Vol. 25 New Series June, 1963 No. 3
THE ETERNITY OF HELL TORMENTS

The above is the name of an old book published in 1740 by Will. Whiston, in London (Fleet Street) price two shillings. There are 145 pages, each having between 250 to 280 words or thereabouts, and the lines of type being just over two and a half inches long.

About thirty years before, Will. Whiston, M.A., had written a small discourse entitled "Reason and Philosophy no Enemies to Faith," wherein he had declared his "Opinion against the proper Eternity of the Torments of Hell." He was in touch with a Dr. Clarke and also Sir Isaac Newton both of whom had the same sentiments as Will. Whiston, who had written a small paper about the year 1717, which dealt with the thoughts of these two gentlemen.

But our Author went further, and declared that "I had many years thought, that the common opinion in this matter, if it were for certain, a real part of Christianity, would be a more insuperable objection against it, than any or all the present objections of unbelievers put together."

Whiston thought the common opinion for the Eternity of those torments to be no less absurd, nor less reproachful to Christianity than the Athanasian Doctrine of the Trinity; the Calvinist Doctrine of Reprobation; or the Popish Doctrine of Transsubstantiation; I think it high time for me to keep silence no longer, but to lay the whole evidence I go upon before the Christian world: Which I shall do in the following Collection of Texts and Testimonies thereto relating. He then quotes Genesis 18:25; Exodus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 5:9-10; Exodus 34:5-7; Deuteronomy 4:29-31; also vv. 39 and 40; Ch. 5:29, 31-33; Ch. 6:1-3; 7:9, 12-15; all Ch. 8; Ch. 10:12-22; Ch. 30 (the whole); all of 1. Kings 8; 2. Chron. all Ch. 6; Nehemiah 1:5-11; 9: 5-31 ; all Psalm 33. All these should be carefully read and studied. Next come fifteen quotations from the Apocrypha, and from the N.T., Matt. 5:45; 19:16-17; Luke 9:56; John 3:16-17; Romans 2:4; 3:29; 8:31-32; 11:26; 2. Cor. 1:3-4; 1. Tim. 2:4; 4:9-10; 1. John 4:8, 16; followed by other statements by the early Saints.

Corollary: "Such a vast number of most plain and clear texts that entirely agree with the natural notions we all have of the divine attributes and perfections, ought never to be superseded by certain later interpretations of a few more obscure ones, evidently contradicting those natural notions, and the most ancient interpretations also. Which yet, alas! has been the absurd, the unhappy, and the fatal method of introducing this and the like pernicious errors under the Antichristian ages of the church. And indeed, the astonishing Love of God to mankind so highly and frequently here celebrated, to all mankind; and that as to his own creatures, and children, and this always, and forever, both in this world and in the other. And this prodigious concern for all their salvation and happiness; with those amazing methods of effecting their, all their repentance, and amendment, and future happiness, even by the death of his only begotten Son; by the ministry of his holy Angels; and by the preaching of his Prophets and Apostles; in all ages; is so absolutely inconsistent with these common but barbarous and savage opinions, as if much the greatest part of mankind are under a state of reprobation, unalterable reprobation, and must inevitably be damned: and that such their damnation is to be coeternal with the duration of their Creator himself; and that the torments, the exquisite torments of these most numerous and most miserable creatures, are determined without the least pity, or relenting, or bowels of compassion in their Creator, to be in everlasting fire, and in the Hames of Hell ; without abatement, or remission, for endless ages of ages. And all this for the sins of this short life; fallen into generally by the secret snares of the Devil, and other violent temptations; which they commonly could not wholly either prevent, or avoid; and this without any other advantage to themselves, or to others, or to God himself, than as instances, (I almost tremble so much as to suppose, or repeat it) of the absolute and supreme power and dominion of the cruel and inexorable author of their being; for all the infinite ages of eternity: I say the former Texts of Holy Scripture are so absolutely inconsistent with such horrible opinions, that one would think them utterly incompatible with a rational creature: and would certainly think that no such suspicions concerning our most merciful and gracious Creator and Father, could ever enter into the mind of any man living; much less the mind of a Jew, instructed by the Old, and of a Christian much better instructed by the New Testament, whence all these testimonies are taken. At least one would have expected that nothing could have induced any Jew or Christian to entertain such enormous notions, but the evidence of equally plain, if not equally numerous testimonies of the same Scripture, for such absolute and horrible reprobation; and such terrible and properly eternal punishments. While yet, I venture to affirm it, and that upon no small examination, neither the Old nor New Testament have so much as one plain testimony for either of those doctrines, but the contrary: as will appear in the future part of this collection: after I have premised one fundamental Preliminary Observation. To which I now hasten.

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
The original words Olam in Hebrew, and AiOn in Greek, with their plurals and derivatives, which are the almost only ones made use of by the sacred writers to determine the duration of the punishment of the wicked in the other world; and are generally rendered eternal or everlasting; and supposed to mean a duration properly endless or co-eternal with God himself; do by no means so signify in Scripture. Nor are they ever, when spoken of created beings, to be extended longer than the several grand ages or periods of this sublunary world; beginning with the Mosaick Creation; hardly yet 6,000 years ago; and ending after the glorious millennium. Nay, these words are very frequently of a great deal narrower extension, and reach only to much shorter periods included therein. I shall begin with the language of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which is perpetually imitated by the writers of the New.

Genesis 6:4; The gyants are by Moses said to have been mighty men, which were (verse 5) ap' aiOnos (from eon, that is, from age). Ch. 9:12, This rain-bow is the token of the Covenant, eis geneas aiOnious (for generations age-lasting). Ch. 13:15, All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed, heOs aiOnos (till age-lasting). Ch. 17, verses 7, 13, and 19; I will establish my Covenant eis diathEkEn aiOnion (for a Covenant age-lasting). In Exodus 15:18, Daniel 12:3, and Micah 4:5, we find the expressions, "unto times age-lasting and beyond." Does not this last word prove that there will be even further times?

Later on Whiston quotes Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, and says: "These two additional texts are evidently of the same sort with the foregoing, and so stand in need of little additional observation. Only, since the place of Gehenna or Hell itself is said to be prepared for the Devil and his Angels, Matthew 25:41. And the same Devil is here said to be cast into this lake of fire, this makes it not a little probable that, whatever preludes to this dreadful punishment there may be upon this earth, at the coming on of this fire and brimstone, at the great day; yet will the upshot of all be no other than the fire of Gehenna or Hell, for ages of ages afterwards. Although it deserves our remark, that it is not directly said here, that the beast and the false prophet, but only the Devil, with Gog and Magog, shall be so long tormented there. It is also here highly worthy of our remark, that excepting this single place, relating to Gog and Magog, or to people utterly known to us, and not perhaps to be heard of till after the Millenium is over, the duration of the punishment of the wicked is never, I think, properly said to be for more than an age, a single age, in all the Books of the Old and New Testament. What other beings or actions soever are there said to be for aiOnes (ages), or for ages of ages, Which has not, I suppose, been hitherto observed by any commentator.

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I agree altogether with the Author's final statement.

A.T. Last updated 27.4.2006