by A.E. Knoch

THE GOD of Christendom, judged by the alleged lot of the unbeliever, is a fell fiend, more ferocious than the gods of the heathen. The God of the Scriptures is love, more marvelous than the mind-reach of mortals. I have read quite a little about the demons and the idols representing them, which are worshiped in other lands and at other times. Some of them are cruel, but I have never heard of one that condemns all who do not believe, young and old, small and great, ignorant and wise, innocent and crime- ridden, to eternal torment, so terrible that only a callous mind and a hard heart can consider it seriously and not go insane.


        It is to their credit that some, at least, refuse to believe that infants are included. But they can give no valid ground for excepting them, for the creeds of Christendom do not. No one who does not accept the damnation of infants has a right to call himself orthodox. He cannot quote a single text in the Bible that distinguishes between the fate of the babes and the aged. Nowhere is there a hint of "the age of responsibility," before which children are exempt from an eternal hell, and after which they are certain to be damned if they do not hear and believe the gospel.


        We are glad to acknowledge that the hearts of some are not so hardened as to insist on the damnation of the heathen who have not heard the gospel. Ask them why they make this distinction and they cannot cite a single decisive text. In fact there are places in the Authorized Version which seem to clinch the matter, such as Psalm 9:17: "The wicked shall be turned into hell," and "all the nations that forget God." Of course it should read returned, and the stress should be laid on the fact that only nations that have known God can forget, and that "hell" is oblivion. There can be little doubt that, in this matter, the Bible is translated to support the damnable doctrines of malevolent men, rather than the righteous revelations of a benevolent Deity. In truth the Scriptures know nothing of "heathen" in contrast with "Christians," or "gentiles" in contrast with Jews. The Greek word is ethnos, and denotes nation, and may be used of Israel itself, as a nation, but usually embraces all other nations, "Christian" as well as "heathen." Orthodoxy has drawn a false line between the heathen and Christendom, just as they have between infants and adults, in order to conceal the barbarous brutality and outrageous wrongs of the creeds. The unscriptural terms "heathen" and "gentile" are needed to express error, not the truth, hence we usually avoid them.


        It may be that we could do a great service to the adherents of orthodoxy if we pressed them to take a public stand as to the fate of infants and the heathen. It should reveal to them how vulnerable their position is, and how far their creeds have departed from the Word of God. Some have taken refuge in the phrase "Christ rejectors." That is, only those are damned who hear the gospel and refuse to believe. But this is not only outside the Bible, but serves to create further difficulties. If the heathen are not eternally damned, neither are they saved. What, then, is their fate? This theory forces us to leave God's revelation for idle speculation. As with the age of responsibility, which is not revealed, the question would arise, when do they hear the "gospel?" I, myself, reject a great deal that is called the gospel today, when it is based on man's works, not on God's grace. There is no way out of it. The Scriptures leave all unbelievers for judgment, whether they have heard the evangel of God or not. That can only affect the measure of judgment.


        The enormity of this slander against God and His Word is beyond our grasp. It may help us to get a little glimpse of it if we simply look about us in the world today and see how many millions are to be consigned to everlasting woe even in a "Christian" country, that sends out missionaries by the hundred to the "heathen," and looks back to a beginning when it was the asylum of fugitives who fled from their native land in order to worship God and obey His Word. It is said that only eight per cent of the people in the United States go to church on Sunday morning. This would be about ten million. A hundred and twenty million are not interested. But how many of these ten million are really acquainted with God and know Christ as their Saviour? Alas! God only knows. Judging by my limited experience there may be many of them whose religion consists mostly of self-righteousness. But we will be safe in assuming that there are at least a hundred million in one "Christian" land whose orthodox destiny is endless agony and everlasting anguish. Every year about three million beings like ourselves, 300,000 a month, 10,000 a day, 400 an hour, and 15 a minute are hurled into an "eternity" of awful and unutterable woe.

        Only one small corner of the earth -- Eastern Europe -- can make as good a showing as this. The tremendous populations of Asia --   Japan, China, India -- would probably reduce the ratio of the saved to the damned below one per cent. Each one of these billion souls is a world all to himself. Each one is capable of loving as well as hating his Creator. And all will agree that most of them suffer so much misery that the love of God seldom comes within the range of their perception. Frantic appeals have been made, based on their great danger, and the terrible torments, that await them, as well as their unending banishment from God, but the general response has been insignificant in comparison with the awful situation. This does not in the least criticize or condemn the missionary effort that has been made and the noble sacrifices that have been endured. But it is totally inadequate. The population increases faster than the number of converts. Every second sees another soul sent to certain and ceaseless doom.

        If the orthodox realize this in their heart, what shall we think of them? Are they not the most callous and culpable of all God's creatures? They ought to suffer for their apathy in allowing their friends and neighbors to plunge headlong into everlasting torment without making any serious effort to stop them. But hold! If these same sinners were about to topple over a literal brink into a tangible conflagration, nearly every orthodox church member would make a heroic effort to save them. Some would even risk their own lives to rescue a friend from a burning building. Why is there such heroism on one hand and cowardice on the other? Because they do not really believe their own doctrine! It is so unreasonably excessive, so abominably inordinate, that their hearts revolt. Their minds may formally assent, but their feelings find the strain too great, so that, in most cases, they develop a coating of callousness. The zealots among them will fight for their precious damnation doctrine, but the great mass cannot get enthusiastic about such a horrible thought. Most of their paid preachers have seen that it is best to use the soft pedal when referring to it.


        Some, indeed, who earnestly seek to faithfully preach the gospel, have tried to respond to the awful load laid upon them by this dread doctrine. Those who have done so have been led away from the evangel found in the Scriptures. I have listened to the "faithful" preaching of hell fire for months. The best preparation for preaching, I was advised, was to "take a look over the brink of hell." The frenzy induced by the sight of the damned, writhing in unbearable agony, was said to be the best inducement to a faithful heralding of God's love and grace! Yet, when I came to study the Scriptures in order to preach like the apostles, I found that they never used the word "hell" in any of their evangelistic work, so far as the record goes. Peter, at Pentecost, did not threaten his hearers with "hell," or promise that Christ would save them from it. On the contrary, he announced that Christ had gone to "hell," and had been saved from it (Acts 2: 27,31). None of the other apostles even mention "hell," except John (AV, Paul, 1 Cor.15:55) (Rev.1:18, 6:8, 20:13,14), and then it has no connection with the evangel in any case. In his extended discussions of the various evangels, Paul does not refer to "hell" at all. It is not even a "gospel," but an excrescence, a tumor, which poisons God's gracious message. In the evangel, God wins men by His love. He does not hound them with His hate.


        As a result of the intolerable dogma of an eternal hell there have been many attempts to mitigate its horrors or to modify its injustice. The Roman Catholic church has its purgatory, in which the suffering of the sinner at least accomplishes something, and, as a result, may come to an end. Because it substitutes the suffering of the sinner for that of the Saviour in salvation, I reject it absolutely, yet I must admit that it is immeasurably preferable to the protestant doctrine of eternal damnation, because it does not do such irreparable injury to God's character or so finally rob Him of His creation.

        Others have tried to find a solution by reasoning from the Scriptures. The fact that sulphur or brimstone is called theion (divine), because it was used in the lustrations of the gods of the nations, has been employed to prove that the lake of fire was divine and, in some way, beneficial. The clearest intimations of the Scriptures are laboriously reasoned away, and the rules of logic are generally reversed. The fact that the lake of fire is called the second death is used to prove that it is not death, whereas sanity insists that is called the second because it is a repetition of the first.


        There has even been an attempt to prove that some who stand before the great white throne are not cast into the lake of fire, but receive eonian life as a reward for their good conduct. This seems to be based on fallacious reasoning from the negative, that only those not found written in the scroll of life were cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:15). It is even claimed that all were not condemned (verse 13) because some manuscripts have it simply judged, notwithstanding the plain passage in Romans five which makes the scope of condemnation and justification the same, including all mankind (Rom.5:18). The idea that anyone could actually earn eonian life by means of his own acts ought to be so abhorrent to everyone who has tasted of God's grace that all would reject it without investigation.


        The unbeliever, no matter what his age or condition, faces "hell," the judging, and the lake of fire, all of which orthodoxy fills with dire dread. These are described as so fearful that both head and heart refuse to face them. In fact, they are usually evaded. Yet orthodoxy must insist that unbelievers go to "hell," and to judgment and to the burning lake, no matter how young or innocent they may be. In order to drive away this fearful nightmare, and justify the ways of God to some of the most helpless and harmless of all His creatures, we will consider their lot in relation to each of these. In brief, we will find that God's Word declares both "hell" and the lake of fire to be death, a sleep, an oblivion in which no suffering is possible, and the judging a process of correction that may be mild compared to that endured by infants in the orthodox "hell." Indeed, we will rejoice, that our fellows have fallen into the loving hands of God and are no longer in danger from the cruel claws of men.


        The atrocious translation, "hell," is unmasked by a single passage (Acts 2:27). God did not leave the soul of Christ in "hell." Dare anyone say that He was punished and tormented because of any evil He had done? On the contrary, He had not only lived a perfect life, but had just accomplished His great sacrifice, the deed for which He will be given the greatest reward in all the universe. Why should He be sent to "hell," when He deserved the highest heaven? "Hell" has come to mean almost the opposite of the Greek word hades and the Hebrew shaul, which it translates. Instead of a place of torment, it denotes utter unconsciousness. Those in the unseen will perceive nothing. There is no knowledge in the "grave." The spirit goes back to God at death, and the body returns to the soil. Their combination produced sensation or soul. When they separate, sensation ceases. That is the real "hell" of the Scriptures. Not only Christ, but every believer who dies goes to "hell." It is not confined to the unbeliever.

        "Hell" is simply the unperceived, the unseen. In relation to human beings it is used to indicate the utter cessation of consciousness in death. It returns the soul to its original state before it had any separate existence, just as death returns the spirit to God, and the body to the soil, The idea of suffering in this condition is preposterous, unless used in a figurative sense. The opposite can be "proven" only by rejecting the literal assertions and misusing the figurative. It is for saints and sinners alike. Jacob had no hesitancy in saying: I will go down to "hell!" Our Authorized Version camouflages such passages as these by translating them "grave." That is how we have been deceived. Saints as well as sinners go to "hell." If Jacob has been suffering the torments of "hell" for thousands of years, how can he have any place in Christ's kingdom? If the billions of babes who have gone to "hell" for the last six thousand years have been tortured so long already, why rouse them at the great white throne, in order to judge them?

        No mother who knows what "hell" really is in God's Word will worry about her child going there. On the contrary, we who wish to shield our children from all suffering, who would like to spare them the many miseries of life, should rather rejoice that they have escaped the "hell" of existence in this wicked and woeful world, with its dire disappointments, its dread diseases, its immeasurable miseries, in the midst of human beings, some of whom have fallen lower than the level of the beasts. It is mortal life that brings weariness and woe. Death, however, brings rest and surcease from sorrow. There may be all the difference between them that we feel between a day full of toil and travail and despair, and a night of satisfying sleep. Which would we chose? So far as our feelings are concerned, we would ratherÄÄa thousand times ratherÄÄsleep. Even a believer would rather rest forever than return to such a scene as this, with the infirmity and the senility and the decay of old age wrapping slimy tentacles about him.

        Death is dreadful. But how unutterably more terrible would it be if there were no death! Had Adam lived on until now, every day adding to his weakness, helplessness and decrepitude, his body ruined by disease and racked by pain, he would long to die. Who would care to live so long? Could any "hell" be worse? Let us face the facts. Dreadful as death is, for mortals it may not be nearly so dreadful as the slow dying process that we call life. If the world today were filled with all the dead that lie in our cemeteries, with bodies foul with disease, with spirits debased by sin, and souls tormented by their condition, it would be about as bad as the "hell" of orthodoxy. Dying while we live is the source of all our tribulations, and death is a cessation, not the commencement, of the woes of mankind. They must be roused from death before the inflictions of judgment are possible. Why raise them if they could be judged in the death state?


        And what is the lake of fire? It is the second death. This is God's definition (Rev.20:14). As the first death closes the present life in merciful oblivion until the judgment, so the second death succeeds the judging of the great white throne which again, in mercy, wraps up all in oblivion, not for another judgment, but for an awakening to the salvation, the justification and the reconciliation which is provided by the blood of the cross for the whole Adamic race. When He Who is sitting on the great white throne, judges, or sets right, all who stand before it, there is no more affliction or distress possible in the lake of fire. The judging is past. All are ready for reconciliation. But this is not due until an eon later. The same problem is presented as in the case of the former death. Then it was, How can all be brought into the judging immediately after their life is ended? Now it is, How can all who have been set right be ushered straight into the reconciliation, when a vast epoch intervenes? They are simply dissolved in death, so that, in their experience, there is no final eon, but they go from the judgment scene right into the reconciliation, when God becomes their All.

        The first death comes to men, no matter what they do, because of what they are. Not only the confirmed criminal dies, but even the innocent infant expires before it can do any harm. Of course there are accidents and executions, but these abnormal incidents do not affect the great law that began with Adam after he had sinned and had become mortal. Men may hasten their death by dissipation, but no acts of theirs will enable them to escape the operation of death within them, which they inherit from Adam. The point is exceedingly important, especially in connection with the second death, which is usually taken to be the penalty pronounced at the great white throne. There, as now, the suffering results from what was done, but the death arises from the fact that none have their names in the scroll of life. We must keep both the first and second death entirely distinct from the judging, for neither one is concerned with the acts of unbelievers. If they were, we might expect consciousness, for acts cannot be judged in oblivion.


        The first death is produced by a slow, gradual, painful disintegration, as a rule; often accompanied by long periods of infirmity, disease and distress. Some are bedfast for years, and some suffer excruciating torment well-nigh unbearable before they finally find relief in the sleep of death. I have been tempted to envy those who die suddenly, without, indeed, sometimes knowing what has occurred to them. We may think such an end terrible, but they, when they awake, will be thankful that they did not suffer the awful agony or prolonged pain that some are called upon to endure. All of these sufferings have their proper place in God's dealings today, when He is deliberately giving us the experience of evil in order to humble us (Ecc.1:13). But no such object can be in God's mind after Christ has judged mankind at the great white throne. Then this object will have been accomplished. The second death is not accompanied by any prolonged, painful infliction. There is no distressing delay or dread disease, but all are ushered into death in an instant.

        I have just burned my hand, and it hurts. But I am sure that, if I had jumped into a lake of fire, I would not suffer now, for I would have been dead before I could feel anything. Such a death is practically instantaneous. It is useless to discuss the length of time a human being would suffer in such a case. It would be too short to reckon. In fact it could occur so swiftly that life would be extinct before the nerves of sensation could function. It would probably stun them into insensibility. For all for whom the lake of fire is the second death, who have been set right by the great white throne judgment, the lake of fire is not a place of torture, but the instrument of death. This must not be confused with its action on the wild beast, and the false prophet, and the Slanderer or Adversary (Rev.19:20; 20:10). Nothing is said of death in their case. They have not gone through the judgment session. They are the greatest of all the enemies of God, and receive a fate corresponding to their deserts.


        The apostle Paul, in speaking of the work of the believer today, says that fire shall try every man's work, what sort it is. If any of it stands this test, he shall receive a reward. But if any of it is burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved: yet so as by fire (1 Cor.3:12-15). Salvation by fire, especially the lake of fire, is only another form of purgatory. But the passage speaks of the burning of unworthy works, not of the believer himself. Works are judged at the great white throne, not in the lake of fire. The word by is unfortunate. It should be through, as in the Revised Version. No one is saved by fire, though many are destroyed by it. Those of our works that are figured by "wood, hay, stubble," will be lost, not saved, by fire. We will not be burned, but saved, as through fire. A man whose house is aflame may lose some of his treasures in finding his way to safety. But that is very different from being burned in order to be safe.

        If the great white throne session simply passed sentence on each one, and this was carried out in the fiery lake, as I once thought, then we are confronted with an insuperable difficulty. Everyone, from the tiniest infant with no acts to speak of to be judged, and the life-long offender, grown old in crime, would get the same "punishment." The sentence could not be adjusted to the case. All would share alike a fate so terrible that God reserves it for three supreme and superhuman sinners. But if the judging occurs in the great white throne epoch, as is shown by the form of the Greek word judging, rather than judgment, the Judge can deal justly with each one, not with a view to "punishing" him, but in order to "judge," or set right, all that is wrong. Then God will pay each one, individually, according to his acts (Rom.2:6). We seek to do this with our children, from earliest infancy, in order to bring them up to do right. But, alas! we often fail. Can we not trust Him to do this, Who does not fail, and Who will succeed by this means in bringing them to the very place, that we so ardently desire -- into complete harmony with God, so that He may become their All?


        The lake of fire is defined as the second death. Could it be more explicitly stated that it is death, and nothing else? Yet there is an elaborate argument that, being second, it is not death, but life! In every other occurrence of second in the Scripture (and, indeed, every-where else), the word second can be left out and the resulting statement is true. The second child that was told to go into the vineyard, was still a child, even if he was second (Matt.21:30). The second of the seven brothers to marry the first one's wife was just as much a brother as the other six (Mark 12:21). The second watch was also a watch, even if it was not the first or third (Luke 12:38). The second sign that Jesus did was no less a sign than the first or any of the rest (John 4:54). If the second Man were not a man, He would have no right to the title whatever. Peter's second epistle is certainly an epistle. In every case we may omit the term second without affecting the truth.

        In English the word second often has the figurative usage of inferior, a second grade product, a secondary school, etc. Because the word first is so frequently used for the highest and best, it is not possible for the word second to acquire the constant meaning of superior, though it may be used of such, as the second Man, Who certainly is infinitely better than the first man Adam. That this abnormal condition occurs oftener in Scripture than elsewhere is easily explained by God's method of despatching the first, that He should be establishing the second (Heb.10:9). But there are many cases where this difference does not exist. In the parable of the two children, the first said `I do not want to,' yet he went. The second said he would go, but didn't. Which was the better? The first, not the second (Matt.21:28). There is no difference on record between the seven brothers (Mark 12:21). The second watch was at a different time than the first and third, but there is no evidence that it was preferable (Luke 12:38). Why should the healing of the courtier's son be greater than the turning of water into wine (John 2:1; 4:46)?

        The second death is no less death than the first. There may be differences between first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh brothers, and undoubtedly there were. So also between the signs that our Lord did. Especially is this the case between the first and second Man. But these differences do not change them to something else. If the second brother had been a distant relative, he could not have married the woman. So the second death also differs from the first in many ways. The first death occurred before the second. Those in it died at greatly scattered intervals, covering thousands of years, while all will suffer the second death at about the same time. Those who enter the first death do so in a multiplicity of ways, by decay, infirmity, disease, accident, violence, drowning and burning. The lake of fire knows only one method, the last. Even this is vastly different from the slow torture of fire that some have to endure, for, being a lake, it will consume in an instant. The second death indeed differs from the first, but it still remains death.

        Death is never beneficial. The lake of fire is not a purgatorial cleansing agent for those who enter it. The conqueror of Smyrna has the promise that he will not be injured by the second death. The second death injures those who enter it. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, those who worked all day considered themselves injured because they received no more than those who were there only one hour (Matt.20:13). This passage shows that the Authorized Version's change to hurt gives a wrong impression of physical suffering. The word injure is literally UN-JUST, do an injustice, and does not necessarily imply that the lake of fire will hurt, that is, cause physical pain or suffering. This comes out clearly in the Authorized Version's own renderings: hurt not the oil and the wine (Rev.6:6), hurt the earth (7:2,3), hurt the grass (9:4). Oil and wine and the earth and the grass may be injured or harmed, but never hurt, because they cannot feel physical pain. The first death does not necessarily hurt. Some die in their sleep. Executions are usually carried out in as painless a manner as possible. But death is always harmful, an injury, the greatest harm that can come to a living creature.

        The actual length of time between the death of an unbeliever and his final reconciliation may be many thousands of years. But in his experience nothing will come between but the great white throne judging, which may be a comparatively short period. So that God most marvelously brings His grand consummation very near to every one of Adam's race, no matter when he lives. The time may be no longer for a sinner before the deluge than for one who lives in the impending indignation. It is manifestly wrong to punish a man before his guilt is proven. Many a man has suffered the injustice of imprisonment for a lengthy period while waiting for a trial, but God is not guilty of such a wrong. The moment a man dies, he is awakened to face the judge, along with all the rest of the dead. The moment his judging is over, he is once more roused to enjoy the reconciliation.

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