Christopher Love on the Terrors of Hell (1)
January 13, 2017
In the next three posts on the heavenly man, Christopher Love, I want to open up (the first of three parts) his meditations on hell from Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In light of his ten sermons concerning saints in heaven (see this post), Love treats “the tormented condition of the damned in Hell” for seven sermons. In the first of the three, we will consider the justification for addressing the topic at all. In the next post we will consider vital questions that Love asks and answers in his sermons. Finally, in the third post, we will consider the controversial topic of Jesus’ descent into hell.
The Puritans on Hell
As was the case for the glories of heaven, the Puritans did much to stir up the terror of hell wanting people to run from it to heaven. So, they consciously set forth a Christ-centered hell-fire tradition within which Love’s own preaching found itself.
John Bunyan emerges as a representative of such preaching and writing. In A Few Sighs from Hell (1658), he treats the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. While this passage is a parable, Bunyan claims that it pushes us hard to think on heaven and hell, getting to the former while fleeing the latter.
Satan would keep from us from this vital topic, notes Bunyan, settled in sin with “no fear of death, and judgment to come.” Discussing the rich man’s raised eyes from hell (Luke 16:23), he observes, “there is a hell for souls to be tormented in when this life is ended.” Even in his time, people made a “mock” of hell-fire preachers. Such people, he warns, will “find such an hell after this life is ended,” with no way out forever. As Bunyan could testify from his own experience (e.g. related in Grace Abounding), he wants us to dwell on the reality of hell as a catalyst “to seek the Lord Jesus Christ,” rather than “slight it, and make a mock at it.”
In Love’s seven sermons on hell, he seeks to “startle” those not unmoved by the glories of heaven. Thus, he wants to awaken “drowsie consciences.” Thoughts of eternal torment should, he argues, create “an awful fear of God” in our hearts, “startle” us from false security, eradicate fabricated hopes of glory, and turn us away from indulging in sin.
The series launches from 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Most importantly, they open up Matthew 10:28, “But rather fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul in Hell.” In this passage, Christ makes clear that the infliction of earthly suffering by men remains limited, even if they can kill us. So, we do not need to fear men. Rather, we should fear God who “can kill both body and soul.” This death does not denote annihilation but a “continual tormenting of body and soul for all eternity” (see Luke 12:5).
The Legitimacy of Preaching Hell
Even in Love’s time, some opposed hell-fire preaching, for “this is not to preach the Gospel, but the Law.” In such convictions, Love sees the scheme of the devil, who does all he can to stop such preaching, wanting to “nuzzle” people to feel safe living in sin. You see, hyper-grace antinomian theology is not unique to the 21st century! He defends hell preachers from the charge of legalism by pointing to Jesus, the gospel preacher. He spoke on hell more than anyone else in the Bible. Also, why does the New Testament of grace address hell much more than the Old Testament? Love boldly claims that “Sermons of terror have done more good upon unconverted souls, than Sermons of comfort have ever done.” We fail to preach the whole counsel of God if we “run only upon strains of free grace.”
Love says that the following types of people need to hear sermons on hell: Unbelievers who actively resist Christians, those under the means of grace but are no better for it, great professors of faith without lives to support such, those influencing others to sin by wicked example, unrepentant adulterers, hypocrites using religion to commit heinous sins, and the unrepentant who reject a longsuffering God. Some of the sins Love hopes to restrain by hell preaching include lust, gluttony, pride, covetousness, and the fear of man.
He could be more Christ and gospel-centered in his reflections, but his burden for hell-fire preaching, needs to be reclaimed in the church today, where speaking openly on hell remains unpopular often due to the fear of offending men. Instead, may remember to fear God and preach hell, since he can put us there for ignoring it.