An image of a closeup of flames that fill the field of vision.

In 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached one of the most famous sermons in American history. It was later published under the title “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In it Edwards warned about the horrors of hell with such forceful imagery that many people moaned and cried out in repentance.

In the 21st century, talk of hell has receded. Some of us doubt there is such a place. We can’t fathom the idea that a good God would allow people to go there. But Jesus speaks openly about hell, pointing to a time of judgment in which the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).

While none of us need a steady diet of preaching that’s focused on hellfire and damnation, it’s good to think about hell once in a while lest we lull ourselves into believing there’s no such place and that nobody we know is headed there. Perhaps we could study what the Bible says or read an old-fashioned sermon on the topic. Developing a biblical view of that worst of all places is like eating our “spiritual spinach”—unappetizing but good for us.

Let me get you started with an adaptation of a sermon delivered by the nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers. As you tune in, imagine yourself in the audience, watching as Spurgeon strides across the platform, alternating between two voices, one warning of imminent danger, while the other tries to soothe and lull you into a false sense of security.

“But have you never fled to Christ for refuge? Do you not believe in the Redeemer? Have you never confided your soul to his hands? Then, my friends, hear me: in God’s name, hear me. I would not stand in your position for an hour because you have sinned and God will not acquit you. He will punish you. He is letting you live. You are reprieved. But what good is a life that is reprieved without receiving a pardon? Your reprieve will soon run out. Your hour-glass is emptying every day. All of you, young and old, are standing on a narrow neck of land between two boundless seas—that isthmus of life—narrowing every moment, and you, and you and you are yet unpardoned.

“There is a city to be destroyed and you are in it—soldiers stand at the outskirts with orders to execute anyone who doesn’t know the password.

“‘Sleep on, sleep on; the attack is not today; sleep on, sleep on. The soldiers are not yet at your door. Sleep on, sleep on.’

“’But the attack will come tomorrow.’

“’Yes, sleep on, sleep on; it is not till tomorrow. Sleep on, procrastinate, procrastinate.’

“’Listen! I hear a rumbling noise at the city’s outskirts. They’re coming.’

“’Sleep on, sleep on; the soldiers are not yet at your door. Don’t ask for mercy yet. Sleep on, sleep on.”

“But listen. I hear the screams of men and women. They’re dying. They fall, they fall, they fall. Now the soldiers are marching up the stairs.’

“No, sleep on, sleep on; they haven’t reached your room yet.’

“’But they just broke down the door!’

“’No, sleep on, sleep on. The knife is not yet at your throat. Sleep on, sleep on!’

“It is at your throat. You wake with terror. Sleep on, sleep on! But you are gone!”

Spurgeon goes on to address his listeners: “You understand the parable. You don’t need me to tell you that death is after you, that justice will eventually be done, that Christ crucified is the only password that can save you. I need not explain how Satan lulls you into thinking you are safe and how knowing God is slow to anger, you are slow to repent.”*

Spurgeon finished his frightening sermon by praying that some among his listeners would heed the warning and turn to Christ.

Let’s take a moment now to ask God to use us to reach friends and family who are yet far from God. Let’s pray for the courage to share the gospel with them so that they might live with Christ forever.

 

* C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon on the Attributes of God (MacDonald), 66-67.





Originally published November 13, 2018.