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The Denial of Jesus’ Teaching on Hell

Category Articles
Date May 25, 2007

A recent number of a religious journal contained an article upon endless suffering by one who calls himself an ‘Orthodox Disbeliever’ which is deserving of some remark, because it probably expresses the sentiments of a certain class which though not large may be increasing.

The writer describes himself as expecting to enter the orthodox ministry, and as having begun a theological course. He found ‘to his surprise’ that he was not orthodox on the subject of endless punishment. He says<

With sorrow I turned aside from the ministry, to the great regret of many friends, few of whom knew the reason. I feared I could not safely and honestly pass the ordeal of an examining council. If my disbelief had begun two or three years later, I should probably have been in the ministry, and should now be preaching future punishment [not endless punishment] without emphasis of details, the more earnestly on account of the severe mental conflict. I retain my standing in an orthodox church, keeping my views to myself.

This is a frank confession of a want of frankness. Had this ‘Orthodox Disbeliever’ openly said to his friends, ‘I cannot become an evangelical minister because there is one doctrine held by the evangelical churches which I do not hold,’ he would have been honoured for his fair dealing. Had he said to the orthodox church to which he belongs, ‘I do not believe that any human souls will be finally lost,’ his ingenuousness would have deserved and received a candid and Christian treatment by those directly concerned. But as the case now stands, he is not entitled to the credit that belongs to simplicity and godly sincerity.

The latter fault is greater than the former. Perhaps he was not morally bound to assign the reason why he did not enter upon the preparation for the ministry. As he did not enter the ministry, he does not sail under false colors in this respect. But surely he is morally bound not to continue in his present church connections, while holding a tenet which the orthodox church regards as fatal error. At the very least, he is obligated to inform his fellow-members what his views are, and throw the responsibility of action upon them. As it now stands, he is assuming the responsibility himself, and is pretending to be what he is not.

This acknowledgment of a secret disbelief of one of the fundamental truths of Christianity while there is a public profession of belief in it, is very suggestive. It is valuable as a warning. The moral character of an individual rapidly deteriorates when he allows in himself any intellectual duplicity. If a man becomes a Universalist, and joins a Universalist society, though in the judgment of the orthodox he adopts a deadly error, he is yet an honest man. His sincerity is worthy of respect by the orthodox, and he can respect himself so far as this trait is concerned. But if a man becomes a Universalist and pretends still to be an evangelical believer, he must hold down his head in shame whenever he thinks of the part he is acting. Not only does he experience in his moral and religious character all the evil influence of the doctrinal error which he has adopted, but also all the demoralizing effects of insincerity and deception.

The writer of the article alluded to describes the mental perplexity and anguish which the doctrine of endless suffering has produced in his mind, and says that he stays in the orthodox church because he is thoroughly orthodox in every other respect, and wishes to throw his influence on the side of the evangelical faith as a whole. Here we have an illustration of the confusion of mind that naturally accompanies the want of entire openness and sincerity. This writer thinks that he can be thoroughly orthodox in respect to the atonement of Christ, while asserting that the suffering from which it saves is only limited and transient; that he can have an evangelical hatred of sin while denying that it is eternally damnable; that he can receive all the teachings of Jesus Christ as infallible truth, and yet doubt the word of the Lord when he says, after a full and solemn delineation of the day of judgment and of his own office of judge, that those upon his left hand ‘shall go away into everlasting punishment.’

We have no time or space to present the Scripture proof for the doctrine of endless punishment.1 It is very probable that we could not by writing a volume convert the ‘Orthodox Disbeliever.’ But surely it cannot require much argument to prove that his present position is a false one. If his disbelief in endless punishment is right and proper, if the truth is really with him, he ought not to be where he is. He is in the wrong parish, and in the wrong pew. He ought to be opposing what he thinks to be error. He is now giving countenance to the doctrine of endless punishment. Belonging to an orthodox church and reciting an orthodox creed, all the weight of his influence goes to maintaining a tenet which he says compelled Mrs. Marvyn, in The Minister’s Wooing, to say ‘There must be a mistake somewhere.’

Notes

  1. The Banner of Truth has published Shedd’s The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (out of print). See also Chapter 15 ‘The Doctrine of Endless Punishment’ in Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future.

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        A recent number of a religious journal contained an article upon endless suffering by one who calls himself an ‘Orthodox Disbeliever’ which is deserving of some remark, because it probably expresses the sentiments of a certain class which though not large may be increasing. The writer describes himself as expecting to enter the orthodox ministry, […]

Taken from Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, A Miscellany of Articles on Theology and Ethics by W. G. T. Shedd, reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books, where the article is entitled ‘Orthodox Disbelief.’

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