Please hear my humility whispering through the words I’m about to write. Adopting conditionalism has altered my view of judgement passages. Before conditionalism, the concept of hell was so horrible that the details were usually left unattended in a shroud of smoke. Hell was awful and analyzing the details was inviting misery. That has changed.
Charles Spurgeon and Hell
While reading Charles Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “The Resurrection of the Dead”, a troubling detail presented itself.1 I understand the first obvious question; “who am I to criticize C.H. Spurgeon?” Exactly, I know.
The second is a question of context. The sermon was delivered as an impassioned plea to a live congregation. Filling the room with smoke was the intent. With all that said, let’s continue…
Spurgeon disagrees with the metaphorical view of hell. He states:
“There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have now a real body – a fire exactly like that which we have on earth in everything except this – that it will not consume, though it will torture you. You have seen the asbestos lying in the red-hot fire but when you take it out, it is unconsumed. So your body will be prepared by God in such a way that it will burn forever without being consumed – it will lie, not as you consider in a metaphorical fire, but in actual flame”
Now some things should be apparent to all, not only to conditionalists. Claiming that the fire is not meant to consume sounds a little odd. But we’ll let that be. What Spurgeon seems to have in mind as the primary object of discussion, is the sinner’s body and it being resurrected as asbestos-like and now incapable of incineration. A horrible prospect, but is it mistaken?
“The Greek word ‘asbestos’ which is translated as ‘unquenchable,’ does not have the meaning that some ascribe to it. On the contrary, it occurs in the common Greek language, especially in Homer, as an adjective to words that do have an end. For example, it is used concerning ‘honor,’ ‘laughter,’ ‘cry,’ and ‘the violent but short fire’ which consumed the Greek fleet. Eusebius says twice in his ‘Church History’2 , that the martyrs were consumed by an ‘unquenchable’ fire. This fire certainly was extinguished. The word ‘asbestos’ is used to emphasize the force and violence of this fire.3
Scripture teaches that ‘asbestos’ is a property of the fire, not the resurrected body. Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17.4 If Spurgeon were to be shown from the Scriptures his improper usage of ‘asbestos’, he would probably concede the point – but I imagine he would add that his description of hell and its inhabitants was valid. That may be so, but he would have to use other words to make his case.
- Sermon # 66, Spurgeon Archives, Delivered on Sabbath Morning, February 17, 1856, By Rev. C.H. Spurgeon, New Park Street Chapel, Southwark
- Volume 6, page 41
- “Evangelii Fullhet,” p. 63, by E.J. Ekman AD 1910
- Young’s Concordance – Unquenchable