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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Hell, the name given in our Authorized Version of the Scriptures to the place of final punishment for sinners. It is also distinctively indicated by such phrases as 'the place of torment' (); 'everlasting fire' (); 'the hell of fire, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched' (). The dreadful nature of the abode of the wicked is implied in various figurative expressions, such as 'outer darkness,' 'I am tormented in this flame,' 'furnace of fire,' 'unquenchable fire,' 'where the worm dieth not,' 'the blackness of darkness,' 'torment in fire and brimstone,' 'the ascending smoke of their torment,' 'the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone' (; ; ; ; ; comp. ; ; ; comp. ; ; ; ). The figure by which hell is represented as burning with fire and brimstone is probably derived from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as that which describes the smoke as ascending from it (comp. , with ; ). To this coincidence of description Peter also most probably alludes in .

The names which in many of the other instances are given to the punishments of hell are doubtless in part figurative, and many of the terms which were commonly applied to the subject by the Jews are retained in the New Testament. The images, it will be seen, are generally taken from death, capital punishments, tortures, prisons, etc. And it is the obvious design of the sacred writers, in using such figures, to awaken the idea of something terrible and fearful. They mean to teach that the punishments beyond the grave will excite the same feelings of distress as are produced on earth by the objects employed to represent them. We are so little acquainted with the state in which we shall be hereafter, and with the nature of our future body, that no strictly literal representation of such punishments could be made intelligible to us. Many of the Jews, indeed, and many of the Christian fathers, took the terms employed in Scripture in an entirely literal sense, and supposed there would be actual fire, etc. in hell. But from the words of Christ and His apostles nothing more can with certainty be inferred than that they meant to denote great and unending miseries.

The punishments of sin may be distinguished into two classes—1. Natural punishments, or such as necessarily follow a life of servitude to sin: 2. Positive punishments, or such as God shall see fit, by His sovereign will, to inflict.

1. Among the natural punishments we may rank the privation of eternal happiness (; ; ; ; comp. ); the painful sensations which are the natural consequence of committing sin, and of an impenitent heart; the propensities to sin, the evil passions and desires which in this world fill the human heart, and which are doubtless carried into the world to come. The company of fellow-sinners and of evil spirits, as inevitably resulting from the other conditions, may be accounted among the natural punishments, and must prove not the least grievous of them.

2. The positive punishments have been already indicated. It is to these chiefly that the Scripture directs our attention. 'There are but few men in such a state that the merely natural punishments of sin will appear to them terrible enough to deter them from the commission of it. Experience also shows that to threaten positive punishment has far more effect, as well upon the cultivated as the uncultivated, in deterring them from crime, than to announce, and lead men to expect the merely natural consequences of sin, be they ever so terrible. Hence we may see why it is that the New Testament says so little of natural punishments (although these beyond question await the wicked), and makes mention of them in particular far less frequently than of positive punishments; and why, in those passages which treat of the punishments of hell, such ideas and images are constantly employed as suggest and confirm the idea of positive punishments.'

As the sins which shut out from heaven vary so greatly in quality and degree, we should expect from the justice of God a corresponding variety both in the natural and the positive punishments. This is accordingly the uniform doctrine of Christ and his apostles. 'The servant who knows his lord's will and does it not, deserves to be beaten with many stripes:' 'To whom much is given, of him much will be required' (; ; ; ; ). Hence St. Paul says that the heathen who acted against the law of nature would indeed be punished; but that the Jews would be punished more than they, because they had more knowledge (). In this conviction, that God will, even in hell, justly proportion punishment to sin, we must rest satisfied. We cannot now know more; the precise degrees as well as the precise nature of such punishments are things belonging to another state of being, which in the present we are unable to understand.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hell'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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