Preaching sermons on hellfire appears to be something that happened in the past but not today. This type of preaching is considered an oddity of the eighteenth century; it should not be heard from a twentieth-century pulpit. True. Sermons ought to proclaim the gospel of salvation, the call to repentance, the assurance of pardon, and the message of reconciliation between God and man. Proportionally, Scripture says little about God’s burning wrath that consumes his enemies. If Scripture sets the example, we should follow its practice. Nevertheless, no preacher may fail to warn the people of the dire consequences of turning away from the living God. The recurring theme of the Epistle of Hebrews is one of warning God’s people. Note these three texts:
|3:12||“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”|
|4:1||“Therefore, since the promise of entering [God’s] rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”|
|4:11||“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”|
The terrifying consequences of living a life of intentional sin ought to be mentioned in sermons. In Hebrews we read that every believer has the responsibility to seek the spiritual welfare of his fellow Christians. We may call this corporate responsibility because it is our mutual task. And pastors may refer to hellfire in their sermons, for such a warning also belongs to the full message of God’s revelation. As the pastor warns the wayward, so he encourages the faint-hearted. A believer may lack the assurance of salvation, fearing that he has committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. But the unpardonable sin cannot be attributed to a person who doubts his or her salvation. Only the person who demonstrates an open and deliberate hatred toward God, divine revelation, and Christ’s accomplished work of salvation has committed that sin. The doubter, then, needs words of encouragement. He should be invited to repeat the reassuring words of Paul, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 15: New Testament commentary : Exposition of Hebrews. Accompanying biblical text is author’s translation. New Testament Commentary (296). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.