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THAT THE TORMENTS OF HELL ARE EXCEEDINGLY GREAT –
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
This message has been condensed and adapted to modern English, with some new material, from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “That the Torments of Hell are Exceeding Great.”
“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame”
Christ had been warning His disciples, in the hearing of the Pharisees, against covetousness, that they should not set their hearts upon riches. He told them that they could not serve both God and mammon (material possessions) in the 13th verse.
Then, in the 14th verse, the Pharisees, who were covetous, scoffed at Him. They were guilty of covetousness themselves. They couldn’t stand to hear Christ speak of their sin. Christ spoke to them directly. Then He told them about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus [Dr. Hymers’ note: I do not believe that this is a parable for two reasons. First, most of the parables are introduced with words like, “And he spake this parable unto them” (Luke 15:3). Second, because He gave the name of Lazarus. Dr. Henry M. Morris said, “One indication that Christ was relating a real event and not a parable is that the name of the beggar is given. No other parable includes personal names” (Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995, note on Luke 16:20). Thus I believe that this is a literal account of two men, which Christ gave to show the vanity of riches and the reality of Hell].
Christ tells about a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and lived richly every day, who died and went to Hell and was extremely miserable and tormented. Then there was a poor beggar named Lazarus, who lay outside the rich man’s gate, full of sores, in a miserable condition. When this poor beggar died he was carried by angels to Heaven.
We also are told that the rich man, when he was in Hell, saw how happy the poor man was in Heaven.
“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame”
Our text is part of what the rich man said when he saw Lazarus in Heaven. Pay careful attention to the expressions here, which show the greatness of his torment.
1. His crying for Lazarus to help him shows the greatness of his misery. Lazarus had been a beggar, but now he was blessed. The rich man was now the one who begged – for a taste of water to relieve his awful thirst.
2. The greatness of this man’s misery is clear, for he directly says, “I am tormented.”
3. The way he is tormented shows the greatness of it. “I am tormented in this flame.” We can hardly think of any worse agony than being tormented in a flame, to be surrounded by flames on every side, to be scorched and roasted in a fire.
4. The greatness of his torment is shown by the thing he begs for – it is a mere drop of water. He is in such pain in the tormenting flames that he longs for one drop of water. If it had been given to him it would only have offered him a very small relief, and yet he begs only for this. He would be glad to have received the small relief of a drop or two of water on his tongue. But what real good would a man get from a drop of water when he was roasting all over in fire? It would give him very little relief. Yet he begs and pleads for this. He would have been very glad to receive that small relief. A man in torment would be glad for one moment’s rest. So those in Hell, if they thought there were any hope of obtaining it, would beg for a drop of water to cool one spot of their tormented bodies, even if this relief only lasted for a moment. The comfort would only last for a very short time, and then the torment would be the same as it was before.
5. The greatness of this torment is shown by his desire for water to cool his tongue. This shows that his whole body was tormented. His inner organs were all on fire and his tongue was inflamed and hot. Every part of him was full of fire. He was pierced through with those flames. This seems to show that inwardly he was on fire.
Doctrine: That the torments of Hell are exceedingly great.
There are some Freethinkers, as they call themselves, who deny that the torments of Hell are as great as they are presented in the Scriptures. They mock the idea that these torments are as great as they are described in God’s Word. They say that people are needlessly frightened by them. Some of them have written about this. They want to live in sin and not bear everlasting judgment. Therefore they try to make themselves and others believe that the torments of Hell are not as great as the Bible presents them. They say that the misery of Hell consists mainly in loss, that the lost are cast out of God’s sight, that they lose the presence of God and the pleasures of Heaven, and little else.
Many who don’t openly say this secretly think that Hell may not be as bad a place as the Bible says it is. They hope they will not go to Hell, but if they do, they hope it will not be so bad, and that they will be able to bear it. Sometimes they argue that God would not torment any of His creatures to such a dreadful degree, or that they will be able to bear being there when they get used to it, or that they will have a great deal of company in Hell, and they will be able to bear it as well as the others.
Sinful men use many such ideas to ease and quiet their consciences. Thus, they believe what they want to believe. But by trying to escape the fear of Hell, they make it certain that they themselves will have even greater torment. By such thoughts they damn themselves.
It is therefore extremely important that men be convinced of the truth concerning Hell. Since the torments of it are very dreadful, they should be made aware of them. It is therefore my purpose to prove that the misery of Hell is indeed extremely great by the following arguments.
1. Argument 1 – Wrath without mercy. That alone is an evidence of it, that it is the unmixed wrath of God on ungodly men. God has often said that He will pour out His wrath upon the wicked. They shall drink of the cup of God’s wrath, which is poured out without mixture.
“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture…and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 14:10).
“Poured out without mixture.” That is, there shall be no mixture of mercy. There shall be no sort of moderation. Then there shall be no mercy, only the unmixed wrath of God,
“For God shall cast upon him, and not spare”
Let us think about how dreadful the punishment of Hell will be to them. Let us realize that God is all powerful and that we are like nothing, like less than nothing before Him. He fills the Heaven and earth with His presence and the Heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. We are as small as insects in His hands. He is a God of infinite greatness and power. The mighty rulers of the earth are like little worms before Him. He is the Almighty. His power is so great that He created the world by his Word of power, and He can shake it apart if He chooses, or destroy it when He pleases. How dreadful must be the unmixed, unrestrained wrath of such a Being when it is poured out on a worm-like man.
He is, and there is none else. Other things are nothing compared to Him. He is the first and He is the last. All things come from Him, and He governs all things. He upholds all things every moment. He fills all things, and in Him all men live and move and exist. How dreadful to be the object of the eternal wrath of such a Being, to receive His wrath without mixture!
In this world God mixes His anger with mercy. But at the Judgment He will pour out His wrath fully. He will rise up to execute complete vengeance.
When God shows mercy, He is a merciful God. But when He decides to execute wrath, He will be an angry God. It is not a moderate degree of anger, because it is often called God’s fury. When He is enraged, it is called His fierceness,
“The fierceness and wrath of Almighty God”
The Bible reveals the dreadfulness of God’s anger by showing the greatness of His being, and majesty, and power, and therefore we can be sure that the argument is good. The Scripture says,
“Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath” (Psalm 90:11).
“According to thy fear.” That is, according to His awful greatness and majesty, those fearful attributes of God. The Psalmist argues here that the greatness of God’s majesty and the power of His anger are so strong that we cannot imagine it.
“Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?” (Ezekiel 22:14).
Thus, God alone shall deal with them, therefore their punishment will be horrible. Again, we read,
“The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”
(II Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Here we see that the punishment and destruction of those who “obey not the gospel” will be dreadful, because it comes from the presence of the Lord, and because it comes from His mighty power. The same argument is given in Hebrews 10:31,
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
And I will mention one other verse of Scripture,
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little” (Psalm 2:12).
Here it is said that if the Son becomes angry, it will be exceedingly dreadful.
2. Argument 2 – The damnation of unconverted men shows the greatness of God’s power. And therefore we can argue that the misery of the unconverted will be exceedingly great. As God determined that the blessedness of the saved in Heaven is to show the exceeding greatness of His mercy and love, so the damnation of the unconverted wicked is to show the dreadfulness of His anger. God will show that His majesty and authority is far greater than earthly kings and rulers, both by His mercy being far greater, and by His anger being far more terrifying. God has chosen the punishment of the wicked to show what His anger is, and the greatness of His majesty and power.
He is a consuming fire, and that He has chosen to damn the wicked on purpose, to show forth His glory, as the Scripture teaches us,
“God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Romans 9:22).
That is a frightening verse. We are told here that the reason for their punishment is to show God’s wrath, that is on purpose, to make known how dreadful the wrath of God is; and secondly, to make His power known. Thus, God shows the greatness of His power and strength in the punishment of the unconverted wicked. This verse shows what the Almighty God can do when His wrath and fury is stirred up. The same purpose is given in II Thessalonians 1:9. The unconverted wicked,
“Shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (II Thessalonians 1:9).
This verse shows that God will glorify His power and strength by damning the unconverted wicked to eternal punishment.
That is, God shows the dreadfulness of His anger by destroying the wicked in the sight of the godly, so the godly will be happier by knowing the better riches of His glory. For when the converted see how terrible God’s anger is, it will make them realize the value of His mercy to them, and make them prize it greatly. This also shows that the torments of the damned will be exceedingly great.
3. Argument 3 – The misery of the unconverted is complete damnation. It is always represented as complete in the Scriptures.
“Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalm 50:22).
In several Scriptures, the unconverted wicked are compared to stubble and briars and thorns before the flames, that are easily and completely burned. Christ said,
“Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
They shall not only be cut down, but they shall also be cast into the fire and completely damned. Complete damnation must be understood in the same sense as complete happiness. As the vessels of mercy will be filled up with God’s mercy and happiness, so the vessels of wrath will be filled up with God’s wrath and misery. This is consistent with the proper meaning of those Scriptures which speak of the complete damnation and absolute ruin of the unconverted sinner.
4. Argument 4 – The sin of man deserves eternal damnation according to the law of God. God’s law fixes death as the wages of sin,
“For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
By “death” is meant the utter damnation of the person, not only the death of the body, but the death of the soul; not only temporary death, but continuing damnation, which is described in the Bible as eternal death, not ceasing to exist, but continuing to exist under eternal damnation. Again, the Bible says,
“Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
So when a person commits only one sin, disobeys God in only one point, he deserves to be cursed by God, which is to be eternally damned.
If every sin, though comparatively small, deserves eternal damnation, how dreadful then is the deserved punishment of those whose hearts are full of sin, full of enmity toward God, whose very natures are full of sin, who have disobeyed God to His face time after time, who have constantly shown contempt toward God’s power, His justice and holiness, and have closed their ears to His commands, to His calls and warnings.
If one sin deserves eternal punishment, and all sins will be punished this way, how many thousand deaths and destructions will be heaped upon the souls of sinners? How dreadful will be their misery who must die a thousand deaths at once, and die a thousand deaths for all eternity?
“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24).
5. Argument 5 – The metaphors (word pictures) that the Scriptures use signify an extreme degree of torment in Hell. It is called “the bottomless pit” in Revelation 20:1, and several other places in the Book of Revelation. The deepness of the pit signifies both the immensity and the unfathomable degree of the misery of it, because to fall or to be cast down into a pit always signifies misery in the Scriptures. Hell seems to be called “the bottomless pit” because the misery of it is inconceivably great. And another thing that seems to be signified by this term is the eternity of the misery, that there is no end to it, as there is no end or bottom to a bottomless pit.
Again, this misery is called “the blackness of darkness.” Jude 13 says, “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” Darkness in the Bible very commonly signifies misery. Therefore, “the blackness of darkness” signifies perfect misery, the most extreme degree of it. It seems that the Apostle wanted an expression to show how great the darkness of Hell is, and so he called it “the blackness of darkness.”
Another metaphor that is used to express this torment is the “worm” that never dies. Mark 9:44 says, “Where their worm dieth not.” This description is taken from Isaiah 66:24, which says, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die.” This seems to signify that when a body dies it begins to decay, and will soon be full of worms. The dead body will be full of worms gnawing on it. These words show the exceeding misery of Hell. How terrible it must be to remain conscious and yet have one’s self gnawed on continually by worms that never die.
But the main metaphor used to signify Hell is fire, which is most commonly used to describe it in the Scriptures. The future punishment of the unconverted wicked is very often spoken of by their being cast into a fire, into everlasting burning, a fire that will never be put out, as in our text,
The rich man is tormented in a flame. He cries out for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Consider how great the misery is, to be always burning and roasting in a flame of fire, and yet never able to die, never able to lose consciousness, the pain never dulled by the fire. This would be a far greater torment than for a man to be burned alive, because physical fire would soon burn up his body and he would become unconscious. But in Hell they will continue to be burned. They will continue to be “tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24).
But this fire, in the Scriptures, is not an ordinary fire. It is called a “furnace of fire.” Christ says they will be cast “into a furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:42). Furnaces are made for dissolving metals, and require an excessive amount of heat. How miserable would a sinner be, lying forever in such a furnace, and yet fully conscious!
Hell is also called a “lake of fire.” In Revelation 20:15, we read, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” A lake of liquid fire, like burning sulphur or melted metal, what a picture of misery this is – to be plunged into such a burning lake and to lie there forever.
Again, Hell is spoken of as a “fiery oven.” In Psalm 21:9, we read, “Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath…”
It may be argued that the metaphors in the Bible, if they are taken literally, would carry the matter beyond the strict truth, as sometimes happens when the Scriptures speak of earthly destruction.
To this I answer, that when the Scriptures use such metaphors about earthly things, they are often hyperboles that express more than is intended. But the metaphors that are used about Heaven and Hell fall short of expressing the full truth. Thus the bondage of the children of Israel in Egypt is called the “iron furnace,” not because it was that dreadful, but because it was given as a type of Hell. And so many glorious metaphors were used about the land of Canaan because Canaan was a type of Heaven. So, many glorious metaphors used by the prophets to describe the deliverance of God’s people from Babylonian captivity went beyond literal truth, but it was because they were given as a type of the redemption that comes through Christ Jesus.
When He tells us about Hell, God’s purpose is not to give us uncertain metaphors, but to let us know what Hell is like. It is unreasonable to think any other thing. But it is very evident that the metaphors concerning Heaven and Hell fall short, rather than go beyond, the things in that other dimension, that other world, because we are told in the Bible that they are so great that we cannot imagine them, as the Apostle Paul tells us, concerning Heaven, in II Corinthians 12:4. By which it appears that Heaven goes beyond any human thoughts and expressions that are used to describe it. For the same reason we conclude that this is also true of Hell, especially because we are told that this is so in Psalm 90:11, “Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” That is, it is impossible to conceive of it in this world. So we conclude that the metaphors used about Hell in the Scriptures go beyond, and are greater, than what is given – and that indeed fire will be no metaphor at all after the resurrection (cf. II Peter 3:10-12).
6. Argument 6 – We argue for the greatness of the torment of Hell from the misery of those who are subject to it. We have in the Scriptures some examples of how the wicked will express their sense of misery, concerning both the approach of God’s wrath, and the experience of it.
We see how the sinners in Zion express themselves in the expectation of this misery in Isaiah 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” They are aware that they cannot bear it, that it will be intolerable. They cry out as those that are shaken at the very thought of it, as it is said, “fearfulness hath surprised” them.
Again in the sixth chapter of Revelation, in the fifteenth through the seventeenth verses, we read how,
“The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
They shall be in such fear of God’s approaching wrath that they would be glad to have mountains and rocks fall on them, to hide them from His anger. And, it is not only kings and great men that are spoken of, but “every bondman, and every free man,” that is, every lost sinner shall be terrified. These are all seen hiding in caves, crying for the mountains to fall on them. The mightiest and most powerful people on earth will be as terrified as common men and women. They will all be horrified by the vengeance of Almighty God.
We must also remember that the damned will weep and wail and gnash their teeth, as we are told by Christ in Matthew 8:12 and Matthew 13:42. Christ uses words that show the greatest possible expressions of misery. They shall weep and wail. They shall gnash their teeth in great anguish. And we have a particular instance of this in our text, telling us plainly of a rich man crying for a drop of water to cool his tongue, while he is “tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24).
7. Argument 7 – This misery of Hell will be extremely great from the types and images of it.
1. Physical death is only an image and shadow of eternal misery. Physical death is generally looked on as the greatest disaster that can happen to a man in this world. What is there about death that makes men so afraid of it? Death is called “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14). Men would rather suffer almost any sorrow and affliction rather than die. Skin for skin, and all that a man has, will be given to avoid death, and live.
Death is horrible in many ways. The pains, the groans and the convulsions of those who are dying, are awful and it is shocking to see their life ending, and their dying pains, gasping for breath, their eyes fixing in their sockets, their faces changed to the pale of death, and these death-changes are awful to look upon. Then their dead body is laid in the dark and silent ground, where it decays and rots, becoming exceedingly disgusting and filthy. It is awful to think of it. Job says,
“Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness” (Job 10:21-22).
But this is only the shadow of eternal misery. Physical death and spiritual death are both called “death” in the Scriptures, not because they are both of the same nature, but because the first (physical death) is a picture of the other (spiritual death) in the Bible. So Heaven is called a temple, not because it is of the same nature as the Temple, but because the Temple was an image, a shadow, a type of it. And physical death is often used as a type of eternal misery in the Bible.
But if the shadow and type are so horrible, how awful is the real substance! The types of the Old Testament fall far below the real substance. The sacrifices were below the reality of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The tabernacle and temple fell far below the reality of the Heavenly Temple. So, physical death is far below eternal death.
Physical death is contained in the curse pronounced on Adam and his descendants, “Thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Yet physical death is a small part of that death, and is only an image or type of eternal death, because it is said that those who are converted shall not die. John 11:26 says that they “shall never die.” This shows that the true convert will not experience eternal death. From this I argue that physical death, when compared to eternal death, is nothing. To the convert, physical death is looked on as it is by Christ, who knew all about it: it is no real death at all, and nothing but the image and shadow.
The substance (eternal death) is greater than the shadow for the true convert in both these respects. The substance of the eternal death of the wicked is greater than the shadow (physical death) for the wicked in the degree of horror and misery, and then in its length. Physical death, horrible as it is, is only a passing thing. A man experiences the agonies of it only for a short time. But eternal death is a continuing thing. The unconverted dead are always dying. It is not only as bad as dying a thousand times, or ten thousand, but it is a state of dying all the time, forever. If a man were to experience for all eternity the same pain and horror which he felt at the moment of physical death, it would picture Hell, and would be an image of it.
2. Another image or type of Hell that argues in favor of its torments is the Valley of Hinnom. The name of Hell in the New Testament is taken from the name of this valley. The Valley of Hinnom is often called Tophet in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 30:33, the reference appears to speak of Hell, “For Tophet is ordained of old…the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.”
In idolatrous times they burned their children in the Valley of Hinnom as sacrifices to their idols. The burning of these children was either in a brick oven or in hollow brass, heated over a fire. This image gives a dreadful idea of the torments of Hell. The heat of a brick oven is very fierce. A man’s torment would be very great if he remained conscious, shut up in the fire of a brick oven. That type is very much like the furnace of fire to which Hell is compared in the Bible. The other way of burning children in the Valley of Hinnom was by shutting them up in hollow brass receptacles over the fire, and so scalding them to death. This shows the exceedingly great torment and misery of Hell.
And we are to remember that these things are only types and shadows, and therefore undoubtedly fall far short of the thing which is typified. If being burned alive in a brick oven or scorched to death in hollow brass receptacles is but a picture, what must be the actual thing that is pictured?
3. Another type (picture) of Hell is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s raining fire and brimstone from the sky to destroy those wicked cities represents the pouring out of His fiery wrath upon ungodly men in Hell. The deliverance of Lot out of Sodom is a type of God saving His people from Hell. In Jude 7 we are expressly told that the burning of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah “are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Why is the fire that burned those cities called “eternal fire” if it was not a type of the eternal fire of Hell?
Now when the destruction of those cities is said to have been by the raining down of fire and brimstone, it appears to have been by miraculous thunder and lightning. It is therefore probable that they were destroyed by thick flashes of lightning. This is a way of dying that has a peculiar horror to it. And what a dreadful picture it gives of the misery of Hell, that it will be like perpetual flashes of lightning upon the heads of the wicked, piercing their souls through and through, with glaring, flashing lightning upon everyone’s head, and through everyone’s heart, and that it shall never end, which they shall feel, and yet live on, to feel it more and more. It will not be the same as when someone is killed by lightning in this world; he is killed in a moment, and the pain he feels soon passes. But in Hell they will feel the pain endlessly without any intermission.
The fire of lightning is exceedingly hot, instantly dissolving the hardest metals, and is a type of the fire of Hell. Therefore the fire of Hell is often compared to fire and brimstone to show the extraordinary fierceness of it.
8. Argument 8 – The suffering of the martyrs argues for the exceeding greatness of the torments of the damned. I take this argument from I Peter 4:16-18,
“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (I Peter 4:16-18).
The Apostle speaks here of the suffering of Christians, and from this, seeing that many of them suffer so greatly, the suffering of the wicked must be incomparably greater. If the martyrs suffer so greatly, what will happen to those that obey not the Gospel? If the martyrs are scarcely saved, that is saved after so much suffering, what will happen to “the ungodly and the sinner”?
History shows us the cruel torments that have been experienced by the martyrs. The minds of men and demons have devised many ways to torture them. It has been common to burn them alive. But their enemies have not been satisfied with that. They have found ways to gradually scorch them to death; they have roasted them slowly over a gentle fire; they have broiled them alive upon a gridiron; they have bound them with red hot chains; they have tied the living martyr to a dead body, mouth to mouth, and so have left them to die slowly, bound tightly to a rotting corpse; they have plucked the flesh from their bones with burning hot pincers; they have had the nails torn out of their fingers. One had his nose and ears and cheeks cut off, and then was burned with red hot irons until he died. Another was stabbed in the soles of his feet with a dagger, and after that had parts of his body cut off, and then he was seared with a lighted candle to stop the bleeding, and then was dragged through the streets on the ground, and then had a cord twisted so hard around his head that his brains blew out. The feet and legs of some were put in iron boots filled with oil, which were then set on fire until the flesh came off of the bones. Many have been thrown to wild animals, lions, tigers, bears, and ravenous dogs, which tore their bodies to shreds. And God’s people have endured many such torments [and still endure them in many parts of the world]. God allowed them to go through these things, even though He loved them very much (see Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).
How dreadful then must be the future punishment of those with whom God is so angry that He will turn them over to demons to torment them. And they will have no mercy from the demons, or from God. Although the sufferings of God’s people are sometimes very great, yet the Apostle Peter argues that they are not as great, in comparison, as the miseries of the ungodly in Hell. And surely that argument is very plain and clear.
God’s people are those that have had their sins pardoned. They are those that Christ laid down his life to redeem. They are those that God remembers every day. And if they sometimes suffer unspeakable horrors, what then will become of those who are accursed? What indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, will they endure who obey not the Gospel?
[This famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards is undated, but was given during the First Great Awakening, which broke out in Edwards’ church, and some neighboring churches, in the mid-18th century. That revival, which had world-wide impact, can be traced to sermons like this one, delivered by Jonathan Edwards, who ended his ministry as the president of Princeton (now known as Princeton University).
The body of this sermon contains eight arguments from Scripture which show that the torments of Hell are exceedingly great. Here is the final “Application” of the sermon, the text being from Luke 16:24].
Inference: We may infer that the happiness and joy of Heaven are exceedingly great. Our life in this world is a middle state, between those two extremes of blessedness and misery. The happiness of Heaven is as far above this middle state of life on earth as the misery of Hell is below it. There are none living that know the full power of God’s anger any more than they know the heights of God’s love; which passes human knowledge, for the Scripture says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9). And God will also make known His power in the greatness of the misery of the damned.
We argue that the misery of the damned will be exceedingly great because it is the unmixed, unrestrained wrath of Almighty God, who is an immense Being, before whom all other beings are less than nothing. So we may argue that the blessedness of the saved in Heaven will be very great, because it shows forth the unmixed and unrestrained love of that same great God.
We also argue that the misery of the damned will be equally great, because their punishment was ordained from the very first to demonstrate the awful power of God, and dreadfulness of His displeasure toward the unconverted. As the punishment of unconverted men will be utter misery in Hell, so the reward of those who are converted will be the perfect blessedness of Heaven.
As the misery of Hell is shown in physical death, which is only an image of it, so physical life is only an image of eternal life.
As the metaphors of Scripture show the misery of Hell, so the metaphors about Heaven show the greatness of its happiness. And everything in the world that is beautiful reflects the happiness and beauty of Heaven. The types in the Scriptures also show the greatness of this happiness, just as they show the greatness of Hell’s misery.
And as the suffering of the martyrs argues for the misery of the wicked, so also do their sufferings reflect the happiness of Heaven, that those sufferings are nothing in comparison. The Apostle calls them “light afflictions,” and tells us, in II Corinthians 4:17, that they work for a far more “exceeding weight of glory.”
And the troubles and problems that we go through in this world are not what we deserve. What are those problems when compared to the darkness and torment that is deserved by us? This is the inference: that the greatest trials and troubles we meet in this world are far less than we deserve as punishment for sin.
Use: To awaken sinners and to motivate them to earnestly seek safety. Think how dreadful your state is, since you are condemned to these horrible torments! It is awful to think about what you will go through! If you were not so used to hearing about Hell, if you were hearing about it for the first time, it would frighten you night and day. You would never be able to get the thought of it out of your mind. Think how very frightening it should be to you, since you are the person, the very person, that is condemned to these horrors: that you are right now, and every night when you sleep, and every day when you are awake, in a damnable state; that you belong in Hell, in those everlasting tortures and torments you have heard about. If you should die the way you are, you would go directly into these flames of misery.
Look at your own condition. Think about what you will experience in Hell. Why should you remain more senseless than an ass or an ox, more senseless than an ant?
Why shouldn’t the greatness of this misery be enough to awaken you? If this misery is so great, and if you act reasonably, you should be terrified by the danger of falling into it. The danger of dying terrifies people greatly. Why, then, are you not afraid of the danger of going through the horrors of Hell, which are far more awful than mere physical death? Why aren’t you afraid of going to Hell? Why are you so secure and quiet, so unafraid and sluggish? Why do you spend little if any effort to escape? Why don’t you try harder to escape from these horrible, everlasting flames? Why do you go on for days without even thinking about it? Why did you go through this very day thinking so little about the danger you are facing?
Does it make sense to remain unterrified when there is a possibility, and especially a probability, of escape? And much more, does it make sense for you to endanger yourself more and more each day?
If you were in danger of losing your home, or your job, or your life wouldn’t you stir yourself? You wouldn’t need preaching to make you fear these dangers. It is only concerning the dangers of Hell that men are unmoved, and are talked to and preached to, and yet remain unmoved.
Why should there need to be any other reason than the Scriptural warnings about Hell to make you seek deliverance from it? What greater motive do you need? If what you are told about the dreadfulness of Hell in the Scriptures won’t awaken you to action, what will? What hardness and stupidity there is in the children of men, due to the Fall! But, if you will not hear what God says in the Scriptures about Hell, you would not be awakened even if someone who had been in Hell came back to tell you about the horrors of it. As Abraham said to the rich man in Hell,
“If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
But I will continue a little more to make you think of some other things related to your danger of Hell, that I hope will awaken you, if you are not exceedingly senseless.
1. It is very uncertain whether you will ever be saved from Hell. Up to now nothing has awakened you. So far you have not struggled to escape from judgment. When you hear these terrible things about Hell, you think you will never go there. Yet there are many others who hear these things that never do escape. What makes you think you will be any different from them?
If you really thought that you would go to Hell you would be very frightened. But you think that you will find some way or other to escape. You intend to “strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24) but in spite of your intentions to do so, it is very uncertain whether you will ever escape Hell. If you think there is some hope because you have Christian parents, yet it is still exceedingly uncertain. If you think you are still young and healthy, and think you will live a long time, yet it is still very uncertain. If you think that the many sermons you have heard will help, yet it is very uncertain. If thoughts like these are all you have, a wise man would not wager one dollar on the likelihood of you escaping Hell.
2. Consider how near Hell is, that Hell is certainly close to you. You cannot tell how near it is to you. Even if you lived fifty more years, they will soon be gone. How soon is a year finished, and how soon will fifty of them pass? It would terrify you if you knew that you would be burned at the stake, or roasted to death, fifty years from now. It would seem near to you. You would count the months and days in terror. But what is that compared to being cast into Hell, into that place of extreme torments, at the end of fifty years? Whether the time of life seems short or not, when you come to the end of it, then it will seem short, as you have heard many older people say. When you enter into eternity, then your life on earth will seem very short.
“For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14).
3. Consider the fact that if you don’t stir yourself to escape from Hell, you will make the torments of it greater and greater. Every day you are continually adding more and more judgments. Each day you heap up more wrath.
Those who are in Hell would be very glad for any lessening of their torments. They would be glad for any lessening, though it were only for the punishment of one sin, of one sinful word or sinful thought, as we see by the rich man begging for one drop of water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24). Therefore, don’t go on to increase Hell torments for yourself.
4. Consider that if you do go to Hell, you will never get out. If you should suddenly and unexpectedly go there, you must always remain there. There is no way out. Those who go there have no hope of ever being delivered. That despair will make their torment twice as bad. If you had a headache or a toothache, or any other pain like that, and knew you would have that pain for the rest of your life, it would double the affliction; it would make the pain far greater, far more intolerable to bear. You would give up hope, because there would be no end to the pain. That is the utter hopelessness that goes with the torments of the damned.
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)
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