Randy 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.
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.
When we see these unknown and unrecognized brothers and sisters in Heaven, won’t their very presence naturally remind us of our offenses against Christian love and spiritual unity? I can’t imagine a perfect man looking at another perfect man without regretting that he ever treated him in an unkind manner.
I am sure as I walk among the saints in Heaven, I cannot (in the natural order of things) help feeling, I did not assist you as I ought to have done. I did not sympathize with you as I ought to have done. I spoke a harsh word to you. I was alienated from you. And I think you would all have to feel the same; inevitably you must. If it were not that by some heavenly means, and I don’t know how, the eternal God will so overshadow believers with the abundant bliss of his own self that even that cause of tears will be wiped away.
Has it never struck you, dear friends, that if you go to Heaven and see your dear children left behind unconverted, it would naturally be a cause of sorrow?
My mother told me that if I perished in Hell, she would have to say “Amen” to my condemnation. I knew it was true and it sounded awful, and it had a good effect on my mind.
It really is a very terrible spectacle—the thought of a perfect being looking down in Hell, for instance, as Abraham did, and yet feeling no sorrow. For you will remember that, in the tenor in which Abraham addresses the rich man, there is nothing of pity; there is not a single syllable which indicates any sympathy with him in his dreadful woes. And one does not quite comprehend that perfect beings, God-like beings, beings full of love and everything that constitutes the glory of God’s complete nature, would still be unable to weep, even over Hell itself. They cannot weep over their own children lost and ruined!
Now, how is this? If you will tell me, I will be glad, for I cannot tell you. I do not believe that there will be one bit less tenderness, that there will be one fraction less of friendliness, love, and sympathy—I believe there will be more—but that they will be in some way so refined and purified that while compassion for suffering is there, hatred of sin will be there to balance it, and a state of complete equilibrium will be attained.
Perfect acceptance of the divine will is probably the secret of it, but it is not my business to guess. I don’t know what handkerchief the Lord will use, but I do know that he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
How could we enjoy Heaven knowing that a loved one is in Hell? Spurgeon isn’t the only one to puzzle over this question.
Although it may sound harsh, I offer this thought: in a sense, none of our loved ones will be in Hell—only some whom we once loved. Our love for our companions in Heaven will be directly linked to God, the central object of our love. We will see him in them. We will not love those in Hell because when we see Jesus as he is, we will love only—and will want to love only—whoever and whatever pleases and glorifies and reflects him. What we loved in those who died without Christ was God’s beauty we once saw in them. When God forever withdraws from them, I think they’ll no longer bear his image and no longer reflect his beauty. Therefore, paradoxically, in a sense they will not be the people we loved.
I cannot prove biblically what I’ve just stated, but I think it rings true, disturbing as it is. The reality of Hell should break our hearts and take us to our knees—and to the doors of those without Christ. Today, however, Hell has become “the H word,” seldom named, rarely talked about, even among those who believe the Bible. It doesn’t even appear in many evangelistic booklets. To our modern sensibilities, Hell seems disproportionate, a divine overreaction.
Many people imagine that it is civilized, humane, and compassionate to deny the existence of an eternal Hell. But in fact, it is arrogant that we, as creatures, would dare to make such an assumption in opposition to what God the Creator has clearly revealed. Perhaps we don’t want to believe that others deserve eternal punishment, because if they do, so do we. But by denying the endlessness of Hell, we minimize Christ’s work on the cross. Why? Because we lower the stakes of redemption.
If we truly understood God’s nature and ours, we would be shocked not that some people could go to Hell (where else would sinners go?) but that any would be permitted into Heaven. If Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection don’t deliver us from an eternal Hell, his work on the cross is less heroic, less potent, less consequential, and thus less deserving of our worship and praise.