Archive | Sam Storms

Another Protestant Converts to Catholicism – Why?

News broke in early March that well-known and highly influential Christian leader Ulf Ekman had converted to Roman Catholicism (hereafter RC). Ekman had served for many years as pastor of the charismatic church, Word of Life, in Uppsala, Sweden. My interest was stirred not only because of the impact Ekman’s “conversion” will have on others but also because he cites his son’s “conversion” to Catholicism as exerting an influence on his own thinking. Benjamin Ekman was a student of mine when I taught at Wheaton College, an exceptionally bright one at that.

But all of this raises yet again the question of why certain Protestants turn to Rome. Ekman himself cites his deep yearning for unity in the body of Christ as one of the principal factors. Some time ago I posted a blog article that addresses this issue, and I want to revisit it again today.

It’s important to understand why most Protestants remain suspicious of Roman Catholicism. The following are merely observations. I make no attempt to determine whether or not these evangelical fears are justified or misguided.

(1) Many Protestant evangelicals are energized by the Protestant martyrs of the reformation and post-reformation period: Hus, Cranmer, Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Ridley, etc. They fear that dialogue with the RCC is a disservice and dishonor to those who gave their lives for their convictions. They were tortured and died for their refusal to embrace the RC Mass or bow to papal authority. Attempts such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) represent for many evangelicals a tacit dismissal of such heroes of the faith: “Are we selling out those who sacrificed so much? Why are we willing to compromise so easily on matters that were to them a question of life and death?”

(2) Evangelicals also fear the loss of theological integrity. They believe that the only way to enter a dialogue with Rome is by compromising on several key theological issues. Most evangelicals believe that unity is theologically based. Cooperative efforts must be grounded in theological consensus. Is this biblical? Is it feasible? Continue Reading →

The Best Books of 2012 (Sam Storms)

It’s that time of year again . . . time for top ten lists of every sort. The only lists I care about are those of the top ten books of the year. As with every year, so too in 2012, it’s hard to keep it to ten. So I didn’t. My list this year, as in the past, is a hodgepodge of differing genres. I’ll start with number ten and work toward the top.

(10) It all begins with a tie! I simply couldn’t bring myself to exclude either of these books, so I expanded my list from ten to eleven. Oddly enough, these two volumes both address the state of “religion” in America, but from differing perspectives.

In his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012), 337 pp., New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes a compelling case that our problem in the U.S. is neither too much religion nor intolerant secularism but rather bad religion, “the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses. . . . Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption” (from the dustcover). The only bad thing about this book is that Douthat is right.

The other “tenth-best” book of the year is T. M. Luhrmann’s, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 434 pp. There is a bit of a misnomer in the title, insofar as this massive and meticulous investigation into the dynamics of prayer and biblical spirituality focuses largely on the way it has come to expression in churches affiliated with the Vineyard. Other, non-charismatic, evangelicals will take umbrage at being identified with those whom she analyzes.

Tanya Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist who teaches at Stanford. In order to write this book she attended two different Vineyard congregations (one in Chicago, the other in San Francisco), each for two years, and was deeply involved in the small group life at both churches. This isn’t a book review, but something needs to be said about what she does in its pages. Luhrmann seeks to account for the spiritual life, emotions, attitudes, and actions of charismatic Christians from a strictly psychological and social-scientific point of view. Her analysis of the claim of these believers to having heard the voice of God (hence the title) is based on hundreds of interviews and can be, at times, quite cynical. She critically parses out every word, belief, and cliché in the Vineyard world (although she also examines mainstream evangelicals such as Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Life). Many will find her approach and conclusions offensive, but I was fascinated by this “confession” on the final page:

“I have said that I do not presume to know ultimate reality. But it is also true that through the process of this journey, in my own way I have come to know God. I do not know what to make of this knowing. I would not call myself a Christian, but I find myself defending Christianity” (325).

(9) Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love, edited by Kyle Strobel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 348 pp.

Wait a minute! Isn’t this supposed to be about books written in 2012, not in the 18th century? Well, yes, but this volume is more than merely what Edwards wrote. Kyle Strobel has provided us with a running commentary on Edwards’ famous exposition of 1 Corinthians 13 that makes this volume worth re-visiting time and time again. Although I chafe when I read Edwards’ failed attempt to defend cessationism, this is one of his best yet most neglected works. If for no other reason, get it to immerse yourself in the incomparable chapter, “Heaven is a World of Love.” Here is what I wrote as an endorsement for the book:

“As best I can tell, this is a first in Edwardsean studies. No one has done with Charity and Its Fruits what Kyle Strobel accomplishes here – providing us with an enlightening commentary and a readable text of one of Edwards’s most important, though highly neglected, treatises. All who love Edwards (and everyone should) will profit immensely from this exceptional volume.”

(8) Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism, edited by Robert L. Plummer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 256 pp.

This is a fascinating book that I highly recommend. If you want to know what these faiths entail, and especially why an individual who is committed to one makes the monumental decision to “convert” to another, this is the book for you. I enjoyed this book for another reason: I’m personally acquainted with several of the contributors. Wilbur Ellsworth, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Wheaton, Illinois, became an acquaintance of mine when I taught at Wheaton College. I had the privilege of preaching in his church (after he had left FBC) before he embraced Eastern Orthodoxy. Gregg Allison, who writes in response to Francis Beckwith (who returned to the Roman Catholic Church after many years as an evangelical Protestant), is a close personal friend. And I’m especially close to Lyle Dorsett who describes his journey into Anglicanism. I attended for four years the church where Lyle was senior pastor. Yes, I used to attend a charismatic Anglican church, and loved it (even though I was then, and remain to this day, a credo-baptist).

The contributors are all fair and balanced in their treatment of the others. I especially recommend this book to any Protestant who is being lured by Catholicism. Please get it and read Allison’s chapter.

(7) The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, by Bruce A. Ware (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 156 pp.

Although short, this book is long on fascinating insights into the humanity of Jesus. As evangelicals who rightfully defend the deity of Christ, we have at times acted as though any focus on his humanity was tantamount to yielding ground to theological liberals who believe he is nothing more than man. Ware’s book will go a long way in reversing this obvious gap in evangelical thinking about the person of Christ.

I should also mention that this book is not without controversy. Ware tackles the thorny question of whether or not Jesus could sin, which is to say, was he impeccable or peccable? All Bible-believing folk acknowledge that Jesus didn’t sin, but was it possible that he might have? Ware says no. I’m not so sure. Yet another volatile issue is the matter of Jesus being male. Could our Savior have been female? What role, if any, did the gender of Jesus play in our salvation? And the best part of this book is Ware’s defense of the thesis that Jesus lived and ministered not in the strength of his divine nature as God but through the Holy Spirit with whom he was filled, on whom he depended, and by whom he was empowered. You’ll love reading this book, even if you end up on the other side of such questions.
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Forgiving God? (Sam Storms)

I’m hearing more and more these days about the purported therapeutic value in “forgiving God.” For those who have suffered greatly, healing comes, at least in part, when we are enabled by God’s grace to forgive those who have sinned against us. On occasion we also hear of the importance of forgiving “ourselves” (which, I must confess, strikes me as lacking biblical sanction; but that is for another time). What concerns me most is when people are urged to “forgive God.”

This was again recently brought to my attention with the news that R. T. Kendall, successor to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, has published a new book with the intriguing title, Totally Forgiving God: When It Seems He Has Betrayed You (Charisma House, 2012). There is a measure of ambiguity in the title. Are we to understand by this that God is the one who totally forgives us, or is God the one whom we are totally to forgive? The sub-title suggests the latter, and an accompanying tag line in the advertisement supports this conclusion. It reads: “Discover the Freedom and Peace that come when we forgive God, others, and ourselves.”

Let me be clear about one thing from the start. I haven’t read Kendall’s book. For all I know he repudiates the notion of “forgiving God” in the way that people typically understand it. So please do not indict Kendall with what I say until you (or I) have read the book. One thing in the sub-title is encouraging, and that is the use of the word “seems.” Kendall evidently wants us to understand that God, in point of fact, never betrays us but only “seems” to do so. Nevertheless, if in fact he argues against the notion of our “forgiving God,” the title and accompanying tag line are terribly misleading and need to be corrected. People who fail to read the book are likely to conclude from these elements alone that he is encouraging us, in some sense, to “forgive God” as part of our sanctification.

My primary concern, however, is with the idea of humans forgiving God. What are we to make of this?

First of all, let me say that I understand where this sort of question comes from. I understand how people quite often are confused by what God does or doesn’t do. They are frustrated when prayers go unanswered or people are permitted to wound them unjustly. I have dealt with many over the years who are angry with God, feel abandoned by God, or simply feel nothing at all when it comes to the presence of God in their lives. They don’t sense his love and they struggle to find anything redemptive in the way he has led them and orchestrated their lives.

We find most of these experiences or sentiments described in the Psalms. The psalmists often vented their frustration, wondering if God had forgotten them or was even on the side of their enemies. I love the way one person described the so-called psalms of lament. They consist of three parts: “I’m hurting. They’re winning. And you don’t care!” Needless to say, when those sorts of things happen in life people need the grace and power of the Spirit.

All of us need to learn the lesson of forgiving others. There is incredible power in it and few things are as crippling and spiritually paralyzing as the bitterness and bondage of unforgiveness.

But my struggle is with the language of “forgiving God.” For one thing, I don’t find it ever used in Scripture. That alone ought to give us pause before we incorporate such language into our Christian vocabulary or allow it to shape our theology or our understanding of spiritual formation.

Also, a person can only be truly forgiven if that person has truly committed a sin or some wrong. Forgiveness assumes guilt on the part of the person being forgiven. If there is no sin, there is no guilt, and if there is no guilt, there is no need to be forgiven. Typically we say, “I forgive ______ for having gossiped about me,” or “I forgive ______ for having broken a confidence,” etc.

But God never has, cannot, and never will sin against us. Nothing he does is wrong or misguided or ill-informed or unwise or unloving. That doesn’t mean we will always see it that way! Far from it. We often think that God has missed a step or failed us in some way, but he hasn’t. If he had, he wouldn’t be God!
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Why I Am/Not Charistmatic: History of the Gifts Response – Sam Storms


Thanks for your careful approach to this question. I appreciate your desire to properly honor our common heroes of the faith throughout these past 2,000 years of church history. But I have to say that I remain utterly unmoved and altogether unconvinced by your appeal to this argument from the life of the church these past two millennia. I can’t address all your points, and on several occasions I will simply encourage the reader to go back and examine my article and the evidence I cited one more time. But I do have a few important points to make.

(1) First, I don’t think you honestly believe what I’m about to say (at least I hope you don’t), but much of what you wrote in your article, together with several comments in previous entries, suggests that it may be hiding just beneath the surface and I want our readers to reckon with it.

In all your talk of how experience or the lack thereof shapes your beliefs and practices, you’ve made several good points. But a danger lurks when one question is pressed: “What should I do when my experience does not line up with Scripture?” I put it this way because you have conceded on several occasions that the NT does not teach hard cessationism. You have even conceded that the exegetical case for continuationism is stronger than the one for cessationism. Your response has been to rely on the argument of what you call de facto cessation (“How do we know the gifts ceased? We know they have ceased because they in fact ceased”).

You do not argue that they have ceased because Scripture teaches they have. You concede that Scripture appears to teach otherwise. So, in my opinion, we have one of two available responses: either (1) marginalize Scripture on the subject of our responsibility with regard to spiritual gifts, or (2) do what we can, with God’s help, to alter our experience and repent of what we have believed or done that has led us to fall short of what Scripture truly says and commands. It strikes me that the only legitimate response to the alleged de facto cessation of gifts (which I’m only conceding for the sake of argument; as you can see from my article, I don’t believe they ever altogether ceased) is to admit that this must mean the problem is with us, the people of God, and not the Word of God.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: I struggle to understand how your view can be made consistent with a high view of biblical authority. If you concede that the NT makes a stronger case for continuationism than cessationism, then embrace the former and do everything within your power (as empowered by God) to pursue and facilitate and practice the gifts, regardless of what anyone else in any age of church history may believe or do. Otherwise, I don’t know how the Bible functions authoritatively in your life. Now, as I said above, I don’t believe you deny the functional authority of Scripture (I know you too well for that), but I fear that your arguments betray the subtle and perhaps unconscious influence of a tendency to invest more authority in your and others’ experience than in that of Paul and his precepts.

(2) Second, you write that “the cumulative experience of the historic body of Christ, at this point, is one of the things that keeps me from being charismatic.” In keeping with the previous point, I’m very sad to hear you say that. I would have hoped you had said, “the cumulative evidence from God’s inspired Word, at this point, is the primary thing that prompts me to be a charismatic, the experience or lack thereof in other believers notwithstanding.”

(3) Third, you insist that, subsequent to the first two centuries of church life, spiritual gifts were in decline and were at best infrequent and on the fringe for the next 1,800 years or so. I’m not going to continue to argue that point, but would ask only one question: “Why were they purportedly in decline and infrequent?” I would simply ask that you and our readers consider the several possible explanations for this found in my article. One explanation that you will not find, because Scripture won’t allow it, is that it was God’s design that the gifts only operate during the initial stages of the church’s existence. The Bible simply nowhere says that.

(4) Fourth, I will not respond to your quotations from church history but choose to stand by the evidence cited in my article. I would simply encourage the reader to go back and carefully read the statements from prominent figures and ask if what they believed and saw and experienced is consistent with de facto cessationism. In my opinion, it most certainly isn’t.

(5) Fifth, you argue that “the loss of the [truth] of the Gospel was a loss of an understanding of a doctrine (sola fide), not a loss of the effectiveness of this doctrine,” and thus can’t be compared with the decline or relative loss of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church. You go on to say with regard to tongues that “you never have as a prerequisite a belief in the truthfulness of a doctrine of continuationism before Christians experience their effectiveness.”

I honestly can’t believe you believe this. Are you actually saying that one’s theological convictions about the validity or cessation of tongues and other gifts has no effect on whether or not a person eventually experiences them? I would insist that our beliefs control and shape our zeal, our expectations, our prayer life, and especially how we respond to and interpret claims people make regarding their experience of supernatural phenomena. Let me develop this point at greater length, because I think it is of crucial importance.

I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your understanding of when and why spiritual gifts either are or are not present in the life of the church appears to be influenced by what strikes me as hyper-Calvinism, or at least a somewhat fatalistic approach to the Christian life that undermines both prayer and human responsibility. Can you believe that a committed 5-point Calvinist just wrote that? Well, yes, he (I) did.

You point to the gift of tongues in Acts and argue that in all three instances where it appears it came “sovereignly,” so to speak, without regard to the prayer or spiritual posture of those who received it. I think this is misleading for a couple of reasons.

For one, those present on the Day of Pentecost were there in obedience to the command of Jesus: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49: cf. Acts 1:5,8). The reason all received the gift of tongues on that Day is due to at least two factors. First, they were obedient in responding to Jesus’ command. There is no reason to believe, at least in my opinion, that if some had disbelieved Jesus’ promise, disobeyed his command, and had refused to wait with the others in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit that they would have received tongues anyway, irrespective of their response to him. Continue Reading →

My Top Ten (!) Books of the Year

The exclamation mark after the number Ten should be noted. As you will shortly see, I failed miserably in my attempt to restrict the list to precisely ten books. Perhaps I should have titled this article, My Top Ten Categories of Books of the Year, insofar as I’ve included several volumes that tend to fall into the same genre. In any case, there are simply too many excellent works to exclude them because of the supposed sanctity of the number Ten. I’ll start with number ten and move to number one.

(10) Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, by Gregg R. Allison (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 778pp. My good friend Gregg Allison has written a companion volume to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology that traces the main themes of Christian theology through the centuries of church history. It is both deep and wide and will prove to be the standard evangelical contribution to this area of study for quite some time to come.

(9) G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Ian Ker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 747pp., and Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy, by Paul C. Gutjahr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 477pp. There’s a tie for number nine. These two excellent biographies are both published by Oxford and therefore are both incredibly expensive. But they’re worth it, especially the one on Hodge. This is in fact the first extensive biography of the great 19th century Princeton theologian, and was followed late this year by yet another written by Andrew Hoffecker (which I haven’t seen yet). When I attended Dallas Seminary in the 70’s, I read Hodge’s 3-volume Systematic Theology with a relish. I will always be indebted to his work.

(8) No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, by Condoleezza Rice (New York City: Crown Publishers, 2011), 766pp. I’ve only started to dip into this massive volume, but I’ve come to greatly appreciate Condi Rice and only wish that she had entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

(7) God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards, by Sean Michael Lucas (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 224pp. This is one of the most readable and enjoyable introductions to Edwards and his theology that you’ll find. However, I almost didn’t include it on my list, not for what it says but for what it omits. Lucas concedes “that there is a major gap in this book; there is not a significant direct reference to Edwards’s Freedom of the Will” (199). His reasons are two: First, he says “it is difficult to understand” (199), which it is. Second, he believes that it is not “very relevant to the Christian life” (199). “I know that others would disagree with me,” writes Lucas, ‘but there it is” (199). Yes, I profoundly disagree, as Freedom of the Will in many ways provides the foundation for our need of grace, explains the nature of conversion, and magnifies the sovereignty of God in our salvation. He also admits not including anything about The Life of David Brainerd. “Brainerd,” he says, “strikes me as overly morose and inward” (200). Yes, I agree, but it is still a powerful and important work. Read Lucas, but only after you’ve first read Freedom of the Will and The Life of David Brainerd!

Since I’m on Edwards, I’ll also include two more that I hope prove worthy of inclusion in a list like this. Jonathan Edwards’s Apologetic for the Great Awakening (with particular attention to Charles Chauncy’s Criticisms), by Robert Davis Smart (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 366pp., looks to be a winner, but I’ve only just started it. I’ve also only briefly glanced at John J. Bombaro’s Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Reality: The Relationship of God to the World, Redemption History, and the Reprobate (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 327pp.
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“Honest Atheists”(?) and the Destiny of those who’ve never heard of Jesus

There has been considerable response to my earlier post entitled, “Bell’s Hell and the Destiny of those who’ve never heard of Jesus.” One issue that came up repeatedly was my denial that there is any such thing as an “honest atheist.” Perhaps a bit more explanation of what I meant is called for.

Do honest atheists exist? By “honest” I don’t mean atheists who pay their taxes and keep their promises and choose not to steal or lie. What I mean in asking the question is whether or not there exists an atheist who honestly believes there is no God.

There are, undoubtedly, many who claim to be atheists. They insist, often loudly and angrily, that there is no God and that religion is the cause of virtually all human pain and suffering. The only ultimate reality, so they say, is matter. Physical substance, whether helium or hormones, whether water or fire, is all there is. Everything can be explained or accounted for in terms of the existence and interaction of material substance of one sort or another. In other words, there is no spiritual realm. There are no angels. There is no immaterial soul in man, and above all, there is no “god” or deity or divinity or supernatural being of any sort.

So I’ll ask again: do honest atheists exist? You may think that to be a silly question given the notoriety of late among such prominent professing atheists as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, just to name a few. But the operative word here is professing. Yes, many profess to be atheists and make a pretty good living writing books about it or appearing on talk shows or teaching in our universities and colleges. But my question is again whether or not these people, in the depth and quiet of their own hearts, honestly believe there is no God. Continue Reading →

Bell’s Hell and the Destiny of Those Who’ve Never Heard of Jesus

In a recent interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, Rob Bell again muddied the waters over the question of the fate of those who’ve never heard about Jesus. In doing so he also greatly misrepresented the evangelical answer to this question. Here are his words:

“If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever – people who never heard about Jesus are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they never heard of – then at that point we will have far bigger problems than a book from a pastor from Grand Rapids.”

Bell is responding to evangelicals who purportedly believe that people “are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they never heard of.” Let me say this as clearly as I can: No one will ever suffer for any length of time in hell or anywhere else for not believing in the Jesus they never heard of. Should I say that again or is it enough to ask that you go back and read it again?

Bell and others who make this sort of outrageous claim have evidently failed to look closely at Romans 1:18ff. Here we read that the wrath of God revealed from heaven is grounded in the persistent repudiation by mankind of the revelation God has made of himself in the created order. In other words, there is a reason for God’s wrath. It is not capricious. God’s wrath has been deliberately and persistently provoked by man’s willful rejection of God as he has revealed himself. Continue Reading →

Hell and the Happiness of Heaven – Part 4 (Sam Storms)

Jonathan Edwards was keenly aware of the objections to his perspective on this difficult topic. For example, he acknowledges that now, in this life, we are fearful and apprehensive concerning the eternal destiny of those in unbelief. We lament and weep for their spiritual plight. It is proof of “a senseless and wicked spirit,” he notes, to look upon the lost condition of another and not feel sorrow.

Nothing more perfectly illustrates this than Paul’s words in Romans 9:1-3, where he describes his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (v. 2) over the lost condition of his fellow Jews. This being the case, how can Edwards suggest that in heaven such sorrow and anguish will disappear?

Edwards gives five answers, only three of which I’ll note.

(1) First, although it is our duty to love all men now, in this life, it will not be our duty to love the wicked in the age to come. We are repeatedly commanded to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute and slander us. “But this command,” he contends, “doth not extend to the saints in glory, with respect to the damned in hell.”

The reason we are to love all men now is that “we know not but that God loves them.” No matter how wicked someone might be in this life, “yet we know not but that he is one whom God loved from eternity, we know not but that Christ loved him with a dying love, had his name upon his heart before the world was, and had respect to him when he endured those bitter agonies on the cross. We know not but that he is to be our companion in glory to all eternity.”

But such is not the case in heaven. There and then we will know that God did not set upon them his electing and redemptive love. There and then we will see that they are objects of God’s eternal wrath.

It is fitting to the saints in heaven, says Edwards, that they “fully and perfectly consent to what God doth, without any reluctance or opposition of spirit; yea, it becomes them to rejoice in every thing that God sees meet to be done.” Edwards’ point is this: If you and I now think that in heaven we will be sorrowful and grieved by the plight of the lost, we are confessing that we intend to disagree with God and be at odds with his attitude and affections and at cross purposes with the display of his attributes of holiness and wrath and justice. This alone should give us pause before we quickly conclude that heaven’s bliss will be soiled by hell’s misery.

(2) Second, we are to love and show kindness to the lost now because in this life they may yet be saved. Christ is still “calling upon them, inviting and wooing them” to turn from their sin and put their trust wholly in him.

“But it will not be so in another world; there wicked men will be no longer capable subjects of mercy. The saints will know that it is the will of God the wicked should be miserable to all eternity. It will therefore cease to be their duty any more to seek their salvation, or to [be] concerned about their misery. On the other hand, it will be their duty to rejoice in the will and glory of God.”

(3) Finally, the vengeance inflicted on the lost in hell “will be a manifestation of God’s love” for the saved. In other words, “one way whereby God shows his love to the saints is by destroying their enemies.” Jesus himself declared that God would avenge his elect (Luke 18:7) and that if anyone harmed one of his little ones it would be better for him that a millstone be hung around his neck and he be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6).

Thus “the saints in glory will see the great love of God to them in the dreadful vengeance which he shall inflict on those who have injured and persecuted them; and the view of this love of God to them will be just cause of their rejoicing.”

We see this reflected in Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9. There he writes: “since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Likewise, in Revelation 6:9-11 the martyrs under the altar pray that God would “avenge” their blood on those who killed them. The many and varied judgments of Revelation (Seals, Trumpets, Bowls) are in large measure God’s answer to that prayer. As we saw earlier in this series, the judgment against unbelievers described in Revelation 18 is “for you,” i.e., on behalf of believers and in righteous response to the wicked for their having shed the blood of God’s children.

Edwards concludes his sermon with a lengthy appeal to the unsaved to repent and believe the gospel. He urges them to consider that if they remain in unbelief a day is coming when none will pity them: neither parents nor friends nor God himself. “However here they loved you,” notes Edwards, “and were concerned for you, now they will rise up in judgment against you, and will declare how your sins are aggravated by the endeavors which they to no purpose used with you, to bring you to forsake sin and practice virtue, and to seek and serve God; but you were obstinate under all, and would not hearken to them. They will declare how inexcusable you are upon this account.”

Perhaps we today find Edwards’ language and imagery a bit too harsh for no other reason than we have failed to take seriously the biblical reality of eternal punishment. We balk at the biblical texts on hell. We close our eyes to the gravity and horror of sin. We have humanized God and thus find rebellion against him to be of minimal importance.

Not Edwards. If his rhetoric is strong and unwavering and politically “incorrect” it is only because his view of God is high and unequivocal and theologically “correct”.

Perhaps you still struggle with this issue. If so, rest assured that in the age to come we will have redeemed minds, devoid of all errant thought and cleansed of all selfish motivation. We will then have, fully and in consummate expression, the mind of Christ. We will see as he sees, feel as he feels, love what he loves, hate what he hates, and rejoice in whatever brings him greatest glory. Amen.