Westminster Larger Catechism Study

WLC – Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever.

Good friends of ours once had to deal with a pastor who rejected punishment, and falsely taught both the body and soul were just annihilated. Probably the hardest Biblical doctrine to talk about.

What three heresies deny the doctrine of eternal punishment for sin? (.I) Annihilationism, which teaches that in the case of the unsaved, death ends their existence, or else that after suffering a certain duration of punishment for sin they will be annihilated and cease to exist. (b) Universalism, which teaches that all human beings will finally be saved. (c) Restorationism, which teaches that after death the wicked will have a “second chance” to accept salvation, and thus will be saved.

What is the main punishment of sin in the world to come? Beyond question the main or chief punishment of sin in the world to come is everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God. The presence of God is what will make heaven a place of blessedness, and separation from God is what will make hell a place of woe.

How can we answer the argument that God is too good and loving to send any of his creatures to hell? Do we know whether God is good and loving or not? The only way we know about God’s goodness and his love is from the written Word, the Bible. But according to the Bible, love is only one among God’s attributes. God is love, but it does not hollow that God is nothing but love. The Bible teaches that God is also a God of absolute justice. It is God’s attribute of absolute justice that finds expression in the eternal punishment of sinners.

How should we answer the person who says that the doctrine of hell is contrary to “the spirit of Christ”? We have no right to define “the spirit of Christ” according to our own imagination, ideas, or preferences. The only way we can know anything about the teachings of Jesus Christ is from his sayings which are recorded in the New Testament. It has been observed that there is more about hell in the teachings of Jesus than in all the rest of the Bible taken together. The person a who claims that “the spirit of Christ” is contrary to the doctrine of hell does not want to take all of the teachings of Christ as his standard (far less is he willing to take the whole Word of God as his guide): he wants to pick and among Christ’s savings, taking what appeals to him and omitting the rest. The result of this process is that Christ’s teaching is warped and twisted to fit a person’s own ideas and prejudices.

Is it a mistake to urge the fear of hell on people as a motive for believing on Christ as their Savior? Certainly fear of hell is not the only motive nor the highest motive for being a Christian. But the Bible does present this motive over and over again, especially in the teachings of Jesus Christ himself. We conclude that this motive has its place. It is true that we read in 1 john 4:18, “There is no fear in love but pertect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment; he that feareth is not made perfect in love.” But there is a stage in a person’s Christian experience where the motive of fear has its place, and the motive may be used by the Holy Spirit to drive an unsaved person to Christ.

There is in reality much to be said for the old Proverb:

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

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