Part 8 in a series
We’ve been looking at the writings of Richard Baxter (1615-1691), particularly his “Directions for Hating Sin.” If you haven’t been with us all along, please look at the earlier entries. If you only have time to look at one of them, I would suggest Part 1, because it explains why we should hate sin. In today’s sin-worshiping world, that may not be as obvious as it should be.
We’ve reached “Direction 8,” and I’ve got to warn you…it is not politically correct. Hell is not a welcome topic in most circles these days. Yet I have to talk about it…because where Hell is not a welcome topic, God Himself is not welcome.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that Hell should be something we talk about with great joy, or with callousness for the damned. What I am saying is that the truth of Hell can only be rejected at the cost of rejecting God Himself.
Hell is not based on evil. It was not born in the mind of Satan. Hell is an offshoot of holiness, born in the mind of a God who cannot wink at evil and must dispense justice. So if we reject the doctrine of Hell, we reject the very holiness of God.
Does that offend you? It wouldn’t, if you could glimpse for a moment the holiness of God and the vileness of sin. But our own depraved natures don’t allow us to see these things. And so we must remember that God has told us the truth about what sin deserves, and His judgments are perfect. Since He has declared that Hell is the just penalty for sin, we must grapple with that fact if we wish to understand, at least a little bit, how detestable sin is.
But we have to be careful here. There is no benefit in using Hell as a simple scare tactic to make people avoid sin. The goal is to hate sin, not just avoid it while still longing for it. And that’s what I appreciate so much about Baxter’s words on this subject. He doesn’t bludgeon you with the doctrine of Hell, but rather points out what Hell teaches us about sin itself.
Think about it this way. In a recent case in Oklahoma, a man who raped a 4-year-old girl was given only a one-year sentence because of a plea deal. The public is outraged, and rightly so. The punishment should reflect the seriousness of the crime. And any society which lightly punishes child rape sends a message that child rape really isn’t such a terrible thing.
Yes, the punishment should fit the crime, not only because justice should be done to the perpetrator, but because justice vindicates the worth of the law that was broken, and expresses the value that we place on the victim. The innocence of a 4-year-old girl is priceless! We know that! And so every decent person is outraged at such a light sentence.
In the same way, Hell is not arbitrary. It is God’s declaration of how horrible sin is and what it deserves. And it is His declaration of how Holy He is and what His Holiness is worth. His holiness and glory are priceless! The problem is, we don’t know that. Even the most godly among us don’t know it as well as they should. And so our sinful hearts need to look at Hell and what it teaches us, if we are to have a proper view of sin and of God Himself. And so Baxter says:
Look but to the state and torment of the damned, and think well of the difference betwixt angels and devils, and you may know what sin is. Angels are pure; devils are polluted: holiness and sin do make the difference. Sin dwells in hell, and holiness in heaven. Remember that every temptation is from the devil, to make you like himself; as every holy motion is from Christ, to make you like himself. Remember when you sin, that you are learning and imitating of the devil, and are so far like him, (John 8:44). And the end of all is, that you may feel his pains. If hell-fire be not good, then sin is not good.
Yes, the threat of punishment is there, as it must be. But if that is all you see, then you’re not yet hating sin. You only hate its punishment. Read this quote again, or better yet, read your Bible with a prayerful heart, asking God to open your eyes to the preciousness of His holiness and the vileness of your sin. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you will not know true joy in salvation until you comprehend a little of what you’re saved from…not just being saved from Hell, but being saved from the kind of sin-soaked heart that deserves Hell! Because the Good News is NOT just salvation from Hell, but salvation from sin! It is the gift of a new heart that grows in purity (2 Co 3:17-18), in love for God and for others (Deut 30:6, Matt 22:37-40), and in hatred of the sin that still clings to it (Eph. 5:1-12).
What greater gift could He give?
For those of you who want to think more deeply about this subject, I recommend a short blog entry by Tim Challies, which you can find here. In that entry I read a quote which struck me powerfully. I’ll share it here in the hopes that it will touch others in the same way. It’s a quote of someone named Ligon Duncan.
So often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. Let me, however, say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator.
Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Chew on that one for a while, and bless the precious Mediator who enables us to stand faultless before His holy presence with great joy! (Jude 1:24-25)