The question that we face in this paper is: “Do the reprobated sin in hell”. Or, “Will God make an end of sin also in the reprobated in hell as well as he makes an end of sin in the redeemed who are saved,” or “What possibility, if any, is there to the lost in hell for sinning?” The answers to these questions must, of course, be derived from the Scriptures, and not from our reason. Our reason has worth, in our attempt to know the truth, as we possess it in the Christ and as it has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, only if our reason be sanctified by Christ’s grace and be put in the service of our faith. Let us then see what the Scriptures teach on this point.
Now the Scriptures teach over and over that the wicked, the reprobated wicked, are to be destroyed. I need not quote Scripture here to prove this. When we shall have determined from the Scriptures just what it means that the wicked shall be destroyed, we shall have found answers to the above questions. Just what does it mean that the wicked shall be destroyed? That the wicked shall be destroyed does not mean, according to the Scriptures, that the wicked are to be annihilated, be made to cease to exist. I need not quote the Scriptures here to prove this. Nor can the teaching that the wicked shall be destroyed be limited to their physical death. Physical death, though the result of sin, is not certainly the punishment of sin. Scripture forbids such a view. It teaches that eternal death is not to consist in the lost spending an eternity in hell as disembodied spirits. The lost, too, according to the Bible, will come forth out of the grave in a body adapted to a mode of existence in everlasting hell. Yet, to destroy a thing means very actually to make an end of it. That God is to destroy the wicked means that He will make an end of them. But the question is: In what sense will He make an end of the wicked?
In answering this question we must set out with taking notice how the wicked in this life, as dwellers on this earth, react to God, to the revelation of himself in his moral law, in providence, in history and in the face of Christ. The wicked are opposed to God. They are antagonistic to Him. But right here we must distinguish between ethical and metaphysical opposition to God, between opposition to God in the ethical sphere and in the sphere that we, for the want of a name, will denote by the term metaphysical. The former, ethical opposition, is defiance of and antagonism to God’s will as revealed in His moral law, in history and in providence, thus also to His counsel in so far as it has been revealed. Metaphysical opposition to God is a frustration of His determinate will as expressed in His counsel. As to ethical opposition, there is certainly opposition to God of this type op the part of the wicked, and that is their great sin. The sinning of the wicked thus takes place in the sphere of the ethical. Now the humanly ethical bears on the will, on the heart of man.
Let us observe then first that the wicked oppose their corrupt wills to the moral law of God, to all His ordinances. The law of God demands of man that he love God with all his heart and with all his mind and with all his will, strength and heart. The reprobated wicked and all men by nature will to hate God and do hate Him with all their being, with their whole heart, mind and will. There is not an atom of love in the heart of the natural man, not the smallest principle of holiness. This, by the way, is the real issue in the common grace as developed by the late Dr. A. Kuyper. Is there, in the natural man, devoid of the life of regeneration, a principle of true holiness, be it ever so small, whereby sin in them is checked: and from which proceed works that are truly good in the sight of God. These questions Kuyper answered in the affirmative. And these affirmative answers were adopted by the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 and form points two and three of Synod’s notorious three points. To affirm that the natural man does no good in the sight of God and that sin is not checked in him is to state the matter correctly yet not with sufficient acrimony. These answers can be circumvented. One can play hocus pocus with them by juggling terms. For the Bible does speak of the good that sinners do. “If you do good unto those who do good unto you,” says Christ. So, too, does He speak of the righteousness of the Pharisee. But He teaches that the goodness and the righteousness of the natural man is sin and nothing but sin in the sight of God, when He says that, doing good unto those who do good unto us, we excel not the sinners and that, if our righteousness does not exceed that of the Pharisee, we can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven. And there is a sense in which God does restrain sin in the wicked as for example when he, through fear of the police, restrains a thug from executing some nefarious plan of his. But the question is whether there is in that fear an atom of holiness. Certainly there is not. The natural man is totally depraved. He is a bad tree only that bears fruit that is as corrupt as the principle in him from which it proceeds—the principle of sin. All the issues of his heart are in the ethical sense opposed to the law of God. All that the natural man produces out of himself—his philosophy, his music and songs, however beautiful as to form—his prayers and praise and thanksgiving, his faithfulness to his marriage vows, the honesty that characterizes him as a man of affairs in the world, his tears and mirth, his love and compassion and goodwill toward his neighbor, all his striving—such as his striving to establish peace on this earth—all is an abomination in the sight of God. All is enmity against and moral opposition to God’s law. This is the implication of the Biblical proposition that the natural man is totally depraved. The theory of common grace is fiction. It is insipient modernism pure and simple. It is the prize lie of the devil. From the point of view of its duplicity, it is the masterpiece of darkness. Such are the plain teachings of God’s Word. All that is not of faith is sin; and the natural man is devoid of faith. All that is of the world is not of God, and the world passes away and all that is of the world, that is, has its origin in the principle of sin in the world, is doomed to pass away with the world.
Secondly, the natural man is opposed, actively opposed, that is, antagonistic, not only to God’s moral will as revealed in the ten commandments but he is actively opposed also to God’s determinate will as revealed in providence. When we speak of providence here we have reference especially to the curse of God that began to stalk the earth and to permeate man’s existence—turning his day into night—immediately after the fall. Thus we have reference to the continuous revelation from heaven of the wrath of God over all unrighteousness of man, to God’s laying waste this earth, Esau’s heritage, the heritage of the reprobated, of the world that lies in darkness, to the laying waste of this earth for the dragons of the wilderness, thus to God’s impoverishing Edom continually through the centuries, to his throwing Esau down and making his place desolate. Thus we refer to the resulting sufferings of this present time, which is the portion of the damned and in which God’s people for a little while must also share. The wicked are actively opposed antagonistic, to this curse in its operation, actively opposed to the wrath of God in its manifestation, opposed are they to war and pestilence, to sickness and to all the various diseases, mental and physical, afflicting mankind, opposed are they to this impoverishing of Edom, to the laying waste of Edom’s heritage, opposed to floods and drought and famine and to Edom’s place as desolated, opposed in a word, to all the sufferings of this present time with all that it includes. But, one may ask, can this be held against the wicked? Is not also the believer opposed to sickness and death. Does he not also, when taken ill, call in a doctor? And is this not his duty? Does not also the believer avail himself of the findings of science to counteract the blight that attacks his crops, and to destroy the insects that devour his fields? To be sure he does. And certainly, I repeat, this is duty, the neglect of which is to tempt God. In the wicked, however, this opposition proceeds from the principle of sin that operates in the essence of his being. In the wicked, therefore, this opposition to the sufferings of this present time is conscious antagonism against God, hatred of the Most High, rebellion against and horrible defiance of God. The believer, by the grace of God, humbles himself under the mighty hand of God and repents in dust and ashes on account of his sins. And he can glory in tribulation because he spiritually discerns and experiences that tribulations, sanctified, as they are, to His heart, advance his salvation. He understands that the sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory that has been prepared for him. But Edom saith, we are impoverished by the Almighty, but we will show God. And in opposition to and in hatred of God, Edom saith, ‘‘but we will re- turn and build the desolate places. But thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall return and build, but I will throw down and they shall call them, The border of wickedness and , The people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.” And God does throw down Edom’s rebuilt places even through the agency of Edom himself. Think of the frightful ruin and destruction of this present war. The Lord turns against Edom his own gods, his idols, his science and industry. Indeed Edom wants peace, not God’s peace but man’s peace. And Edom holds his peace-conferences, and he thinks peace and urges peace and proclaims peace and strives to establish peace. Edom opposes war and sickness and death, builds a mighty civilization, and thinks to establish by these vain efforts, the kingdom of God—which in truth is the kingdom of man and of the prince of this world—thinks to establish this kingdom on this earth in his fierce antagonism to and defiance of the God of the Scriptures. Thus Edom’s opposition to the sufferings of this present time—his peace-conferences and peace treaties and all his efforts to establish peace, his opposition to sickness and disease, all his striving toward the uplift of humanity, all his philanthropy, is sin and nothing but sin. It is active rebellion against and defiance of God. It is Edom’s vain attempt to free himself and his heritage— this earth—from the curse of God in a way other than that of true repentance and forsaking of sin and of reconciliation to God through the cross of Christ. But God continues to lay Edom’s heritage waste, God’s curse continues to stalk the earth. And in the appearing of Christ, Edom’s heritage will be utterly destroyed. God’s people, too, have a heritage, an inheritance in Christ Jesus, the new earth, where the tabernacle of God will be with men. How differently God deals with the heritage of His people. He preserves it for them in heaven and unto this inheritance he preserves His people. Therein, namely in his laying Edom’s heritage waste and in his preserving in heaven for His people their inheritance and in preserving them for this inheritance, he shows that He loves His people and hates Edom.
If Edom is opposed to the providence of God of the present, he is also opposed to the providence of God of the past. This is but another way of saying that Edom is opposed to God in history, opposed to history as the realization of the council of God, thus as a revelation of God, the God and Father of Christ. Edom delivers up history to chance or to fate or He maintains that the destinies of mankind are determined by man himself and that the course of world events are directed solely by man. For God is not in all Edom’s thoughts. Now, in Christian lands, where men are brought into contact with the gospel, all this opposition is against Christ, that is, against God as revealed in the face of Christ. It is in these lands that the opposition to God attains the highest degree of intensity. There is then, on the part of Edom, this ethical opposition, antagonism, to God.
However, Edom does not and cannot frustrate God’s counsel. For the counsel of God includes Edom in al! his ethical antagonism to God; and it is out of the womb of an almighty and sovereign providence that Edom is brought forth by God Almighty and sovereign, brought forth in all his wanton rebellion, in all his defiance of heaven, in all his vain imagining, in all his plotting against God, His anointed and His people, in all his abominable works, in all his atheisms and idolatry, in all his utterly foolish pride, in all his violence and refined sinning, in all his hypocrisy and self-righteousness, which is colossal, in all his cruelty, in all his thievery and robberies, in all his lying and deceits, in all his profanity and in all his adulteries and unclean ness. For Edom, in himself, is nothing. He has his being in God and in God he lives and moves. He is but clay in the hands of a potter, and the potter is God. Thus Edom cannot as much as harden himself except God harden him. Edom, in all his abominations, always does what God has determined and wills that he shall do. It means; that Edom, in all his opposition to God, is God’s slave and serves God’s cause, his kingdom and his people, though, to be sure, he meaneth not so, but it is in his heart actually to bring God under his heel. He stands there, does Edom, the world that lieth in darkness, shaking his vile fist in God’s face and in the face of Christ, and his striving is to usurp God’s place in the universe. Thus Edom continually lives the lie of the tempter, “Thou shalt be as God. . . Edom is become as God, as God saith, “Behold the man is become as one, of us. . . ” This is not irony, or sarcasm, a statement that is to be taken m its reverse meaning. For the thought here expressed is substantially repeated by Paul, when he said, “Who,” namely, that man of sin to be revealed, “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” The meaning is that man behaves as though he were God and as though God were his slave. What a hideous thing sin is. To say that this word of Paul is irony is to destroy it. And the word of God, “Man is become as one ofus”, is no more irony than is this word of Paul.
Now that the wicked will be destroyed must imply in the first place that God will put an end to this terrible reaction of the wicked to him, put an end to all their rebellion, and defiance and pride. For the wicked, certainly, are not destroyed if they everlastingly defy God, if everlastingly they behave as though they were God and as though God were under their heel, in their power. Thus, that the wicked are to be destroyed means in the first place that their ethical opposition to God will cease. That God will put an end to this reaction on the part of the wicked, is the teachings of Scripture., “Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is the Lord, to the glory of the Father.” Certainly, the tongues that are to confess that Jesus is the Lord, include also those of the reprobated wicked. The knees that, in the appearing of Christ, are to bow before Him include also the knees of the reprobated wicked. For the text says that every knee shall bow and that every tongue shall confess that Christ is the Lord. And there are no statements occurring in the context indicating that the adjectives all and every must be limited to the redeemed. Now confessing that Christ is Lord, and bowing before him is certainly indicative of an attitude that is opposed to rebellion. The construction that we here place upon this passage has the firm support of several other passages in the Scriptures. , “And the loftiness of men shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall be utterly abolished. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the, earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when he arises to shake terribly the earth.” That this prediction, in the final instance, must be made to apply to the humiliation of the reprobated wicked in the final judgment is indicated by the statement that those of whom the prophet here speaks, shall be driven by fear, inspired by the majestic presence of the Lord, into the caves of the earth. The redeemed certainly are not to be included here. Then there are other Scriptures expressive of identical thought. : “The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come upon their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, cover us; and to the hills, fall upon us.” , “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and low, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken by a mighty wind. Arid the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together: and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb; For the great day of wrath is come ; and who shall be able to stand.”
Scripture makes it unmistakably clear that Edom shall be humbled, brought low, not merely objectively, so that, as he lies there in the dust before God and Christ, his soul still seethes with rebellion, but also subjectively, in his mind and heart. For, according to these scriptures, his soul is to be seized by utter fear and in that fear he will pay homage to Christ and to God. Rebellion in him will cease; as his will to rebel will be broken. His idolatry will cease, as the text just quoted, declares, all his attacks upon God will cease.
Now such a doctrine is blissfully satisfying to every true child of God. His sanctified reason calls for the subjective humiliation of Edom. The conception of Edom in hell, eternally defiant of God, everlastingly reviling God in his heart and with his tongue crying out his rebellion and with his fists clenched in God’s face is certainly shocking to the sanctified sensibilities of all those who love God and love Christ. They abhor the idea. Should Edom continue defiant, it could only be because God had not the power to subdue him and in that case, sin, as it riots in Edom, were as mighty or mightier than God. This ethical dualism, therefore, cannot and shall not continue. (We speak here of ethical dualism. What we mean is antithesis. Dualism there is not, as Edom in all his ethical opposition to God is included in God’s sovereign counsel).
Mark you, we speak here of this present opposition to God on the part of Edom as an ethical dualism in distinction from what we shall call, for the want of a name, metaphysical dualism. This metaphysical dualism is not. For as we saw, Edom in all his ethical rebellion, is included in the counsel of God and is brought forth by God out of the womb of divine providence. Edom, too, though he meaneth not so, is God’s servant. But there is now this ethical dualism. The old Persians had both an ethical and metaphysical dualism, and likewise the exponents of common grace of this day and age.