Scripture use of the words "death" and "destruction."
The opinion of the annihilation of the wicked, which has at different times been held by some, as a refuge from the doctrine of never-ending punishment, is not only opposed to the whole analogy of our regeneration, which shews how death and judgment are the only way of life and deliverance for a fallen creature, but also so directly contradicts what is said of "death" in Scripture, that it is difficult to conceive how it could ever have been accepted by believers. Even before the reason of the Cross is seen, the very letter of Scripture, one might have thought, would have kept men from concluding that the "death," "destruction," and "perishing," of the wicked means their non-existence or annihilation. For what is "death"? What is "destruction"? How are these words invariably used in Holy Scripture?
First, as to "death," are any of the varied deaths, which Scripture speaks of as incident to man, his non-existence or annihilation? Take as examples the deaths referred to by St. Paul, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. We read, (Rom. 6:7,) "He that is dead is freed from sin." Is this "death," which is freedom from sin, non-existence or annihilation? Again, where the Apostle says, (Rom. 7:9,) "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,"—was this "death," wrought in him by the law, annihilation? Again, where he says, (Rom. 8:6,) "To be carnally minded is death," is this death non-existence or annihilation? And again, when he says, (Rom. 8:38,) "Neither death nor life shall separate us," is the "death" here referred to annihilation? When Adam died on the day he sinned, (Gen. 2:17,) was this annihilation? When his body died, and turned to dust, (Gen. 5:5,) was this annihilation? Is our "death in trespasses and sins," (Eph. 2:1-2,) annihilation? Is our "death to sin," (Rom. 6:11,) annihilation? When the "corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies," (John 12:24,) is it annihilated; or is St. Paul right in saying, (1 Cor. 15:37,) "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die?" Do not these and similar uses of the word prove beyond all question, that whatever else these deaths may be, not one of them is non-existence or annihilation? On what grounds, I ask, are we to assign a sense to this particular death which confessedly the word "death" has not and cannot have elsewhere? Where is the proof that there is and can be no resurrection from the second death?
The truth is, death for man is simply an end to, and separation from, some given form of life which he has lived in. Death to God is separation from His world of light, by the destruction, through the lie of the serpent, of the divine life of light and love in us. Death to sin, the exact converse of this, is the separation from the world of darkness, by the destruction, through the truth, of the dark life of unbelief and self-love. The death wrought by the law is the end of, and separation from, our fallen carnal life of self-sufficiency; while what is commonly called death, namely the death of the body, is simply our separation from the outward world, in which we live, as partakers of its outward life, while we are in the body. Once let us see that there are three worlds, each having its own life,—a light world, a dark world, and this outward seen world,—and then what is said in Scripture of the new birth, or of the varied deaths we pass through, becomes at once self-evident. For the only way into any world is by a birth into it, even as the only way out of any world is by a death to it. We have by sin died to God's light-world, to fall into and live in a spirit-world of darkness. We must by the truth, that is by Christ, die to this dark spirit-world, to return to live in God's light-world. The outward birth and death of the body, and its life, have only to do with the outward seen world.
For this reason it is that the word "destruction," as used in Scripture, never means annihilation. Take for instance the words of the 90th Psalm, "Thou turnest man to destruction: again Thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men." Can "destruction" here be annihilation? Is it not rather that dissolution which must take place if fallen creatures are ever to be brought back perfectly to God's kingdom. So, again, Job says, (Job 19:10,) "He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone"; and again, (Job 9:22,) "This one thing I said, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked." But does he mean to say that he is brought to non-existence, or that the "perfect" will be so destroyed that they will exist no longer? So, again, St. Peter says, (2 Pet. 3:6,) "The world that then was perished." So, again, of the present heavens and earth it is said, (Heb. 1:11-12,) "They shall perish, . . . and be changed." So, again, both of Israel and Jerusalem it is said, (Deut. 30:18; Jer. 12:17; 15:6;) that they shall be "destroyed" and "perish." But does any one suppose that therefore they will be annihilated? So, again, as to the expression, "them that perish," sometimes translated "the lost"; (see 2 Cor. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15;) do we not know that these "lost," though they "perish," still exist, and exist both as "lost" ones and as "saved" ones, as text on text will testify abundantly. So as to the righteous, in the well-known passage of Isaiah; (Isa. 57:1;) "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart";—is this "perishing" non-existence? So, again, where we read, in Psalm 83:16-18, "Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord: let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame and perish; that men" (literally "they," for the word "men" is not in the Original,) "may know that Thou, whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth;"—men are to be "confounded for ever and perish, that they may know Jehovah." So as to the question, "Wilt Thou shew wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise Thee? Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in destruction?"—is the true answer, Yes, or No? Is not the "losing" or "destruction" of our fallen life the only way to a better one? Does not our Lord Himself say more than once, (Matt. 10:39; 16:25; John 12:25;) that the way to "save our life," or "soul," is to "lose it," or "have it destroyed," in its fallen form, that it may be re-created?
These last words should of themselves settle this question, for in one place, (Matt. 10:39,) they occur in immediate connexion (see Matt. 10:28,) with those other well-known words, as to "fearing him who can destroy both body and soul in hell," which are constantly quoted by some to prove, as they think, that "destruction" must be non-existence. And yet, in the very closest connexion with these words, our Lord repeats this self-same word, "destroy," (in our Authorized Version translated "lose"—it is the word ἀπόλλυμι, on which some build so much,) to express that death and dissolution of the soul, which, so far from bringing it to non-existence, is the appointed way to save it. Christ saves it, as we have seen, by death; for being fallen into sin, what is needed is "that the body of sin should be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:6.) The elect, that is the first-fruits, are the living proof of this. A "new man" is created in them, and the "old man" dies and is destroyed, while yet he in whom all this is done remains through all the same person. It may be, and is, a riddle, like "dying, and behold we live: having nothing, and yet possessing all things"; yet it is only the riddle of the Cross, that "by death God destroys him that has the power of death." Therefore, though destruction, like death, may be, and is, a ceasing from some particular form of life which has been lived in by man, yet it is never non-existence absolutely; rather it is the means to bring the fallen creature into a new life, a chaos being ever the necessary condition for a new creation.
As for the argument, founded by some on the word ἀπόλλυμι, that because it is one of the strongest in the Greek language to express destruction, therefore that destruction must be irremediable, the simple answer is, that the question is not whether the destruction is great, but whether God is not still greater, and therefore whether He is not able even out of the destruction to bring forth better things. This at least is certain, that both in the New Testament and in Classical Greek, the word in question is used of those who though "destroyed" are yet "saved." To the passages already quoted from the New Testament I will only add one more:—"The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost:" (σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός: Luke 19:10.) As an example of the Classical use of the word, I give the following from one of the Greek poets, (quoted by Justin Martyr, De Monarchia, cap. 3; and by Clement of Alexandra, Strom. lib. v. cap. 14,) bearing on this very question of the restoration of the lost:—Καὶ γὰρ καθ᾽ ἅδην δύο τρίβους νομίζομεν,
Μίαν δικαίων, χἁτέραν ἀδίκων ὁδὸν.
Κἄπειτα σώσει πάνθ᾽ ἂ πρόσθ᾽ ἀπώλεσεν.
And the New Testament use of the word σώζω proves that it describes, not so much preservation from future or threatened judgment, (in which case τηρέω would be used, as in John 17:15, Rev. 3:10, Jude 1, 1 Thess. 5:23, &c.) but rather deliverance out of some present and oppressing evil. So we read, (Matt. 9:21-22,) "And the woman said within herself, if I may but touch His garment, σωθήσομαι, I shall be made whole," that is restored to health; "and the woman ἐσώθη, was made whole," that is restored to health, "from that hour." So again, (Mark 5:23,) "And Jairus besought Him greatly, saying, I pray Thee, lay Thy hands upon her, ὅπως σωθῇ, that she may be healed." So too, (Mark 6:56,) "And as many as touched Him, ἐσώζοντο, were made whole." So too, in reference to Lazarus, (John 11:12,) "Lord, if he sleep, σωθήσεται, he shall do well," that is, he shall be restored to health. See also Luke 8:36; 18:42; Acts 4:9; James 5:15; &c. See also what is said of our Lord, (Heb. 5:7,) that "in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers unto Him that was able to save Him from death," σώζειν αὐτὸν ἐκ θανάτου, (literally "out of death,") "He was heard in that He feared." But He was not preserved from death, but delivered out of it. Our salvation also, like our Lord's, for we are His members, is not from death, but by it, and out of it.
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