Contrary to the popular notion, as the pastor preached on hell, instead of pushing me away, he drew me into the grace of God. As I sat there, the preacher was scriptural, somber, and approached the subject with a reverence that made us all sit up and pay attention. I was at one of the lowest places I had ever been spiritually, and even before I walked into the building, the heavy hand of God was already on me. My life had wandered off course spiritually, and I had come to sit under the preaching of the word because I needed God to be the lifter of my head, and the sermon topic presented that day was eternal punishment.
Little did I know, that topic was exactly what I needed to hear. It is all too common for preachers to avoid the issue of hell, and those who do, do not know the disservice they are doing to the convicted sinner sitting in their midst.
As I sat there with the guilt of my sinfulness nearly crushing me, I knew what I deserved. If the preacher had stood and proclaimed a watered-down version of the wrath of God, it would not have comforted me. Had he brushed off the idea of hell by highlighting the love of God, I would have had only two options. Either this man is a false teacher, or God is unjust for not properly punishing sin.
The Holy Spirit had shown me the darkness of my soul, and the everlasting torment proclaimed by the pastor was the only proper response of a just God. I had sinned against him, and when a finite creature sins against an infinite God, only an infinite punishment will suffice.
With a calm but almost trembling voice, the pastor reminded us that hell is not a place where we are handed over to Satan and the demons so they can do their dirty work. They will be there too. The Lake of Fire is a place where God pours out his wrath. It is his work. Hell is the justice of God against sinners.
I was humbled further as the preacher presented Christ as our substitute. Jesus went to the cross to bear the wrath of God I deserved; to satisfy the wrath of God for all who place their faith in him. If the man of God had diminished eternal punishment, not only would it have violated scripture and not resonated with the conviction in my soul, it would have diminished the cross as well.
Weak preaching on the wrath of God equals weak preaching on the on the cross of Christ, and weak preaching of the cross leaves the convicted sinner wondering if he can find salvation. I walked out of that gathering with joy in my heart. God had lifted my head through his word. I knew what my sins deserved, and what I deserved found its answer in Jesus.
There was one other benefit the preaching of hell had on me that day. When I walked into the church, I was so low I wondered if I would ever be able to look another human directly in the eye again. However, as the word of God washed over me, I was reminded I am not alone in my condition. It is not as if I deserve hell, and everyone around me deserves heaven. Sin has condemned us all. Instead of being judged by the Christian men and women around me, I realized I was surrounded by people just like me. They were people who deserve God’s wrath but found forgiveness in Jesus: including the preacher standing before me. He was not there to judge me; he was there to point me to the Savior. The same Savior who saved his soul from sin and the hell he deserves. I found brothers and sisters who I could look in the eye because they understood me, and they could find a companion in me as well.
Pastor, with compassion in your voice, preach on hell with all your heart. Let the people know the deepest depths of God’s wrath so they can understand the highest heights of his mercy. It is what convicted sinners need to hear. It is the answer to their most significant problem, and when they find peace with God, welcome them to the family. A family of formerly hell-bound sinners who have been snatched from the flames by our good and gracious king, Jesus Christ.