Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
This month’s articles are titled, "The Biblical Teaching of Hell" and "The Real Meaning of Lazarus and the Rich Man." Dr. Ernest L Martin wrote them in 1978 and 1984 respectively. Long-time readers of Dr. Martin’s material are likely familiar with the "Lazarus" article, as it was reprinted several times in the 1970s, last in 1984, all before he started ASK.
For centuries the subjects of hell and damnation have been used by church leaders to "rule" over members. Fear of future punishment was deliberately used to keep the masses in line. Some of the greatest scholars and teachers of the so-called "Church Fathers" such as Origin (2nd century C.E.), Basil of Caesarea and Jerome (both 4th century C.E.), expressed the opinion that teaching the doctrine of universal reconciliation was dangerous. They believed that the threat of punishment (for eternity, so Basil and Jerome believed) kept people from committing even greater sins.
Origin wrote that universal reconciliation must be cautiously presented,
"… the remarks which might be made on this topic are neither to be made at all, … [but] for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin."
Against Celsus, 6:26
Basil of Caesarea wrote in his "Short Rules" for monastic life that one motive for belief in universal reconciliation was the express purpose of excusing sin, which,
"… comes also from the devil’s plots that many men … assign to themselves an end of punishment in order that they may sin more boldly."
The Ascetic Works of St. Basil, pp. 329–30.
Jerome wrote openly about promoting a "double doctrine" of teaching about the mercies of God,
"All of which nevertheless they allow should not now be openly told to those with whom fear yet acts as a motive, and who may be kept from sinning by the terror of punishment. But this question [regarding the finality of punishments] we ought to leave to the wisdom of God alone, … and who well knows whom and how and how long, He ought to judge."
- Book 18, cap. 66
Commentary on Isaiah,
When talking about the so-called Christian concept of hell, one must quote Jonathan Edwards’ sermon delivered in 1741, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. His prose is wonderful,
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; ... You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; ... there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, … Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell."
How long does it last?
"It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. … So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For ‘who knows the power of God's anger?’"
Good writing, bad exegesis.
While God certainly does use severe punishment and correction, the duration is never for "eternity." What some churches do is to take the very laws of God as a basis for their beliefs (the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic ordinances and the pronounced punishments upon Israel and Judah, past and future), pervert them and utilize them to make slaves out of Christians who Christ set free from human domination. This is the "Mark of the Beast."
The laws of God are not the "Mark of the Beast." The "Mark of the Beast" is the misuse of those laws used to give men in hierarchical churches and denominations power, authority and control over Christians. Many church organizations today utilize the laws of God as a means to enslave people to their human judgments. Promoting the doctrine of hell is simply another method of enslavement.
Luckily in today’s world most people (and preachers) ignore the doctrine of hell, just as they ignore the doctrines of the Trinity. People rarely hear sermons on either doctrine. This is because preaching on hell makes audiences uncomfortable, while preaching on the inexplicable Trinity bores people nearly to death. Both doctrines have a tendency to reduce attendance, both are unbiblical and both are illogical.
We are nearly all of the way through The People that History Forgot, appearing in monthly installments on the ASK Website. We are encouraged that many people seek to buy the book after sampling it on the website. The book The Tithing Dilemma is nearing its first run-through. We will repeat with chapter 1 once the last chapter is presented.
I want to once again thank you for your continued financial support and encouragement for the work we do at ASK. We are working hard to get out the Good News to this world that desperately needs the truth. This is the age of discovery, and I believe that God has called each of us (and this means each of you) to get the job done of teaching his truth to all who will listen. Most churches abandoned the task long ago. This is a sad commentary to make, but it is a fact. However, I hope that all of us can be about our Father’s business and do the job that is pleasing to our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for your help and prayers.
David W. Sielaff
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