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Hellfire And

Hellfire And Brimstone Preaching

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
January, 2000

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Last updated:
January 6, 2000.

Years ago, after a service, people would get up off the benches, and come out the old meeting house doors, telling to each other who they enjoyed that "hellfire and brimstone sermon." Now days the people politely arise from their padded pews, step lightly over the carpet, exchange some pleasantries with their friends, and as they pass out the doors of their lovely place of worship, they compliment their preacher for the beautiful uplifting lesson that he has so eloquently delivered. (And the man knows he'd better continue to give those "uplifting" chapel talks if he wants to stay long there). Back a few years ago when Christians "knew their Bible" and the preachers preached hard against sin, there were a few who didn't like it, but the majority of truly converted children of God appreciated it. Where is the hard preaching!?!

One time Jesus said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." We are then told that, "Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?" (John 6:53,60,61). Jesus knew that His preaching offended some, but he didn't change His preaching. When John the Baptist "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:7,8). When John saw Herod married to his own brother's wife, he said to Herod, "It is not lawful for thee to have her" (Matthew 14:4). Peter told the Jews on Pentecost day (Acts 2:23), "Him... ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain."

Today Some Complain

There are people in the church who whine and grumble about how hard some gospel preachers preach. Some "Christians" even move from one congregation to another in order to escape hearing hard preaching. These same people seem to sit around criticizing the "hard preachers." From this attitude, which causes problems among God's people, there raise several questions: First, what is hard preaching? Second, is hard preaching wrong? Third, why would a Christian be opposed to hard preaching? Fourth, why would a preacher preach hard?

What Is Hard Preaching?

Everyone has an answer for this question. The answers will vary and will be influenced by the sermon content, as well as the hearer's attitude toward the preacher. But Webster defines hard as "Opposed to soft; carried on energetically or persistently; earnest; displaying severity." Preaching is commonly defined as, "A sermon; the delivery in public of a public message." Therefore, hard preaching is basically a message from the Bible that is presented energetically, persistently in words that some may think are harsh or severe.

Is Hard Preaching Wrong?

Is it wrong to preach the word energetically and persistently? NO! The area of disagreement seems to center around the words used by the preacher in his preaching. Is there a place for severe words in preaching? Jesus thought there was; He said, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33). Read Matthew 23 and see how many times Jesus called His hearers "hypocrites". He never held back to spare the feelings of his listeners. On another occasion, Christ said, "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition," and then tells them that their worship is rendered in vain (Mark 7:9). The Master very strict when He said, " one cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 6:60,61)! Others were offended at His preaching. The Bible says, "Then came the disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying" (Matthew 15:12). Jesus knew the effect of His severe words, but He continued to employ them.

Stephen's Hard Preaching

Stephen evidently believed in severe words, too. He said, "Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). This hard sermon cost Stephen his life!

What About The Loving John?

John, the apostle of love, used severe words when he said, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). Language could not be clearer. From the example of Jesus, Stephen, John and many others, hard preaching is not wrong. The key to hard preaching is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Why Oppose Hard Preaching?

There may be several reasons, but here we notice a few: First, a Christian may not understand that hard preaching must be done. Second, he may be personally soft and passive in every area of his life. It may be that he will not take a stand on anything, or tell anybody that they are wrong, because he doesn't want to offend anyone. Third, he may be living in sin himself and doesn't want those sins brought to his attention. Someone said, "Our attitudes will determine our destiny." Fourth, he may be looking for an excuse to leave the church, or possibly cause trouble among God's people. Fifth, he may be trying to get rid of the preacher or at least shut him up. There may be other reasons why a Christian may be opposed to hard preaching, but they are all wrong.

Why Preach Hard?

Unless a preacher demonstrates otherwise, we believe that gospel preachers preach hard because it is the will of God for them to do so. The faithful gospel preacher's commission is, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine." And Paul warns, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Therefore, in order to be pleasing unto God and save his own soul, the preacher must preach hard (1 Timothy 4:16). A reading of the New Testament letters to Christians, will reveal many hard things that the preacher must use in his preaching. In so doing, he will preach the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

Off-Limits Subjects

There are certain subjects that some preachers won't preach on. Other preachers, succumb to direct pressure in a congregation, and others attempting to pacify infantile members refuse to deliver a much needed lesson. God's prophet was pressured in 1 Kings 22:13, "And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good." But his reply was, "As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak" (v. 14).

Some demanded of Isaiah, "Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (30:10). Did you hear it? In other words, "We aren't interested in the truth, we just want to feel good, even if you have to tell us lies. Brother, let's beware of a constant diet of "smooth things". No doubt the psalmist had reference to literal honey when he said, "Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it" (Proverbs 25:16). Too much "sweet talk" is also nauseating to those who realize we must all appear before Christ's judgement seat.

How About You?

Preacher, can you say with Paul, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house" (Acts 20:20)? And with Paul can you say that you are "...pure from the blood of all men. For [you] have not shunned to declare.... all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26,27)?

Today, perhaps as never before, there is great need for hard preaching, and the support by God's people of that kind preaching. God's record shows that it will strengthen the saint and save the sinner.