Is The Doctrine Of Future Punishment Cruel And Unmerciful?

 

Archibald Alexander

Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) was an American educator, theologian and preacher. In 1807 he became pastor of Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He received the Doctor of Divinity in 1810 from the College of New Jersey. He is most noted as founder and first principal of Princeton Seminary serving there from 1812 to 1840. As principal and professor of theology, he is considered the first of the great “Princeton theologians.” Below, he shares his thoughts on false doctrines that teach there is no hell:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:3-5 ESV)

[According to many], the doctrine of [hell] endless punishment is “cruel and unmerciful”. . . . It is customary with them to appeal to the tender feelings and sympathies of their hearers, and to conclude that if a parent would not inflict such a punishment on his children, much less will God on his creatures. But this is a false method of reasoning. An amiable child shudders at seeing a criminal suffer the just punishment of the law, but this is no argument against the punishment of the guilty.

It would be easy to persuade a set of convicted felons that the law which condemned them was cruel and unmerciful, because they want to escape punishment, and do not take into consideration the important ends to be answered to the public by their punishment. Thus wicked men are easily brought to believe that the penalties threatened in the Scriptures are cruel and unmerciful; but such opinions ought to have no weight with the honest and impartial inquirer after truth.

All comparisons on this subject fail; for neither parents nor civil rulers, nor any other beings in the universe, except the supreme Ruler, are under obligations to punish sin according to its merit. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Only God Almighty is capable of estimating the evil of sin, and of inflicting punishment in exact proportion to its evil. If reasoning from the sympathies of our nature, and especially from the tender feelings of parents, were of real force, it would be as conclusive against the judgments of God on individuals and communities in this world, as against future punishment. For what benevolent parent would subject his children to the innumerable forms of evil and suffering which are everywhere witnessed in our world? How many perish by shipwreck, by pestilence, by earthquakes, by oppression, by war, and by persecution! But because a kind earthly father could not endure to see his children suffer such things, must we conclude that it is an unrighteous thing in the Governor of the universe to recompense the wicked by such judgments? Or will these men deny that God has anything to do in bringing these evils upon men?

How is it possible that reasonable men, with the Bible in their hands, can believe in [this false] doctrine. . . If they would only listen to the dictates of conscience, they never could think that there was no future punishment for sinners of the deepest dye. The very heathen, as many of them as believe in a future state, hold the doctrine of future punishment for the crimes of a wicked life. There never before was a sect of heretics who altogether denied the doctrine of future punishment. . . . As we said before, this doctrine had its origin in paradise, when the devil assured Eve that she will not die for her disobedience . . . And was the very doctrine by which the grand adversary murdered our whole race; but never, until recently, could any number of men be found of sufficient hardihood to avow it as the main article of their creed. It contains within itself the virulent poison of all other errors and heresies; yes, it leaves in the distance every form of infidelity. Atheism, black and blasphemous as it is, is not so dangerous as this doctrine; for it completely removes all restraint from the sinner . . . assuring the vilest sinners that they have nothing to fear hereafter; and not only so, but promising them the rich reward of eternal life. The prevalence of this soul-destroying error, in some parts of our land, is truly alarming. Every citizen, as well as every Christian—is bound to use his best endeavors to check the progress of an error fraught with so many dreadful consequences! (“Future Punishment: The Universalist Refuted”)

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