Is the teaching of eternal punishment biblical?

It is believed by some that Eternal Punishment is only for a certain period.

Is the doctrine of Eternal Punishment a tradition and not fundamental?

How should this be answered, and how should those in our assemblies who hold these views be treated?

The doctrine of eternal punishment is fundamental to the understanding of salvation. The test of a doctrine is not what the world thinks of it, or even the professing church, but what the Word of God declares. Judged by that test, I have not the slightest doubt that a condition of never-ending punishment awaits those who reject the grace of God in whatever form presented, and die in their sins and self-righteousness; and this has been the general belief of the church down the ages. That a committee of determined criminals or weak sentimentalists should decree the impossibility or injustice of life-sentences might be comprehensible, but would not affect the course of the law in any degree. Nor will the divine administration be affected in the slightest way by man’s opinions of His decrees.

When the opponents of never-ending punishment are asked, “What then will become of the wicked?” they cannot agree among themselves: one party say all will eventually be saved—they are the Universalists; another that all who refuse the grace of God will eventually cease to be—they are the teachers of what is known as “Conditional Immortality.” I believe both these theories are in conflict with the Scriptural teaching throughout, e.g., “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life (i.e. life in harmony with God, more than mere existence); and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life (which refutes universalism); but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

The wrath of God cannot abide on a nonentity, which refutes annihilationism. Space will not allow here any lengthy consideration of this tremendous theme. One or two points may, however, be raised. If we believe in the never-ending bliss of the redeemed, we must believe in the never-ending punishment of the wicked. The Lord’s own words make this plain, for He uses the same word in the same context of each: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life everlasting” (Matthew 25:46). Some again say that the devil and his angels will suffer eternally, but not human beings; but in this same chapter our Lord classes them together: “Depart ye cursed (He will say to wicked men) into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). That fearful punishment, here so plainly revealed by Him who was the embodiment of holy love, was not prepared for men, but for the devil and his angels, but those who deliberately choose to follow him will find themselves with him for ever. A great effort has been made to show that the word translated here “everlasting” or “eternal” only means “age-lasting.” That may be perfectly true by derivation, as is true indeed of our word “everlasting,” but what matters is the usage of the word. It is used of “God” (Romans 16:26); His “honour and power” (1 Timothy 6:16); “covenant” (Hebrews 13:20); “kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11); “gospel” (Revelation 14:6); the “weight of glory” of the redeemed (2 Corinthians 4:17); the unseen world (2 Corinthians 4:18); the glorified body (2 Corinthians 5:1); “glory” (2 Timothy 2:10); “salvation” (Hebrews 5:9); “Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14), etc., etc., on the one hand, and on the other, of future punishment, as above (Matthew 25:46); “fire” (Matthew 18:8); “damnation” (Mark 3:29); “destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

‘What honest believer, subject to the Word, but must admit that the never-endingness of God, His Spirit, salvation, redemption, and the consolation and the inheritance of the redeemed, stands or falls, with the never-endingness of the future punishment of the finally impenitent! Is it not strange that men, instead of repenting of their sins and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, should rather spend their time in trying to disprove what the Saviour so clearly taught (none more clearly than He)—the fearful future of those who refuse Him, whom God has provided in His infinite love as a Saviour from “the wrath to come!” As for the second part of the question, we must “make a difference” between those who may be for the moment perplexed over a doctrine and those who doubt it as part of their fixed belief. It is noticeable that among “the principles of the doctrine of Christ,” in Hebrews 6:1-2, which are clearly considered as fundamental (“not laying again the foundation,” etc.), the doctrine of “eternal judgment” closes the list.

This, therefore, is a fundamental question, and those who deny it have so far departed from the faith, and deny the clear and unmistakable words of Christ. How can such then claim a place among the people of God? Their denial of God’s truth raises the solemn question whether they have ever truly known His grace. May God in His infinite mercy preserve the feet, both of writer and readers, from straying from His Word, on this or any other truth!

W.H.