There is a hell, or state of misery, to come after this life. This is proven by the following witnesses:
Scripture – Our Savior teaches it in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), and in that of the last judgment (Matthew 13:30), and often in Revelation (Revelation 14:10-11; 21:8).
Conscience – Wicked men find in themselves an apprehension of immortality, and a fear of some punishment after death.
The Heathens – Though they have corrupted this truth with innumerable follies, yet they held that there was a hell, a being and place of misery for wicked men after this present life.
Clear reason – Since God is just, therefore many abominable sinners enjoying more prosperity in this life than those which live far more innocently must be punished hereafter according to the multitude and heinousness of their sins (Psalm 73:17).
Consider now the characteristics of this misery that is suffered in hell, with regard to its nature, properties, and circumstances.
I. The Nature of Hell's Misery
There are two types of suffering in hell: negative—the pain of loss; and positive—the pain of sense.
1. Negative – the absence of all manner of comfort
Matthew 25:41 Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…
Here they drink the pure and unmixed cup of vengeance. It is a darkness without any light, called outer darkness (Mathew 25:30), not a drop of cold water there to cool Dives' tongue (Luke 16:24). Divines unanimously concur that the worst part about hell is to be forever totally separated from all gracious communion with God (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Their existence is upheld by God's power, and His wrath and vindictive justice are present with them, but they have no comfortable communion with Him. Whence follows:
- Everlasting hardening in sin – they are separated from Him who could soften them
- Everlasting despair – they shall have an apprehension of their loss, which shall exceed their sense of pain
2. Positive – the presence of all manner of torments
Isaiah 30:33 For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.
The soul cannot meet with greater tormentors than the exposure to God's anger, the rage of conscience, and the extremity grief, fear, and despair.
A. Exposure to God's Anger
The wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:6). Tribulation and wrath, indignation and anguish shall come upon the soul of man who does evil (Romans 2:8-9). If but three drops of brimstone were to spill upon any part of one's flesh, it would make him so full of torment that he could not forbear roaring out for pain; how extremely horrifying will it be, then, when the whole man is drowned in a lake or river of brimstone? The wrath of God is unbearable, and is therefore compared to fire, which is harder to bear than any instrument of torture.
B. The Rage of Conscience
The soul is affected with the horror of its own conscience, which takes God's part against the sinner, and in a most fierce manner accuses him.
Mark 9:48 …where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
The worm of conscience in hell is the furious reflection of the soul upon itself for its former offers, misspent time, bygone joys, and now its miserable, hopeless condition.
Reasons for which God punishes the conscience of sinners in hell:
Because that faculty is the strength of a man (Proverbs 18:14).
Because it is the tenderest part in a man.
Because it is the most active in sinning.
Because it has the greatest office and honor put upon it in this life.
C. Extreme Grief, Fear, and Despair
The spirits grieve with the anguish of what they do feel, and fear and tremble at the apprehension of what they shall feel, and are in utter despair of ever finding escape or rest; they cannot be hard-hearted there if they wanted to.
John 5:28-29 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
But when the soul and body shall be reunited, then shall the body bear a part in the torment, which flows from the sense of God's anger, and shall feel as much pain as any instrument of torture or fire could put it to. Both soul and body will be covered up with horrible shame and confusion; it shall be publicly displayed to all creatures just how wicked they have been, and for what sins the Lord so avenges Himself upon them.
Isaiah 66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against Me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
II. The Properties of Hell's Misery
The properties of this misery are chiefly two: extremity and eternity.
The torments are great, falling upon the whole soul and body without any mitigation or comfort. The length of time never dulls these pains; they shall ever continue as extreme as at the first, because they so far exceed the strength of the damned subjects, and the power of God's anger so continually renews itself against them.
This misery continues forever in all extremity.
- The things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18)
- These shall go into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46)
- Their fire never goes out, their worm never dies (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48)
This is the hell of hell. Endless misery must necessarily be hopeless, and therefore comfortless. It is just that the damned should suffer forever, because they would have continued on in sin forever—had they not been cut off by punishment. Their desires are infinite (Jeremiah 3:5). They willfully refused happiness. If they never heard the Gospel, they have willfully transgressed the light of nature; but if they have been exposed to the Gospel, then they have carelessly neglected the offers of grace.
God's intention from everlasting has been to glorify His justice as well as His mercy (Romans 9:22-23). The covenant under which unregenerate men stand and by which they are bound over to this wrath is everlasting. All a man's sufferings are but against the good of the creature; every sin is against the glory of the Creator. They will never repent of what they have done; the will of him who dies is confirmed in the same state in which he dies.
III. The Circumstances of Hell's Misery
The circumstances of these torments are a miserable place and a miserable company.
1. A Miserable Place
The Scripture speaks of hell as a low place (2 Peter 2:4)—a pit of darkness, a dungeon, a lake, and no light, which is below—as far removed from God and good men as can be, most remote from heaven.
2. A Miserable Company
Not one person there is free from torment—all wail, and weep, and gnash their teeth. They curse and accuse one another. This company adds to their misery.
Taken and edited from Body of Divinity (London: William Lee, 1654), book 10, chapter 3, pp. 865-866.