THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-4-62 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the evening message on a theme and a subject that is terrible, indescribable. Not because he chooses or wants, but like a man who would look over life, death is a reality. So judgment is a reality, and we’re speaking of that doctrine of eternal punishment tonight. In the Book we turn to the Third Gospel, to the Gospel of Luke, to chapter 16, and we begin reading at verse 19 and read to the end of the chapter. The Gospel of Luke chapter 16, beginning at verse 19, and we read to the end of the chapter. All of us have it? And sharing our Bible with our neighbor, this is a word from our Lord.
Our Lord is a beloved physician, and when we are sick unto death He does not try to hide our illness, but He tries to heal us. Our Lord is the great pilot of the sky, and when we are lost in the trackless seas, heading for the reefs and the rocks, He seeks to guide us to safety. Our Lord is the great Savior, and as we face an eternal judgment, He seeks to deliver us from the penalty of our sins. Now let us read together Luke 16, beginning at verse 19:
There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto [him], If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
There is not in all language, or literature, or in the Scriptures a more terrible, or frightening, or terrifying story than that.
God in the Book says these things about the condition of the unrepentant, of the lost, of those who reject the Savior, “The hour is coming, when they that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” [John 5:28-29]. As Paul said:
When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power;
[2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]
A second thing, pain and torment: “For I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:24]. A third picture of God, punishment, pain, filth, dirt: “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to be cast into Gehenna, into the fire that never is quenched: Where the worm dieth not” [Mark 9:43-44].
Gehenna was a valley that in ancient time was dedicated to Molech, where the people burned their children to that terrifying god. And it was cursed of God, and it was used as the sewer, and the garbage dump, and the refuse heap of the city of Jerusalem for hundreds and hundreds of years. The jackals there fought with one another over the carcasses and the filth that was poured out there. And the fires burned in the heap, and they never died, where the worm ate in the carcass—Gehenna which in our Bible is translated “hell.”
And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off, cast it from thee: better for thee to enter into life everlasting than with two feet to be cast into Gehenna, into the fire than never shall be quenched:
Where the worm dieth not.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the fire of Gehenna.
It is a gathering place of the dirt and the filth of all God’s universe.
And a last picture of the Lord: one, punishment [John 5:28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]; another, pain and torment [Luke 16:24]; a third, a place of filth, and dirt, an offal [Mark 9:43-47]; and the last, it is a place where we are separated, separated. The great separation: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: and these the righteous into life eternal” [Matthew 25:46].
A liberal minister wrote and I quote, “If the doctrine of eternal punishment were written on all the pages of all the Bibles of all the world I would not believe it.” Of course, these things that rise before us, in the way our life and universe is made, cause any man to tremble. But to hide our eyes does not obviate their reality and their presence.
Sickness is a terrible thing. Cancer, polio, arthritis; these things are terrible, but to close our eyes does not hide them away. They are as real and as there as if we looked at them face to face. All the poetry of the world and all of the beautiful flowers that ever bloomed cannot hide the terrible visage of death. God says death is an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]. It is an intruder. It is an interloper. It was not intended. It is a curse of heaven upon our sins and our derelictions. But to hide our face from death does not cease its activity among us and its waste among our people. So it is with the judgment of God. It is a merciful revelation that the Lord hath opened our eyes to see and to behold the great final reckoning of our souls before the judgment bar of God [1 Peter 4:5]. And of these I make some considerations.
First: some considerations from the Bible, the Holy Scriptures themselves, and the first consideration is this; from the Bible I cannot escape the fact that it is almost always from the lips of the Lord Jesus that we learn of that great and terrible judgment that is to come. It is from the heart of Him who took little children into His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16]; who went about doing good [Acts 10:38]; who preached the gospel to the poor; who ministered to the afflicted, to the sick and the lost. It is our Lord who speaks these words [Matthew 11:4-5].
Almost all that we know about hell, and about judgment, and about damnation come from the lips of our Lord. I cannot forget that. Another thing, I cannot forget that the same word that is used to describe our life in heaven is used to describe the life of the wicked in perdition. “And these shall go away in aionos, in everlasting, into eternal punishment; and the righteous into aionos, into life everlasting, eternal” [Matthew 25:46].
The same word that is used for one is used for the other. And the same Bible that reveals to us the glories of heaven and the love of God is also the same Scripture that reveals to us the presence of Satan and the certainty of judgment and damnation to the repentant and to those that reject our Lord. If one is not correct, the other is not correct.
And that leads to this third consideration from the Holy Scriptures. Practically all of the great truths and doctrines of the Bible are built around that awful judgment that a man faces when someday he stands to be reckoned with before the Lord [1 Peter 4:5], who made him [Genesis 1:27]. If there is no danger to the human soul, no infinite danger, no eternal danger, then there’s no need for an infinite sacrifice, and we give up the doctrine of the atonement [1 John 2:2]. If there is no need for an infinite atonement, then there was no need for God to make expiation for our sins, and we give up the doctrine of the deity of our Lord [Titus 2:13]. And if these apostles and prophets who wrote these Scriptures were not correct in what God revealed, then they are fallible men, and we lose the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21].
And if the church of Jesus Christ does not have a message of eternal salvation and eternal pertinence [John 10:28], then we give up the doctrine of the divine institution of this holy church [Ephesians 5:25], and it becomes just another optional club. Doesn’t matter whether you join it or not, doesn’t matter whether you obey God or not; might as well go be a member of a club as to be a member of the church. For there’s no eternal significance in the great salvation offered in Christ, and there’s no particular significance in the revelation of God, so why bother to obey? We don’t know His name. He may not even exist. All of these things are bound up in the danger of our souls. And because of that Christ came from heaven [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And because of that, the Lord died on the cross [Matthew 27:26-50]. And because of that, the gospel was written down here in the Book [John 20:31]. And because of that, God built His church in the earth that it might testify to the saving grace of the Son of God [Matthew 16:16-18; Acts 1:8].
Now may I make some considerations from reason? As I look at the world, as we may now look at it together, one is this: however you may, however you may think or however a philosophical turn you may follow in your mind, one thing is certain, and that is, this is a moral universe that is built upon the principle of separation [2 Corinthians 6:17]. Could I illustrate that?
One of the deacons in my church at Muskogee Oklahoma asked me—and I don’t like to do these things—but he asked me to go with him to make appeal to the governor of Oklahoma—it was then Governor Kerr. He’s the United States senator now—to make appeal to Governor Kerr that he pardon a boy who had committed murder in the city and who was in the state penitentiary at McAlester. Well, while we were waiting for the audience before the governor, I began talking to one of the officials in the state capital. He was a Methodist Sunday school teacher and a very devout man, but he didn’t believe in hell. He didn’t believe in the judgment of God, and he was very loquacious as he talked to me out there sitting in the waiting room before the governor’s office.
And I thought “Isn’t this a strange thing? Isn’t this a strange thing?” When I went inside of the governor’s office and made an appeal against my will; made an appeal for the pardon of that boy, an old white-headed lawyer stood up, and he said, “Governor, when this case went to trial, the father and the mother of this boy promised that they would never ask a reprieve if we did not ask for the death penalty. We did not ask for the death penalty. We asked that the boy be committed to an institution for the remainder of his life. And the parents acquiesced, and the court was gracious. And instead of slaying this boy in the electric chair, they termed him for life to be kept in the state penitentiary. And now his parents break that promise, and through this minister, they come making appeal to you for reprieve and pardon. And look at his widow,” and she was there, an older woman now, still dressed in widow’s tweeds, her head covered with the black, black, black hat, and her face covered with a veil, and all of her garments black.
That boy had entered the bank at Muskogee, Oklahoma, and he had shot down the banker in cold blood for no reason at all. And the court instead of electrocute him, the court had said out of deference to the appeal of the prosecuting attorney that he be sent to McAlester, Oklahoma. And there I was asking for a pardon. Governor Kerr refused it, and I think rightly. And the boy is still in the state penitentiary. He was placed on a trustee farm and escaped.
You see, the governor was correct. And the defense attorney had no right to ask that the promise be broken, when the prosecuting attorney had not asked for the death penalty if they would never ask for a pardon for the boy. And there he is separated. He’s in the state institution. Those things are terrible, and they are horrible, and they’re heart-breaking. But that is the kind of a universe in which we live. It is one in which there is sometimes violent and tragic separation.
Another thing from reason; life has a tendency to fixity in character. It goes in a certain direction; and unless it is changed by the power of God, it becomes concrete. It becomes set. It becomes fixed. There are those who love filth, and dirt, and sin, and iniquity. They like a dark, a vile, a filthy, and a godless life.
I saw two pigs rooting one another out in a mud spot created by the dripping of a hydrant. One of them would get down in the mud; the other one rooted out and would root that one out, then when that one was rooted out, the one that had been there before, he rooted him out, and they just rooting one another out. They like that. They like that.
In the most glorious place you could imagine in this earth, on the River Rogue in Oregon, where the mountains pile up to the sky, and that river filled with salmon jumping out, and the smell of balsam and fir and pine, just like heaven to me; at that time our child was small, and I was seeking a place to buy a bottle of milk, and I found a place down the road, a beer joint. I went inside. It was the “stenchinist” pigsty that I could describe! The smoke was thick and heavy and stale, beer poured out on the floor and on the table, jammed with people drinking, carousing, indulging. I was successful in finding a quart of milk. And when I stepped out the door, I’ll never forget how I felt! God’s great, marvelous, beautiful world; that glorious sky, the towering mountains, that beautiful river with the salmon jumping out, the glorious forest, the freshness of the breeze and the air, and those people in that pigsty, liking it. Oh! Life has a tendency to be fixed in character.
Another thing: and pain doesn’t change it. Isn’t that unusual? Pain doesn’t change a man. Suffering doesn’t change a man. Punishment doesn’t change a man. That’s one of the strangest things that I know of.
If you have ever followed the life of a criminal, there is no life in this world that is filled with agony, and dread, and foreboding, and suffering like the life of a criminal. He will have surgery and all the prints of his fingers will be cut off. He’ll have surgery on his face, that he might not be recognized. And he lives in dread and every footfall and in every knocking at the door. And finally vile, finally will be cut down in an awful battle of blood. Why doesn’t he change? Why doesn’t he change? Because pain and punishment doesn’t change a man, that’s in his soul. That’s something God does in a man’s heart.
I saw an illustration of that in Memphis, Tennessee. I was preaching there in a revival and was the guest in a pastor’s home. His wife, the pastor’s wife, was a marvelous Christian woman. And they had found a prostitute who was in misery and in agony. She was sick. She was wretched. She was poor. She was dirty. She was hungry. She was everything as a street woman finally becomes. That dear preacher’s wife took that girl into her home, and mothered her, and bathed her, and took care of her, and clothed her, and did her best to win that prostitute to Jesus.
I want you to know, after she was well and after she got on her feet, she slipped away, she stole out and went back into that life of wretchedness, and misery, and suffering, and horror again. That’s life! If a fellow’s not changed in his soul, if a girl’s not changed in her heart, all of the despair, and tribulation, and trial, and heartache in this world doesn’t change them. They continue on and on.
And then another observation: a second chance, and a third chance, and a tenth chance, and a thousandth chance makes no difference. The Bible plainly reveals to us as the tree falls so shall it lie [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. Beyond this grave, there is no returning to remake a decision. And you get to thinking about that. Why isn’t there chances, and chances, and chances? God knows it is no use because when you reject Christ one time, it is easier to reject Him the next time. And when you reject Him the next time, it is easier to reject Him the third time. And finally rejection becomes almost automatic. And you have a tragic illustration of that in the antediluvians. Those men lived longer than any men have ever lived on the face of the earth, as God gave them years and centuries to repent! And as they grew older and as their chances to turn multiplied, they became more violent in their iniquity until finally the world was so filled with sin that the Lord destroyed it and began again with righteous Noah [Genesis 6:5-8; 7:17-23]. To give an opportunity, and an opportunity, and an opportunity doesn’t avail; when the man turns it down, the next time it’s easier to say no until finally the whole life is a negation.
Oh, in this closing moment of appeal, why does God say these things to us? For the same reason that a lifeboat is on a great ship. It was out of the love and goodness of the man who created that great vessel that he hung there, there, there those lifeboats. It’s the same thing, God’s revelation of these truths, that the physician gives his life to a healing ministry. These things are true, but we work, and we toil, and we labor that you might have healing. It is the same thing as the signs on a highway: “The bridge is out. The bridge is out!” And it’s a merciful providence when they put a barricade across the road and put a lantern to shine; lest, unknowing and unaware and unwarned, you drive into the abyss and into death.
So God has done these things for us. He has written them large on the page of His Book, and He has raised up faithful ministers who read from the Bible and who tell us of these judgments that are to come. And the Spirit of God speaks in our hearts. Look, look this has God done to save our souls. And the Lord is sacrificed on the cross that our sins might be washed away [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Revelation 1:5]. And the Holy Spirit pleads in our hearts to accept the free pardon and atonement of the Son of God [John 16:8-11]. And the Lord opens the doors of these churches, oh, that they might always stay open!
When Satan seeks to close them and when the powers of darkness ride hard against them, O Lord, O Lord, keep open the doors of Thy churches, that Thy pastors, and Thy preachers, and Thy ministers may stand up to warn the people, and to plead for their repentance, and their turning in faith and acceptance to the Savior of the world.
And so God hath given us this holy, holy service tonight. Somebody you to turn, somebody you to accept Jesus in His atoning blood, somebody you to look in faith to the Son of God who is able to wash all of our sins away [Revelation 1:5]; able someday to present us faultless in the glory of His presence [Jude 1:24]; able to write our names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]; able to keep us now and forever [John 10:27-30]. It is God’s message of the grace of the gospel. Come and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. Look and live [John 3:14-17; Numbers 21:8-9]. Wash and be clean [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10]. Come, come, come. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. Come, come. While we sing our appeal, in this balcony round, somebody you, “I make it tonight.” In this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Preacher, I make it tonight, looking to Jesus in repentance, in turning, and in faith, I take Him for my Savior [Mark 1:15; John 3:16]. I give Him the love of my heart, the devotion of my soul. I take Jesus, and I publicly, unashamedly confess Him as my Lord, and I do it tonight,” while we stand and while we sing.