I want you to get a clear view of the wrath of God that threatens your own children, friends, neighbors, and kinsfolk unless they are saved. If you could get into your heart as well as into your creed the sincere belief that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17), if you could recollect that for anyone who rejects Christ there remains nothing but “a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27), if your soul could be made to melt for heaviness because of the woes of lost spirits—past all recall, beyond all hope or all dream of alleviation—surely you would become awfully earnest about souls
– Charles Spurgeon
When I first started pastoring, I believed Easter and Christmas Eve were the days to reach unbelievers. It took me some time to learn that these are actually the days to reach people who think they are believers.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.
2 Corinthians 5:11
The preacher walked up to the pulpit. This Sunday morning, he was a guest speaker in this church in Connecticut. Their flock had been described as “thoughtless and vain; lacking a great passion for the things of God.” The audience gave the preacher barely more than polite attention as he approached the platform. He wasn’t, after all, their pastor.
The preacher spread his notes out on the lectern. He would often write out his sermons word for word and then read them. He might go a little off-script if the Spirit prompted him, but in general he stayed with his notes.
That morning, he would not finish his sermon.
He read from Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand and the things that shall come upon them make haste,” then launched into his message…
“Some make gods of their pleasures; some choose mammon for their god; some make gods of their own supposed excellencies, or the outward advantages they have above their neighbors: some choose one thing for their god, and others another. But men can be happy in no other God but the God of Israel: he is the only fountain of happiness. The foolish children of men do miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in their confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.
Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. As he that walks in slippery places is… liable to fall, he can’t foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once, without warning.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: ’tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell; you hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…
Consider this, you that are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies that he will inflict wrath without any pity… you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel but only to be filled full of wrath… It would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons that now sit here in… this meeting-house in health, and quiet and secure, should be there before to-morrow morning… so that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is!
Therefore, let anyone who does not now know Christ awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let everyone fly out of Sodom!! Run for your lives! Don’t look back! Escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed!”
As the preacher read, many began to weep and sob. Some cried out and asked him what they needed to do to be saved. The preacher stopped his message, and he and the host church’s pastors made their way into the crowd to pray with them.
Many came to Christ that day.
It was July 8, 1741. Jonathan Edwards gave what is referred to as his “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” message at the First Church of Christ in Enfield, Connecticut during the First Great Awakening, a series of revivals that swept England and the 13 colonies in North America.
Only the presence of God descending on a church could have caused those parishioners to cry out for mercy. The Lord used a razor-sharp message with the warnings of an eternity in torment to bring unsaved Christians to Christ, many who had spent years, even decades in church.
In his book The Unsaved Christian, Dean Inserra shares of the time immediately after he graduated seminary. A friend of Dean’s was moving to Northern California to join a church, while Dean was going to Tennessee to minister there. Knowing that California had been secularized, Dean wrote, “Great, my friend is going on mission, I’m headed to the Bible belt.” When Dean shared his disappointment with his friend, his reply stunned Dean:
“Whatever… the Bible Belt is the most difficult place in America to pastor a local church.” Dean writes, “I was stunned, he must have sensed my confusion because he explained further. As he did, I had a serious epiphany. I believe the Lord knew what I needed to hear in that moment, and it changed my perspective forever on my role as a pastor in the part of the country where I live and minister.” “In California,” Matt said, “there is rarely confusion. Either you’re a Christian or you’re not. In the Bible Belt, many people think they’re Christians but have no concept of the severity of sin, necessity of repentance, message of grace, or the overall message of the gospel. They think they’re just fine with God and God is fine with them because they aren’t atheists and have been to church before as a kid. It’s almost like you have to help them get lost so they can actually be saved. They believe in God, but do not believe their sin has done anything to separate them from Him or caused them to need the Jesus they claim to believe in.”
120 years ago, Amy Carmichael wrote:
I have told you how much we need your help for the work among the heathen; but often we feel we need it almost as much for the work among the Christians. Over and over again it is told, but still it is hardly understood, that the Christians need to be converted; that the vast majority are not converted; that statistics may mislead, and do not stand for Eternity work; that many a pastor, catechist, teacher, has a name to live, but is dead; that the church is very dead as a whole—thank God for every exception.
Surveys shows that around 50% of Americans have prayed the sinner’s prayer and believe they’re on their way to Heaven. Yet surveys from Barna Group and others continue to surface that show 7% of Americans have views that line up with the Bible on the inerrancy of Scripture, salvation, repentance, sexual sin, and other issues.
My friends, we must evangelize the church. If there were many unsaved Christians in the 1700s and in Amy Carmichael’s time in the early 1900s, there are even more in a day where the Church of Nice has put people to sleep and many are leaving the faith. Just this week a friend told me the pastor at the church he attends spent 90% of his time from the pulpit referencing a movie. That’s not going to inspire anyone to “take up their cross and die daily” (Luke 9:23) or live a life that counts for eternity.
If your heart was lukewarm, wouldn’t you want to be warned before Jesus ejected you? (Revelations 3:16). If your heart was hard and you were playing with sin, wouldn’t you want to be warned that you were on a dangerous path? And especially, if you were an unsaved Christian like those that Jonathan Edwards spoke to in 1741, wouldn’t you want to be warned of an eternal destiny apart from Christ in clear terms? Or would you prefer to wait until it was too late and you slipped into eternity?
In our ministry to the sexually broken, one of the tragedies we see is believers who justify, hold onto, and chase their sin without regret, especially, men in bondage to porn. They need to be warned that they’re treading dangerous ground. Not only are they destroying their marriage and family, but I wouldn’t want to step into eternity in a state where I was chasing sin, especially not the ghost of pornography.
Jesus’s first recorded sermon, found in Matthew 5-7, is known as the Sermon on the Mount. While the beatitudes get the most attention, Jesus warned His listeners about hell and an eternity apart from him seven times during that first message.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
(Note that he exhorts his audience twice in verses 29-30 to take a no compromise approach to sin, with terrifying consequences for those who don’t).
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
His warnings didn’t stop there, this is just example one of many times we see Jesus discussing hell in the gospels:
But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
How many sermons have you heard where the pastor mentioned hell seven times and warned his flock as Jesus did? Or even once? How often do we hear of the severity of sin and that Jesus demands that we cut it off, with serious consequences if we don’t? How often does the modern church talk about any kind of sin with more than a passing glance, let alone the sexual sin that is so rampant? If Jesus warned about hell so often, why do we avoid it? It’s horrific and terrifying to think of an eternity in darkness with no second chances, no way out. Why aren’t we warning people?
Suddenly, every church service becomes critical. Purity, holiness, equipping people to be overcomers and challenging them not to waste their lives is essential, critical. Jesus shows us the consequences for the rich man who decided to build bigger barns so he could focus on a life of pleasure:
And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Such words just cause fear and trembling in a time when so many are focused on getting all the pleasure and entertainment they can.
God’s heart in His warnings is never to condemn. Look for His heart in the following verses:
And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on urging them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live!”
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Cr 5:20
Some freak out at the idea of talking about hell in church as if it might be a scare tactic, is unloving, or makes the pastor come off as harsh. Is it not infinitely more cruel to avoid warning the unsaved Christians and let them slip into eternal torment, just because the Church of Nice didn’t have the guts to speak the truth in love? If God begged us through Paul to be reconciled to Him, we must do the same!
During the Hebrides Revival in Scotland in the 1950s and the Spirit of God descended on the islands, many were struck with holy fear about their eternal destiny. Some cried out to God in the fields while others ran to churches for salvation. Many came to Christ during that prayer-fueled two year period. You can read the story here: https://theroguechristian.com/the-cottage-of-prayer/
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Our lives are tested by their fruit as God sees it. Jonathan Edwards brought many to Christ through a message of eternal separation from Christ. Jesus warned us many times about the consequences of hell. If we don’t have our eyes on the eternal, if we don’t understand that our lives are fleeting vapors with no guarantee of tomorrow, and if we’re not willing to speak all of the truth for the purpose of equipping God’s people and saving the unsaved Christians, as well as those outside of the church, then it would be best to stop and realign our lives to God’s word and purposes. I fear that many will have blood on their hands for not warning God’s people.
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
Some might say, “Well that was only for Old Testament times.” Today we have the cross of Christ which is of far more value than they what had in the Old Testament era. Since God’s character does not change, (Hebrews 13:8) and we’re to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), do we not have an even greater responsibility to warn those who come to church every Sunday?
Thankfully, by God’s grace, the remedy is at hand. The blood of the cross cleanses us from all sin. Redemption is available for those who are ready to surrender their lives to the Lord and stop playing church. God demands holiness, not perfection, which is impossible for flesh-corrupted men and women. Jesus died for flawed, broken people. He warned us because He loves us, and He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10), not to condemn or destroy.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Where is your heart today? If you’re playing games with sin, are pleasure and entertainment infested, lukewarm, or struggling with a hardened heart, go after God and cut off the stumbling blocks of temptation. Draw near to the cross and confess your sin, and confess your sins to your fellow believers and ask them to pray with you (James 5:16).
Please, perhaps the Lord is making an appeal to you now. As Paul begged you, I do also. Don’t wait another minute. There is no guarantee for tomorrow.
Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumber from which they will awake in hell? Are we to become helpers of their damnation by our smooth speeches? In the name of God, we will not!
– Charles Spurgeon
Note: I condensed Jonathan Edwards’ sermon for this article. His original text is more than 20 pages long.
If you’re hungry for more of the way of the Rogue Christian, see https://theroguechristian.com/.