Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Flee the Coming Wrath (Matthew 23)

“Serpants, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33).

A common objection to preaching on hell is that “You can’t scare people into heaven.” Besides the obvious response that we preach hell because Christ preached hell, there are some other rationales that can help clarify not only the legitimacy of preaching on hell but its necessity. To explore this issue, we once again turn to our mentor Jonathan Edwards, who faced the above objection more than once: “Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to fright persons to heaven, but I think it is a reasonable thing to endeavor to frighten persons away from hell. They stand upon its brink, and are just ready to fall into it, and are senseless of their danger. Is it not a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire?”

Like most Puritan preachers, Edwards took seriously the role of the conscience. The conscience serves as God’s monitor within the soul to accuse or excuse according to God’s judgment. In fallen man, it restrains sin by making the transgressor uneasy in his sin. Edwards aimed his arrows at the conscience and let them fly as he passionately warned sinners of their coming doom. “Most wicked men that have heard of hell have these internal uneasinesses, arising from the thoughts of their unsafeness.” The conscience burns within them, and while others might not perceive it, they feel its growing anxiety throughout their lives.

Edwards urged his hearers to flee the coming wrath, like Bunyan’s pilgrim, to escape the city of destruction while the way might be found, to seek God and His mercy, and to be born again. Even as Edwards called his people to the refuge of Christ, he knew only God’s grace can change a heart—only when the Holy Spirit opens a man’s eyes can he truly see the salvation of the Lord.

Like Edwards, Christians in all ages need to warn sinners of their dangerous condition, to lead them to a point similar to that of the Philippian jailer who saw his imminent death and cried, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer was not “Be scared straight” but, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Our prayer is that this cry would not manifest a spurious faith, which simply wants to escape hell, but a real faith that trusts Christ and loves Him for His divine excellency.

Skim through the Gospels and note how many times Jesus preached about eternal punishment. Did He hesitate in warning His followers about hell? At the same time, what did He tell them about how to escape the coming wrath? Have you escaped that wrath? If not, put your faith in Christ today.