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For the First Tuesday in Advent: John Chrysostom on the fear of Hell

December 1, 2015

From Faith and Life: Readings compiled from ancient writers, here is an excerpt from John Chrysostom:

What is it which will enable us to retain fear continually? A constant attention to the Scriptures. For if the mere sight of a corpse has such a tendency to control our thoughts, how much more Hell and the fire that is not quenched, how much more the worm that dieth not? If we are always keeping hell before our minds, we shall not readily fall into it. For this cause it is that God has threatened men with punishment; since unless the consideration of it involved some great advantage, He would not have threatened us with it; but seeing that the remembrance of it is effectual towards great advancement in religious life, therefore did He fix the menace of it in our souls, as it were some salutary medicine. Let us not, then, neglect the great advantage thence derived, but continually turn it over in our thoughts, even at our daily meals. Are you afraid of the words, as painful to hear? Ah! but does your silence about hell quench it? does your speaking of it kindle it? Whether you speak of it or not, that fire will burn fiercely: speak of it habitually, that you may never fall into it. It is impossible that a soul which is anxious about Hell should lightly commit sin; for hear that best of all advice, “Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.” To despise a threat is a great evil; he that does so will speedily experience its reality. Nothing is so profitable as to discourse about Hell; it makes our souls purer than silver. For hear the Prophet saying, “Thy judgments are always before me.” And Christ continually discourses about it. For if it pains the hearer, still it does him the greatest good.

There are many men who cherish good hope, not on the ground of avoiding sin, but of thinking that Hell is not so intense as it is said to be, but milder than the threatenings describe it, and temporary instead of eternal; and on this subject they speculate at large. However, I could bring many proofs that instead of being milder than it is described, it is even much more intense, and could infer this from the very words which mention it. But that it is not temporary, we may learn from Paul saying in this passage about those “who know not God, and believe not the Gospel,” that they “shall be punished with eternal destruction.” How then can what is eternal be temporary!
–St. Chrysostom on Thess., Hom. ii. iii.

John Chrysostom was certainly no believer in a temporary punishment for the wicked, and I think his words should be heeded.

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