WHY MANY PREACHERS DOWNPLAY HELL TODAY

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, June 23, 2002


"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).


Last Wednesday (June 19, 2002), the Los Angeles Times featured a news story about Hell on the front page. The headline of the article read:

Hold the Fire and Brimstone.
Mention of hell from pulpits at an all-time low (ibid., p. A-1).

I found this article quite interesting for a number of reasons.

1. First, because several liberals made correct statements concerning the subject of Hell.

2. Second, because several conservatives made incorrect statements about Hell.

3. Third, because evolution, rather than revelation, was given as the basis of knowledge about Hell.

I. First, several liberals made correct statements about the subject of Hell.

Harvey Cox, Jr. is a well known author and religious historian. He is a professor at the divinity school of Harvard University. Dr. Cox said:

There has been a shift in religion from focusing on what happens in the next life to asking, 'What is the quality of this life we're leading now?' You can go to a whole lot of churches week after week, and you'd be startled even to hear a mention of hell.

Cox is absolutely right. And this is a good insight he has given us, even though he is a liberal. Instead of focusing on the life to come, most churches, including most evangelical churches, are now focusing on how you can enjoy yourself now, in this life.

The Times said:

The tendency to downplay damnation has grown in recent years as nondenominational ministries, with their focus on everyday issues such as child-rearing and career success, have proliferated and loyalty to churches has deteriorated (ibid.).

These "conservative" interdenominational ministries seem to have less insight than many liberals on the subject of Hell. Bill Farris, pastor of Crown Valley Vineyard Christian Fellowship, said about the subject of Hell, "It isn't sexy enough anymore." Whatever that means!

Yet Dr. George Hunsinger, a professor at the liberal Princeton Theological Seminary, said that we need to "talk about divine judgment in a responsible way. It's a failure of nerve by churches that are not wanting to take on a non-popular stance" (ibid. p. A-20). How could it have been said better? It is a shame when liberals have more insight on Hell than many so-called "conservative" evangelicals! The Bible says:

"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (II Timothy 4:2-3).

That is one of the most important passages of Scripture for our time. It reveals why so-called conservative evangelicals have quit preaching on Hell. In fact, they have quit preaching about anything! They don't preach anymore! All they do is teach!

 

The Bible says, "preach the word" (II Timothy 4:2).  And Jesus said:

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:  but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46)

II. Second, several more "conservative" evangelicals
made incorrect statements about Hell.

Billy Graham was quoted in the Times article as saying he does not know what Hell is. Graham said:

I believe that hell is essentially separation from God. That we are separated from God, so we can have hell in this life and hell in the life to come. But to describe hell in vivid terms like I did 30 or 40 years ago, I'm not at liberty to do that because whether there is actually fire in hell or not, I do not know (Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2002, p. A-20).

Graham made that statement in a 1991 interview. He was then seventy-one years old. Thirty years before that he was forty-one. Is he telling us that, as a man in his forties, he was wrong about such a fundamental subject as Hell? I don't think that's what Billy Graham means. I think that he changed what he says about Hell because, once again, Graham is following the example of the Pope. The Times said:

Pope John Paul II made headlines by saying that hell should be seen not as a fiery underworld but as "the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God…" (Times, ibid., p. A-20).

The Times article points out that this became Catholic doctrine in the Vatican II Council, in the 1960s. Billy Graham, as he has often done, is now preaching on Hell as mere "separation from God," copying the Catholic Church.

I am going to read a paragraph from a sermon Billy Graham gave here in Los Angeles, in his first crusade, in 1949. It is from a sermon titled "Judgment":

The final place of the sinner will be the lake of fire and brimstone. In that day of judgment, the spirit of the sinner is going to be brought out of Hades, reunited with the body from the grave. Then each sinner who rejects Christ will be given his assigned place in the lake of fire and brimstone which the Scripture says burns forever. You say, "I don't like that." I'm telling you what God says; if you don't like it, you don't like what He says, not what I say. I'm giving it to you straight from God's Word (Billy Graham, "Judgment," in Revival in Our Time, Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1950, p. 137).

When was Graham right? Was he right when he gave a plain description of the Last Judgment from Revelation 20:12-15, or is he right now that he gives the spiritualized, soft version of Hell which he borrowed from the Catholic Church? Which Billy Graham can we believe? Will he change again in a couple of years - to suit the mood of the time? Is a man who swings so drastically to please the public really a man we can trust?

Then the article quotes Robert H. Schuller, one of Graham's so-called evangelical supporters. The article says:

Schuller is another believer in the concept of hell as an eternal separation from God. Yet he stopped preaching on the subject forty years ago… "I don't ever want people to become Christian to escape hell," Schuller said. "Why threaten people with God's stick when dangling a carrot is enough to close the deal?" (Los Angeles Times, ibid.).

Close what deal? If it's just getting them to come to church occasionally and have a hazy belief in the existence of God, then Schuller is right. But if "closing the deal" means an inward conversion, as preached by our Puritan forefathers, then Schuller is dead wrong. No one ever experienced true inward conversion without having some pretty deep thoughts about sin and eternal damnation - in a literal Hell. And Jesus said:

"Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Liberal theologian Dr. Martin Marty, of the University of Chicago, pointed out this simple truth, "When you take hell away as a threat, everything changes" (Los Angeles Times, ibid.). Marty goes on to say that church attendance has fallen as a result of the lack of preaching on Hell. I find it fascinating that a rank liberal like Dr. Marty seems to have more spiritual insight than Billy Graham, or Rick Warren, who never preaches about Hell according to the Times article (Los Angeles Times, ibid.). We are in sad shape when rank liberals (modernists) have more spiritual understanding than many conservatives!

Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, said,

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:  but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46)

III. Third, evolution, rather than revelation, was given
as the basis of knowledge about Hell.

The Times article goes on to tell us that the idea of Hell came into being through a long process of evolution. Dr. Gleason Archer, a prominent professor of Old Testament, has noted that "An evolutionary understanding of history and an anthropocentric view of religion" has dominated humanistic thought for over a hundred years (ref. Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, Thomas Nelson, 1993, p. 142). This evolutionary concept regarding Hell can be seen in the Times article:

The history of hell is long and complex, a product of evolving religious thought that has shaped - and been shaped by - literature, art and popular culture.

Hell's roots are tangled up in the Hades of Greek mythology and the ancient Hebrew concept of Sheol - locales where the dead, both good and bad, resided.

Hell became more hellish when the early Christians infused it with a serious fear factor.

Jesus is quoted in the Bible describing hell as the "outer darkness" consumed by an "everlasting fire." The book of Revelation warned that sinners would be "thrown into the lake of fire." Matthew's Gospel offered a sound-track: the "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

During the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance, a lurid image of Hell was firmly cemented in people's minds.

Dante wrote that within the seventh circle of hell runs "the river of blood, within which boiling is/Whoe'er by violence doth injure others."

Bosch depicted naked souls being devoured by a birdlike creature, pierced by spears and tormented by half-human demons.

For churches, the fear of hell became a colorful - and effective - tool to teach the consequences of a sinful life devoid of God.

In the centuries to come, scientific discoveries and the European Enlightenment would crack hell's veneer, undercutting all things supernatural…(Los Angeles Times, ibid.).

To understand this false view of the "evolution" of Hell, let's see whether the Old Testament taught it. Turn to Isaiah, chapter fourteen, verse nine:

"Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit" (Isaiah 14:9-15).

Dr. Charles Hodge comments on these verses, "The representation given in Isaiah xiv, of the descent of the King of Babylon, when all the dead rose to meet him and reproach him, takes for granted and authenticates the popular belief in the continued conscious existence of departed spirits" (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Hendrickson, 1999, volume III, p. 717).

Now turn to Daniel, chapter twelve, verse two:

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).

Now turn back to our text in Matthew, chapter twenty-five, verse forty-six:

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).

I see no "evolution" whatever between Daniel 12:2 and Matthew 25:46. Both verses teach exactly the same thing, although the first verse is from the Old Testament and the second verse is from the New Testament.

The reality of Hell did not come by evolution, but by revelation. We know about Hell by the revelation of the Bible. The Bible reveals Hell to us. And Jesus Christ had more to say about the subject of Hell than any other person in the Bible. And the Bible teaches that Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. If you put your trust in Christ, His death on the Cross pays for your sins - and His Blood washes your sins away.

My question is this: Why risk going to Hell when you can be sure of going to Heaven? Why not come into our church every Sunday? Why not also come to Jesus Christ and be saved?

Christ is now alive - at the right hand of God in the third Heaven - up in another dimension. When you come to the risen Christ, His Blood cleanses you from all sin - so you can go to Heaven instead of Hell when you die.

Please turn to John, chapter three, verse seventeen:

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already…" (John 3:17-18).

Christ did not come to condemn you. Christ came to save you. As Dr. Rice said:

He loves so long, He loves so well,
   He loves you more than tongue can tell,
He loves so long, He loves so well,
   He died to save your soul from Hell.
      (John R. Rice, "He Loves You Still").

But you must believe on Christ, and trust Him with all your heart. And turn to Christ, away from a life of sin. And be sure to come back to church every Sunday!


(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Revelation 20:12-15.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "He Loves You Still"

(by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

THE OUTLINE OF

WHY MANY PREACHERS DOWNPLAY HELL TODAY

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).

I.   Several liberals made correct statements about Hell,
II Timothy 4:2-3.

II.  Several more "conservative" evangelicals made incorrect
statements about Hell, Matthew 18:3.

III. Evolution, rather than revelation, was given as the basis of
knowledge about Hell, Isaiah 14:9-15; Daniel 12:2;
Matthew 25:46; John 3:17-18.