In a two-part series on Reformation 21‘s website (appearing in November 2005 and March 2006),* Sinclair Ferguson, offers his A Preacher’s Decalogue, a series of ten rules for preachers to consider. I found it to be an excellent read and something for anyone who is called to preach the Bible–God’s Holy Word–to consider as they prepare to enter the preaching ministry. You may also find the complete article HERE.
Know your Bible better.
Be a man of prayer.
Don’t lose sight of Christ.
Be deeply Trinitarian.
Use your imagination.
Speak much of sin and grace.
Use “the plain style.”
Find your own voice.
Learn how to transition.
Love your people.
As a preacher/teacher for thirty-six years now, I find that these rules are more important than ever before. I appreciate Ferguson and his love and passion for the Word of God and for declaring it well and often.
* It appears that this article is no longer available on Reformation 21‘s website. However, the link above is for themelios where I found it online.
I remember my grandfather taking me crabbing. We would go to the ship channels that came from Port Isabel to the Port of Brownsville. There was plenty of crabs that we would catch. We’d take a pair of pantyhose (not to wear!) and cut the legs off, place a piece of chicken in the foot of the pantyhose, and tie a string to the top of the leg. After swinging it out into the water, we would let it sink, drag it ever slowly back to us, and there would be at minimum two to five crabs with their claws clamped down on the chicken and stuck in the pantyhose! We’d turn them over, rub their bellys for about five seconds and the crabs would release and be sound asleep. Then we’d take them home, boil some water, and throw them in there to boil for about fifteen to twenty minutes and we’d have fresh crab for dinner. It was always a delight of mine to spend that time with my grandfather.
He also taught me how to fish. He had all sorts of lures, but we would always opt for live shrimp when we went fishing. I remember that my grandfather had a special hook to hold the shrimp in place. They’d be able to still walk and crawl and the live shrimp would then entice a fish to take a bite at it. It was exhilirating when we’d get a bite and were able to hook the fish. We’d catch flounder, sea bass, sea trout, and once in a blue moon a red snapper as we were fishing from the ship channels.
My grandfather would talk to me and tell me stories and he would teach me. Every afternoon, my dad would go to my grandfather’s house and drink coffee with his dad and mom. There my grandfather would teach him as well. He taught my dad the Bible and in turn my dad would take me to a place called “Mr. Donut” in the evening, have me read a passage of Scripture that my grandfather taught him, and he would teach it to me. It is a blessing in my life to have had time with both my grandfather and my dad.
And they taught me well. Every Sunday morning, my grandfather would go fishing. No, it wasn’t for fish or for crabs, but for people. He’d pick up people to go with him to church services. During the week he’d be out fishing for people. He had a lot of friends where we grew up. My dad did the same thing. Wherever they would go, they were always fishing for men. They would tell them Good News about how Jesus Christ died according to the Scriptures, how He was buried, and how He was raised again according to the Scriptures. They would tell them how Jesus Christ showed Himself to over five hundred witnesses after He was raised from the dead, how He ascended into heaven, and how one day He will return to catch us away to be with Him forever.
There would be men who would be look at the bait. They’d listen and start nipping at it, wondering if this Good News was really true. Then they would take the bait and would ask my grandfather or my father, “How can I have this? What do I need to do to be saved?” They would inevitably lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and He would save them.
The greatest of all truths as Christians is that we have Jesus’ message to speak. In Matthew 4:12-17, we see that Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry and preached His message: Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is a simple message that He preached. John the Baptist preached the same message of repentance. In the Old Testament “repentance” meant to have a change of action. In the New Testament “repentance” meant to have a change of mind. So as God in His Word developed the idea of “repentance” for us to understand it in its fullness, we can deduce that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of action. It is a whole new perspective. We are turning from living in the darkness to living in the light. We are now no longer dead in our trespasses and sins, but alive and walking in newness of life. Repentance is something that Jesus Christ commands of us. And for what reason? Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus Christ had long established the kingdom of heaven. It was established in the Garden of Eden. But when man sinned in the Garden, he was cast out of the kingdom of heaven because of his sin. From that time forward, man has been trying to reach the heights of the kingdom of heaven by building towers, by working to achieve what he is unable, by doing good acts of righteousness, but to no avail. It is not by any of these things that a man is saved, but it is by repenting of sin and turning to the One who is establishing His kingdom on earth: Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ said that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, He was saying that He is now with us and we can be part of His kingdom–part of His domain. When a man is not in Jesus Christ’s domain, he is in the domain of darkness and needs to be translated from the domain of darkness to the domain of Light (cf. Colossians 1:13).
To be in darkness means that we are lost in our sin. It is our ignorance of this darkness that keeps us there along with the “god of this world who is blinding the eyes of those who are perishing” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). It is a darkened condition to live in sin and trespass. This condition has affected every person who has ever lived. We have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (cf. Romans 6:23). We needed Jesus Christ to come into this domain of darkness and to break its barrier in order that we might see His great Light. He is the One who has come with the power of redemption, the power to save us from our sin and ourselves. And thank God He did come! He came to seek and to save that which is lost: every person who is willing to repent knowing that He has come to save us from our sin and ourselves.
John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. He came to save! He was sent to save! He came to fish for men and to save them from the sea of sin!
And this is great news! Matthew 4:18-22 teaches us that Jesus came to lead us! When He was walking along the seashore, He saw two brothers, fishermen, who were casting their nets. Their names were Simon (also known as Peter) and Andrew. He gave them these words: Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. Jesus Christ was calling these two men to be His disciples and the Scripture teaches that they immediately left their nets and followed Him. This is astounding! They didn’t give any excuses, they didn’t try to negotiate a time when to leave and follow Him; they simply left their nets as is and followed Him is the indication of the text. They followed and He led. It is John Maxwell that rightly states, “If you don’t have anyone following you, then you’re not a leader.” How true! In this case, the Leader–Jesus Christ–had followers. And what did He teach them? What was it that He desired for them to do?
Jesus Christ has given us His ministry to fulfill.Matthew 4:23-25 teaches us how Jesus went about teaching, proclaiming, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. Notice that He did these three tasks: teaching, proclaiming, and healing. This is the ministry that He was teaching his new found disciples. And people were following this Leader–this King who has His kingdom from heaven. However, many of them were following Him because of the healing ministry, not by necessity His teaching and proclamation of His kingdom being at hand. But the news about Him spread throughout all Syria! It means that there were those who responded to Jesus Christ! It means that there were those who came to believe Him unto salvation and not merely coming to Him for healing. Matthew 4:25 says, Large crowds followed Him. They followed Him!
So Jesus Christ has given us His message, He leads us, and He has given us His ministry to fulfill. He has given us everything necessary to fulfill what it is that He has left us to do. He has called us to be fishers of men. He has called us to go and teach, proclaim His kingdom, and to bring healing through Jesus Christ. We are fishers of men!
There are those who believe in a place called hell and there are those who don’t believe hell. If anyone claims to be a Christ-follower, then we understand and believe from the Scriptures that hell is a very real place. The reality of hell is not here on earth, but it is a place as defined by Wayne Grudem “of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked.” His definition of hell is true. For the holy writ tells us that it is a place that is real and cannot be denied. It is a place of torment, gnashing of teeth, agony, pain, and it is everlasting fire that burns and is unquenchable.
Jesus Christ speaks of this place in Luke 16:19-31. Some interpret this story as a parable while others say that it is an actual story. I hold to the latter view for a few reasons. First, the story is never called a parable. Many other of Jesus’ stories are designated as parables, such as the sower and the seed (Luke 8:4); the prosperous farmer (Luke 12:16); the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6); and the wedding feast (Luke 14:7). Second, the story of the rich man and Lazarus uses the actual name of a person. This is different because He doesn’t use names in parables. In fact, after speaking a friend of mine recently about this story, he believes that perhaps this may have happened during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I tend to agree with him on this point. At any rate, such specificity would set it apart from ordinary parables, in which the characters are not named. Third, this particular story does not seem to fit the definition of a parable, which is a presentation of a spiritual truth using an earthly illustration. The story presents spiritual truth directly without any earthly metaphor. The setting for most of the story is the afterlife, as opposed to the parables, which unfold in earthly contexts.
Whether the story is a parable or a true incident (again, I believe it is a true incident), the teaching behind it remains the same. Jesus Christ plainly used this story to teach that aft death the unrighteous are eternally separated from God, that they remember their rejection of the Gospel, that they are in torment, and that their condition cannot be remedied.
In Luke 16:19-31, we find the rich man is looking up from a place called “hades.” Hades has a number of different definitions. It is a concept that is found in the Gentile notion of the “underworld.” In the Old Testament it is known as “sheol.” The New Testament has “hades” as meaning the grave, hell, lake of fire, Gehenna, etc. It is also known as barathrum, the netherworld, Pandemonium, perdition, the pit, or Tophet. Dr. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology, defines hell in the following manner: “Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked.” And this is where the rich man in the story is: a place of conscious punishment after the final judgment. The Bible is clear, that “inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus Christ even says in Matthew 25:41, 46:
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels….46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
This text indicates the eternality of both life and punishment and indicates that both states will without end–they are eternal–they are forever.
But is hell real? Is it possible for us to know the reality of hell? Some think they have seen hell on earth. However, dear ones, from the way the Bible describes hell we have not seen anything like it. We may think we have, but it is truly a place that is unbearable. We can bear much of what we endure here on earth. We learn how to persevere in the midst of trials, tribulations, and persecutions. But there is no rest for those who are in hell. Hell is real. It is also known as the “lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15 says:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and the death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This second death is the lake of fire. However, the reason I say that in the story that we read in Luke 16:19-31, even though Jesus uses the word Hades, is speaking of the lake of fire is because of what the rich man says in verse 24:
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”
It is obvious from his statement that he is first conscious of his punishment, and second, that he is burning in agony from a “flame.” And this is eternal. If hell is on earth, then it is not eternal, but Revelation 14:9-11 is very clear about the eternality of hell:
Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength int he cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone int he presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. “And the smoke of their torment god sup forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
It is a flame that is real, eternal, and it is also unquenchable. It lasts forever and those who reside there are there in conscious punishment because of their wickedness. Jesus Christ says in Mark 9:43, 44, 47, 48:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched….If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Notice that there is torment there and it is a place of judgment as well. Hell, the lake of fire, has the purpose of eternal righteous judgment. I know people do not like to think of “judgment,” especially God’s judgment. However, we need to know about it. We need to know that hell is real, eternal, unquenchable, and its purpose is because of the wickedness of men and the holiness of Almighty God. Acts 17:30, 31 says:
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
Second Peter 2:4-10 says:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous should tormented day after day by their lawless deeds, then he Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.
This final judgment is the culmination of many precursors in which God rewards righteousness and punishes unrighteousness, and this has been happening since the dawn of history. While He brought blessing and deliverance from danger to those who were faith to Him, He also from time to time brought judgment on those who persisted in disobedience and unbelief: His judgments include the flood, the dispersion of the people from the tower of Babel, the judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, and continuing judgments throughout history, both on individuals and on nations who persist in sin (cf. Romans 1:18-32; Isaiah 12-23). He has even brought judgment on angelic beings who sinned against Him (cf. 2 Peter 2:4). If anything, this should make us realize the immensity of the evil that is found in sin and rebellion against God, and the magnitude of the holiness and the justice of God that calls forth this kind of punishment.
And this reality of hell should also stir our spirits. If we are never met with deep sorrow when we contemplate this doctrine on hell, then there is a serious deficiency in our spiritual and emotional sensibilities. Paul the apostle is moved by the doctrine of hell when he writes in Romans 9:1-5:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and promises, whose are the fathers and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
The reason it is so hard for us to think about hell, as Grudem says, is because “God has put in our hearts a portion of His own love for people created in His image, even His love for sinners who rebel against Him. As long as we are in this life, and as long as we see and think about others who need to hear the gospel and trust in Christ for salvation, it should cause us great distress and agony of spirit to think about eternal punishment. Yet we must also realize that whatever God in His wisdom has ordained and taught in Scripture is right. Therefore we must be careful that we do not hate this doctrine or rebel against it, but rather we should seek, insofar as we are able, to come to the point where we acknowledge that eternal punishment is good and right, because in God there is no unrighteousness at all…We must believe that eternal punishment is true and just, yet we should also long that even those people who most severely persecute the church should come to faith in Christ and thus escape eternal condemnation.”
Charles Finney, that great evangelist of old says, “When sinners are careless and stupid, and sinking into hell unconcerned, it is time the church should bestir themselves. It is as much the duty of the church to awake, as it is for the firemen to awake when a fire breaks out in the night in a great city.” This is why sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of utmost and urgent importance. Even though hell is real, we can also know that Heaven is for certain for those who believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation.
Notice that while the rich man looks up to where Lazarus is, he comes to the certainty that Lazarus, this poor man while on earth, with sores all over his body, who was at the gate of the rich man just wanting to eat whatever crumbs fell of the rich man’s table, while dogs were licking his sores, there he is in Abraham’s bosom. He is at peace. He is comfortable. He is not hungry any longer. He is not in pain from all the sores. And it seems pretty rich for the rich man who never helped poor Lazarus while on earth asks for him to be able to dip his finger in water to cool off his tongue because of his own pain and agony (Luke 16:24). Again, Dr. Wayne Grudem defines Heaven this way: “Heaven is a place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless those whom He has saved.” It is a place not a state of mind. It is not merely bliss or paradise, but it is where God’s presence is “most fully known to those whom He has saved.” Lazarus is saved and is in the presence of God while the rich man is lost and is burning in the lake of fire.
And what of this Heaven? If hell was created as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked, then what of Heaven? It is a pain free place that is prepared for those whom Jesus Christ will gather unto Himself. John 14:1-4 says:
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.
It is place that He has made for Himself and for those who have believed His Gospel–the Good News of Jesus Christ–that He died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again according to the Scriptures (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). It is not a state of mind but it is a real place as described in Revelation 21:15-17:
The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.
This heaven that has been prepared for those who have believed Jesus Christ is an astounding 1,500 square. It is a cube that is forty times bigger than England and is ten times as big as France or Germany and far larger than India. If Heaven was situated in the United States it would go from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border, and it would stretch from Canada to Mexico. Given the dimensions of a 1,500 mile cube, if the city consisted of different levels (we don’t know this), and if each story were a generous twelve feet high, the city could have over 600,000 stories!
Even though hell is real, heaven is for certain for those who believe in Jesus Christ! What about your neighbor? Have they believed? What about you? Have you believed? What about your father? Your mother? Your sister? Your brother? Your nieces and nephews? Have they believed? What about the person who served you lunch today at the restaurant? Do they believe? Heaven is for certain for all who believe.
* This article is adapted from Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1140-1153.