"One of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried. I think we are meant to carry each other." - Marcus Daly
"Ah!" says Satan, "It is but a little pride, a little worldliness, a little uncleanness, a little drunkenness..." "Alas!" says Satan, "It is but a very little sin that you stick so at. You may commit it without any danger to your soul. It is but a little one; you may commit it, and yet your soul shall live.
Solemnly consider, that those sins which we are apt to account small, have brought upon men the greatest wrath of God, as the eating of an apple, gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath day, and touching of the ark. Oh! the dreadful wrath that these sins brought down upon the heads and hearts of men! The least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the glory of God…
Consider, that there is great danger, yes, many times most danger—in the smallest sins. "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6). If the serpent sneaks in his head, he will draw in his whole body after him. Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do. Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and indiscernibly in the soul, until they come to be so strong, as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul. There is oftentimes greatest danger to our bodies in the least diseases that hang upon us, because we are apt to make light of them, and to neglect the timely use of means for removing of them, until they are grown so strong that they prove mortal to us. So there is most danger often in the least sins...
A little hole in the ship sinks it. A small breach in a dyke carries away all before it. A little stab at the heart kills a man. A little sin, without a great deal of mercy, will damn a man!
- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
I didn't go to church as a kid, but I did watch a lot of horror movies so I felt pretty educated when it came to the subject of hell. From the The Gates of Hell (1980) to Hellraiser (1987), and everything in-between, Hell was a scary but fictional place. Hell didn't bother me. It was thrilling. Fun, even. Until 1989.
By then I was hearing the truths of Scripture for the first time: God's holiness, my sinfulness, and Christ's sacrifice. The more I heard and the more I read the more I became convinced of both the reality and the justice of a very real hell. I knew that hell awaited me, and that this was right. My own sins and guilt were always weighing on my conscience and the wrath of God was what I deserved.
Yes, I was hearing the gospel, but it seemed too far away, too good for me, too good to be true. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God would pardon me and embrace me. For over 9 months I despaired for my soul. And all along the way through Scripture and providence God was pressing in on me.
I can remember singing the lyrics to Slayer's "Hell Awaits," "The gates of hell lie waiting as you see--There's no price to pay just follow me--I can take your lost soul from the grave--Jesus knows your soul can not be saved," and agreeing with them. I can remember listening to Steve Vai's album, Passion and Warfare, in 1990 and being stunned when, at the end of an instrumental piece, David Coverdale says, "Walking the fine line... between Pagan and Christian." I wanted to be a Christian. I wanted to know God. But that seemed impossible. I found no relief.
The doctrine of hell and the fear of endless punishment did not convert me. I was unworthy, and hell was fair. Purchasing some kind of spiritual fire insurance was not an option. I had no "money." But Hell awakened me. Hell stirred me enough to pay close attention to the good news of Jesus' atonement, forgiveness, and the sinner's reconciliation to God--even though it seemed too far away for someone like me to grasp.
So I read the Bible. I went to church a few times. I listened to my new Christian friends. I even started praying. I threw out all my satanic music and jewelry. But I still found no relief. No turn, no new start, would change what I had done and what I was.
And then it happened. Not at church. Not at some Christian concert. I was alone in my bedroom reading the Gospel of Matthew when God sovereignly opened my eyes to see what I was missing. He opened my heart to respond to the good news. I went from unbelief and despair to belief and peace with the first beat of my new heart. I actually rolled off my bed, onto my knees, and began talking to the God who was now mine--to the God who received me as his own. Everything changed.
Do not forsake the doctrine of hell and God's justice, my friends. There is no good news apart from bad news. And until a man or a woman tastes the bitterness of their sin and feels the weight of the just judgment of God they will never find the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be sweet and liberating. Give 'em hell, and give 'em the gospel.
This coming Sunday I will be preaching on the subject of judgement, focusing on the doctrine of hell specifically. This isn't the first time I've preached a sermon on hell, but every time I do I am reminded that of all the teaching in the Bible on the subject, Jesus speaks of it more than any Biblical writer, and his words also offer a more vivid and terrifying picture than can be found elsewhere in Scripture. Biblical writers speak of it, but
Hell is a doctrine hated by many. Some reject the idea of hell as nothing more than a primitive way of keeping followers in line with threats of punishment. Others reject hell, believing that it will ultimately lose and God's love will "win" everyone into heaven. Many reject the idea of hell because it is simply too much--too hard a thing to consider seriously. Of course, it is an exceedingly hard truth. In his book, Concise Theology, JI Packer explains that the "New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive." Maybe this is one of the reasons so few Christians today seem to talk about hell. It's just too hard.
I have posted some brief thoughts on hell in the past (here and here), and will do so again throughout this week. But let me encourage you to consider that if you want to give someone the gospel you will first need to give them hell. More on all this to come.
I continue to find young men who are frustrated at their stage in life in part because of a lack of clarity about their calling, or a lack of opportunity to do what they really want to do. This frustration leads many to become idle. Inactive if not aimless. And this leads many to become jobless (or nearly so) while becoming overly dependent on others (parents, friends, credit cards). If you find yourself at this stage I would like to address you, my friends. No, I'm not going to lecture you about your motives, growing up, or prolonged adolescence, though such things might be issues for you to deal with. I only want to remind you of three truths than can change how you understand and experience this time in your life.
This time is hard, and it is easy to conclude there is little to no value in these days of uncertainty and disappointment. While you are figuring out (or waiting to do) what you are called to do vocationally, know this: you are called by God to work hard now, to share with others, and to love your neighbor...