Volume 46 - Issue 1

Making Sense of Hell

By Robert Golding


Christian universalism (the view that all people are eventually saved) is largely predicated upon a negative reaction to the traditional doctrine of hell. It is therefore a “second option” to those who see hell as illogical, unnecessary, and/or cruel. In this article, I will argue that hell is not only logical and just but that it is also conceivably necessary. I will do this by way of a theological examination of those who occupy hell’s harrowing halls. This is essential because the loss of the traditional doctrine of hell can mean the loss of souls along with it. Doubting hell is playing with eternal fire.

In1 the ten years from 2004 to 2014, Americans saw a 22% reduction in those who claimed to believe in a literal hell.2 One of the primary drivers of this trend was an instinctual response to hell that perceives it to be illogical, unnecessary, and cruel.3 In his massive tome The Devil’s Redemption, Michael McClymond chronicles Christian rejection of an eternal hell, which spans all ages of church history dating back to a few decades before Origen. He meticulously shows that this rejection of eternal hell was always the minority report, if not relegated to one or two even more obscure groups depending on the era—that is, up until the 1960s. At that time a massive uptick in universalist thinking occurred which, he says, “is unprecedented in the history of the church.”4 Though the traditional doctrine of hell has been under fire for millennia, only recently it has been endangered.

D. A. Carson showed that hell is one of eight possible motivations for accepting the Gospel.5 Tim Keller whittled it down to one of six.6 Both place it first on the list. Historically, it has played a large role in convincing people of their need for Christ. Today, we are losing our doctrine of hell, and Carson and Keller intimate that we are losing conversions with it. If we care about the lost, we must take care to articulate not just what we are inviting them to in Christ, but what we are inviting them away from. Hell is real, eternal, and it makes sense, despite what some philosophers say.

In this article, I lay out a conception of hell as infinite, progressive, and asymptotic in an attempt to offer a Biblical picture that rebuts the above aversions.7 I present the hell as a place of infinite duration for people who are progressively moving further and further from their true existence as subsistence in God, which can be viewed as asymptotic in the same way that the saints8 progressively move closer and closer to God in eternal communion with him in heaven. To do this, I rely on Jonathan Edwards’s notion that hell is understandable when we consider the gravity of sin9 and seek to develop his teaching by synthesizing it with Christopher Woznicki’s concept of the asymptotic nature of sin and sanctification.10 The goals of this article are threefold as they are presented in its respective sections. First, I provide an extrapolation of the reprobate in hell. Second, I rebut some universalist arguments against eternal hell. Third, I provide a potential explanation for the necessity of hell over against the universalist claim that it is unnecessary.

1. The State of the Reprobate in Hell

The next four subsections will offer different lenses through which we might conceive of the reprobate in hell. These various facets will be combined in order to help us better understand how it is just for God to eternally punish the reprobate. This is a sobering and difficult topic. The language used below is not intended to brush over the severity and hellishness of hell. Rather, it is employed to help us better articulate what hell is, so that others might avoid it in the strong arms of Christ.

1.1. Asymptotic

The term asymptotic is employed to capture the reality of the infinitely increasing experience of God that his creatures will enjoy in eternity and the opposite reality for those in hell. While speaking of the grades of glory in heaven as rewards for the saints, Francis Turretin provides us with a reason for gradation of glory: “Objective blessedness which is placed in God does not admit of degrees because he is the supreme and infinite good. But formal blessedness which is placed in the possession of God and participation of his blessings is not in like manner infinite and nothing prevents it from having degrees.”11 Turretin is not describing a progressive increase of glory in heaven, but a gradation of glory that is bestowed upon God’s people as a reward for their earthly works.12 He and others are relatively silent in regards to the question of whether this gradation in glory can be progressive.

However, Jonathan Edwards argues that the glorified saints do not statically commune with Christ, in terms of their glorification and experience of his majesty. Rather, they continue to advance in their relation with him.13 The common conception of gradation in glory in heaven for the saints, depending on their earthly works, is Reformed groundwork which lays the foundation for Edwards’s conception of a progressive heavenly state. The reason, says Edwards, that we must move closer and closer to God in heaven, rather than being in some inert state of perfect communion, is because God is infinite and we are finite. Since God’s power and perfection are so great, “all other beings are as nothing to him, and all other excellency … as nothing and less than nothing … in comparison of his.”14 Indeed, “The whole system of created beings in comparison of him is as the light dust of the balance.”15 Since God’s infinity is, by definition, infinitely higher than our greatest blessedness and he, in the words of Calvin, “contains the fullness of all good things in himself like an inexhaustible fountain,” we will continue to grow in our appreciation and experience of his goodness for eternity in heaven.16

In the same way that a causally or temporally infinite regress is said to be impossible,17 it is presumably the case that the same can be said for qualities. Just as a person cannot go infinitely backwards or forwards because each step would be a step to nowhere since at the end of the journey infinity would always stand infinitely far away, it seems logical to say that we can never reach the climax of a move away from or toward God’s infinite perfection. However, it would be unreasonable to assume that this movement away from God’s perfections would be qualitatively static. A movement away from an infinite point does not negate the movement itself. It is a journey without an end, but a journey nonetheless.

This is important for our purposes (though, much more importantly, our worship) because I seek to use the same concept, but with hell. In a way similar to the progress toward God18 in heaven that the saints enjoy, the lost in hell will continue to move further and further away from his blessedness because, in the same way that there is no “height” to God’s perfections, there is no “depth” upon which a soul might rest as being infinitely far from God.

This conception of hell is being offered because, as we will see, it potentially provides a means by which we can avoid speaking of hell as a place where the people we love are tortured for eternity. This sort of crass language must be refined in order to better articulate what is happening in hell. In what follows I seek to show how a better understanding of those who are in hell will help us see their condition as warranted.

1.2. Less than Human

C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce portrays a masterful illustration (not a dogmatic presentation) of the souls in hell. Grumbling provides an example of the sin that leads to hell:

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. There will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.19

Nietzsche propounded a conception of true humanity that is diametrically opposed to the Biblical teaching. Rather than participating in true humanity by worshipping God, real or ideal humanity (the Übermensch) is only possible when God is completely erased from his conscience.20 Contrary to this aberration from traditional theism, in his Commentary on the Psalm, Theodoret of Cyrus shows that true humanity cherishes the things of God, rather than avoiding them. God’s word is “worth more than gold and precious stones and sweeter than honey—not to all human beings, however, but to those truly human, whose life is not comparable with the brute beasts.”21 True humanity cherishes God’s word as more precious than anything for, as the word of God, it is life itself (Deut 30:20; Ps 27:1; John 11:25). Sinful humanity, in its rejection of God, removes the “you” in you (cf. Rom 7:20).

It is therefore only “in Christ, the second Adam, [that] we are set free to be truly human (John 8:36).”22 As Kuyper beautifully put it, “outside Paradise, a person is not truly human. Paradise belongs to being human. It involves a person’s second body.”23 Indeed, if we can confess with the Chalcedonian Creed that our sinless Lord Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man (θεὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ ἄνθρωπον ἀληθῶς) it seems we must confess that our sin renders us something less than truly man (ἄνθρωπον ἀληθῶς).24 In Genesis, God’s creation is pronounced good (טוֹב) and the creation of man is superlatively so as he is very good (טוֹב מְאֹד; Gen 1:31). As such, “man is … the crown of creation.”25 Though he remains human after the fall, it seems warranted to say that he is significantly less human than when he began. If there is a connection between goodness and humanness (and I think there is), then man’s descent from goodness is simultaneously a descent from humanness. This is indicated by the biblical distinction between eternal life and eternal death. It is not proper to think of humanity as that which is dead. True humanity is alive; life is one of its principal components. The process by which a person loses true spiritual life and becomes spiritually dead is one in which a person becomes less than what he once was. Thus, it seems we have biblical warrant to suggest that reprobate man is somehow less-than-human.

N. T. Wright suggests that those in hell “exist in an ex-human state … [and] become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.”26 While I avoid the question of the imago Dei in the reprobate and I take pause with the moniker “ex-human,” I do suggest that those in hell are in some sort of (mysterious as it may be) less-than-human state. This is in the vein of Lewis’s The Great Divorce, in which the reprobate are fully recognizable to the glorified saints and are even capable of having conversations, but they are depicted as small and increasingly hollow looking when compared to the massive and solid saints (this seems to comport with the distinction in Paul between the physical body [σῶμα ψυχικόν] and the spiritual body [σῶμα πνευματικόν] in 1 Cor 15:44; cf. 15:40).27 Indeed, Turretin states that the saints’ glorified bodies “will shine and glitter like the stars and the sun, hardly capable of being looked at by mortal eyes.”28 The state of the saints is so great that the word “human” seems too narrow to bridge the chasm between saint and reprobate.

Though words fail (hence the power of Lewis’s illustration) the point is that there is a qualitative distinction between the reprobate and the saints in glory as a result of God’s goodness in them.29 This distinction grows perpetually in the way that a line can asymptotically grow closer to a point and, on the other end, further from that same point, yet neither ever reaches an end. This is because the saint and the reprobate are on an infinite journey away from and toward the blessedness of God, respectively. On earth, the reprobate enjoyed his providence and common grace. In hell, his sole disposition toward them is one of wrath. Therefore, all of the things that were produced in them by means of God’s providence and common grace will have, presumably, disappeared as a result of their asymptotic move from him.30 But, we still want to maintain that they are, albeit in a sense different than the glorified saints, still human beings.31 Hence the term less-than-human seems fitting since they (at some point) become (almost) pure evil. Operating from a primarily privation of good (privatio boni) conception of sin, we encounter mystery here since God needs to give some goodness (namely, existence or being) to those creatures in hell.32 Bavinck articulates this mystery well, “In the essential character and concept of the devils, there is something completely incomprehensible. ‘We can only conceive of an absolutely evil being on condition that we either omit something from their absolute wickedness or from their true existence.’”33 To this issue we turn next.

1.3. Corporeal Bodies

Though we can rightly distinguish between a human’s body and soul, Reformed theologians have typically conceived of man as an integrated being.34 John Cooper describes this reality as holistic dualism because humans can exist without bodies (i.e., in the intermediate state which advances dualism) but corporeal existence is the way that they were created, and the way that they will exist in eternity (which advances holism).35 This corporeal nature of the redeemed and reprobate does not mitigate the previous discussion. The reprobate do not need to exist in hell as mere spirit to be less-than-human. Indeed, the corporeal nature of the damned in hell gives us a means to further discuss their state.

Earlier it was said that all of God’s gracious disposition toward the reprobate will be removed after judgement. However, we must also recognize that their being itself is, in the words of Calvin, “a subsistence in God” and thus part of his gracious disposition.36 Therefore, the question arises: How are they to exist if God’s providence is removed from them completely, yet that same providence is required for their existing? Without digressing into the issue of the distinction between being and body, the bodies of the reprobate require God’s providence. How do they then have bodies if they are without God’s providence?

The answer to this question is simply that God does not completely remove his providence, if we can use the word in this way.37 The people in hell require God’s sustaining power to exist. However, it is my suggestion that God only provides them with the bare minimum required for existence. As part of that minimum, they do have corporeal bodies, as is attested by Scripture (Matt 3:12; 10:28; 18:6–9; 25:41–46; Mark 9:42–48; Luke 13:23–25; 16:23–24; John 3:36; Rev 14:11; 20:10, 14–15; 16:11; 21:8). Therefore, upon the privation theory of evil, they are not as evil as possible since that would require non-being. This is perhaps what Mastricht means when he says that God “never exercises justice without any mercy … by punishing his sins not according to their worth and guilt,”38 since it is a mercy, of sorts, to uphold the being of the persons in hell.39 But, I suggest that they are as evil as possible while still existing. They “have become total wrecks” who “lack the fullness of life granted by Christ to believers.”40

The privation theory of evil fits neatly with the asymptotic conception. If evil is truly a lack of the goodness of God, then the evil souls in hell must be radically different from God. They are, as it were, the “opposite” of God, or the “lack” of God. As evil beings, whatever is good in God they, by definition, do not possess. However, since God’s goodness is infinite, their lack of possession of that goodness can never be complete because one can never determine a point that is infinitely far from another point without the potential for further separation. The bar of God’s perfection, as it were, is so high that the only way the reprobate could be maximally far from it would be to cease to exist. But exist they must. Hence, they are on an infinite journey of a hellish lack of goodness. Each moment contains less goodness than the one before, yet in no moment is goodness ever had. They are like cosmonauts drifting away from the edge of the universe whose journey will never end—always infinitely far from the edge, yet infinitely far from their destination.41

However, hell “is not only a place of privation but also of sorrow and pain, in both soul and body; a place of punishment.”42 Truly, a terrifying place to be. Praise be to the eternal Son of God, “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” who swallowed up this infinite horror in his body on the tree (Rev 21:6; 1 Pet 2:24)! Who is sufficient for these things (2 Cor 2:16)?

1.4. “The Execrable Shape”

Clark Pinnock, a proponent of an annihilationist conditional view of hell, said the traditional view of hell is like “people watching a cat trapped in a microwave squirm in agony, while taking delight in it.”43 It is my contention that likening those in hell to cats is a red herring, if not a straw man. Describing crimson sin in terms of feline placidity is pure lionization. The poor cat is a far cry from Milton’s deprecation: “Whence and what art thou, execrable shape?”44

We have said that the reprobate is less-than-human. But, we have also said that he is corporeal. This leads us to ask how it is that a corporeal person could in any meaningful way be described as “less-than-human.” Even if the person is as evil as possible, how can we describe him in this way? We have already noted the affirmation of the Bible and its teachers in this regard. Below, we will try to offer an explanation.

To answer this question, we can imagine a psychopathic child abuser. Though he has a body, we are more apt to call him “monster” than “man.” However, on earth this man might still have qualities that his mother finds lovable.45 Though he abuses all other people, he still buys his mother flowers on Mother’s Day. Even if this is the one good thing he ever does in his life, there is still something to point to and say, “human.” At this point we must remember that a description of humanness is that which properly participates in God’s created order. We are human insofar as we relate to God in the way that we should. In this case, the human activity of the man (that is, buying his mother flowers) is human because it fulfills (though woefully in part) the fifth commandment. Furthermore, this human activity is only possible by God’s common grace that simultaneously restrains the man’s evil impulses to do something different on Mother’s Day (which would have precluded his buying flowers) and also enables him to do something that is (again, only at an infinitesimal level) in accord with the Scriptures, since he is honoring his mother.

It is my contention that when that man, if God should so pass him over in his election, enters hell, he will (either eventually or immediately) lose all but every scintilla of goodness that he once possessed (while still possessing the limited goodness of limited being). God will remove the restraints on the man, and even the impulse to buy his mother flowers on Mother’s Day will be lost to an overwhelming desire to increase in his transgressions. The one thing that his mother could look upon as good in her son, will now be gone. Therefore, even the man’s own mother would see the state of her son in hell and be wont to say, “That is not my son. I do now know what has become of him.” In this sense, the man is her less-than-son, if you will. On the other hand, there will be a person to look at who could be called by the same name without logical absurdity. Due to his continual (asymptotic) move from God’s goodness, the mind cannot imagine how horrible he will become. Our earthly conception of the “monster” is but a caricature of his true form in hell.46

Another distinction can help us at this point. The difference between total and utter depravity is such that, “due to common grace, and due to the fact that total depravity is not utter depravity, [man’s] sin does not work itself out in perfect consistency at any point, this side of hell.”47 However, it seems logical to assert that total depravity evolves into utter depravity on the other side of hell. The distinction, therefore, between a totally depraved person and an utterly depraved one should further help us understand the difference between the reprobate people we know on earth, and their utterly depraved counterparts, if you will, in hell.

Furthermore, the saints blessed union with Christ in eternal communion with him should not be understood as an abstractable entity that is not integral to who they are. Their union with Christ is analogous to their union with a corporeal body. They are united with Christ. As such, we see yet another radical distinction between the saints in heaven and the reprobate in hell. Indeed, it could be said that the difference is as great as that between God and the devil, or good and evil. The saints are to be identified as being in Christ, and the reprobate as being outside of Christ. This is a noteworthy distinction. Appealing again to mystery, we admit with Wilhelmus à Brakel that “there is an incomprehensible difference between the final destiny of believers and the ungodly.”48 But, this incomprehensibility actually serves our purposes. It is in the magnitude of difference that the incomprehensibility lies, and magnitude of difference between the glorified saints and reprobate is just what I seek to emphasize.

1.5. Initial Conclusion

In all that has been said, it seems that there is reason to conclude that there is enough of a radical distinction between the beings of the saints in heaven and the reprobate in hell (though they are both corporeal humans) that the word “human” does not sufficiently capture the range between them.49 As we turn to make some defenses against universalism, this distinction will go a long way in rebutting some intuitive attacks against the traditional view of hell. This is because we are not talking about the same human undergoing torment in hell that is enjoying God’s blessedness in heaven. J. I. Packer put it this way: “One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being dehumanized. Richard Baxter was right to formulate the alternatives as ‘A Saint—or a Brute.’”50

2. Against Universalism

I now seek to use the previously provided picture of the reprobate to rebut some arguments for universalism. The universalist arguments I respond to here are primarily negative. That is, they seek to undermine the traditional view of hell by pointing out alleged inconsistencies. There are, of course, positive arguments for universalism, but they fall outside the scope of this article since a defense of the traditional doctrine is in view, not the dismantling of universalist thought.51

2.1. Intuitive Argument: Family Members in Hell

A common universalist argument employed against an eternal hell is that the saints in heaven will not be able to enjoy communion with God because they will be in constant anguish over their loved ones’ suffering in hell.52 In response, we may apply the previously discussed definition of the reprobate to answer the objection. That is, the love that we have for our family members is only a love for the goodness in them. The mother of the addict does not love her child’s addiction. She loves her child despite that addiction. When everything lovable in that child is gone, the mother will not mourn what is left. In fact, we can now understand how she can desire what is left to be eternally destroyed. If the addiction is all that is left (speaking anthropomorphically), why would she want it to be rescued?

Discussion in this vein is not only helpful in rebutting universalism. It has profound pastoral implications for God’s people. In his exposition of Revelation 18:20, Jonathan Edwards taught that the saints in heaven will rejoice over the damnation of their unbelieving family members in hell because they will be witnessing the justice of God in glorious display.53 While I agree with this assertion, it seems more needs to be said in order for it to make sense to us. Seeing those family members as less-than-human beings devoid of anything that we once loved in them, I argue, makes sense of his teaching.

Thinking in this way makes sense of the rejoicing of the saints over Babylon in Revelation 18:20. If the people in hell are reduced to the parts of them that only seek to do Christ and his bride harm, then we would rightly rejoice over their destruction. Caesarius of Arles asks and answers the question: “Is Babylon the only city in all the world that persecutes or has persecuted the saints of God, so that when she is destroyed all of them are avenged? Babylon is throughout the whole world in evil people, and throughout the world persecutes those who are good.”54 The rejoicing over Babylon is due to the fact that the Babylonians seek to bring the saints down with them and thus, “God will judge Babylon just as severely as she persecuted others.”55 In the words of Simon Kistemaker, “The wicked passed verdicts of punishment on God’s people, but now God has passed the same verdict on them.”56 The rejoicing over Babylon is not the rejoicing over the destruction of our loved ones. It is the rejoicing over the destruction of the parts of our loved ones that sought to do us harm. Though the mother loves her addicted son, she justly hates the part of him that would kill her for another fix. Indeed, she wishes it would be crushed.

In regards to our earthly life, Calvin said, “The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward.”57 If this applies this side of eternity, what reason do we have to say it does not apply to that side? Further, he says, “quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself.”58 Calvin is saying that the goodness we perceive in other people is nothing other than subsistence in God that should lead us to him. I argue that those subsistences are all but removed from the damned and therefore the glorified saints have no reason to look to the damned with affection, for their felicity is completely to be found in goodness, which is completely in God. The damned are vessels made for dishonorable use (Rom. 9:21). Before judgement, they were worthy of affection because they were potentially redeemable and they contained some of God’s goodness. After judgement, they are no longer redeemable, and any goodness they once contained will then be gone.

In this way, the parts of our reprobate family members that we love will not be in hell if, may God forbid, they are not saved in the end. There is no goodness in our family members that is not from God. All goodness is indirectly related to God as its creator and sustainer. Thus, the redeemable qualities in the reprobate are glimmers of God reflected in the marred image of God that they still maintain. When we enjoy other people properly (whoever they are), we are really indirectly enjoying God. When we are in heaven, those redeemable qualities will be, on my view, reunited, as it were, with God. The vestiges will no longer be in the individual person. However, they will not cease to exist. Rather, when we behold God, we will behold those instances of goodness that we once beheld in our loved ones, but in an infinite way in God. In this sense, we will “see” our loved ones in the face of God. This is not because the things we loved in them somehow moved to God, but because the things we loved in them were God. The emanations of the sun do not cease to exist when the moon is gone.

I admit at this point that there still is, as said above, some goodness in the people in hell. This is because they exist. They have being. Existence and being are good gifts from God. I can only guess that this glimmer of God’s goodness, when compared with God’s infinite goodness, is so insignificant by comparison that the saints will hardly notice. If Edwards is right to say that the “whole system of created beings in comparison of him is as the light dust of the balance,” the less-than-human portion in hell is (to put it mildly) even less so.59

Furthermore, this does not mean that their damnation is not terrifying and to be prayed and preached against with as much fervency as humanly possible. The saints in heaven will never be able to behold God’s beauty with their family members, laugh with them, talk with them or enjoy them. However, we must hold this truth as no more pressing than the reality that our perfect communion with Christ cannot be dampened by anything. Therefore, I offer this section as a means of understanding this tension. The damned will suffer in eternal corporeal bodies as the people that they were on earth, but in such a diminished fashion that the saints will not mourn their absence. Neither truth is meant to diminish the other, but to establish it.

2.2. Hell Is Unfitting

Another objection is that eternal hell does not fit a temporal crime. Since humans only transgress in limited ways on earth, it seems warranted to claim that they should only sustain limited punishment in hell. Traditionally, this has been answered by appealing to God’s infinite goodness such that, though the crime is limited in duration, it is committed against an unlimited Person and thus deserves unlimited retribution.60 While there is some weight to this response in the abstract, it does not seem to provide much relief intuitively, if for no other reason than the fact that Christ was able to take our sin into his limited human body (1 Pet 2:24) and pay for it in a limited period of time. A response to this is given that, as per the communication of properties within Christ (communicatio idiomatum), Christ the Person is paying for our sins, and it is therefore a payment of unlimited proportions. However, this does not help us understand why limited sin requires eternal punishment. Even if we (rightly) agree that Christ can pay for sins that deserve eternal punishment in a limited period of time, we are still met with the difficultly in assigning eternal culpability to limited sin. Perhaps the most stinging objection in this vein is made by David Bentley Hart in his vociferous apologetic for Christian universalism. He argues that guilt must be assigned on the basis of the transgressor alone. His response to assigning guilt on the basis of the person (or Person) sinned against is this: “all of this is nonsense: guilt’s ‘proportion’ is not an objective quantity, but an evaluation, and only a monstrous justice would refuse to assign guilt according to the capacities and knowledge of the transgressor.”61 Hart is saying that it is “monstrous” to assign guilt to someone on the basis of the person sinned against, rather than purely on the basis of the sin itself.

To respond to this attack, we can point again to the less-than-human status of the reprobate or, more specifically, their (almost) pure state of evil. If the persons in hell are devoid of God’s goodness, they are as evil as possible. So much so that we should not even use the term “human” to describe them if we want to use the same term to describe the saints in communion with God. Therefore, we should imagine a repugnant distillation of evil in hell, not an amalgamation of lost souls and poor misled Buddhists, etc.62 If we think of the former as opposed to the latter, it seems we can intuitively agree with God’s wrath upon it. As Bruce Davidson says (explicating Edward’s thought), “Hell will be a purification and magnification of this wickedness and its attendant ugliness. All will finally see the wicked world for what it is, once God’s restraining hand of common grace is removed.”63 Everything nice in the “poor misled Buddhist” is not in hell, only the hateful and treacherous parts of her (this is where the asymptotic conception helps us). Further, if we recognize that this repugnant distillation of evil would like nothing more than the death of God and destruction of his sons and daughters, we can find ourselves singing with David, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies” (Ps 139:21–22). This sinful distillation, as I have put it, of the reprobate in hell continue to egregiously sin against God and his children in increasingly evil ways. This means that their culpability continues due to continued sin and maximized evil. Though it is helpful to point to God’s unlimited perfection in order to understand the culpability of sin, it seems to me that pointing to the sinfulness of sin itself can take us all the way to fully understanding why God eternally punishes temporal sins. Sin deserves eternal damnation on its own account.

In sum, emotive force of the universalist argument proffering the poor old Buddhist grandmother burning in the flames as a logical absurdity (or evidence of God’s cruelty) evaporates, for she is a caricature tantamount to the little red devil with a pitchfork.64 The difference between the unspeakably detestable serpent called Satan and his infamous little cartoon is the same between the people who inhabit hell and this Buddhist simulacra.

2.3. Concluding the Defense

The desire to water down the doctrine of hell is ubiquitous in the Church’s history. In what has been said, it is not a diminishment of hell that was offered. Rather, it is an increase in the understanding of the evil of the reprobate through an asymptotic idea of their sinfulness. I do not argue that their damnation is warranted by adjusting hell into a softer frame. Rather, I argue it is warranted because theirs is a severer evil. That is, it seems that a Reformed doctrine of hell should focus on God’s infinite perfection and the horror that a privation of that goodness begets in order to better articulate this vital doctrine to the world. Hell will not be understood by making light of it, but by making much of God and sinful man’s distance from him.

3. Reasons for Eternal Hell

What has been said so far in defense against universalism only serves to rebut the notion that hell is unjust. However, it does nothing to explain why it is necessary. Though related, justice and necessity are distinct. A thing can be just without being necessary. In order to defend the necessity of hell, we will briefly examine the traditional argument, then I will put forward my own.

3.1. God’s Glory

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the necessity of hell is such that, without it, God would not be fully glorified since his justice would not be fully manifest. In this vein Edwards said that “mercy and grace are more valuable on this account. The more they [that is, the saints in heaven] shall see of the justice of God, the more will they prize and rejoice in his love.”65 This is because “the vindictive justice of God will appear strict, exact, awful, and terrible, and therefore glorious.”66 Edwards’s conception of hell, according to Bruce Davidson, is such that it increases the saints’ felicity, and it is required for God’s maximal glorification, which is his chief goal: “Like a perpetual volcanic eruption, this unending display of wrath will call forth the amazement, worship, or terror of the sufferers and redeemed observers.”67

To this it has been objected that it is more glorious for God to justly redeem sinners, than it is to justly punish them, if for no other reason than that the former glorifies Christ, while the latter (allegedly) does not. Warfield, on the other hand, paints a picture in which it is Christ’s wrath that causes us to be “moved with amazement.”68 However, there does seem to be some weight to the argument because, even if Christ is glorified in subjecting evil (which, I agree, he is) it still seems that he would be more glorified in defeating his enemies by making them his sons. The previously discussed less-than-human conception does not help us understand why God needs to punish them. It only seeks to remove the venom from the universalist attack. So, the defense of hell by way of God’s glory helps us some. But can more be said?

3.2. Hell as Believers’ Confirmation?

At this point the article moves from the suggestive to admittedly speculative. The impetus for what follows is a rebuttal of the claim that there can be no logical reason for eternal hell. Therefore, this subsection is presented as a potential logical possibility in accordance with Scripture, but not as a dogmatic answer to the question. This possible situation does not need to be actual reality for it to serve as a rejoinder to the aforesaid universalist claim. It is a defense, not a theodicy.

Perhaps the means by which believers are confirmed in heaven is the existence of hell that is progressively purified of all vestiges—and therefore corruptions of—God’s goodness, such that an onlooking body of saints see no means of “escape” from the beatific vision other than a progressively murkier pool of pure evil that is simultaneously shrinking as the substantial vestiges of goodness that were once in it are purged. Eve saw the beautiful fruit and heard the whisper of Satan inviting her to eat. The saints see the opposite of beauty in hell and hear the vomitus cries of regret. Perhaps this is the means by which the saints are graciously led to never desire the fruit again—the constant reminder of its filth and the agony it heaped upon their God on the cross.

No one goes to bed an unbeliever, and merely wakes up a Christian. God always uses means to unilaterally redeem his sons. In maintaining divine meticulous sovereignty and Reformed soteriology, we are not forced to endorse blind determinism, coercion or some mysterious will of God that actualizes events in our world in purely supernatural ways. Children are not dropped from the heavens by God’s miraculous power (though of course they could be). They are miraculously formed by God’s providential action through natural means in their mothers’ wombs.69 Every Christian was saved by very ordinary means of grace like the reading of Scripture, the preaching of the word, and prayer.

Perhaps it is the case that confirmation in heaven is similarly “ordinary.” In this case, believers would be lovingly (and justly) reminded of the final end of all swerving from the glory of God. Rather than being ontologically supplemented with a supernatural ability to resist all evil, believers would simply be visibly reminded by such a great deterrent that sin would be effectively rendered impossible. I cannot offer these words more tentatively because I am now attempting to say that communion with God would not be sufficient to convince glorified men to abstain from sin. Instinctively, I do not want to say this. However, this is precisely what happened in the garden—Adam’s mutably perfect communion with God “was not enough,” as it were, to keep him from sin. Somehow, he was led to leave. What is it in the consummation of all things that remedies this situation? Perhaps it is human experience—we have all tasted the bitter apple, and we will not forget it. This remembrance will not be grievous, but glorious because God will display his glory upon it.

It seems hell can be placed within the realm of soteriology because it can compel sinners to embrace Christ. It also humbles us, brings us to Christ, draws us to the reverence of God and back from sin.70 Therefore, I am merely suggesting an expansion of this understanding of hell. We agree it has soteriological effects specifically in justification and perhaps sanctification. I am suggesting that we could potentially expand those soteriological effects to perseverance and confirmation of the saints as well.

At this point it might be argued that the eternal damnation of conscious beings is a gratuitous means to procure the confirmation of the saints in heaven. If God is omnipotent, why create the terrifying reality of hell when he can simply ordain that no saint ever lose his glorification in heaven? The only response to this is another question: Why did he create the terrifying reality of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to elicit the same end? The tree was a physical means of procuring the spiritual end of eternal confirmation. Perhaps hell is the same.

This does not serve to disagree with Augustine’s conception of glorified man as not able to sin (non posse pecarre).71 Rather, it seeks to offer a potential explanation for why that will be the case. We indeed will not be able to sin, and this is potentially part of the reason why: there will be no other option for us, because we will see evil as it is. Further, this does not serve to denigrate God’s goodness by saying we need something else to be perfectly blessed. Rather, it serves to illustrate our creaturely nature that, even in heaven, we require shepherdly means to stay in the fold. And in the fold we shall remain. If this notion does anything, it reduces the saints’ status, not God’s—though I hope it does neither.

Further, this does not serve to disagree with the notion that our glorified state which contains the seed of God (1 John 3:9) is the means by which we continue as saints. We will be made perfect through perfect communion with God and this is indeed the grounds of our incorruptibility in heaven. If it is true, as Frame says, that “God’s wrath serves the purposes of his love,” then perhaps this is a logical outworking of that principle at an eternal level.72 The use of hell as a means to this end is not offered as a replacement for the biblical teaching, but a potential subset of it.

A potential analogue for this idea can be seen in Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.73 Though it is impossible, as per his divine nature, for Christ to sin, I contend that, according to his human nature, it was possible for Christ to sin in the sense that it is possible for me to eat dirt. Technically, or mechanically, yes, this is possible. But there are no possible states of affairs in which I can willfully be led to do this if I am not constrained by external necessity. Christ had the physical ability to kneel before Satan or jump from atop the temple and, therefore, the ability to sin, in a sense; but it was, at the same time, repugnant to him like eating dirt is to me (yet infinitely more so). So, more properly, it was impossible for Christ to sin. This felt repugnancy is one of the means by which he was not able to sin (non posse peccare), just as my knowledge of dirt is the means by which I have been able to refrain from eating it all these years. Why was Christ able to be so opposed to sin in the wilderness? Part of the answer to that question is that he saw sin exactly for what it was. If this is correct, Christ’s temptation could be a window into our confirmation in heaven. The saints are free and uncompelled, yet it is impossible that they will ever seek to depart their felicity in heaven which is communion with God. Christ was able to see Satan’s offer to sin as what it really was—repulsive. Perhaps hell is the means by which we will be able to make that selfsame assessment in heaven. What is the difference between glorified saints and prelapsarian Adam? The former truly know what sin is.

Interestingly, Turretin picks up on the hellish language of Song of Songs when describing the saints’ perseverance, “The love of Christ is said to be ‘strong’ (Cant. 8:6,7, i.e., insuperable) as ‘death,’” which conquers all things, and a “jealousy cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire … which God … kindles to endure forever.”74 He follows this with the striking claim that Christ “gives us his fear that we may not cease loving him.”75

Turretin says that perseverance arises “from a purpose of mind and a constancy of will in retaining the object [of salvation].” As such, he affirms “means appointed by God to obtain it [that is, perseverance].” Hence, believers do not have perseverance “through any external force … but in the use of the means [such as] exhortations and promises and threatenings.”76 To be sure, Turretin is here referring to earthly perseverance. However, in describing threatenings as a means of perseverance, it is not a far step to say the same about hell. If this is so, we are merely extending hell as a means of perseverance in heaven as well.

We can, of course, appeal to mystery and God’s sovereignty to answer these questions. We can say that we do not know exactly why or how we will not sin in heaven other than the fact that God is fully capable of giving us freedom that will choose him for eternity. We can also say that a full view of God (though not comprehensive) will render sin an impossibility, but this seems to go against the grain of Genesis 3, as stated above. However, even with this difficulty, the previous discussion would probably not need to be suggested. The impetus for these remarks is, again, universalist critique of eternal hell as unnecessary. As such, what has been said is highly tentative and formulated on the basis of apologetic needs; it is not on dogmatic necessity. However, if it is true, this would provide us with an issuant account of hell. That is, God’s love could be properly seen as the telic end of hell.

Rather than denigrating the status of heavenly saints, this is an appeal to better understand their status. Since glorification is not some abstractable ontological supplement to be endowed in eternity, it seems better to understand one facet of it in terms of our future relationship with God. As such, it seems possible that one of the innumerable means by which he will unite us with him is by showing us what sin really is, so that we see it, as far as were able, like he does. Of course, he could do this in an instant without means, but God typically employs means, as has been said. This seems to provide us with a more concrete, ethical and relation-based understanding of eternal preservation, rather than an abstract one. That is, rather than seeing God as zapping us with spiritual understanding, we can imagine him as taking us by the hand to the precipice of eternal destruction and saying, as the last lines of Isaiah proclaim:

“From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me,” declares the Lord. “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isa 66:23–24)

4. Conclusion

It is my hope and prayer that this article will strengthen the resolve of gospel preachers, whoever they may be, to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) which includes eternal damnation for those who reject it. First, I have attempted to present a picture of the reprobate in hell that comports with a just dispensation of God’s wrath as depicted in Scripture. I have sought to show that the reprobate are so hellish that any fond feelings for them (as the universalists seek to evoke) are misplaced. The second part of this paper used that conception to negate intuitive arguments against eternal hell as a place that would mar the saints’ felicity due to their loved ones being there, as well as the notion that eternal hell does not fit finite sins. The hellish nature of the reprobate would not detract from the saints’ felicity because the goodness of their loved ones would not be in hell; since only the evil remains, eternal destruction is fitting. The final part of this paper aimed to present a logical possibility for the necessity of eternal hell, building on the conception of those who inhabit it. If it provided a possible explanation that is in accordance with Scripture, the universalist claim that eternal hell is necessarily illogical would be refuted.

All of this has been done in the desire to maintain a biblical explanation of hell that is in accord with the vast majority of Christian tradition. But that is not all; I firmly believe that a failure to maintain a biblical doctrine of eternal hell will greatly reduce the number of people who place their hope in Christ. God is sovereign and unilaterally saves his elect; but he always uses means. One of those means is the proclamation of the gospel. “Proclaiming” the gospel without warning our hearers of the hellishness of hell is like offering chemotherapy to a person without telling them they have cancer. It is spiritual malpractice. Perhaps some will accept the treatment because they think it will provide them with a better life here and now, but most will not. If we are convinced that people eternally die without the gospel, we must tell them so. The unpalatable nature of eternal hell has led many people who profess belief in Christ to reject what Christ himself taught about hell (Matt 3:12, 10:28, 18:6–9, 25:41–46; Mark 9:42–48; Luke 13:23–25, 16:23–24; John 3:36). Could this be the reason that the church has been dwindling? Correlation is not always causation, but it is interesting to note that the church has been shrinking at the same time that people are rejecting the doctrine of eternal hell. This is surely the case with the ever-diminishing mainline churches who by-and-large reject this doctrine. And this makes sense—why give up my life, and “take up my cross” if after this life all will be well no matter what I do? Christ’s beauty should attract us to him no matter what the alternate possibilities may be. But we are sinful creatures with hearts and minds bent on destruction (Jer 17:9). We must, therefore, clearly present the destruction toward which those who are outside of Christ are hurdling. We must soberly look sin and hell in the eye if we want to vanquish it. Pretending it is not there—like universalists do—is simply denial. And denial will never destroy.

In case one does not find that this compels him to teach the traditional doctrine for the sake of others, perhaps he should examine himself. Christ’s incarnational words about hell are multitudinous. Some universalists reject those words as “intentionally heterogenous phantasmagory, meant as much to disorient as to instruct.”77 But Christ said, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). We should not be ashamed of the Bible’s doctrine of eternal damnation any more than we should be ashamed of Christ’s words. Instead, we should be ashamed of our sin that requires eternal damnation. I close with these words of Bavinck: “When all is said and done, sin proves to be an incomprehensible mystery … [but] when revelation has been complete and Christ comes to destroy the works of the devil, then also the ‘deep things of Satan’ become manifest.”78

[1] Many thanks to (preeminently) my beautiful wife for allowing me to barricade myself in my study while she chased our kids around the house during COVID-19 lockdown, to Sinclair Ferguson for allowing me to extend the normal limits of this paper for his class, and to Brian Tabb for robust and helpful feedback throughout this article. All views and shortcomings herein are my own.

[2] Albert Winseman, “Eternal Destinations: Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell.” Gallup, 25 May 2014,; “Belief In Hell,” Pew Research Center, 2014,

[3] Bavinck enumerates and dismantles five general arguments (over one hundred years ago!) against the traditional doctrine of hell, which are summarized as follows (and distilled above): (1) incompatible with God’s goodness, (2) incompatible with God’s justice, (3) inconceivable in terms of biblical imagery, (4) not taught in Scripture, and (5) denied by Scripture’s universalist claims. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 4:704–5.

[4] Michael J. McClymond, The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 1005.

[5] D. A. Carson, “Motivations to Appeal to in Our Hearers When We Preach for Conversion,” Themelios 35 (2010): 258–59.

[6] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 114.

[7] An asymptotic curve is one that continually approaches a straight line without touching at any point, which is employed to describe our ascent into greater and greater communion with the infinite God in Christ. More on this below.

[8] This term is used hereafter to refer to those who are in heaven (though it ordinarily can refer to Christians on earth).

[9] Bruce Davidson, “Reasonable Damnation: How Jonathan Edwards Argued for the Rationality of Hell,” JETS 38 (1995): 47–56.

[10] Woznicki’s goal is to defend Edwards’s conception of hell by arguing it can be an issuant account as entailed by God’s election and reprobation being asymptotically grounded in being. I use his asymptotic conception but in regards to ethics instead. Christopher Woznicki, “Redeeming Edwards’s Doctrine of Hell: An ‘Edwardsean’ Account,” Themelios 42 (2017): 321–34.

[11] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T Dennison, trans. George Giger (Philippsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 629 (emphasis mine).

[12] Calvin and Bavinck say the same; see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.25.10, trans. John T. McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006); Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:727–30.

[13] See the appendix entitled “Heaven is a Progressive State” in Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings, ed. Paul Ramsey, The Works of Jonathan Edwards 8 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 706–39.

[14] Edwards, Ethical Writings, 451.

[15] Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: Entry Nos. 1153–1320, ed. Douglas A. Sweeney, The Works of Jonathan Edwards 23 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 133.

[16] Calvin, Institutes 3.25.10.

[17] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 290.

[18] It should be noted here that this movement toward God or progressive communion with God is not to say that heaven is not perfect. Rather, it is to say that God’s perfection is infinite. Thus, an experience of infinite perfection, while perfect, is never complete, if you will. There is always more perfection to be experienced. The depths of God’s goodness will never be reached by those who love him, making ever deeper the riches of their blessedness and grounds for worship. This is analogous to Adam’s state of probationary perfection in the garden since both are dynamic states of perfection (of course, with serious differences).

[19] C. S Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 507.

[20] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 120.

[21] Theodoret, Commentary on the Psalm 19:5–6; cited in Craig A. Blaising and Carmen Hardin, eds., Psalms 1–50, ACCSOT 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 154 (emphasis mine).

[22] Toby Kurth and Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Study and Discussion Guide (Zondervan, 2013), 27 (emphasis mine).

[23] Abraham Kuyper, Honey from the Rock: Daily Devotions from Young Kuyper, trans. James A. de Jong (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 213.

[24] Chalcedonian Creed, A.D. 451,

[25] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), 181.

[26] N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 182–83.

[27] See Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, 463–542; cf. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:696–98.

[28] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3:619.

[29] For a distinction based on 1 John 2:19 see, Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:606.

[30] This “movement” is not to be understood as locative. Rather, it is an ethical disposition in which the person seeks more and more distance from God through more and more egregious desire for sin.

[31] Bavinck is emphatic on the point that, at least at the resurrection, the reprobate are corporeally human. “Corporeality is the end of the ways of God.” Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:693–94. For the distinction between flesh and body, see 4:696–98.

[32] For a helpful discussion on this topic see, Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:40–48.

[33] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:146; citing C. E. Nitzsch, System of Christian Doctrines (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1849), §116.

[34] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 192–93; Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994), 472–82; Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:693–98.

[35] John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 230–31.

[36] This is because a person’s being can never be merited. If it is not merited, then when God gives it, it is gracious. Calvin, Institutes 1.1.1; See also, Peter van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, ed. Joel Beeke, trans. Todd Rester (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2018), 3:372.

[37] Some have argued that this willing of man’s continued being is one way that God’s damnation of the reprobate is to be seen as “loving” since being is a good. See: Eleonore Stump, “Dante’s Hell, Aquinas’s Moral Theory, and the Love of God,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16 (1986): 181–98.

[38] Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, 2:357–58. However, cf. 2:375: “Scriptures … remind us of a judgement without mercy.” Interestingly, he uses James 2:13 as support for both of these seemingly contradictory statements.

[39] Space precludes addressing the question of whether or not those in hell would wish to be annihilated (and therefore loose the goodness of being). In passing, I will suggest that it seems plausible that the reprobates’ intense desire for sin will compel them to desire continued existence in the (illogical) hope that their sin might abound (this seems to be the case with Satan). Further, Frame notes the possibility that “in their very punishment in hell, God is giving a privilege to the lost” by allowing them to display his justice. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 413.

[40] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:710.

[41] This is analogous to Kvanvig’s presentation of hell in which he shows that there can be a seemingly contradictory, but nonetheless compatible, distinction between the teleological end of hell (moving toward non-being) and the actual mechanical end of hell (maintenance of being). Jonathan L. Kvanvig, The Problem of Hell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 148.

[42] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:703.

[43] Clark Pinnock, “The Conditional View,” in Four Views on Hell, ed. William Crockett (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 140.

[44] John Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.l681.

[45] We see a real-life example of this, from daughter to father, in Edda Goerin’s description of her father, who was one of Hitler’s right-hand men, as “loving.” Though the man was evil, his love for his daughter was something good. See Daniel Slotnik, “Edda Goering, Unrepentant Daughter of Hermann, Dies at 80,” New York Times, 13 March 2019,

[46] This theme is ubiquitous in literature. We have already noted C. S. Lewis’s example. Others include characters like Darth Vader, Lord Voldemort, and Gollum (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings respectively) who began their fictional lives as humans (or, in Gollum’s case, a hobbit) but steadily increased in evil to the point of being something, arguably, other than human (or a hobbit). My thanks to Brian Tabb for pointing this out to me.

[47] Lane Tipton, TH221 Doctrine of Man, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), “The Estate of Sin and Misery” (emphasis mine).

[48] Wilhemus à Brakel, Christian’s Reasonable Service (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2012), 4:303.

[49] Again, the point of this remark is not to ease the horror by denigrating the being experiencing it. Rather, it is to justify that selfsame horror because it is properly fitting for the being that undergoes it. The goal is not to decrease God’s judgement but to decrease man’s estimation of himself apart from God.

[50] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 114.

[51] On the other hand, Michal McClymond devotes the bulk, if not the entirety, of his analysis against the positive arguments of universalism. See McClymond, The Devil’s Redemption, especially, 999–1062. He also notes, as I mention above, that attacks against the traditional doctrine of hell could be driving modern movement toward universalism: “The root-and-branch reevaluation of Christianity that we find among contemporary universalists may also have something to do with the critical voices to which each author is speaking” 942.

[52] The most forceful version of this argument, perhaps, is seen in, David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 130–58.

[53] Jonathan Edwards, “Rev. 18:20,” in Sermons, Series II, 1733, Works of Jonathan Edwards Online 48 (New Haven, Yale University, 2008), 277.

[54] Caesarius of Arles, Exposition on the Apocalypse 18:20, Homily 17; cited in William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, ACCSNT 12 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 294 (emphasis mine).

[55] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 917.

[56] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 500.

[57] Calvin, Institutes 1.1.1.

[58] Calvin, Institutes 1.1.1.

[59] Edwards, The Miscellanies, 133.

[60] First articulated by Anselm in 1094–1098. See, Cur Deus Homo 1.21; 2.14; Cf. Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, ed. C Holbrook (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 39–42, 130–33.

[61] Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, 140.

[62] David Hart proffers Buddhists as examples of superior charity to that of Christians. See Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, 14–15.

[63] Bruce Davidson, “Glorious Damnation: Hell as an Essential Element in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards,” JETS 54 (2011): 819.

[64] On the other hand, Bavinck says that the “image [of God] has changed into a caricature” after the fall. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:140.

[65] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1990), 2:209.

[66] Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:87.

[67] Davidson, “Glorious Damnation,” 817.

[68] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Power of God unto Salvation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1903), 18–19.

[69] I use the term “miraculous” here loosely in the sense that through God’s meticulous sovereignty all events are, in a sense, miraculous. Of course, there is a distinction here between that type of miracle and the one that is supernatural and inexplicable in natural terms (like the virgin birth).

[70] Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, 2:359, 401–2; Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2012), 830–34.

[71] Augustine, Admonition and Grace 11:32–12.33, The Enchiridion 118 (NPNF 3:275).

[72] Frame, The Doctrine of God, 468.

[73] My thanks to the anonymous referee(s) who helped me revise this paragraph to be more readable and precise.

[74] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:600.

[75] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:601.

[76] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:611.

[77] Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, 119.

[78] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:145–46.

Robert Golding

Robert Golding is the lead pastor of First Christian Reformed Church of Artesia, California.

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