Order of Contents
The Westminster Standards
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
[The metaphor is that the sides of the pit are more scalding and hotter than the rest]
“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee“
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”
“And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”
“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required“
“Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.”
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?“
2 Peter 2:20
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.”
The Westminster Standards
The Larger Catechism
Question #150: Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
Answer: All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.¹
¹ John 19:11. Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.
Ezekiel 8:6, 13, 15. He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations…. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do…. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these.
1 John 5:16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
Psalm 78:17, 32, 56. And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness…. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works…. Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies.
Question: 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
Answer: Sins receive their aggravations,
1. From the persons offending;¹ if they be of riper age,² greater experience or grace,³ eminent for profession,ª gifts,º place,† office,‡ guides to others,∞ and whose example is likely to be followed by others.◊
¹ Jeremiah 2:8. The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
² Job 32:7, 9. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom…. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.
Ecclesiastes 4:13. Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
³ 1 Kings 11:4, 9. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father…. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice.
ª 2 Samuel 12:14. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
1 Corinthians 5:1. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
° James 4:17. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
Luke 12:47-48. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
† Jeremiah 5:4-5. Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God. I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.
‡ 2 Samuel 12:7-9. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
Ezekiel 8:11-12. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.
∞ Romans 2:17-24. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
◊ Galatians 2:11-14. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
2. From the parties offended:¹ if immediately against God,² his attributes,³ and worship;¤ against Christ, and his grace;[b] the Holy Spirit,[c] his witness,[d] and workings;[e] against superiors, men of eminency,[f] and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto;[g] against any of the saints,[h] particularly weak brethren,[i] the souls of them, or any other,[k] and the common good of all or many.[l]
¹ Matthew 21:38-39. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
² 1 Samuel 2:25. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.
Acts 5:4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
Psalm 5:4. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
³ Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
¤ Malachi 1:8. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. Malachi 1:14. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.
[b] Heb. 2:2,3. Heb. 12:25.
[c] Heb. 10:29. Matt. 12:31,32.
[d] Eph. 4:30.
[e] Heb. 6:4-6.
[f] Jude 8. Num. 12:8,9. Isa. 3:5.
[g] Prov. 30:17. 2 Cor. 12:15. Ps. 55:12-15.
[h] Zeph. 2:8,10,11. Matt. 18:6. 1 Cor. 6:8. Rev. 17:6.
[i] 1 Cor. 8:11,12. Rom. 14:13,15,21.
[k] Ezek. 13:19. 1 Cor. 8:12. Rev. 18:12,13. Matt. 23:15.
[l] 1 Thess. 2:15,16. Josh. 22:20.
3. From the nature and quality of the offence:[m] if it be against the express letter of the law,[n] break many commandments, contain in it many sins:[o] if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions,[p] scandalize others,[q] and admit of no reparation:[r] if against means,[s] mercies,[t] judgments,[v] light of nature,[w] conviction of conscience,[x] publick or private admonition,[y] censures of the church,[z] civil punishments;[a] and our prayers, purposes, promises,[b] vows,[c] covenants,[d] and engagements to God or men:[e] if done deliberately,[f] wilfully,[g] presumptuously,[h] impudently,[i] boastingly,[k] maliciously,[l] frequently,[m] obstinately,[n] with delight,[o] continuance,[p] or relapsing after repentance.[q]
[m] Prov. 6:30-35.
[n] Ezra 9:10-12. 1 Kings 11:9,10.
[o] Col. 3:5. 1 Tim. 6:10. Prov. 5:8-12. Prov. 6:32,33. Josh 7:21.
[p] James 1:14,15. Matt. 5:22. Micah 2:1.
[q] Matt. 18:7. Rom. 2:23,24.
[r] Deut. 22:22 compared with verses 28,29. Prov. 6:32-35.
[s] Matt. 11:21-24. John 15:22.
[t] Isa. 1:3. Deut. 32:6.
[v] Amos 4:8-11. Jer. 5:3.
[w] Rom. 1:26,27.
[x] Rom. 1:32. Dan. 5:22. Tit. 3:10,11.
[y] Prov. 29:1.
[z] Tit. 3:10. Matt. 18:17.
[a] Prov. 27:22. Prov. 23:35.
[b] Ps. 78:34-37. Jer. 2:20. Jer. 42:5,6,20,21.
[c] Eccl. 5:4-6. Prov. 20:25.
[d] Lev. 26:25.
[e] Prov. 2:17. Ezek. 17:18,19.
[f] Ps. 36:4.
[g] Jer. 6:16.
[h] Num. 15:30. Exod. 21:14.
[i] Jer. 3:3. Prov. 7:13.
[k] Ps. 52:1.
[l] 3 John 10.
[m] Num. 14:22.
[n] Zech. 7:11,12.
[o] Prov. 2:14.
[p] Isa. 57:17.
[q] Jer. 34:8-11. 2 Pet. 2:20-22.
4. From circumstances of time[r] and place:[s] if on the Lord’s day,[t] or other times of divine worship;[v] or immediately before[w] or after these,[x] or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages:[y] if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.[z]
[r] 2 Kings 5:26.
[s] Jer. 7:10. Isa. 26:10.
[t] Ezek. 23:37-39.
[v] Isa. 58:3-5. Num. 25:6,7.
[w] 1 Cor. 11:20,21.
[x] Jer. 7:8-10. Prov. 7:14,15. John 13:27,30.
[y] Ezra 9:13,14.
[z] 2 Sam. 16:22. 1 Sam. 2:22-24
The Westminster Confession
Ch. 16, Of Good Works
7. Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others;[y] yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith;[z] nor are done in a right manner, according to the word;[a] nor to a right end, the glory of God;[b] they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God.[c] And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.[d]
[y] 2 Kings 10:30,31. 1 Kings 21:27,29. Phil. 1:15,16,18.
[z] Gen. 4:5 with Heb. 11:4. Heb. 11:6.
[a] 1 Cor. 13:3. Isa. 1:12.
[b] Matt. 6:2,5,16.
[c] Hag. 2:14. Tit. 1:15. Amos 5:21,22. Hosea 1:4. Rom. 9:16. Tit. 3:5.
[d] Ps. 14:4. Ps. 36:3. Job 21:14,15. Matt. 25:41-43,45. Matt. 23:23.
Ch. 33, Of the Last Judgment
1. God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ,[a] to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father.[b] In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged,[c] but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.[d]
[a] Acts 17:31.
[b] John 5:22,27.
[c] 1 Cor. 6:3. Jude ver. 6. 2 Pet. 2:4.
[d] 2 Cor. 5:10. Eccl. 12:14. Rom. 2:16. Rom. 14:10,12. Matt. 12:36,37.
Watson, Thomas – ‘The Furnace Heated Hotter, or, a Clear Description of Such Persons as shall have a Greater Share in Hell Torments’, a sermon on Mk. 12:40, 1671, 12 pages, in The Mischief of Sin, reprinted 1994, Soli Deo Gloria, pp. 91-102
Venema, Cornelius – ‘Degrees of Reward in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ being the second half of chapter 14 in his The Promise of the Future, Buy p. 405-419
Venema is a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and devotes a chapter of his book to the question of differing levels of rewards and punishments in the afterlife. His discussion surveys all the relevant Biblical data, quotes respected theologians on the subject, and provides the fullest analysis of the issue that is easily available.