This does not mean that God will be completely absent from hell. He is and will remain omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-8). To be separated from the Lord and cast into hell does not mean that a person will finally be free of God. That person will remain eternally accountable to Him. He will remain Lord over the person’s existence. But in hell, a person will be forever separated from God in His kindness, mercy, grace, and goodness. He will be consigned to deal with Him in His holy wrath.
To say that life eternal shall be endless, [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity.
If both [heaven and hell] are “eternal,” it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual. The phrases “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean: “Eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end.” Hence, because the eternal life of the saints will be endless, the eternal punishment also, for those condemned to it, will assuredly have no end.
To have God’s countenance not only turned from us, but turned against us, His eternal frown instead of His smile – this will be hell instead of heaven.
Now, because no description can deal adequately with the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked, their torments and tortures are figuratively expressed to us by physical things, that is, by darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12; 22:13), unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12; Mk. 9:43; Isa. 66:24), an undying worm gnawing at the heart (Isa. 66:24). By such expressions the Holy Spirit certainly intended to confound all our senses with dread.
Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.
When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, 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; you will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions and millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then you will have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.
The blessedness of Heaven is so glorious that when the saints arrive there they will look back upon their earthly pilgrimage, however wonderful their life in Christ was then, as a veritable Hell. Just as truly, on the other hand, will those who perish in Hell look back on the life in this world, however miserable it may have been, as veritable Heaven.
The tendency of modern times has been to take punishment out of eternity or eternity out of punishment.
[We must not let] hell, rather than God, becomes the object of fear (Mt. 10:28)… Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present… Hell is not ultimately about fire, but about God. Whatever the exact nature of the physical punishments, the real terror awaiting the unrepentant is God Himself and His inescapable presence forever with His face turned against them.
The fiery oven is ignited merely by the unbearable appearance of God and endures eternally. For the Day of Judgment will not last for a moment only but will stand throughout eternity and will thereafter never come to an end. Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven, that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation.
[It] will [not] be possible to transfer from one region to another. No matter how endless the ages, no matter how heartfelt the cries, no matter how intense the suffering, your travel plans are limited to your present abode. Those who find themselves in the lower gloomy regions shall never enter the gates that lead to endless light and ecstasy. They will discover that the beautiful words spoken in their eulogy bear no resemblance to the reality that now confronts them. If only their friends could see them now!
[In hell] perpetually burning lusts never subside, and the tortured conscience aches but is never sedated. There will be increased desire with decreased satisfaction. In Proverbs, we read of the insatiable desires of both the nether world and a man’s lusts: “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of a man ever satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20).
There’s no way to describe hell. Nothing on earth can compare with it. No living person can really comprehend it. No madman in the wildest flights of insanity ever beheld the borders of hell. No man in delirium’s ever pictured a place so utterly terrible. No nightmare racing across a fevered mind ever produced a terror to match that of the mildest hell. No murder scene with splattered blood and mutilated bodies could ever suggest the revulsion that one glimpse of hell could suggest; and our Lord saw that…and He was moved…to reach out to people.
Because aionios (“eternal”) modifies both punishment and life in Matthew 25:46, it stands to reason that the same quality and temporal connotations are in view. That is to say, however long the life extends is how long the punishment lasts; the durations are identical. It is grammatically unsuitable to drive a wedge between the two uses of the term eternal in Matthew 25:46, suggesting that one refers to endlessness (eternal) and the other to temporal limitation (aeonial)… Since it is clear to say that the eternal life is temporarily unlimited it follows that eternal punishment is also temporarily unlimited.
The sinner in hell does not become morally neutral upon his sentence to hell. We must not imagine the damned sinner displaying gospel repentance and longing for the presence of Christ. The damned indeed are longing for an escape from punishment, but they are not “new creations.” They do not, in hell, love the Lord their God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. Instead, they are now handed over to the full display of their natures apart from grace, natures that are satanic (John 8:44). Thus, the condemnation continues forever and ever and ever, with no end in view either for the sin or the punishment thereof.
Who can describe the miseries of a lost soul, when the door of the bottomless pit has closed upon it forever (David Harsha)?
Is the fire spoken of literal fire? It is an accepted law of language that a figure of speech is less intense than the reality. If “fire” is merely a figurative expression, it must stand for some great reality, and if the reality is more intense than the figure, what an awful thing the punishment symbolized by fire must be (William Evans).
All the language that strikes terror into our hearts – weeping and gnashing of teeth, outer darkness, the worm, the fire, gehenna, the great gulf fixed – is all directly taken from our Lord’s teaching. It is from Jesus Christ that we learn the doctrine of eternal punishment.
If we take literally the image of hell as fire, it clashes with the other images of hell, for example, hell as darkness, or hell as the wicked being cut to pieces (Mt. 24:51). Rather than giving us literal pictures of the fate of the wicked, God uses dreaded pictures from this world to present the terrible reality of hell in the next world. I stand with the majority of contemporary conservative scholars in understanding the biblical imagery of hell metaphorically rather than literally.
Such, in brief, is the portion awaiting the lost – eternal separation from the Fount of all goodness; everlasting punishment; torment of soul and body; endless existence in the Lake of Fire, in association with the vilest of the vile; every ray of hope excluded; utterly crushed and overwhelmed by the wrath of a sin-avenging God!
I must feel the truth that once I was as close to hell as I am to the chair I am sitting on – even closer. Its darkness, like vapor, had entered my soul and was luring me down. Its views were my views. I was a son of hell (Matt. 23:15), a child of the Devil (John 8:44) and of wrath (Eph. 2:3). I belonged to the viper’s brood (Matt. 3:7), without hope and without God (Eph. 2:12). I must believe that just as a rock climber, having slipped, hangs over the deadly cliff by his fingertips, so I once hung over hell and was a heartbeat away from eternal torment. I say it slowly, eternal torment!
So the meaning of away from the presence of the Lord does not mean that God is absent in every sense, but in those senses [His love which produces His pleasures forevermore/fullness of joy]. God will be terribly present in another sense. All reality continues to say: In Him we live and move and have our being. And it is still in hell that no one can hide from the Lord or escape the terrible countenance of His anger. So God’s power is present in hell as the One who sustains our being and the One who enforces justice and the One who maintains suffering. He is present in all the ways men do not want Him to be present and none of the ways that believers enjoy His presence.
As people listened to Jonathan Edwards preach in the eighteenth century, they were “urged to consider the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or a day, but for “millions and millions of ages,” at the end of which they would know that their torment was no nearer to an end than ever before, and that they would “never, ever be delivered.”
The whole extent of hell, the present suffering, the bitter recollection of the past, the hopeless prospect of the future, will never be thoroughly known except by those who go there.
Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell is eternal. It must be eternal, or words have no meaning at all. “Forever and ever,” “everlasting,” “unquenchable,” “never-dying” all these are expressions used about hell, and expressions that cannot be explained away. It must be eternal, or the very foundations of heaven are cast down. If hell has an end, heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall together. It must be eternal, or every doctrine of the gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no such great need of Christ’s making an atonement. And where is the warrant for saying that hell can ever change a heart, or make it fit for heaven? It must be eternal, or hell would cease to be hell altogether. Give a man hope, and he will bear anything. Grant a hope of deliverance, however distant, and hell is but a drop of water.
As long as a man is alive and out of hell, he cannot have any cause to complain.
You and I can never imagine all the depths of hell. Shut out from us by a black veil of darkness, we cannot tell the horrors of that dismal dungeon of lost souls. Happily, the wailings of the damned have never startled us, for a thousand tempests were but a maidens whisper, compared with one wail of a damned spirit. It is not possible for us to see the tortures of those souls who dwell eternally within an anguish that knows no alleviation. These eyes would become sightless balls of darkness if they were permitted for an instant to look into that ghastly shrine of torment. Hell is horrible, for we may say of it, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the horrors which God hath prepared for them that hate Him.
The hell of hells will be the thought that is forever. The soul sees written over its head, "You are damned forever." It hears howlings that are to be perpetual; it sees flames which are unquenchable; it knows pains that are unmitigated.
If there be one thing in hell worse than another, it will be seeing the saints in heaven… Husband, there is your wife in heaven and you are among the damned. And do you see your father? Your child is before the throne, and you accursed of God and man are in hell.
Now, do not begin telling me that that is metaphorical fire: who cares for that? If a man were to threaten to give me a metaphorical blow on the head, I should care very little about it; he would be welcome to give me as many as he pleased. And what say the wicked? “We do not care about metaphorical fires.” But they are real, sir – yes, as real as yourself. There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have now a real body.
The problem here is the obvious lack of understanding of the infinite nature of sin as contrasted to the infinite righteousness of God. If the slightest sin is infinite in its significance, then it also demands infinite punishment as a divine judgment. Though it is common for all Christians to wish that there were some way out of the doctrine of eternal punishment because of its inexorable and unyielding revelation of divine judgment, one must rely in Christian faith on the doctrine that God is a God of infinite righteousness and well as infinite love. While on the one hand He bestows infinite grace to those who trust Him, He must, on the other hand, inflict eternal punishment on those who spurn His grace.
One is faced with the fact that the only place one can prove absolutely that God is a God of love and grace is from Scripture. If one accepts the doctrine of God’s love and grace as revealed in the Bible, how can that person question, then, that the same Bible teaches eternal punishment?
Scripture never challenges the concept that eternal punishment is by literal fire. Objections have to be on philosophic or theological grounds rather than on an exegetical one.
Eternity is a sea without bottom and banks. After millions of years, there is not one minute in eternity wasted; and the damned must be ever burning, but never consuming, always dying, but never dead. The fire of hell is such, as multitudes of tears will not quench it, length of time will not finish it; the vial of God’s wrath will always be dropping upon a sinner. As long as God is eternal, He lives to be avenged upon the wicked. Oh eternity! Eternity! Who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity? The breath of the Lord kindles the infernal lake (Isa 30:33), and where shall we have engines or buckets to quench that fire? O eternity! If all the body of the earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away! Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word “Forever” breaks the heart. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.” What a terror is this to the wicked, enough to put them into a cold sweat, to think, as long as God is eternal, He lives forever to be avenged upon them!
The wicked in hell shall be always dying but never dead. The smoke of the furnace ascends forever and ever. Oh, who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? The word “ever” breaks the heart.
Hell is full of the Divine holiness; holiness in the manifestation of justice; holiness in its most glorious exercise. How fearfully are the lost now learning this truth! Think it not a trifling matter, unconverted reader, to look into the bottomless pit, and to know that there is but a step and you are there! You walk to the end of the treacherous plank, and you are gone! O solemn thought! but one step between you and the quenchless flame! but one step between you and endless torment! Throughout eternity the lost soul will be testifying to this truth: “God is holy; I was a sinner; I rejected His salvation, I turned my back upon His gospel, I despised His Son, I hated God Himself, I lived in my sins, I loved my sins, I died in my sins, and now I am lost! to all eternity lost! And God is righteous in my condemnation!”