We don’t really remember ever having heard a sure-enough “Hell, Fire and Damnation” sermon. We have heard from older people that we don’t have enough of those sermons anymore, and we presume that in former years there were more of them. Why aren’t there more now? Perhaps it is because of a changing theology or perhaps it is because the preachers aren’t quite sure of Hell anymore. No more terrible topic than Hell can be considered. Other torments are of shorter duration, but Hell is worst and goes on forever. At least, that’s what we have always been told.
The subject of Hell is one which is greatly misunderstood. Many people believe that it is a literal place burning with fire and brimstone. At the other extreme, there are people who will not believe in it because they can’t conceive of a loving God who would consign people to such a place.
There are three broad doctrines covering Hell that we should mention. The first, is that held by the Catholic Church which states dogmatically that Hell is a place where the wicked will be tormented day and night forever and ever, without ceasing. Then there is the Universalist conception of Hell that predicts that one day everything will come out all right and all men will be saved. And then there is the annihilation’s answer to Hell, which holds that the wicked will be burned up completely, wholly, ceasing to be.
These three answers to the question of Hell divide the world into three camps, but in addition to those who side with one of these groups, there are literally thousands who do not know what to believe. It may be interesting to note what some famous theologians of the past have had to say about hell. Calvin says that the souls of the guilty are harassed by a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God and be broken by the weight of His hand and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolt of God.
Incase you don’t like this description, listen to Ignatius Loyola, “Let us fancy we see hell, and imagine what is worst to behold… a horrible carn full of black flames, sulphur, devils, dragons, fire, swords, arrows, and innumerable damned who roar in despair. Imagine all the worst you can, and then say, ‘All that is nothing compared to hell.'”
Jonathan Edwards says, “Here on earth, all judges have a mixture of mercy, but the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wicked without mixture. Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven and that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, all the while full of quick sense. Oh, then how would your heart sink if you knew that after millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end than it ever was.”
About the only redeeming feature of the comments of some of the writers is that they think that those in heaven will be happy about seeing the damned suffer. listen to St. Thomas Aquinas, “The saints may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly, and give more abundant thanks to God, for a perfect sight of the punishment of the damned is granted to them.” Martin Luther was asked whether the blessed would not be saddened by seeing their nearest and dearest in Hell. He answered, “Not the least in the world.”