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Book review
The Kingdom of the Cults

Full description of book:
Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Revised, Updated and Expanded Edition (Bloomington, Minnesota, USA: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, 1977, 1985, 1997, 2003). ISBN: 0764228218


Scholarship: 10/10
Information content: 10/10
Spiritual content: 9.5+/10
Overall rating: 10/10

Short Review:

This book is Walter Martin's Magnum Opus, and is an important book with regards to counter cult ministry and cult evangelism. Martin strives to provide the important information regarding the various cults as present in the United States where he lived, plus some of the religions that have came into her. As such, it provides historical facts, theological distinctives and biblical refutations of the various overt biblical cults like Jehovah's Witness, Mormonism, Christian Science, Spiritism, Theosophy, Baha'ism, Unitarian Universalism, Scientology, Unification Church aka Moonies, New Age, and some of the major religions of the world like Buddhism and Islam. It then goes on to analyze the growth of the cults in America and the rest of the world, and the various ways to evangelize cultists. In the Appendices, it studies the Worldwide Church of God as it evolves from a cult to comparative orthodoxy, analyzes the Seventh-Day Adventists, and then touches a bit on the esoteric cults of Swedenborgianism and Rosicrucianism.

After reading through the book, it can be seen that Dr. Martin is very thorough in his research and presents the vital information on each cult/ religion clearly and succinctly. The book is thus given both a scholarship and information rating of 10. Spiritual content is placed at 9.5+ since although almost all of what he presents is sound, I think that Martin's analysis of the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) is not very good. Overall, the rating given is 10, given the excellent nature of the work in general.

Longer analysis:

I would like to analyze and comment on specific things that Walter Martin wrote about.

Lesson to learn from the history of the cult of Unitarian Universalism

On the cult of Unitarian Universalism, Walter Martin outlined its history and 'devolution' (pp. 332-349), which is at once both fascinating and tragic.

Unitarian Universalism started off as Socinianism, named after the anti-Trinitarian heretic Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), who also denied the deity of Christ. As his heretical doctrines spread, it became known as Universalism in Transylvania, England, and eventually America. At that time, Universalism does not mean what it meant today i.e. that all people would be saved at the end, but the term then refers to the doctrine whereby Christ made Universal Atonement for the sins of all and everybody (one of the points of classic Arminianism, I would add). Universalism entered the English-speaking world with John Briddle (1615-1662), the Father of English Unitarianism, and America with William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the Apostle of American Unitarianism.

As time progressed, the Unitarians started to undergo the process of 'doctrinal entropy'. Whereas before they claim to follow the Scriptures, the cult devolve with the embracing of 19th century Transcendentalism developed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the embrace of pluralism. The embrace of humanism in the 20th century and New Age paganism in recent times have destroyed whatever 'Christian' distinctive they even once had.

Through all this, the destructiveness of embracing of any errant doctrine could be seen, which we must learn. What one generation embraces, the next generation would attempt to smooth out the logical inconsistencies in the position taken by the preceding generation, normally in the direction of unorthodoxy. Just because a Christian can live a Christian life while being logically inconsistent does not mean that s/he should do so, for the next generation would grow further into unorthodoxy. As quoted by Martin, hetero-orthodox religious movements observe a kind of "second law of theological thermodynamics" (Alan W. Gomes, "Winds of Change in the Worldwide Church of God: With Special Emphasis on the Doctrine of the Trinity," Presbyterian 20:2 (1994): 91).

Alliances and methods in cult evangelism and outreach

Walter Martin's concluding chapters in his book The Kingdom of the Cults deals with the topic of cult evangelism. Here are a couple of things I would like to comment on:

We see the strange, but just judgment of God upon the Christian church because of her lethargy in that He is allowing the forces of darkness [cults, other religions] to succeed ... while denying the source of light and life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ... Third, the average Christian knows what he believes, but is unable to articulate why he believes, insofar as being able to document the why of his belief from the Scriptures, which he frequently finds a frustrating and exasperating task. The clergy is often at fault in this respect because they do not emphasize the teaching ministry of the pulpit, but rather settle for an evangelistic emphasis with very little doctrinal depth.


... There must be something fundamentally wrong when important areas of doctrine such as these [doctrine of the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the relationship of grace and faith to works] are neglected or glossed over lightly. (p. 483)

The situation since Walter Martin's time has greatly worsened. Now, so-called 'Evangelicals' like Joel Osteen deny even the Lord Jesus Christ publicly and entertain the masses who come into his church. Rick Warren is too busy trying to be Mr. Nice Guy and sucker up to the rich and powerful in society while promoting his PEACE plan, while at the same time watering down the Gospel drastically and playing fast and loose with the Word of God. The seeker-sensitive mentality has infected the entire Evangelical movement and numbers become paramount, especially to the growing mega-churches. Those denominations that are more orthodox are probably wrecked by internal controversy (Norman Shepherd and Neo-legalism; KJV-Onlyism) to be useful for the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, they are too inward-looking and oftentimes may degenerate into a 'holy huddle'. Truly, Satan is having a field day with Christians running around in circles, fighting real and imaginary enemies, or worst still, succumbing to the enemy's design. And just when we require strong feeding on the Word of God so that we would not be 'tossed about by every wind of doctrine' (Eph. 4:14), we have... entertainment of the 'saints'. Disgusting!

[To combat the cults] Special commissions should therefore be appointed similar to that already sponsored by the World Council of Churches, so that Christian individuals, organizations, churches and denominations may pool their information and erect a systematic defense against cult proselytizing. Through conservatives and liberals may disagree theologically, they suffer from the inroads of the cults individually, and yearly the ranks of American cultism are swelled by former Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists, etc., who attended both liberal and conservative church until they were converted by the cults. (p. 498)

The means to evangelize and combat adherents of the cults can be made readily available to all interested parties. It remains for Christians of both ecumenical and independent persuasion to agree to cooperate in the dimension of pertinent literature on this ever-growing field of mutual concern. (p. 502)

This is where I must part with Walter Martin. This is Evangelical Co-Belligerance against the cults, which suffers from the same problems as the more political variant. This is especially so since this are theological differences involved. You just don't fight fire by adding more oil into the mixture! The theological liberals, the Neo-Orthodox etc. are no different from the cults, except that they are more biblical than they (at least in some cases)! Since that is the case, I think that Martin's advice here is in error and should not be followed. If an alliance should be made, it should be limited only to individuals, denominations and churches that totally agree on the basics of the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

The issue of the Seventh-Day Adventists

With regards to the Seventh-Day Adventists, Walter Martin took the position that they are not a cult, just merely unorthodox Christians. Martin attempts to prove his point through primarily looking at their theological statements, and historical writings, and then counter the various charges place against them by other apologists.

After looking through the entire appendix of his book The Kingdom of the Cults (pp. 535-628), I am of the conclusion that Martin has erred in his judgment of Seventh Day Adventism. However, I would agree with him that the current state of Seventh Day Adventism allows for evangelical Christians to remain in it, especially if they are not well versed in the doctrines of Seventh Day Adventism. In other words, I am of the opinion that the current state of Seventh Day Adventism allows for the possibility of a true Church of God to be found in it, despite the heresies of several Seventh Day Adventist distinctive doctrines. This is in part due to the evangelical language and clarification adopted by the Adventists in recent years, as Martin has shown.

In this Appendix, Martin goes through the history of the Adventists, then presented a rough outline of their theology, a look at their major prophetess Ellen G. White, answering some of the Adventists' critics, and then looking at some of what he feels to be legitimate problems with their doctrinal position.

With regards to their overall theological standpoint, Martin quotes from the Adventists' official teaching as found in the book Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957). In it, he showed that the Adventists are orthodox in their view of Scripture, their view of Christ, the completeness and sufficiency of the Atonement unto salvation, in their insistence of their belief in salvation by grace alone through faith alone. However, he also did highlight the unorthodox doctrines of soul-sleep, of annihilation as opposed to eternal suffering, and of the peculiar Adventist doctrines of the "Sanctuary" and of the "Investigative Judgment", the "Scapegoat teaching" and of course their strict Sabbaterianism.

Before I interact fully with Martin's position, let me just say that I think that Martin has done a thorough job of researching and presenting the evidences regarding the Seventh Day Adventists. What I disagree with are the conclusions which he draws from his evidences. Also, I agree with him that some critics probably have misrepresented the Adventists in certain areas of doctrine. One example of such a misrepresentation is that Adventists believe that Jesus had 'bad blood' through heredity, which the Adventists actually reject though one of its earlier members had once embraced it. Another example is that it was said that Adventists believe that Satan is their sin-bearer, which they actually deny (the "Scapegoat teaching" which basically states that Satan would bear all the responsibilities, NOT penalty, for all men's sins). Even for their strict Sabbaterianism, they later clarify that they do not think that other non-Saturday Sabbath keepers are unbelievers, at least not yet. As a mitigating factor for their critics, the Adventists' loose usage of words and concepts do them no good and are most probably the cause of many of the misrepresentations. In other words, they partly have themselves to blame for the many misrepresentations of their views. Their denunciation of Christians who keep the Lord's Day as our Sabbath, especially as they are framed in the past, has not helped them either.

The reason why I have earlier said that there may be true Christians in Seventh Day Adventism is due mainly to the relaxation of their suspicion level and the adoption of more evangelical sounding language in their statement of faith as composed in recent times, which could thus allow for true Christians to remain in the Adventist churches, albeit someone who either is seriously confused or does not understand much of what Adventism actually teaches or implies. And to these errant teachings in Adventism we shall now look to.

With regards to the doctrines of soul-sleep (the doctrine that the soul sleeps until judgment day, instead of immediately being with the Lord) and of annihilation (the doctrine that the souls of the wicked would be destroyed in the second death; not suffer from eternal torment), Walter Martin himself has done a good job of demolishing those two errors. Notwithstanding these errors, Adventism cannot be proven to be a cult based on these two errors, only that they are unorthodox.

The main point of contention that orthodox Christianity has with the Adventists relates to their doctrine of salvation, with particular emphasis on their doctrine of the "Sanctuary" and of "Investigative Judgment". With Dr. Anthony Hoekema which Martin attempted to refute (pp. 561-564), I agree with Hoekema and against Martin that Adventism is a cult, based upon their soteriological maze which ultimately denies salvation and justification by grace alone through faith alone. Yes, they officially say that they believe that they are saved by grace apart from works (p. 554), but after making my way through the semantic jungle they have woven over their doctrine of salvation, pardon me if I don't accept their assertion at face value. In my opinion, that is the most serious errors in the SDA sect, and to these, we will now look at.

The doctrine of the "Sanctuary" and the "Investigative Judgment" arose from the disappointment of the original Seventh Day Adventists in 1844 when Christ did not come back on the date which they have thought and calculated He would. As the Millerites (as they were then called) disbanded after their prophecy failed to come to pass, some of them tried to make sense of this disaster (of their own making, I would add). One such person by the name of Hiram Edson, suddenly had a 'revelation' of why the Millerite prediction failed; which soon became formulated into these two doctrines which are stated as follows:

... They [Millerites] has expected Christ to come to earth to cleanse the sanctuary, but the sanctuary was not the earth. It was located in heaven! Instead of coming to earth, therefore, Christ had passed from one "apartment" of the sanctuary into the other "apartment" to perform a closing work now known as the "investigative judgment". ... Edson himself really believed that Christ had passed from the "holy place" to the "most holy" place in the heavenly sanctuary. The Old Testament tabernacle was divided by a veil into two apartments, the holy place and the most holy place. In the most holy place was the Ark of the Covenant. Into this apartment the high priest went once a year to sprinkle blood upon the mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the people. ...

Transferring this Old Testament ceremonial concept to the New Testament, and making an extremely literalistic interpretation of the book of Hebrews, Edson and Crosier formulated the doctrines of "the heavenly sanctuary" and "investigative judgment". These concepts are now understood to mean that in 1844 Christ entered the "second phase" of His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and ever since He has been reviewing the cases of believers to determine their worthiness for eternal life ["Investigative Judgment"]. Further, He will come forth from the "second apartment" or finish the "second phase" of His ministry in the sanctuary, to usher in judgment upon the world at His Great Second Advent. (p. 543)

As it can be seen in their recent official doctrinal position:

4. The time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, synchronizing with the period of proclamation of the message of Revelation 14, is a time of investigative judgment; first, with reference to the dead, and second, with reference to the living. This investigative judgment determines who of the myriad sleeping in the dust of the earth are worthy of a part in the first resurrection, and who of its living multitudes are worthy of translation (1 Peter 4:17-18; Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 14:6-7; Luke 20:35) (15)

7. It is our understanding that Christ, as High Priest, concludes His intercessory work in heaven in a work of judgment. He begins His great work of judgment in the investigative phase. At the conclusion of the investigation, the sentence of judgment is pronounced. Then as judge, Christ descends to execute or carry into effect that sentence... When God's sentence of judgment is consummated, the redeemed will be singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (422)

— Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), as quoted by Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults

For an even more up to date explanation of these doctrines, this is what the Adventists believe as stated on their website:

24. Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary: There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16, 17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)

(taken from on 18th Jan 2007)

From these passages, we can see that the definitions of the doctrines of the "Sanctuary" and "Investigative Judgment" as defined by the Adventists themselves. We can also see that these doctrines started off not primarily arising from a consideration of Scripture but as an attempt to salvage what remains of the Millerite movement. If there is one thing to learn from this, it is that we should never to try to predict the date of the Lord's return, because we will never know it (Mt. 24:36). Also, since the doctrines arise from trying to rationalize away the failed prophecy given by William Miller, it seemed that these doctrines were created not so much because they are found in Scripture but more because some scriptural basis must be found to show that Miller's prediction was not wrong and yet also explained away the fact that there was no second coming then in 1844. In other words, these two doctrines seemed to be made to 'save the disillusioned Millerites' from utter despair.

Regardless of such unfavorable historical baggage, these two doctrines must ultimately be judged by the Word of God upon which it is claimed that they are founded on, and it is to the Word that we now turn to.

The doctrine of the "Sanctuary" is based on a literalistic reading of the Old Testament ceremonial rites and rituals into the New Testament book in general and Hebrews in particular. Instead of the correct interpretation which has been held for Christians for centuries that the book of Hebrews is an exercise in contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, and that the New Covenant priesthood of Christ is something which denotes the atoning sacrifice of Christ only, the Adventists read the entire book backwards. Instead of reading the Old Testament in light of the New, they read the Old into the New Testament, even to the details of the heavenly "Holy Place" being distinct from the heavenly "Most High" place. This technique places the Adventists already on very shaky ground for their doctrines, since it is written that the earthly high priests of the Old Covenant on earth serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5). We should interpret what is the copy of and the shadow of anything using what is said to be clear of that thing, and thus the Old Covenant should be interpreted according to the New Covenant, and not the other way around.

The Achilles' heel of the Adventist's doctrine of their "Sanctuary" lies in their artificial distinction of the ministry of Christ as being intercessor in the first part of His ministry in the "Holy Place" of the heavenly sanctuary, and then after 1844, begin his work of judgment in the "Investigative Judgment" in the "Most Holy" place. If such a distinction and differentiation is disproved, the doctrines of the "Sanctuary" and of the "Investigative Judgment" (which depends on the validity of the doctrine of the "Sanctuary") would be proven to be in error.

The first most obvious point to note in the book of Hebrews is obviously the lack of any differentiation of "apartments" in the heavenly sanctuary. The nearest thing to different "apartments" can be seen in Heb. 9: 1-10. However, they only dealt with the earthly rituals of the priests under the Old Covenant, not that of Jesus of the New Covenant. If one goes down the text even further, we can see the passage which destroys the entire Adventists' position:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-12. Bold added)

Earlier in the text, it can be seen that only the High Priest can enter the Most Holy Place and he does it by offering blood to atone for the his sins and the unintentional sins of others (v. 7). In the passage quoted above, Jesus is said to be the High Priest, and he entered into the holy places (plural), which could probably include the "Most Holy Place" if there is any. Most damaging to the Adventist position is that Jesus has offered His own blood, which do in fact signifies that He did entered the "Most Holy Place" apartment if it did existed as a separate entity. However, as we have seen before, the Scriptures do not make such an artificial distinction but instead just use the more generic term "holy places", since Jesus went through both "holy places" in order to pay for the sins of His own. In fact, the fact that Jesus was said to secure an eternal redemption by His blood shows that the purpose of entering the holy places and the "Most Holy Place" in the heavenly tabernacle is linked to the doctrine of the Atonement. With this, the Adventist doctrine of the "Sanctuary" and of "Investigative Judgment" is demolished.

The Seventh Day Adventist doctrines of the "Sanctuary" and "Investigative Judgment" having being thus disproven, we will now look at the practical fallout of embracing such errors.

The doctrine of "Investigative Judgment" refers to the doctrine that Christ is now (after 1844) investigating the worthiness of believers to be saved. This is a grievous heresy of work-righteousness, by making the salvation of believers dependent on their obedience to the commands of God. Slice it any way you want, but it is still work-righteousness, and God through Paul anathemizes and condemns all who believe in such a doctrine to hell (Gal. 1:8-9). Let it be said that the error of the Judaizers in Galatia at that time was NOT that there were teaching salvation by works, but salvation by faith plus the doing of works to retain their salvation status, which is similar to what the Adventists teach. Yes, they do claim and preach that salvation is by grace and not by works (Questions on Doctrine, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), but claiming as such does not mean anything, because the Judaizers can also subscribe to the same statement of salvation by grace and not by works, especially since the Adventist statement can be taken to mean that the initial aspect of salvation is by grace through faith apart from works (I.e. Works are to preserve salvation, not to gain salvation).

Closely associated with the Galatian heresy, such a teaching comes with a denial of the reality of the assurance of salvation and the denial of the preservation of the saints. Adventists thus can never be assured of their final salvation if they live consistently with their doctrines. This obviously contradicts Scripture at various places (E.g. Jn 6:37; Rom. 8:30; 1 Jn. 5:13), not to mention that it makes the atoning sacrifice of Christ a total mockery.

Another heretical fallout from the "Investigative Judgment" doctrine is a partial denial of God's foreknowledge, at least in the area of soteriology. This is because the only reason that Christ must investigates before the Final Judgment is only if he does not know or has limited knowledge of who is or is not saved. This is a altogether heretical notion which not even the most libertarian free-will subscribing evangelical would subscribe to. Even evangelical Arminians do not deny that God knows the future! Due to the serious heretical fallout of these two unbiblical doctrines of the Adventists, Seventh Day Adventism is relegated to the status of a Christian-based cult.

With this settled, let us look at Martin's defence of the Adventists as being a denomination within the pale of orthodoxy. As I have labeled the Adventists as being a cult solely based on their soteriology, Martin's defence of the Adventists against the charges of Calvinist Dr. Anthony Hoekema on this particular subject would be looked at.

Martin primarily defends the Adventists by maintaining that the Adventists believe that 'salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ's sacrifice upon the cross' (p. 562). However, this only shows that Martin is not eligible to speak on this particular field, since this expression is not characteristic of true orthodox Christianity (it cannot prove orthodoxy), which believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, not just salvation by grace through faith. As I have shown above in the case of the Judaizers condemned by God through Paul, such a statement as subscribed and believed by the Adventists can be similarly believed by the Judaizers and thus that statement meant nothing at all! Judging by the Adventist' embrace of the error of "Investigative Judgment" shows that they are no different from the Judaizers. And this is not a Calvinism/ Arminianism difference, since in principal evangelical Arminianism also believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, though they redefine what grace alone mean, of course.

Martin carries on defending the Adventists by attempting to use the argumentation format of Reductio Ad Absurdum. This he does by stating that if Hoekema condemns the Adventists based on the ground of them being consistently Arminian and denying the perseverance of the saints, then why doesn't Hoekema applies the same logic to Seventh-Day Baptists, 'Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others who accept the same Arminian premises, though they have not carried them out to the literalism that the Adventists have in the investigative judgment?' (p. 562). Unfortunately for Martin, I'll bite the bullet for this one. Why shouldn't the other denominations be apostate too? Since the Word of God is the guide for our doctrine, then just because if it leads to a certain unfavorable conclusion, does that mean that we throw out the Truth because we don't LIKE the conclusion?! God forbid! This type of reasoning is illogical and does not honor the Word of God, which should be our supreme authority in all things, including whether any particular denomination is apostate or not.

Of course, I don't subscribe to the view that these other denominations are apostate, at least in general, with the exception of Seventh-Day Baptists since I do not know their views and thus I would withhold comment. The reason why this is so is seen in Martin's last sentence on that page which I had quoted earlier, which states that the other denominations did not carry them out to the same literalism that the Adventists have in their investigative judgment. This is precisely the reason why these denominations in general are not apostate. All of these denominations, however inconsistently they are in their doctrines, believe in assurance of salvation and the perseverance of the saints, which they commonly call eternal security. Furthermore, the Anglican/Episcopal denomination have a Calvinistic confession in the 39 articles (although their clergy oftentimes do not believe it), the Lutherans have a semi-Calvinistic, monergistic confession of faith, the Methodists and Pentecostals have evangelical Arminian beliefs which, although Arminian, still keep vital Evangelical truths in logically inconsistent tension with Arminians beliefs. And this is precisely the reason why they are different from the Adventists, who allow their Arminian beliefs to mature to full consistency no different from the Remonstrant heretics who are condemned by the great Synod of Dordt.

In conclusion, I think that it has been proven that Seventh-Day Adventism is a Christian-based cult, and that Walter Martin was mistaken in his classification of the Adventists as a hetero-orthodox Christian denomination. With that said, let it be said that there are probably many true Christians within it, due to the Evangelicalization of the denomination with its adoption of more Evangelical language and the verbal softening of its stand on errant doctrines such as the "Sanctuary" and the "Investigative Judgment", as well as others like "Saturday Sabbath" etc. If the Seventh-Day Adventists were to one day desire to be recognized as truly Christians, let them throw away the doctrines of the "Sanctuary" and the "Investigative Judgment", their insistence on Saturday Sabbath only and their inherent bent towards legalism. It would also be good if they would throw away the doctrines of soul-sleep and of annihilation too, and embrace the doctrines of grace while they are at it.