A Great Gulf Fixed
February 2nd, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
A GREAT GULF FIXED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-2-69 7:30 p.m.
Turn with me to Luke the third Gospel, verse 19 and reading from the sixteenth chapter of Luke, verse 19 to the end of the chapter. On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Great Gulf Fixed. It is a message from a narrative, a story, told by our Lord. And as we read it you will find that text, A Great Gulf Fixed. Now all of us and if on the radio you can, get a Bible and read it out loud together with us here in this great auditorium. Luke 16, verse 19 to the end of the chapter. All of us reading together.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which 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 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.
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.
And you saw the text as you read this story from our Lord. A Great Gulf Fixed. There are many times when I come across writings and people who look upon us, who believe this Bible, as being in our attitudes and in our theological persuasions, they look upon us as being antiquated. We are peculiar remnants of an age that is passed. We burden ourselves, they say, with medieval theology. We believe in hell, in judgment, in damnation, in perdition. And we believe that the only grace that can save us is found in the atoning love of our Savior.
And of course to most of this world the things that we believe are monstrous and impertinent and without contact in modern life. So, I thought for a moment tonight we would take one of the basic of all of the fundamental tenants of the gospel and see whether or not it is contemporary and pertinent. And I do not know one that could be used more as a touchstone of the attitude of modern theology and modern philosophy and modern academic and educational teaching than this about perdition and damnation and hell and judgment.
So, we are going to take it and look at it and see if it has any pertinency in our modern contemporary life. We shall take just one part of it and beside all this, between us and you, there is a great gulf fixed.
Now, I have been a pastor for forty and one years. And I have been the under shepherd of this flock for a quarter of a century. And in those years if I were stupid I would be cognizant and sensitive to some things. I would learn something. And out of all of the years of my ministry I have never seen a more pertinent truth in human life than this one that I am taking as a touchstone of Biblical theology, a great gulf fixed. Between the saved and the lost, between those who belong to God and those who refuse the overtures of His mercies.
All right, let’s begin with a pastoral scene in my study across the street. Here sits before me a young wife and mother. She has been reared in a devout home in the church. She has been reared in an affluent home. She has a fine education. She has been sent to some of the brilliant colleges of the land.
Now by her side sits a handsome young man, a gifted young man. And I can easily see how as she went away to school that she could have been introduced to this young man, living as she did in an affluent circle and meeting this handsome young fellow. But he was a gross unbeliever. And God interdicts against the marriage of a Christian girl and an unbelieving boy. There is not anything in God’s word that is more clear than that. So, she violated God’s mandate and married that unbelieving boy. They came here to Dallas to make their home, and he was a young executive in one of the great companies, business enterprises in the city.
Now the reason they are there is on her account. She has persuaded her husband in one last extremity to save her marriage and her home and to keep for their little child, a few years old, the family together. She has persuaded him in a last recourse to come and both of them to talk to me. So I sit there before them and listen to them. And as I talk and as I plead and as I pray and beg and importune and ask, do all in my power to save the home, the young man finally will say to me, "Would you like for me to be honest with you and to tell you exactly what I think?"
And I say, "Yes, yes, yes indeed".
So he says very emphatically, "I don’t like anything that my wife likes. Nothing. And she does not like anything that I like. Nothing. I don’t like church. I don’t like the songs they sing. I don’t like the prayers they pray. I don’t like the Bible they read. I don’t like the people, none of them. I don’t like church. And I am not going to church and I am not going to have a Christian home and a Christian family. I don’t like it."
Now he said, "She does not like what I like. I like to drink. I like the crowd that drinks. I like to gamble. I like the crowd that gambles. I like the world and the people who live in it. And my wife was reared in a devout home, and though we were married I do not like anything that she likes. And she does not like anything that I like."
Just what would you do for this gulf that lies in between is not a fiction in somebody’s medieval theology but it is the truth of God as the Lord points it out in human life. Now to go back to the years of my pastoral ministry. I see that gulf everywhere. I see it down every street. I see it in a thousand homes. I see it in a thousand lives. The gulf that lies in between. And to reach over it, to span it, to bridge it is for me, at least, in many of these marital situations impossible.
Sometimes I look at two great peaks and in between is a dismal and dreary sea. The archaeologists will say there was a time when they were together. But there was a washing and a washing and a washing and finally the great gulf separating in between. So oft times life is like that. The gulf that separates and it arises and it’s witnessed in every area of life. We shall speak of this as the sermon progresses.
First of all we are going to look at this gulf fixed in between. We are going to look at it in the Word of God. This is not exceptional. It is not unique. It is not something that is singularly stated here in my text. But it is a concomitant, it is a corollary, it is a deduction that you will find if you read God’s Word, all through the pages of its historical revelation. The gulf that separates in between dividing the soul and the heart and the life and the affinity and the love and the attitude, the likes; all through the Word of God.
Now, to make it more pertinent for us I have taken a sweep of some of the characters in God’s Book, and the gulf that lies in between them as they appear upon the stage of scriptural story. Lot, in Sodom. Lot was weak and vacillating. Lot was greedy and filled with concupiscence and avaricious. When he looked upon the cities of the plain and their fertility and their abounding merchandising opportunities and opportunities for wealth and aggrandizement and ambition, his eyes were widened and they sparkled and prospects and….
So we find Lot sitting in the gate of Sodom. He’s the mayor of the city. But the epistle of Simon Peter says that Lot vexed his soul with the filthy conversation of the Sodomites. Though he was a compromised child of God he still was a child of God. Though he had forfeited every hope he ever had, in the promises to Abraham, yet he had been brought up in the household of Abraham. He worshipped and knew the true Lord, and when in Sodom he heard and witnessed the filthy unspeakable life of the Sodomites he experienced agony of soul. The great gulf fixed between Lot, a backslidden child of God, but a child of God, and the filthy dirt of the unspeakable Sodomites. The great gulf in between.
Moses and Pharaoh, "Who is this Jehovah you are talking to me about? I’ve never heard of Him. I don’t know His name. Neither will I obey His voice. Jehovah. I’ve got gods of my own. I don’t know anything about Jehovah." The great gulf in between. Or David and Goliath. In superiority, in contempt, Goliath looks down upon that ruddy-faced shepherd boy, dressed in the clothes of a shepherd lad. Armed with a slingshot and a little pouch, a little leather bag holding five stones. And Goliath in his armor and his staff, his spear big as a weaver’s beam and his sword with all the strength of one man just to raise it up, looks down and in contempt he says, "You come out to fight me with a staff and with a slingshot? This day, this moment I will give your carcass to the birds of the air to eat and to the beasts of the field to devour." And David said in reply, "You come to me with a spear and with a sword and with a shield but I come to you in the name of the Lord God Jehovah whom thou hast defied" [1 Samuel 17:43-45]. A gulf in between.
And I haven’t time to speak of Daniel and Belshazzar. In a drunken orgy and the ancient man of God reading the handwriting on the wall. Two men, side by side, face to face, but an abysmal gulf in between.
Now, I have just come to the New Testament, nor have I time to speak of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, a weak, sensuous, vacillating ruler. John the Baptist, rugged, prophetic, living as unto God and Herod, the king of Galilee and Perea, the gulf in between. Or Jesus and the Sanhedrin presided over by Caiphas. Or James the brother of John, whom we preached this morning and Herod Agrippa I. Or of Paul, God’s servant and Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus. Or the sainted apostle John and Diotrephes who spurned him and cast him out. The great gulf in between.
And this gulf fixed lies into the eternities that are to come. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, "Two shall be sleeping in a bed, one taken and the other left. Two grinding in a mill, one taken and the other left. Two working in a field, one taken and the other left." There they are side by side working together, living together, but a gulf in between. One heaven bound, one damnation bound.
Now in the moment that remains, there is no sadness in life like looking at that gulf. A separation deep, high, wide, fixed. And all who look upon it, if there is in them the compassion of God, there is an earnest praying and seeking that it might be bridged. Lord, Lord, cannot something be done? Is there no hope? Is there no salvation? Is there no reaching across? Is there no bridging?
Let’s look at some of the things that you would think would bridge it. One is blood. Wouldn’t you think that blood ties would bridge it? And yet I have never been more hopeless as I see sometimes a father and his son. What closer blood tie could there be than a man and his own boy? And yet sometimes you will find that abysmal dreary sea lying in between, the father on one side and the son on another side. Or a mother and her daughter. The wife and her husband. Blood ties bridge it not, nor a common determination and commitment. You will see people who are working for the same purposes, committed to the same ends, sometimes devoting their lives together to a great commitment, and yet between them that same fixed gulf.
I have tried to call it to mind and cannot but somewhere in these days past I saw on television a show of the Second World War. And in that war, portrayed there in dramatic form, there was a vicious air fight. There were planes of Germany and planes of America who were in mortal combat in the sky. And in that dramatic portrayal of that air fight it showed some of our American men falling down. Their planes shot and on fire and destroyed and the men were falling to earth. And I remember two of them so vividly.
One of the men as he fought and as his plane was shot down and he fell, the camera in that dramatic sequence followed him all the way to the ground. One of those men cursed. He cursed the Germans and he cursed the war and he cursed his fate and he cursed the loss of his heart in the battle and fell down cursing. The last boy that was showed in that sequence must have been reared in a devout Christian home. For as the camera followed his flight from the sky down to death on this earth, the boy was praying, asking God’s remembrance and God’s grace and God’s blessing. So dying in the mercies of Jesus.
Well, it made an impression on me. Both or all the young men giving their lives for their country and what nobler thing could a boy do than to offer his life for his land, where his people live, where his fathers are buried. But side-by-side in a foxhole, on the deck of the same carrier, there in a same squadron in a jungle they are baring their breasts to steel and to shrapnel and to explosive gunfire. One will die with a curse on his lips and the other will die with a prayer of remembrance before God. That gulf fixed in between. I see it everywhere.
What can bridge it? In the other world there is no abridgement. It is forever fixed. It is unbridgeable. As the author of Ecclesiastes avows, "As the tree falls, so shall it lie." If a man dies lost he has died lost forever. If he falls into torment, it is an everlasting judgment and damnation. There is no hope beyond the grave, not for the lost man.
But in this life, in this life, now, while there is life there is hope. While there is breath there is invitation. In this life there is no home that cannot be put together in Christ. No life estranged that cannot be healed. No separation that cannot be brought back again in the Lord, in the Lord.
We wouldn’t be thus bold to say it but all over this house you could find men and women stand up, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, stand up and say this did Christ do for me and my home. This did the Lord do for me and my family. This did God do for my soul.
You know, some of these old timers write such unusual things. And along this line that I am following in the text, a long, long time ago an old timer wrote a poem about the love of God that bridges that stream.
There is a bridge that spans the river
Twixt the earth and heaven above
And the bridge is strong, my brother
For the love built it on love.
Once a lost race stood in wonder
Crying out to God above
And God sent a faithful Savior
And He spanned the stream in love.
Storms of earth can never harm it
Nor can hell its piers remove
It will stand through endless ages
For the Lord did build it in love.
[Author not found]
In the grace and mercy of God there is hope for every life, blessing for every soul, a benediction for every soul, a blessing for every child. Our hope lies in Christ. As the great plaquard announcing our crusade of the Americas, Christ the Hope of the World.
And that’s the message we sing about and preach about and plead about in these holy services. To give your heart to the Lord, come. To bring your family in the circle and circumference of this dear and precious church, come. As God shall press the appeal to your heart, come. In a moment we shall sing our song. In the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, make the decision for Christ now. And when you stand up in a moment to sing, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor. I decide for God tonight." And come. You, a couple you, a family you, a somebody one you, come by yourself, bring your wife, bring the children. Answer God’s call tonight. Make it now. And angels will attend you in the way as you come. While we stand and while we sing.
A GREAT GULF FIXED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Teaching about perdition, damnation pertinent in our modern life
B. Young couple unequally yoked
C. There is a gulf that separates in every area of life
II. Throughout Scripture
A. In the Old Testament – Lot in Sodom, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, David and Belshazzar (1 Samuel 17:43-45)
B. In the New Testament – John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, Jesus and the Sanhedrin, James and Herod Agrippa I, Paul and Demetrius, John and Diotrephes
III. Throughout eternity (Matthew 24:40-41, 25:34, 41)
IV. Bridging the gulf
A. Blood ties
B. Common commitment
C. Only in Christ (Ecclesiastes 11:3)