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The Fire and Brimstone Preacher Who Succeeded

There is a story of a very conservative church up in Idaho who was part of a denomination that was turning liberal, and despite the trend the denomination was taking they stood strong in their own convictions.

Soon after their pastor of many years died they got a group together to decide what kind of pastor they wanted next. They all agreed.  They wanted a fire and brimstone preacher. Excited, they called one of the leaders of their denomination who was in the know of young pastors fresh out of seminary and asked him to send over one who was known for being that kind of preacher. The man shocked at such a request, since there weren’t too many left in the denomination searched far and wide for such a man, and finding him sent him over to the church to become their pastor. He lasted two weeks.

The church called the man again and said that they needed a new pastor as the last one wasn’t going to work.  They asked again for a fire and brimstone preacher. The man searched again and upon finding a young man, sent him over to the church.  He lasted three weeks.

The church, not losing hope, called the man once more and asked again for another fire and brimstone preacher.  The frustrated man began looking once again and sent another preacher to the congregation. He lasted thirty years.

Years later, the man met one of the long time members of the congregation.  Curious as to why the third preacher worked out and the first two did not, not being able to distinguish between the three, he asked what the difference was.

Without skipping a beat the man said, “You are right in saying that all three were fire and brimstone preachers, but the third was the only one who actually sounded like he didn’t want us to go there.”

Hell is one of the hardest truths to not only believe in the first place, but to communicate to others around us. The difference between the three pastors, was not in content of the message, but rather it was entirely in the way that they communicated the truth.

Of course true Christians believe in hell. You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in hell. And this belief not only shapes our understanding of how bad our sin is, but really motivates us to evangelize everyone around us.

It shapes our understanding of how bad our sin is because it teaches us that our sin, not only keeps us from entering Heaven on our own, but really pushes us toward eternal punishment. James 2:10 reminds us that,

“whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

Even if we were able to be sinless our entire life and we committed just one sin that God in his justice would have to send us to hell for eternity.

Of course we all have sinned far more than one time and with George Whitfield we can say,

“If one evil thought, if one evil word, if one evil action, deserves eternal damnation, how many hells, do everyone of us deserve, whose whole lives have been one continued rebellion against God!”

And so fueled from an understanding that we deserve an eternity in hell, we recognize the reality that our unsaved friends and family find themselves in. They are on the verge of falling in it at any second. Jonathan Edwards said,

“Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering.”

We simply cannot shy away from warning people from going there, and we cannot do it with an arrogant and angry heart. Far too many preachers, preach like Jonah, out of duty, and without any love and concern for the lost.

We can’t write on hell without being reminded of Paul’s heart for his people the Jews. In Romans 9:2-3  he says,

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race…

Notice the words sorrow and unceasing anguish. It was difficult for Paul to enjoy life, while knowing that so many of his people were separated from Christ and heading to hell, it kept him up at night, it brought him to tears, and it made him desperate enough to say that he would gladly go to hell himself in exchange for their salvation. Of course Paul believed in God’s sovereignty in salvation, I mean these two verses find themselves in Romans 9! But there is a sense in which our hearts should be nit to Paul’s and we should have anguish and sorrow over all the dying souls around us. This is God’s heart as well. God says in Ezekiel 33:11,

“‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’”

Do you think about hell? Do you warn people about it? When you do, can they tell you don’t want them to go there. Of course the tone in our voice won’t make someone more likely to become a Christian, but it will make them more likely to listen to us, and it will please the Lord that we are striving to be like Him.

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