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WHAT HAS BECOME OF HELL?

BY THE REV. GEORGE WOLFE SHINN, D. D.

This title has been selected, not because of any leaning it may have towards sensationalism, but simply because it states precisely the purpose of this inquiry.

There has been a remarkable change of late years in religious teaching with reference to future punishment. Whereas formerly, in theological papers, in sermons and in books of instruction, much was said about hell, now it is but rarely mentioned. In fact, by many an accredited teacher it is not mentioned at all. It is pertinent to ask, therefore, What has become of hell?

We still use the word "hell" in the Apostles' Creed, but we are always careful to explain that there it does not mean the place of punishment, but simply the place of departed spirits; that it has no reference to their condition as happy or unhappy, but simply refers to the separation of soul and body, and to the residence of the soul in an intermediate state or place until the resurrection day. We are not concerned with that use of the word in this inquiry. We have started out to find what has become of hell as a place of punishment. We hear very little about it except in the profanity of the day. We do not hear of it in the pulpit, nor see any reference to it in the religious press, nor in the modern theological book, nor is it often brought up in religious conversation. It is tabooed by the pulpit generally. When, under stress, the preacher has to refer to it, he may adopt the euphemistic method of one who spoke of "the place which could not be named in the presence of cultured people."

It was not always thus, as we may learn by taking up almost any book of sermons delivered fifty years ago, or by reading the diaries kept by people who lived in the days of our grand-parents, or by perusing the history of religious controversies. In a day

not very long past men argued with each other concerning the place and concerning the people who were on their way thither. Some of us are not too old to remember the terrible appeals made by the revivalists to flee from the wrath to come, and so to escape the pains of hell. The stories which have been handed down to us concerning the great revival movements in this country show that the prominent theme, which was repeated again and again in every possible way, was how to escape from hell.

We know, for example, that so superb a thinker as Jonathan Edwards, the author of "The Freedom of the Will," was also a revivalist of the most intense type, and that he had such power in portraying the dangers of the impenitent that men screamed out during his sermons.

If we go back further, we find that religious literature is full of allusions to hell. We need hardly refer to Milton's Paradise Lost, and to Dante's Divina Comedia. The theology of the Middle Ages was so full of it that men have sometimes thought hell was a creation of that period.

Still further back, in patristic literature, we find it in large profusion. St. Polycarp said to the pro-consul, "With fire which burns for an hour or so and is extinguished, thou dost threaten me; but dost thou not know of the fire of the future judgment and of the eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly?" St. Augustine took pains to refute the opinions of those who thought that the torments of hell would only be purgatorial, and therefore only of limited duration. St. Chrysostom described the miseries of the future of the lost. With the exception of Origen and a few of his followers, there was an outspoken belief in hell by all the Fathers.

When we turn to the Sacred Scriptures, we certainly discover the recognition of hell in those writings. Unhappily, in our English Bible the word "hell" is made the equivalent of four other words-Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus and Hades. It is going over ground very familiar to many to say that "Sheol," the Hebrew word in the Old Testament, usually refers, in an indefinite way, to the grave or the place or condition of the dead. "Hades," the Greek word in the New Testament, has a similar meaning, with perhaps a clearer recognition of continuing life under new conditions. It is the word "Gehenna," also translated hell, upon which so much depends. The name "Gehenna" was taken from

the Hebrew word by which the valley of Hinnom was known. That was the valley near Jerusalem where the great sanitary fires, kept up day and night, consumed the refuse of the city and the bodies of unclean beasts, and sometimes the bodies of criminals. From being the name of a locality near the city, the word was adopted to refer to that place or condition in the unseen world where punishment would be meted out to the impenitent. And so we find the word used in such passages as St. Matthew v., 22, “shall be in danger of the Gehenna of fire;" St. Matthew v., 29, "and not that thy whole body shall be cast into Gehenna;" St. Mark ix., 43, "into Gehenna, into the fire that shall never be quenched;" St. Matthew x., 28, "Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."

We are not seeking for explanations now, nor are we considering the nature of future punishment nor the character of those who are to be punished hereafter. We are simply trying to establish the fact that there is an unbroken chain of testimony to the belief in the existence of hell down to a comparatively recent time. That fact is surely well established. As a fact it cannot be contradicted. Even Origen, under whose arms every heretic seeks refuge now, believed in hell. But he thought it was not to be eternal. He looked for a final restoration. Origen is never to be cited as denying future retribution, but as only disbelieving in the eternity of torment.

The belief in hell as a place or condition of punishment, with varying explanations as to the nature and continuance of that punishment, has been the belief of Christian people from the beginning of Christianity to our own day.

Now, almost suddenly, certainly with remarkable unanimity, men have well nigh ceased to talk about it. Whereas they once said much about it, now they say but little; some, indeed, nothing at all. It has ceased to be urged as a motive for good living in this life, and men are not told to prepare themselves here to avoid it there in the future. In other words, there has been, if not an actual denial of hell, a very thorough change of emphasis.

What has become of hell? Here is surely a very notable change in theology at the close of the nineteenth century. How did it come about? It is claimed by some friends of the late Henry Ward Beecher that he did more than any other man in this country to change the style of thinking of many preachers

and of many laymen who admired him. If he did not begin the change, he certainly helped on the revulsion from the old doctrines which had been preached, and he dealt some very effective blows at the narrow theology which had been accepted by many as orthodoxy.

The movement, however, for the dissolution of hell began much earlier in this country. The Universalist body came into existence here as early as 1770, as the antagonists of the intense views which were held by the old Calvinists. Universalism has gradually pervaded the country, and has done much to tincture the thought of the religious world. Crude and ignorant as were many of the efforts of the first Universalists, they directed their blows at one point, and they made their impression.

Perhaps, however, nothing has had so widespread an influence in this direction over intelligent minds in America as Canon Farrar's book on "Eternal Hope." It found a sympathetic audience prepared for it in different parts of the land, and in different grades of society, and the views expressed in it were very readily adopted. It was in vain that replies were made, and that Dr. Pusey issued his book entitled, "What Is of Faith?" Evidently, many in the religious world wanted to get rid of hell.

A very curious compromise was attempted by some who could not quite accept Farrar and retain their old orthodoxy. The compromise is in the suggestion of a second probation. That is, if one has not had a fair and full chance to know the truth here, he will have a second chance in the other world.

Believers in a second probation retained their belief in a place of punishment. One antagonist of this view of à probation after death says that to him it seems to be groping for "a new probation, not for the culprit but for the Judge, as if they were apprehensive that, according to their scheme, He would not do the exactly right and infinitely kind and merciful thing the first time." They would give Him a chance to do better later on.

Now, although this is a "smart" way of replying to views of another side, it does not by any means sweep away the foundations on which some build up a belief that the future (before the final judgment) brings not only a growth in goodness for some, but a growth towards goodness for others.

It is very curious how Purgatory, formerly condemned as one of the errors of Romanism, is now adopted in other forms by the

ultra Protestant. Substitute such an expression as "The soul will be trained by the bitterness of experience, past and present, warned by judgments yet to be fulfilled, in clearer light beholding things in better perspective”—substitute this sentence for "Purgatory," and do you not have the same thing? Purgatory may carry with it gross materialistic conceptions of purifying fires, but the essential thought is the same as that contained in the expressed hope that somehow, when men in another world see what sin is, and how it harms them and dishonors God, they will want to have it purged and done away, and so will welcome the purifying pains. But even if we adopt this view of reparation in a future life, we do not get rid of retribution. Nor do we by such a view necessarily get rid of eternal punishment. May there not be some incorrigible ones left over after the last chance of reparation is offered? And if there are any, then we are back again to the old thought of an eternal rebellion, and hence an eternal penalty.

The usual plan, however, for obliterating hell has been to explain away the language in which the doctrine of eternal suffering is supposed to be set forth. There can be no doubt that figurative language is used. It has been simply impossible to set forth the truths of religion without the use of figurative language. Happiness is described under the figure of living in a beautiful city, the City of God. The opposite of the happiness of heaven is the misery of hell. To express this, fire is used as the dominant figure. Fire is a symbol of painfulness, hence of punishment. Then, to render fire more horrible, another destructive agent is added the suffocating fumes of brimstone; and, to express the acme of punishment, we have the figure of fire and brimstone, and we are told of the lake of fire and brimstone where the smoke of torment continually ascends. When such expressions are used, are we dealing with material facts? Is there a city whose streets are paved with gold and whose gates are of pearl? Is there a lake whose waves are liquid fire? The language is figurative. If figurative in one case, it is figurative in both.

But the figurative language of Scripture has been added to by the efforts of men who have tried to deter their fellow-men from vice by elaborating the horrors of hell. So we have been told of red-hot gridirons, attended by shrieking demons who have kept the gridirons well filled with broiling victims. We have heard of huge cauldrons full of boiling lead and brimstone, to be poured

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