Posted by: Andrew Webb | April 25, 2013

W.G.T. Shedd on the Importance of Preaching and Teaching on the Reality of Hell

Preaching that dwells on or even mentions the reality of hell and eternal punishment has fallen into disfavor these days, but in his The Doctine of Endless Punishment, Reformed Theologian W.G.T. Shedd pointed out why we must continue to preach on hell regardless of public opinion. Among them we list these three reasons:

W._G._T._Shedd

1) Just as a ship will not steer clear of rocks that are not marked on a map or warned against with a lighthouse, men will not be zealous to avoid a danger they do not know exists, W.G.T. Shedd therefore counseled, “The kindest way, therefore, for both the preacher and the hearer is, to follow the revealed word of God, and teach the plain and exact truth. Eternal perdition is like any other danger. In order to escape danger, one must believe in it. Disbelief of it is sure destruction. To be forewarned, is to be forearmed. They who foresee an evil, prepare for it and avoid it; but “the simple pass on and are punished.” Speaking generally, those who believe that there is a hell, and intelligently fear it, as they are commanded to do by Christ himself, will escape it; and those who deny that there is a hell, and ridicule it, will fall into it. Hence the minister of Christ must be as plain as Christ, as solemn as Christ, and as tender as Christ, in the announcement of this fearful truth. When he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41,42).”

2) When we neglect the preaching of hell, we inevitably begin to fall over into universalism (the belief that all men are saved and go to heaven), and many “post-evangelical” theologians and pastors like Rob Bell who preach and teach that hell as it is conceived of in the bible doesn’t exist have become de facto universalists. The ultimate  outcome of this kind of preaching isn’t just a rejection of the importance of damnation, but of salvation as well. Again Shedd warns: “The rejection of the doctrine of Endless Punishment cuts the ground from under the gospel Salvation supposes a prior damnation. He who denies that he deserves eternal death cannot be saved from it so long as he persists in his denial. If his denial is the truth, he needs no salvation. If his denial is an error, the error prevents penitence for sin, and this prevents pardon No error, consequently, is more fatal than that of Universalism. It blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune, instead of guilt; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the peculiar work of Christ into moral influence; and makes it a debt due to man, instead of an unmerited boon from God. No tenet is more radical and revolutionizing, in its influence upon the Christian system. The attempt to retain the evangelical theology in connection with it is futile.”

 3) Finally, the most important reason we need to preach on Hell and warn men about it is the fact that CHRIST did so, and with an urgency we can seldom duplicate: “Christ could not have warned men so frequently and earnestly as he did against “the fire that never shall be quenched,” and “the worm that dieth not,” had he known that there is no future peril fully corresponding to them. That omniscient Being who made the statements respecting the day of judgment, and the final sentence, that are recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, could neither have believed nor expected that all men without exception will eventually be holy and happy. To threaten with “everlasting punishment” a class of persons described as “goats upon the left hand” of the Eternal Judge, while knowing at the same time that this class would ultimately have the same holiness and happiness with those described as “sheep upon the right hand” of the judge, would have been both falsehood and folly. The threatening would have been false. For even a long punishment in the future world would not have justified Christ in teaching that this class of mankind are to experience the same retribution with “the devil and his angels;” for these were understood by the Jews, to whom he spoke, to be hopelessly and eternally lost spirits.1 And the threatening would have been foolish, because it would have been a brutum fulmen, an exaggerated danger, certainly in the mind of its author. And for the persons threatened, it would have been a terror only because they took a different view of it from what its author did—they believing it to be true, and he knowing it to be false!”

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