Rev. Mark H. Creech
Peter Cartwright was a nineteenth-century, circuit-riding Methodist preacher known for being an uncompromising individual. One Sunday morning, he was apprised that President Andrew Jackson was in attendance and admonished not to say anything out of line.
When Cartwright entered the pulpit, he said, "I understand that the President is here today. I have, therefore, been requested to be guarded in my remarks. I will only say this. Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn't repent."
In this age of compromise by the church and the apostasy of many clergies, it's not common to hear a sermon on hell anymore. Yet, as someone once said, "There would likely be less hell in our streets, if there were more preaching of hell in the pulpit." Indeed, everyone from the President on down desperately needs to hear about hell.
Halloween is when people think of lost spirits, goblins, haunted houses, and other evil ghoulish figures. Most people don't take the day seriously. They don't even believe in such. It's more of a game to them – a time of fun and frolic. They enjoy and laugh at being frightened.
Hell, however, sheol or hades, is no joking matter. It's a real place of the dead – an actual place of unspeakable horrors, and many people are going there.
The Bible describes hell as a dimension where departed souls abide and where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Lk. 13:28). It's a place of intense suffering, lost hope, and endless regret.
The Bible also says the nations that forget God will be turned into hell (Psalm 9:17). Dr. Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research has written:
"Can whole nations become oblivious to the true God of creation – and do business and legislate and conduct all their affairs just as though God no longer existed? If so, those nations (or at least those citizens of those nations who practice such wickedness) are in mortal danger. 'Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross.' (Psalm 119:119)."
Hell is where God's justice is poured out on those who have rebelled against his sovereignty and spurned his offer of grace in Jesus Christ. Revelation 20:12-13 says that the masses who have ignored God in their lives will be judged according to their works.
There will be degrees of punishment in hell. Hell is going to be more bearable for some than for others. Some people have had greater access to the truth and will be held to a higher standard of accountability.
Jesus once spoke of this principle. The Gospel of Luke says one day he told the crowds that the cities of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon would fare better in the judgment than Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Why? Because the later cities had more light and opportunity to come into a right relationship with God and do his will.
This should cause Americans, above any other people on the globe, to think soberly about where they will go after they die. Like no other country in human history, America has had unprecedented access to God's revelation of himself. There are Bibles everywhere. Churches dot the landscape throughout with their steeples pointing upward to God. The Gospel message is abundant in print, shared in some manner every day on television, radio, social media, etc. Yet, there's a wholesale turning away – not just a response of rejection, but a growing hostility.
Some ask if the fire in hell is literal. There seems to be no reason to doubt the assertion. When Jesus spoke of hell in Luke 16:24, he told the story of a rich man who was consigned there, and the rich man said he was "tormented in this flame." Jesus noted in Matthew 5:22 that whenever someone calls a person, "Thou fool," they are in danger of being "cast into hell fire." Jesus also warned in Matthew 18:9 that if one's eye were a seduction to a sinful life, it would be better to pluck the eye out rather than "be cast into hell fire" with two eyes.
But even if there were no literal fire in hell, even if hellfire were only meant to be understood figuratively or symbolically, that would be no reason to breathe a sigh of relief. A picture or image of fire is only symbolic. The reality, however, is profoundly bad. If the hellfire Jesus talked about is only a symbol, then the real thing is worse. Whatever Jesus was describing, it's clear he meant to convey conscious incomprehensible eternal suffering.
No doubt, the wiser course of life would not be to exercise one's time in disputes about hell, but to spend considerable interest in being sure of keeping out of it.
Sometimes this writer wonders whether Halloween may have an anesthetizing effect on people's seriousness about hell. With Halloween's many associations with the dead, devils, the occult, and its celebration of all things insidious, hell might seem like nothing more than something straight out of the latest horror flick.
But a place of the dead, with devils, darkness, and screams of anguish is, in fact, real. And every person who isn't willing to turn away from their sins, and receive God's offer of grace and forgiveness in his Son, Jesus Christ, will go there, and "the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever" (Revelation 14:11).
Regardless of one's status, everyone will go to hell who doesn't repent.© Rev. Mark H. Creech
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