See the deplorable condition of all ungodly people! In the other world, they shall have a life that always dies and a death that always lives. [Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture.]
Most people — whether they trust in Christ or not — think too little of hell.
Believers think too little of hell, not because they are afraid of it for themselves, but because 1) it has ceased to be a danger to them so they fail to see its danger for others; or 2) because self-righteous pride provokes them to see sinners with contempt and they fail to consider it a tragedy for anyone to enter the horror of hell.
Unbelievers think too little of hell for a variety of reasons, but most excuses for inattentiveness to hell are rooted in an overestimation of their “righteousness” and underestimati0n of the true righteousness and wrath of God. Even if they believe in hell, they either do not see it as a danger in general (it won’t be so bad), or they do not see it as a danger for themselves.
Concerning hell, the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) thought too little until it was too late.
And then he discovered that —
- For all eternity in hell he will comprehend something of what he is missing in heaven — he will be tormented by wanting what he can never have. [Conversely, based on the silence of Lazarus, there does not appear to be comprehension by those in heaven of what they have been spared.]
- For all eternity there is a longing for even tiny expressions of mercy, with no hope they will ever be satisfied.
- For all eternity there is an acknowledgment that while the suffering being endured is great, it is just (there are no justified complaints in hell).
- Hell is eternal. It is a final destiny — there is no escaping it ever.
- There is no repentance in hell. Even in the experience of God’s wrath, there is only self-justification, no contrition. There can be no repentance, because there will be nothing good in hell — only the full extent of evil in all its horrid forms.
- There is unrelenting, horrible pain — and it is not only appropriate for the sin committed, but it is just — even in its eternal judgment.
- Those who reject Christ have no excuse — if they reject the Word of God as inconsequential, they will believe nothing else. (Which brings to mind the great tragedy of those who in the name of “Christianity” reject the authority and power of Scripture.)
- What is currently being experienced will only get worse (2 Pt. 2:9).
For years I have said — at funerals and in private conversations — of those who have died and gone to heaven: “if they had an opportunity to leave heaven and come back to earth, they would never choose on their own to leave the presence of God. Never. Not for anything.”
This week it struck me that for those in hell the opposite is true: if given the opportunity, they would never choose to stay in hell one moment longer. They would return to earth — even to endure the most horrid kinds of earthly suffering — rather than stay in hell one moment longer.
Three more statements to stimulate us to consider the real horror of hell:
Satan is full of rage against mankind and will show no mercy. As he puts forth all his subtlety in tempting man, so he puts out all his cruelty in tormenting man. This is not all; there are two more things to set out the torments of hell. These agonies and hell-convulsions shall be forever.…They would die but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying but never dead.…After millions of years, their torments are as far from ending as the first hour they begun. Another aggrevation of hell torment is that the damned in hell have none to pity them. It is some comfort, some ease to have our friends to pity us in our sickness and want, but they have no friends. [Thomas Watson, “The Righteous Man’s Weal and the Wicked Man’s Woe.”]
“A multitude of tears cannot extinguish [hell]; length of time cannot annihilate it…there can be no coming out.” [Thomas Watson, “The Crown of Righteousness.”]
“Remember this, grievous is the torment of the damned for the bitterness of the punishments, but most grievous for the eternity of the punishments. For to be tormented without end, this is that which goes beyond the bounds of all desperation. Ah, how do the thoughts of this make the damned to roar and cry out for unquietness of heart, and tear their hair, and gnash their teeth, and rage for madness, that they must dwell in ‘everlasting burnings’ for ever!” [Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.]
And one statement to use those considerations to stimulate us to grieve over the lost and give them a reason for the hope that is within us:
When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news. The intensity of joy is blunted and the heart-spring of love is dried up. But if I remember these horrible things and do believe them in my heart; if I let every remaining sin and every moment of indifference to spiritual things remind me of the smell of hell lingering in the remnants of my corruption; if I let my knees become weak as on the day when I tottered on the cliff of my doom; if I recall that, apart from absolutely free grace, I would be the most hardened sinner and now in the torments of hell; if all this I remember and believe in my heart, then, oh, what a contrition, what a lowliness, what a meekness will be effected in my heart. [John Piper, “Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell.”]
Two more resources I neglected to include:
- “Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment” (audio; listen especially to the three sermons by Sinclair Ferguson).
- “Hell: Never, Forever, or Just for a While?” (journal)