“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of God upon earth.” – John Wesley
A friend once asked me, “What’s Judgment Day?” If sinners are not aware of the Day in which they will give an account of their lives to God, they will not see a need to heed God’s command to repent: “[God] commands all men everywhere to repent: because he has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30,31).
Imagine a town in the Old West in which there is no justice. Its citizens are robbed, raped, and murdered. The townspeople meet and decide to bring to town a famous marshal who has the reputation of bringing justice wherever he goes. All the good citizens would rejoice to see the guilty brought to justice.
During the 1990s in the U.S., there were 200,000 murders. Amazingly, half of those murders were unsolved. That means 100,000 murderers were never brought to justice. Therefore, 100,000 people were shot, stabbed, strangled, pushed off buildings, bludgeoned to death, etc., and no one was punished for the crimes. Humanity may be unable to right such terrible injustice, but God isn’t. He will ensure that every murderer gets his just dessert. On the Day of Judgment, all murderers, as well as rapists, thieves, liars, adulterers, fornicators, etc., will finally be brought to justice.
Judgment Day is the climax of the ages. It is a day that the whole of creation eagerly awaits, an event for which the very ground cries out. It has done so from the blood of Abel and will continue to the last injustice of this age. God loves justice—and He will have it:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth (Psalm 96:11–13, emphasis added).
Don’t be concerned that, by referring to the Judgment, you are causing sinners to fear. They have sinned against God and His wrath abides on them. In fact, the Bible calls them “children of wrath.” Shouldn’t they then fear Him? Look at these words from Isaac Watts:
I never knew but one person in the whole course of my ministry who acknowledged that the first motions of religion in his own heart arose from a sense of the goodness of God, “What shall I render to the Lord, who has dealt so bountifully with me?” But I think all besides who have come within my notice have rather been first awakened to fly from the wrath to come by the passion of fear.
The Day of Judgment is the reason men are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30,31). If we don’t preach that God will judge the world in righteousness, we shouldn’t be surprised that men and women are passive about responding to the Savior. If we tell them that they need only believe, then neither should we be surprised when the church fills up with false converts who believe but don’t even have enough fear of God to obey.
Therefore, we must remember that it isn’t enough to preach the Moral Law. It must be preached in conjunction with future punishment. It has been well said that Law without consequence is nothing but good advice. We must instead preach that those who commit adultery, those who lie and steal, etc., will be punished on the Day of Wrath. It is the preaching of future punishment that produces fear, and it is through the fear of the Lord that men depart from sin (Proverbs 16:6). The Bible tells us that “the Law works wrath” (Romans 4:15). Martin Luther stated, “The proper effect of the Law is to lead us out of our tents and tabernacles, that is to say, from the quietness and security wherein we dwell, and from trusting in ourselves, and to bring us before the presence of God, to reveal his wrath to us, and to set us before our sins.”
No man will let go of his darling sins unless he sees a reason to. Hell is a good reason. However, it is difficult for any Christian to preach judgment and the reality of hell without using the Law. Imagine if the police burst into your home, arrested you, and angrily said, “You are going away for a long time!” Such conduct would leave you bewildered and angry. What they have done seems unreasonable.
However, imagine if the law burst into your home and instead told you specifically what you had done wrong: “We have discovered 10,000 marijuana plants growing in your back yard. You are going away for a long time!” You would then understand why you are in trouble. Knowledge of the law you have transgressed furnishes you with that understanding. It makes judgment reasonable.
Hell-fire preaching without the use of the Law to show sinners why God is angry with them will more than likely leave them bewildered and angry—for what they consider unreasonable punishment. A sinner cannot conceive of the thought that God would send anyone to hell, as long as he is deceived into thinking that God’s standard of righteousness is the same as his. R. C. Sproul rightly said, “There’s probably no concept in theology more repugnant to modern America than the idea of divine wrath.” This is because America has been left in the dark about the spiritual nature of God’s Law, and therefore has no understanding of God’s absolute and uncompromising holiness.
However, when we use the Law lawfully, it appeals to the “reason” of sinners. Paul reasoned with Felix about his sins and the judgment to come so that the governor “trembled” (Acts 24:25). He suddenly understood that he was a guilty sinner in the sight of a holy God, and hell became reasonable. No doubt the “righteousness” Paul spoke of was the righteousness which is of the Law, with the result that the fear of God fell upon the heart of his hearer.
Therefore, never underestimate the power of reasoning with a sinner (using the Law) about the reality of hell. Learn how to give extreme scenarios that stretch him into a moral dilemma. Say, “Imagine if someone raped your mother or sister, then strangled her to death. Do you think God should punish him?” If the person is reasonable, he will say, “Yes, of course. That makes sense.” Then ask, “Do you think He should punish thieves?” Then follow with liars, etc. Tell him that God is perfect, holy, just, and righteous, and that His “prison” is a place called “hell.”
Always take the sinner back to his personal sins. Remember to speak to his conscience: “You know right from wrong. God gave you a conscience.” Some people believe in a temporary hell (purgatory), or in “annihilation” (that the soul ceases to exist after death). The Bible, however, speaks of conscious, eternal punishment. If he thinks that is harsh, tell him that it is. If we think eternal punishment is horrific, what should we do about it—shake our fists at God? When such foolish thoughts enter our minds, we must go to the foot of the cross and meditate on the great love God had for us—that He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Then we must turn any horror into concern, and plead with sinners to flee from the wrath to come.
Charles Spurgeon said,
“God [has] appointed a day in which He will judge the world, and we sigh and cry until it shall end the reign of wickedness, and give rest to the oppressed. Brethren, we must preach the coming of the Lord, and preach it somewhat more than we have done, because it is the driving power of the gospel. Too many have kept back these truths, and thus the bone has been taken out of the arm of the gospel. Its point has been broken; its edge has been blunted. The doctrine of judgment to come is the power by which men are to be aroused. There is another life; the Lord will come a second time; judgment will arrive; the wrath of God will be revealed. Where this is not preached, I am bold to say the gospel is not preached.
“It is absolutely necessary to the preaching of the gospel of Christ that men be warned as to what will happen if they continue in their sins. Ho, ho sir surgeon, you are too delicate to tell the man that he is ill! You hope to heal the sick without their knowing it. You therefore flatter them; and what happens? They laugh at you; they dance upon their own graves. At last they die! Your delicacy is cruelty; your flatteries are poisons; you are a murderer. Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumbers 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.”