Over Broken Glass
“Let me ask you, how many atheists are now in this house? Perhaps not a single one of you would accept the title, and yet, if you live from Monday morning to Saturday night in the same way as you would live if there were no God, you are practical atheists.”
When Charles Peace (a convicted thief and murderer) was being escorted to the gallows, he was accompanied by a clergyman reading from The Consolations of Religion about the “flames never quenched.” Peace was a known criminal for whom the public had no sympathy; no one can say with confidence the prison chaplain was reading without a sneer. Nevertheless, some of the last words this man heard on earth detailed the waiting wrath for unrepentant traitors of the Most High.
Incredulous, Peace turned to the chaplain and exclaimed: "Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”
Had he perhaps not heard it before?
I remind myself of this story from time to time. It’s an effective measurement in my own heart, to take stock of my own convictions. I think it’s a little easy, in this increasingly polarized culture, to align ourselves with “camps” or “teams” or “sides.” I don’t remove the word “wrath” when I sing “In Christ Alone,” so I might begin to think I don’t whitewash the consequences of sin. I’ve read the books rewriting the exegetical narrative of “Gehenna,” and I know why I disagree with them. I also know John Wesley made a regular practice of preaching “Flee From the Wrath to Come” in open-air settings, peppering the crowd with colleagues who would invite squirming listeners to evening house meetings to shepherd them through the burdening conviction of their sin, and I don't find it an unfair method. Still, might I intellectually assent to something that is not galvanized in my gut?
It’s important to maintain a healthy diagnosis of sin, transgression, and iniquity. It’s important to repent when we sin. It’s incredible that we can approach the holy throne of the righteous Judge “boldly” when we sin with any kind of confidence He is waiting to wash us with water of His word. It’s no small thing He will impute His own righteousness to us through the atoning blood of His precious Son. We have done nothing to earn it. We could not pull ourselves out of the drunken stupor of death to do anything about it.
Let’s be clear: God is the Gospel. He is the good and best and greatest news and heaven is nothing to pursue if He is not there. And the just pardon of guilty men and women making His goodness accessible to blasphemers need be told far and wide. If it isn’t—and in many places, it still hasn’t been—are we guilty of white-knuckling something that is not ours to hoard?
This is what pushed Hudson Taylor to found the China Inland Mission. He was in church on a Sunday and “could no longer stand the sound of thousands of Christians rejoicing in their own security while millions perished for lack of the Gospel.” He “went out on the sands alone…and there surrendered to God for this service.” But it would not be the last time he was gripped by the grief of gospel poverty: he would be confronted with it in the flesh.
Years later, a young man who’d just bowed the knee to Jesus would ask Taylor how long England had known about the Lord. “Oh, for hundreds of years,” the Englishman cautiously replied.
“What?! My father searched for the truth all his life and died without finding it. Why didn’t you come sooner?”
That conversation haunted Taylor all his days. Let it likewise haunt ours.
We get the language of “fire and brimstone” from the start of 2 Thessalonians; our current cultural aversion to something like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” won’t carry us far without abandoning the gospel of the apostles. Jesus will “tak[e] vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel…to be admired among those who believe.” If we believe this, and are not what Spurgeon would call “practical atheists,” it must affect our lives somehow. We must make decisions in light of and in line with these convictions—decisions that result in our making disciples. If we know wrath is coming, and we know nearly half the world has yet to hear about it, will we crawl over shards of broken glass if need be to “warn them of the wrath to come”?
I hope so.
 Spurgeon, C.H. (1889). Faith essential to pleasing God. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit; Vol. 35, 445.
 Ravenhill, Leonard (1987) . Why Revival Tarries. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publisher. pp. 33–34.
 Smietana, D. ‘In Christ Alone’ dropped from Presbyterian hymnal over lyric dispute and Scriptural debate. Huffington Post, August 2013. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/in-christ-alone-dropped_n_3719253.html.
 As recorded in his personal journal. Read more: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/Wesley_Journal.pdf
 See Ephesians 5:26
 See Romans 3:21-22; 10:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9
 Ephesians 2:8
 Ephesians 2:1-9
 This is recorded in Taylor’s autobiography.
 Taylor, G., Taylor, H. (1932). Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret. Incense House Publishing (2013).
 2 Thessalonians 1:8,10
 Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 6:17