Eternal Punishment: Chapter 3, General Descriptions of Hell




As I have said before, the place of the punishments of the wicked in the world to come is familiarly known by the name of HELL. Professor Stuart calls it “the world of woe.” Poetically, it has been spoken of as “a universe of death.” Minucius Felix declares that “to its torments there is neither measure nor end;” and Cyprian tells us that “an ever-blazing Gehenna shall burn the damned, and a punishment that shall swallow them up in living flames; nor shall there be any means whence they can ever obtain relief or an end to their torments. Their souls shall, with their bodies, be kept in infinite torments.”

Cyril describes hell as “the land of death, wherein is no life; the realm of darkness, wherein is no light; the gulf of sorrow, wherein is no joy; where the reprobates sigh forever, and still find no ear that is moved by pity to hear.” “Woe to those who shall have their mansions with the devil, because the smoke of their torment shall ascend up forever and ever; whose worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched. Among whom there shall be no noise but groans, no rest but fire, no refreshment but flames, and never any light but darkness.”

Bring back to mind that this book was written in 1879. Nearly 140 years have passed since its publication. The words Dr. Sawyer used are the words of scholarly men of his time and a time before him. The words of the orthodox theologians describe what the orthodoxy of Dr. Sawyer’s day believed about hell. It is striking that the descriptions provided in 1879 fit so perfectly with the orthodoxy today.

The thrust of the orthodoxy regarding eternal conscious torment in 1879 has not been subdued and is not abating. The doctrine is stronger today than it was in 1879. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment will not die.

The place called hell is “the world of woe.” It is a solitary place of death. “The torments…” in that hellish place are without “measure nor end.” Hell is Gehenna’s fire where the bodies of the damned will be kept in eternal torment. The fire of hell cannot be quenched. That was the description in 1879. The description still fits, perhaps even more comfortably.

Augustine contrasts the miseries of hell with the happiness of heaven. As the blessedness of heaven transcends all expression and thought, so “no one can speak or think of the miseries of hell as they are, since they are very far worse than can be conceived.” As heaven is full of light and joy, so “the abyss of hell is full of darkness, discord, and hatred, of burning and thirst and hunger, inextinguishable fire, sadness, perpetual vengeance, and all unspeakable evil, which can neither be expressed nor conceived.

As good abounds in heaven, with no evil, so in the prison of the devil all evil abounds, with no good.”

Augustine is often cited as the man most capable to explain Christian doctrine. From which scripture does he divine unspeakable misery? From where in the Holy Word does Augustine discern “…the abyss of hell is full of darkness, discord, and hatred, of burning and thirst and hunger, inextinguishable fire, sadness, perpetual vengeance, and all unspeakable evil, which can neither be expressed nor conceived.”

Which scripture describes any such place? Which scripture defines the consequences and the misery of unrepentant sinners?

Anselm finds fourteen sources of torment in hell, seven of which pertain to the body and seven to the soul.

Hugo Victorinus assures us that in hell “there is misery, there is darkness, there is no order, there is eternal horror, there is no hope of good, no expectation of shunning all evil.”

Cardinal Hugo says: “Hell is a boundless and bottomless lake, full of incomparable heat, an intolerable stench, and innumerable pains; there is misery; there is darkness; there is eternal horror; there is no hope, no avoiding evil.”

Hell,” says Erasmus Franciscus, “is the abyss of torment; the scene of racks, and pains of eternal, penal justice; the pit of everlasting death; the hall of mourning; the house of ceaseless lamentation of heaven-lost souls; the glowing cage of spiritual lions. And bears, to wit, of devilish-minded men; the burning furnace of burning tares. Hell is an eternal prison, and at the same time a place of eternal execution to the prisoners; a sty of goats and swine; a carrion pit for all those who go thither like brutes, without repentance; it is a place wherein scorpions, snakes, and dragons, to wit, spirits, creep around and look continually on the damned firebrands of hell! It is a wilderness full of fiery serpents, but in which there is no brazen serpent to be lifted up for the healing of those that are bitten.”


These are descriptions of hell. Note these descriptions are provided by learned and respected men. These are men esteemed as orthodox. They all agree hell is immeasurable torment. The punishments meted out in hell are far worse than anything any man could devise. Fire and torment and torture and hopelessness for all time; that is the lot of those who do not believe.

I cannot help but ask how it is the orthodox can rationalize away a God Who is love into a vengeful ogre. These descriptions of hell were written in 1879 and earlier. The descriptions of hell today are not dissimilar.

Matt Slick runs an apologetics website known as CARM. He is well known in Christian apologetics circles because of the work he does on the CARM website. He is, I think, a person with Calvinist persuasions. He writes this about hell: “Hell is a real place. It is not mere unconsciousness. It is not temporal. It is eternal torment.

Mr. Slick does not appear to have much room for change. His modern day description of hell encapsulates neatly the descriptions put to us by theologians hundreds of years ago. I pray that he is open to the Holy Spirit and that one day the Holy Spirit will open his heart to at least consider Ultimate Reconciliation. Read more of what he says about hell.

R. C. Sproul is a primary contributor to Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Sproul is very well known. A cursory view of his website indicates his theological underpinnings are in Calvinism. He uses the term “reformed” in much of his online literature. I cannot say what that means exactly.

I reviewed an article on his website that was written as a response to a questioner from the Internet. “Does the Bible tell us what heaven will be like?”

The article, presumably authored by Dr. Sproul, is well written. The author points us to The Revelation of Jesus Christ (The Revelation) chapters 21 and 22. We are reminded that these chapters describe life with God. A New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. There is no darkness in it as the City is lit by His presence. There is no need for sorrow. Tears will no longer fall from our cheeks. The author closes with this:

But in heaven when God wipes away the tears from people’s eyes, that’s the end of tears—there are no more tears after that. And so heaven is described as a place of utter felicity that is filled with the radiant majesty and glory of God, where God’s people have become sanctified, where justice has been brought to bear, and where his people have been vindicated. There’s no more death, no more disease, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more hatred, and no more evil. And then there is an experience of healing in that place. And that’s just a glimpse, but it’s enough to get us started.

It is hard to square what is said above with other statements from other articles at Dr. Sproul’s website. Dr. Dennis Johnson is a contemporary of Dr. Sproul. Dr. Johnson published an article entitled “The New Heavens and the New Earth.” Dr. Johnson writes this.

Yet Revelation’s visions underscore the crucial importance of the gospel from another—very sobering—perspective. Those whose names are not in the Lamb’s book will be judged by their own actions throughout life. Without the cover of the Lamb’s atoning blood, they will stand exposed to God’s righteous wrath, condemned, and “thrown into the lake of fire,” the second death (20:13-15). Their souls will be reunited with the bodies in which they acted out their rebellion, and in that fiery lake they will experience not only ceaseless physical anguish but also utter deprivation of mental and spiritual relief. Jesus Himself spoke of this dire, eternal doom awaiting rebels, a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48; Isa. 66:24).

Does the prospect of unremitting woe—secured by God’s unflinching justice—strike fear to your heart? It should. Now is the time to trust in the Lamb and His redeeming blood.

Do the delights to come in the new heavens and new earth whet the longings of your heart? They should. Now is the time to trust in the Lamb and His redeeming blood. Right now really does count forever.

Dr. Sproul described heaven as a place where there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more evil. Dr. Johnson described hell as a place where there is nothing but sorrow, tears and evil and a place where torment and a worm never die.

Dr. Johnson seemingly wishes to frighten us into a belief in Christ Jesus. Does God’s wrath which is unending punishment strike fear into your heart? Does the fruit of heaven appeal to your heart?

Dr. Sproul with Dr. Johnson agree hell is a very real place and that their learned studies of scripture prove such a place. To them God’s judgment is eternally tormenting. They will also preach God is love just not for everybody.

Dr. Adrian Rogers is highly respected in America and perhaps the world. He has passed away, but to our good fortune his articles, sermons and related resources are available to us. For example, he was asked by way of a question and answer page, where do the unbelievers go when they die. The question and answer:

What happens to those who die without Jesus?

When a man dies without Jesus Christ as his Savior, his soul goes immediately to hell. He will not be judged at that moment. In Luke 16, Christ gives us a picture of this when He described what happened to the rich man and the beggar man named Lazarus who both died. The rich man went to hell; Lazarus went to heaven.

“And in hell [the rich man] lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:23-24). In this passage, the Greek word for “hell” is different than the word that is translated “lake of fire.” Here, hell is defined more like a jail where the indicted criminal is retained until judgment. The lake of fire is the penitentiary.

At death the unbeliever’s soul is taken to a holding pen called hell. There his soul waits for judgment that will certainly be eternal conscious torment.

Charles Swindoll is Dr. Rogers’ contemporary. Dr. Swindoll has a different view of what happens to those who die without Christ.

Dr. Swindoll provides a graph of the disposition of souls dependent on the time the soul became saved.

What Happens to a Person After Death?

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

At Death Bodily Resurrection Judgment Eternal Destination
Christian Soul—Christ’s Presence


Resurrection at the Rapture Judgment Seat of Christ in Heaven Heaven
Old Testament Believer Soul— Paradise; Abraham’s Bosom


Resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming Judgment on Earth Heaven
Tribulation Believer Soul—Christ’s Presence


Resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming Judgment on Earth Heaven
Unbeliever Soul—Sheol; Hades


Resurrection at the End of the Millennium Judgment at the Great White Throne Hell; Gehenna; Lake of Fire

Looking at Dr. Swindoll’s table there are three judgment times and places. There is a “Judgment on Earth”, a “Judgment Seat of Christ,” and the “Judgment at the Great White Throne.” Only unbelievers suffer eternal conscious torment in Hell; Gehanna; or the Lake of Fire. That includes Old Testament unbelievers which must be a number in the billions. Eternal conscious torment is the fate of unbelievers after Christ’s ascension to heaven which must also be a number in the billions.

If the orthodoxy are right, then we should be ashamed of ourselves. We live in the comfort of knowing our eternal place. We are secure in our belief we are saved from such a judgment. We also live with the knowledge that those who do not believe in Jesus will be tormented eternally. Our comfort is hardly affected by what we know. We go so far to add to our comfort by declaring it is God’s will those people burn forever. He created them for that purpose. You see we don’t need to feel bad because it is not our fault.

The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is repulsive. It is more repulsive seeing that the doctrine is deeply rooted in churches.

Dr. Sawyer saw the problem in the 1870’s. The problem persists with greater influence today.

Among the Protestants these representations were not at all softened down, but, on the contrary, one might almost say that they were made more frightful. Calvin says: “As no description can equal the severity of the divine vengeance on the reprobates, their anguish and torment are figuratively represented to us under corporeal images, as darkness and gnashing of teeth, inextinguishable fire, a worm incessantly gnawing the heart. For there can be no doubt that by such modes of expression the Holy Ghost intended to confound all our faculties with horror.”

Calvin’s theology requires the Holy Spirit of God intend that all His creation be frightened by His divine wrath. There is no need then to express God is love. He is a mixture of love and of hate. The Holy Spirit according to Calvin wants His creation to see and to feel humanly unimaginable torment. According to Calvin the Holy Spirit intends His creation to fear Him even to submission.

Is God hate?

The venerable Christian Stock says that “hell is a place where the damned will be racked and tormented forever.”

Watson, in his Body of Divinity, declares hell to be “the very accent and emphasis of misery. There,” he adds, “is judgment without mercy. Oh, what flames of wrath, what seas of vengeance, what rivers of brimstone, are poured out there upon the heads of the damned!”

The evils of hell are truly evils,” says Jeremy Taylor, “and so purely such that they have no mixture of good in them; in that place of unhappiness all is eternal sorrow and complaint; there is no room for comfort, there shall not be the least good which may give ease; nor shall there want a concourse of all evils which may add affliction: no good is to be found there, where all goods are wanting; neither can there be want of any evil, where all evils whatsoever are to be found; and by the want of all good and

the collection of all evils, every evil is augmented.”

Oh, could we turn aside the veil of the invisible world, and hold the bottomless pit open before you,” says Dr. Watts, “what bitter groans of ghosts would you hear, not only oppressed and agonizing under the wrath of a righteous God, but also under the insults of cruel devils! As there is joy among the angels of heaven when a sinner repents, or when a soul arrives safely at those blessed mansions, so, when a rebellious and obstinate criminal is sent down to hell, you would hear the triumphs of those malicious spirits over him, with the voice of insulting pride and hellish joy.”

The torments of the damned, they are two,” says the Rev. Christopher Love, – that faithful servant of Jesus Christ, minister of Laurence-Jury, London, whose work was printed in that city just two hundred years ago, 1679, – “either privative or positive, either punishments of loss or punishments of sense (as the schoolmen call it); and under these two heads, if a man had the tongues of men and angels, he is not able to unfold the extreme misery of a tormented soul. That I may break out, as the philosopher did, in speaking of hell: If all the land were paper, and all the water in the sea were ink, as many pens as grass upon the ground, and as many writers as sands upon the sea-shore, all would be too little to set forth the torments of hell.”

In their own words the orthodoxy describes hell. You have read them. Esteemed and learned are these men. They are leaders in their church. Their words are taught in seminaries and from the pulpits to this day. These are men who have probably taken the doctrine of endless conscious torment with them to their graves. They were not by their own estimation of themselves sinners not forgiven. Endless conscious torment would conveniently not be their fate. There were others, though, outside their spiritual influence perhaps some inside their own families that were rebellious to death. And to them all the descriptions of hell do apply.

The words these learned men used to describe hell should cause us all to shudder. If we take the orthodoxy’s doctrine of eternal conscious torment as sincere and true how could any Christian find joy? We, truly loving Christians, should be mortified to our core. But we aren’t affected. It’s as if we are dead to feeling sorrow or a need to give our lives for our brother. The eternal torment of our family, friends, neighbors is a dead issue in our hearts.

If there is anyone known by any person of the orthodoxy who is not saved then they are doing them a hellish disservice by not telling that person the error of his unbelief.

These general conceptions have been incorporated in Confessions and Catechisms, and made an important part in the inculcations of the pulpit; and preached with more or less earnestness and fervor for many centuries. It can hardly be said, however, that the results have equalled the expectations of the advocates of the doctrine in question.

It has not deterred so many from sin, nor encouraged so many in the practice of virtue, as was confidently hoped. In fact, the ages that have been distinguished for this kind of teaching have generally been equally distinguished for vice and crime. Perhaps the fault may be found in its not having been preached as faithfully as it ought; and possibly it may yet be discovered that the fear of hell is not the highest motive to virtuous living, and will, with difficulty, serve as a substitute for the love of God and our fellow-men in producing piety and good works, since it has no visible or conceivable tendency in that direction.

The doctrine of eternal conscious torment predominates to this day. In light of all the articles, books and distinguished studies that debunk endless conscious torment the doctrine thrives.

Dr. Sawyer closes this section with the declaration that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment has not had a positive affect on society or personal behavior. The people who ascribe to it are no better off for their effort. It appears that hell is not as frightening as it should be. The fear of hell is not a factor when crimes are committed. Preaching eternal conscious torment does not drive people to their knees seeking the Lord’s salvation gift.

About Jim Barnes

A man seeking to please the Lord. A man striving to abide in Christ Jesus. A man whose hope is to see just one more come into the fold.
This entry was posted in Dr. Thomas Sawyer - Eternal Punishment: In The Very Words Of Its Advocates, Reconciliation Of All. Bookmark the permalink.

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