Damnation and Hell (Lecture)
September 22nd, 1997
DAMNATION AND HELL (LECTURE)
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-29-97 9:00 a.m.
I was very surprised at our pastor last night. I had prepared, as you will see and know, a sermon on Damnation and Hell and Heaven. And last night was to be the last night that our pastor is preaching. He preached on Damnation and Hell. I was very surprised at that.
So, we are going to look at it. And he said something that I was determined to say to you. The subject is practically never referred to in the pulpit. It is a rare, rare preacher who will ever prepare a message on eternal punishment. And yet, it is a most profitable thought. The possibility of spending, world without end, conscious in a lake of fire, no end to it. Three hundred thousand years you are still there, three hundred million years and you are still there, five hundred billion years and you are still there, ah, it is unthinkable. It is terrible.
So, we are not going to be like that. We are going to present the whole message of God. And that is a part of it.
Hell is a spiritual and a material furnace of fire where its victims are eternally tortured in their minds and in their bodies by God, by the Devil, by damned human beings, including themselves. Their memories and consciences as well as their raging, unsatisfied lusts torture them. In hell, the place of death, God’s saving grace, mercy and pity are gone forever, never for a moment to return.
Figuratively speaking the wrath of God is a consuming fire. Dives, in torment spiritually even before the resurrection of his body, was described as existing in fire, begging to have Lazarus wet his tongue to relieve the pain, Luke 16.
The metaphor points to the all-over prevalence of the anguish and its intolerable severity. Divine wrath will be far more terrible than its syllable. But, the symbol is probably also literal. Actually, the furnace is figurative so far as the soul is concerned, but literal, as it pertains to the body.
There is nothing impossible about it being literal. And Christ’s words in Matthew 10:28 require it. After all, it takes real fire to burn the heavens and earth in the great conflagration, which is hell. God will be the hell of one and the heaven of the other. It is because God is the fire which burns in hell that words can never convey, much less exaggerate, the terrors of the damned. "Who can know the power of His anger?" says the psalmist in Psalm 90:11. Future punishment is contrary to neither Scripture nor reason. In fact it is most reasonable to suppose it.
Now, the degrees of punishment. The definitive treatment on degrees of punishment is found in the sermon in Matthew 5:22, the Sermon on the Mount. That the punishment and misery of wicked men in another world will be in proportion to the sin that they are guilty of. That’s what he feels.
All men partake equally of original sin. But, men do not partake equally of actual sins, sins that they personally commit. The score is proportionately increased in God’s debt book. He has merited only by one sinful act, the eternal ruin of soul and body, as in the Garden of Eden. By a second act, assuming it was no worse, he now deserves twice, twice so hot a place in hellfire. Consequently, the damned in hell would be ready to give the world, if they could have, the number of their sins to have been one less. They all are to be separate for us.
Number 2: Hell beholding this world. The parable of Dives and Lazarus, though not to be taken literally, we did not suppose that there was actually such a conversation, justifying the doctrine that hell remembers this world. The lost remember what good things they enjoyed here in this world. While they enjoyed the good things they felt nothing of the fiery wrath of God. Now, it is reversed. They will remember the barrel of liquor, their terrible friends, their comfortable habitation, and how they were a great deal better off than many of the godless. Of particular poignancy will be the recollection of opportunities and means they had for obtaining salvation when God waited to be gracious unto them. They will remember how they were warned that if once they got into hell, they should never get out. Especially they will remember their sin; including the sin of thinking that hell was a mere dream.
At the Day of Judgment, the wicked shall see others glorified. They will see them mount up to meet the Lord in the air be received and seated at His right hand and crowns.
Things will be transacted, most publicly, in the open sight of all wicked men. The lost will see the redeemed rise to Christ from every region of the earth and, among them, those whom the wicked had despised in this world. Hell’s sight of the blessedness of heaven will increase the hellishness of hell.
The eternity of hell. The wicked, in the world to come, will pray for annihilation. But, it will not occur. The Bible teaches eternal punishment. It is eternal, for the very word used for eternal life is used for eternal death. This much punishment implies pain which annihilation is not. Annihilation is the relief which the wicked, begging for, will never receive. Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they might escape the wrath of God. It is clear that the wicked shall be sensible to the punishment they are under. Degrees of punishment preclude annihilation. The Scripture is very express and abundant in this matter that the eternal punishment is intentional misery and torment, and it is not annihilation. Furthermore, annihilation is no state at all and is, therefore, inconsistent with man’s soul, which is never destroyed. Wicked men are still alive in hell now fearing the resurrection of their bodies as the Devil will, and are now dreading the future punishment, which is awaiting them.
It could not be said that it would be better if the wicked had not to have been born if they have no judgment awaiting them. In fact, the righteous generally suffer more in this world than the wicked, which would make the latter’s annihilation unfair. What is the meaning of a burning furnace heated to a different degrees if none are ever to be cast into it? Moreover, if the judgment of God begins in the house of God it surely will not spare the unrighteous. And it was done in a green tree, and if it was done in a green tree the innocent Christ, what will happen to the dry?
Finally, how could Christ have had to die for us were no punishment threatened? He just died for no reason at all.
Now, we shall continue our study of punishment, retribution in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Number 4: What Christ taught concerning future punishment and retribution, and there are several of them that I have listed here, what Christ taught concerning damnation and hell.
We will concentrate our attention on the ten passages in which our Lord uses the word "Gehenna," which was the usual appellation in His day for the abode of the lost, together with those other verses, which evidently refer to the future state of the wicked. To us who believe Christ His words are a sufficient answer to the speculations of those who do not know to refer to the revelation of the One who does know.
In taking the words of Christ Himself, surely, He is the Truth, would never misrepresented or exaggerate it on a matter of such vital importance and would neither encourage popular errors nor incite needless fears. To those of us who are Christians, His words afford a sufficient answer to those who represent the doctrine as unreasonable and desiring to God and who regard those who hold it as narrow-minded and hard-hearted. It reminds them that all of there expressions which are most seriously denounced in the present day fell from the lips of the Savior, who died for us and from the heart of the lover of souls.
Surely we have no right to seek to be broader-minded than He was or to nurture false hopes, which has no solid foundation in His teaching. While to assume a greater zeal for God’s honor and a deeper compassion for the souls of men is little short of blasphemy. In considering the subject as professing Christians the words of the Master Himself ought surely to put an end to all controversy. And these clear and unmistakable, when taken in their plain and obvious meaning, without subjecting them to any forced interpretation.
So, we further consider Christ’s teaching on the subject. What did our Lord teach as to the future punishment and retribution of those who refuse the salvation of our Lord? The fate of the wicked is not an arbitrary, much less a vindictive, infliction, but the necessary consequences of their own sins.
Taking the passages in their order, in Matthew 5:22, Christ speaks of causeless anger against and contemptuous conviction of, others as placing us in danger of the hell of fire, while, in verses 29 and 30, He utters a similar warning concerning the sin of lust, and these on the sermon on the mount, which is the most generally accepted part of Christ’s teaching.
In chapter 8:12, he speaks of the unbelieving children in the kingdom being cast forth into "the outer darkness," and adds, "there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth," expressions that are repeated in 22:13 and 25:30. In chapter 10:28, Jesus said, "Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," a wholesome fear, which is decidedly lacking in the present day and which many people regard as a remnant of superstition, quite unsuited to this enlightened age. In our Lord’s explanation of the parable of the tares and the wheat, He declared,
The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity;
And shall cast then into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,
The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from the righteous,
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
That’s in Matthew 13.
In 23:15, Christ speaks of the hypocritical Pharisees as children of hell, knowing that their conduct has fitted them for it, and that they would go to their own place, like Judas, whom he describes as "the son of perdition" in John 17:12, while, in verse 33 he asks, "How can you escape the punishment of hell?"
The law of retribution can no more be repealed than that of gravitation. It is fixed and unalterable. That hell has not been prepared for human beings, but that they prepare themselves for it is clear from the sentence which our Lord says that He will pronounce upon those on His left hand in that last great day. "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels."
Number 6, following the word of our Lord, turning to the Gospel according to Mark, we find our Lord saying, in chapter 3:29, "Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." Whatever view may be taken of the character of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the cause and consequence are, here, closely linked together, eternal sin bringing eternal retribution. The words in the original language undoubtedly indicate an inveterate habit rather than an isolated act, and would be better translated, "That sin is held under the power, that person is held under the power of an eternal sin." This, in itself, precludes the possibility of forgiveness because it assumes the impossibility of repentance. Besides, each repetition involving a penalty, the punishment is naturally unending. The punishment is naturally without unceasing.
Similarly, in John 8:21-24, our Lord’s twice-repeated declaration to those Jews which believed not on Him, our Lord said, "You shall die in your sins." That indicates that unforgiven sin must rest upon the soul in condemnation and pollution. For death, so far from changing men’s characters, only fixes them. And hence, Christ speaks, in chapter 5:29, of the resurrection of the damned.
You know, when I read these things of Christ, I can hardly include in my mind the awfulness of that damnation. We preach about the resurrection of the saints. Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks about the resurrection of the damned. A careful study of the Scriptural uses of the words "life" and "death" will clearly show that the root ideas are, respectively, union and separation. Physical life is union of the spirit with the body. Spiritual life is the union of the spirit with God. And everlasting life is this union perfected and consummated to all eternity.
Similarly, physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. And eternal death is the perpetuation of this separation. And for all who have not experienced the second birth, the second death becomes inevitable, for he who is only born once dies twice. But, he who is born again dies only once.
Again, what did Christ teach as to the character of future punishment and retribution? We have already seen that He spoke of it as full of sorrow and misery, in His self whole repetition of the striking expression "there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth." You will find that all through Matthew, often in Luke and once in a while in Mark.
In Mark 9:43-48, our Lord twice speaks of "the fire that shall never be quenched," and twice "where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." Of course, He was using the common Jewish metaphors for Gehenna, taken from the perpetual fire that burned in the Valley of Hinnom, to destroy the refuse, and the worms that fed upon the unburied corpses that were cast there. But, as we have already seen, He would never have encouraged a popular delusion. Our Lord spoke of fruitless professors being cast into the fire, twice of the hell of fire and twice of eternal fire.
How many of you have ever seen the Valley of Hinnom? No one of you has? Well, you save your pennies, and you make a trip to Israel. There’s not anything that will bless your life, forever, as a trip to Israel. Just to look at the place where the Lord walked and to look at the places that He spoke of. And that Valley of Hinnom is one of them. It was used by the city of Jerusalem, as I said, as a refuse dump, a valley, a deep valley. And they cast what they wanted to burn into it and cast dead bodies into it.
In our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the former, the rich man, is represented as being in torments and in anguish, even in Hades. And that memory survives the present life and accompanies us beyond the grave. That is does that is clear from Abraham’s words to him, "Son, remember." All of this is in Luke 16.
Could any material torments be worse than the moral torture of an acutely sharpened conscience in which memory becomes remorse as it dwells upon misspent time and unused talents, upon omitted duties and committed sins, upon opportunities lost of both doing and getting good, upon privileges neglected and warnings rejected. It is bad enough here, where memory is so defective and conscience may be so easily drugged, but what must it be hereafter when no expedience will prevail to banish regulation and drown remorse?
The Book puts the matter in a nutshell, when it quotes our Lord, "Hell is a truth seen too late." Surely, such expressions as "the undying worm" and "the unquenchable fire" represent not pious fictions but plain facts. And we may be sure that the reality will exceed, not fall short of, the figures employed, as in the case of the blessedness of the redeemed. The woes thus pronounced are more terrible than the thunders of Sinai and the doomed announced more awful than that of Sodom that we should never forget that these terrible expressions were on the lips of eternal love, our Savior, and come from a heart overflowing with compassion for the souls of men.
Now, what did Christ teach us as to the length of future punishment and retribution? Is there any solid basis, in His recorded words, for the doctrine of limited punishment or the shadow of a foundation for the idea that all men will be eventually be saved?
Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word aiōnias, used by our Lord in Matthew [19:29], and translated "everlasting" in the Authorized Version and "eternal" in the Revised Version, literally means "age-long." But, an examination of the twenty-five places in which it is used in the New Testament reveals the fact that it is twice used of the gospel, once of the gospel covenant, once of the consolation brought to us by the gospel, twice of God’s own being, four times of the future of the wicked, and fifteen of the future life of the believer. No one thinks of limiting its duration in those first cases and in the last. Why then do so in this other case, where it refers to eternal damnation?
The dilemma becomes more acute in considering the words of our Lord in Matthew 25:46, where precisely the same word is used concerning the duration of the reward of the righteous and the retribution of the wicked. For only by violent perversion and distortion can the same word in the same sentence profess a different significations. It is certainly somewhat illogical for those who make so much of the love of God to argue that punishment will prove remedial hereafter in the case of those whom divine love has failed to influence here.
Not only is there not the slightest hint in the teaching of the Lord that future punishment will prove remedial or corrective, but it is worse concerning Judas. In Matthew 26:24 are inexplicable on that supposition, surely his existence would still have been a blessing if his punishment was to be followed by ultimate restoration and Christ would therefore never have uttered the sadly solemn words, "It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Similarly, there is a striking and significant contrast between our Lord’s words to the unbelieving Jews, according to John 8:21, "Whither I go, you cannot come," and those to Peter in 13:36, "Whither I go, canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards." Ah, these things.
Number 9: What did Christ teach as to the causes of future punishment and retribution? A careful study of our Lord’s words shows that there are two primary causes, namely, deliberate unbelief and willful rejection of Him.
In Matthew 8:12, it was the contrast between the faith of the gentile centurion and the unbelief of the Jewish nation, that drew from His lips the solemn words, "The children of the kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness," while in chapter 20 they aweful denunciation in verse 33 is followed by the sad lamentation, "How often I would have gathered the children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; and you would not." Similarly, in Mark 3:29, the eternal sin spoken of can only be that of continued rejection of the offers of mercy. And in John 9:24, our Lord plainly declares, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." Finally, in Mark 16:16, we find the words, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned."
Another difficulty was removed when we realized our Lord taught there would be different degrees in hell, as in heaven. Thus, in Matthew 11:20-24, He taught that it would be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida and for Sodom and for Gomorrah. And in Mark 12:40, he speaks of a greater damnation. It is clear that future retribution will be proportioned to the amount of guilt committed and grace rejected. Look at Luke 12 and John 19.
The whole drift of Christ’s teaching confirms what we learned from these isolated passages, and that future retribution is not merely incidental, but a fundamental part of the gospel message. When you preach Christ in the pulpit, you have no choice but to preach His words concerning the damned and the lost.
It is dark background in which His loving invitations and tender expostulations are presented. And the gospel message loses much of its force when that doctrine of damnation is left out. But, worst of all, the earnest exhortations to immediate repentance and faith lose their urgency if the ultimate result will be the same if those duties are postponed beyond the present life. Is it seriously contended that Judas will eventually be as John? And will it be likewise be contended that Nero will someday be as Paul?
Finally, the doctrines of heaven and hell seem to stand or fall together, for both rest upon the same divine revelation and both are described with the same word, "everlasting," that is applied to their duration. If the threatenings of God’s Word is reliable, so may the promises be. If the enunciation have not real meaning, what becomes of the invitations? Ruskin well terms the denial of hell the most dangerous because the most attractive form of modern infidelity. But, is it so modern? Is it not an echo of the Devil’s insinuating of doubt in the Garden of Eden, "Yea, hath God said?", followed by his insistent denial, "Ye shall not surely die," which led to the fall of man.
Let us, therefore, believe God’s truth rather than a Devil’s lie. Let us accept divine revelation rather than human speculation. And let us heed what Christ so plainly taught without mitigating, modifying, or minimizing His solemn warnings. Ooh! It frightens me, I’ll tell you, it frightens me, even when I read things like that, much less when I read them from the Lord own words.
Now I have a study here on heaven. But, if you have time to say anything, or ask any questions, I may not try to deliver it.
All right, son, you former Catholic?
I have never heard it discussed. I have never heard it asked about. And I presume, I would think that consistency would demand that God is not in hell. He’s everywhere else. But, I doubt His presence in hell. As I look upon it, I think one of the tragedies of damnation is, God is not there. Here, no matter what you do, is a God you can appeal to, "Lord forgiven me, give me strength to overcome," and on and on. But, so far as I would suppose, there is no presence of God in hell and no Holy Spirit to whom to make appeal. Isn’t that awful, just like everything else about it? It is terrible to think about. Terrible, terrible.
Anyone else want to ask anything?
Son, you don’t have any alternative but to place it in a belief in Jesus Christ. He’s the One that said it. I didn’t say it. You never said it. That woman didn’t say it. It is our Lord who said that the punishment is eternal, that the fires of hell are never quenched. And we don’t have any other alternative except to stand by the Word of God. What he says, we receive as infallible. And it cannot be debated or changed. We don’t have any other choice.
That’s what you have to do. That’s right. That’s right.
God said it. And that settles it.
All right, son.
That’s all right, son. That’s certainly true, that infinite atonement for good. It is something we receive when we trust Christ. But if it is infinite, eternal, for blessedness, it surely would be a thing in keeping with his doctrine of eternity that it is eternally good, acceptable then eternally condemnatory for those who reject it.
He witnesses to our precious Lord. And blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is to say to say, "You’re lying to me," talking to me in my heart about accepting Jesus and His grace and goodness and forgiving me and saving me, "You’re lying to me." There is no such thing as that nor anything else in the Bible.
I have always supposed that the word ought to be "Hades." He went down into the realm of the dead. He did not go into the fire of torment. I think he went down into Hades. And we have a real problem in the translation of those words when we take the word Hades and make it to mean eternal fire and hell. Hades is the place of the dead. When you die you go to Hades. And those of us who have accepted Christ, we go to the blessedness of our Savior. And those who have rejected, they go to torment. Whether the Lord entered into torment or Hades that is open to debate.
All right son.
Yes. Yes. Those who refuse our Lord are in Hades where the damned are, the section of it where the damned are kept, right? Yeah. But in the great judgment, they are all cast into the lake of fire.
All right son.
I tell you, I have trouble, I have trouble with a man who rejects the mercies of God for eighty years, and then in three seconds before he dies, he says he accepts the love and mercy and grace of our Savior. I listened to a man yesterday who spoke about that. This man you know will be in heaven. He accepted the Lord just before he died, though his whole lifetime has been one of rejection. I just don’t know. It surely does violate everything that I think of in the Christian faith. And a man gives himself to wickedness and rejection and unbelief, and spurn the mercy and grace of God all of his life. He lives to be one hundred years; he does it a hundred years. Then, two minutes before he dies, he says he accepts the Lord. What do you think about that, Doctor?
Son, let me say that one part of it is absolutely true according to the Word of God. As the Doctor says, it is hidden in God’s judgment whether he is saved or lost. You will have to ask the Lord up there. But, there is one thing that God does reveal. In the third chapter of 1 Corinthians you do not have any rewards. It’s wood, hay and stubble. Everything in your life will be burned up. You will get nothing, absolutely nothing. And that, in itself, is such a sad thought. And I don’t know what life would be in eternity just living in nakedness, "saved as if by fire," that is, everything is burned and all you got is just your naked breath.
Oh, dear. I pray that all of us will have a rich reward in heaven that God will bestow on us, a beautiful reward for what we’ve tried to do for Him.
I think so. What do you think, son?
But, remember, when you get up and preach on that passage, you’re going to have study to make it plain.