ARE WE UNCOMFORTABLE SPEAKING ABOUT HELL?

It has been my practice to read at least one sermon from a great preacher of the past each week. I find my soul stirred by the many personalities and styles God uses in proclaiming the unchanging word of God. I just finished reading Charles Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Heaven and Hell.” His text was Matt. 8:11-12 “And I say to you, that many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I was gripped with the candid directness of  Spurgeon’s  words and his unshakable conviction that the word of God must stand without adaptation. I like the way he approached his audience. He said simply “Weigh right and wrong this night; see whether what I say be the truth of God. If it be not, reject it utterly, and cast it away; but if it is, at your peril disregard it; for, as you shall answer before God, the great Judge of heaven and earth, it will go ill with you if the words of his servant and of his Scripture be despised.”
There was no political correctness in his wording but there was no lack of grace in his tone either. I loved the way he revealed the tension in his soul as he preached this very heavy subject. This is how he put it: “My text has two parts. The first is very agreeable to my mind and gives me pleasure; the second is terrible in the extreme; but, since they are both the truth, they must be preached.” The insight of his confession reflects what should be the thought of every preacher as he stands before his audience with the open word of God in his hand.
The first part of the sermon is extremely comforting. He jolted me when he observed that there will be more people in heaven than in hell. Before you throw the “narrow and wide gate” text at Spurgeon I encourage you to read how he came to this conclusion. You may not agree with him, but he does have a point. Then he moves to the last part of the text. You can sense his heaviness of heart as he preaches about the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don’t think I can ever speak on hell again without Spurgeon’s words ringing in my ears. Listen: “But, in hell, there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying. They are forever-forever-forever lost! On every chain in hell, there is written ‘forever.’ In the fires, there blaze out the words ‘forever.’ Up above their heads, they read ‘forever.’ Their eyes are galled, and their hearts are pained with the thought that it is forever. Oh! If I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be saved, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be–it is ‘forever’ they are ‘cast into utter darkness.”
So why are we so reluctant to speak so clearly of hell? Do I really believe my neighbors in their nice houses will end up there? Am I that callous and preoccupied with life that I cannot bring myself to think long on the subject? Do I fear if I spoke or preached so candidly that such  messages would be unappreciated, unwelcomed? Are the words of Scripture to be taken at face value? Are the stakes that high? Think it thru

DOES TOMORROW LOOM TOO LARGE?

Let’s face it. We are a couple of weeks into the new year already and looking ahead to our next day’s journey. The danger is that we can try to live tomorrow before it gets here. Tomorrow looms large to us. Perhaps too large. I am not saying that we shouldn’t  plan for tomorrow as much as our limited life allows. But we must realize that we only have strength for the day imparted and so we cannot live tomorrow on today’s energy (God promised Israel: “As your days, so will your strength be” – Deut. 33:25). But when tomorrow looms large especially when it promises something we dread (I think I have a dental appointment looming on the horizon–get what I mean?), then we find ourselves a bit shaky in the strength & courage department.

I am reading a rather heavy tome called “The Christian’s Reasonable Service” by Wilhelmus A’Brakel. (Just the name intimidated me at first). It is in volume 2 that the author talks about the need for spiritual strength for our journey into tomorrow. He said this: “Spiritual strength is an undaunted steadfastness of heart, given by God to His children, whereby they, while entertaining a lively hope of acquiring the promised benefits, overcome fear of all danger and opposition, unyieldingly engage in warfare, and courageously persevere in obedience toward God.”  Now that is a mouthful. What is he saying that is so helpful to us?

First, he tells us that strength has to have a spiritual source. God has to give it. And He gives it to us in Christ (I Cor. 1:30 – Christ is made to us among other things strength). Only in Christ can I have this strength that  breeds a steadfastness of heart  for tomorrow’s events.  The Psalmist said in 31:34 “He shall strengthen your heart.” The prophet Isaiah speaks assuredly about this to his people as they faced an uncertain tomorrow when he says: “He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increases strength” (Isa. 40:39).  A’Brakel really opened my eyes when he observed: “The benefits hoped for are so desirable that they can endure all that is uncomfortable…Hope in the faithfulness and truthfulness of the promising God makes acquisition such a steadfast and unquestionable fact, that the stronger the believer is in this respect, the stronger his courage will be.” Those promised benefits may not come in our time and in our way, and we may have to face some opposition and trial, but they will come enabling us to have steadfastness of heart and courage to persevere. Those promises give us strength for tomorrow. God told Habakkuk he would have to wait for awhile until God unfolded what he had promised in the vision: “…if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

Second, he tells us that this spiritual strength is an overcoming kind of thing.  The courageous believer is made so because he realizes that “…everything which is in opposition has no power to conquer him and prevent him from reaching his objective, omnipotent help being on his side.”  I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he said in Ps. 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The tomorrow that looms before us in such a foreboding way is no match for the omnipotent help we have been promised by our Lord.  Fear must go away in light of what we have been promised. When we feel our courage slipping away remember what Isaiah said in Isaiah 27:5 “Let him take hold of My strength.” Tomorrow loomed big in David’s eyes as he realized the people were planning on stoning him because the Amalekites had raided his headquarters in Ziklag.  How did he deal with that potential disaster?  The text tells us “But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6). He counted on God’s strength to be there in his tomorrow!

Third, he reminds us that spiritual strength is maintained by our obedience. God has given us grace to obey. We have to know that something desirable is at stake in tomorrow’s battle and that desirable thing is for us to persevere in obeying our Lord no matter what the enemy chooses to use against us.  We should know our enemy. We are acquainted with the Devil, the world, and our own flesh. On the flip side, our enemies are well acquainted with us too! That is why we need this strength from God. We not only desire to defeat our enemies but at the same time we also want to stay obedient. As we experience God’s strength,wait for it, and rely on its promise  we are able to persevere in obedience. Paul reminds us in II Cor. 10:4-5 of this:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power (strength) to destroy strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

David got it. In  Ps. 119:115 he declares: “Depart from me, you evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.”

Don’t let tomorrow loom too large!  Omnipotence has gone ahead of us! Take courage and draw on his strength. Take the psalmists words into your soul:“Be of good courage,and He will strengthen your heart” Ps. 27:14.  Think it thru