[b]God's Holiness Stirred Against Sin: A Glimpse of the Horrors of Hell[/b]
[i]by Eric Schumacher[/i]
And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard. And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire, In cloudburst, downpour, and hailstones. For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified, When He strikes with the rod. And every blow of the rod of punishment, Which the Lord will lay on him, will be with the music of tambourines and lyres; And in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them. For a Topheth has long been ready, Indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire' (Isaiah 30:30-33).
The doctrine of hell, for the most part, is terribly neglected in many Christian teachings. However, as we know, if we are to love God for who He is we must know Him. The doctrine of hell reveals part of God's character and therefor helps us to know and love Him more. Hearing about hell shouldn't make it harder for us to love God. If it does it is because we are not operating off a fully-Biblical picture of God, but are instead trying view God through a tainted lens of contemporary philosophy which esteems a distorted perception of mushy love and all-embracing tolerance. This doctrine is one which challenges the Christian to answer the question: Do you believe in God, the God of the Bible? Or, do we simply believe in some infinitely big human in the sky who must conform and act according to our preconceptions of who He is?
As John Piper states, We ought to sing the praises of all that God is instead of implying by our silence that, if He [sends the damned to hell], He is not wholly admirable. We cannot be ashamed of God's wrath, for it is His character. To be ashamed of any part of God's character is to be ashamed of Him. Besides a better and more all-inclusive view of God, hearing of hell holds many other benefits for the believer in Christ, which we will explore later.
Hearing of the horrors of God's wrath in hell is also beneficial for the unbeliever. Certainly no lost soul will ever be scared into heaven. There are many better reasons to believe on Christ than to escape hell. However, if hearing of hell strikes fear in the unbelievers heart and is able to shake them free from their bondage to sin and cause them to consider Christ, then so be it. In the same way that their are many better reasons to obey your father and mother than to avoid a their punishment. But if a spanking is the only way to keep them from playing with knives, the out of love, so be it. We should not shrink from this sort of fear, for even Christ said, "Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterwards have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into Hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him." (Luke 12:4,5) Hell may also shake those who profess to be Christians and yet live unrepentantly in sin to consider their eternal future and live a holy life.
People today are not fearful of hell because the don't understand the truth about hell. A man wouldn't be afraid of a picture of a bear in a magazine. However, if a man was walking in the forest and before him stood a great growling Grizzly bear raising a paw to tear him apart he would tremble with fear. To far too many persons hell is only a picture in a magazine. We've read it in the Bible, perhaps, but the reality of hell has never been considered beyond that of a fairy-tale. Christ spoke of hell more often than any other person in scripture. So why don't so many people believe in the reality of hell? Because, it is not taught often enough. What we do not hear helps form just as much a part of what we believe as what we do hear.
Hell is real. It is not an idle threat God uses to scare sinners, but is a real place where His wrath is and will be poured out on the damned for eternity. In verse 30, of Isaiah 30, it says, "And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard". And verse 32, "And every blow of punishment, which the Lord will lay on him..."
Christ spoke of it often: So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' - Matthew 13:49-50
Lest anyone argue that a loving God cannot and will punish people in hell forever, we need to understand why hell is necessary. We will examine three reasons why hell must exist:
1) God is Holy. This means God is perfect, upright, and completely untainted by sin. Perfect holiness cannot tolerate sin in the least. Habakkuk 1:13 states, "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor." Because God is perfectly Holy, He cannot allow sin into His presence. This is why He pours out wrath. A.W. Pink defines God's wrath as the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.' For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men' -- Romans 1:18.
2) God is infinite in nature. Every sin we commit is an attack on an infinite, eternal God. Thomas Shepard wrote that when man chooses to sin he sets his own will above the Lord's, and so kicks God as filth under his feet.' Any act we commit again an infinite, Holy God deserves an equally infinite punishment. It is an infinite evil to sin against an infinite God.
3) God is divinely just. Because God is just He must punish each and every offense committed against Him as fully as it deserves. Jonathan Edwards explained it this way, "The glory of God is the greatest good; it is that which is the chief end of creation; it is of greater importance than anything else. But this is one way wherein God will glorify Himself, as in the eternal destruction of ungodly men He will glorify His justice. Therein He will appear as a just governor of the world. The vindictive justice of God will appear strict, exact, awful, and terrible, and therefor glorious." Every sin exalts the sinner over God. For God to look past or leave a sin unpunished would to be for Him to say He does not mind that His glory is second place and that a idol is exalted over Him. God's justice and holiness cannot allow this. God will vindicate His name and display the glory of His wrath and justice in hell.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about what hell is like. Hell is a place of conscious and eternal punishment for those who live unholy and unrepentant lives. William Nichols describes hell as this: "A place of everlasting punishment, where its victims are tormented in both their bodies and their minds in accordance with their sinful natures, their actual sins committed, and the amount of spiritual light given to them, which they have rejected. Hell is a place where God's mercy and goodness have been withdrawn, where God's wrath is revealed as a terrifying, consuming fire, and men live with unfulfilled lusts and desires in torment forever and ever" (The Narrow Way).
Verse 33 of our text states that His descending arm is to be seen in fierce anger' and His anger will be a flame of consuming fire'. Verse 33 describes hell as Topheth'. Topheth was a place where human-children sacrifices were offered to the god Molech. The prophet Isaiah states hell will be similar in that it will be deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; the breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.'
Hell is both mentally and physically painful. We cannot imagine the sheer pain a person's body feels in hell. Imagine the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. Imagine the pain of your entire body on fire; every nerve and fiber of your entire person screaming in sheer and utter agony. Hell is a place where the damned will undergo this sort of torture as there is wailing and gnashing of teeth' as the flames constantly consume their bodies.
Now imagine the worst mental torment you have ever felt; the worst guilt, desire, frustration, regret, and anguish. The scriptures speak of the worm that will not die' (Mark 9:48; Is. 66:24). This is accepted as being the conscience of men in hell. The rich man in hell in Luke 16:19-31 is told to remember that during your life'. They will be mentally tormented by the remembering all the opportunities they had in life to repent and the times they rejected Christ's word. They will be in mental torment as they consider they will be in hell forever and ever, with no end. Those in hell will be tormented as they are forced to view the far-off glories and joy of heaven, in which they have no part of.
This punishment will be inflicted by God Himself. Yes, look to Isaiah 30:30-33: it is the arm of the Lord that brings His fierce anger, it is the voice of the Lord that strikes terror, it is the rod of punishment which the Lord will lay on [them]', it is the breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, that sets the pit afire.' Hebrews 10:30-31 says God states, Vengeance in Mine, I will repay', And again, The Lord will judge His people.' God is what makes Hell hell.
And God will give no mercy and make room for no grace in hell. There will not be one moment of relief for those in hell. Jonathan Edwards describes the unbearableness of hell as such: "Nor will they ever be able to find anything to relieve them in hell. They will never find any resting place there; any secret corner, which will be cooler than the rest, where they may have a little respite, a small abatement of the extremity of their torment. They never will be able to find any cooling stream or fountain, in any part of that world of torment; no, nor so much a drop to cool their tongues. They will find no company to give them any such comfort, or do them the least bit good. They will find no place, where they can remain, and rest, and take breath for one minute: for they will be tormented with fire and brimstone; and they will have no rest day nor night forever and ever."
God states in Ezekiel 8:18, "Therefore, I indeed shall deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity not shall I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I shall not listen to them." God will withhold nothing and will have no pity in hell. God knows full well that the sinner will not be able to bear up under His wrath, and yet He will not withhold it. God knows the damned will have no strength to stand under His wrath, yet His foot will trample and crush the damned in hell. He knows they cannot bear up under His wrath, yet He will still crush them the same, without a passing thought of mercy. For, God abhors the sinner in hell. Psalm 5:5 tells us God hates all those who do iniquity. God tells us in Ezekiel 22:20-22 "As they gather silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into the furnace to blow fire on it in order to melt it, so I shall gather you in My anger and in My wrath, and I shall lay you there and melt you. And I shall gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you will be melted in the midst of it; and you will know that I, the Lord, have poured out My wrath on you." God knows the damned soul has no strength, yet He says in Isaiah 63:3, "I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment." Proverbs 1:26 describes how God will only laugh and mock' while they cry for mercy. It is truly a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!' (Hebrews 10:31).
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of hell is that it will have no end. Isaiah 66:24 states their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched.' Jonathan Edwards tries to describe the torment of it as in being cast into a fiery furnace. Imagine that you are placed into a furnace of flames which burn as hot as physically possible. Imagine that once your body is placed in them every fiber and every nerve of your being would be on fire with the greatest pain and terror imaginable. Imagine that the pain will not cease or diminish in the least. Now imagine that you were to be placed in this furnace for but fifteen minutes. Imagine how slowly the first minute would pass and how much longer the remaining 14 would seem!!! Now imagine not 15 minutes but an hour! A week! A month! A year! Now imagine what terror and hopelessness is in your mind as you realize that no matter how you move, how you plead, where you go, there is no relief. There is no diminishing of the pain. You realize you can do nothing to soothe yourself and it is by your own doing, by your own sin you are there! Now imagine it is not for 15 minutes or even a lifetime, but instead for millions and millions and millions of ages. And when these millions and millions of countless ages have passed it is not even the slightest speck of an instant on an infinitely long timeline with no end. You find yourself stuck forever in the terrors of hell without hope of relief, mercy, or end. Yet, this description does not come close to describing the reality of hell faced by the unrepentant sinner.
Finally, the degree to which the sinners in hell are punished individually differs according to their sins while on earth. Verses like Luke 12:47-48 describe this: "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few." Romans 2:5 states, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up for wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous God." It is as if there is a great dam, which is the hand of God, which is holding back the mighty waters of a great river, God's wrath. Each time an unbeliever sins in this life, he piles the flood waters higher and higher. In the day of wrath God will remove his hand and the unbeliever will be unpleasantly surprised and the power and quantity of the flood.
This doctrine of hell is of great use to both believer and unbeliever alike. To those who do not trust in Christ, those who are content to continue living in sin: consider what great danger you are in!!! Consider the fact that your sinful nature causes you to be worthy of hell. Consider that there is NOTHING but the hand of God that keeps you from dropping into hell at any moment. Jonathan Edwards offered this warning to the unbeliever: "The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God....You have offended Him infinitely more that ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing else but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire at this moment...And there is no other reason you have not dropped into hell since you rose this morning, but that God's hand has held you up...Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath...full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against the many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing you have ever done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment." Your opportunity to repent ends at death. Do not delay.
This doctrine is also useful for the Godly. It is a source of worship in two senses. Allow me to explain: The first sense is that we will worship God for hell when we are in heaven. Isaiah 66:23-24 says that all mankind will bow before God and then go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against [Him].' Revelation 16:5-7 says an angel will say, Righteous art Thou who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; for they poured out the blood of the saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.' And the alter will say, Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.' William Nichols sums up that the angels and saints will worship God for the punishment of the wicked not for punishment's sake, but because it is perfectly just and righteous punishment, fully deserved by those who are suffering it. They will delight in seeing the justice and power of God glorified in this manner.'
The second sense is that in seeing what each of us truly and rightly deserve, we will more fully see how awesome and amazing God's mercy and grace toward us is. We will be able to look at hell and praise God saying, Thank you Lord, for enduring that on the cross for me!' We will also be able to stand in awe of God's awesome power and might. When you are in the path of hurricane that is going to destroy you, you are terrified. But when you are in the cleft of a rock and safe from harm's way, you can stand back and watch the storm rage in all its furry and might and be in awe of all that it is. In the same way, we can see God's wrath in the safety of our rock, Christ Jesus, and stand in awe of God's awesome might.
This doctrine should also deter us from committing sin. As with the hurricane illustration, you would not step out of the rock of safety to try and bear the hurricane on your own strength. Any such man would be a fool! So do the same with sin. Sin is to be feared more than hell, because sin is what causes hell. Sin deserves hell. Don't step into sin!
Hell is a source of patience in suffering. What we endure on earth is the closest we shall ever come to feeling and experiencing hell. This should make us willing and patient when faced with enduring the sufferings of this earth. We know they will end in heaven.
Finally then, hell is an excellent motivation for evangelism. We should not want men to go to hell! Paul says in Romans 9 he has unceasing grief and great sorrow over the Jews going to hell. We too should have this same grief that souls are going to hell. My freshman year I remember gathering with some friends and watching a movie on the end times and having long discussions on hell. One night after everyone had left our room I laid awake in bed for hours considering hell. I thought about my family and my brothers who I didn't know if they were saved. I wept for hours that night praying and pleading to God for their salvation. I took steps to share Christ with them and through my life, so that they would not see hell. I take great joy in God's goodness to have brought salvation so far to those in my family He has. We ought to be broken over those going to hell and offer supplications, pleads, and prayers for their salvation. We should work untiringly for the salvation of those who know not Christ and for the perseverance of those who do.
If you know Christ tonight, labor for the salvation of those who don't and praise God He has saved you. If you don't know Christ, repent and believe on Him, for you are hanging by a slender thread.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon