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Hell & Eternal Torment

Did Ellen White believe in hell? She most certainly did. Numerous times in her writings she warned her readers that, "Every soul has a heaven to win, and a hell to shun."—Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 96. And she believed in a literal hell, with literal fire and literal pain (Early Writings, p. 294). Repeatedly she quoted from Christ's parable of the sheep and the goats, that parable that spoke of the fires of hell, "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mat. 25:41).

Yet despite Ellen White's firm, life-long belief in hell, she could not bring herself to deny the cardinal truth of the following well-known Bible verse:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

If only those who believe in Jesus have eternal life instead of perishing, how can unsaved sinners live eternally in hell without perishing? To Ellen White they could not, and for this reason, she agreed with the following from the apostle Paul:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

Thus hell is a place where sinners receive the just wages of their sins: eternal death rather than eternal life. And when would hell take place?

The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Mat. 13:39-42)

Ellen White therefore expected hell to be an event that takes place at the very end of the world, when God eradicates sin from the entire universe once and for all.

In contrast, it seemed to her that the idea of an eternally burning hell defeats the whole purpose of hell by perpetuating rather than exterminating sin. And besides, such a concept seems incompatible with the kindness of God:

How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented with fire and brimstone in an eternally burning hell; that for the sins of a brief, earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live.—Great Controversy, p. 535.

In espousing such ideas, Ellen White was by no means alone. Take for instance the great theologian and hymn writer, Isaac Watts. Some of his well-known hymns include "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," "Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come," "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne," and "Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed." On the subject of hell he had this to say:

There is not one Place of Scripture that occurs to me, where the word Death, as it was first threatned in the Law of Innocency, necessarily signifies a certain miserable Immortality of the Soul, either to Adam, the actual sinner, or to his posterity.—The Ruin and Recovery of Mankind, p. 228, as quoted in Froom, Conditionalist Faith, vol. 2, p. 220.

And one might also mention the Confession of Faith ascribed to by 20,000 Baptists in England and presented to King Charles II in 1660:

The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the Hypocrite but for a moment; though his Excellency mount up to the Heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet shall hee perish for ever, like his own dung; they which have seen him, shall say, where is hee?—Froom, Conditionalist Faith, vol. 2, p. 141, italics in original.

The following quote from Ellen White about hell is one of her earlier ones, and it utilizes the words of such Bible passages as Obadiah 16:

But I saw that God would not shut them up in hell to endure endless misery, neither will He take them to heaven; for to bring them into the company of the pure and holy would make them exceedingly miserable. But He will destroy them utterly and cause them to be as if they had not been; then His justice will be satisfied. He formed man out of the dust of the earth, and the disobedient and unholy will be consumed by fire and return to dust again.—Early Writings, p. 221.

To Ellen White, all these concepts were rooted in the sacrifice of Christ upon Calvary:

The cross of Calvary, while it declares the law immutable, proclaims to the universe that the wages of sin is death. In the Saviour's expiring cry, "It is finished," the death knell of Satan was rung. The great controversy which had been so long in progress was then decided, and the final eradication of evil was made certain. The Son of God passed through the portals of the tomb, that "through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14. Lucifer's desire for self-exaltation had led him to say: "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: . . . I will be like the Most High." God declares: "I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth, . . . and never shalt thou be any more." Isaiah 14:13, 14; Ezekiel 28:18, 19. When "the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; . . . . all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." Malachi 4:1.—Great Controversy, pp. 503, 504.

To Ellen White, perishing in hell is not merely like dying in a burning house. Otherwise, Christians who were burned at the stake suffered the very same penalty as what their persecutors will suffer. Interestingly, she also taught that, while hell eventually ends for all, there will be degrees of punishment. Note the following quotation, with its heavy dependence upon Luke 12:47, 48 for biblical support.

In that day men will be dealt with according to the light they have received. He who knew his Lord's will, and did it not, will be beaten with many stripes; he who knew it not, yet committed things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes. The number of talents expected will determine the returns expected. The sinner's guilt will be measured by the opportunities and privileges which he failed to improve. He will not be punished merely for his own rejection of the offer of salvation. He will be called to account for the influence he has exerted in encouraging others in sin.—Gospel Herald, Jan. 1, 1901.

Some think God is too kind too punish at all, but this was not the belief of Ellen White. To her, God's retributive justice is consistent with His character of love and mercy:

It is the glory of God to be merciful, full of forbearance, kindness, goodness, and truth. But the justice shown in punishing the sinner is as verily the glory of the Lord as is the manifestation of His mercy.—Review and Herald, Mar. 10, 1904.

Give Us Your Opinion

What do you think about Ellen White's beliefs on hell?
I need to study more about what the Bible teaches about hell. Guess I haven't thought through some of these verses.
Anyone who says that unsaved sinners don't have eternal life in hell is dead wrong, including those 20,000 Baptists and Isaac Watts.
I just believe what my preacher says. I don't have time to study the Bible for myself.
Her beliefs sound biblical to me. At the very least, she made a pretty good case for what she believes.
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