73. What are the eternal states?
There are two, and two only, states which the whole race of Adam will enter upon death, and these are heaven and hell.
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74. What is hell?
Hell is an avoidable place for all the wicked where they will experience the just and inescapable wrath and curse of God, resulting in unrestrained and insatiable lusts, spiritual and bodily pain, weeping and gnashing of teeth, all forever and ever.
Contrary to popular opinion, hell is a real place, and the final and certain destiny of all those who die without Christ, along with all the fallen angels.
[The wicked] will experience the just and inescapable wrath and curse of God…
The wicked will not be annihilated but the power of God will hold them up to experience his wrath forever and ever.
Objection 1: Is it just to punish sinners eternally for sins committed during a few years on earth?
Answer 1: As sin is against the infinite God, justice demands that the punishment is also infinite. As creatures are finite they cannot suffer an infinite degree of punishment and so must suffer for an infinite time. It should also be noted that in hell sinners continue sinning and so forever add to their debt which can never be paid.
Objection 2: Why then did Christ only suffer for a finite time?
Answer 2: Jesus Christ is a divine, and therefore an infinite, person. As such he could and did suffer an infinite degree of punishment in a finite time. Christ reached the bottom of the bottomless pit. Justice was therefore completely satisfied with the death of the Son of God in our nature.
As Christ is the only way of escape, to refuse him makes the just judgment of God in hell inescapable. Hence Christ says, “If you believe not that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
The worst thing about hell is that there sinners suffer the wrath and curse of God. It is wrong to conceive of hell as being the place where Satan will punish you. To dwell with that wicked foe forever will be terrible, but it does not compare to the awfulness of dwelling with an angry God. “Who knows the power of his anger?” (Psalm 90:11)
…resulting in unrestrained and insatiable lusts…
The two great passions in hell are rage and despair. All restraining influences of the Holy Spirit being removed, the sins and lusts of the sinner go forth with the full force and consent of the wicked heart. The pleasure that was found in sin on earth is removed and there is forever no satisfaction found in the lusts. Here it is felt like never before that it is an evil and bitter thing to have sinned against God (Jer. 2:19).
…spiritual and bodily pain, weeping and gnashing of teeth, all forever and ever.
Hell is a place of conscious, excruciating pain, both of the body and the mind. The memory will be enlivened for those who rejected the gospel and the overtures of mercy and grace which would have saved them from this awful place will forever be to them the worm that will never die.
75. Why should we preach on hell?
We should preach on hell because it is clearly taught in the Bible; it shows us our littleness, the awfulness of sin, the holiness and justice of God; it causes sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and it induces God’s people to both mortify sin and thank Him who delivered them from the lowest hell (Matthew 5:19, 20; Psalm 86:13).
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76. How should we preach on hell?
When we preach on hell we should do so textually, decisively, pastorally, correctively, apologetically, exegetically and Christologically.[footnote]This structure is taken largely from Ligon Duncan.[/footnote]
If working systematically through a book or series of doctrines then it is easier to tell the congregation that though this subject is difficult to speak and listen to, yet it is part of the whole counsel that must be preached. This avoids the charge of being morbid, or preaching on pet topics, as well as forcing pastors to deal with these harder topics.
Preaching hell decisively…
The pastor must be convicted of the biblical truth of this doctrine, as doubt in his mind will invariably come to expression, either in his words or non-verbals. There must also be a gravitas and pathos that is rooted in the firm conviction that unbelievers are on their way to this place of awful torment. “A man who realizes in any measure the awful force of the words eternal hell won’t shut up about it, but will speak with all tenderness.“[footnote]C. A. Salmond, Princetoniana: Charles & A. A. Hodge, with Class and Table Talk of Hodge the Younger. (New York: Scribner & Welford, n.d.), 235–236.[/footnote] Preaching hell pastorally…
The thought of hell is not a logical, but a psychological, problem. The pastor needs to speak to people as they would to a family who has suffered in extraordinary circumstances – as the loss of a child, suicide, cancer, murder, and the like. Shirking hard questions and vagueness are not helpful in these situations. But sensitive explicitness is more likely to produce receptivity, respect, and comfort among the congregation and allows the pastor to deal with the subject comprehensively without creating a knee-jerk reaction.
Preaching hell correctively…
Many view salvation as merely escaping from hell and have little or no desire to glorify God here, far less spend an eternity with him hereafter. This truncated view of salvation must be corrected – salvation is not just from hell, but to life and obedience.
Preaching hell apologetically…
Pastors have to be aware that there may be those who have become unsettled or suspicious about this doctrine. This may require some brief response to varying, alleged criticisms. In recent times, this doctrine has been disputed, even among otherwise Reformed men (e.g. John Stott[footnote]David L. Edwards and John Stott, Essentials (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), 313-20.[/footnote], Philip Edgcumbe Hughes[footnote]Hughes, The True Image, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Leicester, United Kingdom: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989, 398-407.[/footnote], John Wenham.
As the Directory for Publick Worship: “If any doubt obvious from scripture, reason, or prejudice of the hearers, seem to arise, it is very requisite to remove it, by… answering the reasons, and discovering and taking away the causes of prejudice and mistake.”
Preaching hell exegetically…
Care must be taken that what is said has solid exegetical support. Speculation, not supported by a measure of good and necessary consequence, should be avoided. A tight rein must be kept on the imaginations that go beyond what is revealed in scripture. The whole teaching of scripture should be brought to bear on the passage.
Preaching hell Christologically…
It is vital that the sermon on hell has a strong Christological emphasis. Not only did Christ create hell and speak often about it, but he is the only one who can and does deliver sinners from this place. One great and necessary theme in preaching on hell is that this place is avoidable through the crucified Savior. Also, the wrath of God against sin is seen at its worse at the cross, where “God spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). The horror of hell and the way of escape are seen most visibly at the same place – the cross of Christ.
77. What is Rob Bell’s espoused position?
Bell believes that the doctrine of hell as everlasting punishment is inconsistent with the doctrine of the love of God, which ensures that all people will eventually be won over to God’s love whether in this life, or the next.
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Despite denying the charge, Bell is culpable of the heresy of (incipient) universalism.
What is wrong with Bell’s position?
Bell is in serious error in many areas, but chiefly in his view of history, exegesis, eschatology, Christology, the gospel, and God.[footnote]Taken largely from Kevin DeYoung’s review here.[/footnote] What is wrong with Bell’s view of history?
Bell claims he falls within the “deep, wide, diverse stream” of “historic Christian faith,”[footnote]Love Wins (ix-x)[/footnote] but his history is selective, misleading, and inaccurate, and in fact he supports a view that the church has condemned as heterodox.
Bell quotes men such as Jerome, Basil, Augustine, and even Luther, in support of his position. But his selective quotes fail to recognize that these men in fact refuted universal salvation. One church father Bell has on his side, Origen, was condemned for his views in Constantinople in 543. Richard Bauckham’s historical survey is telling:
Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. … Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of the universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation.
What’s wrong with Bell’s exegesis?
Bell takes verses out of context, ignores large sections of text, and imports his preconceived ideas into the text.
Bell latches onto verses that speak of all people being reconciled to God (Psalm 65, Ezekiel 36, Philippians 2) He ignores the fact that many are promises to God’s people, while others concern the nations coming to God and the acknowledgement all nations will give to Christ (not necessarily in faith).
Bell acknowledges from John 14:6 that Jesus is the only way, but claims that there are many ways you can get to God through Jesus, consciously or not. Yet, the context demands that faith in Christ alone is the only way – “You believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1).
Bell believes that failure is never final. He appeals to Paul’s discipline cases where he hands Hymenaeus and Alexander over so that they will learn not to blaspheme. However, it is a logical and exegetical error to assume that the goal and hope of discipline is necessarily realized, either in this life, and certainly in the next. No such conclusion is exegetically tenable.
Bell is egregiously selective in quoting scripture. He quotes John 3:17, speaking of Jesus not coming to condemn the world but to save it, but ignores the following verse: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Astonishingly, Bell argues that if the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah is more tolerable than Capernaum, then there is hope for all other “Sodom and Gomorrah’s” (85). To turn a explicit passage on judgment into an implicit universalism is not only exegetically untenable, but argues a gross lack of sense!
Bell frequently harks back to the passages in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 speaking of reconciling all things in Christ (149). The Greek word for “unite” (Eph 1:10) is anakephalaiosasthai and has the idea of bringing to a certain point, or summing up. The whole universe will submit to Christ’s lordship, some in joyful adoration, and others in receiving the just punishment for their treason.
What is wrong with Bell’s eschatology?
Bell’s eschatology is confused, distorted, and unbiblical, where heaven and hell co-exist in the same place, hell being a temporary refusing to choose the good, and so “a period of pruning” and “an intense period of correction” (91).
Bell uses the parable of the prodigal son to suggest that there is merely the one party which both brothers (all people) will eventually enjoy. This wresting of scripture ignores the context which informs us that Christ is telling these three parables to explain why he is eating with “sinners.”
What is wrong with Bell’s Christology?
Bell portrays a false Jesus who is not confined to any one religion, but rather transcends the label and cage of “Christianity,” and can be found wherever there is “grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, [and] forgiveness” (156, 159).
This fails to account for the Jesus of the Bible who makes exclusive claims regarding himself and the teaching he gave (John 14:6). The terms Bell uses have been emptied of their scriptural meaning and equated with the toleration of everything. However, at this point Bell becomes glaringly inconsistent when he does not tolerate a Jesus who is “anti-gay” or “anti-science.” In other words, the Jesus he wants is a Jesus who agrees with himself as to what should or should not be tolerated.
Bell appeals to Paul saying that the “rock was Christ,” and concludes that “there are rocks everywhere” (139). Hence missionaries can find Christ in a different culture with a different name (152). This is rank liberalism dressed up. The fact that Paul finds a type in the rock does not warrant us to find Christ in any entity in the world that takes our liking. Also the context of 1 Corinthians 10 to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14) militates against worshiping Christ in ways not appointed in his word. Such will be “destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10)!
What is wrong with Bell’s “gospel”?
Bell’s gospel is realizing that you are already saved and forgiven, and so falls under Paul’s curse of being “another gospel,” which is no gospel (Gal. 1:8). He says: “Forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, to shape up, get up – God has already done it.” (189).
Here is Bell’s description of the gospel: “It begins in the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what has been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us.”
This means that heaven and hell, whatever you conceive them to be, are full of forgiven people. Tragically, it also empties the meaning and significance of the cross. The ground for the salvation of a sinner becomes arbitrary love which bypasses the demands of justice and the need for blood atonement.
Richard Niebuhr’s summary of liberalism is pertinent here: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (see here page 193)
What is wrong with Bell’s view of God?
Bell portrays the “traditional” God of the Bible as vindictive and cruel, contrasting his own god as being all love.
Here is Bell’s view of the God of the Bible: “Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can… That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (174-75).
Of course, “vindictive” and “cruel” are not remotely accurate descriptions of God and to portray Him as such is blasphemy. Bell may speak of his god of love, and while it is true that the God of the Bible is love (1 John 4:16), Bell is wrong in requiring that this love forgives all. This fails to recognize the sovereignty of God’s love in salvation. It also ignores God’s other attributes. The God of love loves his justice and loves his holiness and will not clear the guilty (Ex. 34:7).
Bell proposes that if God is great then he will get what he wants by saving everybody. However, in reality, Bell’s god has nothing to be great about, as man is not all that bad and will eventually come round to God’s love in the end. His god may be good but he cannot properly be said to be gracious, far less holy and just.
What are the implications of Bell’s position?
If Bell is right then most of church history has been wrong. If he is wrong then he is a blasphemer and is culpable for a staggering number of people are hearing “peace peace” when there is no peace (adapted from KDY 13).
78. What is heaven?
At the end of the world, God will renew the heavens and the earth for Him and His people to enjoy eternal marriage (in an eternal house, in an eternal city), eternal worship, eternal service, an eternal Sabbath, and eternal blessedness
Upon death, believers immediately enter into glory. Immediately they go to be with Christ which is far better (Phil. 1:23). Immediately, they are without sin, without fault, and dwell as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). And yet, there is a sense in which they are not yet complete. Their bodies, still united to Christ, rest in the graves until the resurrection. Hence the glorified spirits cry, “How long, O Lord?” (Rev. 6:10). So there is a future prospect that is altogether glorious and complete when God renews the heavens and the earth – a place entirely and perfectly suited to glorified persons, body and soul.
…eternal marriage (in an eternal house, in an eternal city)…
The Bible gives us many pictures of heaven. Marriage speaks of exuberant joy and gladness; the Father’s house speaks of protection, provision, and intimacy; and the city speaks of the expanse and moral government of the place. All combine to give a glorious picture and prospect for the children of God.
Man was created to worship God, and in this consisted his happiness. Man lost this privilege by his fall; it is restored in regeneration, and perfected again in glory.
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
“And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, [be] unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13).
“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (Rev. 7:15).
“And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Rev. 22:3).
Edward Donnelly: “In this new world we will be given remarkable new tasks. Thrilling avenues of service will open before us, calling for the use of all our gifts and talents, many unsuspected or undeveloped in our present existence. ‘The reason, the intellectual curiosity, the imagination, the aesthetic instincts, the holy affections, the social affinities, the inexhaustible resources of strength and power native to the human soul, must all find in heaven exercise and satisfaction’[footnote]A.A Hodge, Evangelical Theology, 400] Throughout eternity we will live full, truly human lives, exploring and managing God’s creation to his glory. Fascinating vistas will unfold before us as we learn to serve God
in a renewed universe. ‘Every legitimate activity of (new) creaturely life will be included within the life
of worship of God’s people’ [Venema, The Promise of the Future, 478].”
The first full day man had was a Sabbath. With the exigencies of sin operative, the Sabbath took on a redemptive character which can be seen in the Jubilee trumpet, the “loosening” work the Son of Man performs on the Sabbath (Luke 13:16), etc…. When viewed in this light the Sabbath truly becomes a delight to God’s people (Isa. 58:13, 14). In heaven, this delight will never cease or abate as the glories of Christ and the redemption that he accomplished and the Spirit applied forever fill his people with wonder, love, and joy. No wonder the Jews referred to heaven as “the day that is all Sabbath.”
Eternal service and eternal worship in the eternal Sabbath cannot but result in eternal blessedness for the saints. Here the saints perfectly fulfill the end for which they were created, which necessarily ensues in perfect happiness.
Heaven is often described in negative terms – no more sin, no more death, no more tears (see Rev. 21:4). This is often the way we speak when we are at a loss to describe something wonderful to us. We might say: “It is indescribably beautiful,” or “words fail me.” So it is with heaven. While we have been given partial revelation to describe what “eye hath not seen nor ear heard” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10), yet it is only in heaven when we will see Christ “as he is.” The apex of the blessedness of heaven is found in these words: “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Why is heaven neglected?
Some reasons why heaven is neglected are – we are too preoccupied with this present world, too comfortable, we see it as nothing more than the inevitable next stage of our existence, it has little appeal (even boring), and it is too awesome for our puny minds to grasp. “One of the most damaging slogans of Satan has been the criticism that Christians are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use. We want to be useful on earth, of course, and we think that the answer is to be less heavenly-minded. On the contrary, as we shall see, it is only those who are heavenly-minded who are ultimately of much earthly use at all.”[footnote]Edward Donnelly, Heaven and Hell, 67.[/footnote] Why should we preach on heaven?
We should preach on heaven because many who think they are going there are not, there are many inaccurate ideas, it is a powerful evangelistic weapon, it marvelously displays the goodness of God, and it is conducive to our spiritual growth and effectiveness in service.
How should we preach on heaven?
When we preach on heaven we should do so evangelistically, correctively, pastorally, exegetically and christologically.
As one old minister said, “I’m going to heaven; will you not come with me?” Salvation is not just escaping from hell (it is no less than this!), but it is also salvation to life in heaven. It is therefore a powerful evangelistic tool to compel sinners to come in. Every Christian can say to his or her unbelieving friend, as Moses said to Hobab, “Come thou with us and we will do thee good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel” (Num. 10:29).
False notions about heaven abound and so it must be preached on correctively. Not least is the
doctrine that it is only those who are in Christ who will come to this place. Many who believe they are
going to heaven are not. Any who wish to go to heaven, merely because they do not want to go to hell
must be warned that this is a false hope. The exclusive way to heaven must be insisted: “No man
cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Spurgeon: “If we do not get to heaven before we die, we shall never get there afterwards.”197 Many have vague and hazy ideas about heaven as being in an ethereal cloud floating in the air, or that it will be whatever you want it to be (a golf course, a party etc…). Others question whether we will know each other in heaven. Much is hidden and mysterious, but there is sufficient revelation to keep us from these unbiblical ideas.
Maurice Roberts speaks about the “dark side of heaven” – the sober fact that not all people go there. This becomes a very sensitive situation for the pastor to deal with. “What about my loved one who died without Christ?” Love, wisdom, and care are required to bring the truth and the comfort from God’s word to bear on this situation.[footnote]For an excellent discussion on this question, see Maurice Roberts’s chapter “The Dark Side of Heaven,” in The Happiness of Heaven, 102-13[/footnote] Ted Donnelly: “We demonstrate true love for others not by objecting sentimentally to hell but by doing all now within our power to bring them to heaven. Only a friendship which is in Christ will extend beyond this life. If that does not lead us to pray every day and to do everything else we can for the salvation of our unconverted family and friends, what will?”[footnote]Donnelly 117.[/footnote] Another tender point is the death of young children. While the final destination of each person must ultimately remain with God, yet there is strong consolation for grieving believers regarding the state of their children.[footnote]Again, see Maurice Roberts’s chapter “Children and Heaven, ” in The Happiness of Heaven, 42-56[/footnote] The doctrine of heaven can be used to encourage and comfort believers who are approaching the Jordan of death. Death is but the passage way to the glorious place that awaits them and so gives them joy even in the face of the last enemy: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21).
As with hell, so with heaven; there is enough revealed in God’s word to feast on without getting caught up in endless speculation. The force of God’s word will accomplish the various and desired ends of preaching on heaven.
The lamb is all the glory in Immanuel’s Land. No sermon on heaven is complete (or even started!) without Christ being held forth. He is the way there, the light of the place, the joy of the saints, the one whose blood has made their robes white, the one leads them into fountains of living waters, and the one who reveals the Father more and more. Christ is the one who gives us tastes of heaven now on earth. To know him now is to know life everlasting. To think on him now is to have our minds in heavenly places, to set our affections on things above. In this way, it was said of the Puritan Richard Sibbes, that heaven was in him before he was in heaven. A proper contemplation of heaven has a purifying effect on the children of God: “Everyone who hath this hope purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2). It is therefore our present relationship with Christ that determines how much heaven means to us.