Christopher Love on the Terrors of Hell (3)
Feb 21, 2017
In our previous posts (#1, #2), we considered questions from Christopher Love’s (1618-1651) Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In this post, we will consider some more key questions that he asks on hell before considering his position on the controversial doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell in the next post. Again, I will pose Love’s questions then answer them in his words summarized, paraphrased, or quoted almost in the form of a catechism.
What are the torments of the damned in hell? This very question makes our hearts “tremble” as we relate its answer. Hell conveys deprivation, for example, as being present means being kept from heaven and the presence of God. It also brings torments that are unceasing in body and soul, as the wicked: are made miserable in hell; experience agony entirely; suffer in a way that cannot be quenched or tolerated; undergo such forever with no intermission at all; suffer with a “society” of others making hell all the more grievous; endure such in a miserable place devoid of all comfort and pleasure; face cruel treatment at the hands of demons (Matt. 18:34) and the devil himself; and possess no hope that these “pains shall be ended.” In this way, sinners must tremble at what they will lose as they see the madness of failing to do so. Will they “run the hazard” of entering an eternal hell for the pleasures of sin in this life?
Are there degrees of torment in hell? Yes, contrary to the Stoics, who equate all sins and punishments. While all the latter share an eternal character, there exists degrees of pain in the eternal state (e.g. Matt. 10:15, 11:22, 23;14,15; Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11). Thus, as those “most eminent in grace” enjoy heaven more, those “most vile in sin” will suffer torment more. So, they who “rush into the vilest sins” should tremble.
Are the torments of hell eternal? Yes, for Scripture, refers to hell as unquenchable (Matt. 18:8), eternal (Jude 7), and everlasting in terms of torment (Matt. 25:46) and destruction (2 Thess. 1:9). The justice of God demands this, unless we escape them through Christ, who takes such on our behalf.
Is there literal fire in hell? No, hell is not a physical or “corporeal” in terms of heat and light but one causing agony like a literal fire on the body. Still, there will be a corporeal fire in the resurrection, one that burns without consuming yet forever tormenting. In the end, we should not “Cavil about hell fire so much as to make it” our care to avoid it.”
What is meant by the worm that shall never die but shall gnaw the conscience forever? From Mark 9:44 and Luke 13:28, we are not understand this as a “corporeal worm, that shall be gnawing the flesh of the body, after the Resurrection.” Instead, it denotes the continual “gnawing” horror of consciences that were once hardened to and unbothered by sin. Furthermore, the gnashing of teeth in hell (Luke 13:28) refers to the “implacable enmity that the damned carry in their hearts towards all them that shall be saved.” Such individuals will express indignation toward Jesus Christ that he did not save them and they cannot take revenge upon him. They will be enraged that they spurned the opportunity to embrace Jesus Christ. Laments Love, “O this shall greatly torment the damned, even the thought of this, that they have had many an opportunity of grace here in this world, yet have neglected them all."
As you can see, Love’s answers to these questions seek to be straightforward and, more importantly, simply biblical. As we considered in our first post on hell, the church needs to declare such truths, for they are needful even if not desireable. This approach emerges as that which is truly “seeker-sensitive,” as it points men from the terrors of hell to the glories of heaven through Christ Jesus.