Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Whose Fault is it that Sinners Perish? (Psa 119.155)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 18, 2011 at 11:12 am

Salvation is far from the wicked:

For they seek not thy statutes.

People blame God for hell. Some who do this then rationalize their hostility for God. Others twist the Scriptures and deny there is any eternal, conscious physical and spiritual torment of sinners in the afterlife, even though this has been the mainstream view of the historic Christian faith from the beginning, as our venerable confession testifies:

The wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (1689 LBCF XXXII.2, citing Matt 25.46; Mark 9.48; 2 Thess 1.7-10).

One modern Scripture-twister is Rob Bell, getting much attention these days with his new book, Love Wins, where he wrote,

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?[1]

Even these brief comments afford many just grounds for criticism. Bell’s characterization of the elect as “only a select number” belies the biblical testimony that they are “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” who shall stand “before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Rev 7.9). Also, we know of no biblical support for Bell’s thesis that human history has lasted “tens of thousands of years.” The genealogies from Adam to Christ suggest something closer to six thousand years.

But the most important problem with Bell’s comments is that he shares the same execrable presupposition of those openly hostile to God, namely, that hell reflects poorly upon him, as if he is or would be blameworthy for it.

In the above quotation, Bell asks four questions, and Scripture answers each one.

1) Yes, there really are two eternal destinies called heaven and hell,[2] and only God’s elect will be eternally blessed in heaven. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt 7.13-14). This does not contradict Rev 7.9, for it means relatively few compared to those who perish, but not few considered as a number in themselves, and how great God’s grace and mercy is toward these elect sinners who are in themselves no better than the reprobate suffering retribution.

2) The eternal reality of heaven and hell is not only acceptable to God; it is the outworking of his purpose from before the world began. Announcing that foreordained plan, the prophet Daniel wrote, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12.2-3).

3) Yes, God has created millions of people who are going to spend eternity in anguish. He is “willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known,” and so he “endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom 9.22). “Vessels of wrath” is a metaphor for the reprobate; they are like bowls designed by God for the outpouring of his wrath. “Fitted” means “prepared,” that is, prepared by God for this very purpose, in contrast with the “vessels of mercy, which he had afore [beforehand] prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (9.23-24), that is, the elect. Other texts confirm this understanding of the passage. “The Lord has made all for himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom” (Prov 16.4 NKJV). Of false teachers, Jude writes that they “were before of old ordained to this condemnation” (Jude 4). Peter wrote of the same people that they were “as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed,” and therefore they “shall perish utterly in their own corruption” (2 Pet 2.12).

4) Yes, God does all this and allows this while claiming to be a loving God, and his claim has superabundant justification. “God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 John 4.8-9). Scripture insists upon God’s loving nature and his general love for all his creatures, along with his prerogative to give and withhold mercy as he pleases (Exod 33.19; Rom 9.18). To preach God’s love at the expense of his wrath is to manufacture a false god of human fancy.

Yes, hell is horrific. We cannot comprehend its endless terrors, but whose fault is it that sinners go there? Our text verse answers the question clearly.

THE WICKED ARE DAMNED AND DOOMED

The phrase, “salvation is far from the wicked,” is a very accurate way to render the Hebrew, identical in several modern translations (ASV, NASB, ESV). “Salvation” means deliverance from trouble. “The wicked” refers to sinners under God’s judgment. To say that salvation is far from them means, in this context, that they are condemned by God and bound to be punished for their sins at last except they repent. Their doom is near. We could say equivalently, “Wicked people are far from being saved.”

This is the biblical diagnosis of all who are without saving faith in Jesus Christ. “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18). “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3.36). Paul characterized Christians before their conversion as having been “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2.12). We Christians used to be “by nature children of wrath, even as others” (Eph 2.3), that is, “deserving of God’s wrath [as much as anyone else]; but, through his grace, another has borne that wrath, as verses 4-7 goes [sic] on to say.”[3]

A vast portion of Holy Scripture is devoted to convincing us of these very things. Sinai thunders! The moral law announces death for transgressors. Both Old and New Testaments are filled with extended passages that describe in elaborate detail and in soaring flights of eloquence how severe is the punishment that sinners deserve, and how certain is their ruin while they continue impenitent. This prophetic emphasis is amply justified by the slowness of the arrogant and unbelieving to believe such bad news about themselves, along with the greatness of God’s determination to have mercy upon many of them, and to convince them of their need for his mercy. It has long been observed that it is harder to get people lost[4] than saved. Once it really sinks in that our sins have made us children of hell and that only God’s grace can avail to save us, we are much more apt to set about seeking the Lord.

And ironically, false teachers like Rob Bell, as they undermine the biblical warnings, are paving the way to hell for millions. Beware!

THE WICKED ARE JUSTLY DAMNED AND DOOMED

“For they seek not thy statutes.” This second line of the our text verse lays the blame for their ruin at their own feet. The Lord repeatedly in Scripture asserts each person’s individual responsibility for his own actions. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek 18.4). “He [a hypothetical wicked son of a righteous man] hath done all these abominations; he [the son] shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him” (Ezek 18.13). This is an expression that means that that wicked son has no one to blame but himself for his own death. Persisting in sin is suicidal, even though God is the just executioner of those committing capital offenses against him.

The New Testament teaches essentially the very same thing. After that most famous and beloved announcement in John’s gospel, the apostle of love continues explaining God’s ways with men this way:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (John 3.17-20).

While God is the ultimate cause of absolutely all things that happen, he is not the blameworthy or chargeable cause of anything that happens.[5] God’s sovereignty does not abolish man’s responsibility.

Psalm 119.155 indirectly proclaims God’s mercy, for it implies that if the wicked would seek God’s statutes, salvation would then not be far from them. This is the explicit call and offer of Isaiah 55.6-7.  Let us seize our opportunity, and not consign ourselves to hell! God is love, whether we perish or not. Amen.

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) of Exeter, New Hampshire, USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com
 
 
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[1] From the Preface.

[2] More precisely, heaven and hell continue until the general resurrection; then there will be a new creation and the lake of fire.

[3] Bullinger, Figures of Speech, p. 833.

[4] That is, to perceive their fearfully lost standing before God and state of spiritual death and ruin.

[5] See Robert Reymond’s discussion of this in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 372.

  1. “Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

    ‘‘Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel . . . When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man . . . you have delivered your life’’ (Ezek. 33:7–9 NASB).

    As we talk about sinners deserving hell, we should also talk about whether or not we also have blood on our hands as they perish due to withholding some key doctrine or else failing to be diligent in our evangelistic efforts.

    ‘I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’’ (Acts 20:26, 27 KJV).

  2. Pastor Meadows,

    Thank you for this balanced and straightforward post. Our forefathers were fond of such preaching. This was nowhere truer then in Edwards, who understood “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” all the while urging sinners to be “Pressing into the Kingdom of God.”

    May we imitate such men.

    We are very wretched creatures. Thanks be to God, whose grace is greater than our sin.

  3. Two further points: 1) My piece is a theodicy and cannot say everything profitable related to this topic, like the church’s responsibility to evangelism. 2) The last paragraph is heartfelt evangelistic appeal.

    Thank you, Pr. Waters, for your kind comments.

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