Appendix 10: Hell!

“The rôle of the redeemed in the doom of the damned.”

The matter of the cruel and unusual punishment of the wicked
as depicted by Ellen G. White (Nov. 26, 1827 – July 16, 1915)

based on material collected and assembled by Angus McPhee
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ABOUT: cruel punishment, the character of God, ethics, morality, hellfire, the future of the saved, the judgment and suffering and destiny of the wicked, the authority of Ellen G. White, “sola scriptura”, “tampering with the text,” the importance of the Bible’s interpreting itself.

THESIS and ABSTRACT

That “hell” is considered by some Christians to be a place in the cosmos to which some have already been consigned, and considered by other Christians to be just a phase in the life of one small but significant planet in the vast cosmos, is undisputed. For this first group it is eternal, unending, everlasting and a place, the location of which is unknown, into which the damned are cast and in which they suffer for eternity. In that place their lives are maintained so that they can suffer.

For the second group the fires of hell are ignited after the second advent of Jesus and eventually burn out. Seventh-day Adventists fall into that group although they teach that the fires will actually be ignited after a third advent separated from the second by 1,000 years. Regardless of the occasion, the point is that, for Seventh-day Adventists, hellfire is not everlasting.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was formally established in 1863. Prior to that the people who were its founders and first adherents were slowly but deliberately organizing and amalgamating and were being influenced in their thinking by a young lady by the name of Miss Ellen Harmon, later Mrs Ellen White, whom some believed to have the gift of prophecy. From time to time she would undergo a visionary experience after which she would recount to her listeners what she had seen. About her, one of the tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reads

The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.

Contrary to the current, and long-held, teaching of Seventh-day Adventists is a view published by Mrs White, that an angel told her that the damned would suffer in that final conflagration for a period of time that would be determined by the saved (under the guidance of the Savior) after they had examined the record of their deeds. Because the lost will be experiencing the sleep of death during a post-advent millennium, this process of examination will be conducted by the saved in their absence. Having already died, either naturally or at the second advent, they will then be raised and duped by the devil into being involved in an attack on the New Jerusalem. This attack is destined to fail and the hapless mobs, including the devil and his angels, fall under the descending fires from God. However, rather than “one flash and you’re ash” they now begin to suffer for that predetermined period with the devil outliving all until he is finally exterminated. The author believes this to be a heresy that, rather than being expunged, should be acknowledged for what it is and rejected.

The credibility of the Church is in jeopardy when the pronouncements of extra-biblical authors are upheld as equal with Scripture, or valued as an inspired embellishment. In this case, Ellen White had attributed the source of her information to an angel. The author finds such an origin to be spurious and the angel’s identity, or even existence, suspicious. Even so it has been accepted as of Divine origin by her followers. The response by the E. G. White Estate to the author’s inquiry bears this out. (See their letter below.)

This paper

  • outlines views of hell, including the Seventh-day Adventist view
  • looks at the Biblical references to the “worm that shall not die”
  • exhibits all the statements by Ellen White about the final punishment and suffering of the wicked
  • recounts the extended suffering of a criminal executed in 2014 and public reaction
  • lays out a few Scriptures about the character of God
  • lists questions that arose in the thinking of the author
  • includes an official response to those questions

Readers are invited to carefully examine the material that follows and reach an unhurried but a necessary and well-informed conclusion.

Different views of Hell
Hell is a place for the wicked after death, according to many religions. … Hells have been described as both hot and cold. Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians regard hell as a temporary dwelling where a person is cleansed of sin, punished and re-educated. Christians and Muslims regard hell as lasting forever. (art. HellThe World Book Encyclopedia, © 1979)

Even so, the matter of hell and hellfire has been one that the Church has defined, redefined and even discarded throughout its history. The book Is There a Hell? (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1913) is small evidence. Contributors to the symposium include Rev. F.B. Meyer (“The Certainty of Hell”), Dr. Charles Brown (“The Absurdity of a Material Hell”), Rev. Frank Ballard (“No Warrant for Eternal Damnation”) and Rev. Silvester Horne (“Making the Punishment Fit the Crime”). The concepts range through universalism (page 17), self-inflicted suffering in this present world (page 51), and “they have what they choose and do not have what they reject (page 87).”

The Seventh-day Adventist view of Hell
The Seventh-day Adventist church, from its inception, has strongly opposed the concept of the doomed suffering in everlasting flames. Even in its publications for the general public, articles have appeared that have reflected this position. George R. Knight’s “The Infinite Hitler” in Signs of the Times (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, July 1997) compared a god who would do that to Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany from 1933-1945. Samuele Bacchiocchi’s “Hell: Does the end have an end?” in the August, 1999 issue of the same magazine, insists on the final annihilation of the lost. James Londis addresses the problem of human suffering in the presence of a loving God in his “Where was God at Auschwitz?” in These Times (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, May 1976).

A collection of appalling descriptions of hell as conceived by Roman Catholicism can be found in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students’ Source Book (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962), article 821. It is obvious that Seventh-day Adventists distance themselves from and reject such a doctrine. This is confirmed in the relevant articles in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia and the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. George Vandeman, in his book called Destination Life (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1966), on page 65 declared, “The destruction of the lost will be quick. And it will be complete.”

The “never-dying worm” in SDA and non-SDA theology
Outside of Seventh-day Adventism a number of Bible commentators have interpreted the “worm” in the phrases “their worm shall not die” (Isaiah 66:24) and “their worm dieth not” (Mark 9:44) as a part of the unrighteous person who has been condemned to the fires of hell. For example, in some commentaries on Mark 9:44-48 available at <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/9-48.htm> we read,

  • “Doubtless, remorse of conscience and keen self-reflection are this never-dying worm.” (Matthew Henry)
  • It is a mere image of loathsome, dreadful, and “eternal” suffering.” (Albert Barnes)
  • “the awfully vivid idea of an undying worm, everlastingly consuming an unconsumable body, is taken from the closing words of the evangelical prophet (Isa 66:24)” (Jamieson, Faussett and Brown)

Differing from these three interpretations of Mark 9:44, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, commenting on Mark 9:48, quotes Isaiah 66:24 and explains that the suggestion that the “worm” refers to the human soul is unjustified.

Worm. Gr. skōlēx, “a maggot,” or “a worm.” As Major, Manson, and Wright (The Mission and Message of Jesus, p. 123) comment, “The undying worm is not the symbol of a soul which cannot die, but is the symbol of corruption which cannot be purged.” In v. 43 “life” is set forth in contrast with “the fire that never shall be quenched.” In Rom. 6:23 and many other scriptures “life” stands in contrast with “death.” In John 3:16 the contrast is between “everlasting life” and “perishing.” It is obvious that Jesus here intends the same contrast. “The fire is not quenched” stands in apposition to “their worm dieth not,” and is an equivalent expression, yet it seems incongruous that maggots should pursue their work in the presence of fire. There is nothing in the word skōlēx, “worm,” that even remotely justifies the popular explanation which equates “worm” with “soul” (see on Isa. 66:24), a fact recognized by almost all commentators, whatever they may think personally about the state of man in death.

Ellen G. White on hell fire and the destruction of the wicked
Six years after “The Great Disappointment” of October 22, 1844, by which time Jesus Christ had not returned to Earth as expected by the Millerites, Ellen G. White, not quite 23 years of age, began to assert that Satan, his angels and the wicked will suffer in the final post-millennial conflagration for a period of time, the length of which will be determined by the saved under the direction of Jesus Christ during the one thousand years that will follow Christ’s second advent.1 Listed hereafter are all the examples of this position in her writings.2

Notice that in Spiritual Gifts, Vol 1, pp. 217-218 and in Early Writings, p. 29 the angel tampers with the text of Scripture by adding the words “of life” in order to “explain” the meaning of the word “worm”.

In the following quotations Ellen White employed four significant phrases.
1. “Said the angel” (not used after 1882)
2. “I saw” (not used by Ellen White about herself after 1882)
3. “The worm of life” (not used after 1882)
4. “I was shown” (not used after 1882)

   After the saints are changed to immortality, and are caught up together, and receive their harps, crowns, &c., and enter the Holy City, Jesus and the saints set [sic] in judgment. The books are opened, the book of life and the book of death; the book of life contains the good deeds of the saints, and the book of death contains the evil deeds of the wicked. These books were compared with the Statute book, the Bible, and according to that they were judged. The saints in unison with Jesus pass their judgment upon the wicked dead. Behold ye! said the angel, the saints sit in judgment, in unison with Jesus, and mete out to each of the wicked, according to the deeds done in the body, and it is set off against their names what they must receive, at the execution of the judgment. This, I saw, was the work of the saints with Jesus, in the Holy City before it descends to the earth, through the 1000 years. The Present Truth (November 1, 1850)

   After the saints are changed to immortality, and are caught up together, with Jesus, receive their harps, crowns, &c., and enter the City, Jesus and the saints sit in judgment. The books are opened, the book of life and the book of death; the book of life contains the good deeds of the saints, and the book of death contains the evil deeds of the wicked. These books were compared with the Statute book, the Bible, and according to that they were judged. The saints in unison with Jesus pass their judgment upon the wicked dead. Behold ye! said the angel, the saints sit in judgment, in unison with Jesus, and mete out to each of the wicked, according to the deeds done in the body, and it is set off against their names, what they must receive at the execution of the judgment. This, I saw, was the work of the saints with Jesus, in the Holy City before it descends to the earth, through the 1000 years. Then at the close of the 1000 years, Jesus, and the angels, and all the saints with him, leaves the Holy City, and while he is descending to the earth with them, the wicked dead are raised, and then the very men that “pierced him,” being raised, will see him afar off in all his glory, the angels and saints with him, and will wail because of him. They will see the prints of the nails in his hands, and in his feet, and where they thrust the spear into his side. The prints of the nails and the spear will then be his glory. It is at the close of the 1000 years that Jesus stands upon the Mount of Olives, and the Mount parts asunder, and it becomes a mighty plain, and those who flee at that time are the wicked, that have just been raised. Then the Holy City comes down and settles on the plain. A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (1851), 33-34.

   Then I saw thrones, and Jesus and the redeemed saints sat upon them; and the saints reigned as kings and priests unto God, and the wicked dead were judged, and their acts were compared with the statute book, the word of God, and they were judged according to the deeds done in the body. Jesus, in union with the saints, meted out to the wicked the portion they must suffer, according to their works; and it was written in the book of death, and set off against their names. Satan and his angels were also judged by Jesus and the saints. Satan’s punishment was to be far greater than that of those whom he had deceived. It so far exceeded their punishment that it could not be compared with theirs. After all those whom he had deceived had perished, Satan was to still live and suffer on much longer. Spiritual Gifts, Vol 1. (1858), 212-213.

   Satan rushes into the midst, and tries to stir up the multitude to action. But fire from God out of heaven is rained upon them, and the great men, and the mighty men, and the noble, and poor and miserable men, are all consumed together. I saw that some were quickly destroyed, while others suffered longer. They were punished according to the deeds done in the body. Some were many days consuming, and just as long as there was a portion of them unconsumed, all the sense of suffering was there. Said the angel, The worm of life shall not die; their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon.

   But Satan and his angels suffered long. Satan not only bore the weight and punishment of his sins, but the sins of all the redeemed host had been placed upon him; and he must suffer for the ruin of the souls which he had caused. Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1 (1858), 217-218.

   At the general conference of believers in the present truth, held at Sutton, Vermont, September, 1850, I was shown that the seven last plagues will be poured out after Jesus leaves the sanctuary. Said the angel, “It is the wrath of God and the Lamb that causes the destruction or death of the wicked. At the voice of God the saints will be mighty and terrible as an army with banners, but they will not then execute the judgment written. The execution of the judgment will be at the close of the one thousand years.”

   After the saints are changed to immortality and caught up together with Jesus, after they receive their harps, their robes, and their crowns, and enter the city, Jesus and the saints sit in judgment. The books are opened–the book of life and the book of death. The book of life contains the good deeds of the saints; and the book of death contains the evil deeds of the wicked. These books are compared with the statute book, the Bible, and according to that men are judged. The saints, in unison with Jesus, pass their judgment upon the wicked dead. “Behold ye,” said the angel, “the saints, in unison with Jesus, sit in judgment, and mete out to the wicked according to the deeds done in the body, and that which they must receive at the execution of the judgment is set off against their names.” This, I saw, was the work of the saints with Jesus through the one thousand years in the Holy City before it descends to the earth. Then at the close of the one thousand years, Jesus, with the angels and all the saints, leaves the Holy City, and while He is descending to the earth with them, the wicked dead are raised, and then the very men that “pierced Him,” being raised, will see Him afar off in all His glory, the angels and saints with Him, and will wail because of Him. Early Writings (1882), 52-53.

   Then I saw thrones, and Jesus and the redeemed saints sat upon them; and the saints reigned as kings and priests unto God. Christ, in union with His people, judged the wicked dead, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Word of God, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then they meted out to the wicked the portion which they must suffer, according to their works; and it was written against their names in the book of death. Satan also and his angels were judged by Jesus and the saints. Satan’s punishment was to be far greater than that of those whom he had deceived. His suffering would so far exceed theirs as to bear no comparison with it. After all those whom he had deceived had perished, Satan was still to live and suffer on much longer. Early Writings (1882), 290-291.

   Satan rushes into the midst of his followers and tries to stir up the multitude to action. But fire from God out of heaven is rained upon them, and the great men, and mighty men, the noble, the poor and miserable, are all consumed together. I saw that some were quickly destroyed, while others suffered longer. They were punished according to the deeds done in the body. Some were many days consuming, and just as long as there was a portion of them unconsumed, all the sense of suffering remained. Said the angel, “The worm of life shall not die; their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon.”

   Satan and his angels suffered long. Satan bore not only the weight and punishment of his own sins, but also of the sins of the redeemed host, which had been placed upon him; and he must also suffer for the ruin of souls which he had caused. Then I saw that Satan and all the wicked host were consumed, and the justice of God was satisfied; and all the angelic host, and all the redeemed saints, with a loud voice said, “Amen!” Early Writings (1882), 294.

   But the doctrine of never-ending torment has no sanction in the Bible. John in the Revelation, describing the future joy and glory of the redeemed, declares that he heard every voice in Heaven and earth, and under the earth, ascribing praise to God. There will be no lost beings in hell to mingle their shrieks with the songs of the saved.

   “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [ROM. 6:23.] While life is the inheritance of the righteous, death is the portion of the wicked. The penalty threatened is not merely temporal death, for all must suffer this. It is the second death, the opposite of everlasting life. God cannot save the sinner in his sins; but he declares that the wicked, having suffered the punishment of their guilt, shall be as though they had not been. Says an inspired writer, “Thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.” [PS. 37:10.] In consequence of Adam’s sin, death passed upon all mankind. All alike go down into the grave. But through the provisions of the plan of salvation, all are to be brought forth from their graves. Then those who have not secured the pardon of their sins must receive the penalty of transgression. They suffer punishment varying in duration and intensity according to their works, but finally ending in the second death. Covered with infamy, they sink into hopeless, eternal oblivion.

   Upon the fundamental error of natural immortality rests the doctrine of consciousness in death, a doctrine, like eternal torment, opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures, to the dictates of reason, and to our feelings of humanity. According to the popular belief, the redeemed in Heaven are acquainted with all that takes place on the earth, and especially with the lives of the friends whom they have left behind. But how could it be a source of happiness to the dead to know the troubles of the living, to witness the sins committed by their own loved ones, and to see them enduring all the sorrows, disappointments, and anguish of life? How much of Heaven’s bliss would be enjoyed by those who were hovering over their friends on earth? And how utterly revolting is the belief that as soon as the breath leaves the body, the soul of the impenitent is consigned to the flames of hell! To what depths of anguish must those be plunged who see their friends passing to the grave unprepared, to enter upon an eternity of woe and sin! Many have been driven to insanity by this harrowing thought.
The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol 4 (1884), 364-365.

   During the thousand years between the first and the second resurrection, the Judgment of the wicked dead takes place. The righteous reign as kings and priests unto God; and in union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is written against their names in the book of death. Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and his people.
The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol 4 (1884), 475.

   The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. They “shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.” Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished according to their deeds. The sins of the righteous have been transferred to Satan, the originator of evil, who must bear their penalty. Thus he is made to suffer not only for his own rebellion, but for all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit. His punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on. In the cleansing flames the wicked are at last destroyed, root and branch,– Satan the root, his followers the branches. The justice of God is satisfied, and the saints and all the angelic host say with a loud voice, Amen. The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 4 (1884), 488-489.

   During the thousand years between the first and the second resurrection, the Judgment of the wicked takes place. The apostle Paul points to this Judgment as an event that follows the second advent. “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” [1 COR. 4:5.] Daniel declares that when the Ancient of days came, “Judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” [DAN. 7:22.] At this time the righteous reign as kings and priests unto God. John in the Revelation says: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” [REV. 20:4, 6; 1 COR. 6:2,3.] It is at this time that, as foretold by Paul, “the saints shall judge the world.” [REV. 20:4, 6; 1 COR. 6:2, 3.] In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death.

   Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and his people. Says Paul, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” [REV. 20:4, 6; 1 COR. 6:2, 3.] And Jude declares that “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains-under darkness unto the Judgment of the great day.” [JUDE 6.]

   At the close of the thousand years the second resurrection will take place. Then the wicked will be raised from the dead, and appear before God for the execution of “the judgment written.” Thus the Revelator, after describing the resurrection of the righteous, says, “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” [REV. 20:5; ISA. 24:22.] And Isaiah declares, concerning the wicked, “They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited” [REV. 20:5; ISA. 24:22.] The Great Controversy (1888), 660-661.

   The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. [ISA. 34:8; PROV. 11:31.] They “shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.” [MAL. 4:1.] Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished “according to their deeds.” The sins of the righteous having been transferred to Satan, he is made to suffer not only for his own rebellion, but for all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit. His punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on. In the cleansing flames the wicked are at last destroyed, root and branch,–Satan the root, his followers the branches. The full penalty of the law has been visited; the demands of justice have been met; and Heaven and earth, beholding, declare the righteousness of Jehovah. The Great Controversy (1888), 673.

   At the [second] coming of Christ the wicked are blotted from the face of the whole earth — consumed with the spirit of His mouth and destroyed by the brightness of His glory. The Great Controversy (1911), 657.

   During the thousand years between the first and the second resurrection the judgment of the wicked takes place. The apostle Paul points to this judgment as an event that follows the second advent. “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” 1 Corinthians 4:5. Daniel declares that when the Ancient of Days came, “judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” Daniel 7:22. At this time the righteous reign as kings and priests unto God. John in the Revelation says: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4, 6. It is at this time that, as foretold by Paul, “the saints shall judge the world.” 1 Corinthians 6:2. In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death.

   Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and His people. Says Paul: “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” Verse 3. And Jude declares that “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” Jude 6.

   At the close of the thousand years the second resurrection will take place. Then the wicked will be raised from the dead and appear before God for the execution of “the judgment written.” Thus the revelator, after describing the resurrection of the righteous, says: “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” Revelation 20:5. And Isaiah declares, concerning the wicked: “They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” Isaiah 24:22. The Great Controversy (1911), 660-661.

   The wicked receive their recompense in the earth. Proverbs 11:31. They “shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 4:1. Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished “according to their deeds.” The sins of the righteous having been transferred to Satan, he is made to suffer not only for his own rebellion, but for all the sins which he has caused God’s people to commit. His punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on. In the cleansing flames the wicked are at last destroyed, root and branch–Satan the root, his followers the branches. The full penalty of the law has been visited; the demands of justice have been met; and heaven and earth, beholding, declare the righteousness of Jehovah. The Great Controversy (1911), 673.

A personal reaction to this teaching of Ellen White
The author experienced a period of emotional turmoil and depression when he first began to reflect on the ramifications for him as a Christian if he were to believe and accept this teaching. Having, from an early age, embraced the admonition of St. Paul to be kind to one another, tenderhearted and forgiving even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us he could not accept that God would then “turn around” and expect the people who are saved to administer a form of prolonged punishment that had no redemptive value for the punished.

Around the same time it also became apparent to him that if this teaching is repudiated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church there are implications regarding both the authority of Ellen White, as a prophet, and of her writings, as a source of truth.3

A prolonged execution
Again, about that time he read4 about Dennis McGuire, 53, who, on January 16, 2014, suffered an “agonizing” death in violation of his constitutional rights, lawyers said, when he was executed in Ohio. Witnesses said McGuire, who raped and killed a pregnant woman in 1989, gasped for at least 10 minutes before he died. McGuire took 26 minutes to die after the chemicals, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, began flowing — the longest execution of the 53 carried out in Ohio since capital punishment resumed in 1999. Family members wept and later said the process amounted to torture; they have sued, alleging undue cruelty. Berkeley University’s Megan McCracken said, “An execution that takes a long time certainly starts to implicate the eighth amendment.”

The American Bill of Rights
The eighth amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America5 reads, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”6

A few Scriptures on the character of God and His expectations of His people

  • And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:6, 7).”
  • For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
  • He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (Psalm 103:9)
  • “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7, 8).
  • And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

After all this the author decided to submit some relevant questions and comments to some whom he considered to be authorities within Seventh-day Adventism. Pastor William Fagal of the Ellen G. White Estate was the only person who replied to the list of comments and questions.

Relevant questions and comments.
1. Do the Scriptures teach that the activities of the righteous during the millennium will be as described above?

2. If these activities are the future of the saved, I, if I am among the saved, would be haunted for eternity by the memory of this whole episode.

3. Is this what God, during the millennium, will be training the saved to be doing?

4. If this is the case, we who have been “born again” and have, through the indwelling Holy Spirit been imbued with His fruit, will have to be retrained and guided, by Jesus, no less, in the art of cruel punishment.

5. The eighth amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and also article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although secular documents, are lauded by Christians for their humanitarian stance even in punishment. Why would not their principles be seen as of Divine origin?

6. Seventh-day Adventists abhor the doctrine of an eternal hellfire yet have not distanced themselves from Ellen White’s above writings about a deliberately extended period of suffering in fire.

7. There is no redemptive value in the lengthy and painful punishment of the wicked including that of the devil himself.

8. In the past, such methods of punishment, e.g, burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, public hangings, and torture at the hands of inquisitors, were seen to be methods of maintaining public law and order. In this case it would serve as a warning to the “saved.”

9. Revelation 20:10 notwithstanding, verse 9 reads, “fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured [the wicked].” For the author’s comment on Revelation 20:10 see Chapter 23:  “The Fifth Window” (Endnote #34). For an amillennialist interpretation of Revelation 20 see Appendix 9.

10. In Ellen White’s statement, the angel adds the words “of life” in his use of Isaiah 66:24 — “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm [of life] will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” and applies it to the post-millennium death experience of the wicked. This is not Seventh-day Adventist exegesis let alone correct exegesis.

11. As noted above, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary on Mark 9:48, which quotes Isaiah 66:24, explains that the word “worm” does not refer to the “soul.”

12. In the light of this, how authoritative is any statement made by “the angel” who spoke to Ellen White. Who is this angel?

13. A knowledge of the Biblical languages and a training in Biblical exegesis is essential for an understanding of the Bible. Ellen White and her contemporaries had neither.

14. The Seventh-day Adventist Church honors those Protestant reformers who risked life and limb to say in principle with Martin Luther, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand. I can do no other.”7

15. From the days of the Protestant Reformation, “sola scriptura” has meant that the Bible alone is the Christian’s “only rule of faith and practice.”8

16. That the Bible is its own interpreter was made clear by SDA theologian Dr. Gerhard Hasel on page 8 of the transcript of his presentation on Biblical interpretation at the Australasian Division Bible Conference in 1978, quoting, inter alia, the following statements (preceded by their italicized endnote numbers) from the writings of Ellen White. “Scripture, its own interpreter” involves the recognition that the Bible must be interpreted from within itself.

44. The Bible is its own expositor (EGW9 in Education 190)

45. Scripture is its own interpreter (EGW in The Great Controversy, 521)

46. Scripture interprets scripture, one passage [is] … the key to other passages. (EGW in Evangelism, 581)

47. Make the Bible its own expositor (EGW in Child Guidance, 511 and the Review and Herald October 9, 1863)

48. Concerning U. Zwingli it is stated that “he saw that it [the Bible as the word of God, the only sufficient, infallible rule] must be its own interpreter.” (EGW in The Great Controversy, 173)

49. Seventh-day Adventists are to be “a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.” (EGW in The Great Controversy, 595)

50. “The interpreter has to silence his personal wishes with regard to the outcome of the interpretation.” (Hasel, page 10)

17. It is not enough to assert that Ellen White’s understanding of Scripture changed and matured as does that of every student of the Bible. This then begs the question, “At what point then should we begin to accept her teaching on any given topic as authoritative?”

18. Of course, in the light of St. Paul’s advice to “not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good [and] reject every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21)”, Ellen White’s writings should be subjected to the closest of scholarly scrutiny and comparison with the Scriptures.

The Ellen G. White Estate’s response to these comments and questions.
Dear Pastor McPhee,

Thank you for contacting the Ellen G. White Estate. I can understand how these statements that you are grappling with can be puzzling, even disturbing. But I’m not sure that the solution is to dismiss or discard them as errors in Ellen White’s writings. When we do that with portions we find troubling, we set out on a path that makes us and our ideas, our understandings, the authority. Ellen White wrote about people who did so in her day (though apparently on other matters than this one):

Many times in my experience I have been called upon to meet the attitude of a certain class, who acknowledged that the testimonies were from God, but took the position that this matter and that matter were Sister White’s opinion and judgment. This suits those who do not love reproof and correction, and who, if their ideas are crossed, have occasion to explain the difference between the human and the divine. {3SM 68.1}

If the preconceived opinions or particular ideas of some are crossed in being reproved by testimonies, they have a burden at once to make plain their position to discriminate between the testimonies, defining what is Sister White’s human judgment, and what is the word of the Lord. Everything that sustains their cherished ideas is divine, and the testimonies to correct their errors are human–Sister White’s opinions. They make of none effect the counsel of God by their tradition.– Manuscript 16, 1889. {3SM 68.2}

The issue you are struggling with may differ in degree, but perhaps not in kind, from some that face students of the Bible. I am thinking, for instance, of the destruction of the world by a flood in Noah’s day, or of the commands to Israel to destroy every man, woman, and child among certain of the Canaanite tribes. Destruction by a flood takes time, during which there is terror and suffering. Shouldn’t God simply have snuffed out the lives of the unrepentant ones quickly and humanely? And among the Canaanites, was it really necessary to destroy even the children? We are capable of questioning God’s decisions on these things, though I do not think it is wise, given our limited human understanding. We have God’s own testimony about His feelings over the destruction of the impenitent, found in Ezekiel 18, which closes this way: “‘Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’”

I do not claim to know the reasons why God might destroy the finally impenitent over a period of time. I don’t recall finding this explained in Scripture or in the writings of Ellen G. White. But I wonder whether it might have something to do with a sense of proportionality in administering justice. You have appealed to our human ideas of justice, but at times these seem inadequate even to us. We are glad when a Hitler is stopped, but a simple death for him seems not to be proportionate to the tsunami of destruction and suffering that he caused. Might it be that God’s handling of the fate of the lost is a way of restoring proportionality to the universe in His dealings with evil? I do not claim to know, but this strikes me as a possibility. And Ellen White’s presentation of the great controversy theme, in which the character of God is a central issue, gives me some assurance that God’s answers to the sin problem will not seem arbitrary or unloving to the redeemed. The millennium will give them abundant opportunity to review the records of the lost and even (it seems to me) the sentence of God in dealing with them, prior to the time that this sentence is carried out. The dealings of God with the sin problem at the end will not cause them to see Him as a vengeful ogre, but as One who gave His own Son to be crucified for us, and who has done everything possible to reclaim every human being. I believe we will conclude that God’s handling of the unrepentant at the end is the only way it could be done that addresses all the facets. If we come freely to such a conclusion, sin has no chance of arising again.

This view that I’ve expressed doesn’t answer all the questions. It is rather a statement of faith in God, not only for the outcome, but also for His dealings with us through His prophets. “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Though there are aspects of the prophetic depiction of the future that I don’t fully understand, I choose to accept them as we have them, leaving the end result to God.

I hope this may be helpful in some way. May the Lord bless and guide you as you seek to draw others to Him.

Sincerely,

William Fagal
Associate Director
Ellen G. White Estate
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 U.S.A.

Phone: 301 680-6550
FAX: 301 680-6559

http://www.EllenWhite.org

Endnotes

1 Late 2016 the Seventh-day Adventist Church released on DVD the movie “Tell the World” which ttw-pdddramatizes the events leading up to and immediately following this great disappointment. Regarding Ellen White, the movie’s website (https://telltheworld.adventist.org/ellen-white) says, “Teenager Ellen Harmon doesn’t let her young age or physical frailty dampen her enthusiasm for the Advent work.” Yes, it is a human interest story that reveals eccentricities, naiveté, honesty, hope, faith, mistakes and enthusiasm that were all characteristics of those early Seventh-day Adventists.

2 The quotations are arranged in chronological order. The Present Truth was a magazine edited and published between 1849 and 1850 by Ellen White’s husband James White, whom she married August 30, 1846. The other publications are books all of which Ellen White was the author.

3 “Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church.” See Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Belief no. 18 (2015).

4 Sources

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25775287

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20140118/us–ohio-execution/

5 The Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. See https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

6 Compare The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” See http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

7 Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand (NY: Mentor Books, 1958), 144

8 See vow #5 in the Baptismal Vow of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which reads, “I believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, and that it constitutes the only rule of faith and practice for the Christian. (2 Peter 1:20,21: 2 Timothy 3:16,17: Psalm 119:105: Proverbs 30:5,6: Isaiah 8:20: John 17:17: 1 Thessalonians 2:13: Hebrews 4:12)”

9 The letters EGW are often adopted as an abbreviation for Ellen G. White

© Angus McPhee, December 30, 2016