IS THERE A HELL?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-86 12:00 p.m.
The theme for this year’s pre-Easter services is “God-Answered Questions”: tomorrow, Is There a Heaven?; the next day, Is There a Judgment?; the next day, Is There a Life Everlasting For My Soul, Does My Soul Ever Die?; and the last day, Can the Blood of Christ Save Us?; today, Is There a Hell? Jesus closed the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of [Matthew], “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” [Matthew 25:46]. Could such a thing be? And why would I address so somber and tragic a subject? Is there a hell?
In the city of Dallas is a tremendous institution, it is the Southwestern Medical Center and Medical School; and they address themselves there to the most terrible topics. They give their lives studying tumors of the brain, or meningitis of the spine. They study glaucoma of the eye, or other diseases. They give themselves to research in tinnitus and other malfunctions of the ear. They study tuberculosis and the diseases of the lungs; gastric ulcers and the ailments of the alimentary canal; hernias and the viscera; arthritis in the hands and feet; and cancer that can attack anywhere in the anatomical body. Why don’t they close the school? Why give themselves to so terrible an assignment? They are forced to do it because of the realities of life; there is no escaping the subject matter. It is thus with the pastor who is true to the Word of God and who faces the realities of life.
Hell is an awesome specter and a tragic reality. Sometimes the Bible will speak of it in terms of everlasting punishment. Sometimes it will describe it in terms of suffering and pain; “I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:24]. Sometimes the Bible will describe it in terms of separation and darkness. Sometimes the Bible will describe it in terms of an awesome judgment. I read a great theologian who said, “If the doctrine of hell, of eternal punishment, was written on all the leaves of all the pages of all the Bibles of the world, I would not believe it.” Wonderful, excellent, splendid, fine; nobody discusses cancer or tuberculosis or arthritis because he rejoices in the affliction; it is just a matter of facing the harsh realities of life. And let us be honest with ourselves and face that reality this noon-day hour.
Is there a hell? Can I believe the Bible? Can I believe the Lord Jesus Christ? It is our loving Lord who spoke more of hell than anyone or any other figure in all the revelation of God. The same blessed Savior, who took in His arms little children and prayed over them [Mark 10:14-16]; the same Lord Jesus who gave His life on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4] is the same Lord who spoke to us about hell. The same word that is used to describe heaven is the same word that describes hell; “These shall go away into life eternal,” aionios, “these shall go away into everlasting punishment,” aionios [Matthew 25:46]. The same words that describe heaven are the same words that describe hell.
Nor can I escape the doctrines, the teachings of the Word of God. If sin and death and punishment are not so traumatic and tragic as to demand an infinite sacrifice, then we give up the doctrine of the atonement. If I give up the doctrine of atonement, then a mere man could be my savior just as well as the Son of God; what I need is a moral teacher and that’s all. I therefore give up the deity of Christ. If I give up the deity of Christ, then I give up the inspiration of the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; the men who wrote it were fallible men, like the literary figures of the world. And if I give up the Bible, I give up the Great Commission of the church [Matthew 28:19-20]: to evangelize, to win the world in saving faith to the Lord, and the church becomes just another cultural ameliorating society. If I turn aside from the revelation of the Word of God, I give up the whole fabric of the Christian faith.
Is there a hell? What does my reason teach me? After all, God made us in His image [Genesis 1:27], and we are sensitive to the mind of God. What does my reason lead me to believe? That this is a moral universe; and the moral universe is non-existent without separation. Rather than expatiate upon that, let me just illustrate it. I was a pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming to Dallas forty-two years ago. In the church there was a very well-to-do family. He had the largest automobile agency in the city. They had a boy, a young man, who went into the bank with a gun, to rob the institution; and in robbing the bank, he murdered the illustrious president. After the trial, he was assigned to the penitentiary in McAlister, Oklahoma, for life. That was before I became pastor of the church.
The family came to me upon a day and said, “The governor of Oklahoma is a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher by the name of Robert Kerr”; headed the Kerr and McGee Oil Company, later Senator Robert Kerr; at that time, governor of the state. “He’s a Baptist, and you are a Baptist pastor and our pastor. Would you go with us to the governor and make appeal for the pardon of our boy?” I was young and inexperienced; I was thirty years old. And I said, “Why, I’d be delighted to go with you and make appeal to the governor that your boy be pardoned.” If I lived a thousand lifetimes, I will never forget the indelible moment when we sat in the governor’s office in Oklahoma City. And with me, sat that father and mother in our church; and while we were seated there, Governor Kerr came in and sat down. Then there came in a white headed lawyer, accompanying a woman dressed in widow’s tweeds; had a black dress, had a black hat and a black veil flowing down from the back of her hat, back down through the back of the dress.
After I had made my appeal to the governor for the pardon of the son of this wonderful father and mother; after I had made my appeal for his pardon; that old white headed lawyer stood up, and addressing the governor and the three of us, he said, “This woman is the widow of the president of the bank that this son murdered in the robbery. And for these years, she has been heartbroken and has lived in her broken home in infinite sorrow because of the murder committed by that son.” Then he turned to the parents, and he said, “When we went to trial and you pled that the boy not be electrocuted, and you said, ‘If you will save the life of our son and sentence him instead of to the electric chair, sentence him to life imprisonment,’ you made the promise before the court that you would never ask that he be pardoned. And now you bring this pastor here, and make appeal to the governor here, that this son of yours be pardoned from so tragic a murder.”
Then he turned to the governor and said, “Governor, it’d be unthinkable and impossible that you would listen to the voice of that preacher and that family.” I repeat, if I live a thousand lifetimes, I will never forget that. If you live in a moral universe, it demands inherently separation. That boy, in cold blood, murdering that president of the bank, is to be separated; he’s to be sent away. The whole universe is like that. It is moral, God made it so; and morality demands a separation.
May I add, not only does the Bible witness to the reality of a hell, and not only does reason justify it, but experience and observation confirm it. It’s an astonishing thing how life is put together. What we are we increasingly become. There is fixity in character that is undeniable and inescapable. I was holding a meeting in one of the great cities of the South and in their wonderful Baptist church. The pastor and his wife had no children. And in the days of the revival, one of the men was speaking to me about it. And he said, “One of the saddest things that you could ever imagine happened to that godly pastor and his wife. There was a girl in the city, sixteen years old, became diseased in prostitution; a flotsam of humanity, an outcast, poor, ragged, diseased. And that pastor, with whom you’re holding the revival meeting, that pastor and his wife took in that prostitute, and nurtured her, and led her back to health and strength and life; made her whole again. They bought her beautiful clothes; they gave her a beautiful room and suite in the parsonage. They gave her a car to drive, and they gave her an open door in the church.” And the man, the deacon talking to me, said, “In the middle of a night, that young woman slipped out of the house through her open window and went back into her life of prostitution and promiscuity.”
Character has a tendency to become fixed; when we go down a certain road, unless there is an intervention from heaven, we follow that road to the end. It’s an amazing development, characterization that I cannot enter into. Why don’t people change? Why are they not converted, why? I cannot understand. You would think that pain and suffering would change people. As it nowise heals, so it nowise changes the heart. Let me ask you something. In all of your reading about AIDS, and the hell into which it plunges a homosexual, in all of your reading about AIDS, have you ever read where one of them said, “By God’s grace, I’m going to repent. I’m going to turn. I’m going to change”; have you ever read that in your life? And yet the man is dying in the hell of AIDS. Suffering and pain do not change life.
May I make one other observation? Nor does a second chance or a third or a fourth change life; an astonishment to me. God sent Noah to the antediluvians, who preached one hundred twenty years. At the end of the one hundred twenty years, there was not a convert in the earth, and the world was filled with violence [Genesis 6:3-8; 7:23]. I can’t understand. In the days of Sodom, two angels came to live with Lot; to stay in the home of Lot. And the Sodomites banged the door down saying, “Bring them out, that we may know them,” a beautiful hiding word in the Bible, “that we may violate them” [Genesis 19:1-5]. How could such a thing be, I don’t understand. Hell is something that when a man turns from God, he seemingly is set in that way forever and ever and ever.
That’s why the urgency of the message of the gospel. There is no one to deliver us but the Lord Jesus [John 14:6; Acts 4:12], and there is no hope but in the saving gospel of Christ our Lord. And in His love and grace we are called to deliver it [Matthew 28:19-20]. If there is a train and the bridge is out, our assignment is to warn the engineer. If there is a plane and on it is a bomb, we are under obligation to warn the pilot of it. If there is a dynamiting crew down the highway, the highway [company] is under moral compulsion to place a warning sign there, lest the motorist find his way into inevitable tragedy and death. If there is a restaurant and the food is poisoned, we’re under obligation to warn the people not to eat the food. If there is the possibility of judgment, and of death, and of hell, and of everlasting separation from God, we’re under moral turpitude to warn the people: “Turn and be saved.” And that’s why our Lord Jesus came to the world. It is so desperate with us, and we face such inevitable death and judgment, that He came to intervene, to die in our stead, to pay the penalty of our sin; that we might be delivered from so awful and tragic and traumatic a sentence [Hebrews 10:5-14]. O God, have mercy upon Thy people!
And tomorrow, being saved, we shall look up to where Jesus is; and with open arms, waiting someday for us, may God grant we all be there some glorious, marvelous, soul-saving, hallelujah day; loving one another, loving Him, all of us saved into the kingdom.
O God, how awful these things that we face! Dear God, save us from so terrible a judgment, and in loving mercy, forgive our sins; stand by us in death, open the doors of heaven for us, and may we live with Thee and Thy sweet children world without end, forever and ever, in Christ our hope and our Savior, amen.
IS THERE A HELL?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 25:46, Luke 16:19-31
A. Southwestern Medical Center address themselves to most terrible topics
B. The Bible gives a picture of hell (John 5:28-29, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, Luke 16:24, Mark 9:43-48, Matthew 25:46)
C. Many refuse the teachingII. Considerations from Scripture
A. Mostly the words of Jesus
B. Same word used to describe life in heaven and in hell – aionos, “everlasting, eternal” (Matthew 25:46)
C. Doctrines of Bible built around judgment man faces before GodIII. Considerations from reason
A. This is a moral universe, built upon principle of separation
1. Asking for pardon before Senator KerrIV. Considerations from observation
A. The nature of life in its tendency to fixity in character
B. Pain and suffering have no reforming power
C. A second chance makes no difference (Ecclesiastes 11:3)V. The urgency of the gospel appeal