For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spurgeon and Bell on Hell

Much of the talk recently has been about Rob Bell’s new book, whether or not he’s a universalist, the reality of hell, etc. I’ve never been that impressed with Rob Bell; I found too much that bordered on heresy in his first “blockbuster” to ever really give much else he said credence. But the good part of all this is that it has raised some good issues and started a beneficial conversation about hell, eternal punishment, etc.

So many want to say that a loving God wouldn’t really send anyone to hell. That of course is what leads to universalist ideas. However, to come to this conclusion, we must deny Scripture. Period. God is holy and just, and must punish sin, to not do so would be to deny His own character.

Charles Spurgeon, of course, gave one of my favorite addresses on this subject. Preaching on Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” he delivered a sermon called Future Punishment A Fearful Thing. If you have the opportunity, read the whole thing. But here is a excerpt from his second “point” in that message.

Let me urge you, my dear hearer… not to attempt to deprive yourself of the beneficial effect, which a proper consideration of this doctrine would have upon you.

1. Do not deny the fact, at any rate if you do, be consistent and deny Scripture altogether. If you doubt the punishment of the future state, doubt the inspiration of Scripture at once, for to doubt one and hold the other is impossible. Do not so violate your own conscience as to dream of sin’s escaping punishment. If you should persuade yourself to doubt the existence of hell, your doubting it will not quench its fires. If there be no hell hereafter I am as well off as you are, but if theme be, where will you be? Take it on the commonest supposition, I have two strings to my bow, you have only one, and that one I believe to be a lie. Oh, my hearers, if I were to stand here and persuade you that there was no danger, you might very well say, “Then what need to tell us so? Why be in earnest when there is nothing to be in earnest about?” I would fain persuade you to escape from the punishment of whose existence there is no room to doubt.

2. In the next place, do not have the edge of this truth taken off by those who suggest a hope that though you may be punished for a time in the next world you will ultimately be destroyed and annihilated. Now nothing in nature ever has been annihilated yet, and it would be a new thing if you should be. I am not about to argue the point this morning, but I pray you do not let the terrors of the wrath to come be taken off by that idea, for even supposing it to be true, yet those who teach it tell us that there will be a limited but a very fearful punishment; they still agree with the teaching of the text, that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” If I knew that I should be damned for a day. I would labor to escape from it; but to be damned for a thousand years will be terrific indeed, and it would still be true that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I dare not, however, hold out to you the hope of annihilation while the Bible contains such words as these. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment,” -everlasting! The word is precisely the same as that which is applied to heaven, and though I shall be told that this is an old argument, I reply that this is the very reason why I use it. Be it for others to invent novelty; we count that the old is better. If that passage does not teach the eternity of punishment, neither does it teach the eternity of reward.

... When Jesus speaks of the fire of hell, he does not say that
annihilation is effected by it, but speaks on this wise: “shall cast them into a
furnace of fire, there shall be (not annihilation, but the signs of conscious
misery) weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.”

…Now I am not going fully into this subject, but I can only say this much; if our Lord and his Spirit intended to make us believe that there would be a worm that never dieth, and a fire that never could be quenched, and did mean to teach us that there was a punishment for sin which would last for ever, I do not know what other words could have been used; and I do pray you, dear friends, whether you think so or not, be on the safe side; for even if it were but a thousand years only, think what that must be. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, even if you could get out again; but when it comes with the solemn sanction, as I am persuaded it does, that you never will escape from those hands, oh, why will ye die? why will ye die? Look, look to Jesus, and find eternal life in him. Beware lest you be “wandering stars, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”

3. Some suppose that instead of annihilation, restoration awaits the lost.
There are no texts in Scripture which when read by honest men can mean this: they must be wickedly and perniciously perverted before they can be made to teach anything of the sort. Scripture does not speak of the fire of hell as chastening and purifying, but as punishment which men shall receive for deeds done in the body. They are to be visited with many stripes, and receive just recompense for transgressions. What can there be about hell fire to change a man’s heart? Surely the more the lost will suffer the more will they hate God.

…You live in the company of saints now-at all events, you live in a land which represses immorality, but in hell there are no preachers of the gospel-no holy examples to win you to holiness; the dwellers in hell are enemies of God;-a pretty school for virtue that. Do you suppose, then, that you who leave this life without the fear of God will be led to turn to him then? Cast away the thought, my hearer, it will deceive you. This fearful doctrine did much mischief in America at one time, but it was so revolting to the common sense of many s conscience, that its day was soon over. This error will eat out the veiny soul of piety.

…Abraham did not say to the rich man, “My dear son, you will return to my bosom when you have undergone those purifying flies.” Oh, no! That would have been something, more than a drop of water to cool his tongue; that would have drenched him with buckets full of the cooling draught. But no, it was just this: “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

4. Some ungodly men say, “Well, you do not believe for a minute that there is any material fire, do you?” My dear hearer, what is that to you? There is a text which speaks of destroying both body and soul in hell, which seems to indicate punishment for the body; but if it were not so, do you think that soul punishment is a trifle? Why, man, it is the very soul of punishment. It is far more dreadful than bodily pain. Go across to Bethlehem Hospital, and observe poor creatures perfectly unpained in body, whose minds are wrung with bitter anguish, and you will soon see that a wounded spirit none can bear. Oh, hear ye the Lord; for it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. If there be no material fire, if there be no literal worm, this will be sorry consolation for a soul on flame with woe.

Though I am thus speaking, I know what some will do. You will go away and say, “I could not bear to hear him.” I do not ask you to hear me, but I do pray you do not neglect your souls. You will say, “What a harsh preacher!” Say so, but do not be harsh with your own souls. You will say, “He brings up the old bugbear.” If it be an old bugbear, you are men and need not care for it; but if it be not so, should I not be a demon, if I did not warn you! As long as God spares my life, I hope I shall not be found unfaithful to your souls. So long as I believe that Book, I cannot but warn you that “It is a fearful thing to fill into the hands of the living God.”

Truly it is a fearful thing. Hell is real. Punishment is real. And as much as we want to appear loving and kind to the world, the truly loving and kind thing to do is to warn them of the judgment that is to come, urging them to flee to the cross where they can find forgiveness and reconciliation; finding not only an escape from hell, but a reward that is greater than we can ever imagine. Run to Christ, my friend, and you'll never have to learn first hand aboutt hell's reality.


PuzzlingChristian said...

I believe there is much confusion because people don't read the Bible anymore, because they are afraid of what they will find there.
And some of them are trying to come up with something that is more convenient.

Scott said...

And after all, it's all about our convenience, isn't it? :)

Anonymous said...

A loving God who tortures billions of people forever with no hope for relief? Do you ever really stop and think about this concept? And if you believe in such a cruel being how can you believe you will be spared this cruelty?

Scott said...

Dear Anonymous. We're not talking about a "cruel" being. We're talking about a perfect, holy, righteous God who cannot tolerate sin. If He didn't punish sin, He would cease to be holy. Our sin causes us to live in rebellion against Him, and we have earned His wrath.

If you're spouse and children were brutally abused and killed, you would certainly ask for justice for the perpetrator. If the judge in court simply said, "Gee, I'm feeling merciful today, so I'm going to let this guy go," you would cry out at the injustice. Likewise, God, who is just, must punish rebellious sinners.

But there is hope. In His great love and mercy, He sent His Son to suffer our wrath for us; and then giving us the righteousness of that perfect Son. Trust in that sacrifice, and you too will find hope.

There is no cruelty here. Cruelty would be expecting us to find perfection on our own. Instead, God offers us the perfection of His Son. What an amazing love! I hope you come to know it. Seek Him in His Word. Find a nearby church that is truly Christ-centered and proclaims His Word faithfully. Talk with the pastor or one of the people there. I pray He leads you to discover just how much love He has demonstrated on behalf of rebellious sinners like me and you.