as initiatory to the general judgment, and the chapter closes with an exposition of the principles on which the judgment is conducted as regards both the one class and the other. The details and the processes of the judgment, together with its results, are to be sought for in the writings of the prophets and in the Book of Revelation. Now, when account is taken of all events of that future life, it may be said, I think, with truth, that the righteous who live and act in it throughout, when that life begins enter into 'eternal life,' the word 'eternal' being applicable because that age has a time-limit. This eternal life, the mention of which was omitted in the former letter, merges into endless, or indissoluble, life, when time is no more, and words expressive of time cease to have application. In an analogous manner the unrighteous may be said to go into 'eternal punishment' when they enter upon the experience of the future age, the limit of the effects of the judgment and punishment which they are doomed to undergo being a 'second death.' However great and terrible may be the woe and tribulation attendant on that event, we know as matter of experience of life at present, that death, of itself, is but a passage into another state of existence. We have, {132} therefore, no right to affirm that after the effects of judgment and punishment are accomplished, the second death is not a transition into that state of things in the new heavens and new earth which is described in Rev. xxi. Rather, may we not conclude that eternal life and eternal punishment terminate alike with the end of time, and that in the consummation of all things both are merged in indissoluble life, that God may be all in all? This conclusion appears to meet the difficulty stated at the beginning of this letter.

"I take this opportunity for expressing my approval of the arrangement of the New Lectionary, by which chapters of the Book of Revelation are now read more frequently than formerly before the people, this portion of Scripture being indispensable for communicating to them the doctrine of Jesus Christ in all its integrity.

"Cambridge, January 12,1878."

The difficulty experienced in the present day of rightly apprehending the doctrine taught by our Lord in Matt. xxv.46, and in like passages, arises, according to the arguments contained in the Essay and in the foregoing letters, from the little attention that is paid in the Christian doctrine now generally accepted to what the Scriptures reveal respecting "the age to come" (aion ho mellon) as distinguished from "the present age" (aion outos, aion ho paron). The designation "age" applied in common to both, indicates that each has a beginning and an ending. The future age begins at the termination of the present age, the separation between them being the epoch of a resurrection of the dead -- not, however, of all the dead, but "a resurrection of the just," that is, of those who have been prepared and sealed by faith, and suffering, and good works, in the present life, for immediate entrance into a new state of life. It is said of these that "they cannot {133} die any more, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (Luke xx.36). These are they who "have part in the first resurrection," of whom it is further said that "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years," whereas of "the rest of the dead" it is said that "they lived not till the thousand years were finished" (see Rev. xx.4, 6). It is plain, therefore, that there will be a time of separation of the one class from the other -- the time of threshing, when the tares are separated from the wheat; and that whilst the elect at that time enter into the [oe]onian life (that is, the life of the age to come), the rest of the dead when they live again enter into a state in which they undergo "[oe]onian punishment" (that is, punishment that pertains to the age to come), ending eventually in the second death, which, however, in common with all divine punishment, is inflicted for producing a certain effect foreordained in the counsels of the Almighty. (Respecting this effect, see what I have said in the Essay and at the end of the first of the foregoing letters.)

That the words of the passage in St. Matthew might be understood, at least by the disciples to whom they were addressed, in the sense above indicated, may be inferred from the knowledge of the religious Jews of that time respecting the events of the future age, as conveyed to them by the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament, with which they were familiar. In proof of the general diffusion of such knowledge we may cite the response of Martha to the Lord respecting the resurrection of Lazarus, "I know that he shall rise again at the resurrection in the last day" (John xi.24), and the common belief of a resurrection of the dead entertained by the numerous sect of the Pharisees, as well as the particular character of the unbelief of the smaller body of Sadducees (see Acts {134} xxiii.8, where it is stated that "the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both"). It is hard to perceive etymologically how the word aiouios could have received the meaning "ever-lasting." There is, in fact, a very remarkable passage of the Apocalypse in which that meaning is quite excluded: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the gospel of the age to come to preach (euaggelion aionion euaggelisai) unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (Rev. xiv.6, 7). It is evident that if aionion euaggelion here meant an everlasting gospel, the event which the good news is intended to announce would never come. It may, perhaps, be asserted that this passage of the Apocalypse refers to a gospel announcement taking place at the present time, considering that a distinctive feature of this age is a large increase of the knowledge of the facts and laws of nature, and that possibly, contemporaneously with such knowledge, God may vouchsafe a fuller understanding of the Book of Revelation, and a discernment of the [oe]onian gospel it proclaims (compare Dan. xii.3, 4). That the true interpretation of the Apocalypse will eventually be reached is implied by the words, "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (Rev. xxii.10).

On reconsidering the arguments of the Essay it occurred to me that it would be proper to take notice in the Appendix of one other subject. In pages 9, 15, and 63 the doctrine that immortality is dependent on a state of perfected righteousness is regarded as "self-evident." I {135} now think that the use of that term is objectionable, inasmuch as, according to the title of the Essay, every such statement ought to rest wholly on Scriptural ground. I propose, therefore, to adduce here passages of Scripture which indicate an intimate relation between righteousness and life. Out of many texts which might be cited for this purpose, I have selected two, as follows. First, when under the law, Moses said to the Israelites, "I have set before you life and death: choose life," they must have understood his words as signifying that on condition of submission to the will of God and obedience to His righteous laws, they might look forward in faith to the enjoyment of the future covenanted life. (See what is said on this text in p.28.) Again, the same dependence of life on righteousness forms an essential part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, although taught in a different manner. St. Paul, for instance, has given in Rom. v.18, the following summary of Christian doctrine. Therefore as through one transgression (__di henos paraptomatos), unto all men, unto condemnation (eis katakrima), so through one righteousness (di henos dikaiomatos, i.e. the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ), unto all men, unto life-justification (eis dikaiosin zoes), where, it should be noticed, zoes is not a dependent genitive, but, as in many instances in New Testament Greek, a genitive of quality. Thus this text declares that the justification of all men, which is their being eventually made righteous through the operation of the Son of God, has the quality of conferring life.

an essay on the scriptural
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