Monday, 23 February 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 9

I spent a fair amount of time writing things down last week and also today.  I need to try and put it in some logical order now in preparation for my meeting with Garry Williams next week (5th March) when I will submit what I have done so far.

I thought to myself earlier this afternoon, 'If I were to preach a series of sermons on hell, how would I begin?'  This is the introduction that came to mind.  I think what is written below could be expanded into one sermon, perhaps an introductory one.

Any thoughts?

The Doctrine of Hell

Before we begin I need to ask a pastoral question.  Do you believe the Bible?  Do you believe that the Holy Scripture is “the all-sufficient, certain and infallible rule or standard of the knowledge, faith and obedience that constitute salvation?’  Do you believe that God through the Scriptures has revealed himself and made his will known for our salvation?  Before studying the doctrine of hell, you need to have come to settled conclusions about the doctrine of Scripture.

C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain: ‘There is no doctrine which I would be more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of scripture and specially of our Lord’s own words.’  C.S. Lewis may very well have said what you are presently thinking and the truth of the matter is that if you begin study the doctrine of hell without first being 100% convinced that the Scripture is the very word of God and therefore every word is to be believed – unless you are 100% convinced of this, you will abandon the doctrine of hell.  Either you will abandon it completely, as many have done.  Or you may put up with it because, "that’s what we’re supposed to believe”, but you will never allow this doctrine to shape your view of the world and your understanding of God and how he sees the world and what he is planning for the future.

So settle this matter now.  Do you trust the Scriptures?

Now, for those who know that God cannot lie and therefore trust every word he has spoken through His Son, let me offer a pastoral word.  I studied the doctrine of hell during my sabbatical, because if I am honest, I wanted to discover from the Scriptures if there was any way that the traditional view of hell which I had been taught and which I had taught might not be true.  Believing the Scriptures, I went to them and it did not take me long to see that it is impossible to escape the fact that the Bible teaches that the wicked, those who do not know God, those who reject the gospel, will suffer eternal, conscious torment in hell, away from the presence of the Lord, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What I hope to show, however, is that this doctrine does not take away from, but rather magnifies the attributes of God.  There are aspects of God’s character which we cannot fully appreciate and praise him for if we neglect the doctrine of hell.  I am thinking particularly of his holiness, his justice and indeed, even his love.  As an older and experienced gospel minster said to me when he heard I was studying hell, “When studying hell, never drift far from the cross.”  How true!  The Bible never divorces hell from the cross.  Hell is what the entire human race deserves.  Hell is what Jesus Christ came to rescue his people from and hell is what the infinite Son of God bore on the cross when he was offered up as a sacrifice for sin.

Keep these words in mind (sing them!) when wrestling through with the doctrine of hell:

GLORY be to Jesus,
who, in bitter pains,
poured for me the life-blood
from His sacred veins.

2 Grace and life eternal
in that blood I find;
blest be His compassion,
infinitely kind!

3 Blest through endless ages
be the precious stream,
which from endless torments
did the world redeem.

4 Abel’s blood for vengeance
pleaded to the skies;
but the blood of Jesus
for our pardon cries.

5 Oft as it is sprinkled
on our guilty hearts,
Satan in confusion
terror-struck departs.

6 Oft as earth exulting
wafts its praise on high,
angel-hosts rejoicing
make their glad reply.

7 Lift ye then your voices;
swell the mighty flood;
louder still and louder
praise the Lamb of God.

Italian, c. 1815;

tr. by Edward Caswall, 1814-78


  1. I like it.

    It will be a very challenging subject to talk about as a lot of people would rather not think about eternal torment, let alone separation from their God.

    Starting by re-affirming faith in the truth of scripture gives a solid base from which to study the truth of hell.

    That hymn has amazing words - I look forward to singing it soon.

  2. Thanks for your comments Paul. You're right. No point building on anything until the foundation is right.