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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Sin and Its Punishment

T. T. Martin

From Baptist Challenge, as printed in The Plains Baptist Challenger, March 2013

“All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23)

"Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." (Hebrews 2:2)

"A just God." (Isaiah 45:2)

"It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matthew 11:24)

Reader, what you and I need to know concerning God's plan with the sinner, the lost, is not what some people think, nor what some teach, nor what some desire; but what God teaches. God is just. Fasten that in your mind; never lose sight of it. Over and over again is this fact impressed in the Scriptures. Yet lurking in the minds of multitudes is a vague suspicion or dread that God will be unjust in sending some to Hell, and that He will be unjust in the way He will punish. Many who are thus disturbed lose sight of the fact that God is just; that whatever God does in regard to the lost, one thing is certain—He will do no injustice. With my loved ones, with your loved ones, with the most obscure, worthless creature, with the most refined, delicate nature, with the most cruel, debased creature that ever lived, God will do no wrong.

Many have turned away to infidelity, not on account of the Bible's complete teaching as to future punishment, but because they have taken some one passage of Scripture and warped it  or gotten from it a distorted idea of the Bible's teachings as to Hell; or they have taken some preacher's views as to the Bible's teachings on the subject.

For example, here is a boy fifteen years of age, whose mother died when he was an infant, whose father is a drunkard and gambler and infidel, who has given the boy but little moral training; and here is a man seventy years of age who had a noble father and mother, who gave their boy every advantage, the best of training, under the best of influences; yet he when a boy turned away from all these influences and spent his life in sin and debauchery, and in leading others into sin. These two, the unfortunate boy and the old hardened sinner, die. With many the idea is that God consigns them to a common punishment in Hell. But, reader, remember that God is just; and if that is justice, what would injustice be? They were different in light and in opportunity and in sins, and yet punished alike? The Bible does not teach it.

But let us go back and consider this question of sin. “All have sinned." That includes you, reader. "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17) All have done this, have failed to live up to the light they have had; hence, "All have sinned."

Two questions arise: first, ought sin to be punished? Second, ought all sin to be punished, or only the coarser, grosser, more offensive sins?

As to the first, ought sin to be punished'? There is a strong drift toward the teaching that sin ought to be punished only for the purpose of reforming the sinner. Intelligent men endorse this teaching without realizing that it is spiritual anarchy and absolutely horrible and detestable.

A woman and four little children are murdered in cold blood by three robbers for the purpose of robbing the home. When the three are arrested, the first is found to be thoroughly penitent, thoroughly reformed, broken-hearted, over his horrible crime. If sin should be punished only to reform the sinner, this man should not be punished at all, though he murdered five people in cold blood, for he is already reformed.

The second is such a hardened criminal that he never can be reformed, and the more he is punished, the more hardened he will become. Then if sin is punished only to reform the sinner, he should not be punished at all, though guilty of the murder of five people in cold blood.

The third is tender-hearted and easily influenced, and by sending him to prison for thirty days, he will be thoroughly reformed, though guilty of five cold-blooded murders. On this principle of punishing sin only to reform the sinner, all a sinner would have to do to make sure of Heaven would be to become such a hardened sinner that he could never be reformed, and then he would go to Heaven without any punishment at all.

People need to call a halt to realize that sin ought to be punished because it is right to punish it; because it us just. But this means the punishment of all sins, the sins of the refined as surely as the sins of the debased; the smaller sins as surely as the greater sins.

Hence the teaching of God's Word, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." (Romans 1:18)

But we need to keep in mind that it is discriminating wrath, and God's Word makes this plain. "Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." (Hebrews 2:2) "A just God." (Isaiah 45:21)

Many sneer at a "God of wrath" and say they believe in a "God of all love." God is love, but He is just as surely a God of wrath; and were He not a God of wrath, He would not be God, but a fiend. He who loves purity and chastity and has no wrath against impurity and unchastity, but loves them, too, is a moral leper. He who loves the defense of the poor and the helpless, but has no wrath against the cold-blooded murderer, the one crushing the defenseless, but loves him, too, is a fiend. Character, from God to Devil, can only be told by what one loves and what one hates.

Notice how clearly the Savior teaches this same great truth.

"Then began he to up braid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee." (Matthew 11:20-24)

Notice, the "more tolerable" difference in punishment.

The same teaching Jesus gives in Mark 12:40, “These shall receive greater condemnation.”

Jesus revealed unto Pilate God’s judgment of a difference in sin. “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

And Paul teaches the same. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) The reaping is according to the sowing.

Let the reader notice the clear teaching: the punishment of sin will be graded, first according to light and opportunity. A writer, a great scientist, held that heredity and environment largely determine one's destiny. That is what Jesus taught. The people of Sodom were more wicked than those of Capernaum; but heredity and environment were against them. The people of Capernaum had not sinned so terribly as the people of Sodom, but they had more light and opportunity; they had better heredity, better environment. Jesus says that therefore the people of Capernaum shall be punished more severely than the peple of Sodom. And this is right; that is just.

Those to whom Jesus spoke were born under better conditions than those of Sodom; they grew up under more favorable surrounding; hence, there were more responsible; hense, they are to receive greater punishment at the judgment.

Apply to your own case, reader: for every added ray of light, for every added opportunity, there will be that much added punishment for your sins. And that is just; that is right. The opportunities that wealth brings, the light that education and culture bring, will but add to the punishment at the judgment. The most highly educated, the most refined, the most wealthy, those who have lived under the most favorable influences, will suffer most at the judgment.

But punishment will be further graded by the number of the sins— "Every transgression received a just recompense." Hence, the more one sins, the greater the punishment. If one knew that he was going to Hell, corrupt human nature would say, "Sin and enjoy while you live, "but reason and Scripture would say, "Stop! Add no more to the degree of Hell."

Punishment for sin will be further graded by the character of sin. "He that betrayed me to thee hath the greater sin." While a small sin is just as surely sin as a great sin, yet God recognizes degrees in sin, and as a consequence, there are degrees in the punishment of sin.

Following from degrees in the punishment of sin comes inevitably the fact that no wrong will be done any one at the judgment: that no one will be treated wrong in Hell. He who fears only injustice and wrong, has nothing to fear from the judgment or in Hell.

Two reflections for the reader: If you have heretofore rebelled against the idea of future punishment, what can you say when now you see that God will make all just allowance for surroundings and conditions, and will take into consideration the number and kinds of sins? God has a right to have laws; His laws are right; a law without a penalty amounts to no law; the penalty, God assures us, will be absolutely just. What can you say when you stand before such a judge and receive such a sentence?

The other reflection for the reader: Let not this teaching of the Bible lead you into thinking that Hell, then, will not be so terrible after all, and that you need not fear it. Instead of letting it allay all dread of the future, it is enough to make the blood run cold through your veins; for those who will have the most terrible suffering will be the most enlightened, the most cultured.

Another thought: not some far distant, cold, harsh, unsympathetic God will be the judge at the Judgment Day, but the Lord Jesus, "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," will be the one who will judge you and condemn you and give you your just degree of punishment in Hell. Hear Him, "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." (John 5:22)

Peter reveals the same fact, "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the judge of quick (living) and dead." (Acts 10:42)

Remember, that He whom the world praises as so good, so just, so discriminating, so loving, so tender, will be the judge at the Great Day, who will pronounce each sentence. Oh, reader, the very fact that the Lord Jesus will be the judge is absolute proof that no one will be treated wrong, that no one will be punished unjustly in Hell; and the bare possibility that He may pronounce your eternal doom is enough to cause you to turn today. "Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" (Ezek. 33:11)