Romans 9:22-23 “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—”
What an incredibly sobering passage written by Paul to the Roman church. These verses are not intended to identify the origin of evil or explain fully why God has allowed it, but they do provide 3 reasons He has permitted its presence and contamination: 1) to demonstrate His wrath; 2) to make His power known; and 3) to put the riches of His glorious mercy on display. No one is treated unfairly: some receive the justice they earn and deserve, others graciously receive mercy.¹ The bottom line is that we all deserve hell because not one of us is good (Romans 3:10) and because God is a just judge, he must punish us. However, in His overflowing grace and mercy, he reaches down and plucks His elect out of the fire and saves them.
The title of this article may be shocking, but its roots are biblical; and for the elect, they should bring great comfort. In today’s postmodern church, such phrases are wholly condemned and deemed “unloving”, “divisive, or even “heretical”. The truth is that if God is sovereign he has the ability to do whatever he pleases or, rather, whatever pleases him. Further, if God is a just judge, as the Bible illustrates Him to be, then he must punish those who break his Law.
In one of his most famous sermons, Jonathan Edwards set out to prove that “If men bring forth no fruit to God, they are wholly useless, unless in their destruction.” Following that thesis statement he provided four doctrinal assertions he would go on to prove:
- It’s very evident that man can only be useful in one of two ways; either in acting or in being acted upon (and disposed of).
- Bringing forth fruit to God is the only way to be actively useful.
- If he is not bringing forth fruit to God, there is no other way in which he can be passively useful aside from being destroyed.
- In that way (item #3) man may be useful without bearing fruit.
Mr. Edwards’ first assertion claims that if man is to be a useful sort of creature, he must be so either actively or passively; there is no middle ground. Further, if he is to be useful for any purpose, he must be so by either his own actions or in being disposed of by someone else; either in doing something himself to that purpose or else in having something done upon him by someone else to that purpose.² It could not be any more obvious than that if a man does nothing himself and nothing is done to him by any other, he cannot be useful in any way at all. If he does nothing himself to promote the end of his existence, and no other being does anything to promote that end, then nothing will be done to promote his end. Thus, man must be completely useless. So, to reiterate, there are only two ways in which a man can be useful: 1) by actively doing something himself or 2) being the subject of something being done to him.
Mr. Edwards’ second assertion is that the only way man can be actively useful is by bringing forth fruit to God. Thus it is rightly determined that the very thing for which man was made is the glory of God and everything else is secondary. We are not independent beings because we were derived from God. Thus, our end is determined for us by Him and for his purposes and glory. We were specifically designed to glorify Him; this is the work for which we are made. Edwards astutely noted, “Other creatures are made for inferior purposes. Inferior creatures were made for inferior purposes. But it is to be observed, that man is the creature that is highest, and nearest to God, of any in this lower world; and therefore his business is with God, although other creatures are made for lower ends. There my be observed a kind of gradation, or gradual ascent, in the order of the different kinds of creatures, from the meanest clod of earth to man, who hath a rational and immortal soul. A plant, an herb, or tree, is superior in nature to a stone or clod, because it hath a vegetable life. The brute creatures are a degree higher still; for they have sensitive life. But man, having a rational soul, is the highest of this lower creation, and is next to God; therefore his business is with God.“
In his third assertion, Mr. Edwards says, “If men bring not forth fruit to God, there is no other way in which they can be useful passively, but in being destroyed. They are fit for nothing else.” Take a moment and allow the weight of that assertion to sink into your soul. If you are a believer, take a moment to think about all the people in your life that you know do not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, are not bringing forth fruit to God, and will thus serve to glorify Him only in their destruction. If that thought does not remove your worldly fear of evangelism, I don’t think anything will. Proverbs 16:4 reminds us that, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” So, as Paul states in the opening passage (Romans 9:22-23), God has created everyone for a purpose, including those who will be destroyed and thus serve to make known to us, His elect, the riches of His glory. No doubt we have all seen evil in this world, do not wait until it’s too late to evangelize to your lost family and friends; their eternal salvation is at stake.
In his final point, Mr. Edwards drives the point home that men can indeed be useful without bearing fruit when he says, “Men who bring forth no fruit to God, yet in suffering destruction may be useful. Although they be not useful actively, or by any thing which they do; yet they may be useful in what they may suffer; just as a barren tree, which is no way useful standing in the vineyard, yet may be good fuel, and be very useful in the fire. ” Wow.
God has sworn by His great name that he will have his glory, whether men actively glorify Him or not. “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.” Proverbs 11:21 If you continue to not bring forth any fruit to His divine glory, hell will be the only place fit for you. It is a place prepared for the very purpose of being a receptacle for such people. Edwards notes, “In hell nature ceases to labor any more for sinners: The sun doth not run his course to shine upon them, the earth doth not bring forth her fruit to be consumed upon them there. There they will have no opportunity to consume the fruits of divine goodness on their lusts. In hell they can prejudice or encumber nothing, upon which God sets any value. There the faithful servants and ministers of God will no longer spend their strength in vain upon them. “
There is an unfortunate misconception that the devil runs hell. No dear brothers and sisters, God is the one who keeps the fires of hell burning. The eternal punishment is not doled out by Satan, it is the unending wrath of God poured out onto the wicked for all eternity. In his sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Mr. Edwards spells out in grave detail the condition of those who are in danger of going to hell.
“It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For ‘who knows the power of God’s anger?’ How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite misery!”
Since Christ’s death is the only possible way to atone for the sins of men, then the message of the Gospel (that the second member of the trinity had to take the form of a human, commit no sin, and willingly die for our sins in order that we might be reconciled to God) is as offensive to the unbeliever as it is comforting to the believer. Essentially the Gospel is saying that we are so stinking sinful, it took God himself being tortured and crucified to clear our record. The very idea of a god dying for the sins of a man is incredibly offensive to many, if not most people, especially members of other religions where God is held in exceptionally high regard. Interestingly, because those folks are more offended at the message of the Gospel, they are in turn even more sinful and prideful. Thus when they are found guilty before God and He casts them to hell, because they are even more sinful and opposed to him, he is even more just and glorified in their punishment.
The bottom line is that God is glorified whenever He acts like Himself. Punishing His enemies, and ours, puts His power on display, as well as His love for Himself and His hatred for anything and anyone that is not like Himself. Moreover, if anything would not ultimately glorify God, then it would not occur. If anything did occur that did not ultimately glorify God, then God would not be working to display His glory and therefore He would be an idolater; this is an obviously ridiculous (and blasphemous) notion. Therefore, nothing can occur that can not ultimately glorify God.
That glorification includes the eternal conscious torment of those have not put their faith in Jesus Christ and repented of their sins. Indeed, God is glorified in the destruction of sinners.
- MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1711). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
- Edwards, Jonathan. ‘Wicked Men Useful In Their Destruction Only’. N.p. Web. 29 July 2014.