What It Means to Be Lost
March 14th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LOST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-14-77 7:30 p.m.
The title of the message tonight is What it Means to be Lost. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke:
And it came to pass. . .that the rich man died, and was buried;
And in hell he lifted 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 his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
What it Means to be Lost; why would one choose to preach on a subject like this? It is a terrible subject, it is a horrible subject; why choose to speak on what it means to be lost? For three reasons. One: I do not invent the message; I am an echo, I am a voice, I but declare what is written large on this sacred page. Number two: so many times have I heard, “When there used to be hell in the pulpit, there was not hell in the streets and in the homes. But when there is no more hell in the pulpit, you find it now in the streets and in the homes of the people.” A third reason why to preach on this terrible subject: it is a merciful revelation from God that there could be such a judgment awaiting those outside of the grace of our Lord. It is a merciful disclosure of God, if there is such a place awaiting those who are lost. It is the same kind of a care and a concern that a railroad would have in placing a flashing sign across the track, “Railroad Crossing-Danger.” It is not because the company dislikes or hates the people who drive across the roadway, but it is a merciful thing that the railroad company does: there is danger, and the red light flashes. So it is with God. I have heard it said that there are two hundred forty times in the New Testament where God speaks of hell and damnation. That would be the same thing as if a man were going down a highway and two hundred forty times there was a sign on the road saying “This road leads to hell!” It is a merciful revelation of God if there is such a judgment and such a damnation.
Here in the Book of Luke, in chapter 15, the Lord speaks of a sheep that is lost [Luke 15:3-7]; He speaks of a coin that is lost [Luke 15:8-10]; He speaks of a boy that is lost [Luke 15:11-32]; and in chapter 16, out of which I read, He speaks of a soul that is lost [Luke 16:19-31]. In the beautiful story of our Lord, in chapter 15, the sheep that is lost is found [Luke 15:5-6]; the coin that is lost is recovered [Luke 15:9]; the son that is lost is saved [Luke 15:24, 32], but the soul that is lost is lost forever and forever; “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” [Luke 16:23-26].
Somebody said apply that word “lost” to anything, and it will spell tragedy! Here is a man who has lost his health, a strong, fine man, able to support his family; but now he is cut down, in the prime of his life he has lost his health. Apply that word to the eyes: here is a man who has lost his sight, and he lives thereafter and gropes for the wall in blindness. Here is a man who has lost his mind: I never heard of a sadder story in my life than that of a guard in an asylum who took a young wife and placed her in the cell where her husband had been confined, closed the door. And after the time for visiting had expired, he opened the door and when he did he saw the young wife kneeling before her husband and crying piteously, “Husband, don’t you know me? I’m your wife. Don’t you know me?” And no recognition came into his face at all, he had lost his mind. Apply that word to the soul, and of all tragedies that is the saddest.
There was a most affluent family whose prodigal and wayward boy was killed, drunk, in an automobile accident. And they sent for me, and said, “The service will be here in the home. Do not read a Scripture, do not sing a song, do not read an obituary, do not call his name, just say a prayer and we will bury him away.” Apply that word “lost” to the soul; of all things is it tragic.
A Christian can lose his money and the rest of his life live in need, in poverty, and in want; but in heaven, all of the treasures of God are his. But a lost man can live his life in affluence and in riches, as this man did; then he is cut down as a tree, and in hell he lifts up his eyes, being in torments [Luke 16:23, 26]. And what is it to be affluent or to be rich and spend eternity in damnation? A Christian loses his health, and on the rack and wheel of pain, and affliction, and agony, he spends the rest of his life; but in heaven there are no more sick, and no more blind, and no more crippled [Revelation 21:4]. But here is a lost man who lives his entire life in strength and in health, and then he dies. But what is strength and health in damnation and in torment? You see, the grave is the end of all affliction, and all hurt, and all trial, and all suffering to the Christian. But the grave is just the beginning of the torment, and the affliction, and the agony of the man who dies and is lost [Luke 16:23-26].
A liberal theologian said, “If the doctrine of damnation and hell were written on all the pages of all the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it.” Beautifully said, eloquently expressed, a fine sentiment; for who could rejoice in the damnation of the lost? And to dismiss the whole Word and revelation of God with that sentence, “I would not believe it,” so fine, so good, so well. But the harshest truth that I know in human life and in human history is this, that men are lost without God! [2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Ephesians 2:12].
They are lost in this life; a man without God is lost now, he is lost here [Ephesians 4:16-18]. He has no God to pray to; he has no Savior to share the burdens of his heart and of his life. He is out of tune with God’s universe. The Lord made us for Himself, and we are restless and miserable until we rest in Him [Matthew 11:28]. There is no man happy and at peace outside of the will of God and of the call of Christ. I think that is the reason that people drink so much: they have to drink to drown themselves from the misery and the reality in which they live. As one drunkard said, “It’s the shortest way out of Birmingham.” Damnation is not just at the judgment bar, and damnation is not just in the eternity to come, and damnation is not just in the fires and torments of hell [Luke 16:23-24]; damnation is here! [John 3:18]. It is in a man’s life outside of Christ; it is in a man’s home outside of the Lord; it is in a man’s soul outside of the will of God. The lost man is lost here in this life [Ephesians 4:16-18].
A lost man is lost in the hour of death [Ephesians 2:12]. To him the grave is an impenetrable darkness [Psalm 107:10]; it is a despair. One time I went through the largest cave in the world; it is the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The labyrinth of the vast extents of that cave is still unmapped after hundreds of years of discovery. And in that cave I looked upon the form of a little girl about twelve or thirteen years of age, the dry atmosphere and the constant temperature of the cave had just dehydrated her body. She was a little mummy; a little girl. She had been lost in the midnight darkness of that endless cavern and finally lay down to die. And there she lay, and when she died, she died lying on her side, sort of bent over, and with her face in her hands. And as I looked at that child, I could not but think of the horror and the terror of that little girl, seeking some light and some way out of the vast darkness that enclosed her. When a lost man dies, that is the way he dies: he faces the midnight of an impenetrable darkness; the grave and the vast unknown that lies beyond it.
A lost man is not only lost in this life, and he is not only lost in the hour of death, but he is lost at the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15]. Someday all of us shall stand before God, all of us [Matthew 25:31-46]. If there is any one truth revealed in this Holy Book, that truth is this: that someday every soul shall stand in the presence of Almighty God. And when the lost man stands in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth, He turns to the recording angel and says, “Do you find his name in the Book of Life?” [Revelation 20:12, 15]. And the recording angel turns the pages of the Book of Life, then reports back to the great Judge, “I cannot find his name.” And the lost man cries, “O God, You don’t understand, let me explain…” And the Lord says, “You have all eternity in which to explain. And the Judge of all the earth will do right, speak.” And the lost man says, “O God, You don’t understand, You don’t understand, Lord. You see, Lord, it’s like this: I was so busy making money, and I was so busy trying to have a good time, that I never had time for God. Lord, You don’t understand. You don’t understand.” The Lord says, “But did not I write in My Book, ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment’? [Hebrews 9:27]. Does a man think how ever busy he is, making money or having a good time that he will escape inevitable death and the judgment?”
“But Lord, You don’t understand. You don’t understand. Let me explain, Lord. You see, look at my good works. Look at what I’ve done. It hasn’t all been bad, Lord. Look at the good I’ve done!” And the Lord says, “But have I not written in My Holy Word, ‘All of your righteousnesses are as filthy rags’?” [Isaiah 64:6].
“But Lord,You don’t understand. Lord, You don’t understand. Look at all those churches down there, and all those denominations, and I didn’t know which way to turn, and I didn’t know what to do? And then, Lord, look at all the hypocrites in there. Look at those hypocrites!”
And the Lord says, “Hypocrites? Some in My church, I know, but nothing like the number out there where you are. Hypocrites— and did I say anything about hypocrites? And did I say anything about denominations? Didn’t I say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’?” [Acts 16:31].
“Oh, but Lord! You don’t understand. You don’t understand. Great God, listen to me! Lord, I was waiting for a great feeling, I was waiting for a great experience to pick me up and to set me into the kingdom, and I never had a great feeling and a great experience.” And the Lord says, “Did I say anything about a great feeling? Didn’t I say, ‘If thou shalt confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father which is in heaven, but if you deny Me before men, will I not deny you before My Father which is in heaven?’” [Matthew 10:32-33].
“Oh, but Lord! You don’t understand! You don’t understand, Lord. I didn’t intend to be lost. It was never my plan or program in my life that I would be lost; Lord, it just never was a time when it came for me to make that confession of faith in Thee. I never planned to be lost. It was just always, I intended to be saved and it was some other day and it was some other time; not a Monday, but maybe Tuesday. Not a Tuesday, but maybe Wednesday; not a Wednesday but maybe a Thursday or Friday; and if not by Friday, then maybe a Sunday; and if not this Sunday, then some Sunday.
And the Lord replies, “Did I not write in My Book, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation’?” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. And the recording angel writes by the side of his name in the book of damnation, “l-o-s-t, lost, lost.” The sinner is lost [Romans 3:23, 6:23], the unforgiven sinner is lost at the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15].
And the unsaved sinner, the lost sinner, is lost for eternity. There is no syllable in this Book, ever, of a second chance. As the Book says, “As the tree falls, so shall it lie” [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. When a man dies without Christ, he dies forever without the Lord; there is no second chance in eternity. He is lost forever, and forever, and forever. How long is that? Our minds cannot enter into it. One time I read if the world, this planet Earth, were one vast circle of solid granite and one time every ten thousand years a little bird came out of space and sharpened his beak on that vast ball of granite, when that whole earth had been worn away, one second of eternity will have passed. Our minds cannot enter into it. Lost forever and ever and ever, no opportunity again, no second chance offered; dying lost, without Christ, without hope, without God; lost, lost, lost.
When I was a boy, one night I awakened in the middle of the night; I was crying as a little boy only could cry. I went to my mother, bless her sainted memory, and she said, “Son, why are you crying so?” Ah! This is as vivid today as that night when I went to her side. I replied, “Mother, I dreamed tonight that I was standing at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and I was lost. I was lost. Oh, Mother! Mother, I was lost.” And the terror of that filled my young heart. I still can sense it and I still can feel it. “Lost, Mother! I was lost.” She talked to me, as a mother would a little boy; about Jesus, about the Lord, about the hope that we have in Him, and we need never be afraid in Him.
And I have often wondered—why I never asked her I don’t understand—but when time came for revival, the preacher stayed in our home, and every night after the service he would talk to me about the Lord. And in that meeting I was saved; I gave my heart to Christ. I have had the “peace that passeth understanding” [Philippians 4:7] ever since. And that is why when these little children are brought to me, the first question in that book is this, “If Jesus is a Savior, He necessarily must save us from something. What is it that is so tragic of human life and human destiny as to bring the Son of God down to earth to die for us?” What is it? It is because we are lost in our sins [John 3:18, 36], and He is a Savior because He saves us from our sins [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7]. Bless His name. Glorify His name. Praise His name. What God in Christ has done for us:
He did not come to condemn the world;
He did not come to blame
He did not only come to seek,
It was to save that He came
And when we call Him lesous, Jesus, Savior,
We call Him by His name
“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost” [Luke 19:10].
Could we bow together? Our Lord, could it be that our Lord in compassionate pity came down to this world to die for me? [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14]. “The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:20]…The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]; and either I pay that penalty, or Christ Jesus pays it for me. O Lord, in Thy grace [Ephesians 2:8], and mercy [Titus 3:5], I accept Thy proffered offer of eternal life if I will but look unto Thee [John 10:27-30]. Master, thank Thee for that day when I looked and lived [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Thank Thee, Master, for that moment when I believed and was saved [Acts 16:30-31]. Thank Thee, Lord; for all that Jesus has done for me. And I praise Thee, Lord, that it has been a precious pilgrimage for the more than half a century since, walking with the Lord—O Master, that the same glory might be shared by all in divine presence tonight.
And while our people pray, and while our heads are bowed, you; is it right between you and God? If the Lord were to call tonight, are you ready? “Here I am, Lord, any day, any time, any hour, I’m ready.” A couple of you, a family you, or just one somebody you, “This night, God has spoken to me, and the Lord has called for me, and I’m coming in faith and in trust to Him who died in my stead [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21]. I do accept Jesus as my Savior tonight, and I’m coming.” Maybe you have done that, and to put your life with us in the church, come. As God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer now with your life, “Here I am, Lord, here I am.”
Dear, blessed Jesus, in the moment now that we sing our hymn of appeal, having made the decision in our souls, looking to God in faith [Ephesians 2:8], “I’m coming, Lord, and here I am.” Thank Thee for the answered prayer. May no one go out this door tonight without Thee. Thank Thee, Lord, for what You will do, in Thy saving name, amen.
Now in a moment, we are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, the pastor will be standing here; you, one somebody you, a couple you, a family you, “Tonight, I have decided for Christ and here I am, here I come.” On the first note of the first stanza, make it now. To put your life with us or to accept Christ as Savior [Romans 10:9-13], as God shall call, as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.