BETWEEN A HARD PLACE AND SATANS SPANDAU
(Or, Why I Believe in Hell)
These are strange times in little Britain. Times when our national churches have abandoned historic Christian doctrine to trumpet the values of redeeming government, even as our rulers decry the role of the savior-state and enthusiastically preach the power of damnation. Out on the western edge as I was, it was some days before I could acquaint myself with the Gospel according to John Patten; there being few outlets for the Spectator in the Bays of Harris.
Poor Patten. Why, it is easy enough to be a popular clergyman in the United Kingdom: the Rev. Bloggs need only be "contemporary" and "relevant." Let him strut his parish in beads and faded jeans; let him nightly quaff a half in the howff; may his deacons all be women and his organist ever gay. Give him a sweet smile and a butch moustache; permit him to believe nothing save that Che Guevara should be canonized and that this Government is wicked. However libidinous, however inane, be his antics as trendily obsolete as flared corduroys at least the Rev. Bloggs does not believe in Hell.
Who, Mr. Patten apart, preaches Hell today? Why, scarcely a church in the land. The Roman Catholics believe in it, but prefer to warn of Purgatory; it is a much more useful dogma for keeping the faithful in line. The small Highland presbyterian denominations adhere to it; but what are they, save Highland and presbyterian? Even most evangelicals that is, those Christians who claim to hold to the final sovereignty of Scripture are eager to forget the Hard Place.
They may sing choruses like Heavens Gonna be a Blast! (a title I have not invented), or even Hallelujah! Outasight! (Another title I have not invented), but Hell? Damnation? Oh my, no; after all, these are hymns, not psalms and hymns are only ever about nice things.
Prominent evangelicals who used to preach Hell like John Stott, now push the new doctrine of conditional immortality. Poor John Stott is so eager to be loved, and who will love the great man in Oxbridge if he continues to warn of everlasting torment? Hence conditional immortality, or isolationism: dead, the godly go to Heaven and the wicked cease to be. Vaporised. Finito.
But I am very Highland, and very presbyterian, and I believe in Hell.
Like Mr. Patten, this makes me very unfashionable. But I repeat: I believe, as a matter of plain fact, that there exists a state of conscious and everlasting misery beyond death for all who die in their sins; that is, for all who live out their lives without God and conclude them without Christ.
And this is a hard thing; who can hear it? For there are few of us who care to acknowledge our through-and-through depravity; and there can be no-one reading this column who has never been bereaved. To face the possibility of hell as our final end is at present enough; to realise that many any of our loved ones may be there already is to know true horror.
Now, your intrepid columnist is a buoyant and cheerful fellow, and nothing would delight him more than to be able to assure his readers that Hell is a medieval fiction. But he cannot.
Hell flows logically from the teaching of scripture. The terrible end that awaits the ungodly is stressed from Genesis to Revelation; as much part of the New Testament as the Old. Indeed, Jesus in the Gospels refers more often to Hell than anyone else in the Bible. He believes in it in sober earnest; after all He created it. For Hell is not the kingdom of Satan. Hell will be Satans Spandau.
The doctrine of Hell necessarily follows from the founding precepts of Christianity. Man oh, all right, Maria Fyfe, humankind; but Man is quicker has been made in the image of God. He is above all other creatures; he has self-awareness, self-knowledge, the capacity to relate, the capacity to relate, to create, to dream. And he is immortal. The soul the "think" must live forever. It cannot cease to be, for it is of God. In our hearts we all know that death is unnatural, the change appalling, the grave obscene.
But when man has rejected God in this world when he has gone his own way, when he has rejected the moral law what then? The logic of God precludes eternal fellowship with such a being, one who has despised His law and defied his will. And when the Gospel itself is spurned, and the way of Christs atonement ignored, what can there be at the last for such a man but to grant his hearts desire? He has repudiated God in this life; let him now forego Him forever.
I have never doubted the reality of such a place; but Hades of deep and lasting darkness. But I have never thought of it in popular terms, as a rather nasty boiler room run by wee men in red tights. Hell is ultimately a negative, a place of nothing but anguish: it is a place without God, and without anything of God, without light, without warmth, without friendship and without peace. No racks, no pincers, no claws: only the fires of an awakened conscience, the burning thirst of frustrated ego.
The wicked ones of history: they will be there. The killers and the exploiters; they will be there. Libertines and gossips, rapists and drunkards, they will be there. Those whose gods were Sex, or Money, or Ambition, or Power; they will be there, Catholics, Baptists, Free Presbyterians if their only faith was religiosity, who had nothing for eternity but denominational; adherence they will be there. And in the darkness, thickest corner of all: the nice ministers, the jolly vicars, the benevolent bishops, who told their people it was heaven for all, and that love was all that mattered and that they really should join the Constitutional Convention.
This I believe. And I believe too that there is only one escape, by flight to Christ and faith in His finished work, living in His service but never looking to such toils for my salvation. But there is this final paradox: to believe in this latter end of all things, and to live and walk in a world that must one day melt in fervent heat to walk among the living dead, with my bright smile and polite talk, and never to challenge, and never warn.
The Herald, April 28, 1992
John Macleod was, at the time of the publication of this article, Scottish Journalist of the Year.
No Church Year for Presbyterians Douglas F. Kelly
As is its custom, the Presbyterians Church US (PCUS) has published a workbook for use by the Women of the Church in their circle Bible studies. Unfortunately, the 1979-1980 study book, Praise GodWorship Through the Year, is out of keeping with the historic Presbyterian understanding of worship.
Let us carefully consider some of the main deficiencies of the workbook so that we might better understand what is the true Presbyterian position on the worship of God:
The basic problem with the workbook is simply its attitude. It assumes that it is appropriate to bring back into the Presbyterian tradition many things which were decisively thrown out by our forefathers in the Reformation, such as the Church Year and vigils.
From reading the workbook, one might get the impression that Presbyterians in the past have been ignorant of the high Church, liturgical Church year traditions; and now that we know about them, it might be good to bring back some of them, like Lent or Ash Wednesday or Epiphany.
This kind of thinking is misguided. It is not the case that Calvinist or Presbyterian tradition has simply been unaware of the ritualistic, Church Year tradition for these 450 years. On the contrary, we have knowingly, purposely and vigorously rejected from our worship the liturgical, Church Year position. We had good reason for rejecting it then, and we have good reasons for not allowing it to be brought back in today.
What are those reasons? Simply stated, our Reforming, Puritan forefathers were earnestly concerned that their worship should be pleasing to God, and they turned to the Scriptures in order to know what would please Him in this matter. As true believers, they knew that Scripture alone had the authority to prescribe what our worship should be. Therefore, they radically cut out elements and practices of worship that were not purely Scriptural. Our fathers in the faith have thus followed what is called the Puritan principle of worship."
The great Protestant Reformation of the 1500s basically divided into two major camps in regard to worship: the broader, Continental approach, and the stricter Puritan interpretation.
Germany, Scandinavia and, later, England followed the Continental approach, which retained a number of medieval Roman Catholic rituals and practices in worship. They said, in effect, "If something is not expressly forbidden by Scripture, we can include it in our worship." Hence, they kept medieval non-Scriptural innovations such as the Church Year, a complex liturgy and so on.
This approach was decisively rejected by our Presbyterian ancestors. In large areas of Switzerland, France, Holland, England for one generation, Scotland, and then in the American colonies, especially New England, the Reformed Churches adhered to the "Puritan principles of worship." They wanted to be as close as they could in every possible way to Gods revealed will in Scripture.
Hence they said, in effect, "We will not allow in worship that which is not expressly required or instituted by Scripture." In other words, the Continentals said that if something is not expressly forbidden, it is all right. The Puritan Presbyterians said, "That does not go far enough. Unless it is actually approved by the Bible, then it is not acceptable."
Therefore, the Puritan Presbyterians "purified" the Churchs worship by cutting out many of the un-Scriptural ceremonies and symbols which had come in during the Dark and Middle Ages. They chopped down statues from the cathedrals; they felt these violated the prohibition of the Second Commandment against graven images. They removed the ritual of the mass and the seasons of the Church YearAdvent, Lent and so forth. They felt this was also a violation of the Second Commandment because it brought "human inventions" into the worship of God.
For instance, the Appendix to the Directory for the Public Worship of God (of the Westminster Assembly, which constitutes the doctrinal basis of the PCUS says:
"There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the Gospel but the Lords day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the World of God, are not to be continued. Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for public fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of Gods providence shall administer cause and opportunity to His people."
Hence the medieval Church Year is clearly cut out by our doctrinal standards.
In the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Puritan principle of worship is explicitly stated in Questions 108 and109 (from which we quote in part):
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the Second Commandment?
A. The duties required in the Second Commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each ones place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
The Presbyterian Church thus cut what it considered to be improper medieval accretions to worship in order to go back to the New Testament Churchs example of simplicity and purity.
Our Presbyterian forefathers did not do this because they wanted to be negative but because they wanted to leave the way open for the great positive to be expressed: the pure, powerful worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the life-changing proclamation of His Gospel every Lords Day. Therefore, fidelity to Scripture, simplicity and Christ-centeredness are the hallmarks of Presbyterian worship.
Again Calvin says:
"Observances should be few and edifying. Further we must strive with the greatest diligence to prevent error from creeping in, either to corrupt or to obscure this pure use. This end will be attained if all observations, whatever they shall be, display manifest usefulness, and if very few are allowed; and especially if a faithful pastors teaching is added to bar the way to perverse opinions" (Institutes, IV, x, 32).
Today as much as ever we must stand for simplicity, purity, fidelity to Scripture, and Christ-centeredness in our worship because we want to worship God in the way He has prescribed, so as to have Christ and His Gospel flourishing at the center of our Churchs life. And thus we must clearly reject the proposed reintroduction of the medieval, Roman Catholic Church Year with its attendant ceremonies.
This article originally appeared in the Presbyterian Journal, November 14, 1979.