Sinful humanity naturally looks at life through the wrong end of the telescope. For them time is long and eternity is short; this life is large, the afterlife is small; this world is real, the world to come is unreal.
So writes Sinclair Ferguson in “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” chapter 10 in Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, ed. by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, kindle location 5762.
In this inverted view of reality, SEND’s 6th statement of faith is in sharp contrast.
We believe in the resurrection of the dead, the believer to life everlasting and the unbeliever to eternal condemnation.
In our culture today everyone goes to heaven, even dogs. If this statement did not include eternal condemnation, it wouldn’t raise an eye brow.
Hell is under fire – even in evangelicalism. This doctrine that God punishes eternally in hell all sinners who do not trust Christ is certainly not in vogue. …In a sense, hell stands for everything the contemporary culture rejects – that God’s love is not sentimental but interconnected to his justice, that humans are wicked by fallen nature and choice, that Jesus is the only substitute for human sin, that explicit faith in Christ is the only means available to receive God’s forgiveness, and that all sin will ultimately be punished either via Christ the substitute or by the sinner in hell.(Morgan and Peterson, Hell Under Fire, kindle location 5896)
1. How does this statement hold our thinking?
We don’t look through the wrong end of the telescope anymore. Ferguson writes,
the Christian’s eyes have been opened, and they are fixed on Christ, on eternity. … A Christian, then, looks at life in the light of the destination to which it leads, and sees every person within that framework. (Kindle loc. 5762)
Heaven and Hell are essential truths of the gospel. Our proclamation is not complete without stating that the believer is raised to life everlasting and the unbeliever is raised to eternal condemnation. Both are clearly taught in the Bible and on the lips of Jesus. (See chapters 1-9 in Hell Under Fire.) Morgan and Peterson point out how the doctrines of God, sin and the atonement are tied to our understanding of heaven and hell:
First, only when we recognize God’s holiness will we be able to appraise the horror of sin. Second, only when we become aware of the awfulness of our sin will we sense the dreadfulness of hell and the price of Christ’s death. Third, only when we grapple with the punishment of hell and the extent of Christ’s atoning death can we begin to grasp God’s amazing grace. (Kindle loc. 5924.)
Sinclair Ferguson writes,
Famous words penned around 1843 by the still young but soon-to-die Robert Murray M’Cheyne express well this view and its implications: ‘As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell. (Kindle loc. 5762)
2. How does this statement hold our emotions and will?
The truth of this statement should stir in us compassion, courage, and urgency. The gospel is not a trifle or mere opinion. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. So we must compassionately seek to persuade people to be reconciled to God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We must have the courage to go against the tide of our age that seeks to minimize and sideline these truths. We must with M’Cheyne feel the overwhelming power of heaven and hell.
A seminary professor told our class of preachers that, if we could preach on hell with dry eyes, we would be better off being silent. There is no place for cold, heartless preaching on heaven and hell. The awfulness of hell and the cross should produce in us a horror of sin. The price of our rebellion against a holy God is either paid for by the horror of the cross or the horror of hell.
We have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18,19). We ought to endure any hardship and suffering to make Christ known.
3. How does this statement hold our action?
We must proclaim the gospel with boldness and earnestness. The final paragraph of Hell Under Fire is a fitting summation of how this statement should hold our action:
As such, hell must be on the lips of those who want to be faithful to Jesus and his Word. To speak of hell is precarious. But not to speak of hell is more precarious. God our judge requires us to proclaim his whole counsel, and we owe it to fellow sinners to teach them a full version of the grand biblical story of how God forgives sin, so that they too can better understand their desperate need for forgiveness and experience the joy found only in knowing Christ. Our prayer is that you will join us and the countless Christians throughout history and around the world today who seek to proclaim the whole counsel of God – yes, including hell – to Christians and non-Christians alike. Together may we do it with a passionate love for the Lord Jesus, abiding conviction in the truthfulness of God’s Word, and authentic compassion for the lost. (Kindle loc. 5931)