« PreviousContinue »
thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is 'betier for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark ix. 43—48.) Life, in this passage, signifies gospel faith and enjo nt; " he that hath the Son hath life;" it cannot mean a future life of bliss, for persons do not pass to a state of heavenly felicity, with their bodies maimed and mutilated. Nothing can be more ridiculous than the referring such texts to a future world! Do the wicked go to hell whole and sound in health and limb, whilst the righteous go to heaven in a crippled state ? I suppose that Gehenna, in this passage, is accommodated to express whatever of evil and misery were incurred by a rejection of the Savior. In my remarks on the 25th chapter of Matthew, I alluded to the nature of these sufferings.
Be it borne in mind, that this was a place of most disgustful notoriety throughout Judea, and had been for many centuries. The Jews were as familiar with its name as we are with the term penitentiary; and the word Gehenna was as certainly associated in their minds with the idea of the loathsome valley of Hinnom, as the term penitentiary is in ours with that of a place of penal confinement. Now this being the case, as the learned will admit, do you think it probable, reader, that Christ would use this word with reference to the invisible state, without apprising his hearers, in express terms, that he did so use it, and not according to its common signification ? Suppose a preacher, in our day, were to threaten his hearers with a severe punishment in the penitentiary in case of impenitence, would they be likely to understand him as referring to an endless hell ? Yet there is actually as much of a relation to eternity in this threatening as in that of being punished in Gehenna.
Perhaps we shall better understand the meaning of Christ's allusion to Gehenna, when addressing the rejecters of his gospel, if we aitentively consider the following passage. “ And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, lo burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called 'Tophet, nor 'The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of Slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place. And the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth ; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause 10 cease froin the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridgroom, and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be desolate.” (Jer. vii. 3131.) This prediction had not yet received its accomplishment, but its fulfilment was nigh at hand; it was fearfully impending. Christ told the Pharisees, “ These be the days of vengeance, in which all things written in the prophets shall be fulfilled;" and that the blood of the martyrs shed in past ages, should be visited on that generation; hence he asks them, “ How can ye escape the dai.nation of Gehenna ?” (Matt. xxiii. 33.) It is manifest, from the nature of this prediction, that it looked forward to the great national judgment on the Jewish people, when they were driven from their country, and cut off from all their former distinguished privileges. Josephus informs us that nearly half a million of them were slaughtered in Jerusalem alone, and that their carcasses were cast out into Gahenna, or the valley of Hinnom.
But some people think that the phrase "shall not be quenched," must refer 10 something absolutely eternal, “ for, if not quenched (say they) it must burn unceasingly.” This does not necessarily follow, however; a fire cannot be said to be quenched which expires of itself, for want of combustible matter to support it; and we have reason to believe that this was the case with the fire of Gehenna, for Isaiah has explicitly recorded that such was Jehovah's determination. “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shal! go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me : for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched ; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” (Isa. Ixvi. 23, 24.) Sabbaths, new moons, flesh, and car. casses, have no relation to eternity. This text must therefore refer to a circumstance of time. The same, no doubt, to which Christ alludes, viz: The unquenched fire and ever-breeding worms of the valley of Hinnom. The phrase "shall not be quenched,” occurs in several other places in the scripture, in such connexion as leaves no room for doubt as to the limited duration of the judgment it ex.
presses. “ Then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” (Jer. xvii. 27.) “ Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beasi, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground, and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.” (Jer. vii. 20.) It is hoped that those who contend for ceaseless suffering on the strength of this expressior, will not include among the subjects of that suffering, gales, palaces, beasts, trees, and fruits of the ground! They should at least limnit their tender mercies to the subjects of sensation ! See to the same effect, Ezek. xx. 47, 48.
“ And say to ihe forest of the south, Hear the word of the Lord : Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree : the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.” In the following passage concerning the destruction of Idumea, this phrase occurs in a forin much stronger than in Mark. " And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste ; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” (Isa. xxxiv. 9, 10.) It will be apparent to the candid reader, from these passages, that the phrase shall not be quenched, in its scriptural applications, is not to be understood as implying that the fire is to burn to eternity, nor even that it is expressive of suffering beyond the present life. The Jews were so accustomed to these expressions in their sacred writings, where they invariably refer to circumstances of time, that they were in no danger of being misled with regard to their meaning as employed by the Savior.
When Christ sent his disciples out to preach, he gave them the following caution : “ And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. X. 28.) “And I say unto you, my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do: but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear him, which after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him." (Luke xii. 4, 5.)
It is usually supposed that Gehenna must here imply a hell beyond the grave, because the destruction of the soul, as well as the body, is threatened. But there are two facts in the way of this position; the first is, that the word (psuche) rendered soul in this place, more properly signifies the animal life, and is so rendered in numerous instances. This criticism, the correctness of which will not be disputed, removes the ground of the supposition at once. The second fact is, that the body; which those whom they were told not to fear had the power to kill, is not liable to destruction in a hell beyond the grave, but returns to the dust of the earth from whence it originated. How then can Gehenna, in this instance, imply a place of torment in a future state? Il cannot. We must, therefore, seek a more consistent explanation of this passage than that which is usually given.
Some think that the allusion here is to the Roman authority, personified, which had power, after killing the body, to deny it burial, and cast it into Gehenna; or to destroy the life and the body together in Gehenna, by burning alive, which was a mode of punishment practiced in that day on the highest class of offenders. If such was indeed the Savior's allusion, the following paraphrase may well convey the sense of the passage. “I say unto you, my disciples, (for they are the party addressed,) that so long as you are faithful to the objects of the mission on which I now send you, you have nothing to fear from your persecutors, for not a hair of your heads shall perish unpermitted of your Father in heaven. Entertain no fears, therefore, in regard to them : at the most, they can but kill the body. You will in that case die a martyred and honored death ; but even this shall not befall you, except by your heavenly Father's permission for your good. Beware, however, that you run noi into unlawful excesses; presume not on the divine protection, if you should wantonly transgress the laws of the land, but apprehend the fearful award of the civil magistrate, who, after killing the body, has power to cast it into Gehenna, or (by dooming you to be burnt alive) to destroy the life and body together, in that loathsome place.” Peter uses a caution of similar impcrt, to those whom he addresses in his epistles. « Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial
which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you : on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” (1. Peter iv. 12–16.) Others again think that Jehovah is alluded to as the object to be feared, not on the ground of his ability to destroy in a hell beyond the grave, (for Gehenna, in that day, was not received in any such sense, but in reference to his power to involve them in a common destruction with that portion of their countrymen who should obstinately reject the gospel. To me this seems the most probable construction of the text; for Gehenna was associated in the minds of Jews with every thing horrid, loathsome, and abominable. Christ tells the Pharisees that they made their converts "two-fold more the children of Gehenna than themselves;” and James, speaking of the tongue, says, “it is set on fire of Gehenna.” Should we be at a loss to understand a person who should say, that the converts made to such and such principles were made the children of the penitentiary? The meaning, I think, would be sufficiently obvious to us ; we should understand it to imply, that they had become fitted, by the evil principles they had imbibed, for such practices as might subject them to the penitentiary. Well, then, as before observed, Gehenna was a place of as great and of as odious notoriety, in that day, as is the prison, or penitentiary in ours; for the former was not only a receptacle for the unburied carcasses of criminals, and the filth and offals from the vast and over-populated city of Jerusalem, but it was also a place of criminal execution. The Jews, it is well known, held themselves polluted if they came in contact with a dead body, and it may well be conceived, therefore, what a horror they entertained in regard to so nauseous and loathsome a place as by all accounts the valley of Hinnom was.
It is worthy of remark, that neither Christ nor his apostles ever used the word Gehenna except when addressing Jews : to Gentiles the reference would have been unintelligible. Paul,