For those among the orthodox who still believe in hell, some today are suspicious of any discussion of hell that does not view its fire as “literal.” Baptist theologian James P. Boyce made this interesting observation in 1887 about the nature of the eternal punishment of the wicked. I think he speaks about the physical torments of hell in a way that those who are conservative in their theology can embrace. His section on the spiritual torments of that place is good too:

(1.) It is unwarrantable to take for granted that it will not be in part physical. The wicked will go from the judgement seat with the bodies which belong to them in their resurrection state. We know not what will be the nature of these bodies, and, therefore, have no right to affirm that they may not be capable of physical pain. That the language of Scripture, as to fire and brimstone, is figurative, is true. But men are not authorized, on that account, to deny that some physical pain, and, that of a most excruciating and agonizing character, will form a part of the agony and woe of the hereafter of the sinner. So far from men drawing comfort from any conviction they may have that there will not be literal fire, they should only the more be filled with dread and apprehension of some fearful condition, which the Scriptures here attempt to describe by terms which express the severest anguish men can endure in the body; the statements made evidently falling far short of telling the nature of a punishment which our present condition forbids that we should understand. In the range of animal life here on earth, we know that the higher the organism the more keenly is it alive to suffering as well as enjoyment. This teaches us to expect that the bodily enjoyments of the saints will far surpass anything ever experienced on earth. If the resurrection bodies of the wicked are, in any degree, higher than those of this world, the only result will be to make them capable of anguish utterly inconceivable by men in their present state.

(2.) The spiritual agony, then to be endured, is equally beyond the possibility of present expression. We may say that it will necessarily consist in certain evils; but who can tell how great those evils will then be realized to be. Some of them may be suggested: as; consciousness of an unclean and unholy nature; when there is no way to cleanse or escape it: conviction of the nature and ill desert of sin; when sinful habits have such prevalence and control that sin must still be committed willingly, yet with horror of what is done;– indications of which are seen in men in this life, who, by debauchery, or drunkenness, are driven forward to evil even against their will–: remorse for past indulgences, for neglected opportunities, for rejections of Christ;– especially as then will be seen how nigh unto each one had come the kingdom and grace of God–: knowledge of banishment perpetually from the presence of Christ, and deprivation of the favour and love of God:– these, and evils like unto them, with the mutual reproaches of the damned, for the influences of each other by which such evil has come, will make a Hell compared with which all the torture men have ever known in this life will be looked back to as though it were heaven itself.

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