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THE REASON PEOPLE DISREGARD THE WARNINGS OF HELL
IS THAT IT DOESN’T SEEM REAL TO THEM –
CONDENSED AND ADAPTED TO MODERN ENGLISH
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, February 10, 2008


This message has been condensed and adapted to modern English, with some new material, from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “The Reason Why Men no more Regard Warnings of Future Punishment is Because it Does Not Seem Real to Them.”

“And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

God sent two angels to tell Lot that He would destroy the city. They said,

“We will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13).

When Lot told his daughters’ husbands this, “He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14). It seemed to them that he was jesting, telling them a funny story. Thus, they would not take him seriously.

We should remember that the destruction of the city of Sodom is used in several places in the Bible as a type, an illustration, of Hell. In the Book of Jude, we are told that the city of Sodom is “set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). The fire that came down on the city is a type, an “example” of “the vengeance of eternal fire” in Hell. Thus the burning of the city is a clear type of Hell.

Lot’s sons in law, and Lot’s own wife, are types of people who refuse to believe in the eternal fire of Hell. His sons in law laughed, thinking Lot was joking. His wife turned around and headed back toward the city, and was burned alive by “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). And Jesus said,

“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

So it is clear that these sons in law, and Lot’s own wife, are given as examples, or types, of those who reject what God says concerning “the vengeance of eternal fire.”

The city of Sodom itself is a type of the world, according to Jude 7. It is a small picture of the entire human race, which gives itself over to ungodliness and refuses to acknowledge God and His punishment of sin. The city is a small picture of the whole world, going away from God into sin, and therefore suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. The small number that were saved from the flames that fell on the city shows how few people will escape eternal torment. The large number burned in Sodom (that is everyone but Lot and his two daughters) is an example, a type of the fact that nearly everyone goes to Hell. Jesus said,

“Narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Only Noah, his wife, and his three sons and their wives escaped the judgment of the Great Flood, which was also a type of Hell.

“God…spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (II Peter 2:4, 5).

Likewise, God

“turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly”
      (II Peter 2:6).

Thus, only Lot and his two daughters escaped the fiery judgment of Sodom. And both the Flood and the burning of Sodom are given in II Peter as “ensamples” (specimens or examples) of God’s judgment of the unconverted in the eternal flames. Both of these sample cases show forth the reality of Christ’s warning,

“Narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Almost everyone in the world, before the Great Flood, refused to believe the warnings of Noah, “a preacher of righteousness” (II Peter 2:5). Likewise, the sons in law of Lot did not believe him when he warned them that “the Lord will destroy this city” (Genesis 19:14). “He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14). And tonight, I wonder if you will be like them, until, “In hell [you] lift up [your] eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23).

“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God… tormented with fire and brimstone…And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 14:10, 11).

“And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

The doctrine we learn from our text of Scripture is this: men do not pay attention to warnings about future judgment because Hell does not seem real to them. In speaking about this, I will give several arguments:


1.  I will show what it means to realize the truth about Hell, and how you do not realize it.

2.  I will prove the doctrine of Hell.

3.  I will give several reasons why Hell doesn’t seem real to sinful men.


I. First, I will show what it means to realize the truth about Hell,
and how you do not realize it.

There are two things that make Hell real: first, believing the truth about it; second, having a conscious awareness of it.

1.  Fully believing the truth of it would make it seem true. Those who do not pay attention to the threats and warnings about Hell in the Scriptures do not fully believe in it. They think it may be true, but they don’t force their minds to decide that it is true. So when they speak about Hell, they just assume that it is true because they have heard about it many times, from reading the Bible or hearing sermons about it. Thus, they simply assume that it is true because they have heard preachers and Christians say it is so. They believe it like the Catholics believe in praying to Mary: because their fathers believe it, or because they have been taught about it by Catholics who are older than them. But they have never really been convinced that it is true. In the same way, many go along with what they have learned about Hell at church, and in a way believe it; but they have never been truly convinced to strongly believe in it. Their belief in Hell is not based on any evidence of it, proving the reality of it to their minds, but they only believe it as a Christian doctrine because they were taught to believe it by others in their family, or in the church.
       Now, a belief that is not based on evidence will have very little influence on your mind, and will not make you show much respect for it. And, so, many unconverted people think that Hell may not be true. They think, “How can I find out whether the Scriptures are true when they speak about Hell?” They say within themselves, “How do I know that there is such a place as Hell? It may be just a thing that people have made up to scare us. How can I know if Heaven and Hell are real?” Such thoughts often come into the minds of unconverted men, which harden their hearts against the reality of Hell.

2.  Those things that we see and feel seem real to us. Thus, by seeing a man in person, we get a more real understanding of him than by seeing a drawing of him or being told about him, without actually seeing him. Thus, the things we see when we are awake seem more real than our dreams when we are sleeping, because, when we see them in the daytime they are more distinct and true to us.
       Now most people do not have such a real awareness of the wrath of God’s eternal punishment. It was never shown to their eyes and brought into view, so they could actually see it. So they have a sort of superstitious idea that Hell may be true, but it does not seem real enough to make them think that they will go to Hell. It seems like a fairy tale or a dream to them, and so it doesn’t make a deep impression on their minds. That is why they are not horrified by the thought of it.

3.  They don’t see the nearness of Hell. If they go on in an unconverted state, it will only be a short time before they go into the flames. They will undoubtedly be in Hell in the next sixty or seventy years, or perhaps even sooner; but they don’t see how soon sixty years pass by, or how short that time will seem after it is passed.
       They also do not feel the unpredictable nature of life; they do not feel that their lives may end quite suddenly; they are not aware of the uncertainty of life, that they might be dead in a few days, or even in a few hours. They are asleep to this danger, even though they may be very close to death.

4.  They don’t have a real sense of the greatness of the punishment of Hell. They have heard that it will be horrible, that it will be a lake of fire and brimstone; but they still think very little about what that means. They never felt the fire. They never saw anyone weeping and wailing in Hell. And so they have no real idea of how horrible it is; and so they are not terrified by the thought of going there to suffer. They do not think about what it will be like to go to Hell, what it will be like when they cry out, “I must be here for ever and ever. I can never escape. There is no one to help me.” They have very little idea how much pain and horror will fall on them; which will feel like a mountain of lead crashing down upon them to crush them, that they will continue to exist and wail, and gnash their teeth, when they are eternally crushed by the wrath of God.

II. But now I go on to the second thing: which is to prove that the
certainty of future punishment is not seriously thought about,
why men pay so little attention to the warnings of
future punishment given in the Scriptures.

1.  If Hell seemed real to men, if they really thought they would be cast into its everlasting torments as soon as they die, and never get out of the flames for all eternity, it would be impossible for them to be light-hearted and happy. It would be impossible for them to go about cheerfully, to work, study and play, when they might possibly fall into Hell at any moment. How could they concentrate on their studies or their work? How could they happily play games, and enjoy themselves, if they truly believed what the Bible says, for it is the Word of God?
       The fact that they go on in their lives so unconcerned about Hell shows that the Spirit of God has not yet “convinced them of sin, righteousness and judgment” to come (see John 16:8).
       If Hell seemed real to them it would be impossible for them to be light-hearted and happy. It would be impossible for them to go on cheerfully in their work or recreation – it would be as impossible as it is for a man to love pain and enjoy being miserable.

2.  The second proof that they disregard warnings concerning Hell is that they are careful to avoid things that they know are dangerous. When they are afraid of losing money they are concerned, and do everything possible to avoid losing it. When they are afraid of losing their lives, they do everything possible to avoid death. They are aroused to action by such dangers. They can see with their eyes how miserable it would be if they lost their money or their lives. And, so, they do everything possible to avoid these miseries. This makes it clear that it is their lack of feeling and believing the reality of eternal misery that keeps them from being concerned about it. Yet it is far more probable that they will lose their souls in Hell than that they will lose their money while they live.

3.  The only reason that one person is awakened to the danger of Hell and another person is not is because one realizes that it is true, and the other one does not. So, Lot fled from Sodom, but his sons in law thought that the threat of judgment was unreal.

“But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

III. Third, I will show why future punishment in Hell doesn’t seem
real to men. They are often told about it. They have heard it
described in the Scriptures. God has warned them. They have
heard preaching about it, and they have been warned of it
by friends and parents. They have heard many reasons that
should convince them, but after all that, it still doesn’t seem
real to them. Here are several reasons it seems unreal.

1.  Their hearts and minds are sinful and wicked. This stops the truth about Hell from making an impression on them. The condition of the soul in its natural state is opposed to every truth revealed by God in the Scriptures. Being of a contradictory nature, their natural souls resist the truth, their depraved hearts are prejudiced against the truth, and the prejudices of nature are the strongest of all prejudices. This inner opposition to God’s truth causes them to be prejudiced against the reality of Hell, and makes it seem unreal to them. The inward sinfulness of their hearts numbs and stupefies their understanding and makes the truth seem like a dream or a myth.

“But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

2.  Another reason that Hell doesn’t seem real to them is that they are used to depending on their physical senses alone and, therefore, nothing seems real to them that they cannot see, or touch, or feel, or taste, or smell. Their thoughts and actions have been confined to their senses alone. Therefore nothing seems real to them except what they can see, touch, feel, taste, or at least smell. They don’t think Hell is real because they have never seen it; and because they never heard the screams and outcries of the damned. They have never smelled the stench of the fire and brimstone. Their flesh has not been scorched by the flames. Hell is in another world, and it is invisible to the natural eye. Therefore the natural man does not realize that there is such a place. And if they admit that it may exist, the pains of it do not seem as real as physical pain, and therefore it does not seem very great to them. God’s wrath doesn’t seem very terrible to them because they have never seen God, and because they cannot see with their physical eyes what sort of being He is.

3.  They see a great many others that are not concerned about Hell. So, they don’t feel alone, since so many of their companions and relatives are no more concerned about it than they are. Thus, they follow the herd, and comfort themselves that the herd around them is no more concerned about Hell than they are. Thus, Lot’s sons in law comforted each other and did not listen to Lot. When he warned them, “Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city,” they looked one to another, to see if the other fellow was concerned. When the first one saw no concern in the other, Lot “seemed as one that mocked” (Genesis 19:14). They feel that they are not alone, that multitudes of others don’t seem any more concerned about it than they do. Men that are highly esteemed, men that seem to be very intelligent, men that are very rich, and are in high positions, do not seem concerned about their eternal destiny, so why should they be worried? “Everyone is unconcerned about Hell,” they say. So they get on the “bandwagon” and follow the herd. This hardens them, and moves them farther away from realizing the truth of it themselves. Christ said of salvation, “few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). The great herds of mankind comfort each other. Thus, most people get on the bandwagon with them, and live their lives with no consideration of eternal judgment.

Application

“And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

The doctrine we learn from this verse of Scripture is this: men do not pay attention to warnings about future judgment because Hell does not seem real to them. The use I will make of this doctrine is to give some points to make future punishment seem real to you:


1.  To make you really believe that there is such a place as Hell.

2.  To give, in some measure, a description of Hell.


I. First, to make you really believe in Hell, I will attempt to show you how
absurd it is to think that there is no further punishment
of sinners, by giving the following arguments.

1.  If there is no future punishment then men do not need to be any more afraid of it than they are of committing crimes, of breaking the law in this world. If there were no future punishment, men would not need to fear breaking God’s law any more than they fear the police if they break the law in this world. The police force, and the legal justice system of the courts of this world can take away men’s houses and property and put them in jail, or execute them, if they commit great earthly crimes – and those same sentences on them, by God, would be no worse than human judgment if there were no punishment in the future. If God only punished sin in this world, His punishments would be no worse than the punishments given out by earthly courts of law. This may help to convince you of the absurdity and unreasonableness of man’s unbelief in eternal punishment.

2.  If there is no future punishment, then there is little to stop men from ruining and devouring each other. Conscience alone does not keep men from doing anything they want to do to promote their own self-interests, or from doing everything necessary to get whatever they want, if there were no future punishment. There would be no eternal reason to keep them from committing robbery, or adultery, or perjury, or murder, or anything else men do to gain wealth or pleasure. Without the thought of future punishment men would rob and kill and devour each other. It would make it very difficult to live in this world if men were not held back by fear of future punishment. [Dr. Hymers’ note: The present state of our society is chaotic because the very argument Edwards uses has become a thing of the past, as a result of men not fearing future punishment. But the chaos of our society is not normal, when compared to past generations, where for long centuries men were held back from the worst crimes by at least some fear of Hell.]
       So, it is unreasonable to think that a wise God would leave the world He created without any way to keep men from becoming beasts, and destroying and devouring each other. Therefore it is unreasonable to think that there is no future punishment.

3.  If there is no future punishment, then it would be in men’s best interests to sin against Him. They could cheat and steal, and gain great wealth, and not fear being judged by God, if there were no future punishment, for often men have an opportunity of advancing themselves and making large sums of money, and experiencing the pleasure of sin. But how could those sins of covetousness and pleasure destroy the peace of their own minds if there were no future punishment? Why would they worry about incurring the wrath of God if there were no Hell?
       If you say that, though the wicked has more wealth and sensual pleasure, yet the Christian has inward peace and pleasure which is far better, if there is no future state, there is no foundation for the Christian’s peace and pleasure to go beyond this earthly life. If this is true, if there are no future rewards and punishments, it would be in men’s best interests to throw off righteousness, and live in sin, which is most absurd, since there are indeed eternal rewards and eternal punishments.

4.  Consider how unreasonable it is to think that such monsters of sin, as there have been in the world [like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, those who destroyed the lives of thousands on 9/11, and other terrorists and genocidal maniacs] should go unpunished. There have been many cruel tyrants and bloody persecutors who have enjoyed nothing more than murdering and cruelly torturing many thousands of good Christians; many have been roasted to death by torture, burned alive; flayed alive; whipped to death; sometimes tortured for three or four days, or more, before they died. Some of these fiends have taken little children and have roasted them to death before their mothers’ eyes [see Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for many examples of these tortures].
       Now, think how unreasonable and how unscriptural it is to think that such monsters, if they die in an unconverted state, should die and go out into eternity as free as a saint, and never be punished in the next life.
       One would think that these crimes against humanity [Dr. Hymers’ comment: including the crime against humanity entailed in abortion on demand] should be enough to make it seem really true to you that there is indeed a future punishment for unconverted sinners, especially since God has told us in the Scriptures that these criminals will be eternally punished in eternal fire.

II. Second, to give you a sensible view of the punishment of Hell I will,
in some measure, describe it.

1.  When a wicked, unconverted man dies his soul is immediately seized by demons. This is the soul that the Devil has sought all through that man’s life, and by tempting him, the Devil makes him his slave, since he has given himself to the Devil. Thus, the unconverted man’s soul belongs to the Devil. Thus, he becomes the Devil’s eternal prisoner when he dies. So, when wicked, unconverted men die they are seized by demons. We read that the wicked servant in the 18th chapter of Matthew was delivered to the tormentors. The demons are those tormentors.

2.  Then the lost soul is hurried along, as a prisoner, down to Hell at his death, to a place of misery, where there are millions of miserable, tormented souls already, to a very dark and horrible part of Hell. To this place, the souls of unconverted men are carried, when they die, into a place that is exceedingly terrible, beyond imagination. This is a place of blackness and darkness, a place of misery and torment and horror. It is a place of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Nothing will be there but misery and torment.

3.  In Hell, God has a way of dreadfully expressing His wrath, of pouring out His wrath upon the lost soul as soon as it gets there to that place of punishment. It is said that God will rain fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest upon them. They will be tormented by continual flashes of lightning, as they were in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There will be many horrible manifestations of God’s wrath. Everything that they see will show God’s anger and fury against their sin. They will be surrounded by God’s anger, and their souls will burn in the fire of His wrath.

4.  The unconverted wicked will be tormented by demons. These are called “tormentors” in Matthew 18:34. These demons enjoy making men miserable. That was the reason they tempted men to sin in the first place, so they would commit sin and thus fall into Hell, where the demons that once tempted them to sin can, now that they have them under their full power, tear them to pieces like ravenous lions, and sting them like scorpions, injecting poisonous venom into them continuously. On earth, these demons were held back by God, and could not hurt them more than God permitted. But in Hell nothing will hold them back, and they can torture damned souls as much as their evil minds wish, and the torments these demons will inflict on lost souls will be horrible beyond imagination.

5.  There will be no one to help them in Hell. We are told in Luke 16 that not one drop of water will be allowed to cool their burning tongues. If they cry to God for help, He will not hear them. God will have cast them out of His presence. They will have no God to pray to for mercy. And if they cry out to the angels and saints in Heaven, these will not give them help. They will turn away from them and give them no comfort or help, as we see in the case of the rich man, in Luke 16.

6.  There will be no time for them to rest. “They have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 14:11). They will beg for an hour’s rest; but it will not be given to them.

7.  They will know that this torment will go on forever, throughout all eternity. They will have no hope that these horrors will ever end. If they thought the torment would end after several thousand years, it might give them some comfort. But they will never have that hope.

8.  They will have the added fear of what will happen at the Last Judgment, when the horror of their torment will increase even more. This makes the demons tremble, and it will also make them tremble with great fear, for they will then be tormented in resurrected bodies as well as in their souls. Every part of their resurrected bodies will be tormented without end, for all eternity, at the Last Judgment.

Therefore do not disregard the threatenings of eternal punishment, as the sons in law of Lot did when Lot warned them of the coming fiery judgment. Let nothing, no earthly pleasure, or business, or school work, divert your mind from making an all-out effort to escape from the eternal flames. And think always about how short your life will be, and the great unending length of eternity. You should think, “Life is uncertain, and I don’t know how soon I will die.” Think, man! How can you be so foolish as to gamble your soul for what may be a much shorter life than you expected? Why do men treat the short life they will live on this earth as being so all-important, when their life in the next world will be so much longer, even unto all eternity? The only reason men don’t take as much care of their soul as they do of their earthly bodies is that they don’t realize how much more infinitely important their souls are, and because they don’t believe the warnings God gives them about Hell.

“And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14).

Biographical Sketch 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 George Whitefield preached in Edwards’ church and they became close friends. A few years later, Edwards’ books were published in England by John Wesley. Dr. Isaac Watts recommended that they be read and wrote an introduction to Edwards’ book on revival. His books and sermons were the fountain 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 widely considered to be the most important theologian and philosopher America has 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.)

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Genesis 19:12-15.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“If You Linger Too Long” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).