On July 16th 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached what some have called the most famous sermon in American history: Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. Moans and cries rose from his New England congregation as he graphically depicted the horrors of eternal damnation.
By way of contrast in our century, the late “possibility thinking” preacher, Robert Schuller, once bragged that he hadn’t preached on hell in 40 years.
The usual polls indicate that the majority of Americans believe in some sort of heaven and think they will go there. Significantly fewer believe in hell.
Yet, in speaking of the final judgment, Jesus paired up “everlasting life” with the phrase “everlasting punishment.” In other words, if you believe in one, you must believe in the other.
Those who read the Scriptures know that no one – not Moses, not Elijah, not St. Paul – no one spoke more about the reality of hell than did our Savior.
It was Jesus who spoke of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” of “outer darkness” and of that place “where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched.”
We may speculate about the nature of such fire and eternal torments, whether these things compare to anything on earth. Far better is to take the advice of the ancient church father Augustine who said: “See to it that you never find out.”
The worst torment of those in hell will be the knowledge that they didn’t have to go there, that they have rejected forever the One who suffered the torments of hell in their place when He was forsaken by God on the cross. They have refused the One who was cut off from the Father so that they might have everlasting fellowship with the Father in heaven. The cross reminds us of what Christ suffered for us, and also what Christ has saved us from. This alone ought to fill us with unspeakable gratitude and joy.
If there is no hell, then Christ came for no good reason and died for even less. If there is no hell, then Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are pointless fairy tales. If there is no hell, then we can call home the missionaries, fire the preachers, close the church doors, shut down our Christian schools and go home to finish out our meaningless years with a moan. Then there’s no need of the Good News. Then there’s nothing we need saving from.
Someone once told C.S. Lewis about a headstone in a cemetery which said: “Here lies an atheist, all dressed up, but with nowhere to go.” Lewis replied: “I bet he wishes that were so.”