DECISION FOR DAMNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-2-84 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message, and it has a different title from the one that we have in our program. As I prepare the sermon, it takes a different form, a different shape. And this one instead of being on the sorrows and horrors of hell will be entitled The Decision for Damnation, and you will see the very evident turn of the title as the message is developed from the Word of God.
In the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew, the First Gospel, beginning at verse 29 our Lord says, Matthew 23:29:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees . . . ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous,
And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would have not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
You witness yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the prophets . . .
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall you escape the damnation of hell?
Did you ever read anything more caustic or burning than that in human literature, in human speech? “How shall ye escape the damnation of hell?”—of Gehenna, where the fire is never quenched, and the worm never dies? [Mark 9:44, 46, 48]. It is an amazement, it is one of the inexplicable attendants and corollaries of human life, that the doctrine of damnation and perdition continues. It never fades away. Other things fade, but not this.
Every shaft and arrow to destroy such a doctrine has been aimed at the very thought of it; ridicule, argument, denunciation, all of the sarcasm of which the human mind is capable of producing, inventing, and yet it persists. To get rid of it, men have tried every kind of a doctrinal aberration; the annihilation of the soul, “There is not any afterlife; when you die, you die like dogs, like animals. There’s not any afterlife.” Then there are those who take the opposite, universalism, “We’re all going to be saved. No matter how vile, how wicked, how unrepentant, how unconverted, how unsaved, we’re all going to be saved. All of us are going to heaven.” There are those who promulgate the doctrine of purgatory, “You will be punished just for a while. Then after you are purged, after you are done with purgatory, then refined by the fires of the limbo, you’ll enter in through the golden gates.” There are those of course who are atheists and who are infidels, who deny the whole idea of God, or soul, or life, or religion, or everlasting world yet to come.
But with all of the attack made against the doctrine, it persists. It is always with us, and there’s no argument that can deliver the soul from it. It’s a part of our mind. It’s a part of our conscience. It’s a part of the Holy Scriptures, and that’s the sermon this morning The Decision for Damnation as found in the Bible, and then as it is found in the human conscience and in human reason.
I have chosen just typical passages. We could be here all day long reading them, but I have taken a typical passage out of the Law, out of the Psalms, out of the Prophets, out of the Gospels, out of the Epistles, and out of the Apocalypse. These are just typical.
This is the Bible:
- The lawgiver, Moses, writes in Deuteronomy 32:22: “For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.”
- From the Psalms 9:17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”
- From 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.”
- From the Gospels: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into everlasting life” [Matthew 25:46].
- From the Epistles, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verses 8 and 9: “When the Lord shall be revealed 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” [2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8-9].
- And from 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 20:15, 14].
This is the Bible, and this is the Word of Him who loved us the most, and died that we might be delivered from the judgment of our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:4-18]. You can never escape the fact that it was Jesus who laid down His life for us. It was Jesus who pled with men to make any kind of a sacrifice to escape the awful judgment of damnation. So much so, that He said, “If your hand offend you, cut it off. It is better to enter eternal life with one hand than with two hands to be damned in Gehenna fire. If your foot offend you, cut it off. If your eye offends you, pluck it out” [Matthew 5:29, 30]. This is what Jesus said. It is better to enter eternal life maimed, and halt, and blind, than it is to be cast into eternal Gehenna, damnation, having two hands, two feet, and two eyes [Mark 9:43-47]. This from the tenderest Teacher who ever lived [Luke 13:26]; from the most faithful of shepherds [John 10:11]; from the Intercessor who laid down His life for us [Romans 8:34]; from the Savior who poured out the crimson of His veins that we might be delivered from our sins [Revelation 5:12]. It was Jesus who came into this world for the purpose that we might be saved from the judgment upon our unrepentant sins [Hebrews 10:4-18].
In the first chapter of the Book of Mark, Jesus says: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” [Mark 1:15]. What if I don’t repent? Does it make any difference? In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord says: “Come unto Me” [Matthew 11:28]. But if I don’t come, does it make any difference? In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke our, Lord says: “Follow Me” [Luke 5:27]. If I don’t follow Him, does it make any difference? In the [fifth] chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord says: “Believe on Him that sent Me” [John 5:24]. Believe on the Son [John 3:36]. If I don’t believe, does it make any difference? Our Lord closed that greatest chapter, the third of John, that tells us how to be saved. He closes it: “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]. How can I read the self-revelation of God in the Holy Word and not tremble before an unrepentant, unconfessed sin?
Not only is the doctrine of damnation in the Bible, but it is in the human conscience and in the human mind, in our reasoning. It is in the human conscience [Romans 1:19]. There is an innate, congenital foreboding in every heart, and every soul, of the judgment upon sin. We are born with it. We are conscious of it. And all the rationalization in this earth cannot deliver us from it. It is a part of what makes us sensitive to God, to right, to wrong. We cannot escape it [Romans 1:20]. Somehow in our minds, in our consciences, punishment follows sin in the same way that effect follows cause.
The two are together. Not that God delights and takes pleasure in the death of the wicked, that it satisfies something in Him to see that the soul damned. Not that He is some Molech who is honored by the sacrifice of men being thrown into the fiery furnace. It is just that in the conscience in what makes a man man; what makes humanity humanity; what makes God God, there is just something in righteousness that condemns sin [Romans 1:21-23].
For example, Jezebel said to Ahab, her husband the king of Israel: “Naboth has been stoned. Arise, possess his garden” [1 Kings 21:15]. And Ahab arose to possess the garden of Naboth [1 Kings 21:16]. Next sentence: “But the Lord God said to Elijah; Arise, and go meet Ahab” [1 Kings 21:18]. Isn’t that strange? At the same time Jezebel says to Ahab, “Arise; Naboth lies in his own blood; possess his garden,” at the same time, in the same breath, the Lord God says to Elijah, “Arise, and go meet Ahab.” And in the vineyard of Naboth, Ahab saw Elijah and said: “O mine enemy, hast thou found me?” [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 [1 Kings 21:19], and Jezebel shall be eaten by the dogs by the wall of Jezreel” [1 Kings 21:23].
How do you explain that? That’s not singular or unusual. That’s through all time and all history. The Greeks called it Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, who hounded the steps and the lives of those that did unrepentant wickedness. The dramatist called it Macbeth. What’s the matter with Macbeth? He has slain the king. He will inherit his throne. Why does he cry out, “The blood on my hands. Will all Neptune’s ocean wash it clean?” What’s the matter with Lady Macbeth? She engineered his murder beautifully, effectively. What’s the matter that she lies awake at night or dreams terrible accusing dreams? What’s the matter? That’s the conscience of the human soul, and we cannot escape it. It says of Saul, when he disobeyed God, “The Spirit of the Lord left him, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” [1 Samuel 16:14]. Our conscience; we can’t escape it.
There’s something on the inside of us, that when a good man is treated like a bad man, or a bad man receives the treatment of a good man, there’s something on the inside of our conscience that feels morally insulted. That’s why we have the prison and the penitentiary for that man that robs our homes, or rapes our women, or abuses and violates our children, or breaks our laws.
There’s just something right, that when a man violates the law of God, he’s put away. He’s separated. He’s put aside. And that conscience enters into every area of our lives. In this city, there are dumps, and incinerators, and furnaces, and cesspools for the filth, and the rubbish, and the garbage, and the dirt of our lives. And we couldn’t live without it. Life would be impossible without that separation. Hell and damnation is the great cesspool and garbage heap of humanity. Not only does the doctrine persist because of the human conscience—what is right, our moral sensitivity—but it is also a part of our reason, the way we think; the way our minds are put together.
Look for a minute. You don’t place in the same category godly people, Enoch, who walked with the Lord [Genesis 5:22]; Joseph, beautiful son [Genesis 37:3]; our blessed Jesus [Revelation 5:12]; the beloved disciple, John [John 21:20]; Paul, God’s missionary and emissary [Acts 9:15]; Ruth, beautiful character [Ruth 1:16]; Mary, Elizabeth, Priscilla—you don’t put them in the same category as Ahab, or Jezebel, or Judas Iscariot. You just don’t. Your mind doesn’t reason that way. We don’t think in the same categories as the beloved disciple John and Judas Iscariot. We just separate them.
We don’t put in the same category the apostle Paul murdered by Nero, who murdered his mother, who murdered his wife, who murdered Seneca, the great moralistic philosopher, and Lucien, the great Latin poet. We just don’t put them together. We don’t put together Churchill and Hitler. We just don’t. We don’t put together Clyde Barrow and John Dillinger, and the great preachers Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George W. Truett. We just don’t do it. Our reason doesn’t think that way.
And character in humanity, in men and women, character hardens. It settles into shape. It is an extension of its own self through all of the eternity that is yet to come. The antediluvians, who lived before the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24], lived to be greatly aged. But the longer they lived, the greater sinners they became [Genesis 6:5-7]. That’s why a man is rarely converted, when a child is so sensitive, he’s open and moving by the Holy Spirit of God. But a man who says no to God all of his life becomes a negation in himself. His character hardens. He becomes that way.
It’s like a fellow at ninety miles an hour driving through five hundred red lights and in a terrible collision destroys himself. And a fool would come along and say, “You know, had there been one other red light, he would have been safe.” No, had you had a thousand other red lights, he would have gone through them as furiously as he did the first five hundred. Character hardens. It extends itself. If we’re lost here, we’re lost in eternity. If we’re lost here, we’re lost forever. If we’re saved here, we’re saved in eternity. If we’re saved here, we’re saved forever. Character extends itself. It’s just a dimension of more and more of what you are. That’s why the Bible says we create the place where we live. We do it.
In the first chapter of the Book of Acts it says Judas went “to his own place” [Acts 1:25]. He created it. Each one of us does. We create the place that we live. We do it.
Think with me. If the unconverted, and the unrepentant, and the unsaved, if they were in heaven—if they were in heaven; they are there, unrepentant, unconverted, unsaved, unchanged, there they are in heaven; what would it be like? The rapist would be there lusting after the beautiful saint. The sodomite would be there looking with unholy, indescribable desire after a shining angel. The drug addict would be there, sowing pot along the banks of the river of life. The thief would be there coveting and absconding with the gold on the streets and the jewels in the foundation, and the pearl from the beautiful gates. And the murderer would be there behind every corner, waiting for his innocent prey.
My brother, that’s not heaven. That’s hell to live in fear in God’s golden city. My daughter—I dare not let her out; she’d be raped. My son, he’d be violated. My own life is in danger, and we live here in the New Jerusalem of God in fear and in trembling. That’s damnation! We make it. We make it. God didn’t do that. We do that—the decision for damnation.
Let’s bring it down here to this place, in this church, in this town, in the pew where you sit. In our church was a beautiful girl, beautiful in every way, in her form and figure, and beautiful in her devotion to the Lord Jesus. In a way that a girl sometimes will let a Christian judgment fall by the wayside, she allowed herself to fall in love with a man, fine-looking and affluent—with a man of another religion. And they were married, and three children—beautiful children—were born into the home. And upon a day she came to me with many, many tears and said, “Please, pastor, can you help? My husband is divorcing me. It’s broken my heart, decimating our home, taking its toll of our children. Please, pastor, won’t you?”
I said, “The only way I can is if both of you would come. If I talk to just this one and then the next one, I can never do any good. But if both of you will come, I’ll try.”
In the kindness of providence, he came with her. Now, let me capsulate a long session. He said to me, “I hate the church. I hate the songs. I hate the hymns. I hate the reading of the Scripture. I hate the sermon. And I hate her friends, my wife’s Christian friends. I hate them all.”
“Well,” I said, “what do you like? What do you like?”
And he said, “Not to insult you, but I like the bar. I like the drink. I like the sex. I like the abandonment and the promiscuity.” And he said, about his wife, “She can have the children. I don’t want them. I just want out.” And of course, the tragedy that inevitably followed. Will you think with me about that man for just a moment?
In heaven, in heaven it says: “And they sing the song, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor and glory and power and dominion and majesty for ever and ever” [Revelation 5:12]. That’s what they sing. And he says, “I hate it!” That’s what they sing in heaven. And it says there in the Book of the Revelation that they all bowed down and fell on their knees and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever [Revelation 5:13-14]. And he says, “I hate Him!” And it says in the Book that they sit down with the Lamb at the marriage supper [Revelation 19:7-10]. And he says, “I hate everybody here!” And it says they drink at the river of life, and they eat from the tree of life [Revelation 22:14, 17]. And he says, “I’d rather have whiskey, and I hate the stuff that they eat.” You mean to tell me he’s happy in heaven? My brother, he’s miserable. That’s not heaven. Heaven is a little piece of it, like here.
I love to hear the songs that we sing. I love to hear them. They move my heart. Many times I sit there and just weep, listening to the songs that magnify our wonderful Lord. I am most at home kneeling before the Lord. God, in heaven, bless and sanctify and help. And I love God’s people. I’d rather be with you than all the kings and queens and princes and princesses and prime ministers of the earth. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. Send me. Why? Because I’ve been saved. I’ve been converted. I’ve found the Lord. I’ve found life. And finding Him, I have found heaven.
I want to make my appeal. Why doesn’t God take the unrepentant sinner, the unchanged, unsaved sinner, why doesn’t God take him and make him repent and make him change and make him believe? Why doesn’t God do that? Why doesn’t God say to him, “See this tree of life? You’re going to eat of it whether you like it or not.” Why doesn’t God say to him, “See this river of life? You’re going to drink of it whether you like it or not.” Why doesn’t God do that? Well, we can ask Him for an ultimate answer when we see Him. All I know is that from the beginning, He made us free, absolutely free, morally free and I can decide one way or the other, for or against. I am absolutely uncoerced, I am free.
God did that with our first parents. “The whole garden is before you, and of the trees of the garden, you may freely eat. Just obey this one appeal. Do not do this: do not eat of the forbidden tree. If you do, you die” [Genesis 2:16-17]. And the first lie: “Yea, did God say you would die? You will not die” [Genesis 3:4]. “Yea, does God say you will face perdition and damnation? Did He say that? He is too kind. He is too good. He is too merciful. He is too generous.” That’s a lie, Satan’s lie. O God, don’t I see it every day of my life? You eat and you die, the unrepentant, unforgiven sinner. God lets us choose. We’re free; positively, absolutely, wholly, completely free.
And I make the choice. All God does, ever, is to appeal to my soul, that’s all. He never goes beyond it. He never coerces. He never forces. He just makes appeal. And what He does now, is what He does forever. What He has done, what He continues to do, He makes appeal. That’s all.
In the Book, the self-revelation of God, page after page after page of invitation; in the Book, the commandments of the Lord, “This do, and thou shalt live” [Luke 10:28]. On the sacred page, the full account of the cross of our Savior, the sacrifice that He paid that my sins might be forgiven; all of it [Matthew 27:32-50]. And He sends his Holy Spirit to woo my heart; to make appeal to my heart [John 16:7-15]. And He raises up saints and pastors and preachers who press upon our hearts the answer. Make it yes. Make it yes. Make it yes. Make it yes, God, all for Thee.
If I refuse the Father, the Son makes intercession for me [Hebrews 7:25]. If I refuse the Son, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for me [Romans 8:26-27]. If I refuse the Spirit, where is the fourth person of the Godhead to plead for me, to make intercession for me? I’ve come to the point of no return. The Bible calls it the unpardonable sin. There’s no one that can save me. The decision is in the response of my heart, through the appeal of the Spirit, and of the Son, and of the Father. I have no other way [Matthew 12:31-32].
May I close? You know, sometimes out there in the world, strange to me, out there in the world, they will grasp a great eternal truth that I don’t often see here in the house of the Lord. Now, this is one of them.
Years ago, can’t remember when, I was looking at a film. It was one of those vivid, realistic portrayals of the Second World War. And there were two pilots. One of them was shot down from the sky. And as his plane plunged to the earth—and finally to disintegration and disaster and death—as his plane plunged to the earth, he was cursing in every way of anything that came to his mind—cursing God, cursing providence, cursing the war, cursing the plane, cursing the bomb that exploded it and killed him, cursing everything. And he came down out of the sky, cursing, and into the ground and into eternity cursing. That was the portrayal of one of the characters in the film.
The other, in a like plane, in the same battle, on the same day, in the same war, at the same time was shot down, and as he fell, the young pilot was praying to God, and loving the Lord, and praising our wonderful Savior. And his plane fell out of the sky and into the earth. And he plunged into eternity loving Jesus, praying to Jesus. That’s the difference that is made in this world, in our hearts, in this life, in this moment—some to curse and to deny, to disobey, to negate, to spurn, to refuse. “Preacher, you can stand up there five hundred lifetimes, and I’ll not turn. And you can make ten thousand appeals to me, and I’ll not accept.”
But O Lord, how I thank God for that one Holy Spirit of God, inviting me in my heart to come to Jesus [John 16:8]. I come, blessed Son of God, who died for me that I might be saved from the penalty of my sins [Romans 4:25]. Lord Jesus, I love Thee. Thank You, Lord, bless Your name. And dear holy and heavenly Father, in whose blessed name we come, in prayer and worship and adoration, Lord God, what will it be when I see Thee in all of Thy glory, face to face? [1 Corinthians 13:12, 1 John 3:2]. That’s heaven. That’s the gospel. That’s the appeal. That is eternal life. Why not? “Lord, Lord, write my name in that book [Revelation 20:15]. Stand by me, Lord, in the hour of that judgment [2 Timothy 4:1], and grant that I may have a home with Thee for ever and ever [John 14:2-3]. Amen.”
And that’s our invitation to you this day, this moment. “Pastor, I have decided to open my heart heavenward and God-ward, and I’m coming. Number me among the saints of glory. Put me down as a member of the family of the Lord.” And in this dear church, welcome, to pray with us, work with us, walk in and out with us, rear your children with us. To accept the Lord as your Savior, come [Romans 10:8-13]. To put your family with us in the circle and circumference of this dear church, come [Hebrews 10:24-25]. To give your life in a new way to our Savior, come. As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Make the decision now. And in this moment when we sing our song of appeal, there is time and to spare if you are in that balcony, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s day for me, pastor, I am on the way.” Do it. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.