Eternal Punishment: Chapter 4, Some Account for Hell-Fire…





It is unnecessary to say, what all have so frequently heard, that hell is a lake of literal fire and brimstone; or, if it is not that, then something of which that is only a figure, and, of course, still worse. In modern times, as we shall see, it is by some doubted, and by others denied, that the fire of hell is material, or such as that with which we are acquainted in this world. But it is the constant faith of the Catholic Church, which is the great patron and support of the doctrine of endless punishment, that the fire of hell is real, and not metaphorical.

Vicar-General Preston, of New York, in the North American Review of March – April, 1868, says: “Although there is no solemn definition of the Church determining the fire of hell to be real and material, nevertheless such is the common opinion, from which no Catholic can safely depart. Thus Suarez says: The certain and Catholic opinion is that the fire of hell, which is prepared for the devil and his angels, is a true and proper corporeal fire. And Estius uses these words: It is sufficiently evident that the doctrine which teaches that the fire is corporeal, by which the demons and the damned, either before the judgment without their bodies, or afterward with them, are punished, is so common and universal in the Church that it cannot be denied without temerity.

That the fire of hell, says Petavius, is corporeal and material, all theologians, yea, all Christians believe, though this be not as yet defined by any decree of the Church.” That “the fire of hell is real and not

metaphorical,” is earnestly maintained in a treatise now before me, by the learned Jesuit, Rev. Carolus Passaglia, Professor in the Roman College of Theology.

There can be no doubt that the Roman Catholic church teaches that hell is a fire that is real. There is nothing metaphorical about hell. It is real fire. It is real torment. It is real and it is punishing.

The Roman Catholic Catechism regarding hell states this.

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather … all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “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.”

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:

Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.


But this is no less the doctrine of the Protestant churches than it is of the Catholic. Whatever may be the opinion of some of our orthodox divines of the present day, it cannot be denied that the great mass of Protestants have hitherto believed, and do still believe, that the fire of hell is real, as Passaglia says, and not metaphorical.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) prepares for their denomination a list of 18 attributes and characteristics of their group. It is entitled the Baptist Faith and Message. Item 10 on this list of faith and messages is this:

X. Last Things

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

These “Institutions” of SBC churches are seemingly less loving than the Roman Catholic Church. At least the Catholics allow for a hopeful restoration in a place the Catholics call Purgatory.

Reputable men and women believe hell is a place ordained by God to exert His wrath against those who choose not to believe Him.

Baptists believe Hell to be a real place existing outside of God—an eternal separation between soul and God. Baptists do not believe in a purgatory. Hell, they believe, was created originally for Satan and his devils as a place of incredible torment (Mat 25:41). Baptists believe that God never intended nor desired for a single person to go to Hell (2 Pet 3:9). They believe sin caused a separation between God and man, and that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only bridge to cross from death to life. This bridge, however, is accessible by anyone at anytime (2 Cor 6:2). Baptists believe a loving God went to supernatural lengths—by sending His Son to die—to provide everyone an opportunity to escape the fires of Hell and spend eternity in Heaven. (

According to these studied and learned Baptists God never intended to send any of His creation to hell, but the sin of Adam caused God to change His plan to accommodate the Fall of Man. These Baptist scholars conclude that God’s original plan had to be changed. It’s as if God made a mistake and miscalculated what Adam and Eve would do in the Garden. It’s as if Satan was able to hide his thoughts from God.

Even more striking in the statement from this segment of the Baptist church is that Jesus did not come as an act of divine love. He came “to provide everyone an opportunity to escape the fires of Hell and spend eternity in Heaven.” The statement on its face is difficult to understand. How does the Baptist explain away those people who never had the opportunity to hear about Christ Jesus much less come to believe in Him? According to the Baptist they are consigned, created to suffer endlessly in a place they call hell. It is difficult for me to reconcile my Lord’s saving grace, His love for His creation with a divine intent to cause any of His creation to suffer eternal conscious torment.

One last example of modern day Baptist theology to ponder.

“No preacher in his right mind enjoys preaching on hell,” added David Allen, theology dean at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Hell is a place terrible beyond imagination. But no preacher in his right mind can avoid preaching on hell. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11, ‘knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.'”

Allen said he preaches about hell for three reasons:

1) It is a biblical doctrine. Jesus spoke more about hell than about heaven. Jesus uses the word “Hades” four times in his preaching and the word “hell” 11 times. Eighteen of the 28 times Jesus uses the word “fire” in the Gospels, he is talking about hell. If there is no hell, then there is no punishment for sin.

2) We are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The Lord will hold his preachers accountable for preaching all of the Bible, not just the parts of it people like to hear.

3) Jesus lived, died and rose again so people would not have to go to hell. Only Jesus can save someone from his sins and from hell.

There is much to dispute in Mr. Allen’s statement. Is eternal conscious torment a sound Biblical doctrine? Are all the citations mentioned regarding Christ’s statements about hell, fire and punishment properly expressed much less properly interpreted? Is eternal conscious torment part of the “whole counsel of God?”

While I agree that Christ’s death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection from the grave assures life after death, I do not limit the scope of those saved. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind; that is all sins have been forgiven by His blood shed. Southern Baptists on the other hand greatly limit the capacity of Christ’s sacrifice to only a few of His creation. According to SBC doctrine the overwhelming majority of His creation is created specifically to suffer forever.

The Presbyterian Church, as learned as any in the country, in its catechism, says expressly: “The punishments of sin, in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire, for ever.” If it be said that “hell-fire” is a term we have in our English New Testament, and that therefore the Presbyterian Church only affirms what the New Testament teaches without attempting to define it, it may be replied that those who framed that catechism very well knew, and the church now enjoining it as well knows, how that term is in fact generally understood, and hence would neither use nor recommend its use if it wholly misrepresented the church’s belief. But it is not the Presbyterian Church alone that teaches thus.

Much has changed in the Presbyterian Church since Dr. Sawyer authored this booklet. The words they use to define the outcome of the unsaved are mild, but the outcome is still hell.

Presbyterians believe in the return of Jesus Christ “to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” Until He comes, we believe that the souls of those who die in Him depart to be with Him “where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.” At the last day, we believe that the dead shall be resurrected and the living shall be changed: Christ’s elect “unto honor…and everlasting life,” but the reprobates “unto dishonor…and punishment with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (Taylor, G. Aiken, “What Presbyterians Believe,” The Presbyterian Journal, volume 18, number 39 (27 January 1960) pages 5 – 7.)

Dr. Aiken sees no issue in describing the end of “…the reprobates….” They will see “everlasting destruction” at the hand of God. Those who never knew Christ Jesus will be forever forbidden into the presence of the Lord.

(4) God’s mercy and judgment await us all. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God has already demonstrated his judging and saving work. We are warned that rejecting God’s love and not caring for others whom God loves results in eternal separation from him and them. Yet we are also told that God loves the whole world and wills the salvation of all humankind in Christ.

We live in tension between God’s warnings and promises. Knowing the righteous judgment of God in Christ, we urge all people to be reconciled to God, not exempting ourselves from the warnings.

Constrained by God’s love in Christ, we have good hope for all people, not exempting the most unlikely from the promises. Judgment belongs to God and not to us.

We are sure that God’s future for every person will be both merciful and just.


The torments associated with eternal conscious torment are seemingly removed from the new Presbyterian doctrine. However, eternal separation from God is torment in its own right. More important than that is that there is no more substance in scripture supporting eternal separation as there is for eternal conscious torment.

Dr. Aiken’s view of eternal conscious torment may be the softest of all. Even though he is convinced the rebellious will be sentenced “…to eternal separation from Him.” He then seemingly dismisses the concept instead appealing to Christian love and to God. “Judgment belongs to God and not to us.” Then Dr. Aiken comes even further to the side of the Universalist when He says, “We are sure that God’s future for every person will be both merciful and just.”

It could be a Universalist credo: “We are sure that God’s future for every person will be both merciful and just.”

It is the common faith of the orthodox world to-day as it has been in the past, as will appear in what follows.

Amongst all the torments which human justice hath invented for the punishment of crimes,” says Jeremy Taylor, “there is none held more rigorous than that of fire, by reason of the great activity of that element. What shall the heat of that fire be, which shall be the executioner of the justice of the God of vengeance! whose zeal shall be inflamed against the wicked, and shall kindle the fire which shall eternally burn to the extremities of hell.”

We can conceive little of the matter,” says President Edwards;
but, to help your conception, imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine, also, that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, and all the while full of quick sense. What horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! and after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing would it be to you to think that you had to endure it the other fourteen! But what would be the effect on your soul if you knew that you must lie there enduring that torment to the full of twenty-four hours! And how much greater would be the effect if you knew that you must endure it for a whole year; and how vastly greater still, if you knew that you must endure it for a thousand years!

But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents. How, then, will the heart of a poor sinner sink under it! How utterly inexpressible and inconceivable must the sinking of the heart be in such a case.”

Again he (Dr. Jonathon Edwards) says:

The misery of the damned in hell can be better represented by nothing than by a deluge of fire, a mighty deluge of wrath, which will be ten thousand times worse than a deluge of waters, for it will be a deluge of liquid fire, as in the Scriptures it is called a lake of fire and brimstone.

After the resurrection the wicked shall be swallowed up by a vast deluge of fire, which shall be great as Noah’s deluge. After that the wicked will have mighty billows of fire and brimstone eternally rolling over their poor souls and their miserable, tormented bodies. These billows may be called vast mountains of fire and brimstone. And when one billow has gone over their heads, another will follow without intermission, giving them no rest day nor night to all eternity.”

But our orthodox poets have perhaps excelled our preachers in their descriptions of hell-fire. Milton says:

A dungeon horrible on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed.

Pollock describes it thus:—

Wide was the place,
And deep as wide, and ruinous as deep.
Beneath I saw a lake of burning fire
With tempest tossed perpetually, and still
The waves of fiery darkness ‘gainst the rocks
Of dark damnation broke.

But of all descriptions, the following from Rev. Dr. Trapp, at once preacher and poet, may perhaps be thought the best:—

Fire, too, must make the sensible of hell.
With everlasting burnings who can dwell?
Tormenting Tophet is ordained long since,
Ev’n for the king, the potentate, and prince,
It is prepared; ‘t is roomy, large, and wide,
With store of fuel plenteously supplied;
The breath of God makes the full furnace boil,
And, like a stream of brimstone, fires the pile.
Doomed to live death, and never to expire,
In floods, and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire,
The damned shall groan: fire of all kinds and forms
In rain and hail, in hurricanes and storms,
Liquid and solid, livid, red, and pale;
A flaming mountain here, and there a flaming vale.
The liquid fire makes seas; the solid shores;
Arched o’er with flames the horrid concave roars.
All hell is fire—above, beside, below,
Fires or in hard metallic substance glow
Or spout in cataracts or in rivers flow,
In bubbling eddies rolls the fiery tide,
And sulphurous surges on each other ride.
The hollow winding vaults, and dens and caves,
Bellow like furnaces with flaming waves.
Pillars of flame in spiral volumes rise
Like fiery snakes, and lick the infernal skies.
Sulphur, the eternal fuel, unconsumed,
Vomits rebounding smoke, thick, unillumed.

Dr. Sawyer’s words on this subject were recorded in this booklet in 1879. He was hopeful there would be a change in the hearts of the orthodoxy especially as their doctrine of eternal conscious torment is concerned. His hope was not realized in his life. There is hopefully a growing sense in the Christian world that eternal conscious torment is a repugnant and unsupportable doctrine.

Joel Osteen is the Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He gave an interview to a news organization. This is the salient question asked:

When asked in an Easter Sunday interview by CBS News’ “Sunday Morning” program “Do you feel like you’re cheating people by not telling them about the Hell part? Or repentance part?” Osteen answered: “No, I really don’t, because it’s a different approach.”

He continued: “You know, it’s not hellfire and brimstone. But I say most people are beaten down enough by life. They already feel guilty enough. They’re not doing what they should, raising their kids — we can all find reasons. So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up, to say, ‘You know what? I may not be perfect, but I’m moving forward. I’m doing better.’ And I think that motivates you to do better.”

Mr. Osteen is often ridiculed by some folks of the orthodoxy. There are complaints that he does not preach about hell. It seems to me his explanation is true. He does not feel motivated or compelled to preach about hell. It strikes me that choosing not to preach eternal conscious torment is superior to preaching for it. One leaves the question open for further enlightenment. The other closes the gates to hell with eternal conscious torment.

The lesser of the two approaches seems best to me. I am taking a third approach. I hope to kindle a thought to challenge the long held doctrine of eternal conscious torment. I have no idea how this effort will be received in a wider audience. But, I am learning much in the process.

To be sure the orthodoxy would rather the sermons on eternal conscious torment be preached.

As pastors and leaders in the church, we cannot fail to include hell alongside other doctrines such as sanctification, justification, repentance, and right relationship and intimacy with Jesus. If we do so, we not only do a disservice to those that God has entrusted to us, but to our own calling as well.

God has entrusted us with his word, gospel and people. We must not shy away from preaching the full counsel of God, presenting people with the fullness of who Jesus is in light of who and what we are and that without him, the wages of our sin is death.

Eternal conscious torment is more than a consensus doctrine among Christian churches. It is likely the only doctrine that all share. The definition or description of “hell” is widely varied among theologians and churches. However, the torments associated with “hell” are almost totally agreed. And, there is a common thread in all the denominations. Evangelism is key to their purpose. Reaching the world for Christ is a primary goal. They share the Gospel. They also share, too often, the false doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

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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