UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Future Punishment

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: I think those of us who are non-believers are well aware of the injustice, the barbarity of the idea of eternal punishment for disbelief. Taber has a good selection of quotations from the "fire and brimstone" preachers of the day to emphasize the point. He sees amongst the more liberal preachers of the day the possibility of change. He would be most disappointed to see today that that it is still that "salvation by faith alone" that speaks loudest.

Your thoughts on this Meditation are welcome. Please sign in to the discussion forum below, or alternatively, use the contact page to provide your comments for publication.


THE doctrine of punishment in a future state, to which the theology of Christianity has consigned – not those who have been guilty of immoral acts – but those who have dared to question that theology, or who have been disrespectful enough to Christianity to doubt its authority, is the most unfounded, the most repulsive, and (it may perhaps be added) the most unbelievable, or unbelieved, of all the absurd doctrines with which the Christian church has attempted to fetter the brains of its disciples. Of all the teachings of the Christian religion, this is the most preposterous and monstrous. It has no basis in common sense; for the punishment to be inflicted is not by reason of the commission of any crime, but only and simply because of the exercise of the reasoning faculties. This doctrine is the outgrowth of that superstitious fear, which has always existed among the ignorant and credulous and though a belief in it is professed by many intelligent persons, such belief (or profession of belief) is undoubtedly in consequence of the absence of intelligent thought on the subject. There are indications that the church itself is becoming ashamed of this doctrine, for there are comparatively few who now acknowledge belief in it. What is known as the “higher criticism” has exposed its presumptuous claims and it is hoped that the day is not far distant when this most horrible of all the component parts of an unreasoning theology will be among the things that were.

The efforts of late made to substitute for the harsh, Saxon, word “Hell,” the more mild, Hebrew, word Sheol, or the more mystic, Greek word, Hades, is another indication of a desire to soften the asperity of what so grates on the ear of benevolence.

A certain belief in hell comes to us from away back of the Christian era. It is peculiar to most religions, and Christianity borrowed it, as she did almost every dogma of ancient times that could instill fear and submission to authority into the minds of her subjects. NO religion, however, presents any picture of the horrors of the damned, at all comparable to that portrayed by the Christian religion.

Rev. Charles A. Allen, says: “It is significant that Christianity alone has taught the horrors of an everlasting gulf between heaven and hell.”

Listen to a few “Orthodox” views on this subject:

“Husbands shall see their wives, parents their children, tormented before their eyes; the bodies of the damned shall be crowded together in hell, like grapes in a wine press, which press one another till they burst; every distinct sense and organ shall be assailed with its own appropriate and most exquisite sufferings.” – Jeremy Taylor. (And yet Bishop Taylor was regarded as one of the most liberal and enlightened of the clergy of the Seventeenth century.)

“There sighs, complaints and ululations loud
Resounded thro’ the air without a star,
Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Language diverse – horrible dialects;
Accents of anger – words of agony,
And voices high and harsh, with sound of hands;
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
Forever – in that air forever black.” – Dante.

“Forever harassed with a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolts of God and broken by the weight of His hand, so that to sink into any gulf would be more tolerable than to stand for a moment in these terrors. Even infants bring their damnation with them.” – John Calvin.

“In that lake, it is wonderful to think how wicked, damned, fools, shall be tormented… The shame that shall cover their faces shall be perpetual; the fire that shall devour them is eternal`; the horrors that shall astonish them are everlasting; the worm that gnaweth upon their conscience never dies; the pains which they shall feel shall never have an end.” – George Webbe.

“A dark
Illimitable ocean, without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth and height
And time and place are lost, where eldest Night
And chaos, ancestors of nature, hold
Eternal anarchy.” – John Milton

“The rotation of the earth is caused by lost souls trying to escape from the fire in the center of the earth – which is the wall of hell – thus making the whole revolve, as the squirrel, by climbing, turns its cage.” – Father Hardonin.

“Any human idea of hell is heaven compared with what is really hell.” – St. Boneventura.

“The redeemed in heaven will have no compassion for the damned in hell, tho’ they see their tortures.” – St. Thomas Aquinas.

“The woes of sinners in hell will not be a cause of grief to saints in heaven, but of rejoicing; will be the fruit of perfect holiness and conformity to Christ… After your godly parents shall have seen you lie in hell millions of years or ages, in torment, day and night, they will not begin to pity you then. They will praise God that his justice appears in the eternity of your misery. The torments of hell will be immeasurably greater than being in a glowing oven, a brick kiln or fiery furnace.” – Jonathan Edwards.

“With iron bands, they bind their hands
And cursed feet together,
And cast them all, both great and small,
Into that lake forever:
Where day and night, without respite,
They wall and cry and howl,
For torturing pain which they sustain
In body and in soul.” – Michael Wigglesworth.

 “Burning continually, yet unconsumed.” – Pollock.

“Eternal plagues and heavy chains,
Tormenting rocks and fiery coals
And darts to inflict immortal pains,
Dyed in the blood of damned souls.” – Dr. Watts.

“Infants sustain precisely the same relation to the Divine law and justice as adults.” – Rev. H. Shedd.

“Thank God the day is not far distant when you will be chained down to Hell’s brazen floor, and the devil, with his three-pronged harpoon, will pierce your reeking heart and pile the red hot cinders of black damnation upon you as high as the Pyramids of Egypt, and fry out the pride of your heart to grease the gudgeons of hell.” – Rev. Samuel Cawson, of Clarksburg, Va.

“I see him (the rebellious soul) dashing down the vast abyss, striking from projecting crag to crag, until he lands upon that seething lake of fire and bounding from wave to wave, wrestling, struggling, groaning, forever and forever.” – Rev. Dr. N. C. McCoy. (See N.0. Picayune, July 18, 1888.)

“At the judgment day, thy body will join thy soul and thou wilt have twin hells, thy soul sweating drops of blood and thy body suffused with agony. Thy body will lie asbestos-like, forever unconsumed; all thy veins roads for the feet of pains to travel on; every nerve a string on which the devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of Hell’s unutterable lament.“—C.H. Spurgeon

“What is the use of explaining away a furnace of fire, when God says there is one… Jesus Christ descended into Hell. He walked down the fiery steps. He stepped off the bottom rung of the long ladder of despair. He put his bare foot on the hottest coal of the fiercest furnace.” – Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage.

“The punishment of sin in the world to come, is grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire, forever.” – Westminster Catechism.

Rev. S. Henderson Smythe, of N. Y. City, says: “If there is no Hell, then are we the miserable dupes of a Deity who is worse than the Devil of the Bible.”

The doctrine of Hell is intensified by the estimate which the clergy have made of the proportion of human beings who are consigned thereto.

Jonathan Edwards thought “that the bigger part of men that have died are gone to hell.” A Presbyterian clergyman at the general assembly in 1891, computed that thirty souls went to hell every minute. Chrisostom doubted if 100 out of every 100,000 would be saved. A professor of history in Oxford, in the 17th century estimated that not one in a hundred thousand, and probably not one in a million escaped hell. Two centuries ago, an English preacher urged that one person saved out of every million would be a liberal calculation.

While this absurd and almost unthinkable doctrine of hell is professed by all Orthodox Christians, to the credit of their human nature, though at the expense of their honesty, it must be admitted that but few of them actually believe it, and their numbers are decreasing daily, while the great body of rational beings and independent thinkers have utterly repudiated it.

The poet Whittier says: “I recognize the importance of the revolt from the awful dogma of predestined happiness for the few and damnation for the many. Slowly but surely the dreadful burden of this old belief is being lifted from the heart of humanity.”

The Christian Leader says: “Sooner or later the revolt of the public mind and heart from the dreadful dogma of eternal damnation will be complete.”

Rev. John W. Chadwick, of Brooklyn, says: “The doctrine of an eternal, fiery hell, has not one minister in the Evangelical Church to do it reverence now, where, fifty years ago, it had a hundred.”

Rev. J. M. Capes (Church of England) says: “In the stories about Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Minerva and Apollo, there is nothing so frightful as the notion that the eternal God has doomed little children to hell fire, because Adam was seduced by a silly woman to eat a fruit which a serpent told him was delicious.”

Rev. Dr. Rylance, of St. Mark’s Church, New York city, says: “Very few men can be found to-day who accept the notion of an absolute predestination of the few to everlasting life and the vast majority to the horrors of an everlasting hell.”

Rev. Howard McQueary says: “The doctrine of an endless hell is disappearing from theology.”

Rev. W.S. Rainsford, D.D., of St. George’s Church, New York City, says: “The doctrine of endless punishment is damnable.”

Rev. S. Miller Hegeman, late of Princeton, New Jersey, says: “A God of Hell must be a God of Hate.”

“The odious ruthfulness of Calvinism, which turns God into Moloch and man into human fuel for endless flames, proclaimed itself as the only logical inference from Scripture texts.” – Archdeacon Farrar.

The New York Tribune says: “Archdeacon Farrar’s formal declaration, in the recent English Church conference, that the old dogma of eternal punishment is dead, beyond resurrection, would have precipitated a savage and relentless controversy in the church, twenty-five years ago. To-day it hardly excites notice.”

Rev. Leighton Parks, of Emanuel Church, Boston, says: “No man can be found who believes to-day the dogma that every soul that has not heard the Gospel should be damned.”

“Let’s circumscribe be some slight restriction
The eternity of hell’s hot jurisdiction.” – Byron.

“The dogma of eternal punishment is not ‘good tidings of great joy’ – but bad tidings of great woe.” – Gail Hamilton.

“His talk of hell where devils dwell
Our vera souls does harrow.” – Burns.

Rev. Edward Everett Hale, speaks of the “horrible dogma about hell.”

Dr. Parker, of London, says: “A theology teaching that men may be condemned for not believing what they never heard should be branded and excommunicated.”

Rev. Dr. Parkhurst, of New York City, said in the New York City Presbytery, January 23, 1890: “The damn side of holiness has been just a little overworked.”

“No such doctrine as that of eternal damnation ought to be admitted that carries in it an idea of cruelty beyond what the blackest tyrants have ever invented.” – Bishop Burnett.

The late Rev. Henry W; Bellows, D.D., said: “No Andersonville prison, with its Wurtges and Winders, summoning the world to curse its systematic cruelties, deserves one iota of the loathing and hatred with which the united race should repel the idea of a predestined ruin – in a flaming pit – for endless ages.”

Even Rev. A. H. Hewit in the Catholic World says: “The doctrine that mankind is lost… is utterly false and

At the New York City Presbytery, January 29, 1890, Elder Charles H. Woodbury, of the Madison Avenue Church, had the courage to say, “I never will worship a being who creates men merely to damn them.”

And he who has done most to rid the world of this “crowning horror of dogmatic theology” – this “mother dogma of the whole brood of evangelical ideas” – the true-hearted, courageous and eloquent Ingersoll, speaks of the doctrine of eternal punishment as the “fanged and frightful dogma that souls were made to feed the eternal .hunger of a God’s revenge” – and adds “this dogma is the disgrace and degradation of the Christian world... It has furrowed the cheeks of the good and tender with tears. It is the most ignorant, the most infamous, the most absurd idea that ever found lodging in the brain of man.”

But even admitting the possibility of the truth of the doctrine of this “eternal horror,” the present and future inhabitants of hell may be comforted by the encouraging words to be found in the utterances of the scholarly Roman Catholic, Professor St. George Mivart, who says, ”There is no dogma more repellant to the modern mind than that of the eternity ofhell and few things could be more justly repellant than the way in which that dogma has been proclaimed and defended by certain theologians. In what a different light, however, will that doctrine appear if hell is regarded as the asylum of natural beatitude, provided by supreme mercy and love… Hell in its widest sense… must be considered as… an abode of happiness, transcending all our most vivid anticipations; so that man’s natural capacity for happiness is there gratified to the utmost.

Professor Mivart has also gone so far as to say that, owing to the spirit which the dwellers in hell, being in harmony with the nature of most people, there is more happiness for the majority there, than in heaven.

Take courage then; none need to quake
With fear of what the future be.
Hell may not be a burning lake,
But where exists felicity.

Many of the “fathers of the church” confirm the opinions expressed by Mivart.

St. Augustine has distinctly affirmed that “the damned prefer their existence, as damned souls, to non-existence.”

Shakespeare also bears similar testimony: “A man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose because they would go thither.” – Much Ado ii: I

The doctrines of a future state as it conforms to orthodox opinion is not as ancient as is generally supposed.

J.T. Sutherland, in “What is the Bible,” says it is absent from those parts of the Bible written before the captivity. Dean Stanley says, “The doctrine of the immortality of the soul does not appear in the first half of the Old Testament.”

Rev. Dr. James Freeman Clarke says, “It is a curious and very noticeable fact that the religion of Moses teaches no such doctrine as future retribution. It appears nowhere in the Old Testament. Reward and punishment in this world not in the next, is the doctrine of the Old Testament.” Dr. Clarke also alludes to the moral, or rather im-moral, side of the doctrine of hell and shows how much more elevating is the absence of such doctrine. He says, “The moral influence of the teaching of Moses and the prophets is that they show the grandeur and nobleness of goodness; they rouse the higher nature in man; they purify and elevate all the moral sensibilities.”

Canon Farrar says that “It is a monstrous delusion to suppose that the fear of hell is a deterrent from sin.”

James E. Stone, who murdered six persons of one (the Wratten) family in Jeffersonville, Indiana, September 18th, 1893, was not deterred from his diabolical act by his belief in the doctrine of hell; but listen to the consequences of a belief in the doctrine, not of punishment for wrong-doing but of reward for right-thinking, that is for thinking or believing, (or pretending to believe) as the Church directs. This wholesale murderer (but redeemed Christian) “maintained to the last that the angels in heaven awaited his coming; that his crimson-stained hands had been washed in the blood of the lamb: that he had made his peace with God and man and awaited with fortitude his execution.”

Rev. Charles Tinsley and Rev. H.W. McKane, of Jeffersonville, furnished this murderous saint with his passports to glory.
Another murderer, whose victim was his wife, “experienced religion” shortly before his execution and in the full assurance of his spiritual advisers that his sins were all forgiven him, he having expressed belief in the doctrine of the Christian church, was eager to enter the realms of bliss, which his “faith” had made him certain was his reward. He expressed one regret, however, but only one, and. that was that his wife could never join him in the blissful abode to which his piety had assigned him, for the reason that she had died before the opportunity had been presented to her of joining the Christian church.

How consoling to murderers and other criminals are the Christian doctrines, of belief by faith, of eleventh hour repentance, of the never-ending consequences of the talismanic words “I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Can there be any doctrine more inconsistent with common sense, more illogical, more immoral and (if there be such a thing as blasphemy) more blasphemous than that which teaches reliance for reward, in the (supposed) world to come solely on belief in the text, “he that believeth shall be saved,” contained in a book in which are found more errors and contradictions; more untruthfulness and obscenity than in any publication that exists or ever has existed; or that teaches reliance (solely) on that other text (in the same untruthful and immoral book) “he that believeth not shall be damned” as warrant for the absurd doctrine that all goodness and loving kindness; all acts of mercy, duty, charity, and beneficence; all lives of truthfulness, uprightness, honor and virtue; are (in the language of piety) but “filthy rags,” and that, notwithstanding all these ennobling characteristics, a simple want of faith in so unreasonable a doctrine as the Christian church makes requisite, consigns the best and grandest of the human race to an eternity of misery?

How much longer will it be before intelligent Christians will see the folly, the immorality of the dogma of future punishment?

Next: Superstition >

Have your say...

Please take a moment to share your thoughts, pro and con, on this Chapter.

comments powered by Disqus