Soul Torments

A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
~ Daniel 7:10, Revelation 20:15

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
~ Matthew 3:12, Matthew 25:46, Isaiah 66:24, Revelation 14:10-11, Revelation 21:8, Revelation 20:10

The Torments of Soul, by Edward Payson. The following is an excerpt from his work, “The Punishment of the Wicked Dreadful and Interminable”.

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
~ Mark 9:44

A minister, my hearers, who would be faithful, must frequently compare his preaching with the Scriptures and inquire, not only whether he preaches the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but whether he gives to every particular doctrine and precept just that place in his sermons that its importance deserves or that is given to it in the Word of God. On instituting such an inquiry, I find that it is long since I called your attention, particularly, to the punishment that awaits impenitent sinners in a future state…In a word, the doctrine of future punishment has not filled of late such a place in my sermons as it fills in the Bible, as it fills in the discourses of our great Teacher, Jesus Christ. I therefore (believe it my) duty to call your attention to the subject, painful as it is. Some of you may, perhaps, say—or at least think—that it will do no good…It is my duty, not to decide what doctrines are likely to do good, but to preach such doctrines as I find in the Scriptures; not to determine what means will prove effectual, but to use those means that God has appointed…I dare not pretend to be either more wise or more compassionate than our Saviour. He thought it consistent both with wisdom and with compassion to utter the words of our text. And He evidently uttered them with a view to alarm His hearers…

There can be no doubt, I think, that in these expressions our Saviour alludes to the manner in which the Jews disposed of the bodies of the dead. Sometimes, as is the custom with us, they placed them in tombs, where worms, of course, consumed them. At others, they prepared a funeral pile on which the body was placed in order to be consumed by fire…But there is another death, which is followed by consequences far more terrible, which affect not the body only, but the soul. Those who die this death shall be preyed upon by worms that will never die and become the fuel of a fire that will never be quenched. They will be forever dying, forever suffering the pangs of the second death, but will never die, never cease to exist. It will be as if the bodies, which you have seen entombed or burnt, could feel the worms that devour or the fires that consume them…Let us then, with feelings similar to those that prompted Him to utter this language, lift the veil of figurative expression and contemplate the awful truths, which it partly discloses and partly conceals.

In dilating upon these truths, I shall say little of the corporeal sufferings that await impenitent sinners beyond the grave. Such sufferings will certainly compose a part of their punishment. We are assured that their bodies shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation. Our Saviour’s language respecting the rich man who in hell lifted up his eyes, being in torments, more than intimates that anguish of body was an ingredient in his wretchedness. Indeed, as the body is the servant of the soul—at once its tempter to many sins and its instrument in committing them—there seems to be a manifest propriety in making them companions in punishment. We shall only add that as after the resurrection the bodies of the wicked will be immortal, they will be capable of enduring suffering that in this world would cause instant death.

Though we know little because the Scriptures say little of the nature of their bodies or of the miseries that await them, it is otherwise with respect to the sufferings of the soul. To these sufferings, the declarations of Scripture seem principally to refer…What is the gnawing worm, which is to prey upon the soul hereafter? I answer,

1. Its own passions and desires. That these are capable of preying upon the soul and occasioning even in this life most acute suffering, those of you whose passions are naturally strong need not be informed. Those of you whose passions are less violent, whose tempers are comparatively mild, may be convinced of the same truth by seeing the effects of passion upon others. Look, for instance, at a man who is habitually peevish, fretful, and discontented. Has he not gnawing worms already at his heart? Look at the envious man, whose cheek turns pale and who feels a secret pang when he hears a rival commended or sees him successful. Is there no gnawing worm in his bosom? Look at the covetous man, who wears himself out in the pursuit of wealth and who is daily harassed by craving desires, cares, and anxieties. Can any worm gnaw worse than these can? Look at the votary of ambition, whose success depends on the favour of the great or of the multitude, who pants to rise, but is kept down by a rival or by adverse circumstances. (His) mind is full of contrivances, jealousies, and rivalships—is there no corroding tooth at work in his breast? Look at the proud man, whose blood boils at every real or fancied neglect; at the passionate or revengeful man, who has always some quarrel upon his hands; at the drunkard, whose passions are inflamed by intoxicating potions, and you will find fresh proofs of this truth.

It is true, indeed, that none of these passions make men completely wretched in this world, and the reasons why they do not are obvious. In the first place, there are in this world many things that are calculated to soothe or, at least, to divert men’s passions. Sometimes they meet with success, and this produces, at least, a transient calm. At another time, the objects that excite their passions are absent; and this allows them a little quietness. There are so many things to be attended to that men have not always leisure to indulge their passions or attend to the uneasiness that they produce. Above all, they are from their infancy under the operation of causes that tend to restrain their passions and weaken, or at least confine, their rage. Besides, every man must sleep at intervals; and while he sleeps, his passions are at rest.

But suppose all these things to be removed. Suppose a man to be deprived of sleep and chained down with nothing to do but to feel his passions rage continually. Suppose him to meet with no success, nothing to soothe his ruffled feelings. Suppose the objects that excite his strongest passions to be constantly before him. Finally, suppose all outward and inward restraints to be taken off. Would not such a man be, even in this life, inconceivably wretched? Yet even his wretchedness would be nothing, compared with that which the sinner’s passions and desires will occasion him in a future state. There his passions, which are now in their infancy, will start up into giant strength. There all outward and inward restraints will be taken off. There he will have nothing to divert his attention, nothing to assist him in forgetting, even for a moment, his tormenting feelings. There every object that he ever desired will be removed from him forever, while the desire will remain…in vastly increased force. There he will be surrounded with malicious, cruel, raging companions, who will continually blow up his passions to the highest pitch of fury. There not even the respite, which sleep now affords, will be found. Nor is this all. Nothing inflames the passions of men more than suffering. Even men who are at other times good-tempered often become impatient, discontented, and even angry when harassed by severe pain, long sickness, or repeated disappointments. How terribly, then, will the passions of sinners be enraged by the exquisite, hopeless sufferings of a future state! How they will curse themselves and all around them, and, as the Scriptures declare, blaspheme God because of their plagues. Against Him and against all good beings, they will feel the most furious, implacable hostility; for they will be entirely under the dominion of that carnal mind, which is enmity against Jehovah.

In addition, the Scriptures teach us that they will see, though afar off and with an impassable gulf between them, the happiness of the righteous; and this sight will occasion envy, compared with which all the envious feelings ever entertained on earth are nothing. Every sinner too will find in the regions of despair some whom his arguments, his solicitations, or at least his example helped to bring there. And they will overwhelm him and enrage his passions with the bitterest reproaches. Nor will sinners there retain the least shadow of those natural affections or amiable dispositions that some of them possess here. For our Saviour declares that from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have. Now consider all these things and say, “Who can describe or conceive of the misery that sinners will suffer from their own gnawing passions, or the blasphemies, the execrations, the wild uproar, the raging madness that will be witnessed when all the wicked from all ages and parts of the world are imprisoned together in the blackness of darkness like ravenous lions in their dens!” To this God refers when He says of sinners, “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hos 8:7); that is, they have indulged sinful passions in this life; and those passions, blown up as from a wind to a whirlwind, shall be their future companions and tormentors.

2. The gnawing worm of which our Saviour speaks includes the consciences of sinners. The sufferings inflicted by conscience will be even more painful than those that are occasioned by the sinner’s passions; for as terrible as are the gnawings of passion, those of conscience are still more so. Her scourge draws blood at every stroke. Even in this world, she has drawn many, as she did Judas, to despair, madness, and suicide. But her loudest rebukes, her keenest reproaches here, are mere whispers compared with the thundering voice in which she will speak hereafter. Here she speaks only at intervals. There she will speak without intermission. Here the sinner has various ways of stifling her reproaches or diverting his attention from them. He may rush into scenes of business or amusement; he may silence her with sophistical arguments and excuses or with promises of future amendment. When all other means fail, he may drown her for a season in the intoxicating bowl as too many, alas, madly do.

But there, he will have no means of silencing or escaping from her reproaches for a moment. Here she knows comparatively little of God, of duty, or of sin, and therefore often suffers the sinner to escape when she ought to scourge him. But there she will see everything in the clear light of eternity, and in consequence, instead of a whip of small cords, will chastise the sinner as with a scourge of scorpions. There the sinner will clearly see what a God he has offended, what a Saviour he has neglected, what a heaven he has lost, and into what a hell he has plunged himself. All the sins that he has committed, with all their aggravations and consequences; all the Sabbaths he enjoyed, the sermons that he heard, the warnings and (Gospel calls) that he slighted, the opportunities that he misimproved, the serious impressions that he banished will be set in order before him and overwhelm him with mountains of conscious guilt.

And O, the keen unutterable pangs of remorse, the bitter self-reproaches, the unavailing regrets, the fruitless wishes that he had pursued a different course that will be thus excited in his breast! The word remorse is derived from a Latin word that signifies “to gnaw again” or “to gnaw repeatedly.” Surely, no term can more properly describe the sufferings that are inflicted by an accusing conscience. Well then may such a conscience, when its now sleeping energies shall be awakened by the light of eternity, be compared to a gnawing worm…Even in this world, where conscience is comparatively weak, I have often seen the bed and the whole chamber of the sick man shake under the almost convulsive agonies that her lash inflicted. I have been told by persons suffering under most painful diseases that their bodily sufferings were nothing to the anguish of mind that they endured. I have seen a man of robust constitution, vigorous health, strong mind, and liberal education tremble like an aspen leaf and scarcely able to sustain himself under the pressure of conscious guilt and pungent remorse. A man in similar circumstances has been known to rise in winter at midnight and run for miles with naked feet over the rough and frozen ground, in order that the bodily pain thus occasioned might, if possible, divert his attention for a time from the far more intolerable anguish of his mind. And a dying infidel has been known to exclaim, “Surely there is a God, for nothing less than omnipotence could inflict the pangs which I now feel!” What then must be the pangs inflicted by a gnawing conscience in eternity!

Our Saviour speaks not only of a gnawing worm, but also of an unquenchable fire. What reference this may have to the corporeal sufferings of the wicked, I shall not pretend to decide. But it appears evident, from other passages, that as far as the soul is concerned it refers to a keen and constant sense of God’s presence and righteous displeasure. He says…, “The LORD thy God is a consuming fire” (Deu 4:24; Heb 12:29) and “a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell” (Deu 32:22). These expressions evidently intimate that a view of His perfections and constant presence, combined with a sense of His displeasure, will affect the soul as fire does the body, withering its strength and drying up its spirits. Some of you have formerly known a little of this; and you know, or at least will easily conceive, that no fire can torture the body more keenly than a sense of God’s displeasure does the soul…What then must it be to see yourselves surrounded by a just and holy God, to meet His heart-searching, heart-withering eye, wherever you turn, fixed full upon you. (What must it be) to see the Author of your being, the Sovereign of the universe, the great, the glorious, the majestic, the omnipotent, the infinite Jehovah, regarding you with severe displeasure! (What must it be) to see His anger burning against you like fire! O, this will be indeed a fire to the soul! A fire that will be felt in all its faculties and fill them to the brim with anguish—anguish as much greater than any which could be occasioned by material fire, as the Creator is superior to His creatures. It is then, O, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God—that God Who is a consuming fire to the workers of iniquity!