Preaching About Hell But Only With Tears

Preaching About Hell But Only With Tears

We’ve considered several inspirational quotes from people who have mastered preaching.  Here’s the first in that series of posts. The new quote for consideration today is this one, by Dwight L. Moody.  He once said:

“I cannot preach on hell unless I preach with tears.” 

This is an amazing quote, considering that Moody pretty much formed the pattern for revivalist preaching.

Scaring The Hell Out of Them

Preaching about hell prior to Moody was sometimes done almost with a glee at the reality of hell.  Consider these quotes from Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God: 

Jonathan Edwards

“Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering.”
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.”
“It is the fierceness of his wrath that you are exposed to.”

Edwards was a big part of what is known as The Great Awakening, a time of spiritual renewal in the United States from the early 1730’s to about 1740.  The revival started in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Edwards was a pastor.  The response to Edwards’ preaching was emotional and powerful.  People would weep, roll in the aisles, and confess their sins publicly.  It was an unprecedented time of renewal of faith.

Unfortunately, the revival was waning by the time that Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God was preached on July 8, 1741.  There are those who think that that the sermon was an attempt to get the revival energy flowing again.  That led him to focus on preaching such a challenging.

Preaching About Hell, But Only With Tears

Between Edwards and Moody there were two other  times of revival, the 2nd Great Awakening, and the great prayer revival.  But by the time Dwight Moody preached on hell, there was a new sense of what God would use to bring people to faith.  Let’s look at how Moody came to this statement.

Background Basics

Here’s a quote describing the early history of Moody:

Dwight Lyman Moody was born the sixth child of Edwin and Betsy Holton Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts on February 5, 1837. Dwight’s formal education ended after fifth grade, and he rapidly grew tired of life on the family farm. He left home at age 17 to seek employment in Boston.

After failing to secure a desirable position, he asked his uncle, Samuel Holton, for a job. Reluctantly, Uncle Samuel hired Dwight to work in his own retail shoe store. However, to keep young Moody out of mischief, employment was conditional upon his attendance at the Mt. Vernon Congregational Church.

Edward Kimball

While attending the church, Moody joined a class taught by Edward Kimball.  Kimball is credited with leading Moody to faith.  While Moody worked in the back room of the shoe store, Kimball visited and challenged him to receive Jesus Christ into his life.

Understanding Grace

Soon after coming to faith, Moody tried to join the church, but was rejected as a member because, as reported then, he didn’t know enough.  His education, admittedly, was limited.   Yet, with abundant energy, Moody began a Sunday School in Chicago — back then Sunday School was for children who worked during the week, but it included teaching about the Bible.

The school expanded into a church.  And after the Chicago Fire, Moody went international as a preacher, traveling around the U.S., but also traveling to England for revival meetings.

Moody never lost the wonder in his own salvation, that God would choose him to preach, and he focused on the love of God, not the judgment.

How To Preach About Hell

I find inspiration in this quote.  I’ve watched people preach about hell as if they are glad that their hearers are going there.  Moody reminds me that when I warn people about hell, I must do so knowing that God himself has said that he wants all people to come to faith. (I Timothy 2:4).

So, as you think about preaching about hell, please do it in the spirit of Dwight Moody, with tears.

For further reflection, here is a short video on the life of Dwight L. Moody.