This is a hard post to write. If there is one aspect of revealed truth that both saints and sinners wish was not there, it would be the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked. Christians – including evangelical Christians – have become almost completely silent on this point, sometimes from misplaced humility (‘Who am I to speak of such things?’), sometimes from fear of what unbelievers will think (‘Non-Christians have a low enough opinion of Christianity, without alienating them even more with this talk of hell and judgment’), and sometimes from actual doubt as to whether Scripture does actually teach which it appears to teach.
But I seek to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. So, even though I want to give voice, in other posts, to the case for annihilationism/conditional immortality, I also want to allow space for the more ‘traditional’ view. So…
One of the most forthright, and yet sensitive, treatments of this subject is that of the fine Puritan writer Thomas Watson. Writing of the eternity of God, he applies it not only to the godly (‘God is eternal, therefore he lives for ever to reward the godly’) but also to the ungodly:-
‘Here is thunder and lightning to the wicked. God is eternal, therefore the torments of the wicked are eternal. God lives for ever; and as long as God lives he will be punishing the damned.’
The torments of the damned are:-
(a) ‘Without intermission. Their pains shall be acute and sharp, and no relaxation; the fire shall not be slackened or abated. Rev 14:41. ‘They have no rest day nor night.’…In the pains of this life, there is some abatement and intermission; the fever abates; after a fit of the stone, the patient has some ease; but the pains of hell are intense and violent, in summo gradu. The damned soul never says, I am now more at ease.
(b) ‘Without mixture. Hell is a place of pure justice. In this life, God in anger remembers mercy, he mixes compassion with suffering. Deut 33:35. Asher’s shoe was of iron, but his foot was dipt in oil.
(c) ‘Without cessation, eternal. The pleasures of sin are but for a season, but the torments of the wicked are for ever…Oh eternity! eternity! who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity?…Oh eternity! If all the body of the earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away! Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word Ever’ breaks the heart. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.’ What a terror is this to the wicked, enough to put them into a cold sweat, to think, as long as God is eternal, he lives for ever to be avenged upon them!’
A Body of Divinity, (Banner of Truth ed.), 61-63