Summer Heat as a Reminder of Hell
Why is July the hottest month of the year for us in Illinois? Answer: Because the other 11 months are cooler! I enjoy cool weather far more than hot. I long for April and May to linger and I mourn when they pass. I do not relish the beads of sweat that pop from my pores from simple tasks like retrieving the mail, nor the sauna that invades my car in the church parking lot, nor the labor of slathering sun screen to protect my pale skin against the onslaught of UV rays. Yet I find that complaining about summer heat gains little advantage to either my body or my soul. In every circumstance God intends to grow us so that we enjoy Him more thoroughly and serve Him more faithfully. Moaning over the heat of summer accomplishes neither. So I have committed this summer to using the heat to help me consider more deeply the seriousness of my sin, the righteousness of God and the grace of the Gospel. When I feel the hot lash of the sun against my sin, I intend to think more deeply about the biblical doctrine of hell. Truly, July is not as hot as hell, but July's discomfort can remind me of a doctrine set before us often in the scripture for our help and encouragement.
Have you taken time to think about hell lately? I doubt many of us have. It is a most uncomfortable doctrine. Many deny it because it seems too awful for God to author. Yet as Christians who believe God’s Word, we can no more deny the reality of an eternal hell than we can deny God as the Creator, Jesus as Incarnate God, the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin, the empty tomb as a demonstration of God’s power and heaven as our eternal home. If we disbelieve hell, we should throw our Bibles into a fiery pit . . . for nothing stands true in scripture if this doctrine is spurious. As J.C. Ryle observes, “From “no Hell” to “no God” there is but a series of steps.”
The Bible clearly teaches us that hell is a real place of eternal torment as an expression of God’s righteous response to sin. Hell is a place of separation forever from God and His goodness. Heat is not the only miserable aspect of hell, but it is a prominent one taught in scripture. In scripture, Hell is called a “Lake of Fire”, “unquenchable fire”, and “eternal fire”. Jesus description of the rich man’s misery in Hades provides the most haunting and terrifying vision of hell’s agony: “The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'“(Luke 16:22b-24)
What positive effect could possibly result from a concerted contemplation of hell? Everything revealed in scripture is given us for our profit. Few contemplations are more profitable our souls than meditating upon the holiness of God in relationship to hell. I believe the church would be energized if we allowed the reality of hell to rest upon our souls more deeply. Let me offer five ways that a consideration of hell will benefit our lives:
1. We will pursue the assurance of our salvation more earnestly.
Our salvation from God’s wrath is a vital matter. Hell’s horror reminds us of what is at stake for us. We cannot afford to be wrong about the eternal safety of our own souls. In view of God’s righteousness, Peter calls us to be diligent in confirming our calling and our election (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11). We pursue assurance by pursuing the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life (cf. Romans 8:9). The more of the fruit of God’s Spirit that we see born in our lives, the more comfort we have that God’s life has been given to us by the Spirit. Let us ask ourselves carefully, “Have I been born of God’s Spirit and made alive in Christ?”
2. We will fear God more reverently.
The doctrine of hell reminds us that God possesses great passion for His own glory. He does not tolerate opposition to His sovereign glory. He will not abide evil to remain forever, but plans to sever evil at its roots and to destroy it completely. God will not allow good and bad to dwell side by side for all eternity! God’s holiness is so pure that even the smallest sin must be destroyed in the deepest pit without remedy or hope of its revival. In view of hell, our fear of man dissolves into the abyss. We recognize that all flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of the grass. We are not God; God alone is God. And that is a great thing! The doctrine of hell bows my heart to His throne to acknowledge Him as Lord over all.
3. We will cling to the Gospel more dearly.
Why do some saints shed tears when they speak of the Gospel? Because they know that they are “saved” by it. They know of the eternal misery that assuredly would be theirs apart from it. The doctrine of hell makes me sing “Amazing Grace” more loudly. God’s grace would not be immeasurable if it did not overcome an eternal loss. The Gospel becomes sweeter in view of the bitterness of hell’s death. I deserve to experience God’s wrath and yet the Gospel opens a door of escape. Jesus is my City of Refuge to find safety from the avenger! On the cross, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath in my place! He rose from the grave to rob death of its sting. O the wonderful cross that displays God’s love and rescues me from hell!
4. We will proclaim the Gospel more passionately.
How can we not proclaim the Gospel when we know it is the one remedy to keep our friends and family from suffering the eternal misery of hell? We grow dull in our evangelism because we grow dull in our thoughts about hell. R.C. Ryle drives me to compassion in his description, “Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body, – the eternal sting of an accusing conscience – the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devils and his angels – the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised – the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future – all this is misery indeed. It is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. Yet this picture is nothing, compared to the reality.” What a portrayal of God’s justice against all those whose sins are counted against them! They need a Savior! Let us tell them of the One who loves them and died for them to deliver them from God’s just punishiment! I love Charles Spurgeon’s thoughts, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
5. We will hate sin more thoroughly.
Hell exists because sin does. How putrid must sin be to God if He created hell to dispose of it? Sin promises life to us, but delivers only death and hell. Many rebels hear of the doctrine of hell and shake their fist at God saying, “We must kill You for this!” Those who love God hear of the doctrine of hell and shake their fist at sin and say, “We must kill you for this!” The doctrine of hell makes both the redeemed and the defiant speak the same words, but they direct their hostility in a completely different direction. How can we love a thing that would lead us to hell? God does not lead us to hell. Sin does. God leads us in grace to life in His Son. The call of God is clear to all of us, “And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:16-17)
So this month, when you are talking with a neighbor and they compare the heat of a July day to hell, be ready to tell them that hell is much more hot than they think. And ask them if they would like to talk about heaven and God’s plan for us to enjoy Him there for all eternity.