Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 11, 1954
NUMBER 27, PAGE 1,5b

Hell And The Devil

John W. McGarvey (Christian Standard. 1897)

I have received two copies of the Rocky Mountain News, published at Denver, June 7, in which there is a sensational report of a sermon delivered the previous evening by Barton O. Aylesworth to an overflowing audience. The sermon is announced in flaming headlines, among which I read, "There Is No Hell, Neither Is There Proof of A Personal Devil." The chief part of the report of the sermon is printed within quotation marks, as representing the words of the speaker; and while these headlines do not precisely represent the thought of the sermon, they do so substantially.

The preacher calls attention to the fact that "in the universe there are two forces working constantly against each other," and remarks: "Philosophy says it is the negative or not-being struggling to overcome the positive and actual, so that the former is always yielding that the latter may be." I confess that I am not philosopher enough to see how "the negative or the not-being" can carry on a struggle. If philosophy says that, I should advise philosophy to wash its face and go to school. Farther on he says: "This negative element is hell. It is the failure of the man to rise to his own perfection." If this definition is correct, and is, as all admit, except the few Methodists who have obtained the "second blessing," that all men have thus far failed to rise to their own perfection, we should no longer talk about going to hell, because we are there already. It is a hell, however, which the most of us endure with martyr-like composure. It causes very little weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Again, our preacher says: "Hell is an illogical condition of life." If this is true, we are nearly all caught again. Then all the "higher critics" are in hell, sure. They got there sooner than I thought they would. Then Brother Aylesworth himself must be "slipping o'er the brink," for I have not seen anything lately more illogical than his sermon. I am so glad that I am not illogical. Then, too, another old thought of ours is corrected. We have always been taught, at least ever since Christ spoke on the subject, that it is only dead people who are in hell; but here we learn that it is the living, for hell is "an illogical condition of life." I never knew before how important it is to study logic.

Again, the preacher says: "I do not believe that hell is a place of physical torture. I think it is in man himself." This is another evidence that hell is already here, and every man ought to know what it is by looking inside himself; but this presents a puzzle. Jesus speaks of casting men into hell; and if hell is in the man himself, I don't see how he can get cast into it unless he is made to swallow himself. Again, Jesus proposes to cast some men into hell after they are dead; and I don't see how this can be done if they have hell in them while they are yet alive. I confess that I have not logic enough to unravel this tangle, and if all these things are true, I am afraid that I will become illogical and get into hell with Brother Aylesworth and the "higher critics."

The preacher, in all these utterances, was not entirely forgetful of some things said by Jesus and the apostles, but he has a very summary way of setting them aside. He says, "The flames mentioned in the scriptures are figuratively spoken of." This statement would have been more satisfactory if he had told us how he knows it to be true. He has never been there to see, and no one who has absolute knowledge on the subject has told him so. How, then, does he know anything about it? I have studied the subject as much, perhaps, as he has, and all that I know about it is what I am told in the word of God. Jesus, who had seen it, and the apostles who were guided by the Spirit who knows all about it, have described it as a lake that burns with fire and brimstone; and whether that is exactly what it is or not, one thing is certain, that the words of these divinely inspired teachers are the very best words in which to speak of it. If it had been better for us to be told that hell is within us now, that hell is an illogical condition of life, or that it is the "negative or the not-being," Jesus, who knew what words were best for its expression, would have said so; instead of such phraseology, he calls it, "the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Who shall dare to soften the words which the solemn reality forced from the loving soul of Jesus?

This brings us to what the preacher says of that mysterious being called the devil and Satan: "In regard to the existence of a personal devil, I have but little to say. Some people say that he certainly does have his fires constantly in readiness, and is armed with the proverbial fork wherewith to stab his victims. I do not believe this. I can not induce my imagination to be sufficiently elastic to comprehend an evil one fighting against the Lord to obtain the position of ruler of the universe." The preacher would have done better in this sentence if, instead of mentioning these relics of nursery tales, he had said whether he believes what Bible readers of ordinary intelligence do believe on this subject; that is, whether he believes what Christ and the apostles say about the devil. Instead of saying yes or nay on this point, he launches out on an ocean of discovery, and entertains us with the following: "Still, the unclean spirits may hold an election and choose for their leader the one member who has caused the most hearts to break and created the most devastation among the innocent and unsuspecting. This is a possibility. Herod and Nero may have held the position of devil; I am of the opinion that some of the writers of modern fiction are also candidates to fill that executive position." Well, if there are elections among the unclean spirits, and if we are to judge by elections in this world, there must be a vast amount of rascality in those elections, and it should be no wonder that bad fellows get into office. It might be a good idea to send Brother Aylesworth over there (temoprarily, of course) with a copy of the Australian secret ballot law, so that the next election will be an honest one, "a free ballot and a fair count," and a devil elected who will make it a little easier for us mortals. I have understood, however, that the old devil who was in office before Herod and Nero went to that country had a lifetime tenure, and as his death has not been announced, nor any funeral tickets sent out, I am afraid that he is still in power, and leading silly men, including some preachers, captive at his will.