Repent or Perish, by John H. Gerstner. Ligonier, P.A.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications; 1990. 218 pg.
Is there really such a place as Hell? Would a loving God punish anyone in this manner? Modern evangelicals are denying eternal punishment in hell by appealing to the goodness of God. They look at the texts of the Bible which speak of Hell, and they explain them away in support of the doctrine of annihilation. Annihilation teaches that man simply ceases to exist after death. Death is the final punishment for sin, and the end of all wicked men. If pressed further, however, many of these individuals would deny that anyone will ever have to be annihilated anyway. They believe that eventually all men will make it to heaven.
In response to this growing trend, John Gerstner writes this sharp, controversial book. Gerstner: a Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and lecturer; is well known for his work with the theology of Johnathan Edwards. Some of Gerstner’s other well-known works are: Johnathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell: Theology of the Major Sects: and Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth.
In this book, Gerstner boldly challenges such evangelicals as John Stott, Philip Hughes, and William Fudge regarding their doctrine of annihilation. With his forthright style, Gerstner states that the recent conservative attack on Hell is unbelievable. “Before this book is over I hope to show that when a conservative believer attacks hell, he has ceased to be a conservative believer, if a believer at all. (p. 32)”
From the title, Repent or Perish, the question arises whether Gerstner is trying to scare people into Heaven. He writes that even the terror of Hell can never make a man repent. The only way to repentance is through the sovereign work of God’s grace in our hearts. Herein lies the value of this book for us as twentieth century young people. With Gerstner, we need to emphasize God’s sovereign grace and love for His people. He spared us from the terror of hell, and a very real terror it is!
We do well to be reminded of the reality of Hell. By nature, we were all sons of the Devil. We all deserve eternal punishment in Hell because of our inclination to all evil. By God’s sovereign grace we now look forward to Heaven. Not because we deserve it, but because Christ merited it for us.
My one disagreement with Gerstner is the purpose which he gives for preaching Hell. Hell is preached in order “to get worldly people. . . seeking the Kingdom of God.” (p. 28) He implies that natural man has the ability not only to desire good, but also to actively seek the Kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that natural man has no inclination to turn from his sinful way until God changes his hardened heart into a new heart, which is receptive of the benefits of Christ. (Cf. Romans 2:18ff; 3:1011)
Read this small book and let it stimulate you to be thankful to your gracious God, and to be faithful in your personal witnessing. God spared you and me from the terrors of Hell. Let us see to it that we share this gospel with our friends and neighbors. “He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)