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THE CERTAINTY OF FUTURE PUNISHMENT FROM
THE USE OF GEHENNA.
MATTHEW v. 22
<And whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in
danger of hell-fire.
The future punishment of the wicked is a doctrine of christianity. A subject of such intense interest and practical importance, cannot be too deeply impressed upon the understanding and heart. Entertaining a firm conviction of this, I cannot feel my duty discharged without laying the evidence of the doctrine before those for whose religious views I am accountable.
I shall first attempt to show, that punishment will be inflicted, leaving the question of its duration for subsequent consideration.
Gehenna, the Hebrew word translated hell in the text, has generally been considered the
name of a place of torinent in the future world. It originally signified a valley adjacent to Jerusalem, in which the Israelites established the worship of Moloch, under the form of a brazen image, to which they offered their own children in sacrifice, permitting them to fall from the arms of the idol into a furnace of fire. After the captivity, the Jews who regarded this spot with detestation on account of the abominations which had been practised there, threw into it every species of filth, the carcases of animals, and the dead bodies of malefactors. To prevent the pestilence which would be occasioned, if such a mass was left gradually to decay, constant fires were maintained. From this circumstance, the place afterwards assumed the name of the valley of fire. Such then is the primary or original import of Gehenna.
In the time of Christ, however, it had assumed a secondary and metaphorical sense, being employed as the name of a place of torment, in which the Jews believed that demons and the souls of wicked men are to be punished in eternal fire. Nor was it used in any other metaphorical sense.
It always denoted the valley of Hinnom, or the place of
future punishment. In the Old Testament, it is found in its original import only, and not, as some assert, as an emblem of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the supposed predictions of that event, recorded in the seventh and nineteenth chapters of Jeremiah, Gehenna is mentioned as the theatre of those abominations, for which the city was ultimately to be destroyed. But the Prophet does not make it an emblem of that catastrophe, nor of any other. Nor have I discovered, that the Jews at any period were accustomed to express severe temporal calamities by a metaphorical use of this name. The only secondary sense attached to it in the time of Christ, is that which is adopted by all sound interpreters of the bible. But the most important point, in determining its import in the New Testament, is the manner in which the sacred penmen employ it, or those circumstances of narration, which contribute to unfold its meaning. This must always be the most satisfactory mode of settling the signification of terms, since the same word may be used by different writers in very different
No one, however, is allowed to depart from common usage without explaining the new sense of his terms. Such an explanation we shall, therefore, find in the texts where Gehenna occurs, or else it must be considered a place of torment in the future state. This view of the case throws the burden of proof upon those who deny it this sense in the New Testament. It devolves upon them to prove that Christ departed from popular usage.
With these explanations respecting the meaning of Gehenna both in its original and secondary applications, I proceed to show that in nearly all the passages where it occurs, it can mean only a place of future misery. It has the same metaphorical sense in the New Testament which it had acquired before the christian dispensation commenced.
The text is introduced for the sake of teaching the sinfulness of bad passions and malicious language. Such sins are no less worthy of punishment than those overt acts of disobedience which are commonly acknowledged to be proper subjects of retribution. 66 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time; thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you that whosoever is
with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the
judgment, and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council, but whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire."
The judgment, it should be remarked, was a court established in each town to take cognizance of offences within its own limits, but having its decisions subject to an appeal to the council or Sanhedrim, the supreme tribunal of the nation. This then appears to be the sense of the text. Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, deserves such a punishment as the judgment is empowered to inflict, and whosoever shall express his
anger in words of contempt deserves the vengeance of the Sanhedrim; but whosoever shall say thou miscreant, deserves hell-fire. That this last expression points to the displeasure of God in the next life is highly probable, because the severest capital punishments peculiar to the Jews were pronounced by the Sanhedrim. And from the manner in which Christ teaches the sinfulness of evil thoughts, it appears that he applies the name hell-fire to some punishment which actually follows disobedience. He admits the propriety of punishing men in these various ways and with various degrees of severity, but contends at the same time, that