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hell

August 06, 2011

We Shall See GodRandy Alcorn has recently released a book titled We Shall See God (buy it at EPM or at Amazon) in which he has compiled some of the most profound spiritual insights on the topic of eternity from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and arranged them into an easily-accessible format. He was kind enough to allow me to post one of the devotionals from that book. It is excerpted from a sermon Spurgeon preached on August 6, 1865 titled “No Tears in Heaven” and looking at Luke 16:24-25, 27-31 (the story of the rich man and Lazarus). Alcorn provides a one-sentence introduction and then follows up later with some of his own reflections.


Not one to shy away from difficult topics, Spurgeon tackles two troubling realities in this sermon: first, that some people we don’t much care for will be in Heaven and, second, that some people we love will be in Hell.

Spurgeon

Perhaps another source of tears may suggest itself to you, namely sorrow in Heaven for our mistakes, misrepresentations, and unkindness toward other Christian brothers and sisters.

How surprised we will be to meet some saints in Heaven whom we did not love on Earth! We would not fellowship with them at the Lord’s Table. We would not acknowledge that they were Christians. We looked at them suspiciously if we saw them in the street. We suspected their zeal as being nothing better than a show and an exaggeration, and we looked on their best efforts as having sinister motives at the heart. We said many unkind things and felt a great many more than we said.

April 11, 2011

God has put eternity into man’s heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The knowledge that there is more to this world than what we see seems to be innate in human nature. it seems God has so wired us that we know there is life beyond the here and now. Every religion acknowledges something beyond, something outside of ourselves. There is something to come. But far more people acknowledge heaven than hell. Though the majority of people believe there is a heaven, very few believe in hell. Even fewer believe they will ever be in hell.

Yet our hearts continue to tell us that there is life and death beyond the grave. Life offers us many hints of what is to come. John Blanchard says, “The judgments of God fall often enough in this world to let us know that God judges, but seldom enough to let us know that there must be a judgment to come.” We see God’s judgments in this world often enough to know that God does judge sin and that he is provoked against evil. Yet the scarcity of judgment shows us that there must be more. If God is a judge he must judge all sin, not just some sin. And so we know that more judgment is coming. It must come. And really, we want it to come—we just don’t want it to come against us. None of us want Hitler to escape some sort of greater judgment, some kind of greater consequence for what he did before taking his own life. Surely a man cannot do all that Hitler did and then escape judgment. What kind of world would that be?

In the aftermath of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins there has been a lot of discussion about hell. I believe in hell—a hell of judgment and torment. But through all of this discussion I have been convicted that I do not believe in this hell strongly enough. It seems unavoidable to me that if I truly believe in this hell, it will have a greater impact on my life and faith. A hell of conscious eternal torment is not the kind of doctrine I can believe in and then just go on my way unaffected. Either I genuinely believe it and it will deeply affect my life, or I pay lip service to it and allow it to make very little difference to me. I don’t see how I can believe it deeply and not have it radically impact my life.

I have been helped in understanding life after death by reading Edward Donnelly’s aptly-titled book Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell. The first half of the book discusses hell in all its horror; the second part turns to heaven with all its glory. The first half is difficult to read and weighs heavily on the soul; the second is like a sip of cool water on a hot day. The first terrifies; the second elevates. Donnelly is not given to hyperbole or imagination. He does not present a fictionalized vision of hell that owes more to horror movies or medieval art and imaginings than to the Bible. Rather, he simply relates what the Bible tells us, both explicitly and implicitly, about this awful place. He does so under four alliterated headings: Absolute Poverty, Agonizing Pain, Angry Presence and Appalling Prospect.

March 10, 2011

Dont Call it a ComebackA couple of months ago Crossway released Don’t Call it a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day. I contributed a chapter to that book titled “Jesus Christ: The Only Way and Our Only Hope.” This chapter deals with religious pluralism, inclusivism and exlusivism, all words and terms that have become hot topics because of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins (my review). Crossway has excerpted that chapter and made it available to you as a free PDF.

You can download it here: Jesus Christ: The Only Way and Our Only Hope.

Alternatively, if you would like to read it in your browser using Issuu, click here.

Here is how the chapter begins…


We live within a pluralistic culture of many faiths. Most often, the faiths coexist peacefully. This is good. Living in multicultural Toronto, a city in which over 50 percent of the population was born in another country, I have seen this religious diversity firsthand. As people immigrate to Toronto, they bring with them their religion. My son’s best friend at school is Muslim, the neighbor across the road from us is Buddhist, and just down the way is a Hindu from South Africa. Atheists, Roman Catholics, universalists, Mormons—all of them are within a stone’s throw of my front door. Look closely and you can even find the occasional evangelical. Within just our small neighborhood is a virtual pantheon.

While we regret the necessity of this pluralism, wishing that all men would be saved and come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, we are grateful for laws that allow us freedom to worship our Savior. We may not agree with the tenets of other faiths, but if every religion has freedom, we will too. This religious pluralism allows us to worship Jesus Christ in freedom and peace, without fear of interference or persecution. It is a profound blessing.

May 22, 2010

This week, while reading Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed, I came across a quote I wanted to share with you. Here Sibbes offers a sharp warning against anyone who would resist Christ’s mercy. There are not too many people today who will preach what he teaches here.

There are those who take it on themselves to cast water on those sparks which Christ labors to kindle in them, because they will not be troubled with the light of them. Such must know that the Lamb can be angry, and that they who will not come under his scepter of mercy shall be crushed in pieces by his scepter of power (Psa. 2:9). Though he will graciously tend and maintain the least spark of true grace, yet where he finds not the spark of grace but opposition to his Spirit striving with them, his wrath, once kindled, shall burn to hell. There is no more just provocation than when kindness is churlishly refused.

When God would have cured Babylon, and she would not be cured, then she was given up to destruction (Jer. 51:9). When Jerusalem would not be gathered under the wing of Christ, then their habitation is left desolate (Matt. 23:37,38). When wisdom stretches out her hand and men refuse, then wisdom will laugh at men’s destruction (Prow. 1:26). Salvation itself will not save those that spill the medicine and cast away the plaster. It is a pitiful case, when this merciful Saviour shall delight in destruction; when he that made men shall have no mercy on them (Isa. 27:11).

Oh, say the rebels of the time, God has not made us to damn us. Yes, if you will not meet Christ in the ways of his mercy, it is fitting that you should ‘eat of the fruit of your own way, and be filled with your own devices’ (Prow. 1:31). This will be the hell of hell, when men shall think that they have loved their sins more than their souls; when they shall think what love and mercy has been enforced upon them, and yet they would perish. The more accessory we are in pulling a judgment upon ourselves, the more the conscience will be confounded in itself. Then they shall acknowledge Christ to be without any blame, themselves without any excuse.

If men appeal to their own consciences, they will tell them that the Holy Spirit has often knocked at their hearts, as willing to have kindled some holy desires in them. How else can they be said to resist the Holy Ghost, but that the Spirit was readier to draw them to a further degree of goodness than was consistent with their own wills? Therefore those in the church that are damned are self condemned before. So that here we need not rise to higher causes, when men carry sufficient cause in their own bosoms.

Harsh words? Yes, they are. But necessarily so.

August 16, 2007

Just thinking seriously about hell presses on my soul and presses upon my heart.

I find it difficult to think about hell. Though I know that hell is real and that God means for us to know at least something about it, I find it hard to read about it and to ponder it. I’m sure I’m not alone here. Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven has over 300,000 copies in print and there are another 200,000 Heaven-related products in print with it. I’m quite sure that he would have sold fewer than 3,000 had the book been titled Hell. Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven has sold millions of copies and has been on the New York Times list of bestsellers for months now where Bill Wiese’s 23 Minutes in Hell has not. We would far rather ponder heaven than hell. And for good reason, obviously.

It seems to me that a knowledge of heaven and of hell is innate in human nature. God has so wired us that we know there is life beyond the here and now. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” Every religion acknowledges something beyond, something outside of ourselves. There is something to come. But far more people acknowledge heaven than hell. While the majority of people believe there is a heaven and believe they will be there, very few believe in hell. Even fewer believe they will ever be in hell.

Even if people deny the innate knowledge of heaven and hell, our experience in this world it is harder to deny the experience of this world. John Blanchard says, quite brilliantly, “The judgments of God fall often enough in this world to let us know that God judges, but seldom enough to let us know that there must be a judgment to come.” We see God’s judgments in this world often enough to know that God does judge sin and that He is provoked against evil. Yet the scarcity of judgment shows us that there must be more. If God is a judge He must judge all sin, not just some sin. And so we know that more judgment is coming. It must come.

I recent received Edward Donnelly’s aptly-titled Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell. The first half of the book discusses hell in all its fiery horror; the second part turns to heaven with all its beautiful glory. The first half is difficult to read and weighs heavily on the soul; the second is like a sip of cool water on a hot day. The first terrifies; the second elevates. Donnelly is not given to hyperbole or imagination. He does not present a fictionalized vision of hell that owes more to horror movies or medieval art and imaginings than to the Bible. Rather, he simply relates what the Bible tells us, both explicitly and implicitly, about this awful place. He does so under four alliterated headings: Absolute Poverty, Agonizing Pain, Angry Presence and Appalling Prospect.

The absolute poverty of hell is in its separation from God. All that people love and appreciate and enjoy in this life will be stripped away, not for a time but forever. Even all that makes you who you are will be destroyed. “You, as a being, will become ever more degraded, more contemptible, more lonely… Everything good in you will be taken away, and everything bad in you let loose. All your evil passions will burn, increasing and consuming you until you become utterly foul… Nothing good, nothing worthwhile, a horrible monotonous dreariness, unenlivened by a single ray of light as you fester and stew in your loathsomeness. This is what will happen to you.”

The agonizing pain of hell is the utter agony that will be in that place. “The undying worm is something foul, endlessly gnawing at hell’s inhabitants, eating at them continually, giving them no rest. This probably refers to conscience.” Imagine an eternity of a violated but re-sensitized conscience continually attacking, accusing and destroying. There will be weeping—an eternity of pouring out intense grief and anguish and intolerable misery. And there will be gnashing of teeth, perhaps a rage or insanity that will beset those in hell, and for good reason. And, of course, there will be unimaginable physical pain such that people will no doubt cry out for even the worst pain they knew in this life.

The angry presence is the presence not of Satan or of his minions, but of God. Many have been deluded into thinking that Satan will own and control hell, but the reality is that God’s is present in hell as much as He is in heaven. People in hell will spend an eternity in the presence of God, but in the presence of His just wrath against sin. “Here is the ultimate horror of hell; not the absolute poverty, not even the agonizing pain but the angry presence of God.”

And the appalling prospect is that all of this will never end. We all know the words of Amazing Grace where we sing “When we’ve been there ten thousand years / bright shining as the sun / we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise / than when we’ve first begun.” Just as those in heaven will be no further from the end when ten thousand years have elapsed, the same is true of people in hell. We cannot fully imagine eternity and thus cannot fully imagine what it would be like to suffer forever and ever and ever, age after endless age. Our minds cannot conceive; and I’m grateful for that limitation. At the end of this article I’ve excerpted some words of Jonathan Edwards that are worth reading.

Little wonder, based on these four points, that I find the subject almost unbearably weighty. Just thinking seriously about it presses on my soul and presses upon my heart. I would far rather think about heaven and about the reward that awaits there for those who know and love the Lord. But it is good and healthy to think about hell. It would not be healthy to think about it too much or to have a long and deep-seating fascination with it, but because God has revealed to us that there is such a place and because He has seen fit to give us a glimpse of it, it does us good to pay attention. Resources are few. We must, of course, turn to the Bible, the source of all we know about hell. But if we look further we will be surprised at how little there is. Books about heaven outnumber those about hell by a wide margin. Donnelly’s is a good one—short, accessible and biblical. Though it shares utter horror, it also shares hope. Though it describes the ultimate fate of those who refuse Christ, it shares the hope that they might turn to Him before it is too late.

I hate hell. I hate that it exists and hate that it needs to exist. I’m amazed to realize that, when we are heaven, we will praise God for it and that we will glorify Him for creating such a place and for sending the unjust there. But for now I am too filled with pride, too filled with sin to even begin to justly and rightly rejoice in the existence of such a place of torment. I cannot rejoice in such a place and do not gloat that even the wickedest of men with perish there. It is just too awful, too weighty. And I know that I deserve to be there.


This comes from the pen of Jonathan Edwards. To me this is probably the weightiest of all the horrors of hell—considering that it will never end, never ease, never cease. It will continue for all eternity with no hope for reprieve.

Consider what it is to suffer extreme torment forever and ever: to suffer it day and night from one year to another, from one age to another, and from one thousand ages to another (and so adding age to age, and thousands to thousands), in pain, in wailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth - with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, [and] with your bodies and every member full of racking torture; without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of hiding yourselves from him; without any possibility of diverting your thoughts from your pain; without any possibility of obtaining any manner of mitigation, or help, or change for the better.

Consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment. How dismal will it be, when you are under these racking torments, to know assuredly that you never, never shall be delivered from them. To have no hope: when you shall wish that you might be turned into nothing, but shall have no hope of it; when you shall wish that you might be turned into a toad or a serpent, but shall have no hope of it; when you would rejoice if you might but have any relief; after you shall have endured these torments millions of ages, but shall have no hope of it. After you shall have worn out the age of the sun, moon, and stars, in your dolorous groans and lamentations, without rest day and night, or one minute’s ease, yet you shall have no hope of ever being delivered. After you shall have worn a thousand more such ages, you shall have no hope, but shall know that you are not one whit nearer to the end of your torments. But that still there are the same groans, the same shrieks, the same doleful cries, incessantly to be made by you, and that the smoke of your torment shall still ascend up forever and ever.

The more the damned in hell think of the eternity of their torments, the more amazing will it appear to them. And alas, they will not be able to keep it out of their minds! Their tortures will not divert them from it, but will fix their attention to it. O how dreadful will eternity appear to them after they shall have been thinking on it for ages together, and shall have so long an experience of their torments! The damned in hell will have two infinites perpetually to amaze them, and swallow them up: one is an infinite God, whose wrath they will bear, and in whom they will behold their perfect and irreconcilable enemy. The other is the infinite duration of their torment.