Tormented in a Flame
January 29th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-29-67 8:15 a.m.
Now the message of the morning hour, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke:
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 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 on 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.
[Luke 16: 19-24]
This is not the first time that we have met a picture, a revelation of the judgment that awaits those who spurn the overtures of the grace and mercy of God. It is one of the commonest things that we find in God’s revelation to sinful men, that there is a judgment of damnation, of perdition, awaiting those who reject the mercies of God. Sometimes the Scriptures will use the words everlasting punishment. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” [Matthew 25:46]. Sometimes the Scriptures will present the agony and the pain: “For I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:24]. Sometimes the Scriptures will use a picture of the offscouring and the filth of the earth; the very word translated “hell” is gehenna, and the Valley of Hinnom. Gehinnom was where the refuse of the city had been dumped and poured for centuries. And there the jackals fought with each other in gnashing of teeth over the carrion and the garbage that was poured out into that unseemly and unsightly place. So, God says that there shall be a gathering out of all of His creation all that offend, and the sinful, and the unrepentant, and the filthy will be sent away from the holy, divine light and presence of God [Matthew 13:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9].
And then sometimes in the Scriptures the presentation of the great judgment is in the form of a vast separation; sometimes in the imagery of a shepherd dividing his sheep from his goats [Matthew 25:31-33]; sometimes in the imagery of a farmer dividing the chaff from the wheat [Matthew 3:12] or the tares from the good grain [Matthew 13:30]; sometimes in the imagery of a fisherman who keeps the good that he catches and throws the bad away [Matthew 13:47-48]; sometimes in the imagery of a wedding, the wise and the foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13]; sometimes in the imagery of a great gulf fixed between those who are saved and those who are lost [Luke 16:22-26]. But I am just pointing out to us that the presentation of a judgment awaiting mortal souls is throughout the Word of God.
Now, the liberal, of course, rejects any such idea. I quote from one of them who wrote a book entitled Life After Death; and in that book this author said, and I quote; “If the doctrine of eternal punishment were clearly and unmistakably taught on every leaf of the Bible and on every leaf of all the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it.” And when I read a sentence like that, I am conscious of being strangely acquainted, familiar, with a thing like that said before; and then I remember where it was I heard it. When God said to Adam and Eve: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17], Then I remember where that sentence was said: Satan, the serpent, came to Eve and said, “Yea, did God say, Thou shalt surely die? Thou shalt not surely die” [Genesis 3:1-4].
The revelation of the judgment of Almighty God makes us tremble in our souls [Hebrews 10:30-31]. For one thing, I cannot escape that shadow that lies back of everything we do and every hour in which we live; I cannot escape it because for one thing it was the same Lord Jesus who took little children up into His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16], who spoke the most and the most solemnly of this judgment. It was the same Lord Jesus “who loved us, and gave Himself for us” [Galatians 2:20], who has made this revelation to us [Matthew 25:41]. I have read from the words of our Lord—I cannot forget that it is in the same book, the Book of Luke—that told the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]; that told the story of the publican praying who went down to his house justified [Luke 18:9-14]; who told the story of the good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37]; who told the story of the repentant thief on the cross [Luke 23:39-43]; it is the same Gospel writer who tells the stories that move our hearts and love to God, that also told this story of the judgment upon Dives and of the tormenting in that flame [Luke 16:19-31].
Nor can I forget, as I read the Word of God, that the same Book that tells us of the Lord tells us of Satan; and the same Book that tells us of heaven tells us of hell; and the same and identical words that are used for the duration of one are used for the duration of the other. Look at this one sentence in [Matthew 25:46]: “And these shall go away into aeonios punishment: and these into aeonios life.” If one has length, the other has length. If one is a figment of a wild Oriental imagination and exaggeration, then the other is a figment of the same Oriental wild imagination. They are the same words. If there is no Satan, there is not any God; if there is no hell, there is not any heaven; and if there is no eternal damnation and perdition, there is no eternal life. They are together in the Word of God.
Nor can I escape the corroboration of what I read in this Holy Book, nor can I escape it by what I think in my mind. In reason, in reason this is not fantastic and unimaginable, in reason as I look at our universe, it corroborates the revelation of God. Look, look, there is in this very universe the principal of separation. The doctor will strive to bring life and health by separating cancer cells from the health of the cells of the body; he will work toward that separation. In all society, there is an attempt to separate in penitentiaries, in asylums, those that are not a part of the well-being of the body politic.
I remember being importuned by one of the families in the church in a former pastorate to go see the governor and make appeal for their son who was a life-termer in the state penitentiary. That governor was one of the most devout men that I’ve ever known; he was a deacon in the First Baptist Church, he was a teacher of a large Sunday school class, he was excellent and fine in every part of his life, political, business—for he was a very rich man—and statesmanship. Yet as we made that appeal, that fine, devout, and Christian man finally decided after conferring with the Board of Pardons that the young man should remain in the penitentiary the rest of the days of his life.
You will find that principle of separation through all of this universe. And you will find that principle in the very nature of life itself. All character has a tendency to become fixed, not unfixed but fixed. The antedeluvians were wicked; and they became more wicked, and they became more wicked, until finally God saw that violence filled the earth; and God judged them in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:5-8; 7:21-23].
And in the days of Lot, in the city of Sodom, the men became more wicked, and more wicked, and more wicked until finally they mocked the very angels of the Almighty [Genesis 19:4-9]. As I look at it, character tends to become fixed, and more fixed, and more fixed. “As the tree falls, so shall it lie” [Ecclesiastes 11:3]; as the bent of a man’s life is followed, it goes, it is projected into eternity.
And that same thing that I reason in my mind I observe with my eyes. One of the most astonishing of all of the things that I observe in life is this: that pain and suffering have no effect in changing a man’s heart, not at all, not at all. These criminals, if you’ve ever read of their lives in the daily newspapers, these criminals, the untold suffering and agony they live in is beyond description. They will sometimes have surgeons change their faces; they will have the very fingerprints cut off of the ends of their fingers; and they live in constant agony and fear every soft footfall may the FBI, or the sheriff, or the police. Wouldn’t you think that men like that, who live in terror and suffering and agony, would change? It is the opposite. They become harder and harder and harder.
I was in Memphis, Tennessee, in a home, a devout and godly couple. Out of the dregs of that city and out of the gutter of that sordidness, they had picked up a prostitute in need, used and abused. They picked her up, brought her to the home, loved her, nurtured her, prayed over her. And when I visited in the home, that prostitute had just slipped out a night or two before and gone back into her sordid life of misery. Can you explain that to me? Can you explain that to me?
There’s only one way that a life can be turned; and that is in the power of God to change the human heart. The bent of the soul is toward sin, and toward sin, and toward sin until finally we become a very negation in ourselves. And in my observation, a second chance makes no difference. When the love and mercy of God is spurned one time, it is easier to reject the second time. And when God is refused two times, it is easier to refuse the third time. And when God is refused three times, it is easier to refuse the fourth time. And that is why it is difficult to win men to Jesus. A child is tender and young; but a man, for the most part, has said no, and no, and no until he is calloused; and he dies like this man died. “And in hell he lift up his eyes being in torments” [Luke 16:23], character fixed, rejection forever; die without the love and mercy and forgiveness of God.
Don’t you ever persuade yourself that sin and unbelief and rejection shall abide in God’s world forever, no. The great theme of the whole revelation and Book of God is this: that Satan shall be cast into hell [Revelation 20:10, 14], that God’s whole universe shall be purged [2 Peter 3:10]. There shall be someday a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness [Revelation 21-22]. And it is the redeemed of God that shall inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 25:34]. And if I am not in that kingdom and if I am not one of the redeemed, I am lost, I am separated, I am outside [Revelation 21:8, 22:15].
And that explains the zeal of those first Christian preachers, and evangelists, and apostles. They believed that the choices in this life were final and there’s not a hint in all of this vast—these how many pages—two thousand pages, there is no hint of a second opportunity or chance or offering, never! They preached believing that the decisions we make in this life are final, they are forever. And they preached and believed that the pagan world around them was perishing [1 John 2:13-17]; and they preached and they believed that Jesus was able to save and able to deliver [Acts 4:12].
And that is our message: we are sinners, all [Romans 3:23], and God judges our souls all [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; but there is mercy and deliverance and salvation and forgiveness in the divine love and mercy of God’s atoning grace [Romans 6:23]. “For He died for us, huper, in our behalf” [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 2:20]. He died for us that we might not die [Hebrews 10:5-14]. He suffered for us that we might not suffer [Isaiah 53:1-12]. He went down into the grave in the judgment of God upon sin; “the soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20], and “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die [Genesis 2:17];” and “He died that we might live” [Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 2:24]. And to those who turn in faith, in repentance, in love, in acceptance, in belief, in trust [Ephesians 2:8-9], those who turn to Him does God save and forever [Romans 10:9-10; John 5:22-24, 10:27-30]. This is the gospel. This is the message of grace [Ephesians 2:8].
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, turn in love, in acceptance, in trust, in belief. Somebody you, turn this morning to the Lord Jesus; come and stand by me, “Today, this holy hour shall be an hour of salvation for me and here I come, here I am.” A family you, putting your life with us in the ministry of this glorious church, you come. However God shall press the appeal to your heart and the Spirit shall say the word, make it this morning, make it now. When we stand in a moment to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. Here’s my wife. These are my children”; or “I’m coming myself.” Do it now, make it now, make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.
TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 25:46, Luke 16:19-31
A. The Bible gives a picture of the final state of the unrepentant
1. Punishment (Matthew 25:46)
2. Pain and torment (Luke 16:24)
3. Filth – Gehenna (Mark 9:43-48, 2 Peter 3:12-13)
4. Separation (Matthew 25:31-46)
B. Many refuse the teaching (Genesis 2:17, 3:1, 4)II. Considerations from Scripture
A. Same Lord Jesus
B. Same Book
C. Same word (Matthew 25:46)III. Considerations from reason
A. The nature of the moral universe, built upon principle of separation
B. The nature of life in its tendency to fixity in characterIV. Considerations from observation
A. Pain and suffering have no reforming power
B. A second chance makes no differenceV. The urgency of the gospel appeal
A. The zeal of the first century apostles and evangelists
1. Believed decision of this life was final (Ecclesiastes 11:3)
2. Believed the pagan world was lost (Acts 4:12, 17:30)
3. Believed Jesus could save
B. Our gospel (Hebrews 9:27, John 5:22-24)