on Matthew 25 :46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment - No appeal, no remedy, to all eternity! No end to the punishment of those whose final impenitence manifests in them an eternal will and desire to sin. By dying in a settled opposition to God, they cast themselves into a necessity of continuing in an eternal aversion from him.
But some are of opinion that this punishment shall have an end: this is as likely as that the glory of the righteous shall have an end: for the same word is used to express the duration of the punishment, κολασιν αιωνιον, as is used to express the duration of the state of glory: ζωην αιωνιον. I have seen the best things that have been written in favor of the final redemption of damned spirits; but I never saw an answer to the argument against that doctrine, drawn from this verse, but what sound learning and criticism should be ashamed to acknowledge. The original word αιων is certainly to be taken here in its proper grammatical sense, continued being, αιειων, Never Ending. Some have gone a middle way, and think that the wicked shall be annihilated. This, I think, is contrary to the text; if they go into punishment, they continue to exist; for that which ceases to be, ceases to suffer. See the note on Genesis 21:33, where the whole subject is explained.
A very good improvement of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins is made by Salvian, a very pious writer of the fifth century, (Epist. ad. Ecclus. Cath. lib. ii)., the substance of which, in Mr. Bulkley's translation, is as follows: -
Ego unum scio, etc. "One thing I know, that the lamps of the foolish virgins are said to have gone out for want of the oil of good works; but thou, whoever thou art, thinkest that thou hast oil in abundance, and so did they; for, if they had not believed themselves to have had it, they would have provided themselves with it; for since afterwards, as the Lord says, they would gladly have borrowed, and sought it so eagerly, no doubt they would have done so before, had they not been deceived by the confidence of having it. Thou thinkest thyself wise, and these did not imagine themselves to be foolish: thou thinkest that thy lamp has light, and they lost their light because they thought they should have it. For why did they prepare their lamps if they did not think they should be lighted? In a word, their lamps, I suppose, must have afforded some degree of light; for since we read of their being afraid that their lamps should go out, they certainly had something which they feared would be extinguished. Nor was it a groundless fear; their lamps did go out, and that pure light of virginity which appeared profited them nothing, for want of a supply of oil. From whence we understand that what is but a little, is in a manner nothing. You have therefore need of a lamp plentifully filled, that your light may be lasting. And if those which we light up here for a short time so soon fail, unless copiously supplied with oil, how much must thou stand in need of that thy lamp may shine to eternity?"
This writer was a priest of Marseilles, in 430. He bewailed the profligacy of his times so much, and so pathetically, that he has been styled the Jeremiah of the fifth century. Were he still upon earth, he would find equal reason to deplore the wickedness and carelessness of mankind.
From what our Lord has here said, we may see that God indispensably requires of every man to bring forth good fruit; and that a fruitless tree shall be inevitably cut down, and cast into the fire. Let it be also remarked that God does not here impute to his own children the good works which Jesus Christ did for them. No! Christ's feeding the multitudes in Judea will not be imputed to them, while persons in their own neighborhood are perishing through want, and they have wherewithal to relieve them. He gives them a power that they may glorify his name by it and have, in their own souls, the continued satisfaction which arises from succouring the distressed. Let it be farther remarked, that Christ does not say here that they have purchased the eternal life by these good deeds. No! for the power to work, and the means of working, came both from God. They first had redemption through his blood, and then his Spirit worked in them to will and to do. They were therefore only workers together with him, and could not be said, in any sense of the word, to purchase God's glory, with his own property. But though God works in them, and by them, he does not obey for them. The works of piety and mercy They perform, under the influence and by the aid of his grace. Thus God preserves the freedom of the human soul, and secures his own glory at the same time. Let it be remarked, farther, that the punishment inflicted on the foolish virgins, the slothful servant, and the cursed who are separated from God, was not because of their personal crimes; but because they were not good, and were not useful in the world. Their lives do not appear to have been stained with crimes, - but they were not adorned with virtues. They are sent to hell because they did no good. They were not renewed in the image of God; and hence did not bring forth fruit to his glory. If these harmless people are sent to perdition, what must the end be of the wicked and profligate!
on Matthew 25 :46
And these shall go away - These "persons." Many, holding the doctrine of universal salvation have contended that God would punish sin only. Christ says that "those on his left hand," shall go away - not "sins," but "sinners." Besides, sin, as an abstract thing, cannot be punished. Sin is nothing but an "act" - the act of a transgressor, and, to be reached at all, it must be reached by punishing the offender himself.
Into everlasting punishment - The original word translated here as "punishment" means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime. The noun is used but in one other place in the New Testament - 1 John 4:18; "Fear hath 'torment.'" The verb from which the noun is derived is twice used - Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. In all these places it denotes anguish, suffering, punishment. It does not mean simply a "state or condition," but absolute, positive suffering; and if this word does not teach it, no word "could" express the idea that the wicked would suffer. It has been contended that the sufferings of the wicked will not be eternal or without end. It is not the purpose of these notes to enter into debates of that kind further than to ascertain the meaning of the language used by the sacred writers. In regard to the meaning of the word "everlasting" in this place, it is to be observed:
1. that the literal meaning of the word expresses absolute eternity - "always belong," Matthew 18:8; Matthew 19:16; Mark 3:29; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 5:9.
2. that the obvious and plain interpretation of the word demands this signification in this place. The original word - αἰώνιον aionion - is employed in the New Testament 66 times. Of these, in 51 instances it is used of the happiness of the righteous; in two, of God's existence; in six, of the church and the Messiah's kingdom; and in the remaining seven, of the future punishment of the wicked. If in these seven instances we attach to the word the idea of limited duration, consistency requires that the same idea of limited duration should be given it in the 51 cases of its application to the future glory of the righteous, and the two instances of its application to God's existence, and the six eases of its appropriation to the future reign of the Messiah and the glory and perpetuity of the church. But no one will presume to deny that in these instances it denotes unlimited duration, and therefore, in accordance with the sound laws of interpretation and of language itself, the same sense of unlimited duration must be given it when used of future punishment - Owen, in loc.
3. that, admitting that it was the Saviour's design always to teach this doctrine, this would be "the very word" to express it; and if this does not teach it, it could not be taught.
4. that it is not taught in any plainer manner in any confession of faith on the globe; and if this may be explained away, all those may be.
5. that our Saviour knew that this would be so understood by nine-tenths of the world; and if he did not mean to teach it, he has knowingly led them into error, and his honesty cannot be vindicated.
6. that he knew that the doctrine was calculated to produce "fear and terror;" and if he was benevolent, and actually used language calculated to produce this fear and terror, his conduct cannot be vindicated in exciting unnecessary alarms.
7. that the word used here is the same in the original as that used to express the eternal life of the righteous; if one can be proved to be limited in duration, the other can by the same arguments. "The proof that the righteous will be happy forever is precisely the same, and no other, than that the wicked will, be miserable forever."
8. that it is confirmed by many other passages of Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Luke 16:26; Revelation 14:11; Psalm 9:17; Isaiah 33:14; Mark 16:16; John 3:36.
Life eternal - Man by sin has plunged himself into death, temporal, spiritual, eternal. Christ, by coming and dying, has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, 2 Timothy 1:10. "Life" is the opposite of death. It denotes, here, freedom from death, and positive holiness and happiness forever.
on Matthew 25 :46
25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life everlasting - Either therefore the punishment is strictly eternal, or the reward is not: the very same expression being applied to the former as to the latter. The Judge will speak first to the righteous, in the audience of the wicked. The wicked shall then go away into everlasting fire, in the view of the righteous. Thus the damned shall see nothing of the everlasting life; but the just will see the punishment of the ungodly. It is not only particularly observable here, That the punishment lasts as long as the reward; but, That this punishment is so far from ceasing at the end of the world, that it does not begin till then.