A REPLY by A. E. Knoch
by Arthur W. Pink
THE closing argument for eternal torment consists of a collection of seven scriptures, dealing with God's judgments, not one of which deals with final destiny at all. Instead of correctly apportioning the various judgments, all are wrenched from their proper tune and forced to fill the place of God's final dealings with His creatures. All we need to do in each case is to inquire When? and Who? and we see immediately that all are special inflictions at special times. Not one throws any light on the end we are considering.
We thoroughly believe that the nations who have neglected Israel in the end time will be judged at the beginning of the day of the Lord (Matt.25:46). Their judgment is called eonian chastening. It will last for the whole eon. More than this, we believe that the individuals composing these nations will probably be present in the judgment at the great white throne to answer for their private sins, for assuredly their treatment of Israel is not the only part of their conduct which will call for the judgment of God. The judgment of Matt.25:46 is limited to living nations, for the kingdom eon, and has no bearing on the final destiny of the people who compose them.
Our expositions of the Revelation are witnesses to the fact that we believe fully in the great judgments which attend the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess.1:8,9). If they are "punished with everlasting destruction," it is difficult to see how they can appear before God at the later judgment, as God has sworn they shall. They, unlike those nations who survive, but did not succor Israel, suffer the justice of eonian extermination. Yet they, too, shall rise in the resurrection of judgment. Their final destiny is not in view in Thessalonians.
Sodom Shall Return to her Former Estate
We likewise subscribe to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, who "are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). This occurred many centuries ago. How poor a passage to apply to that which is thousands of years hence!
The word "set forth" is, literally, "lying before." The term "example" or specimen, is from the word show. These are readily comprehended if we apply them to the sites of Sodom and Gomorrah today. Their destruction was so complete that their exact location is in dispute. Now the preponderance of opinion places them under the shallow end of the Dead Sea. No one can visit this terrible desolation without fully appreciating the force of these words.
But we are asked to forget this solemn and forceful scene for an "example" which no one can see, and which is not at all "set forth" or "lying before" us. We are asked to forget the fire (Gen.19:24) which destroyed these cities so that the smoke of the plain went up like the smoke of a furnace. The justice or "vengeance" of this fire is all too evident to this very day. It is a powerful reminder of God's judgment which should deter those who are tempted to follow a similar path. This fire is called "eternal." Just now the plain is covered by water, not fire. It was an eonian fire, as is witnessed by its effect for the eon.
Speaking of Jerusalem, Ezekiel gives us God's thoughts concerning Sodom. "As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters." And again, "When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters...then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them...when thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate" (Ezek.16:48,53,55).
2 Peter 2:6 gives a parallel passage, where we read that God condemns the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, reducing them to cinders by an overthrow, having placed them for an example. This is perfectly plain unless we try to distinguish between the cities and the people and make conscious cinders suffer from flames beneath the waters of the Dead Sea.
If the Sodomites were on public exhibition where all could see them suffering in the flames of a medieval hell, we might consider them as set forth as an example, but as no one has ever seen them, and no one can see them, they are no example at all. The cities, however, are lying before us as a specimen of God's eonian justice. The effects of the fire endure for the eon. When Jerusalem is restored, they will be restored.
Proverbs is hardly a proper place for texts to prove the final destiny of mankind. It deals with the present life. Yet we are assured that Prov.29:1: "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy," proves the hopelessness of all who die in their sins. 2 Chron.36:16 gives us the same expression, "without healing." Israel "mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. If Israel is "without remedy:" they will never be restored as a nation. "All Israel shall be saved" (Rom.11:26) cannot apply to them. Hundreds of prophecies foretelling the day when the "sun of righteousness shall arise with healing [the same word in Hebrew as remedy] in His wings" will never be fulfilled! In fact, all saints who die of an incurable disease (according to such reasoning) are hopelessly lost! But let us comfort ourselves with the thought that their case is in the hands of One Whose name is Jehovah Ropheka (Ex.15:26), the great Healer. It is not nearly as hopeless as a cause that appeals to Proverbs on a subject altogether out of its field of vision.
The tenth of Hebrews is given as an example of those for whom "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins!" hence no possibility of salvation. The passage deals with Hebrews who apostatized when the kingdom which had been proclaimed failed to materialize. Since they degrade the blood by which they were hallowed, the great Sacrifice is rejected. Since Christ, there is no longer a sacrifice for sins, or sin-offering, as under Moses. As a result, like the rejector of Moses' law, such are subject to severe temporal judgments. Moses' rejector was stoned. The rejectors of Messiah in the nation were dealt with by the living God Himself when He judged His people soon after the epistle to the Hebrews was written. Let anyone read Josephus' account of the Jewish wars and the siege of Jerusalem and he will find how fearful it is to fall into the hands of the living God.
The Temporal Process is not the Final Result
At the end time, during the great judgment scenes, the severest of all will fall on the apostates in Israel. But this is not their final judgment. It has to do with God's government of the earth, the process and not the ultimate. They will all appear before God at the great white throne and find their place in the lake of fire. It is after this when death is abolished as the last enemy, that they enter their final state.
No one reading Paul's lament over those "who are enemies of the cross of Christ...who are disposed to the things of earth," will doubt for a moment that they are beloved brethren in the faith. Paul is not lamenting over the world in Philippians, nor does he expect the unbeliever to walk as he did. Thousands upon thousands today are friends of Christ, yet enemies of His cross. They are seeking to reform and educate and sanitate the world which hates Him. They have no fellowship in His shame. The end of such is destruction, so far as their walk is concerned and that is what is in view here, in line with the whole tenor of the epistle. This will occur at the bema, or judgment seat of Christ, soon after we are in His presence. Then fire will test all our work, and such as is unworthy will be burned up, and we will forfeit it, yet we shall be saved, yet thus, as through fire (1 Cor.3:12-15). If the enemies of the cross are doomed to eternal torment, we fear few of His servants in these days will escape!
The last scripture concerns the resurrection of life, and the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28,29). The latter undoubtedly refers to the great white throne before which all who are not in Christ will be arraigned. They will have their part in the lake of fire, which is the second death. This is the last enemy which is abolished at the consummation. They emerge out of death and receive life, are saved and reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.
Thus we see that, in every case, the scriptures quoted for man's final destiny relate to the process by which God is preparing His creatures for it. Judgments scattered over a period of at least five thousand years are all confused with God's dealings at least that much later than the last of them. A cause that calls for such proof confutes itself.
The closing contention is characteristic. Like all that preceded it, the writer errs, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. He insists that, if the ages are to end and the wicked issue forth from the lake of fire, this should be told us in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation. He has never learned the great truth that the highest and greatest scope of divine truth was given not to John, but to Paul. He it was to whom it was granted "to complete the word of God" (Col.1:25). He it is who enlarges the scope of God's grace to include the heavens as well as the earth (Eph.1:10) and he is the only one who speaks of the time before the eons (1 Cor.2:7). If he could reveal glories to the Corinthians before the eons of which no other apostle knew, why should he not reveal a grace after the eons of which John was not aware?
It is a simple fact that he does this in the fifteenth of First Corinthians. John unveils the rule of Christ; Paul reveals His abdication. John sets up the kingdom; Paul closes it. John leaves the last enemies still in possession. Sovereignty and authority and death are in full sway in the closing scenes of the Unveiling; Paul reveals a brighter day in which these are all abolished. We conclude, then, that nothing in the Unveiling is final. Except that it is at the end of our Bible, there is no reason for taking it so, and Paul definitely states that it is not.
After all, what can give us such unquestioning confidence in this great truth, as the utter failure of every argument against it? We ourselves could not test our position, for it is difficult to see our own faults. But when the best that can be offered against the truth exposes itself by contrast and is condemned by the very texts to which it appeals, we may rest satisfied that God has graciously granted us the true light.
"Mr. Knoch and his colleagues will yet have to answer to God for so defiantly opposing the plain teachings of His holy word."
Thus commences the closing paragraph. Let me assure our brother, beloved by the Lord, that we fully expect to answer to God for all our acts, and will rejoice to see all that is not of God destroyed by the fiery test of that day. But such threats do not alarm us in the least. We know a God of transcendent grace. It is only natural for one who thinks Him capable of tormenting His own creatures eternally, to seek to follow His example, and torture His servants here and now. Indeed, it would be strange if it were not so. We would not have it otherwise.
The Character of our God Controls our Conduct
The character of the God you worship will determine your ways and your words. We trust it will be so with us also, for we would delight to be like Him. Hence, we do not threaten you with His wrath but commend you to His grace. Perhaps no sin can be so great as to distort His words and defame His character. But His grace is superbly sufficient, His love is lavish in its long-suffering. It never lapses, but looks longingly for the reconciliation which is the justification and crown of all His ways with His creatures. So, as we close with the absolute certainty of a reconciliation between us, we anticipate it on our part and throw all enmity aside. We are conciliated no matter what you do. We recall with joy and satisfaction the great truth that, by God's grace, it is impossible for you to enter into condemnation, no matter how much you may offend Him (Rom.8:1), and the still greater truth that we are saved for grace (Eph.2:8). While your words and ways have seemed to us to be offensively unlike His, this only gives greater ground for grace. This of itself justifies them, for grace must have a foil.
We close, then, with a prayer for such an outpouring of His grace on your own head as will force you to feel the affection which is found in Him for all the creatures of His hand and heart.
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