Posts Tagged ‘hell’
9 9 9. 6
In dark of night, when hell comes knocking,
And demons all around are flocking,
And every sin and fear is mocking,
Lord, save me then, I pray.
At break of day, when tears are flowing,
And every fear and doubt is growing,
And there seems neither faith nor knowing,
Lord, save me then, I pray.
At every hour, with sin assailing,
When every tempting thought is wailing,
And every hope is quickly failing,
Lord, save me then, I pray.
In that great day, with angels soaring,
When praise from every saint is pouring,
I’ll look to Christ, and cry, adoring:
“Lord, save me now, I pray.”
See all hymns and psalms.
David Platt issues an earnest and eloquent plea against functional universalism. He uses smarter words than me:
It has been a little interesting to watch not just the immediate engagement over Rob Bell’s Love Wins but also the spread of it and the reaction to it. Some of it has been useful, but some of it has been a little desperate. It is as if some of the people with a reputation for being cutting-edge, relevant, front-line, ahead of the game, theologically savvy, culturally aware, movers and shakers in the Great Game of modern evangelicalism, are trying with all their might to prove that they are just that, and orthodox to boot. Recycled material, obvious material, lists of material (with their own contributions prominent in them) – all of it looking more like an attempt to surf the wave and demonstrate engagement than anything else.
Is it genuine concern for the glory of Christ? Is it pastoral concern for the flock of God? Is it genuine interest in the kingdom of Christ?
Or might there be a danger that at least some of it is an attempt to make sure that those writing and speaking are not left out, and that people remember that they are the great guides, the ones who speak truth, the almost-omniscient gurus who can be relied upon to keep their finger on the pulse and tell us how to think, or – at least – that they are still there and saying something also?
I am grateful for the men who saw this coming and blew the trumpet of warning. I think it is often helpful that others have spread the word. I am not so sure about all those who have joined the ruckus, as if merely to demonstrate that they have a horn, too.
Kevin DeYoung follows Tim Challies in giving a review of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. Whereas Tim’s review is reasonably brief and popular, Kevin’s is much longer and more developed, so much so that the Gospel Coalition has made it available as a pdf (21 pages).
While Rob Bell is not going to overturn the church and prevent the advance of Christ’s kingdom, and is simply one in a long line of worryingly popular errorists, it may prove no bad thing in itself for an assault on the doctrine of hell to promote some careful, Biblical thinking about this truth, and what it means, and how it is to be taught and preached.
(By the way, I have not read Love Wins so I link to this at one remove on the basis of Kevin’s good reputation and with the intention of getting the right end of the stick. It is a thoughtful, gracious review, showing a great deal of understanding and insight.)
Here is Kevin’s précis:
Love Wins, by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, is, as the subtitle suggests, “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Here’s the gist: Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.
Bell correctly notes (many times) that God is love. He also observes that Jesus is Jewish, the resurrection is important, and the phrase “personal relationship with God” is not in the Bible. He usually makes his argument by referencing Scripture. He is easy to read and obviously feels very deeply for those who have been wronged or seem to be on the outside looking in.
Unfortunately, beyond this, there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.
Then, the bulk of the review is divided up into sections.
I want to approach Love Wins by looking at seven areas: Bell’s view of traditional evangelical theology, history, exegesis, eschatology, Christology, gospel, and God.
I have been listening to the latest Connected Kingdom podcast from “the odd couple,” David Murray and Tim Challies. I was intrigued to hear them discussing the fall-out from Rob Bell’s new book, and asking whether or not the wider church really believes in hell anyway. Surely, they reason, if we really believed in hell we would be doing more to take the gospel to the lost?
Over the last few days I have been putting the finishing touches to the manuscript of what I hope will be my next book, with the working title The Broken-Hearted Evangelist. I finally submitted that manuscript to the publisher yesterday, and – though I have no idea how long it will be before it is available – it is intended, at least in part, to address the issue of a right response to the realities of judgement and salvation.
As a taster, here is the draft preface of the current manuscript. Not sure how much of it will survive the editing process, but hopefully it will give a sense of the nature and scope and direction of the book. I will keep you posted on progress, God willing.
There is nothing that more glorifies God than the accomplishment of His saving purposes in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you know and believe that? There is nothing more important to a man than the destiny of his immortal soul. Do you know and believe that? There is a heaven to be gained and there is a hell from which to flee, and our relationship to the Lord Jesus is the difference between the two. Do you know and believe that? Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Do you know and believe that? The saints of God are sent by God into the world in order to preach that gospel by which sinners are saved. Do you know and believe that?
It is easy to answer such questions with a gutless orthodoxy. Lively faith in Christ grasps spiritual realities in a way that galvanizes the believer. All truth – whether of God’s grace to us or of our duty to God – bears fruit in us only insofar as we are connected to Christ by faith. This being so, says John Owen,
he alone understands divine truth who doeth it: John vii.17. There is not, therefore, any one text of Scripture which presseth our duty unto God, that we can so understand as to perform that duty in an acceptable manner, without an actual regard unto Christ, from whom alone we receive ability for the performance of it, and in or through whom alone it is accepted with God.
John Owen, Christologia in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 1:82.
We cannot pretend that we have understood divine truth unless we are living it. We cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men and souls and heaven and hell and salvation unless it is making a difference to the way in which we think and feel and pray and speak and act.
A vigorous and practical concern for the lost, growing out of a desire for God’s glory in man’s salvation, is an eminently Christlike thing and a hallmark of healthy Christianity. By such a standard, there are many unhealthy churches and unhealthy Christians; by such a standard, and to my great grief, I am not well myself.
While I accept that there can be an unbalanced and crippling expectation and even unbiblical obsession with some aspects of evangelism and “mission” (as the portentous modern singular would have it!), there is an opposite and perhaps, in our day, greater danger that believers and churches enjoying possession of a great deposit of truth nevertheless do not know it. If they did, they would be doing something.
It is very easy to be up in arms, for example, about current assaults on what can so calmly be described as the doctrine of hell. “Of course there is a hell!” we protest, offended and disturbed that someone could deny what is so plainly written in the Word of God. Is there a hell? What difference has it made? What have you done differently because there is a hell? Is its reality driving our thoughts, words and deeds? Many of us who have entered the kingdom have come perilously close to the flames of the pit. We have felt its fire, and yet we have, perhaps, forgotten that from which we have been delivered. The urgency with which we fled to Christ ourselves has perhaps been replaced with a casual awareness of spiritual reality that never energizes us to do anything for those who are themselves in danger of eternal punishment.
The same could be said of heaven, of Christ’s atonement for sinners, of God’s grace and mercy, of the freeness of the gospel, of the excellence of salvation. “Yes, yes, yes,” the monotonous ticking off of doctrines received continues. But what difference does it make to you and to me?
It is my heartfelt contention that the truths we believe ought to make the people of God broken-hearted evangelists. My prayer for this book is that the Lord Christ would make its author and its readers truly to understand the gospel duty which God has laid upon His church, and therefore to make us willing to perform the work we have been given to do, and by His strength to make us able to do it, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.
It is hard not to notice the Bell-shaped brouhaha brewing on the other side of the Atlantic (see Taylor, DeYoung and Johnson) and probably intending to blow east at some point. In terms of accessible Biblical resources for thinking through the issues of heaven and hell and the false teachings of universalism and annihilationism, I could not recommend a better beginning than Ted Donnelly’s Heaven and Hell (Banner of Truth, buy at Westminster Bookstore/Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com): it really is outstanding as a clear and straightforward introduction to the realities, issues and applications.
But this is not about Bell or the brouhaha, though prompted by it. While I was unwell over the last few days, one of the things I read was From Death Into Life by William Haslam, an autobiographical volume of a 19th century High Churchman who came under powerful conviction of sin and was converted in the act of preaching a sermon in which his nascent grasp of evangelical truth was beginning to show.
There is no doubt that Haslam was quirky, and had some interesting notions and practices. Nevertheless, he was a man who came to know and feel the awful weight of a condemnation that could be escaped only through fleeing in faith to Jesus. It is was in the context of the building storm about the eternal destiny of souls that I read this powerful passage in which Haslam has an interview with a man who believes the truth about the absolute necessity of true conversion but is not prepared to state it plainly:
“Well,” he said, “but think of all the good men you condemn if you take that position so absolutely.”
Seeing that I hesitated, he went on to say that he “knew many very good men, in and out of the Church of England, who did not think much of conversion, or believe in the necessity of it.”
“I am very sorry for them,” I replied; “but I cannot go back from the position into which, I thank God, He has brought me. It is burned into me that, except a man is converted, he will and must be lost for ever.”
“Come, come, my young friend,” he said, shifting his chair, and then sitting down to another onslaught, “do you mean to say that a man will go to hell if he is not converted, as you call it?”
“Yes, I do; and I am quite sure that if I had died in an unconverted state I should have gone there; and this compels me to believe, also, that what the Scripture says about it is true for every one.”
“But what does the Scripture say?” he interposed. “It says that ‘he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed’ (John 3:18); and in another place, he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16). As surely as the believer is saved and goes to heaven, as surely the unbeliever is lost and must go to hell.”
“Do you mean Gehenna, the place of torment?”
“Yes, I do.”
“This is very dreadful.”
“More dreadful still.” I said, “must be the solemn reality; and therefore, instead of shrinking from the thought and putting it off, I rather let it stir and rouse me to warn unbelievers, so that I may, by any means, stop them on their dangerous path. I think this is the only true and faithful way of showing kindness; and that, on the other hand, it is the most selfish, heartless, and cruel unkindness to let sinners, whether they are religious, moral, reformed, or otherwise, to go on in an unconverted state, and perish.”
“I do not know; I do not wish to know anything about it. I suppose material fire, like every other material thing, is but a shadow of something real. Is it not a fire which shall burn the soul – a fire that never will be quenched – where the worm will never die?”
“Do you really believe all this?”
“Yes,” I said, “and I have reason to do so.” I remembered the anguish of soul I passed through when I was under conviction, and the terrible distress I felt for others whom I had misled.
“When our blessed Lord was speaking to the Jews, and warning them against their unbelief and its fearful consequences, He did not allow any ‘charitable hopes’ to hinder Him from speaking the whole truth. He told them of Lazarus, who died, and went to Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom; and of Dives, who died, and went to Hell, the place of torment” (Luke 16).
“But,” he said, interrupting me, “that is only a parable, or figure of speech.”
“Figure of speech!” I repeated. “Is it a figure of speech that the rich man fared sumptuously, that he died, that he was buried? Is not that literal? Why, then, is it a figure of speech that he lifted up his eyes in torment, and said, ‘I am tormented in this flame’(Luke 16:24). My dear friend, be sure that there is an awful reality in that story – a most solemn reality in the fact of the impassable gulf. If here we do not believe in this gulf, we shall have to know of it hereafter. I never saw and felt,” I continued, “as I do now, that every man is lost, even while on earth, until he is saved, and that if he dies in that unsaved state he will be lost for ever.”
My unknown visitor remained silent for a little time, and I could see that he was in tears. At last he burst out and said, “I am sure you are right. I came to try you upon the three great “R’s” – ‘Ruin,’ ‘Redemption,’ and ‘Regeneration,’ and to see if you really meant what you preached. Now I feel more confirmed in the truth and reality of the Scriptures.”
I thought I had been contending with an unbeliever all along, but instead of this I found that he was a man who scarcely ventured to think out what he believed to its ultimate result – he believed God’s Word, but, like too many, alas! held it loosely.
William Haslam, From Death Into Life (London: Morgan and Scott, n.d.), 74-77.
Holding loosely the Word of God with regard to ruin, redemption and regeneration will cut the nerve of true gospel endeavour. It will remove our urgency, enervate our efforts, and dilute our message. If there is no hell, then there is no need for men to be saved, and the death of Jesus was a monstrous waste. Whoever believes otherwise, and however many ‘good men’ may seem to be condemned, we must cling to and proclaim – with tears – God’s glorious and terrible truths concerning eternity, and concerning the Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1Thes 1.10), if we are to be faithful both to the Lord whose people we are and to the lost whose souls we seek.
Let us believe God’s Word and hold it fast. No one can afford to play with this fire.
My son just fell downstairs. He was at the top with his hands full when he slipped and rolled to the bottom. I heard the heavy thuds as he dropped and made it to the bottom of the stairs pretty much as he did. He was, naturally, shocked and upset, but mercifully unhurt, as far as we can tell. A few cuddles and an eventual biscuit dried his tears, and he recovered his equanimity (and the cuddly toy that had made the descent with him). We checked Knuckles (the dog) for bumps, bruises and breaks, and fed him a little biscuit, and found that he was also OK.
It was at this point that I wondered why he was struggling to use his right hand. Had he, after all, injured himself? No, one of the reasons why he had fallen was because he was clutching a few copper coins: he could not grab the bar that he usually holds on to properly. But notice, he made it all the way to the bottom, and through the recovery, without once relinquishing his grip on that which, had he only held it more lightly, might have prevent him falling in the first place. He was holding it through his descent, and kept his grip upon it to the very end.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37).
Many men fall with their hands full, and suffer far worse than a few bruises and tears. There is a fall from which no man recovers, and many descend because they are grasping after the things of this life. When they reach the bottom, that which they held on to so fiercely is found to be worth nothing at all. In the final analysis, and counted in the light of eternity, untold millions would be no more than a few coppers if for the sake of holding them we fall, descend and eventually land in hell. There is a time to let go of the stuff of this life, and get hold of Jesus Christ.
For more counsel on the use of money, Gary Brady posts an excellent review of John Wesley’s attitude to and employment of his wealth.
Paul Helm blogs about “the domestication of heaven” and the propounding of what he calls “a geo-heaven” – there are some stimulating and suggestive comments here, but it’s more a survey and critique of issues arising than a positive discussion.
For an outstanding survey of the Biblical data on both heaven and hell – simple, non-histrionic, warmly applied – I strongly recommend Ted Donnelly’s Heaven and Hell. Reading it, you will be instructed, moved, exalted, humbled, challenged and directed.
OK, it’s not much of a title, more random word association based on at least two of the things I am going to write about in this update. Never mind.
William having been born, Caleb got some grandparent time while I tried to hold down the fort here. On Friday night I visited my wife at the birthing centre while on my way to Halland Chapel where I was speaking at their bonfire night celebrations. My brief was to situate the celebration historically (5th November 1605 and the Glorious Revolution) and to preach the gospel . . . in ten to fifteen minutes. Nice.
Feeling justified in taking the top end of my time window as a reasonable target, I suggested that we look into the flames and consider deliverance – our national deliverance which, in part, has secured for us the freedom to preach the full-orbed gospel. Then there is thanksgiving for personal deliverance: that same gospel has been preached to us, and many of us have been delivered from the fires of hell through the sacrifice of Christ who was consumed in the flames of God’s wrath on our behalf, quenching its flames for us with his shed blood. Finally, there is the need for deliverance, because those flames are a mere hint of the horrors of hell, “the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” I urged those present who were not saved to consider God’s great mercy in sending preachers to declare a Jesus who saves, and not to sleepwalk into eternal damnation, but to look into the fire and dwell upon the need for salvation. What a joy to stare into a fire next year and see not the threat of punishment but a reminder of deliverance! There were a good number present – about forty or so – of whom many were children and teenagers. There was, I think, a degree of warranted soberness during my brief address. I can only pray that some will heed the warning.
On Saturday I had to run a number of errands. My duties for the Lord’s day – already light – were further reduced by the deacons, and so my preparation was fairly straightforward. I still have vague recollections of a very full day, but that is in part because I was visiting Alissa in hospital. That night Caleb and I went for dinner with friends from the church and then came home and tried to hit the sack early.
On the Lord’s day, our Sunday School hour was a prayer meeting, which was well led, although I think people were a little weary in praying. I led the morning worship and one of our deacons, Tim Norton, the evening. Our preacher for the day was Pastor Reuben Danladi from West Ham Baptist Tabernacle. He preached a rich sermon on Sunday morning from 1 Kings 10.1-13, starting with Solomon and leading us to Christ, with many insightful suggestions based on the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon, and then pointing us upward to the greater than Solomon, Jesus himself. We had our regular fellowship meal at the church, and then I had to dash off as my wife was being discharged from hospital that afternoon. In the evening, Caleb and I went back to church to hear a sermon on Christian love for one another from 1 Peter 1.22. When is such a topic ever not timely?
Monday was a slower day with lots of church administration to catch up on, and then Tuesday night we had a church officers’ meeting. I was up at 4.30am on Wednesday, heading out to Heathrow airport to collect my mother-in-law, who was arriving from New Jersey. I got my act together, Caleb woke as if on cue at 6am, I slung him in the car and we headed round London trying to avoid the worst traffic. We got to my brother’s home and spent a couple of hours with him and his wife and ‘Cousin Susie’ near Twickenham while the traffic calmed down, and then had an easy run into the airport and a good run home. During the afternoon I took out an older gentlemen who – when his health was better – used to attend church. His wife suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home. He himself – once strong as an ox – is increasingly frail after a number of recent operations. As well as helping him out with banking, shopping, and visiting, it’s an opportunity to show Christian compassion and to declare and show the gospel to my friend. Wednesday night was the prayer meeting, fairly poorly attended with several struck down with sickness or caught out by unusual demands at work.
On Thursday we had our senior citizens’ Listen & Dine, an occasional (every five or six weeks) evangelistic opportunity in which we preach for about 20-25 minutes and then provide a meal, with time to follow up the Word of God over the dinner table. Friends in the church had suggested that I develop the material on counting up that I posted here a few days ago. I therefore preached on weighing our hearts in God’s scale, inveighing against the self-righteousness that imagines that anyone is good enough for God: it is not a question of whether we are sinners, but what kind of sinners we are. I used the example of David Dickson to press home the necessity of fleeing to Christ to obtain the only righteousness that would bring us to heaven. There was some good conversation afterward over the excellent meal. Some was desperately sad, showing only the spiritual blindness of sinful men and women, secure in their own imagined self-righteousness. Most encouraging were those who reacted vigorously to the ministry, and there may be opportunity to follow that up. At least when someone disagrees or becomes angry you know that they have to some degree understood what you meant!
Today I hope to go out to speak to the youngsters on the square in Maidenbower. If Listen & Dine tends to bring out the older brother types, Friday and Saturday night in the park is younger brother time (Luke 15). It is good to be well-received by the youngsters, but – should God send the gospel arrows home – their anger might not be so politely expressed as at Listen & Dine. It is painful to be wounded, but it is the necessary preparation for the binding up of the soul that Christ accomplishes through the gospel. Today is therefore given over to preparation for the weekend – I am preaching at Hope Baptist Church on Saturday evening at 5pm at their anniversary service, back again for their morning worship at 10.15am, and then home to preach here for the evening service. I had better get to it . . .
It has been good to renew fellowship with the church here in Coconut Creek, and to meet again some of the friends I met when I first visited last January. It has also been a busy first weekend.
On Saturday morning, the men met for breakfast, and I then taught a class on self-examination. We considered the duty, nature and necessity of self-examination, looked at some of its difficulties and dangers, studied the Biblical nature of the it, and – relying heavily on Jonathan Edwards – worked quickly through some of the subjects of self-examination. Bearing in mind that self-examination is not really an end in itself, but a means to an end, we followed through to what ought to follow self-examination, and then gave some miscellaneous practical counsels. That was followed by a discussion, in which – not knowing the men asking particular questions and making particular comments – it was not so easy to understand the thrust of their contributions. Still, it seemed to go well, and I was asked to provide the notes so that those present, and others interested, might consider it all in slower time. The rest of the day was pleasantly slow, some reading and chatting, with a prayer meeting in the evening, after which I enjoyed dinner with the pastors and their wives, the Diekemas and the Hughes.
On the Lord’s day, I had the adult Sunday School class and preached at the two services. With the Calvin quincentennial year only a few months away, I gave an outline of Calvin’s life in the Sunday School. I had to rattle through the early years in order to cover the territory in the time allotted, but was able to slow down and expand a little toward the end. It was largely a matter of biographical detail, but I was able to make some applications from his character and commitment to Christ’s cause, and to emphasise that Calvinism is characterised primarily by an overwhelming sense of and humble response to the glory of God revealed in Christ. It is the determination to have God be God. There were a few minutes available for discussion, and the only question I had opportunity to deal with was about the relationship between church and state in Calvin’s understanding and our own. Conscious that I speak with a particular perspective and heritage, and from a very different political environment, I sought to be careful and clear. In the course of the class, I also managed to establish my Baptist credentials by dousing the platform with water.
In the first sermon, I tried to piggyback a hurricane. In the last few days, the immediate threat from Hurricane Ike has slowly receded, although Cuba has taken a hammering. I adapted a sermon on 2 Peter 3.10-11 and preached on The coming storm, using the furore created by the hurricane to promote a sense of urgency with regard to the coming day of the Lord. We considered the nature of the coming day, the certainty of the coming day, the arrival of the coming day, and the effect of the coming day now, as there is no guarantee of any tomorrows.
The evening service was the Lord’s supper, and I preached on Gethsemane‘s agony from Mark 14.32-42. Observing Christ in Gethsemane, we noted his fearful isolation, in which even those who were most vocal in professing their attachment failed to watch and pray even for an hour. Then there was his awful burden, as he contemplated the cup of God’s wrath, being gradually pressed to the ground as he began to experience the weight of sin and its accompanying alienation from God enter his soul, leaving him in terrified anguish and deep surprise. Thirdly, we heard his anguished prayer. His sinless humanity recoiled from this prospect, and it brought forth a great cry of distress from his holy soul. The beloved Son contemplates his Father standing not just apart from but against him, and he cries out in broken words of filial familiarity, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me.” Finally, though, there is his holy resolve: “Nevertheless . . .” Here we see the love of the Father, as he holds out the cup to his Son and says, “Son, for them, will you?” Here is the love of the Son, as – in conscious and conscientious submission to his Father – he reaches out and answers, “Father, for them, I will.” We sought, in some shallow way, to understand what it would mean for a sinner, rather than the sinless Son, to bear the weight of his own sin. The Christian does not do so, will never do so, for the Sin-bearer has borne it away in himself to and upon the cross. But the unbeliever must flee now to Christ, lest he experience the full, awful, eternal punishment of his own wickedness in hell.