March 13, 2015

Meditating on the Miseries of the Damned

by Mike Riccardi

WhitefieldThis week, I came across a remarkable sermon from George Whitefield, entitled, “The Eternity of Hell-Torments,” which he preached in London in 1738. When the reality of the fate of those who perish in this life without Christ is again pressed upon one’s conscience, it always seems like a burden too great to bear. But, as Whitefield would say in the sermon, “If the bare mentioning the torments of the damned is so shocking, how terrible must the enduring of them be!” Truly this is the most solemn of subjects. But we as Christians — as preachers of the Gospel of Christ — we must give our minds and hearts to the biblical teaching of the unbeliever’s fate. And Whitefield has done us an excellent service. You can read the sermon in full here, but I wanted to highlight his conclusion today on Cripplegate.

As a preacher, it was instructive for me to observe the way Whitefield pled with his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. He was not content to simply parrot out a few stock phrases that summarized the content of the Gospel, and give an “invitation.” No, he reasoned with his hearers. He considered what objections their sinful hearts may have concocted in their own spirits as they were listening, and he did his best to respond to those objections. He loved these people enough to get inside their heads, to trace out the probable outworkings of their unregenerate affections, and to leave them no room to think or feel the way they had been when they came in. This is the kind of penetrating, heart-searching application I aim for in my own preaching — not because my hope is to be like Whitefield for his sake, but because my hope is to love my people the way Whitefield loved his, and the way Christ loved His. This is the way that I want to preach the Gospel in my sermons.

But beyond observing a good homiletical example, this sermon penetrated my own heart, just as a fellow-sinner in need of the grace of God, and as a Christian who proposes to be in the ministry of rescuing souls from hell through the preaching of the Gospel. To be reminded of the eternal torments of hell is, in the true sense of the word, awful. But it is so necessary, in order to shake my soul from the complacency wherein I am too often found. I don’t want the miseries of hell; I want the joys of seeing and loving Christ in heaven! Sermons like this — and Gospel-appeals like this — urge me to renew my resolve to fight sin in my life, “lest,” in the words of the great apostle, “that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor 9:27). And I don’t want the miseries of hell for those whom God has providentially placed in my path, either. Sermons like this urge me to renew my resolve to be intentional in proclaiming the Gospel to the people around me, lest I fail to be a God-glorifying watchman (cf. Ezek 3:17-21). I pray you’re benefited by Whitefield.

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You have heard, brethren, the eternity of hell-torments plainly proved, from the express declarations of holy scriptures, and consequences naturally drawn from them. And now there seems to need no great art of rhetoric to persuade any understanding person to avoid and abhor those sins, which without repentance will certainly plunge him into this eternal gulf. The disproportion between the pleasure and the pain (if there be any pleasure in sin) is so infinitely great, that supposing it was only possible, though not certain, that the wicked would be everlastingly punished, no one that has the reason of a man, for the enjoying a little momentary pleasure, would, one might imagine, run the hazard of enduring eternal pain.Whitefield preaching But since the torments of the damned are not only possible, but certain (since God himself, who cannot lie, has told us so) for men, notwithstanding, to persist in their disobedience, and then flatter themselves, that God will not make good his threatenings, is a most egregious instance of folly and presumption.

Dives himself supposed, that if one rose from the dead, his brethren would amend their lives, but Christians, it seems, will not repent, though the Son of God died and rose again, and told them what they must expect, if they continue obstinate in evil-doing.

Would we now and then draw off our thoughts from sensible objects, and by faith meditate a while on the miseries of the damned, I doubt not but we should, as it were, hear many an unhappy soul venting his fruitless sorrows, in some such piteous moans as these.

“O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!” O foolish mortal that I was, thus to bring myself into these never-ceasing tortures, for the transitory enjoyment of a few short-lived pleasures, which scarcely afforded me any satisfaction, even when I most indulged myself in them. Alas! Are these the wages, these the effects of sin? O damned apostate! First to delude me with pretended promises of happiness, and after several years drudgery in his service, thus to involve me in eternal woe. O that I had never hearkened to his beguiling insinuations! O that I had rejected his very first suggestions with the utmost detestation and abhorrence! O that I had taken up my cross and followed Christ! O that I had never ridiculed serious godliness; and out of a false politeness, condemned the truly pious as too severe, enthusiastic, or superstitious! For I then had been happy indeed, happy beyond expression, happy to all eternity, yonder in those blessed regions where they fit, clothed with unspeakable glory, and chanting forth their seraphic hallelujahs to the Lamb that sitteth upon the throne for ever. But, alas! These reflections come now too late; these wishes now are vain and fruitless. I have not suffered, and therefore must not reign with them. I have in effect denied the Lord that bought me, and therefore justly am I now denied by him. But must I live for ever tormented in these flames? Must this body of mine, which not long since lay in state, was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, must it be here eternally confined, and made the mockery of insulting devils? O eternity! That thought fills me with despair: I must be miserable for ever.”

White as SnowCome then, all ye self-deluding, self-deluded sinners, and imagine yourselves for once in the place of that truly wretched man I have been here describing. Think, I beseech you by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, think with yourselves, how racking, how unsupportable the never-dying worm of a self-condemning conscience will hereafter be to you. Think how impossible it will be for you to dwell with everlasting burnings.

Come, all ye Christians of a lukewarm, Laodicean spirit, ye Gallie’s in religion, who care a little, but not enough for the things of God; O think, think with yourselves, how deplorable it will be to lose the enjoyment of heaven, and run into endless torments, merely because you will be content to be almost, and will not strive to be altogether Christians. Consider, I beseech you consider, how you will rave and curse that fatal stupidity which made you believe any thing less than true faith in Jesus, productive of a life of strict piety, self-denial, and mortification, can keep you from those torments, the eternity of which I have been endeavoring to prove.

But I can no more. These thoughts are too melancholy for me to dwell on, as well as for you to hear; and God knows, as punishing is his strange work, so denouncing his threatenings is mine. But if the bare mentioning the torments of the damned is so shocking, how terrible must the enduring of them be!

And now, are not some of you ready to cry out, “These are hard sayings, who can bear them?”

But let not sincere Christians be in the least terrified at what has been delivered: No, for you is reserved a crown, a kingdom, an eternal and exceeding weight of glory. Christ never said that the righteous, the believing, the upright, the sincere, but the wicked, merciless, negatively good professors before described, shall go into everlasting punishment. For you, who love him in sincerity, a new and living way is laid open into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus Christ: and an abundant entrance will be administered unto you, at the great day of account, into eternal life. Take heed, therefore, and beware that there be not in any of you a root of bitterness springing up of unbelief: but on the contrary, steadfastly and heartily rely on the many precious promises reached out to you in the gospel, knowing that he who hath promised is faithful, and therefore will perform.

But let no obstinately wicked professors dare to apply any of the divine promises to themselves: “For it is not meet to take the children’s meat and give it unto dogs:” No, to such the terrors of the Lord only belong. And as certainly as Christ will say to his true followers, “Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world;” so he will unalterably pronounce this dreadful sentence against all that die in their sins, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

From which unhappy state, may God of his infinite mercy deliver us all through Jesus Christ; to whom, with thee O Father, and thee O Holy Ghost, three Persons and one eternal God, be ascribed, as is most due, all honor, power, might, majesty, and dominion, now and for ever more.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Mike, could you explain what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 6:1,2 when he said the saints would judge the world and the angels? This verse has always troubled me in light of the unbelievers outcome and how I can’t imagine not pleading for everyone to be spared.

    • With regard to the judgment of the world, Paul is telling the believers that they will one day rule over the nations with Christ in the millennial kingdom (Rev 3:21; Dan 7:22; cf. Rev 2:26-27). With that future, how can they fail to settle matters between themselves now?

      With regard to judging angels, it’s a bit more unclear. You’d think that these were the fallen angels, because how could we judge the holy angels, right? Except that God Himself is said to judge the fallen angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 1:6). It may be that the saints, as Christ’s co-regents, somehow participate in this judgment. Or, it may be that the notion of “judging” has less to do with condemnation than it does with ruling over people, similar to the way the judges governed Israel. It that sense, it may be that believers — as co-regents with Christ in His kingdom, ruling over the nations — may simply have the holy angels at our disposal just as they are at Christ’s disposal. Paul could be saying: “If you’re going to be in charge of commanding angels, can’t you settle this dispute among yourselves?”

      Nevertheless, there will come a day where God, in His infinite wisdom and justice, will decide that the day of mercy has passed, and that it is the rightful time to judge the world and bring upon it its deserved condemnation. Because God does all He does for His glory, to manifest the perfections of His nature, and because judgment upon sin manifests the perfections of His holiness, wrath, justice, and goodness (i.e., hatred of sin), believers will acknowledge the justice of God’s punishment of the wicked, and even worship Him for it (Rev 16:5-7; cf. 14:9-11). When we’re glorified and can see the purpose of God from beginning to end in a similar manner as He sees it, we’ll have His perspective on the judgment of those who reject Christ.

      I hope that helps a little.

      • James Brooks

        Mike
        Great answer brother, insightful. God bless.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Yes Mike, that was very helpful. Thank you!

  • Ted Bigelow

    Wow. Double Wow. So much to be learned here. Thanks.

  • Robert Sakovich

    Great points about reasoning and working through objections that may arise. Isn’t this what Paul did in Romans (and on Mars Hill)? I would think that it is easy to see that God gave us logic and the ability to reason in order that He might communicate such universal truths to us. It is a wonderful blessing that we actually get the chance to be the means through which He communicates these truths.

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