The Fires of Judgment in Hell
September 18th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
THE FIRES OF JUDGMENT IN HELL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-18-88 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Fires of Judgment. It is a sermon on damnation, on hell. In our preaching through the Gospel of John we have come to the holy of holies in this blessed book, John chapters 14, 15, 16 [John 14-16], and closing with the high priestly prayer in John 17 [John 17:1-26]. There is no passage in human literature or in human speech comparable to the preciousness and the beauty of these words of our living Lord. And yet in the midst of it, in the very heart of it, in John 15:6, our Lord says, “If a man abide not in Me, if he is not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, he is withered; men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” If we are not in Christ, we are cast forth; we are withered; we are thrown into the fire; we are burned [John 15:6].
As I read the Holy Scripture, there is an awesomeness in reading a thing like that. Shall I pass it by, disregard it, look over it, beyond it, don’t mention it? But however my heart trembles before it, I cannot escape the conclusion that if I declare the whole counsels of God, I must speak of it. There are those who deride and defy and deny and denounce any such thing as our Lord avows in this text. And yet, I cannot escape the awesome fact that it was Jesus our Savior who spoke the most frequently and seriously concerning the awesome judgment and damnation of hell. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], our Lord says in Matthew 5:29-30:
If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, cast it from thee:
it is better for thee that one of your members perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Gehenna, into hell.
If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, cast it from thee:
it is better for thee that one of your members perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Gehenna, into hell.
Another typical passage, in Matthew 10:28, “Fear not them which kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear them who are able to destroy both soul and body in hell, in Gehenna.” On the southern part of Jerusalem was a valley, the Valley of Hinnom: Gehenna, Valley of Hinnom. And into that valley was poured the refuse of the city: all the filth, and dirt, and the dead decaying bodies of animals. “And the fire was never quenched, and the worm never died” [Mark 9:48]. That is the eternal home of those who die outside of Christ. It is awesome. And our Lord not only spoke of Gehenna; in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew:
The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and shall gather out of His kingdom all of those who are lost.
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
These are the words of our Savior. They are gathered out, they are separated from God. When a man refuses the overtures of grace, and the pleading of the Holy Spirit, he is separated from God. And that separation is forever and ever. In Revelation 14:11, the apostle John writes, “And the smoke of their torment ascended forever and ever: and they find no rest day nor night.” Great God in heaven! And as though that were not enough; in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew,
The Lord shall say unto them on his left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.
[Matthew 25:41, 46]
A place prepared,” it’s not an afterthought of God. It was not adventitiously or accidentally made. It is a prepared place for the devil and his angels. And think of our choosing to go there. John Milton wrote in his Paradise Lost:
Thus roving on
In confused march forlorn, th’ lost
With shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast
Viewed first their lamentable lot, and found
A Universe of death, which God by curse
Where all life dies, where death lives, and nature breeds
Perverse, monstrous and prodigious things,
Abominable, unutterable and worse . . .
O God, could that be our eternal home?
And one other, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, telling the story of that rich man and Lazarus, that poor man: “It came to pass that the rich man died, and was buried; And in hell, in Hades…” [Luke 16:22-23]. There are two—Hades is a word for the place of the dead, and it is divided into two parts. One part is Paradise, where God’s people go when they die [Luke 23:42-43]. And the other part is torment, where the lost people go:
In torments and hell he lifted up his eyes, and seeth Abraham . . .
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.”
O God, could such a thing be? Forever, everlastingly tormented in a flame of fire? [Luke 16:24]. The misery, the indescribable hurt and agony, and unending—O Lord! And yet in this life, in our pilgrimage in this world, I see signs of that. I see them everywhere. Imagine walking down a road, a road of life, and you meet sign, after sign, after sign, after sign which says, “This road leads to hell.” And yet disregarding, pressing on. “This road leads to hell,” one of the signs, venereal disease, which is sweeping this world under a new virus called AIDS. As though gonorrhea and syphilis and herpes were not enough; we now face the destruction of whole national populations with the spread of AIDS. And it’s coming here to the United States with increasing rapidity. “This road leads to hell, to damnation.” Or drunkenness, drugs, addiction: one out of every nine who drink becomes addicts. And the sweep of the plague of drugs is unthinkable and indescribable. “This road leads to hell.” I see it in this life. And the building of a life apart from God, and the building of homes apart from God; it’s unthinkable!
A few years ago, seventy percent of all the marriages in Dallas broke up and divorced. Seventy percent! Finally, we’ve come down to the national average, which is fifty percent, half of all the marriages. You cannot describe the tears and heartaches involved in that breaking up. The children, you never get over the scar of it; it lingers as long as memory lasts. “This road leads to hell.” In a marriage ceremony here at the church yesterday, Zig Ziglar took part in it with the pastor. And in his appeal to the couple to have a Christian home, he spoke of the fact that one out of every two, leaving God out of their lives, ends in disaster. But in the Christian faith, not one in two hundred will ever experience such a tragedy.
O Lord, O God, with all of the things the Lord has written in His Holy Book, with all of the signs we see in human experience, how is it that a man will turn aside from the Lord; say “No!” to the overtures of grace? And speaking now on that awesome subject, we turn our thoughts to the eternity without God, dying lost. I have four things that I read here in Holy Scriptures. Number one: it is an existence of loss, of tragic loss. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Luke:
God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:
then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
An existence of eternal and everlasting loss, where did you ever get the idea you’re going to take with you the things in this life? I have been a pastor sixty-one years. I cannot tell you the number of people that I bury, I bury, I bury. And I have never buried one yet who had in his hand, taking with him to eternity anything that he ever possessed in this life. You leave it all behind; and if your life is consumed in the things of this world, great God, what shall you do in the world to come, in the world to come! Christopher Marlowe, that incomparable dramatist, who lived just before Shakespeare, has his Mephistopheles say:
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
[“The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” by Christopher Marlowe]
If all you left behind was just things, things which you toiled, for which you changed your life, if that were all that you left behind then it wouldn’t matter much. But what you leave behind when you die without Christ—the loss of glory, and gladness, and joy, and bliss, and happiness, and a forever in the goodness and charm and grace of God. How would a man think to choose, “I’d rather die without Christ and go to an eternal hell of lostness than to accept the Lord and be blessed throughout all eternity with the heavenly treasures that we can lay up there?” You can send your treasures ahead of you; you can save up there in glory. And moth and rust never corrupts, and thieves do not break through and steal, rich toward God; our treasures, our inheritance not here, but in heaven [Matthew 6:19-21].
A second: it is an existence beyond the remembrance of God. In Ezekiel 21:
I will pour out My indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of My wrath . . .
Thou shalt be for fuel in the fire . . .
Thou shalt be no more remembered: for I the Lord have spoken it.
Beyond the remembrance of God, O Lord!
In Romans 1:21, there is a theme that introduces the whole great theological treatise. Romans 1:24, “God gave them up.” Romans 1:26, “God gave them up.” Romans 1:28, “God gave them up.” Repeated again and again, “God gave them up.” As He says, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” [Genesis 6:3]. There is a point beyond which God gives you up; you drop out of His remembrance. Hosea 4 says, “Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone, let him alone” [Hosea 4:17]. It’s just almost unthinkable that a man would choose to follow a way that goes beyond the very care and love and remembrance of God.
We are so taught of the Lord’s shepherdly, sympathizing remembrance of us. It is hard for us to realize that there could ever be a time when we would drop out of the remembrance of God. We are so taught of the love of the Lord, our very hairs of our head are numbered [Matthew 10:30], He says. He says not a sparrow falls to the ground but that our Lord sees [Matthew 10:29]. How much more would He care for us? [Matthew 10:31]. We are taught that He sends His rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust, on all alike [Matthew 5:45]. We are taught that He is a heavenly Father, waiting for His prodigal son to come home [Luke 15:20]. And yet, that is the God of grace and mercy beyond whose remembrance we can finally go; beyond any thought, any care in the heart of our heavenly Father [Jude 1:13].
And once again, it is an existence of loss, an existence of loss in an eternity in which we are bound by the chains of darkness. What a figure of speech, “Chains of darkness, oppressive darkness.” In 2 Peter, “God spared not the angels, but cast them down to tartaros, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” [2 Peter 2:4]. So we shall be facing someday the judgment of punishment. We shall utterly perish; we shall receive the reward of unrighteousness—cursed children who have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray [2 Peter 2:15]. “Wells without water, clouds carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever” [2 Peter 2:17].
Great God, could such a thing be for us, cast down into tartaros? That is a Greek word that Plato used to describe the eternal home of the damned, and is used here in Holy Scripture: tartaros, beyond the pale of God’s light, and life, and love, and grace, and chained in utter darkness [2 Peter 2:17].
You know, there is an irrational idea, unthinkable, and I will run into it frequently: hell is a place where the convivial gather, where roistering is the order of the day, and the very roof of damnation is raised with songs of glee, and joy, and gladness, and happiness, and conviviality. O God, every revelation we have of damnation is the opposite of that. It is a place of eternal darkness; it is a bottomless pit; it is an abyss in which we fall forever and ever. And we grope and there’s nothing to cling to; we are outside of the care and concern and remembrance and blessing of God [John 3:36]. “Chains of darkness” [2 Peter 2:4], the oppression: I just cannot imagine forever falling, forever falling in darkness.
And one other in Holy Scripture: in Ephesians second chapter, Paul writes of these who are “dead in trespasses and in sins” [Ephesians 2:1]. They are dead in sins. Now how could such a thing be? For we have an eternal life. No matter who we are, we are immortal, we live forever. And yet he speaks of our being dead. It comes apparent when you read the Scripture and think of how God hath created us.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul speaks of man as being “tripartite.” All of us are a trichotomy. Paul says we are body and soul and spirit. The body is made out of dust; this is the body [Genesis 3:19]. The soul is the sentient part, the sensitive part, the responsive part of the human life [Luke 12:19]. And the spirit is made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27].
Now revelation reveals to us, Scripture reveals to us that the great consummation of the age—we all shall be raised from the dead, all of us: the just and the unjust [Daniel 12:2]. The just, those who trust in Christ, shall be raptured at His coming, raised from the dead at His coming [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. The lost will be raised to stand before the great white throne judgment of God, described in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 20:11-15]. But whether we’re lost or whether we’re saved, this body shall be raised from the dead. The body will appear before God, this body, resurrected from the dead [Job 19:26]. This soul shall appear before God. I shall be sentient. I shall be sensitive. In that chapter, in the sixteenth, of the Book of Luke, “Son, remember” [Luke 16:25]; remember these things that pertain to human life in the world to come, we will be cognizant; we will be sensitive, sentient; we’ll be responsive. We will be full of all of the things that have pertained to this life.
But there’s a third one—not only the body resurrected and not only the soul which is sentient—but there is a third one and that is the spirit. The spirit: “God is Spirit” [John 4:24], and God made us in His image [Genesis 1:27]. And the spirit is our God-likeness; we’re made in the image of God in our spirits. And that is the part of us that in the eternity to come shall die; we shall be in our minds chaotic! For God is the God of order and beauty. And when we’ve lost that image of God we become chaotic! God has purpose and meaning in everything that He touches. When we lose that, there’s no purpose; there’s no meaning. And we grope for reality, can’t find it. And we abhor the soul and the body because we have chosen an eternity without meaning and without purpose and without God.
O Lord, could such a thing be that somebody you, somebody I, would choose to live in the damnation and darkness of an eternity rather than to accept the sweet, precious, loving grace of God in Christ Jesus? [Ephesians 2:8].
I come to the appeal of my own soul before the Lord, voiced by the psalmist in the eighteenth song of the Psalms:
In my distress, in my distress I called upon the Lord, I cried unto God: and He heard my voice . . . and my cry that came even unto His ears . . . [Psalm 18:6].
With those that trust Thou will show Thyself merciful [Psalm 18:25];
With the pure thou will show Thyself pure [Psalm 18:26];
Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness [Psalm 18:28].
Thou has given me the shield of Thy salvation: Thy right hand hath sustained me, Thy gentleness hath raised me up [Psalm 18:35].
Therefore will I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the people, and sing praises unto Thy name [Psalm 18:49].
That’s what I want to do the rest of my life, just praising God for His wonderful goodnesses to me. Our life, flowing in gratitude and thanksgiving to the grace of God that reached down and saved me [Ephesians 2:8]; brought me up out of the miry pit; turned darkness into light and despair into hope, and just blessed me with all of the good things that God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Why not? Why would one—anyone, anywhere—choose the path of darkness, and damnation, and judgment, and fiery eternity in hell? Why would anyone choose, when he could just turn and say, “Lord, thus have You been good to me; died in my stead [2 Corinthians 5:21]; paid the penalty for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]; written my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Stand by me in this pilgrimage as my best Friend; be with me in the hour of my death and open for me the gates of glory. Thank You, Lord. Praise You forever.”
Oh, what a beautiful commitment, when we bow at His presence, call upon His name; cry, a one that enters into His ears. And He hears and bows down and picks us up, owns us, and saves us, and loves us, and cares for us. Lord God, why isn’t everybody a child of the King? And why not you? May we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, bless this appeal please. May no one in divine presence leave this service lost without Christ, without God, without hope, without heaven. And these who have heard beyond the confines of this sanctuary, O God, may they this moment turn and be saved. Lord, have mercy upon me, a dying sinner and lift me up, and save me, and forgive me, and give me Thy love and grace for this pilgrimage. Please God, in mercy, save Thy people, save me [Titus 3:5]. And our Lord, in this moment when we make our appeal and our people sing a song of invitation, these that God has given us this day, bless them in their coming. Thank You Lord for them, in Thy precious and keeping name, amen.
To give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], may angels attend you as you come, thus to be a member of our dear church, a family you, welcome. Or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, make that decision now while you’re seated, right where you are. And when we stand up, you stand up walking. “God, this is my day and here I stand. I’m on the way.” In the balcony round, down a stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and here I stand.” God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
A. Outside Christ a man
is cast forth, withered, cast out with the fire, burned
spoke most often about judgment and damnation of hell (Matthew 5:29-30, 10:28, 13:41-42, 25:41, Mark 9:48, Revelation 14:11,
II. An existence of loss (Luke 12:20-21)
A. Not just
possessions, but also joy, happiness
III. An existence no longer in God’s
remembrance (Ezekiel 21:31a, 32b)
is a point beyond which God gives you up (Romans
1:21, 24, 28, Genesis 6:3, Hosea 4:17)
are so familiar with God’s remembrance of us, difficult to think otherwise
IV. An existence in oppressive chains of
– word used to describe eternal home of the damned (2 Peter 2:9, 12-15, 17)
of lies foisted upon world the irrational idea that hell is a place where the
V. An existence where the spiritual nature
is forever dead (Ephesians 2:1)
A. Paul speaks of man
as being “tripartite” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
1. The body
raises for the final judgment (Revelation 20:11)
2. The soul
appears before God sentient, sensitive (Luke 16)
3. The spirit
eternally dead – the image of God destroyed