Posted in book review, theology

Book Review- Heaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the Afterlife by John Gerstner

By Elizabeth Prata
Heaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the AfterlifeHeaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the Afterlife by John H. Gerstner
Dr. Gerstner was an enthusiastic student of the famous Jonathan Edwards. He spent a good deal of his professional life studying Edwards and his theology. In this book, he examines the teaching of Edwards on the subjects of heaven and hell.

A short work, at times felt more like Cliff’s Notes, but it is such a weighty subject, particularly the way Edwards deals with it, that I don’t know if my heart and soul could stand the pain of reading about hell any more deeply that was already presented.

I didn’t agree with all Edwards had to say on the subject (i.e. earth being the location of hell after the conflagration, or that devils torment us in hell) but alternately, Edwards did raise interesting points. Like this one: are men punished for sins IN the state of punishment as well as in the state of trial?

One comes to appreciate Edwards’ attention to the doctrine. His pleas, constant and earnest as they were, to avoid hell ran consistently with the Bible’s frequency on the subject (3-to-1 in favor of threats and warnings vs comforts and lovelies). Here is one excerpt from an unpublished sermon where Edwards remarks on his own frequency of hell’s mention-

And indeed when I went about preparing this discourse it was with considerable discouragement. I thought it was now some time since I had offered any discourse of this nature. But so many had been offered with so little apparent effect that I thought with myself I know not what to say further.

But however because I must warn you from God whether you will hear or whether you will forbear I have warned you again. It has now been told once more, whether you will yield to the power of God’s Word, to the force of the awful warnings and threatenings which the Word of God sets before you [or not]. If you will not hear now you may possibly solemnly lay these things to heart when you come to die. And if you continue in your stupidity to the last, being given up of God to a dreadful degree of hardness that is beyond the alarm of approaching death, which is the case with some, yet as soon as ever you are dead you will be fully sensible of all.

Edwards’ motivation for the frequency of hell’s mention stems from a vivid understanding of God’s character, his wrath and His grace. His sermons are clear on the wondrous character of God and his unchangeableness in dealing with sin. Edwards fervently wanted his hearers to spend eternity in grace, not wrath. Some were converted, some were not. Some even stayed on the fence, Edwards says that “they were neither awakened, nor at ease.”

Gerstner uses copious amounts of quotes from Edwards’ sermons and writings, and many footnotes for further study.

Edwards once remarked that the only way for men to have ease on earth is to delete the doctrine of hell, and so it is the same to this day. Recommended.

Posted in hell, theology

What about hell?

By Elizabeth Prata

I love to speak of Jesus’s love, mercy, grace, salvation, and sanctification. However I also think it is important to speak of His justice, wrath, and consignment of the rebellious to hell in torment forever. Jesus spoke both of His kingdom to come and hell constantly. Yet, we don’t. We should. Many of those on earth won’t be joining Him in His kingdom to come unless they repent of their sins and believe on Him. Jesus taught quite a bit on wrath, hell and the consequences of sin. I read this week for background to this essay that the Bible runs 3-to-1 on wrath vs. love as a topic.

As Bible.org sums it up,

It may be worth noting that in Deuteronomy 28 (and following), the blessing section (28:1-14) is a great deal shorter than the cursing section (28:15-68).

Paul taught that thinking about and teaching about the rapture and the joy to come is encouraging. It is, but remembering the wrath we ourselves were under before salvation and is still poised over every unbeliever is a worthwhile thing to ponder, too.

I started a new book this week, John Gerstner’s treatise, Jonathan Edwards’ on Heaven & Hell. It’s quite illuminating. Though hell should not be a popular subject, (after all it’s the weightiest in the universe), it should not be marginalized, either. Here is the blurb on the book-

Dr. Gerstner was an ardent student of the famous Jonathan Edwards. In this short work, previously published by Baker, he examines the teaching of Edwards on the subjects of heaven and hell.

Hell is a real place and unconverted people will be cast there at the Day of Judgment. If it not real, then where did Jesus descend to during his three-day death to proclaim to the spirits bound there? (1 Peter 3:18-20). Though people try to debate this, dampen, it (annihilationism, universal salvation), hell is real.

If you are looking for a resource on the topic of hell, here are a few items for you-

Described as

a. Everlasting punishment. Mt 25:46.
b. Everlasting fire. Mt 25:41.
c. Everlasting burnings. Isa 33:14.
d. A furnace of fire. Mt 13:42,50.
e. A lake of fire. Rev 20:15.
f. Fire and brimstone. Rev 14:10.
g. Unquenchable fire. Mt 3:12.
h. Devouring fire. Isa 33:14.
4. Prepared for the devil, &c. Mt 25:41.
5. Devils are confined in, until the judgment day. 2Pe 2:4; Jude 1:6.
6. Punishment of, is eternal. Isa 33:14; Rev 20:10.
7. The wicked shall be turned into. Ps 9:17.
8. Human power cannot preserve from. Eze 32:27.
9. The body suffers in. Mt 5:29; 10:28.
10. The soul suffers in. Mt 10:28.
11. The wise avoid. Pr 15:24.
12. Endeavour to keep others from. Pr 23:14; Jude 1:23.
13. The society of the wicked leads to. Pr 5:5; 9:18.
14. The beast, false prophets, and the devil shall be cast into. Rev 19:20; 20:10.
15. The powers of, cannot prevail against the Church. Mt 16:18.
16. Illustrated. Isa 30:33.

John Gerstner (RC Sproul’s mentor) was an ardent student of Jonathan Edwards’ works, as noted above. From Gerstner’s essay on Edwards’ Rationale of Hell, we read Gerstner’s thoughts interspersed with Edwards’-

“those that have a sinful fear of God fear God as evil, but a right fear fears him as great and excellent.” (Edwards). Thus there is a right and wrong fear of God. This wrong fear of God, fearing him as an evil and dreadful being, drives men from God.

“A sinful fear makes men afraid to come to God.” (Edwards)

But, on the other hand, there is a proper fear of God, as the good and holy being that he is, and this right fear makes men afraid to go from him.

Eve and Adam had a sinful fear of God and they fled from Him. Those who are in Him would have a healthy fear to flee away from Him, but instead fly toward Him in all circumstances. On so many levels, once we are converted, everything turns upside down (or right side up, depending on yoru perspective!)

So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7).

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the sentence of hell? (Matthew 23:33)

I’m sorry not to be uplifting or sentimental today. Sometimes I feel the weight of the lost and their permanent eternity, or I give a mournful shaking of my head when I see important topics being shunted aside, and I feel compelled to write about the more unpopular subjects. Hell might not be popular, but it is very real. I recommend John Gerstner (especially at Ligonier.org) and Jonathan Edwards for credible treatment of the subject.

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