The Suburbs of Hell
God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not proper (Romans 1:28).
Atheist Julian Huxley once wrote,
Evolutionary man can no longer take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure whom he himself created, nor escape from the responsibility of making decisions by sheltering under an umbrella of divine authority … Finally the evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern, however incompletely, the lineaments of the new religion that we can be sure will arise to serve the needs of the coming era.
Sir Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA wrote,
That you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories, your ambitions, your sense of personal identity, your free will, are in fact nothing more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.
What hopelessness! No wonder we now live in a world of untold horror, perversion, violence, and despair. Ideas always have consequences.
In commenting on, ‘God gave them over to a reprobate mind,’ the downward slide of people who know God, but who refuse to acknowledge God, Matthew Henry in his commentary, has this to say:
… a reprobate mind is void of all sense and judgment to discern things that differ, so that they could not distinguish their right hand from their left in spiritual things. See whither a course of sin leads, and into what a gulf it plunges the sinner at last; hither fleshly lusts have a direct tendency, ‘eyes full of adultery cannot cease from sin’ (2 Peter 2:14). This reprobate mind has a blind, seared conscience, past feeling (Ephesians 4:19). When the judgment is once reconciled to sin,1 the man is in the suburbs of hell. At first Pharaoh hardened his heart, but afterward God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This wilful hardness is justly punished with judicial hardness.2
From his statement in verse 28, Paul the apostle goes on to list twenty-one sins which flow forth in the life of those who reject the knowledge of the true and living God. There are no atheists. Everyone knows God. To be more specific, everyone knows the true and living, Triune God. They suppress that truth in unrighteousness. That is, they place the knowledge of God, that which they see in all of creation, into the dungeon of their hearts, lock it in a closet, and throw away the key. They then proceed to walk miserably or sensually through the filth and mire of their house, in no way desirous of change. Commentators like Hendriksen, Cranfield, Murray, and Ridderbos all divide these twenty-one vices in three categories.3
The thinking of men and women like Huxley and Crick have consequences. Those who refuse to acknowledge God choose to harden their hearts against him. And because they wilfully harden their hearts, God judicially hardens his heart against them. That is, he cuts them off. He leaves them to their own devices. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Paul said, ‘Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, of birds, of four footed animals, and crawling creatures’ (Romans 1:22-23). So, when such people are told that the Bible is God’s word, that there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned; when they are told that they are sinners on the road to hell and they must repent and flee to Jesus, the only Saviour of sinners; then they mock the preacher and his message. And when their lives are becoming unravelled with the consequences of living long without God in this world, when they experience divorce, serial infidelity, children with severe emotional and behavioural issues, when they themselves battle depression; when they see a world coming unglued with murder, human trafficking, genocide, and sexual perversion of every kind; they have no answer. They know of no true remedy.
The real horror, however, in rejecting the God who is there, who shouts his glorious reality in every sunrise and sunset, is that such people are in the suburbs of hell. They are on their way to perdition. There is a true trajectory or path to hell fire, a place where their sins of unbelief, perversion, and rebellion have been mounting up all their lives. At some point, as they move closer to the day of their deaths, as they move from the suburbs of hell to the centre city of hell itself, the just wrath of God will pour down upon their heads. They will die and they will go to the place of unquenchable fire. They will be separate from believers. Their mother or father, their brother or sister, their best friend, none of whom knew the Lord Jesus in this life – they will never see again. Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. When told that they are on their way to hell, they always laughed and said, ‘But at least I will be there with my friends.’ But hell is a place of outer darkness. They will be all alone, only hearing the horrific laments of the damned who will eternally gnash their teeth at God in utter contempt. And they, who in this life, had experienced the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience will be separated from the great Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer King. They lived temporally in this life without hope and without God; but they then will live that way eternally.
My dear friends, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Once you were not the people of God, but now you are his people. You are a chosen race, called by God to proclaim the excellencies of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. If you are like me, perhaps you sometimes lose your zeal. Maybe you become ambivalent, really having very little concern for the lost people around you. I see it happen to me far too often. What must we do? We must repent. We must remember, with Paul, that we are never to shrink back from declaring to people all things profitable, teaching publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to anyone who will listen of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But you say, ‘They do not believe. They are atheists. They mock the truth.’ No matter. Give them the word anyway, if they will give you the opportunity. The word of God is active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It will do its work in due time, either to convert the lost or to harden their hearts judicially. Who is sufficient for such things? Who can bear the burden of such an evangelistic ministry? This is the need of the day. Our sufficiency is in Christ. None other. Ask for the Spirit’s presence and power each day. Ask him to give you open doors for the gospel, even amongst scoffers and mockers. Then preach the word and see what God will do.
- By this I think Henry means when the deserved wrath of God is joined with the reprobate’s actual sin.
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible, Volume II, p. 936.
- See William Hendriksen’s Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, pp. 80-81 for a definition of each term.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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