THE DECISION FOR DAMNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-2-1984 8:15 a.m.
Now before the Lord may we deeply bow our heads and hearts for our 2 Corinthians 13:5 commitment, “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove yourselves. Know ye not … how that Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?” And our Lord, on the way to the grave and to the great judgment day of Almighty God, we pause for these few minutes. We tremble in Thy presence. An inevitable judgment, an inevitable accounting faces each one of us, and may God deliver us in that day. May we listen now as for eternity; and praying through the invitation, standing in Thy presence, believing that God will give us every unconverted, unrepentant, unsaved soul this holy, destiny-determining hour. Stand by us, Lord, in Thy saving name, amen.
The title of the message this morning is turned just in a little different way. We would call it The Decision for Damnation. And from the Word of God, reading from the words of our Savior, in Matthew 23, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,” the Lord begins in verse 29, Matthew 23:29:
Ye build the tombs of the prophets, garnish the sepulchers of the righteous,
And you say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets…
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of gehenna, the damnation of hell?
[Matthew 23:29-31, 33]
Could anything be more unsavory or unpalatable or more confessedly terrible than the prospect of perdition and damnation and hell? Is it not an amazing thing that that doctrine has persisted through the centuries and the millennia? Every effort known to the human mind and to the human genius has been used to destroy the very idea of such a catastrophe. It has been assailed by every argument, every shaft of ridicule, spurned by every contrary teaching. The doctrine of soul-annihilation: when we die, we die like an animal. That’s the end of life; no afterlife. Assailed by the doctrine of universal salvation: all of us are going to be saved. No evil person will ever fall into the judgment; all of us are going to be delivered. Assailed by the doctrine of purgatory: there’ll be a limit to the suffering, after which we all, purged out of purgatory, enter into heaven. Assailed, of course, by the atheist and the infidel, who dumps all of it into the garbage can of superstition and inanity. But however it is assailed, and however the human genius may bring to bear on it any amount of ridicule or denial, it is still everlastingly with us: the possibility of retribution and punishment and judgment.
That doctrine is in the background of all religious experience. It is the overtone, it is the shading against which the grace of God shines. It’s the basis upon which the appeal of the gospel is made. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31], “for our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. Why is it that this terrible, unspeakable doctrine continues in the human heart, and in the human conscience, and in the human life, and in the human reason? Well, there are two things that support it; and that’s the sermon today. Number one is the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, and number two is the conscience and the reason of the human heart and the human mind, and that will be the message this morning.
First of all, the doctrine continues because it is in the Bible. It is woven into the very warp and woof of the Word of God. It is all through the Bible. I have chosen a passage out of the Prophets, a passage out of the Psalms, a passage out of the Law, a passage out of the Gospels, a passage out of the Epistles, a passage out of the Apocalypse, the Revelation, just as a demonstration that the doctrine of perdition and judgment is all through the Word of the Lord.
For example, Moses says, in Deuteronomy 32:22, out of the Law, “For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell.” A passage out of the Psalms, Psalm 9:17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” A passage out of the Prophets, Isaiah 14:9: “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee.” A passage out of the gospels: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” [Matthew 25:46]. A passage out of the Epistles, [2 Thessalonians 1:7-10]: “When the Lord shall be revealed from heaven … in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He shall come to be glorified in His saints.” And a passage out of the Revelation: “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire; this is the second death” [Revelation 20:14-15]. From the beginning of the Scriptures to the end of the Bible, this doctrine of eternal retribution, and punishment, and damnation, and hell is in the Word of God.
So awesome is that prospect that our Lord said it is better for you if your right hand is the offending one, cut it off; or if your eye is the offending one, pluck it out; it is better for you that you enter eternal life maimed and blind and halt rather than having two hands or two eyes or two feet to enter eternal damnation [Matthew 18:8-9]. Is not that an astonishing thing, that the tenderest of all teachers, and the dearest of all shepherds, and the most faithful of all friends, and the most sacrificial of all intercessors, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the One who spoke most and most solemnly concerning this awesome judgment?
- In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, He will say, “Come unto Me” [Matthew 11:28]. Does it make any difference whether we come or not?
- In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark He will say, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” [Mark1:15]. Does it make any difference whether we repent or not?
- In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, He will say, “Follow Me” [Luke 5:27]. Does it make any difference whether I follow Him or not?
- In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, He will say, “Believe on the Son” [John 3:16, 18]. Does it make any difference whether I believe on the Son or not?
- He closes that great soul-saving third chapter of John with the word, “He that hath the Son hath life: he that hath not the Son hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him” [John 3:36].
The second: it is embedded in our conscience and in our human reason. The doctrine of perdition, of damnation, of hell; it is in the way that we are made. No argument or series of arguments known to man can eliminate that foreboding of the judgment of God upon sin out of our souls. It is a part of us, of the human race, of all ages and of all time. There is something in us, in our conscience, that says punishment follows sin as effect follows cause. You can’t get it out of us. It is not that God delights in the death of the wicked, or that He is like some great Molech who is honored by the sacrifice of pouring men into a fiery furnace; it is just the way that life is put together. It’s the way our consciences respond to evil and to wickedness, to disobedience, and to unbelief.
When Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, possess!” [1 Kings 21:15], having stoned Naboth to death [1 Kings 21:5-13], the word of the Lord came to Elijah, said, “Arise and go!” [1 Kings 21:17-18]. Isn’t that strange? When Jezebel says to Ahab, “Rise, and go to possess” [1 Kings 21:15], God says to Elijah, “Arise, go to meet Ahab” [1 Kings 21:17-18]. And in the garden of Naboth’s vineyard, Ahab says, “Hast thou seen me and met me, O mine enemy?” [1 Kings 21:20]. And Elijah says to Ahab, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine [1 Kings 21:19]. And Jezebel shall be eaten by the dogs, by the wall of Jezreel” [1 Kings 21:23]. How do you escape that? That’s in the conscience of all humanity. The Greeks called it a Nemesis, the name of the goddess of retribution and vengeance.
The great, marvelous, incomparable dramatist Shakespeare called it Macbeth. Why should he be disturbed? He has slain the king, and he will inherit his throne and his crown. Why should he cry unto God? Why should Lady Macbeth in her sleep dream dreams that drive her mad? Why? Somehow in the conscience of humanity [a good] man is not to be treated as a wicked man; it insults our moral judgment that such a thing might be.
We have penitentiaries, and we have prisons in which we place those who rob our homes, and rape our women, and do violence to our children, who make our streets fearful. The criminal, the disobedience, the violator of our laws, we put them aside; we have places for them. Just as we have incinerators and furnaces for the filth, and the sewage, and the garbage, and the dirt, without which we couldn’t live; this damnation and perdition is the great incinerator, the great dark garbage dump of humanity, when God purges His earth. That’s in the conscience.
It’s not only in the conscience of humanity, it’s in the reason of humanity. It’s the way we think. It’s the way we’re put together. We don’t put together the good and the evil; we just don’t. When we name the righteous, we categorize them: Enoch, the man who walked with God [Genesis 5:24]; Joseph, a Jonathan, Jesus, John the beloved, Paul, or a Ruth, or a Mary, or an Elizabeth, or Priscilla. We don’t put them together with an Ahab, or with a Judas Iscariot, or with a Nero. We just don’t put together the beloved disciple John and Judas Iscariot; we separate them. We just don’t put together Paul the holy apostle and Nero who slew him, who murdered his mother, who murdered his wife, who murdered Seneca the great philosopher and Lucian the marvelous poet. We just don’t put them together. It never occurs to us to put together Clyde Barrow and John Dillinger and Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George W. Truett. We just don’t put them together. We’re just not made that way.
Our reasons don’t flow in that direction. And when we look at these men, we see character tends to harden. It is an extension of itself; it goes on. It shapes itself. It becomes more like itself, all through the days and the years and the life. Before the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24] men lived to be a great age [Genesis 5:3-32], but the longer they lived, the more evil they became [Genesis 6:5-6]. That’s why it is that a man of age will hardly ever be converted; the child will respond, but the man in his disobedience hardens into that kind of a negation. In our reason, why would a man say, “This speeder went through five hundred red lights at ninety miles an hour, and in the collision he lies here dead. If he’d had one more red light to go through he would have been saved.” You don’t think like that. If he went through five hundred red lights at a terrific speed, if he had two more red lights he’d do the same thing. We make our place in our character and in our decision. We do it. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, it says that Judas went to his own place [Acts 1:25]. Isn’t that an eloquent characterization of the results of human decision, in human life, in human acts? He went to his own place. All of us go to our own place.
Suppose we were to think, “God’s going to open the pearly gates of heaven to all of the unrepentant, to all of the disobedient, to all of the unconverted. He is going to open the gates of heaven to all of these unwashed, unforgiven, unsaved sinners; and they’re marching in. They’re in heaven.” And the rapist is there, and he looks with lust upon the beautiful saint as she passes by. He’s there; the rapist is there. And the sodomite is there, and he looks with equal lust on the shining angel. The sodomite is there. And the drug addict is there, and he sows pot along the banks of the river of life. And the mugger is there, and he hides behind every corner on every golden street, waiting for an innocent prey to pass by. And the thief is there, coveting and absconding with the gold from the streets, and with the jewels from the foundation, and with the pearl from the gates. My brother, that’s hell! That’s not heaven. Our women afraid to walk out on the golden streets, our families afraid of the violence of the rapist and the sodomite and the mugger and the thief: that’s heaven? Heaven is the separation. Heaven is the damnation of these that are unrepentant, and unworthy, and unconverted, and unsaved, and heaven is for those who choose the Lord [Matthew 25:31-46].
I’ll give you a poignant illustration of that, here in our midst. There was a man of another religion, of another faith, who married one of the beautiful Christian young women in our church. She’s beautiful in her figure and body, and in her life. She was a beautiful woman, and this fellow was a handsome man, and affluent. As the days passed, they had three children, beautiful children. And upon a time, that sweet, wonderful girl in our church came to me and said, “Oh, pastor, isn’t there something, isn’t there something? Please help. My husband is divorcing me. Please, please, please.” I said, “Dear, I’ll do my best, but you have to bring him. I have to talk to you together. Won’t do any good to talk each one separate; I have to talk to you together.” She said, “With God’s help, I’ll bring him.”
So both of them came to see me. And now to capsulate the conference: he said to me, “I hate everything about the Christian church. I hate everything about the service. I hate the songs. I hate the hymns. I hate the sermon. I hate the reading of the Bible. I hate her friends, her Christian friends. I hate them all. I hate them.” “Well,” I said, “what do you like? What do you like?” He said, “I like the gang at the bar. I like to drink. I like sex parties. I like nude shows and nude women. And I hate everything that she likes.” And he said to me, “She can have the three children. I don’t want them. I’m leaving. I’m leaving.” Now I want to ask you: in heaven, in heaven, where it says, “And they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb” [Revelation 15:3], and he says, “I hate it”; and in heaven when it says, “And they bowed down and worshipped Him that liveth forever and ever” [Revelation 5:14], and he says, “I hate it”; and when it says in heaven, they sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9], and he says, “I hate them, all of them”; and in heaven when it says we drink of the water of life and eat from the tree of life [Revelation 22:1-2,17], he says, “I hate the stuff”; he is miserable, he’s miserable, he’s the unhappiest critter you ever saw in your life. He doesn’t love to hear the songs of Zion. He doesn’t love to bow down and worship Him. He doesn’t love to be with God’s people. “I hate it.” He makes his own place.
I have to close. Why doesn’t God take that unconverted, unwilling, disobedient sinner, why doesn’t God take him and force him to repent, and force him to believe, and force him to change and to turn? Why doesn’t God say, “This is the tree of life: you’ll eat it whether you like it or not”? Why doesn’t God say to him, “This is the water of life: you’re going to drink it whether you like it or not”? Why doesn’t God do that? In His infinite goodness and wisdom, the way He made us was, we’re free. He created us that way. He did in the garden of Eden. He said, “All of this is before you. You choose; it is your choice” [Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6]. And God does that to every human soul. You choose, and all God does is use moral suasion, that’s all. He will appeal to you, He will knock at the door of your heart, He will do everything God Himself can do except to violate that freedom of choice that you possess. And there’s not anything in the world to come that God hasn’t given us in this world that is now. The Bible, with all of its appeals and invitations; we have that, and the Word lives forever [Isaiah 40:8]. We have the commandments of the Lord now [Exodus 20:1-17], and they are forever. We have the love and grace of Jesus, paying the penalty of our sins [Matthew 27:32-50]; we have it now, and that’s what we have forever. We have the pleading and the wooing of the Holy Spirit [John 16:8-11], and He is with us forever [John 14:16-17]. And we have the testimony of the saints, the preaching of the gospel, and they magnify the Lord forever and ever.
And if I refuse the pleading of the Father, the Son makes intercession for me [Hebrews 7:25]. And if I refuse the pleading of the Son, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for me [Romans 8:26-27]. But if I refuse the intercession of the Holy Spirit, where is the fourth person in the Godhead to appeal for me? The Bible calls it the unpardonable sin, the point of no return; there is nothing else [Matthew 12:31-32].
You know, once in a while, it is remarkable how people out there beyond the church will see a great truth in human life that is hardly ever expressed by us. Here is one: I saw a film one time, years ago, on the Second World War, and it was one of those vivid, realistic films of conflict, confrontation, war and death. And one of those pilots was shot down out of the sky, and the film showed him as he fell down to the ground. The film showed him cursing, cursing everything that came to his mind, and he plunged into the earth and into death, cursing, and out into eternity. And the other pilot shot down, and when his plane was falling down, and facing death and eternity, it showed that pilot with his heart lifted up to God, praying, asking God to receive his spirit, to open the gates of heaven for him. That’s our choice. When we face the eternity that is to come, we can do it in disobedience, in disavowal, in unrepentance, and in some instances in violent negation and curses, or we can face that inevitable hour with hope, and with prayer, and with expectancy, and with love, and with thanksgiving, and with praise for God who is opening for us the gates of grace and of glory. Isn’t that a remarkable thing, that God gives to us our choice, and we go to our place? Lord, Lord, grant to us the spirit of conversion, of repentance, of confession, of acceptance, of salvation [Romans 10:9-10]. God grant it to us, and to these whom we love, and for whom now we pray.
May we stand and sing our hymn of appeal? And while we sing that song of invitation, open your heart to the Lord, to do His will and to follow after Him [Ephesians 2:8], to come into the fellowship of His church, to answer a deeper call of the Spirit in your life. Make it now. Do it now. Come now, while we sing our hymn of appeal.