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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, September 29, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

The subject of Hell is seldom preached from our pulpits today. Even where it is believed, it is rarely the subject of an entire sermon. Last Sunday night I delivered a sermon titled “Preaching in a Time of Apostasy!” There were only a couple of brief mentions of Hell in that sermon. And yet a visitor to our church told me afterwards that it was a “Hell fire and damnation sermon.” I suppose he meant that it was a serious sermon, for there was only a brief mention of Hell. I fear that in our day any sermon which suggests that you are lost without Christ will be called a “Hell fire and damnation” sermon.

So seldom is the subject of Hell preached in the pulpits of our day that any warning at all about eternal damnation in a sermon denominates it instantly as a “Hell fire and brimstone sermon.” This makes it easy for the unconverted sinner to discount the importance of that awful subject. But Hell must not be discounted, belittled or neglected. It must be a recurring theme in true evangelistic preaching. If we are to follow the example of the old evangelical preachers of the past, and if we are to be true to the Scriptures themselves, the theme of Hell must be brought forth with urgency and force in our preaching. Iain H. Murray pointed out in the preface of his book, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005) that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was asked by an interviewer in 1901 what the main dangers of the 20th century would be. He said that they would include preaching on “Heaven without Hell” (Murray, ibid., p. xi).

It seems to me that Booth’s “prophecy” has been quite literally fulfilled. Many ministers make themselves available to perform funerals for unchurched people, who want their departed loved ones, who in life seldom entered a church, to be given a full Christian funeral, with the preacher making statements about the “goodness” of their lives, telling their equally Christless relatives that their departed loved ones are undoubtedly walking the celestial streets of Heaven, rather than the truth: that they are unquestionably in “outer darkness [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). But if the preacher expounded on those words of Christ, he would soon find that no one wanted to hear him. There you have an example of how Booth’s “prophecy” has been fulfilled in modern pulpits. “Heaven without Hell” is almost universally the theme of modern preaching.

What about youth meetings and youth services, and evangelistic services? Again, Booth’s “prophecy” holds true. “Heaven without Hell” is almost always the theme of these youth events today.

And in the sermons of the churches in our day the subject of Hell is usually avoided as well. “Heaven without Hell” is nearly always the central theme of “modern” evangelistic preaching.

Back in 1911 Dr. R. A. Torrey said that no doctrine of the Bible

“…is more widely questioned at the present day than that concerning the future destiny of those who reject Jesus Christ in the life that now is. Even in [conservative churches] there is widespread denial, or at least doubt, of the endless, conscious suffering of the persistently impenitent. Where there is no denial or doubt regarding this doctrine, there is at least silence concerning it” (R. A. Torrey, D.D., The Higher Criticism and the New Theology, Gospel Publishing House, 1911, p. 258).

I think there are a number of reasons for the fact that there is so little preaching on Hell, even in conservative churches. One reason is that preachers have forgotten that evangelistic preaching must begin with the law. The doctrine of Hell is law. And many preachers do not realize that the preaching of law must come before a sinner will feel his need for Christ.

In his amazingly enlightening book, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005) Iain H. Murray has a chapter titled “Preaching and Awakening: Facing the Main Problem in Evangelism.” In that chapter, Murray quotes Mary Winslow, who said,

How is it that the preaching of the gospel has so little effect in the work of conversion? I cannot but come to this conclusion that there will never be a revival in this country [USA] until the law is preached in all its full power to the conscience of the unconverted sinner, convincing him of sin, undermining all his refuge of lies, unfolding to him his native [natural] depravity, and unveiling the tremendous consequences of living and dying in an unrenewed state (Murray, ibid., p. 2).

In that chapter Murray points out that in times of true revival people are made aware of their sin, the wrath of God and the reality of Hell. Murray says,

Before the eighteenth-century Awakening, as Samuel Blair, a minister of that period wrote: ‘It was thought that if there was any need of a heart-distressing sight of the soul’s danger, and fear of Divine wrath, it was only needful [needed] for the grosser sort of sinners.’ Instances of conviction of sin, Blair went on to say, had come to be regarded merely as mental depression and as something to be avoided. ‘People were very generally… careless at heart and stupidly indifferent about the great concerns of eternity.’ In New England, Jonathan Edwards spoke similarly of people who regarded hell as ‘nothing but a mere fiction to fright [frighten] folks.’
       This general condition changed with the Evangelical Revival. When Isaac Watts and John Guyse wrote a Preface to the first edition of Jonathan Edwards’ Narrative of Surprising Conversions in 1737, they noted the transformation…and observed, ‘Wheresoever God works with power for salvation upon the minds of men, there will be some discoveries of a sense of sin, of the danger of the wrath of God.’
       The same has been true in every revival (Murray, ibid., pages 3-4).

Such revivals are now rare. But I was an eyewitness to one in the late 1960s. The pastor preached strongly and repeatedly on sin and Hell. I myself, as a young preacher, was often asked to preach to the young people, and my own sermons were focused on judgment and wrath. In vacation Bible school and at church camps, and on other occasions, the words of Psalm 139:23-24 were set to music. Those verses were sung repeatedly, as the theme song of that time of revival.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

That revival went on for many months. Hundreds of young people poured into that church, and many were converted. The whole mood of that awakening was very serious. There was deep conviction of sin, much weeping, and a great deal of intercessory prayer for the lost. I will never forget that special time as long as I live. As I said, that time of revival lasted for many months.

You cannot “manufacture” such an event. It cannot be produced by anything that man does. But I know by personal observation, and by years of reading on the subject, that such an awakening always comes amid very serious preaching of the law – preaching on sin, the Last Judgment of the Unsaved Dead, the wrath of God, and the everlasting punishment of Hell – and amid very serious prayers for the conversion of the lost. As Iain H. Murray said, “The same has been true in every revival” (ibid., p. 4). I have been an eye-witness to scenes like this, which Murray quotes concerning the great revival that began in Pyongyang, Korea in 1907,

Every man forgot every other. Each was face to face with God. I can hear yet that fearful sound of hundreds of men pleading with God for life, for mercy. The cry went out over the city till the heathen were in consternation…Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried with bitter wailing: ‘Lord, Lord, cast us not away for ever!’ Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered (Murray, ibid., pp. 4-5).

I have spoken many times with a Korean pastor whose grandfather was converted from a life of extreme sin in that revival in Pyongyang. The minister told me what his grandfather had passed on to him about that great awakening.

I have seen that sort of event occur in a Caucasian church and in a Chinese church as well. Having seen that happen with my own eyes, I know that God can do these things again. We must be careful, though, to understand that this sort of awakening has not occurred in the English-speaking world on any wide level since 1949, on the Isle of Lewis, off the shore of Scotland.

For nearly 60 years there has been no major awakening like that in the Western world, outside of a few local churches (few indeed!). And this has been true largely because of “decisionism,” the false idea that people are instantly “saved” by making a “decision” of one sort or the other. They say a “sinner’s prayer” or “lift their hand” in a Bible study and are then proclaimed “saved.” There is no fear of God. There is no conviction of sin. There is no inner repulsion concerning total depravity. Thus, modern “testimonies” are seldom centered on the Blood Atonement of Christ Jesus. Also, preachers seem afraid to speak on the Last Judgment, the wrath of God, and the Lake of Fire, where unconverted men and women

“…shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…” (Revelation 14:10-11).

The true conversion of a single person follows the same pattern that happens to many when revival comes. Solitary conversions follow the same course that then is experienced by many.

If you hope to be converted in reality, you must, like those Koreans in 1907, forget every other person and stand face to face before God, your heart pierced by the thought of your sin – in the sight of a holy God. You must feel, as did they, “Lord, Lord, cast [me] not away for ever.” Without an inward conviction of sin, you will not be converted.

“But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

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