By Cecil Willis
As a basis of this subject I cite your attention to 1 Jno. 3:4, which reads, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth the law, for sin is the transgression of the law.” If there is a definition of sin in the Bible, we have it in the last clause of this verse: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” Of course, it means the transgression of God’s law. God’s law may be transgressed by thought; by feeling, by words, or by actions, for as we learn from other portions of the Word of God, there are wicked thoughts, wicked feelings, wicked words, and wicked actions. This definition is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient for our present purpose.
While all of us sin; we obviously fail to recognize the enormity of sin. I believe I would esteem above every other gift that could be bestowed upon me as a preacher, the power adequately to conceive what sin is, and adequately to set it before the people. It is impossible for us to relate the enormity of sin for two reasons: First, a failure on our own part to realize the greatness of it and second, our inability to gather up such words and such figures of speech, as would with any sufficiency, set it forth to our hearers. The pleasures of sin have blinded our eyes to its enormity.
After considerable reflection on the matter, I am persuaded that the only accurate gauge which we have with which to measure the enormity and heinousness of sin, is the punishment that God has decreed against it. God is infinite, unlimited, in all His attributes; infinite in love, in mercy, in compassion, but when we find the terrible punishment which the likewise infinite justice of God necessitated that He metes out to man because of sin, then we can have some concept of God’s reaction and feeling toward the greatness of sin. Paul said in a discussion of the Law of Moses, that the Law was given “That through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13).
Many are the unpleasant things which befall man in this life which come as a consequence of man’s sin and disrespect of God’s law. From its earliest history, the world has been ladened with a vast burden of woe and pain and death. The journey of human life is strewn with tears; the whole earth on which we live has become dotted with cemeteries. Death, preceded by incalculable pains of the body, the whole period of the life filled with interchanging smiles and tears, anguish of hearts relieved by times of joy and happiness, have been our history. “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). All of this pain and woe, Paul said is caused by sin. It is a punishment the infinite God laid upon man- because of his sin.
While we experience these discomfitures here because of sin, without the aid of revelation, the nature, extent, duration, and the severity of any punishment that might be suffered hereafter would be the subject of simple conjecture. All the details would be left in the dark. We must depend upon revelation for the answer to our questions concerning the matter. To it then we turn, and the question set before us divides itself into some four points. First, “Is there any punishment for the wicked after death?” Second, “Is there a future, final and universal judgment, such as we have heard of?” Third, “What is to follow in the way of punishment, if anything, after that universal judgment?” Fourth, “How long, if there is such punishment after the judgment day, will it continue?”
First, “Is there then any punishment after death ?” Notice particularly Luke 12:4, where Jesus addressing his disciples, said, “My friends, be not afraid of them who kill the body, but after that have nothing more they can do.” They can take your body and burn it and dismember it, but that does not hurt your soul. They have no more that they can do which inflicts any pain upon you. “But,” He continued, “I will forewarn you whom to fear. Fear Him who after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.” Furthermore, in Luke 16, the rich man died (verse 22), and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment in the flame, so there definitely is punishment after death for the alien, and unfaithful.
Secondly, “Is there, according to the Word of God, and beyond all uncertainties of interpretation, and all questions about the meaning of words, such a final judgment as we have been taught to believe?” The word “judgment” is used and applied many times to judgments that occur here on earth. Many imagine that this is the only use of the term. But the Apostle told us in Heb. 9:27, “that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” In addition then to all the judgments on earth, there is a final judgment that comes after death. This judgment will be universal in its nature. “So then each one of us shall give account of himself unto God” (Rom. 14:12). “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him, then shall he sit upon the throne of His glory and all nations shall be gathered before him” (Matt. 25:31; Jno. 5:28,29). “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” (Rev. 20:12). So the judgment following death will be final and universal in its nature.
What is to follow in the way of punishment, if anything? Rationally speaking, were there no punishment provided there would be no point in having a judgment. God’s infinite justice necessitates punishment to those who have violated His infinite holiness by disobeying His righteous commands. Do you remember how this punishment is set forth in the Bible? “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Everlasting Fire! A lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The most excruciating torture, I believe, that human flesh can experience, is to be burned with fire, and that represents this suffering after the judgment. Furthermore he said, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Men gnash their teeth only, when they are enraged against themselves, when they are tormented with anguish and self-reproach. Such then, is the answer to our third question. “Will there be any punishment after the final judgment?”
Now finally, how long will that punishment which comes after the judgment, and which is described in these horrid terms, endure? How long shall the punishment last? Christ stamped the word “eternal” upon the duration of the sinner’s punishment. “And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal’ life” (Matt. 25:46). Eternal punishment for some and eternal reward for others. There are people who would tell you that the reward for the righteous will last forever, but the reward of the wicked will be completed at death. In other words, death is the final and complete punishment. Annihilation is the punishment for the sinner, but remember, the Lord said “eternal punishment” and “eternal life.” If “eternal” life means forever, then “eternal” punishnient means for the same duration. We know from their meanings that there is no end for either.
We see then God’s infinite hatred of sin by the fact that he is going to punish the sinner with everlasting punishment in the lake of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. How is it, then, that a man or woman, can consent to live in sin day by day and still realize the awful consequence of such a life? Knowing that they shall incur this awful penalty, that if they were to die today, this would be their unending fate, how can they fail to reproach themselves for being sinners, and to fly away from it to the only means of escape found in Christ Jesus our Lord?
But thanks be to His blessed name; however, great the sins committed, however numerous they are, and however just the awful sentence that has been passed against us, there is a way of escape. This is had by obedience to the terms laid down in the gospel of Christ. “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). There is salvation through no other means, so we must be saved by obedience to the gospel.
Truth Magazine, XX:1, p. 3-4
January 1, 1976