Some Comments on Recent Boar's Head Tavern Stuff
UPDATE: Here is the passage in question, from p. 136 of The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel:
The sects teach false doctrine concerning the Gospel. They regard it as nothing else than an instruction for man, teaching him what he must do to secure the grace of God, while in reality the Gospel is God's proclamation to men: "Ye are redeemed from your sins; ye are reconciled to God; your sins are forgiven." No sectarian preacher dare make this frank statement [i.e. to anyone who asks, "what must I do to be saved?"]. If one of them, for instance, Spurgeon, does do it in some of his sermons, it is a Lutheran element in the teaching of the sects and an exception to the rule. Moreover, he is being severely criticized for it as going too far.
I doubt whether this statement about the "sects" is as true today as it was then. As I scribbled in the margin in my copy there: today we should celebrate how much Lutheranism has infiltrated the Reformed, to the degree that it is Edwards and Bunyan who appear strange to them, not Spurgeon.
Next take a look at the thread for September 11, 2007 (significant date that), beginning with Joel Hunter's florilegium of passages on the blessed enjoying the torments of the damned here.
Now this is placed all in the future: heaven and hell. But it is also connected to the past: the herem "ban" or "dedication" of the Canaanites and things (for example Jephthah's daughter) to destruction, as well as to imprecatory psalms. These "problem" passages are usually treated in isolation, but they are all one thread.
The Book of Revelation, in describing the condemnation of the future links them to these past episodes of sacred story. Describing the fall of "Babylon" (variously interpretable as pagan Rome, or more generally the nexus of luxuries, exploitation and persecution of the saints), Revelation 19 reads:
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
Once more they cried out,
"Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever."
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!
The rejoicing in the future over the destruction of figurative Babylon is prefigured in the rejoicing over the destruction of literal Babylon.
But of course the smoke going up in Revelation 19 recalls the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah -- and Abraham beholding it:
And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.Even more vividly is the triumph over the wicked in the last day linked to the triumph over Israel's enemies in the the day of Moses. Recall Revelation 15:
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
"Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.
. . .
The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.'
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.
As James Kugel points out in his invaluable The Bible as It Was (see pp. 345-46), the question of how the Egyptians' bodies being washed on to shore so the Israelites could gloat over them was an significant theme in inter-testamental literature. The theme can thus be assumed to be implicit in the vision of Revelation 15.
The descriptions of the saved in Heaven rejoicing over the torments of the damned in Hell are few in Scripture: perhaps the most explicit is in Isaiah 66:
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."
Jesus of course cites this passage in Mark 9:48. But description of the blessed looking on in triumph over the punishment of the reprobate, what in the Psalms is called "seeing my desire upon my enemies": that theme is pervasive in the scriptures. (Likewise the converse theme of how the sight of the triumph of the blessed will only add to the misery of the condemned.) It's just that usually the triumph is a triumph in this world, not in the next, and the reprobate are more usually punished with death or painful humiliation, not everlasting torment.I haven't read much beyond his web-site on N.T. Wright, but I find it curious that this discussion of seeing with satisfaction the humiliation of the reprobate has proceeded without reference to his emphasis on the resurrection, not "going to Heaven." His point is that "going to Heaven" is about my personal, individual salvation, while the resurrection of the dead is about collective justice and making right a world of injustice: in other words, the righteous looking on in triumph over the discomfiture of the unrighteous. (Daniel 12: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.) If you want to emphasize the resurrection and the prophetic dimension of the new heavens and new earth, then that is the overwhelming Biblical accent on that theme. (There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.)
Linking all these themes raises a problem:
You can take the historical books of the Old Testament and say the plagues on the Egyptians, or the herem of the Canaanites is something you reject and what remains is certainly the Biblical message.
You can take the Psalms and say, as C.S. Lewis did, that the imprecatory Psalms teach a sub-Christian morality and what remains is certainly the Biblical message.
And you can take the New Testament and take away all the warnings of hell in it and what remains may still be the Biblical message.
But if you take away one of those, what warrant do you have for not taking away all three? And if you take away all three, is what you have still the Biblical message?
UPDATE: Walther has something useful to say about hell-fire preaching as well, on p. 134:
[The sects] preach the Law first with great sternness, which is quite proper. We do the same, following the method of the apostles and of Christ. The only wrong feature in this part of their preaching is their depiction of the infernal torments, which is usually done in such a drastic manner as to engage the imagination rather than to make their words sink into the depth of the heart . . . Instead of reducing their hearers to the condition where they profess themselves poor, lost, and condemned sinners, who have deserved everlasting wrath, they put them in a state of mind which makes them say: "Is it not terrible to hear God uttering such awful threatenings on account of sin?" [emphasis added].
In other words, Law preaching is to focus on the fact that the sinner deserves complete condemnation, not on the garish details or extreme physical pains of this condemnation.