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I have now given a summary view of what I think the prophet meant by these words. If just, it must be allowed that the passage has no reference to a place of punishment in a future state, but to the temporal miseries of the Jews. It is easily seen, then, that as face answereth to face in a glass, so does this passage to all the others we have considered. Yea, may I not with some confidence affirm, that it strongly confirms the views I have advanced about Genenna? Is it then dealing fairly by our Saviour's words in this passage to say, that when he quoted them from the prophet, he changed the meaning of them from temporal punishment to that of eternal misery? I ask, is this at all probable, or is this the usual mode of our Lord and his apostles, to put such a different sense on the passages which they quote from the Old Testament? No honest minded man, who has ever read the New Testament with attention, will assert that this is their practice. But allowing the disciples acquainted with the words of the prophet, as no doubt they were, and supposing them to understand them as I have done, it is obvious that nothing could be said more suitable to the disciples. It was indeed profitable for them 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; or, in plain language, to perish with the rest of the Jews, in the destruction that was to come on them in that generation.
But it is likely to be said, by way of objectionHow, with any consistency, can it be said that this punishment of the Jews was to be a fire that shall never be quenched, and in the preceding text is expressly called "everlasting fire ?" To this I shall now pay attention. As this mode of speaking, or rather as these modes of speaking, may be considered as unfavourable to my views, I shall give them all due attention.
I approach this part of the passage with great satisfaction, because what is considered the most weighty objection against my views, will, upon examination, be found the strongest confirmation of them. If i cannot show that this very temporal punishment of the Jews, to which I have referred hell or Gehenna, is called everlasting fire, or punishment; or a fire that shall never be quenched, then let all I have said fall to the ground. When it is said, however, to be everlasting, or a fire that shall never be quenched, I mean that these expressions be understood by us in the sense in which they are used in the Old Testament, and understood by the Jews. All I ask is, that the Scriptures be admitted as the interpreter of the meaning and extent of this language. This no reasonable man will certainly be disposed to deny me. This preliminary then being mutually understood and agreed on, I proceed.
It has been shown above, that the word fire, is a figurative mode of expressing punishment. This we think has been proved by an appeal to the Scriptures, which will not be gainsayed. AH I have then to do here, is to show that when the word everlasting, or perpetual is applied to the word fire, or punishment; or when a fire that shall never be quenched, is spoken of, in reference to the Jews, endless duration is not meant. Let us then attend to the Scriptures respecting this. In Isai. i. 31. we read of a fire that "none shall quench." In the same book, chap. xxxiv. 8-11. we read of a fire that "shall not be quenched, night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever." We hardly think any sensible person who ever read these passages, ever supposed that the fire mentioned was to be of endless duration. In the last, the forever mentioned, is explained by the prophet thus," from generation to generation it shall lie waste." But what we are chiefly concerned with, is
this; are the Jews ever threatened with everlasting fire or punishment, or with a fire that shall never be quenched? That they are, is too obvious from the following texts to be denied. Thus in Jer. vii. 20. it is said" thus saith the Lord God; behold my anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground: and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched." I would only observe on this passage, that here is a fire that shall not be quenched mentioned, it is threatened to the Jews, and it is introduced in the very same chapter in which we have seen that this prophet made tophet, or Gehenna, an emblem of the temporal punishment, which God was to inflict on this people. But again; I quote Jer. xvii. 27." But if ye will not hearken unto me, to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." No one can doubt, that this also was spoken of the Jews, and of temporal punishment. Any one who wishes to see similar language in other passages may consult the following places. See Jer. iv. 4. and xxi. 12. and Ezek. xx. 47, 48. It is put beyond all doubt, that in the above quoted texts, punishment is threatened the Jews under the figure of a fire that shall not be quenched. That this punishment referred to the punishment inflicted on the Jews in the destruction of their city and temple, there can be as little doubt. But I ask-did any man in his senses ever think, in reading the above passages, that this punishment extended to a future state, and was of eternal duration? No; I presume the most simple and ignorant person that ever read the Bible, never put such a construction upon them. Well, give me leave to ask, why the very same or similar language used by our Lord,
should be thought to mean punishment of endless duration?
But perhaps it may be objected, that in all these texts, nothing is said about an "everlasting fire." I do not affirm that there is; but it has been observed above, and the correctness of the remark will not be disputed, that "everlasting fire," and "the fire that never shall be quenched," mean precisely the same thing. But I am desirous that every objection should be removed, and shall now introduce the following passages. In Isai. xxxiii. 14. it is said; "the sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" I am aware, that this passage is often quoted to prove the everlasting duration of future punishment, but in opposition to the scope of the context. All who candidly examine it, I think must see, that the everlasting burnings mentioned, refer not to punishment in a future state, but to temporal punishment. As such a different view has been taken of this text by some, it will be necessary for me to point out the meaning of the prophet, and show, that it refers to the temporal punishment of the Jews, or the damnation of Gehenna. This I shall do as briefly as possible.
1st, By considering the scope of the preceding chapter, in connexion with the one in which these words are found, the gospel dispensation, or the days of the Messiah are referred to. See the context.
2d, In the passage it is sufficiently manifest, that the Jews and the hypocritical, wicked Jews are the persons spoken of in it. They are termed sinners, and sinners in Zion, and hypocrites. This forcibly calls to mind the expressions so often used by our Lord Matth. xxiii."wo unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites." Let it be noticed, that what is called
sinners in Zion in the first part of the sentence, according to the Jewish parallelism, is termed hypocrites in the second; and their being afraid, in the first, answers to fearfulness seizing them, in the last. No doubt can be entertained that of the Jews the prophet was speaking.
3d, Let us consider what kind of punishment the prophet, in this passage, is speaking about? It is not doubted that he does speak of punishment, for it is here alleged that he is speaking of future eternal punishment. But from what in the passage is this learned? It is learned, we presume, by those who take this view of the text, 1st, From the words fire and burnings being used. But we have shown above, that the word fire, is only a figure used in Scripture to describe temporal punishment, and is used to describe the temporal vengeance which came on the Jews, at the destruction. of their city and temple. This we think is placed beyond all fair debate. 2d, We presume eternal misery is supposed to be taught in this pas sage also, from the word everlasting being applied to the word burnings. But that the word everlasting is applied to temporal punishment, and to this very temporal punishment of the Jews, is also beyond a doubt.. This has been partly seen already, and we shall see it plainly stated in the next passage. When in the passage before us it is said, "who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" It is just expressing, under another figure, what is expressed in the following texts: "how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" "who hath warned you to flee from the impending vengeance or wrath to come?" That both referred to the same period we think may be seen from the context. See verses 11, 12, 18, 19. Something, then, must be discovered in this text more than the words fire, burnings, and everlasting, to prove that eternal