Fire! Fire! The Reality of Hell

by J.C. Ryle, adapted by
| Time: 6 Minutes

When a house is on fire, what ought to be done first? We ought to give the alarm and wake the inhabitants. This is true love to our neighbor.

Reader, I love your soul and want it to be saved. I am therefore going to tell you something about hell. There is such a place as hell. Let no one deceive you with vain words. Men who don’t like something try hard to not believe it!

When Jesus comes to judge the world, he will punish all who are not his disciples with a fearful punishment. All those who have clung to sin and not turned to Christ shall come to an awful end.

The punishment of hell shall be most severe. Fire is the most destructive and devouring of all elements. Look into the mouth of a blast furnace and think what it would be to be there. Fire is, of all elements, most opposed to life. Creatures can live in air, earth, and water; but nothing can live in fire. Yet fire is the portion of the unbeliever. They will be “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15 KJV).

The punishment of hell will be eternal. Millions of ages will pass away, and the fire will never burn low and become dim. The fuel of that fire will never waste away and be consumed. It is an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12 KJV).

These are sad and painful things to speak of. I have no pleasure in dwelling on them. But they are written in the Bible to teach us. They are part of the Bible which is all profitable. They ought to be heard. Painful as the subject of hell is, it is one about which I dare not, cannot, and must not be silent.

Man’s Opinions and Hell

Everyone who believes in the Bible needs to be careful of those who teach that hell doesn’t exist. These people call hell inconsistent with the mercy of God. They say it’s too awful an idea to be really true. The devil, of course, rejoices in such views. They are preaching his favorite doctrine, “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 KJV).

Some do not believe that hell is eternal. They tell us it’s impossible that a compassionate God would punish men forever. He will surely open the prison doors at last. This also is a mighty help to the devil’s cause.

I know also that some believe there is a hell, but don’t believe anyone goes there. All people with them are good. As soon as they die, all were sincere, all meant well, and all, they hope, got to heaven.

Some believe there is a hell, but choose not to preach it. It’s a subject that should always be kept back, in their opinion. They see no profit in bringing it forward and are rather shocked when it is. This also is an immense help to the devil. The wolf would like the shepherd to sleep, while he prowls around the fold. The devil rejoices when Christians are silent about hell.

Reader, all these notions are the opinions of man. What is it to you and me what man thinks of religion? Man will not judge us on the Last Day. There is but one point to be settled, “What does the Bible teach?”

Do you believe the Bible? Then believe this: Hell is real and true. It’s true as heaven, as true as justification by faith, as true as the fact that Christ died upon the cross. Disbelieve hell and you unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in the Scripture. You may as well throw your Bible aside at once. From “no hell” to “no God” is but a series of steps. Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell will have inhabitants.

God’s Word and Hell

Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell is eternal. It must be eternal, or words have no meaning at all. “Forever and ever,” “everlasting,” “unquenchable,” “never-dying”—all these are expressions used about hell, and expressions that can’t be explained away. It must be eternal, or every doctrine of the gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no need for Christ’s atonement. Where is the warrant in the Bible for saying that hell can ever change a heart, or make it fit for heaven? Nowhere. Hell must be eternal, or it would cease to be hell altogether.

Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell is a subject that ought to be talked about. It is striking to observe that none say so much about it as our Lord Jesus Christ, that gracious and merciful Savior, and the Apostle John, whose heart seems full of love. I can’t forget the words of a dying hearer of Mr. Newton: “Sir, you often told me of Christ and salvation: why did you not remind me of hell and danger?”

Let others hold their peace about hell if they will; I dare not do so. I see it plainly in Scripture, and I must speak of it. I fear that thousands are on the broad path that leads to it. I want to warn them before it’s too late.

The God of The Bible

What would you say of the man who saw his neighbor’s house in danger of being burned down, and never raised the cry of “fire?” What ought to be said of us if we call ourselves Christians, and yet see fires of hell raging in distance, and never warn people? If I never spoke of hell, I should think I had kept back something that was profitable (Proverbs 3:27). I’d be helping the devil.

Reader, I beseech you, in all tender affection, beware of false views of hell. Beware of new and strange doctrines about hell and the eternity of punishment. Beware of manufacturing a God in your own image: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who has a heaven for everybody, but hell for none. Such a God is an idol. He is not the God of the Bible. And there is no God beside the God of the Bible.

Reader, there is a hell. There is a fire. Beware of trying to be wise above that which is written. Beware of forming fanciful theories of your own, and then trying to make the Bible square with them. Beware of cherry-picking from your Bible to suit your taste. Dare not to say, “I believe this verse, for I like it. I don’t like this verse, so I reject it.” God is the Potter. We are the clay (Romans 9:21). Surely it would be better to say, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:46-47 ESV).

If men came to see the beauty of God in Scripture, they would never deny the existence of the fire that awaits those who reject the God of love.

This article is an adapted excerpt from J. C. Ryle’s sermon, “Fire! Fire!
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