It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (KJV)
We ought to contemplate upon this verse. We ought to study it, for ourselves. In fact, we should follow Paul’s advice to Timothy, not assume and rely solely upon what our church states, or our pastors preach.
2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
We are to study the Bible, comparing scripture with scripture. Scripture interprets scripture. All too often, Christians read God’s Word by the light of the doctrines of men, rather than the converse.
Sin bears consequences in this life. We know that is true because each one of has sinned and has experienced, to a greater or lesser extent, the pain and suffering that can result, whether that suffering is physical pain at the hand a father when a child is placed over his knee; or is emotional in nature, for example the pain of regret when our suffering is self-afflicted. A long list of potential consequences of our sins could be made. Note, however, that these and similar punishments take place during this life.
Adam and Eve were the first to experience punishment for sin. Instead of living for ever, they died; instead of enjoying the benefits of fellowship with God, they were cast out of the Garden; instead of working happily in God’s garden, they had to cope with thorns and thistles. In Numbers 16, we read how the Sons of Korah suffered a dreadful punishment as the result of their rebellion against God. I could cite countless other examples from both the Old and the New Testaments.
The point I have been struggling with, and the reason why I joined this Forum, is to find the answer to this question, an answer that can only be satisfactorily answered from the pages of scripture. It is this: Whilst our actions, and inactions, in this life can and do result in pain, suffering, and eventually physical death, can we also expect punishment throughout eternity, to a degree that seems to exceed, by an infinitely great extent, the punishment we have already received in this life? Or will we be saved from that punishment by the Seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15, a Man who was sinless, a Second Adam who fully satisfied the wrath of God against sin - Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, none other than God Himself?
John Henry Newman
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
As readers will know from my previous posts, I was a devout Calvinist for nearly all my adult life. I believed, in fact I preached (as a lay preacher) the tenets of Calvinism, including the Five Points as expressed in the Canons of Dort. That changed (by the Lord’s doing?) one day while I was taking care of my dear late wife, Alida. How I wish she was still with me – she lived more closely to her Saviour than any other person I have known. She would have helped me with her faith and insights into the Word of God.
I was removing a dish containing her supper one day from the oven and almost dropped it because it was so hot to my bare hands. That caused me to think about hell and the suffering of ‘the lost’ in eternal fire. It led to me to question and explore the teaching I had been taught and believed for so many years. Then I joined this Forum and found that many others had similar doubts. I was and am aware that the large majority of evangelical believers believe in hell and in eternal conscious torment as taught in the Reformed, Anglican, even Baptist, confessions of faith.
I know that my pastor thinks my struggles are close to heresy on my part. So also do two of our elders with whom I have shared my experiences. I wondered why I seem to be alone. During a bible study that I led on Revelation, one of the elders repeated what a pastor had once told him: “hell is ‘separation from God’”. That is a nice, almost sanitised, definition which helped him avoid thinking too much about the awful, eternal agonies which traditional doctrine affirms will be the experience of the lost for eternity. Why is it I appear to be in the minority who find it impossible to contemplate this doctrine, let alone believe it?
One of Alida’s favourite verses which she would quote at every opportunity is Phil. 4:8. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This Forum is filled with quotations from many famous scholars and preachers from the past. Here is one I find particularly hard to take, written by Jonathan Edwards.
Jonathan Edwards, The Eternity of Hell Torments, 1739
“The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven. The sight of hell’s torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.”
Why does my whole being react with horror at such a belief?
I read about the death of Servetus. Michael Servetus (1511 – 1553) was denounced by the church in Geneva as a heretic for holding to unitarian views and sentenced to death by burning at the stake. Here is the eyewitness account of his death as recorded by Sebastian Custello.
“Servetus was led to the stake saying “O God, save my soul, O Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me”. No cruelty was spared on him as his stake was made of bundles of fresh wood of the live oak still green, mixed with its branches still bearing leaves. On his head, a straw crown was placed, sprayed with sulphur.
“He was seated on a log with his body chained to a post with an iron chain. His neck was bound with four or five turns of a thick rope. This way, Servetus was being fried at a slow fire for over half an hour before he died. To his side were attached copies of his book which he sent ‘confidentially’ to Calvin for “his fraternal opinion.”
“A legend has it that when a strong wind blew and separated the flames, Servetus exclaimed: “Poor me who cannot finish my life in this fire! The two hundred crowns and the gold necklace that they took from me should suffice to buy sufficient wood to burn me miserably”.
“His last words were, “O Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me.”
Read that account, then read it again. And, don’t only read it, THINK about it. Were we made in God’s image or do we think it is the other way around?