We have to admit that sometimes the titles of our PTs may appear to be a little bizarre. But there is a very good reason for us to write on the themes of “confession” and “torment”, and the outcome, we promise you, will be far from bizarre. We are now just a matter of hours away from Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the High Priest went, once each year, into the Holy of Holies to present an offering for the sins of ALL ISRAEL. And as we come to the N.T. and realise that our Great High Priest offered Himself without spot to God, and entered into the Holiest in heaven, it was on behalf of ALL PEOPLE, not just Israel. There is literally NO ONE to whom we have any right to say, “The Lord never died for you.” But the main reason for mentioning Yom Kippur at the head of this paper is to say that during the course of the Day of Atonement, and before I had even appreciated that it WAS that day, the Lord brought to mind a verse from 2 Cor.5 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses.” And of course it goes on to say that he has made us the ministers of reconciliation.
We should be ready to say to people, “God has reconciled you, He has redeemed you by the precious blood of His Son. Believe this great truth; give thanks to God for what He has done.” This gives greater force to the Gospel message, and removes the assertion that it depends on our “decision”.
And now to get to grips with our subject matter. First of all, the word “confession.” In some ways, there is a bad smell here from the past, connected with Roman rites, of forced confessions, and also their continuing practice of confessing to a priest. But leaving this behind with no further comment, there is a most precious truth to be learned from Phil.2:11, where Paul says that “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It must be admitted that this is a difficult truth for many to accommodate, because they do not envisage ALL of God’s created beings submitting to Him, either now or in the future. But the verse says just that, and it comes from Isaiah, where the Lord spoke similar words.
What sort of confession is it therefore? Is it a FORCED confession? Is it that in the end all the rebellious ones are brought to the point where they have no alternative but to bow the knee, and reluctantly they do so? Is that the meaning of the expression in Phil.? We should like to examine what Paul said more closely, and to do so we shall have to indulge in a lesson in Greek grammar. Some may object to this, saying that the word of God (in English) is good enough for them. But we should gently like to remind all such that the N.T. was written in Greek, and originally understood by Greek-speaking people, and that no matter how excellent may be our translations, they can never wholly express all the hidden nuances of the original. Also we must remember that Paul was the equivalent of a University graduate, well versed in Scripture, and a most able writer. John’s Greek in the Gospel is a very simple Greek, but Paul’s Greek shows a real mastery of the language.
The Greek word Paul employs in verse 11 is EXOMOLOGESETAI, which admittedly is a mouthful! It comes from a verb which certainly expresses the thought of “confession”, but to plumb the depths of Paul’s wisdom, we need to know about the grammar. It is in the aorist 1 tense, the subjunctive mood, and the MIDDLE voice. By consulting the experts in Greek grammar, we have learned that the Middle Voice (unknown in English) has a very specific usage. In our language we are always using verbs in the Active and the Passive. The Active may be exemplified by a statement like “I hurt him.” The Passive would then be “I was hurt by him.” The Active speaks about MY action to HIM, whereas the Passive tells about HIS action against ME. But the Middle Voice would say “I have hurt myself.” In other words, the action is reflexive, it comes back on myself. It is the “boomerang” Voice. And furthermore, Jelf’s Greek Grammar tells us that when the aorist tense is used TOGETHER with the Middle Voice, the reflexive sense is most pronounced. That, very briefly, is our lesson in Greek grammar. (Those readers who have received PT 20 “Every knee shall bow” will remember that we covered this before, briefly.)
So how do we translate this verse? To give the verb its full expression, we shall have to paraphrase it as follows:- “and every tongue confess (for themselves, freely, of their own volition, without any outside force being applied other than the gentle persuasion of truth and logic – -) etc.” If Paul had meant it in any other sense, he would have chosen his Tense and Voice appropriately, but with his normal precision he chose to express it in this manner, and we are obliged to accept the fullness of what he said. If we should rather not BELIEVE it, then that is a matter of our own choice before God, but we cannot alter the FACTS as Paul presented them to his Philippian readers.
But the authors of this paper believe that many will rejoice in the knowledge of what the original language tells us. In this present world, and indeed throughout all history thus far, man has in his supreme arrogance and ignorance rejected God. The signs of creation abound before our very eyes, so that “we are without excuse” if we fail to give God the glory for His exquisite handiwork. Also history is replete with evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all those who have had the privilege of KNOWING and REFLECTING on this great truth, and yet reject it, will likewise be “without excuse”. But when God comes to judge the secrets of men’s hearts, there will be a moment of painful realisation, the effect of which will be to put all such on a different path. And this new path will be one of gradual learning in the things that really matter in life. It is not God’s will to destroy the very people He has created, but to bring them gradually to the place of LIFE. This is why repentance is called by Paul, God’s “gift” to mankind. He will never withhold this gift unto the ages of the ages, and it will perform its beneficent work as steadily as the yeast that causes the whole batch of dough to rise. No small part of the dough can escape the action of the yeast, and neither will any small portion of humanity escape the purifying, purging, refining, and enlivening purposes of God.
For some this will be a terrifying experience of deep soul-searching, with many bitter tears following a brief period of gnashing the teeth in anger. But for quite the majority it will become like a breath of fresh air from heaven in a brief encounter, gladly accepted and wholly appreciated. We make no apology for presenting this further angle on our continuing theme of God’s ultimate reconciliation of all mankind. This great fact, contained in our Saviour’s passion, is the crux of the Gospel, and the ground for the greatest praise to God for a finished work, finished ‘de jure’ at Calvary, and to be finished ‘de facto’ in the days to come, when death, the last enemy, is finally destroyed.
Finally, we shall examine another word in the N.T. – “Torment.” What idea springs to mind when this word is uttered? Does it not conjure up visions of a small boy poking some unfortunate caged animal? And when we read that certain people will be“tormented day and night for ever and ever”, does it not create a graphic picture, and a most terrifying one, of demons with forked tails and three-pronged forks, prodding poor unfortunate souls as they flounder about in a lake of burning sulphur? Many illustrations of this calibre have remained from the middle ages, and even as recently as from the brush of William Blake, who wrote “Jerusalem.”
Are we correct to think in this way? Is there any justification for the human mind to travel along such hideous routes? Is there truth in it, or should we purge our minds of such fantasy, and treat it as the outworking of our old natures? Does the word of God grant us any deeper knowledge of what “torment” really is, so that we may adjust our minds to TRUTH, rather than ghastly INVENTION? The answer is “Yes”.
We were as troubled about this subject as many of our readers must surely have been, and so we took pains to seek out the original, and allow the experts to advise us about the meaning of the Greek word. What we found was most amazing and informative, and well worthy of repeating here. The Greek lexicon tells us that the word translated “torment” is BASANOS. And by combining what we found from several sources, we can give the following summary of information – BASANOS. The touch-stone, (Latin Lapis Lydius), Basanite, a very smooth and finely grained black or dark coloured variety of quartz or jasper, which resembles polished steel. When specimens of gold or silver are rubbed on the stone, a mark is left behind, by which an experienced analyst can determine the degree of purity of the metal. Often a sample of known purity is rubbed over the stone alongside the sample to be tested, thus giving a visible contrast. This stone was found in Lydia, Asia Minor, in early days, hence its Latin name. In some parts of the world the test is still used as a quick and reasonably accurate means of testing how much alloy is mixed in with the gold or silver.
Figuratively, BASANOS is used to describe the testing of human beings, to find out their true “colour”. Frith once wrote, “Lay them to the Touchstone, and try them by God’s word.” Another writer of last century said, “the Touchstone – – to distinguish the true man – – from the pretender.” Here then is the background by which we can formulate a true understanding of how the word was used (and of greater import – what meaning was conveyed) in ancient times. TheBASANISTES, or “tormentor” was an individual whose task lay in finding out the degree of purity of gold and silver samples. It reminds us immediately of Malachi’s prophecy – “Who can stand when He appears, for He is the Refiner of gold and silver.” Yes, our Lord is indeed the Assayer. He wants to know the “colour” of our gold. In other words He will find out our TRUE character, and He will do so with great accuracy. “He will purify the sons of Levi and purge them as gold andsilver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal.3:2-3) And if God is concerned that His priests offer RIGHTEOUS sacrifices sufficient to warrant purging them and refining them, then He will likewise pursue this task with relentless energy throughout all time, for ALL MANKIND. And He will not be discouraged until He has completed this task. He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. He will not be content until “every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea, all that are in them, say, ‘Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.'” (Rev.5:13)
What a magnificent time God’s Kingdom will be. In it there will be many who will act as God’s “tormentors”, or more strictly, His Assayers of gold. They will test, try, find out, of what stuff men are made. They will bring out into the open that which man desperately tries to hide under the cloaks of their ‘window dressing of deception’. There will be no way of escape. In that day the deeds of men will be made manifest, and none will be able to hide. Perhaps there will be an element of “torment” in this, of the type which we are more used to in our own language, but from heaven’s point of view it is all part of a process of testing and trying, purging and refining, and for some this will have to be a continuous process, day and night,“unto the ages of the ages”, so great is their need for mental revision, soul adjustment, and change of heart.
But as we said before, God will not be discouraged until He has accomplished His task. He “wills” that all men shall be saved, yet remains steadfastly true to His own law of the inviolability of the human will – under no circumstances will He invade that ‘ability to choose’ which is man’s greatest asset, because it is the created function that most nearly relates to the divine character. By it we have been made “in the image of God.” Oh how many sensitive souls have been troubled and burdened by the dread assertions of “hell-lusting clergy” who would have us believe that quite the majority of all mankind will end up in fiery torment from which there is never escape. Yet even these clergy will be met by the Lord Himself, and their vengeful spirits will be calmed as they come face to face with the uncompromising patient love in the Saviour’s eyes, a love that can and will soften the hardest of hearts, and melt the most bitter of natures, for there is a greatness in God’s love which is totally beyond the comprehension of man. And when men are confronted with it, they will no longer have room in their hearts for foolish theology. Like Paul, they will say, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, I count all things loss – – and count it to be dung, that I may win Christ and be found in Him, – – that I may KNOW HIM.” (Phil.3:7-10)
And with that we complete our task in this paper. We commend these snippets of truth from the Greek N.T. to our readers for examination and perusal, and also for heart-strengthening and worship, that JESUS may receive ALL the praise that is so justly His due. It is high time for the Church to preach this “eternal purpose” to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies. How? By showing them that we believe THE FULL GOSPEL, and will by preaching it become “ministers of reconciliation” wherever we find ourselves.