Apologetics Atonement Covenant Depravity Doubt Election Evangelism Evil Faith Hell Morality Theology

Final Judgment Eternal?

Final Judgment Eternal?

When I write about the doctrine of Final Judgement or what’s popularly known as Hell, I don’t take it lightly. Just because I’m not going to be there doesn’t mean that it’s a pleasant thing to think about. It is likely that I love people who will experience hell. So, a reason for the unpleasantness of the doctrine is the Biblical insistence upon its duration.

The Scripture seems to be very clear. Hell is eternal.

Dabney

I was reading an old Southern theologian last evening when I ran across an argument that I hadn’t heard. Robert Lewis Dabney, an Antebellum Southern Presbyterian, had written an essay regarding “The Popular Arguments against Endless Punishment Unsatisfactory as a Sure Ground of Hope” in which he argued against common arguments opposing endless punishment.

Something that I noticed quickly was that arguments against eternal punishment haven’t changed much. Dabney labeled his essay accurately. These arguments are “popular”.

Birds of a feather

One reason for the increase in the popularity of anti-hell arguments inside of Christian theology is merely the fact that so many people are making them. This does a couple of things.

Since there are folks like Rob Bell publically questioning the orthodox position, it gives others who already hold reservations but would normally accept it, courage to do the same.

The saying at least seems true to them. There is safety in numbers.

Numbers don’t determine truth though and theology is not a democratic process.

More importantly though, there are many folks who have never questioned the orthodox position of Final Judgment. But they are beginning to do so merely because there seems such an influx of public doubt and alternate positions.

For example, almost any discussion of John Stott makes its way to his heterodox view of FJ. People appeal to his authority as a theologian to prop up their own doubt. They are becoming insecure in their original belief based on the perception that a great number of Biblical theologians are changing theirs.

This cause and effect theological relationship between theologians and theology in the pews is paralell to the Churches historic position on the sinfulness of homosexuality as well. The Western Church has no working concept of Church authority and therefore Biblical authority has become “me and my favorite theologian” or “whatever my pastor says”, something I wrote about last week.

The Church stopped training her laypeople how to be Christians a long time ago but continues telling them each Sunday that they must. So, people become heterodox on their own. Shouldn’t that be what we expect?

Dabney has several good responses to the doubters of the doctrine of damnation.

Four problems to which he responds are…

Men are, after all, much more influenced by feelings than by analytic reasonings[i].

professed Christians. How should they act for themselves, they who profess to have the vision of faith, if they saw the doctrine certainly true?[ii]

“The order which he has impressed on this earth and our mortal life is not such as a wise and consistent God would have selected, if our race were, indeed, moving to such a fate.”[iii]

How can it be just in God to punish a puny creature eternally for a sin committed in this short life?[iv]

Something new, in grey not blue

One rejoinder the old Confederate introduces is new to me and maybe you. As far as I can tell, it’s a very difficult argument for those who question FJ to ignore. Like Jackson approached in the trees at Chancellorsville, it has an element of surprise along with an unrelenting forward momentum.

When it comes to this debate, it’s pretty damning (pun intended).

Eternal sinfulness retort to annihilationist.

Dabney puts it this way…

  1. …after you have on this earth rejected Christ, who is to help you to cease rebelling?
  2. Be God’s justice what it may, obviously no reasonable being, who has once resolved to curb rebellion by penalty, can consistently stop punishing until the criminal stops rebelling.

Do you see what Dabney did?

Dabney’s brilliant syllogism goes like this: 1-Unrepentant sinners will never stop sinning 2-God’s just nature requires payment for sin therefore: Conclusion-The Final Judgment will be eternal.

Grim

That’s solemn. In fact, it’s terrifying. It’s a circular snare for the unrepentant sinner. By nature, they will continue to sin, constantly adding to their account. At the same time, by nature God will continue to penalize them for their sin, both past and continuing. Their account increases each moment of eternity while God’s wrath pours out on them for each new sin.

Burnsides goes over the river

Now there seems to be two angles to press if someone is going to defeat this argument.

Either the first premise can be attacked by denying that unrepentant sinners will continue to be unrepentant sinners when finally faced with God’s wrath.

To that Dabney says, “Suppose, now, that you should continue sinners after death, while paying off the score of your earthly transgressions? Why not? Yes, why not? Because you will then be suffering punishment? We do not see that God’s chastisements of you in this world have had any tendency as yet to make you any better; why should you count on them to make you better there?”

He makes a good point. Unbelievers have every opportunity before death to stop sinning. God uses means to prove to them their need to change. Yet, they do not. Why would anyone believe they will change?

Or, the second premise could be in play. God’s justice may not require him to punish incessant sin. Well, if you have read the Bible you already know…that ain’t happenin’.

The conclusion follows well. If unrepentant sinners always sin and God always punishes sin, then sinners will forever be punished.

I told you that this was no fun.

But, if you are a Christ-follower and you know unrepentant sinners this is even more reason to share with them the love of Christ. Christ has paid for the sins of those who repent and believe. God sent his Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish and that they would have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Let this terrible truth drive you to your knees. Thank God for his present mercy and cry out for the souls of men. Repent of your unfaithfulness and resolve to carry out Christ’s marching orders (Mat 28:16-20).

Hell is not a rehab facility.

The truth about hell is that it’s not meant to be a therapy session. It’s not a rehab facility. It’s a soul prison for people who insist on staying.

Ultimately, they love their sin more than Christ. Persistently, they will continue to follow that nature. Eternally, they will pay for it.

It will be well for you to look thoroughly into this doubt before you trust yourself to it. Your eternity is at stake! And if, after your faithful, honest and exhaustive examination, you are constrained to feel that there is a possibility that Jesus may be right and Satan wrong on this point, it will be best for you to come with me to the safe side, and hide under the sacrifice of Christ.-Robert Lewis Dabney

 

Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

 

Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

 

Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

 

[i] Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

[ii] Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication

[iii] Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

[iv] Dabney, Robert L.

1890

Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney: Theological and Evangelical, vol.1. C. R. Vaughan, ed. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

 

Donnie
I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice
http://www.southernbyhisgrace.com

Leave a Reply