Fire and brimstone

From Academic Kids

Fire and brimstone is a motif in Chrisitan preaching that uses vivid descriptions of hell and damnation to prompt its hearers to fear divine wrath and punishment.


Biblical references

Several Biblical passages use the image of burning sulfur, or brimstone, to respresent divine wrath. The King James translation often renders such imagery with the phrase "fire and brimstone." In Genesis 19, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah via a rain of fire and brimstone, and in Deuteronomy 29, the Israelites are threatened with the same punishment should they abandon their covenant with God. Elsewhere, divine judgments involving fire and sulfur are prophesied against Assyria (Isaiah 30), Edom (Isaiah 34), Gog (Ezekiel 38), and all the wicked (Psalm 11).

Fire and brimstone frequently appear as agents of divine wrath throughout the Book of Revelation, culminating in chapters 19–21, wherein the devil and the ungodly are cast into a lake of fire and brimstone as an eternal punishment:

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20, KJV)
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10, KJV)
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8, KJV)


During the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, revivalist preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield used fire and brimstone preaching to elicit fear of divine wrath in their hearers, sometimes to great effect. Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" remains among the best-known sermons from this period; when Edwards first preached it, many in his audience burst out weeping; some reports indicate that other attendees cried out in anguish or even fainted.

Since that time, fire and brimstone sermons have been an occasional feature of Christian preaching, chiefly among more conservative preachers in the United States.

In more recent times, fire and brimstone preaching has declined in popularity, as many Christian churches prefer to present a more positive message. Fire and brimstone is now characteristic only of the more conservative branches of Christianity; the fundamentalist cartoonist Jack Chick of Chick Publications keeps the tradition alive in print. Many Baptist, Pentacostal, and Church of Christ preachers, especially older ones, do still deliver sermons in the fire and brimstone tradition. Some denominations, such as the Society of Friends (or Quakers) have few, if any, members who support such notions; indeed many mainline churches have a significant number of followers who would deny the existence of hell in any literal sense. In more recent times, the term "fire and brimstone" is used more often to stereotype and discount conservative preachers and their messages. Few preachers, even conservative ones, would label themselves that way because it is an unbalanced and incomplete discription of their beliefs.

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