Hellfire And Brimstone (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
By bro Jose Cardoza
What is Hellfire and Brimstone?
“Hellfire and brimstone” is often used as a phrase that signifies the punishment of hell. The word “hellfire” is more obvious as fire is often mentioned in relation to hell. “Brimstone” is an alternative name for sulfur. It is a very flammable mineral substance, and when it burns, it releases a peculiar suffocating smell.
The term “fire and brimstone” comes from the Bible. In the King James translation of the Bible, fire and brimstone is mentioned in several places, alongside fire, smoke, unpleasantness and destruction. For instance, in Genesis 19:24, God destroyed sinful cities - Sodom and Gomorrah - by raining down burning brimstone and fire. In the book of Revelations, we learn that the devil is cast into a lake of fire and brimstone and is tormented forever (Revelation 20:10).
However, particularly in the United States, hellfire and brimstone refers to a certain type of preaching that focuses on the description of eternal damnation as a means of persuasion to follow God’s will. Subsequently, when we speak about hellfire and brimstone preachers, it is often used to refer to preaching that focuses on describing the details regarding the pain and displeasures of hell as a method to motivate people to turn to faith in Christ and live a holy life. Such preachers are likely those who rebuke sin and challenge sinners with the certainty of eternal torment if they do not repent.
Different views about Hell
Sermons warning people about being thrown into hell are becoming a rarity. It is quite uncommon these days to hear people or churches preaching about hell. This is especially so in the denominational world where they water down the consequences and effects of hell or teach different doctrines about hell.
A survey of 750 denominational preachers in Scotland in December 2005 found that the “doctrine of hell is downplayed by most of today's churches, even by those who still believe in it.” It concluded, “The fire and brimstone of the past may largely have been extinguished.”
I remember back when I was a Catholic, I was taught about a place called “Purgatory”. The Catholic Church holds that "all those who die in God's grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified" undergo a process of purification when they die, which the Catholic Church calls purgatory, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven". It also bases its teaching on the practice of praying for the dead.
An article in 2009 from USA Today stated that only 59% of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74% who believe in heaven. The article went on to talk about a workshop for preachers that dealt with the topic “Whatever happened to hell??” The men leading the workshop asked how many of the preachers in attendance had ever preached on hell and the answer was none of them had. It went on to offer this quote: “Preachers do shy away from the topic of everlasting damnation…its pressure from culture to not speak anything negative. I think we’ve begun to deny hell”.
Hell is indeed an uncomfortable topic to talk about, even for me. Just to share, there were occasions when my friends and relatives from denominations talked about people who had already passed on, stating that “they are now in a better place and in heaven”. It was very uncomfortable for me hearing it, knowing that this is different from what the Bible teaches; however, I just kept silent and quickly the changed the subject as I did not know how to respond.
The denominational world seeks popular doctrine, and the topic of hell is just not what people want to hear being mentioned. Let us look at some of the different views of hell taught out there in the world:
Firstly, there is Universalism. In this teaching, everyone ultimately goes to heaven and no one goes to hell. “Love Wins”. The Universalists believe it is impossible that a loving God would allow only a portion of mankind to be saved and condemn the rest to eternal punishment. They insist that punishment in the afterlife is for a limited period during which the soul is purified and prepared for eternity in the presence of God. Some denominations that believe in this doctrine are the Methodists, Universalist Church of America and Catholics.
Secondly, we have the teaching on Annihilationism (also known as extinctionism or destructionism). It is the belief that those who are wicked will perish or cease to exist. It states that after the final judgment, all unsaved human beings, all fallen angels and Satan himself will be totally destroyed so as to not exist, or their consciousness will be extinguished rather than suffer everlasting torment in hell. They teach that in hell the soul is consumed or annihilated, so they reject the idea that hell is eternal punishment. To them, hell is just temporary as the soul is quickly annulated. Some denominations that believe in such doctrines are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Bible Students.
The other type of belief is Conditionalism: Conditionalism or conditional immortality is a concept in which the gift of immortality is conditional upon belief in Jesus Christ. This doctrine is based in part upon another biblical argument, that the human soul is naturally mortal, and immortality ("eternal life") is granted by God as a gift. The idea is that the soul is not inherently immortal but they would say that it can become immortal upon the condition of putting your faith in Jesus Christ. So essentially, Conditionalism also teaches that no one goes to hell. Denominational examples that believe in conditionalism are the Early Unitarians, the Churches of the English Dissenting Academies, the Seventh-day Adventists, and the Christadelphians.