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remote, describes a punishment immediately impending. It denotes a destruction through which one is "brought" or "cast down to hell" (hades). We observe—
1. That gehenna is spoken of as a present fact. St. James (iii. 6) speaks of the tongue as now "set on fire by gehenna." Our Lord speaks of the Scribes and Pharisees as children of gehenna (Matt, xxiii. 15). To be a child of hell is to have one's conduct and opinions governed by those evil forces which emanate from hell. Gehenna is here conceived of, not as a future lake of fire—the second death—but as an existing pit of destruction.
2. The passages in which Jesus warns men against being cast into it evidently relate to a near and present danger. We cite the principal ones (new version).
"Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire." Matt. v. 22.
"And if thy right hand cause thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into gehenna" (vs. 29).
St. Luke reports these words as follows: "Fear him, which after he hath killed, hath power to cast into gehenna."
By comparing the eighth and ninth verses of Matthew xviii., it is seen that the terms "gehenna of fire" and "eternal fire" are equivalent.
In Mark ix. 43—49, we read again:
"And if thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. * * * And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into gehenna; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will we season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another."
All the above warnings were addressed to disciples. They were part of that private teaching by which Jesus prepared His chosen followers for the work that lay before them. They were designed to teach them that it was only by the path of complete self-surrender to the will of God that they could enter into life. Whatever in their feelings and conduct caused them to offend must be lopped off. Every servant of God and heir of His kingdom must thus put himself upon the altar. "Every one must be salted with fire." Better far submit to this sacrifice than that sin should be allowed to do its destroying work upon the whole man. Here, throughout, the reference is to a present danger—a progress in corruption which goes on to consume like fire the energies of the life, and leaves the man the prey of those irresistible forces which destroy both body and soul. Better far to be salted now with the fire of self-sacrifice than to be submerged in this fire of destruction. Manifestly there is no warrant for conceiving of this penalty as one long deferred. The destructive forces that prey upon the bodies and souls of men are active now. They begin their work this side the grave. The parable of the rich man (Luke xvi.) shows that it does not end there. But it is not a destruction delayed until after a resurrection: it is immediate. When the Lord speaks of the sacrifice of an eye or hand in order that the whole body may not suffer this destruction, He is speaking of this present embodied life. There is not the slightest reason in His language, nor in the circumstances or opinions of His hearers, to suppose that He was speaking about a future resurrection body, to be cast into a future gehenna. No Jew would so imagine. Resurrection in their view was deliverance from gehenna, not a preparation for being cast into it.
As to the nature of this destruction, the terms which describe it cannot be literal. The Lord did not mean that the literal eye should be plucked out or the foot cut off, but that the ambition or sensual passion whose roots lie deep in the soil of human nature must be mortified—that is, put to death. So the unquenchable fire of gehenna is not literal flame. The term stands for those remorseless, inexorable forces which sin sets in motion in the bodies and souls of men, and which break down and destroy them. This dissolution begins here. The steps of an evil course even now take hold on hell. The fires of gehenna are already kindled in the bodies—they drink up the spirits— of wicked men all around us. There are hells of blasphemy, of misery and of madness into which evildoers are cast before our eyes. But Jesus warns us that beyond the death of the body the work of dissolution goes on until even the soul may be destroyed in hell. But let us not strain His words beyond their proper meaning. They all relate to that original penalty which God attached to sin, which is death. The penalty, whatever it is, is not the remote consignment to hell of a remotely resurrected man. It lies this side of resurrection. Gehenna precedes even that long captivity in hades in which spirits in prison await resurrection. So that, rightly understood, not one of these passages contradicts the uniform teaching of Scripture that resurrection, whenever it reaches these captives, although it be long delayed and to an inferior order of life, bringing with it judgment and restraint, is yet a deliverance and a blessing.
It is well known that the Greek words in Matt, xxv, 31-46—"And these shall go away into eternal punishment"—are by competent critics translated "age-lasting restraint." This, for instance, is the force given to the words by Robert Young, author of the Analytical Concordance and of a literal version of the Scriptures. Many persons, however, refuse this rendering because it seems to limit the life also into which the righteous depart. We have shown that, whatever be the duration of their life—which from other Scriptures we know to be endless—the punishment spoken of must be interrupted by the resurrection which graciously comes to all men by the righteousness of one man, as death came to all by the sin of one. Sooner than deny this principle of redemptive resurrection which underlies all Scripture, it would be much more reasonable for those who feel themselves bound by the literal phrase, "everlasting punishment," to interpret it in some such way as this. Let us suppose that there are two realms of life in creation; one in which life is in harmony with the universal life of God, and in which it is, therefore, unfettered and endless. In the other region life is more or less in fetters, under correction and restraint, liable to torment and even to destruction. For how can personal being exist forever out of harmony with God?
Into one or the other of these regions of existence men are consigned by the universal Judge. In the realm of pure life existence must be endless because the creature is in perfect accord with the life of God. In the other realm, which is also conceived of as eternal, the creature is under perpetual restraint. The unjust and unloving are consigned to this region in which punishment abides forever; but they may not forever be kept in it. It may be a region into which men may "go away," and out of which they may again be brought, while the character of the region itself remains unchanged and enduring.
Or again, if it be insisted that the word eternal admits of no limit, an explanation supplementary to the foregoing may be found in the well known Scripture distinction between the "old man " and the "new man." These coexist in the same person; but the one is viewed as irreclaimably corrupt. Its end is therefore destruction. And this destruction is hopeless and eternal. The new man, the Christ-nature in us, is the eternal heir of the kingdom. His life is eternal. The Divine judge sits enthroned over every human life, gathering the wheat into His garner, and consigning the chaff, the husk of the old nature, to unquenchable fire. And so all humanity is being sorted. The old sinful humanity, selfish, unrighteous and unloving, must have this doom. It must be burnt up in the eternal fire. But, as in the case of the Christian this destruction of his former self—the old man—is in order to his salvation as a new man in Christ Jesus, so this eternal " cutting