The Description, Effects, and the Torments of Hell

Taken and adapted from, The Sinfulness Of Sin
written by, Ralph Venning, 1621-1673

[We don’t like to talk about hell in this day and age, it seems old-fashioned, out-of-sync, vengeful, barbaric, and even tyrannical. Further, we don’t like to think of God, our God, who we want our children to worship as a loving heavenly father as someone who would ever commit helpless people to suffer in the way as in which the Bible describes. But yet, the subject has not yet been erased from Holy Scripture. In fact, it is written in as strong a black ink in the bible, as the verses pointing toward salvation. Further, Jesus has three times as much to say about hell in the bible, as he does about heaven. Therefore, it must be considered as important, and the thoughtful Christian is led by both imperative and necessity to consider with thoughtful contemplation the nature and the conditions of such a place, as well as the avoidance of its confines. After all, we have a heaven to win and a hell to shun. –MWP]



A. The place with its names.

In general, and most frequently, it is called Hell, the place and element of torment (Luke 16). This is the general rendezvous for the wicked after the day of judgment. It is common to express the dreadfulness of any condition or thing by joining the name of Hell to it, just as to signify excellence of a thing the name of God and Heaven is joined to it. For example, the cedars of God.

  1. Hell is a place and state of sorrow. The greatest sorrows are called ‘the sorrows of hell’ (2 Samuel 22.6). Just as the joys of heaven are the greatest joys so the sorrows of hell are the greatest sorrows.
  2. It is a place and state of pains and pangs far beyond those of a woman in travail. ‘The pains of hell gat hold upon me’ (Psalm 116.3). There is no ease in hell.
  3. Destruction is joined with it. To be in hell is to be destroyed. ‘Hell and destruction are before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15.11). He can destroy body and soul in hell (Matthew 10.28).
  4. It is a place and state of fire, of fiery indignation. He that calls his brother fool without cause and in rash anger is in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5.22), the worst of flames (Luke 16).
  5. There is damnation in it and ascribed to it: ‘How can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ (Matthew 23.33).
  6. Torment is attributed to it. It is called the place of torment (Luke 16.28).

Thus you see what kind of a place and condition hell is. It is all these and much more than these words can express or than you can conceive from these expressions.

Let us now consider the names given to the place hell:

  1. Hell is called a prison. Heaven is set out by attractive and delectable things and similarly hell is set out by what is distasteful and loathsome. A prison is one such thing and so hell is called a prison (Matthew 5.25; 1 Peter 3.19). Prisons and common jails are the worst places to live in, but hell is worse than the worst of prisons.
  2. Hell is called ‘the bottomless pit’ (Revelation 9.11). The devil is the angel of the bottomless pit. This is a pit into which sinners must fall and be ever-falling, for there is no bottom.
  3. Hell is called a furnace of fire. That is a terrible thing: Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was terrible, especially when heated seven times more than usually, yet hell is a worse furnace of fire (Matthew 13.41-42) Those who do iniquity (who are sin makers by trade) shall be cast into a furnace of fire which shall not devour them but shall torment them and make them wail and gnash their teeth.
  4. It is called a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21.8). Certain people there named shall have their part and portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. They shall always be over head and ears in this lake, yet never drowned; always burning but never burnt to ashes. They will in this be like the burning bush which was burnt with fire but was not consumed. As the church was on earth so will sinners be in hell.
  5. It is called utter and outer darkness; even though it burns with fire and brimstone, those flames will administer the heat of wrath but not the light of consolation. Darkness is a dreadful thing, but to be in the fire in darkness, to be tormented in flames and still in darkness, how dismal must this be? ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness’ (Matthew 22.I3). Thus it will be in vain to think of making resistance, for you will be bound hand and foot and be in darkness too. Indeed it is called chains of darkness (2 Peter 2.4), and blackness of darkness for ever (Jude 6,13).

B.   The thing itself, Hell.

We shall consider the thing itself with its names, for as its name is so is it. The most common and usual name of this punishment is damnation, which is a dreadful word. Who knows how much it means? It will make the stoutest heart tremble, the most confident countenance to fall, the most daring courage to fail, when they feel it. If His wrath be kindled but a little, it is terrible; how much more is it so, then, when it shall be wrath to the uttermost? For it is contrary to being saved to the uttermost.

In particular it is called

  1. Destruction. That is to say, it is a moral destruction, not of man’s being but of his well-being. They shall be taken, destroyed and utterly perish (2 Peter 2.12). And they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1.8,9). It would have been better for them that they had never been born, or if born, that they had never died, or if died, that they had never risen again, than to be thus destroyed. To be banished from God and the Divine Life is the worst death (Hierocles).
  2. It is a curse. It is to be in an accursed state, under the curse of God. God not only says, ‘Depart from me’, but ‘Depart, ye cursed’ (Matthew 25.41). There is not the least dram of blessing or blessedness in this state. If so many curses hung over the Jews while on earth when they continued in their impenitence (Deuteronomy 28.16-20), how full of curses is this state of damnation! This valley of Gehinnom is a Mount Ebal, the Mount of Curses (Deuteronomy 27.I3).
  3. Damnation is called the second death (Revelation 21.8). It will be a strange and miraculous kind of death, a living death, a death which never dies, an immortal mortality. They whose portion this death is will live, and death will be their portion all their life.
  4. It is a state of shame and contempt. There is scarcely anything in this world that we are less willing to undergo than shame. Although a thief is not afraid to steal, when he is arrested he is ashamed. Shame and confusion and contempt will be their lot. ‘Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Daniel 12.2,3).

C.     The quantity and quality of torments of hell and damnation.

These will be exceedingly great and terrible; they will be universal; and they will be without intermission.

  1. They will be exceedingly great and terrible. They are such as will make the stoutest hearts to quake and tremble. If the writing on the wall caused a change in Belshazzar’s countenance, and trouble in his thoughts, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other (Daniel 5.6), what a commotion and heartquake will the day of God’s wrath and vengeance produce! You will find an instance of this in Revelation 6.15-17, where not only bondmen, that is, persons of little and puny souls, but great and mighty men, chief captains and kings of the earth, that is, persons with great souls who have made the earth to tremble, shall hide themselves in dens and rocks and say to the mountains, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand? For bondmen to be faint hearted and flee is no great wonder, but for men of might and power to run away and hide, that is strange! but you see it is from wrath, even though only the wrath of a Lamb. So what will they do when he shall rise up and roar like the Lion of the tribe of Judah?
  2. It is the day of wrath, which is the terrible day of the Lord. It is the day of vengeance which is implacable. For God who is now hearing prayer will not then spare for their crying; not even though they cry, Lord, Lord. God always acts like himself, like a God. When he shows mercy it is like the God of all grace who is rich in mercy and loves with a great love: so when he executes wrath and vengeance, he makes bare his arm and strikes like a God. Who knows the power of his anger? None but damned ones! The sense of it here, the fearful reception of judgment (as it is in the Greek, Hebrews 10.27) and fiery indignation, make a kind of hell; so fearful a thing is it to fall into the hands of the living God when he acts like a God of vengeance, as the apostle speaks in verses 30 and 31. How dreadful a thing then would it be to be in hell itself under the tortures of his executed wrath for ever? As the man is so is his strength. It is only a game to be whipped by a child. But to be whipped and lashed by a man or a giant whose little finger is heavier than another’s loins, How painful must it be! The rod is for the back of fools, but when it shall be turned into scorpions and God himself shall lay on strokes without mercy or pity, how tormenting will it be! A stone thrown from a weak arm will not hit very hard, but when the hand and arm of God shall throw down that wrath from heaven which is now only threatened against ungodly men, and turn them into hell as a mighty man throws one over his shoulders, how will it sink them deep into hell

D.    The torments of hell will be universal.

  1. The torments themselves will be universal. It will not be merely one or two torments but all torments united. Hell is the place of torment itself (Luke 16.28). It is the centre of all punishments, sorrow and pain, wrath and vengeance, fire and darkness; they are all there as we have already shown. If a man goes through so much with one disease, what would a complication of diseases mean? If one punishment, the rack or some other torture, is so tormenting, what would all be at once? What then will Hell be.
  2. The persons on whom these torments will be inflicted will be universally tormented. Not merely one or two parts of the person, but all over. The whole man has sinned and the whole man will be tormented; not the soul alone, or only the body, but the soul and the body, after the resurrection and the judgment. All the members of the body have been instruments of unrighteousness, and therefore all the members will be punished. As man is defiled from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, so will he be plagued. The senses which men have indulged and gratified will be filled with pain and torment. This will be clean contrary to those pleasures with which they were gratified in this world. The eye which took so much pleasure in and was enamoured of beauty shall then see nothing but ugly devils and deformed hags of damned wretches. And the ear that was delighted with music and lovesongs, what shall it hear but hideous cries and gnashing of teeth, the howlings of damned fiends. The smell that was gratified with rosebuds and sweet perfumes shall have no pleasing scents but unsavoury brimstone and a stink. The taste that refreshed itself with eating the fat and drinking the sweet must have nothing but the dregs of the cup of God’s wrath. The touch and feeling shall then be sensible, not of fine and silken things, but of burning flames and scorching fiery indignation
  3. The soul and all its faculties will fare no better. The mind will be tormented by understanding the truth with terrible force. That which it laughed at as foolishness it will then find true by the loss of it, that is, gospel happiness. The conscience will be like a stinging adder, a gnawing worm. The will will be vexed because it has had its own way for so long. Here men think it is a princely thing to have their wills, but there they will find it a devilish thing.

E. These torments will be without intermission.

They shall be tormented day and night (Revelation 14.11). They shall have no rest. In this life our sleep is only a parenthesis to care and sorrow and pain, but there, there will be no sleeping. The God who executes wrath and those upon whom wrath is executed neither slumber nor sleep. Here they may have some intermission and some sane moments in their madness, but there, there will be night continually for vexations of heart.

I cannot go any further without pleading with you, whoever you are, who are reading this. Do you need anything more to dissuade you from going on in sin which is the way to damnation than the thought of damnation, and what a damnation, which is at the end of the way of sin? For your soul’s sake hear and fear and do no more wickedly.

What! Will you be damned? Can you think calmly of going to hell? Have you no pity on your precious soul? If you were to go from reading of hell, into hell, you would surely say, There was a prophet, and I would not believe it, but now I feel it. Think of this and also of what follows.

F.    The duration of these torments.

They will be for ever. Even though they were great, universal and for a time without a break, yet if you knew that they were to have an end, that would be some comfort. But here lies the misery of it, they will be today as they were yesterday, and for ever. As they were in the beginning so they will be all along and for ever; always the same, if not increasing. This is the world’s woe, the hell of hells, that it is woe and hell for ever. After the sinners have been in hell millions and millions of years, hell will be as much hell as it was at first. The fire that burns will never go out and the worm that gnaws will never die–these things are three times repeated by our Lord and Saviour in one chapter (Mark 9.44,46,48). It will be a lasting, indeed an everlasting misery. It is everlasting punishment and everlasting fire (Matthew 25.41,46).

G.   Consider the tormentors or inflictors of these torments.

These are the Devil, the conscience, and God himself who will torment the damned.

  1. The Devil. The tempter will be the tormentor; they will not only be tormented with devils but by devils. They will be delivered to the jailors, the tormentors: ‘So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you’ (Matthew 18.34,35); that is, deliver you to the tormentors. When the church excommunicates, which is a symbol of this, it delivers to Satan; and when God excommunicates he gives up to the Devil, saying, Take him, jailor, and torment him, tormentor. The apostle thought it a great misery to fall into the hands of unreasonable men and therefore he prays and begs the prayers of others against it. But if the tender mercies of wicked men are cruelties, what are the cruelties of the Devil and his angels, especially when God delivers men up into their hands? What a misery it is to fall into the clutches of the Devil! To be tormented by the Devil! If he does so much now by permission, what will he then do by commission, when he shall be under no restraint! By what he now does we may very well guess what he is likely to do, and will do then.
    There are many instances of his malice, rage and power; let us take one or two. We read of one possessed of a dumb spirit; ‘Wheresoever this spirit taketh him, he teareth him that he foameth, gnasheth with the teeth and pineth away’ (Mark 9.17-22) When he came into the presence of Christ Jesus he tore him, that he fell on the ground and wallowed foaming. Oftentimes he cast him into the fire and the water to destroy him. You know also how the Devil dealt with Job and went to the utmost extent of his commission, and almost prevailed, for he brought him to curse the day of his birth, though he did not curse God. If now while he is still in chains and under restraint the Devil can do so much to torment a man, how sad is it likely to be with men when the Devil shall have them in his hands by commission from God! When God shall say, Take him, Devil, Take him, jailor! Into the fire with him! Do your worst with him! Who can stand before the Devil’s rage and envy when it has been whetted by a commission from God! Sinful sin which thus gives a man up to the Devil!
  2. Conscience is the second tormentor. I mean a reflecting, an accusing, and an upbraiding conscience. In some ways this is a greater torment than any the Devil can inflict, because conscience is within us whereas the Devil is outside of us. What is within has the greatest influence upon us, whether for comfort (1 John 4.4) or for torment (Mark 9.44). The worm that never dies is within a man. It would be a dreadful thing to be eaten up of worms, to be continually fretted and vexed with the gnawing of worms, but this worm gnaws the spirit, which is more tender than the apple of one’s eye. A wounded spirit who can bear! Judas sank under the weight and burden of it and so have many more. But if conscience is so terrible when awakened here, what will it be when a man shall be fully convinced and have all his sins set in order before his face (Psalm 50.21)? How will conscience lash men then? It will be as when schoolmasters reckon up their boys’ crimes: first for this, and then a lash; next for that, and then another lash, and so on. So conscience will say, salvation was held forth, grace was offered, and then it will lash you for neglecting so great a salvation and turning grace into wantonness. Then follows the next charge. Says conscience: You knew that the wages of sin was death and that the judgment of God is just, and yet you would do such things; and then conscience pricks and torments, whips and lashes. The next point: after you had vomited up your pollution and had been washed from your filthiness, you returned like the dog to your vomit and like the sow to your wallowing in the mire. And then it lashes you again. If a man were falsely imprisoned, that would be some mitigation, some relief, but when a man is self-condemned and finds that his perdition is of himself, and that his own wickedness comes home to him, this will be the sting of death and damnation.
  3. God will torment them; not only the Devil and conscience, but God himself. Though in this life God allows himself to be pressed with their sins just as a haycart is pressed down with sheaves, yet at the last he will show his power in avenging himself upon all wicked men. Now he seems to have leaden feet and to be slow to wrath; but then he will be found to have iron hands. Here God is patient, and if he does judge, yet in the midst of judgment he remembers mercy; he does not deal with men as their wickedness deserves. But then he will be extreme in punishing; the Lord himself will rain upon wicked sinners fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest (Psalm 11.5,6). This shall be the portion of their cup from the Lord. They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture in the cup of his indignation. They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb (Revelation 14.10,11). Sometimes when judges suspect that their officers will not execute the judgment properly, they will have it done in their presence, with the whole court and company looking on. So it shall be with the sinner, ‘and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night.’

H.     The aggravations of these torments now considered.

Sin has been aggravated and so will the torments be. There will be degrees of torment. Though it will be intolerable for all, yet it will be more tolerable for some than others (Matthew 11.21-24). In certain cases the torments will be aggravated:

  1. Those who have lived long in sin. The longer men have lived in sin on earth the greater will their torments be in hell. ‘The sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed’ (Isaiah 65.20). He has for a long time been treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. He has a greater count to pay for all the patience and forbearance of God. Some people grow rich by having other men’s goods; men leave their money in their hands and do not call it in, and so they grow rich by it. In the same way wicked men grow rich in wrath by abusing the goodness and patience of God. God forbears them and does not enter into judgment with them and so they grow rich. But alas, they are rich in wrath.
  2. Men who have had more means. The more expense God has been put to and the more pains he has taken with men, if they still continue impenitent, the more severe will their judgment be. If Christ had not come they had had no such sin. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world and men love darkness. Capernaum that was exalted to heaven, that is, in terms of the means of grace it enjoyed, will be thrown to hell in the end (Matthew 11.23). To fall from earth to hell will be a great fall, but to fall from heaven to hell will be a greater. To go from Turkey to hell will be sad, but to go from England to hell, and from London to hell, ah, how ruefully sad!
  3. The more convictions men have had, the greater will their condemnation be; that is, the more knowledge they have attained to without practice and improvement (Luke 12.47)That servant which knew the Lord’s will and did not according to his will shall be beaten with many stripes. And it were better they had never known the way of righteousness than, having walked in it, to depart from it (2 Peter 2.21). To him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin, that is, great sin or sin with a witness and condemnation with a vengeance. How can they escape the great condemnation who neglect the great salvation? Such people will become inexcusable under the judgment of God (Romans 1. 32 compared with Romans 2.1,2,3).
  4. The further men have gone in the profession of a religion the greater will their condemnation be! They have gone far but without the power of godliness. Formalists and hypocrites will know the worst of hell: ‘how can ye escape the damnation of hell’ (Matthew 23.33)? Not only hell but the damnation of hell, the hell of hells! The form of Godliness and the power of ungodliness will fare alike at that day (Matthew 24.51 compared with Luke 12.46).
  5. Apostates will meet with aggravated torments in hell. The back slider will be filled with his own ways; his latter end will be worse than his beginning (2 Peter 2.20). It would have been better for them had they died in their sins at first than to be twice dead as they are now (Jude 12).

I.  The effect of these torments.

  1. Inexpressible sorrow. There will be sighing and groaning that cannot be uttered, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8.12). Anger, indignation and vexation, even to madness and rage, will be the effects of this torment.
  2. Intolerable sorrow and pain. If thunder, lightning and earthquakes make men afraid and shrink together, what will hell do! If the throbbing of toothache or the gnawing of gout puts men to such excruciating pains, what will hell do! If sickness makes us fear death, and the fear of death is so dreadful, what will hell be! If you, like Felix, tremble to hear of this judgment to come, what would you do if you were to undergo it! If to see ugly and devilish shapes frightens us, what will it do to be with the Devil and his angels!
  3. Final and eternal impenitence. This will be the sad effect of these torments and despair, even to cursing and blaspheming. He who dies impenitent continues so for ever; and impenitence brings with it blasphemy. ‘They shall pass through it hardly bestead and hungry, and it shall come to pass that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves and curse their king and their God’ (Isaiah 8.21). I quote this to show what a fretting and vexing heart is like under torments. This is very common with people who are despairing and therefore desperate. When men are scorched with great heat, they blaspheme the name of God and repent not to give him glory. ‘And they gnawed their tongues for pain and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores’ (Revelation 16.10,11). When the plagues of God are on impenitent sinners, there are cursings. Though they may be sorry for the plagues, yet they are not sorry for the cause of them, which is their sins. And so many infer that if these plagues, which are far inferior to those in hell, provoke men so much, the plagues of hell will do so much more. Thus we see what a dismal and miserable condition it is to be damned and what a sinful thing sin is which brings this damnation.

I have now dealt with the way in which sin is contrary to the good of man in this life and in the life to come. But before I go on, to bring in the witnesses to prove this charge against sin to be true, let me urge you, Reader, to consider what has been said. I do this so that you may be more afraid of sin than of hell; for had it not been for sin, hell should not have been, and you will never be in hell if you repent and believe the gospel, for righteousness is not by repentance but by faith.

So believe and love faith as you love your souls and heaven. Hate sin and avoid it as you would hell and damnation. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you, lest the rod be turned into a scorpion, lest the next loss be the loss of heaven, lest the next sickness be unto death, and death unto damnation. For if you die in sin you are damned irrecoverably. It would be sad to die in a hospital or a prison or a ditch; but it is worse to die in sin, just as it is worse to live in sin. If you go on in sin, this book will witness against you as much, if not more so, than if one had risen from the dead. If two or three devils or damned wretches should come from hell and cry Fire, Fire, it might startle you, but if you do not believe Moses and the prophets and Christ and his apostles, it will do you no good.

Therefore, mind the good of your soul and do not bring on yourself this great, universal, intolerable and eternal damnation. Take heed lest, when your flesh and body are consumed and your soul damned, you should say too late: ‘How have I hated instruction and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers nor inclined my ear to them that instructed me!’ (Proverbs 5.11-13). You will say, how I have rewarded my own soul with evil by doing evil against God! I scorned these things and mocked at sin, but now when I would hear, and when I would return, hope is perished. Such will be the terrible cry of sinners one day. Take heed therefore, for if you have not the wedding garment on, you will be cast out (Matthew 22.11). And if you are found a worker of iniquity, you must depart accursed.