Love Portrayed as Cruelty
The declaration of the serpent to Eve in Eden—"Ye shall not surely die"—was the first sermon ever preached upon the immortality of the soul. After the Fall, Satan bade his angels make a special effort to inculcate the belief in man's natural immortality; they were to lead them on to conclude that the sinner would live in eternal misery. How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented in an eternally burning hell; that for the sins of a brief earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" Ezek. 33:11.
When we consider in what false colors Satan has painted the character of God, can we wonder that our merciful Creator is feared, dreaded, and even hated? The religion of the Bible, full of love and goodness, and abounding in compassion, is darkened by superstition and clothed with terror. Thus millions have become skeptics and infidels.
Love Portrayed as Permissive
A large class to whom the doctrine of eternal torment is revolting are driven to the opposite error. They see that the Scriptures represent God as a being of love and compassion, and they cannot believe that He will consign His creatures to the fires of an eternally burning hell. But holding that the soul is naturally immortal, they see no alternative but to conclude that all mankind will finally be saved. Such a doctrine, presuming upon God's mercy, but ignoring His justice, pleases the carnal heart and emboldens the wicked. Many have been led by this belief to put an end to their existence. When overwhelmed with trouble, perplexity, and disappointment, it seems an easy thing to break the brittle thread of life and soar away into the bliss of the eternal world.
God has given in His word decisive evidence that He will punish the transgressors of His law. Those who flatter themselves that He is too merciful to execute justice upon the sinner, have only to look to the cross of Calvary. The death of the spotless Son of God testifies that "the wages of sin is death," that every violation of God's law must receive its just retribution. Christ the sinless bore the guilt of transgression, and the hiding of His Father's face, until His heart was broken and His life crushed out. All this sacrifice was made that sinners might be redeemed. Every soul that refuses to become a partaker of the atonement provided at such a cost must bear in his own person the guilt and punishment of transgression. "All the wicked will He destroy." Ps. 145:20. "The Lord God, merciful and gracious. long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty;" Ex. 34:6,7.
Love Revealed in Justice
God does not force the will or judgment of any. He takes no pleasure in a slavish obedience. He desires that the creatures of His hands shall love and obey Him because they have an intelligent appreciation of His wisdom, justice, and benevolence.
Could those whose lives have been spent in rebellion against God go to heaven and witness the holy state of perfection that ever exists there—every soul filled with love, every countenance beaming with joy, enrapturing music in melodious strains rising in honor of God and the Lamb, and ceaseless streams of light flowing upon the redeemed from the face of Him who sitteth upon the throne—could those whose hearts are filled with hatred of God, mingle with the heavenly throng and join their songs of praise? Could they endure the glory of God and the Lamb? No! No! Its purity, holiness, and peace would be torture to them. They would long to flee from that holy place. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. Their exclusion from heaven is voluntary, just, and merciful. In mercy to the universe God will finally destroy the rejecters of His grace.
"The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 6:23. The death referred to is "the second death" that is placed in contrast with everlasting life. In consequence of Adam's sin, death passed upon the whole human race. All alike go down into the grave. And through the provisions of the plan of salvation, all are to be brought forth from their graves. "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Acts 24:15.
But a distinction is made between the two classes that are brought forth. "All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 5:28, 29. They who have been "accounted worthy" of the resurrection of life are "blessed and holy." "On such the second death hath no power." Rev. 20:6. But those who have not, through repentance and faith, secured pardon, must receive the penalty of transgression, "the wages of sin." They "shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up," Mal. 4:1. They suffer punishment varying in duration and intensity. "according to their works," but finally ending in the second death. "Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be." "They shall be as though they had not been." Ps. 37:10; Obad. 16.
The whole universe will have become witnesses to the nature and results of sin. And its utter extermination, which in the beginning would have brought fear to angels and dishonor to God, will now vindicate His love and establish His honor before the universe.
Thus will be made an end of sin, with all the woe and ruin which have resulted from it. John, in Revelation, looking forward to the eternal state, hears a universal anthem of praise, undisturbed by one note of discord. Every creature in heaven and earth was heard ascribing glory to God. See Rev. 5:13. There will then be no lost souls to blaspheme God as they writhe in never ending torment; no wretched beings in hell will mingle their shrieks with the songs of the saved.