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THE ETERNITY OF HELL TORMENTS –
ADAPTED FROM A SERMON BY JONATHAN EDWARDS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, January 27, 2008

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46).


In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew we have a description of the coming day of judgment. Christ tells us that He will sit on the throne of His glory. The saved and the lost will be set before Him, and separated from each other, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. Then they will be judged by Him. We are told what the sentence of each will be and then, in the verse of the text, Christ said,

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment”
      (Matthew 25:46).

It is my purpose to show two things.


1.  The length of their punishment: it is called “everlasting punishment.”

2.  The time that they will enter this everlasting punishment – after the day of judgment, then shall the unsaved enter their eternal punishment.


The doctrine is this: the misery of the unsaved in Hell will be absolutely eternal.

There are two false opinions that I mean to oppose. One is that the unsaved will be annihilated, that they will cease to exist, that God will punish them by ending their existence. The other false opinion is that, though the punishment of the unsaved will last a long time, it will not be eternal. Both of these ideas are proved false by the words of Christ,

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment”
      (Matthew 25:46).

I. First, I will show that it is not inconsistent with the justice of God for
Him to inflict eternal punishment.

The usual objection made against this teaching is that it is not consistent with the justice and mercy of God. And some say that, even if it is just, yet how can a merciful God bear to eternally torment people?

First I will show that it is not inconsistent with the justice of God to inflict eternal punishment. To prove this I will use only one argument – that sin is monstrously wicked enough to deserve such a punishment, and such a punishment is no more than proportionate to the evil of sin. If the evil of sin is endless, then the punishment is no more than sin deserves. Sin, being an endless evil, deserves an endless punishment. Therefore such punishment is just, which was the thing to be proved.

Second, I will show that it is not inconsistent with the mercy of God to inflict eternal punishment on wicked people. It is unreasonable and unscriptural to think that God’s mercy makes it impossible for Him to bear seeing justice executed. It would be a defect, not a virtue, in the Supreme Judge of the world, to be merciful in such a way that He could not bear to have justice executed.

All of the objections against the eternal misery of the wicked rise from the carnal hearts of sinners. All of these objections rise from a lack of seeing that sin is an infinite evil. Those who object to the eternal punishment of the wicked do so for two reasons:

1.  That eternal punishment is contrary to the depraved feelings of mankind. They are so opposed to the truth of this teaching that they hate it. They cannot bear to think that it might, after all, be true. Their rejection of eternal punishment comes from their hatred of God’s sovereign power in executing judgment for sin.

2.  That they refuse to see the suitableness for the evil of sin to be eternally punished. [Dr. Hymers’ note: I have never met anyone that believed in Satan who thought God’s mercy should have pardoned him when he rebelled against God in Heaven. Those who believe in Satan generally agree that it was just and right for God to cast him out of Heaven for his rebellion against God; that it was perfectly just for God to sentence him to go to Hell, which sentence will be executed at the final Judgment. But if God were just in sentencing Satan to eternal punishment for his sin, why would they think it unjust to do the same thing to the wicked, who act like Satan in their rebellious sin against God on an almost daily basis? If it were right to sentence Satan, one of His creatures, to Hell for his rebellion, why is it wrong to judge human beings by the same standard? Indeed, it is not wrong for God to do so, in fact it is as necessary for God to judge Satan as it is for Him to demand that justice fall on wicked man, as it did on “the angels which kept not their first estate” but rebelled and “left their own habitation” (Jude 6a). These wicked angels God “hath reserved…under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” of God’s wrath (Jude 6b). If the Devil and his angels deserve eternal punishment for their sin, wicked men deserve the same judgment. To be consistent with His nature, God must judge all sin alike, whether it be for the sin of Satan and fallen angels, or the sin of fallen man.]


Having shown that the eternal punishment is consistent with His justice, I will now show the eternal punishment of the wicked. The divine person of God requires that sin be punished, [and, Dr. Hymers points out, that the wicked should receive the same judgment to sin that wicked angels receive for, as Jesus said to sinful men,

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44).

The eternal punishment of Satan and his angels is as just and right as the eternal punishment on men who follow their “father the devil” (John 8:44).]

But that all sin should justly be punished eternally is such a great thing that it appears in the following considerations.

1.  It is suitable that God should hate sin, and be an enemy against it. Sin is an infinite evil and therefore is detestable. It is proper that God should hate sin, and hate it according to its horrible nature. And sin being a great evil, it is proper that God should hate it.

2.  If endless hatred of sin is the correct motive for Him to judge sinful men, then the expressions given in the Bible are also suitable to His character. If it is right for God to hate sin, then it is right for Him to express that hatred.


So, it follows, that if it is right for God to hate sin, as I have shown it is, it is also right for Him to punish sin. And so the perfect nature of God requires that He punish the infinite evil of sin with infinite judgment, that is, eternal judgment.

Thus the great objection against eternal judgment is answered, and the truth of it shown, by reason. I will now establish it by considering the other parts of the doctrine, as given in the Bible.

II. Second, I will show that the punishment is not annihilation,
but a continuing misery.

First, everywhere in the Bible the punishment of the wicked is described as extreme pain and suffering. A state of annihilation, or non-existence, is not a state of suffering. If a person ceases to exist he will feel no pain or suffering at all.

Second, the Bible teaches that the wicked will be punished in a way that shows they are aware of the punishment, and feel it. Deuteronomy 7:10 says, “He will repay him to his face.” Job 21:19-20 says,

“God…rewardeth him, and he shall know it. His eyes shall see his destruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty” (Job 21:19-20).

Ezekiel 22:22 says,

“As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you” (Ezekiel 22:22).

In the Gospel of Luke, it is said of the rich man,

“In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23).

Thus, we see that the wicked will not cease to exist, but will continue in a state of conscious suffering.

Third, the Bible teaches that the wicked will suffer different degrees of torment, according to the different degrees of their sins. Christ said,

“It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Mark 6:11),

which rejects the preaching of the Gospel. Again, Christ said that some, who knew not the Lord’s will,

“…shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:48),

and others, who knew the Lord’s will,

“…shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47).

These passages of Scripture prove that there are different degrees of punishment in Hell. These also show that eternal punishment is not annihilation because, if the soul ceased to exist, everyone would experience exactly the same thing – annihilation.

Fourth, the Bible plainly says that the eternal punishment of the wicked will consist of torment and misery, not annihilation. We should note what was said of Judas,

“It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

This shows that the punishment of the wicked is such that their existence is worse than non-existence. But if their punishment were merely annihilation that would not be true. Isaiah 33:14 says that sinners “dwell with everlasting burnings.” But if they are turned into nothing, how could that be so? It is absurd to call annihilation a burning, which implies a state of existence, sensibility, and extreme pain; whereas none of these could happen if the soul ceased to exist. In Revelation 14:11 we are told,

“The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…” (Revelation 14:11).

And, again, we should remember the rich man Jesus described,

“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments [who said] I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:23-24).

These verses should be enough to show an honest-hearted person that Hell is not the end of existence, but is continuing to be “tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24).

III. Third, I will show that the punishment is not for a long time,
but is endless.

Our text is plain. Christ clearly said,

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment”
      (Matthew 25:46).

Also, in II Thessalonians 1:9, we are told that those who do not obey the Gospel of Christ,

“Shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (II Thessalonians 1:9).

Revelation 14:11 says,

“The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…” (Revelation 14:11).

These verses speak of eternal punishment. Those who reject this are rejecting the plain words of Scripture. In Mark 9:44 Christ said,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”
      (Mark 9:44).

Application

From what the Bible teaches, we learn the madness and folly of the greater part of mankind. For the sake of earthly gain or pleasure they risk experiencing eternal torments.

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment”
      (Matthew 25:46).

They prefer a small pleasure, or a little wealth, or a little earthly honor, which last for but a moment, to escape from eternal punishment. What is there in this world that is worth enduring Hell to obtain?

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

How crazed men are who hear these truths and yet are so careless about what will happen to them in a few years’ time! How can men be so careless regarding their own eternal torment? What a strange stupor and insanity possesses the hearts of men! How much wiser are those few who make it their main business to lay a foundation for eternity, and secure their own salvation!

That you may effectually escape these dreadful torments, I exhort you to flee to and embrace Him who came into the world to save sinners from these torments, who has paid the whole debt due to the divine law, and exhausted eternal sufferings. What great encouragement it is, to you who realize that you are exposed to eternal punishment, that Christ is able to save you from that punishment in a way that is perfectly consistent with the glory of God, which is more to the glory of God than it would be if you were to suffer the eternal punishment of Hell.

This sermon has been condensed and made to conform to modern English by Dr. Hymers. It was originally preached by Jonathan Edwards in April of 1739.

A Short Sketch of the Life of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 and died in 1758. His conversion took place when he was 17. He began preaching before the age of 19. For about 8 months he preached in a small church in New York City. He then was called to Yale to become a tutor, and remained at Yale for two years. In 1724 he was called and ordained at the First Church of Northfield, Massachusetts, where he served as associate pastor alongside his grandfather, Dr. Solomon Stoddard. Dr. Stoddard died two years later and Edwards became the pastor.

The First Great Awakening of 1734-1744 broke out in his church, and in some neighboring churches, largely under his preaching. His sermons had a powerful influence on his audiences and even influenced the views of the great evangelist George Whitefield, who worked with Edwards in the First Great Awakening. Even from his early preaching days, Edwards was known for his deep thought and fiery preaching. His voice was not commanding, and his gestures were few. But many of his sermons were overwhelming (The above paragraphs were adapted from Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History, Keats Publishing, Inc., 1974 edition, p. 129).

Under the influence of Edwards’ preaching, his Northampton congregation and several nearby churches experienced a powerful religious revival in 1734-1735. Beginning in 1739, again under Edwards’ preaching, the revival expanded and became known as the First Great Awakening. During this time Edwards met George Whitefield. Whitefield preached in Edwards’ church and they became close friends. A few years later, Edwards’ books were published in England by John Wesley. And Dr. Isaac Watts recommended that they be read and wrote an introduction to Edwards’ book on revival. His books and sermons were the bedrock from which sprang this mighty revival in the mid-18th century. In a very real sense he was the instrument God used to ignite this greatest of all revivals in the English speaking world. He is now known as the most important theologian and philosopher America has ever produced. Late in life Jonathan Edwards became the president of Princeton. (The above paragraph is adapted from J. D. Douglass and Donald Mitchell, editors, Who’s Who in Christian History, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, p. 224.)


THE OUTLINE OF

THE ETERNITY OF HELL TORMENTS –
ADAPTED FROM A SERMON BY JONATHAN EDWARDS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

I.   First, it is not inconsistent with the justice of God for Him to inflict
eternal punishment, Jude 6; John 8:44.

II.  Second, the punishment is not annihilation, but a continuing misery,
Deuteronomy 7:10; Job 21:19-20; Ezekiel 22:22; Luke 16:23;
Mark 6:11; Luke 12:48, 47; Matthew 26:24; Isaiah 33:14;
Revelation 14:11; Luke 16:23-24.

III. Third, the punishment is not for a long time, but is endless,
II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 14:11; Mark 9:44.

Application

(Mark 8:36-37)

(END OF SERMON)
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