What It Is To Be In Hell
March 22nd, 1989 @ 12:00 PM
WHAT IT IS TO BE IN HELL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-22-89 12:00 p.m.
The theme for this year is “God’s Revelations.” The revelations of God as He has opened the truths for us in the inspired Holy Bible: Monday, What It Is To Be Lost; Tuesday, yesterday, What It Is To Be Saved; today, What It Is To Be In Hell; tomorrow, What It Is To Be In Heaven; and Friday, What It Is To Be Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb. Today, What It Is To Be In Hell: the revelation of God. Our Lord said in Luke 16, “The rich man died, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” [Luke 16:22-23]. In the Book of the Revelation, in the concluding verses of chapter 20:
And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
I would daresay, a great number of you have never heard a sermon on hell. Hell has been evacuated from and dismissed from the modern pulpit. But when we had hell in the pulpit, we didn’t have it in the homes and in the streets, now that we don’t have hell in the pulpit, we have hell in our homes and hell on the streets, living hells everywhere.
The comment has been made, and I’ve heard it all of my life, “You preach on damnation and judgment and hell, and you’re trying to scare people into the kingdom of God.” As I understand the Word, fear is not an unhealthy or an unworthy motive to seek the grace and helpfulness of our Lord. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it is written: “Noah… moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house. . . ” [Hebrews 11:7]. In the first chapter of the Proverbs, and the theme and the text for the whole Book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Proverbs 1:7]. I do not know of anything that is more appropriate than for a young man who is accosted by a prostitute to tremble at the thought, “This is a way to get AIDS.”
Fear: I read of a man in a ward in a hospital, and in the days he was there, he noticed that those that were dying, the nurse put a screen around them as they died. And while he was there in the ward, they put a screen around him. It frightened him. And he cried to God, “O God, in heaven, I’m going to die. And I’m a lost, condemned sinner. O God, have mercy upon my soul.” He had a great experience. He was saved. He gave his heart and life and soul to the Lord. It was then that the nurses came and took the screen away and apologized to him and said, “We are sorry we placed the screen in the wrong place, around the wrong bed.” And that man in the ward said, “Nurse, no, don’t apologize. This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I have found God. I’ve been saved. I’m now a Christian.”
Hell, damnation: against its reality all of the Bible was written. All of it! There are more than four hundred passages in this Holy Book that speak of that ultimate and final judgment. I often wonder at people outside of Christ, outside of the pale of His love and His grace. Down the road of life, and on that road are more than four hundred signs saying: “This road leads to hell,” and they follow it down just the same. It was because of that reality that our Lord came down from God’s heaven. It is our Lord Himself who spoke most solemnly and most seriously and most frequently concerning this reality, the judgment of hell. It was He, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew that spoke of the great judgment day and the dividing of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. It was our Lord who told the story in the sixteenth chapter of Luke of the rich man, who raised his eyes and was in hell [Luke 16:22-31].
Our Lord didn’t come down from God’s glory in order to teach us a better ethic or to give us better laws or social establishments and arrangements. But our Lord came down from heaven to die for our sins that we might not fall into damnation and into hell [Luke 19:10; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And against that background, every preacher ought to stand and deliver the message of salvation. “It is a fearful thing,” God says, “to fall into the hands of the living Lord” [Hebrews 10:31]. Great God, what a burden when the pastor stands and looks into the faces of people, eternal souls that someday will stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God! [Hebrews 9:27].
I dreamed that the great judgment morning,
Had dawned, and the trumpet had blown;
I dreamed that the nations had gathered
To judgment before the white throne.
From the throne came a bright, shining angel,
And he stood on the land and the sea,
And swore with his hand raised to Heaven,
That time was no longer to be.
The rich man was there, but his money,
Had melted and vanished away;
A pauper he stood in the judgment,
His debts were too heavy to pay.
The great man was there, but his greatness,
When death came, was left far behind!
The angel that opened the records,
Not a trace of his greatness could find.
. . .
The gambler was there and the drunkard,
And the man who had sold them the drink,
With the people who gave him the license,
Together in hell they did sink.
The moral man came to the judgment,
But his self-righteous rags would not do;
The men who had crucified Jesus,
Had passed off as moral men, too.
The soul that had put off salvation,
“Not today; I’ll get saved by and by,
No time now to think of religion!”
At last they had found time to die.
And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,
When the lost were told of their fate;
They cried for the rocks and the mountains,
They prayed, but their prayers were too late.
[“The Great Judgment Morning,” Bert Shadduck, 1894]
Great God! What a burden when the preacher stands to declare the Word of the Lord! In this Book are revealed the things of awesome fearfulness concerning that judgment, that damnation of hell. Great God! Great God!
We are told that there is the great and final separation. Our Lord spoke of it again and again, sometimes in the parable of the tares separated from the wheat [Matthew 13:24-30]; sometimes in the net, the good separated from the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]; sometimes in the form of a wedding, the wise and the foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13]; sometimes, as I spoke, in that great judgment of separation, the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. O Lord, we’re together here, but someday, there will be a final separation between those that are saved and those that are lost.
I remember reading when they had one of their most terrible bombings in the Second World War in London. The fire and the debris and the dead were everywhere. And in the midst of it stood a street preacher, and while he was preaching, why, skeptics spoke up and said: “This is hell. This is hell.” And the street preacher replied: “This is not damnation. This is not hell. I’m here, and I’m a Christian, and there are no Christians in hell. Just around the corner there is a church, and there are no churches in hell. And I am delivering the gospel message of Christ, and there is no gospel preaching in hell.”
There is a great and final separation. And the Bible describes to us the eternal fixedness of that separation. There is a great gulf fixed between those that are in heaven and those that are in damnation, and there’s no passing from one to the other [Luke 16:22-26]. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the beast and the false prophet are cast into hell [Revelation 19:20]. And in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, one thousand years later, they are still in hell [Revelations 20:7, 10]. It is a forever and a forever!
And it is called in the Bible by a name that is horrible. Outside of the city of Jerusalem in a valley there was dumped the rubbish of the city for the thousands of years. And the dead carcasses of animals were there. They called it Gehenna. And that’s the word that our Lord used to describe damnation. Gehenna, where the worm never dies, where the fire is never quenched [Mark 9:44-48], and where the wild animals gnash their teeth, fighting over the dead carcasses thrown there in the valley. Hell—O God!
And when we die, when we die, these that are saved, that are righteous, go to Paradise, to Abraham’s bosom. And those that are lost go to torment, awaiting the great judgment day of Almighty God [Luke 16:22-26]. You don’t stand at the judgment bar of the Almighty when you die. You go to a place, waiting that judgment. That judgment is at the end of the age, it is at the end of history [Revelation 20:5, 11-15]. Well, why do you not stand at the judgment bar of God when you die? Because you don’t die when you die; you continue to live. Your influence, those that you have touched, that continues on. For example, a great, wonderful man: I think of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He’s been dead now about a hundred years. I still read him. The influence of that wonderful man of God continues around the world. I also think of those who are evil. They still live.
I remember Royce Thompson and I were graduated from Amarillo High School together. We went down to Baylor together. And to my amazement and terror of heart, he became an infidel. He became an atheist. And I went to see him one night to talk to him. And there he sat in his room reading Tom Paine’s The Age of Reason. Why, Tom Paine has been dead two hundred years! But the influence of the infidel still lives! We don’t die when we die. And that’s why at the end of the age, at the end of history, we stand before the judgment bar of Almighty God to receive the reward of our deeds [Revelation 20:13]. Lord, how accountable we are and how responsible we are!
A last word: we face the awful judgment of our eternal destiny. We face it now! When I read this Bible, I am told that hell was made for the devil and his angels, not for us [Matthew 25:41]. It was never God’s intention that we spend our eternity in the fire and flame of everlasting judgment. God never intended it. This Book says that the fires of everlasting judgment were made, kindled, created, burned for the devil and his angels [Matthew 25:41]. If I go there, it is because I choose to be there. The choice is mine. Everyone has that choice. Everyone! [John 3:16]. This is the reason why in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, after the millennium, Satan is loosed [Revelation 20:7]. Why isn’t he kept there in that bottomless pit of everlasting fire? [Revelation 20:1-3]. Why isn’t he kept there? Because during that millennium [Revelation 20:1-6], there are in that thousand years children that are born who are never tempted. They are never tried. They never have a choice. And heaven is for those who choose to go there.
God is for those who choose to love Him. Christ is for those who choose to accept Him. The church is for those who choose to come into its fellowship. Always that choice—and when I choose wrongly, O God, what of my soul? Abraham said to his nephew, [Lot]: “You choose. You go to the right, I’ll go the left. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. If you stay in the mountains, I’ll go to the plain. If you go to the plain, I’ll stay in the mountains” [Genesis 13:8-11].
And Lot chose Sodom and raised his family in Sodom, a choice [Genesis 13:12-13]. Judas chose thirty pieces of silver above his Lord, a choice [Matthew 26:14-16]. Demas chose the wrong world [2 Timothy 4:10]. We have that choice. I can choose my Lord and heaven and the promise of eternal life [John 10:27-30], or I can choose this world that passes away [John 3:16, 36]. I can choose the pleasures of this life that end in the grave.
Bobby Burns, who ought to have known, who lived a desolate life, spoke of it like this:
Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
Or as the snow falls on the river,
A moment white, then gone forever;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Vanishing amid the storm.
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place.
[from “Tam O’ Shanter,” by Robert Burns]
To trade your life for the pleasures of this world, how tragic, unspeakably sad! And the eternal remembrance: the eternal lament. In the story that our Lord spoke in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, He said to the rich man who lifted up his eyes in hell. He said: “Son, remember, remember, remember” [Luke 16:25].
O God! If I fall into hell, one of my remembrances will be when the Holy Spirit tugged at my heart and pointed me to the Savior, remembering a service in the church when the message of the pastor probed my very soul, remembering God’s overtures of grace, remembering our precious Lord Jesus, and instead of Him, I chose a bottle of liquor, or a drug dealer, or a lascivious life, or fame and fortune and success in these present days. Great God, what shall become of me if I make that wrong choice?
May I close? I wonder, do you when you read it, I wonder when that rich young ruler said “no” to Christ and turned to his fortune [Mark 10:17-22]—that was two thousand years ago—I wonder if he regrets it? I think of Stephen, another young man, who gave his life, the first Christian martyr [Acts 7:54-60]—two thousand years with God in heaven—I wonder if he thinks it was worth it?
May I close? In preparing this message, for the first time in my life—and I’ve been studying this Book for over seventy-five years—for the first time in my life, I saw something I had never seen before: God describes the face of that rich young ruler. And God describes the face of that first Christian martyr, Stephen. What God’s Book says about the face of the rich, young ruler: when he turned aside from our Lord to his world and his possessions and his affluence, the Greek word is stugnazō, and it is used twice in the Bible, one time in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, verse , it describes the lowering sky before a thundering storm, stugnazō [Matthew 16:3]. And the one other time it is used in the Bible, it describes the face of that young man when he said “no” to Christ and turned away from Him [Mark 10:21-22]. The Bible describes his face, stugnazō [Mark 10:22]. The storm and the distress of his tragic choice registered in his face. It’s a strange thing.
The Bible describes the face of Stephen when he died. It says that when they looked upon Stephen, dying a martyr, it says that his face was like the face of an angel [Acts 6:15].
O God! Why choose the tragedy of the lostness of this world, and the damnation that inevitably follows after, when God hath opened for us the doors of love and grace? And whether we live or we die, we live and die in the love and grace and mercy of the blessed Jesus, and someday live with Him in heaven forever and ever and ever [Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5]. May the Lord grant repentance and salvation to all of us in divine presence. And our Savior, in Thy love and goodness, grant mercy to us all, and some day may we be with Thee and one another, world without end, in the beautiful city of God that is coming down from glory [Revelation 21:2]. In Thy dear and saving name, amen.