Dorothy Sayers on Why Hell Is a Non-Negotiable

Today belongs to the soundbite; tomorrow belongs to marketing; eternity belongs to the Truth. If you live only for this world, you will care little for truth. "Let us eat, drink and be merry" - and call the ideas that protect our appetites "truths." But if you live for eternity, you will forego a few fads in order to be everlastingly relevant.

We prize truth at Bethlehem above temporary successes. Where truth is minimized and people are not rooted and grounded in it, successes are superficial and the growing tree is hollow, even while it blooms in the sunshine of prosperity. O may God give us a humble, submissive love for the truth of God's word in the depth and fullness of it.

Listen to Paul's warning about our day: "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3) . . . who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Take, for example, one truth that is not popular and is being abandoned by many who fly the banner of "evangelical" over their tent - the truth of hell. O what a difference it makes when one believes in hell - with trembling and with tears. There is a seriousness over all of life, and an urgency in all our endeavors, and a flavor of blood-earnestness that seasons everything and makes sin feel more sinful, and righteousness feel more righteous, and life feel more precious, and relationships feel more profound, and God appear more weighty.

Nevertheless, as in every generation, there are fresh abandonments of the truth. Clark Pinnock, a Canadian theologian who still calls himself an evangelical, wrote,

I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life. . . . It's time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment." (Clark Pinnock and Delwin Brown, Theological Crossfire: An Evangelical/Liberal Dialogue [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990], pp. 226-227)

Dorothy Sayers, who died in 1957, speaks a necessary antidote to this kind of abandonment of truth.

There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the "cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell," or "the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms." . . .

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not " mediaeval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "mediaeval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "mediaeval superstition," but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. . . . It confronts us in the oldest and least "edited" of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists [gospels] through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ. (Dorothy Sayers, A Matter of Eternity, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973], p. 86)

I would only add: There are many other things which, if abandoned, will also mean the eventual repudiation of Christ. It is not out of antiquarian allegiance that we love the truth - even the hard ones. It is out of love to Christ - and love to the people that only the Christ of truth can save.

Longing to love people with the truth,

Pastor John

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