Sermon 682. Future Punishment A Fearful Thing
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, MARCH 25, 1866,
BY C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Hebrews 10:31.
You will most cheerfully bear me witness that my most frequent subjects are the mercy and abundant loving kindness of ourGod in Jesus Christ, and that it is my favorite employment to invite the very chief of sinners to come to Jesus Christ withthe assurance that He will cast out none who come toHim, but will assuredly give to them eternal life. It is not to my honor to say so, but still you know how seldom I haveforced upon your attention those terrible subjects which concern the state of the lost in Hell. I have felt more at home inusing the drawing of mercy than thedriving of terror, and I can most honestly plead innocence of any charge of delighting in declaring the torments of thefinally impenitent, or of entering upon the discussion of the miseries of the lost with eagerness and enjoyment.
He who searches all hearts knows that under an overwhelming sense of urgency and necessity, and purely out of love to thesouls of men I bring before you the text which I have announced. The burden of the Lord hangs heavily upon me. I must delivermyself of the blood of some of you who are livingin impenitence and who will probably die in it, and who, if you die unwarned, having often listened to my voice, may beable to reproach me in another world if I do not faithfully and earnestly bear my solemn testimony concerning the wrath tocome.
Beloved, we know by observation in our pastoral work that while the mercy of God draws many to Him, there are some who aremore affected at first by the terrors of the Law. We have many, now, who are members of this Church walking in holiness andin the fear of God. They listened to sermons uponthe softer and more tender topics and were not affected. But when they came under the heavy blows of the hammer of God'sLaw their flinty hearts were broken into shivers and, by God's Grace, before long they turned unto the hand which smote them!God has ordained both the terrors ofthe Law and the tenderness of the Gospel-that by means of both-men may be saved.
Gospel farming employs many implements, and there are some lands which will never yield a harvest without much more exercisingwith the plow than others may require. The light of Tabor and the fiery flashes of Sinai are equally Divine and so long aswe learn to rest in Calvary it little matters bywhat means, whether tender or terrible, we may have been brought there. The complete ministry leaves no revealed Truth ofGod unuttered, but looks for a blessing upon the Word as a whole. The themes of mercy need, in order fully to manifest theirbrightness, the dark background ofthe terrors of the Law-for men will never value a Redeemer so well as when they have a very clear consciousness of the ruinfrom which He has redeemed them.
The preciousness of mercy is best known by those who discern the terror of justice. If we really feel that God is angry withthe sinner and loathes and hates his sin and will certainly take fearful vengeance upon him on account of it, we shall thebetter understand the force of that Divine mercywhich led Him to give His own dear Son, and which now leads Him to cry unto the Sons of men, "Turn! Turn! Why will you die,O house of Israel?"
In addition to these considerations I have been urged to bring this subject before you because the assaults which are nowmade against the Gospel frequently assail the doctrine of future punishment. It was once the business of infidels to revilethe terrible sanctions of the Divine Law-butthey may now suspend their exertions, for certain clergymen of the Church of England are doing the work most effectually.No, more-there are certain Dissenting ministers, successors of good and venerable men, who are never more at home than whenthey are making sport of theterrors of God!
Just now it seems to jump with the humor of certain philosophic schools to depreciate our God as a Judge, and to magnify asupposititious Divine fatherhood which is the offspring of their own effeminate imaginations and flesh-pleasing dreams. Ittherefore behooves the servants of the Most High andRighteous God to confess the faith which they have received and not be ashamed of it, whatever disgrace may cover them.
I. The text asserts that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and our first statement shall be,that SURELY IT IS SO, as we may certainly gather from several considerations.
1. It must be a fearful thing for impenitent sinners to fall into God's hands when we remember the Character of God as revealedin His judgments of old. Taking the Scriptures as our guide we see in them a revelation of God differing very greatly fromthat which is so current today. The God ofAbraham, as revealed in the Old Testament, is as different from the universal Father of modern dreams as He is from Apolloor Bacchus. Let me remind you that ever since the day when Adam fell, with but two exceptions, the whole of the human racehas been subjected to the pains ofsickness and of death.
If you would behold the severity of Him who judges all the earth, you have only to remember that this whole world has beenfor ages a vast burying place. Men whine out their abhorrence of God's justice and scout the idea of future punishment withthe question, "Would a father do thus-and-thus withhis children?" The question needs no other reply than fact. All men die. Would a father suffer his children to pine in sicknessand die when it was in his power to prevent it? Certainly not. Since, then, the great God evidently permits much pain, andeven death to happen to Hiscreatures, He is evidently not merely father, but something more!
To ungodly men Jehovah reveals Himself in the light of a judge-and a judge, too, whose stern severity has brought to passthe terrible doom of death upon every man of woman born, with two exceptions, from the Fall of Adam even until now. This isthe God of Love-but not the newly-devisedGod who is love and love alone. Our business is not to think out our own idea of what God should be, but to find out, asfar as we can, what God really is. Let me then remind you of the deluge. When the world was covered with inhabitants, andaccording to the computation of some,owing to the longevity of man, with a population more numerous than the present which crowds it, (however that is not amaterial point in the question)-when the world was covered with inhabitants, and these had sinned-God destroyed all fleshfrom off the face of theearth with the exception of eight souls, whom in His sovereignty He saved in the ark.
Can you picture to yourself the horrors of that tremendous day, when the fountains of the great deep were broken up and therains descended from on high? Here were millions of creatures like ourselves destroyed at a blow! Can you hear their shrieksand cries? Do you see them clambering in fright tothe mountaintops? Do you behold them struggling for existence amidst the devouring flood? Can you hear the cries of thelast strong swimmers in their agony? Who does all this? It is that God who so hates sin that, though He is infinite Love-andwe would never detract from thatattribute- He is also infinite Justice and will by no means spare the guilty!
Do not imagine that He who thus destroyed the world with a flood was never at any other time equally severe. Let me show youthe dreadful picture of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain. Those cities were filled with inhabitants, happyand cheerful like ourselves. They found theirhappiness, however, in sin, and their sin had so provoked God to anger that after a personal visit to the spot what didHe do? You who believe in effeminate personification of shallow benevolence, turn here your blind eyes if perhaps the firewhich fell from Heaven may yield yousome ray of light.
Can you see the dwellers of those cities when the fiery hail begins to fall? In vain were their cries! In vain their tears!The burning sleet pitilessly descends until one dreadful sheet of flame enwraps the sky and all the men of the plain are consumedbefore the terrible wrath of the Most High.What do you think of this scene of horror? And what of those words of Peter where he speaks of God who, turning the citiesof Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow and made them an example unto those that after should liveungodly?
Let me direct your eyes to Egypt. You read the story of the slaying of the first-born in one night and it does not strikeyou with horror. But only conceive of the first-born throughout all London dying in one night-what a visitation that wouldbe! The whole of Egypt, it is to be believed,contained far more inhabitants than London, and yet without regarding Egypt's bitter cry which He foreknew would ring inHis ears-that God who revenges and is terrible slew in one night the chief of all their strength!
Don't forget the destruction at the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his hosts descended into the midst of the sea and perished there.You rejoice, and rightly so, because Israel was preserved, but what a fearful thing it was that Egypt should be destroyed!Pharaoh and all the chivalry of Mizraim swallowed upby the waves, to be mourned by innumerable widows and orphans! Do I hear anybody accusing our God of cruelty on accountof this? And why not, if the new benevolence theory is true? Let those who accuse the infinite Jehovah beware! Let them strivewith their fellow potsherds, butstrive not with the rod of iron! Jehovah needs none of our defenses. O amazing God! Little does it matter to You what man'sjudgment of You may be, for with You the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers! You do as You will, and Your judgmentsare past finding out.
Think of the slaughter of the Canaanites. Palestine was filled with Hivites, Jebusites, and other nations. All these weregiven to the edge of the sword by God's express command. Dispute the Bible and you may get rid of this, but believe it andyou have that terrible fact before you-that Hegave a whole population to unmitigated slaughter-and, I believe, justly and rightly so. I profess not to understand theways of God. Who am I that I should understand Him? Should the potter's vessel think of understanding the potter? I bow beforewhat He does and believe thatHe is just. Let Him do whatever He may!
There is no need to detain you over the terrible spectacle of thousands smitten by pestilence at the time of David's numberingof the people. Or of Sennacherib's hosts slain in one night by God's own hand, or even over that direst of all judgments-thedestruction of Jerusalem! But I cannotforbear quoting the memorable words of Moses when he said of Jehovah, "He repays them that hate Him to their face, to destroythem. He will not be slack to him that hates Him, He will repay him to his face" (Deut. 7:10). Well does our Jehovah deserve the title which Isaiah givesHim, "The Lord that renders recompense to His enemies" (Isa. 66:6). What instances does the Scripture give of what Paul calls "the severity of God," and how true is it that, "It is a fearfulthing to fall into the hands of the living God"!
2. Pursuing our heavy task we shall now draw your solemn attention to the words of the Savior. Our Lord Jesus Christ we believeto be the Incarnation of God, and to represent our God under a most tender aspect. It is a very remarkable fact that no inspiredpreacher of whom we have any record everuttered such terrible words concerning the destiny of the lost as our Lord Jesus Christ. You may search the Scriptures through,but you will not find more solemnly alarming expressions than those which the loving Jesus employed.
Now, Sinner, that you may feel their power, instead of quoting them hurriedly, let me just remind you of them slowly and solemnly.It was that tender Savior who still cries, "Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."It was also He who said, "Fear not themwhich kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body inHell" (Matt. 10:28). Read in Matthew 13:41-turn to the passage and read it with your own eyes that you may feel its power more-"The Son of Man shallsend forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, andshall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
He repeats that expression in the forty-ninth verse. "So shall it be at the end of the world; the angels shall come forthand sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashingof teeth." In the same Gospel, in the twenty-secondchapter, you will find words equally suggestive in the thirteenth verse-"Then said the King to the servants, Bind him handand foot and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And so againHe says of the unprofitableservant in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, which chapter also records those dreadful words, which it is well for usto read as we find them at the forty-first verse-"Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed,into everlasting fire,prepared for the devil and his angels."
And as if this were not enough, Jesus closes His discourse with these words at the end of the chapter, "And these shall goaway into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." Who was it who uttered that fearful sentence writtenin the ninth of Mark at the forty-third verse? Letit duly affect you as you read it-"If your hand offends you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimedthan having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire which never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fireis not quenched."
Did Jesus say that once? Read the forty-sixth verse "Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched." Did He onlysay it twice? Look at the forty-eighth verse-"Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched." Three times over inone discourse! Do not complain of the preacherif you think him harsh. Oh Beloved, he does not wish to be harsh, but to preach with tears in his eyes these dreadful things!But look at my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ! Did He preach smooth things on this matter?
We heard the other day that the unquenchable fire and the undying worm were mediaeval ideas to be scoffed at in these enlightenedtimes! A courtly preacher insinuated as much and more-but a greater than he, who wore no soft raiment and dwelt in no king'spalaces-uses such expressionsunmodified and undiluted! I pray you laugh not at them, and scoff not at them, for the lips that spoke them were the lipsof Him who loved the souls of men even to the death! The lips of Him who shall come a second time to judge the quick and thedead.
My terrible list is very far from being exhausted. Look at the twentieth chapter of Luke and the eighteenth verse, and theeighteenth chapter of Matthew and the eighth and ninth verses. But still more memorable is that parable of Lazarus and therich man. The punishment of Dives is not described interms of gentleness! He cries, "Father Abraham, send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool mytongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Abraham gives him no hope of escape from his misery, for the answer to the enquiryis, "And beside all this, between usand you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from here to you cannot, neither can they pass to usthat would come from there."
Oh, mournful picture, but Jesus drew it! He it was who told us of a certain sinner it were better for that man that he hadnever been born! And of others that it were better for them that a millstone were hung about their necks, and that they werecast into the depths of the sea! He it is whodescribes certain sinners as being miserably destroyed, and in another place uses this fearful sentence which I confess,although it is figurative, makes me shiver as I utter it, "The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not forHim, and at an hour when he is notaware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:46).
Do not talk about grim mediaeval expressions after this! This is the Master Himself, and these are His own words! And I dareto say it that all the glowing pictures ever painted designed to compel souls to escape from Hell never reached the dreadreality which is implied in the words of our Savior,Jesus Christ. I hope that perceiving these terrors to have come from the lips of Jesus, who is all love, kindness, and benevolence,you will understand that it is the highest benevolence to warn men of their danger and to exhort them to escape from the wrathwhich will surely comeupon them, for "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
3. We feel that it must be a fearful thing to be punished for sin when you remember the Atonement. It is our full belief asChristians, that, in order to the pardon of human sin, it was necessary that God Himself should become Incarnate, and thatthe Son of God should suffer-sufferexcruciating pains-to which the dignity of His Person added infinite weight.
Brothers and Sisters, if the wrath of God is a mere trifle, there was no need of a Savior to deliver us! It were as well tohave let so small a matter take its course, or, if the Savior came merely to save us from a pinch or two, why is so much saidin His praise? What need for Heaven and earth toring with the glories of Him who would save us from a small mischief? But mark the word! As the sufferings of the Saviorwere intense beyond all conception, and as no less a Person than God Himself must endure these sufferings for us-that musthave been an awful, not to say aninfinite evil from which there was no other way for us to escape except by the bleeding and dying of God's dear Son!
Think lightly of Hell, and you will think lightly of the Cross. Think little of the sufferings of lost souls, and you willsoon think little of the Savior who delivers you from them. God grant we may not live to see such a Christ-dishonoring theologydominant in our times.
4. But once again, and with this we close this point. The conscience of every sinner tells him that there will be a wrathto come. I do not mean that the conscience of the sinner tells him what kind of punishment it will be, or dictates to himits duration. But we know from facts that dying men whohave lived in impenitence have often exhibited fears that are not to be accounted for except upon the supposition that theshadow of a terrible doom had cast itself upon their minds.
These were not the old women of whom so much has been said in the way of despising them. These have been strong men once asboastful as Tom Paine and his fellows! These were men of intellect, sharp intellects, who once threatened to strike the Gospelthrough the heart-and yet when they havecome to die their boasts have all ceased and the blanched cheek and the terror of the wrath to come have all proved thetruth of what they denied, and have declared-"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
I am sure we all feel-at least I speak of my own conscience-I feel that God could not be truly God if He did not punish evil.That it would be a pity that there should be a God if He did not punish sin. That He might as well have had no existence atall if such were the fact, and thatif a preacher should arise who would tell men that God would not punish their sins, such a man ought to be carefully secludedfrom society because of the mischief which his doctrines would assuredly cause.
I feel like the judge in America, who when he was waited upon by the Universalists for assistance in setting up a place fortheir meeting, after hearing the arguments, said, "No, I cannot help you. In the first place, I do not believe that your doctrinesare at all consistent with Holy Writ. Andthough I am sorry to say I am not so well instructed in the Bible as I ought to be, I believe that if Scripture had meantto teach eternal punishment, I do not see what other terms it could have used. At all events, if your sentiments should prevail,if there is no Hell hereafter,there would very soon be a Hell here. For as soon as it were known that men might commit sin with impunity, men would plungeinto sin at once."
The moral sense of man is not stamped out yet, and while it remains it will in more or less distinct terms declare that "Itis a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
II. Let me urge you, my dear Hearer, in the second place, NOT TO ATTEMPT TO DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE BENEFICIAL EFFECT WHICHA PROPER CONSIDERATION OF THIS DOCTRINE WOULD HAVE UPON YOU.
1. Do not deny the fact, at any rate. If you do, be consistent and deny Scripture altogether. If you doubt the punishmentof the future state, doubt the inspiration of Scripture at once-for to doubt one and hold the other is impossible! Do notso violate your own conscience as to dream ofsin's escaping punishment. If you should persuade yourself to doubt the existence of Hell, your doubting it will not quenchits fires. If there is no Hell hereafter I am as well off as you are, but if there is, where will you be? Take it on the mostcommon supposition-I havetwo strings to my bow, you have only one-and that one I believe to be a lie. Oh, my Hearers, if I were to stand here andpersuade you that there was no danger, you might very well say, "Then why need you tell us so? Why be in earnest when thereis nothing to be in earnestabout?"
2. In the next place, do not have the edge of this truth taken off by those who suggest a hope that though you may be punishedfor a time in the next world you will ultimately be destroyed and annihilated. Now nothing in nature ever has been annihilatedyet, and it would be a new thing if youshould be. I am not about to argue the point this morning, but I pray you do not let the terrors of the wrath to come betaken off by that idea-for even supposing it to be true, yet those who teach it tell us that there will be a limited but avery fearful punishment! Theystill agree with the teaching of the text, that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
If I knew that I should be damned for a day I would labor to escape from it! But to be damned for a thousand years will beterrible, indeed, and it would still be true that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." I darenot, however, hold out to you the hope ofannihilation while the Bible contains such words as these-"These shall go away into everlasting punishment"-everlasting!The word is precisely the same as that which is applied to Heaven, and though I shall be told that this is an old argument,I reply that this is thevery reason why I use it.
Be it for others to invent novelty-we count that the old is better. If that passage does not teach the eternity of punishment,neither does it teach the eternity of reward. It is to be always punishment, too-always punishment. Now if the lost shouldsuddenly be annihilated, thatannihilation would be no punishment-it would be a gift to be sought with tears. It would be the cessation of all punishment,for how can they be punished who have ceased to be? The punishment spoken of is said to be everlasting, and everlasting itwill be!
In the second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the first chapter and seventh and ninth verses, we are told that such men shallbe punished with eternal destruction. Some lay hold upon the word "destruction" as meaning annihilation, but it is eternaldestruction. Annihilation is done at once and donewith-but this destruction lasts on forever. It is eternal destruction, and then it is explained-"eternal destruction fromthe Presence of the Lord, and the Glory of His power." Therefore to be forever banished from the Glory of God and shut outfrom every source of hopeis the destruction here meant.
There is a very terrible passage in the twentieth chapter of Revelation where in vision John speaks concerning the conditionof lost spirits. If you read the tenth verse speaking of Gog and Magog, it says, "And the devil that deceived them was castinto the Lake of Fire and brimstone, where thebeast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." I do not know what the words foreverand ever can mean if they do not mean forever and ever.
Yes, cries one, that torment is for the devil. Very well, why do you not sympathize with the devil as well as with men? Isnot there as much reason to sympathize with fallen angels as with fallen men?
But our Lord has said that the same punishment which awaits Satan will befall the impenitent, for He says, "Depart, you cursed,into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." And in the last verse of the twentieth chapter of Revelationwe find that whoever was not found written inthe Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire-that same place into which Death and Hell were cast! This fire will notcause annihilation, for in Revelation 21:8 we are told that certain sinners, such as the "fearful and unbelieving, and all liars, shall have their part inthe lake which burns with fire and brimstone."
How can those have a part who have no existence? To have a part in that fire is the second death. When Jesus speaks of thefire of Hell, He does not say that annihilation is effected by it, but speaks on this wise: "shall cast them into a furnaceof fire, there shall be (not annihilation, but thesigns of conscious misery)-weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth." Now I am not going fully into this subject, butI can only say this much-if our Lord and His Spirit intended to make us believe that there would be a worm that never dies,and a fire that nevercould be quenched, and did mean to teach us that there was a punishment for sin which would last forever, I do not knowwhat other words could have been used.
And I do pray, dear Friends, whether you think so or not, be on the safe side! For even if it were but a thousand years only,think what that must be! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, even if you could get out again.But when it comes with the solemn sanction, as I ampersuaded it does, that you never will escape from those hands, oh, why will you die? Why will you die? Look, look to Jesus,and find eternal life in Him! Beware lest you be "wandering stars, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever."
3. Some suppose that instead of annihilation, restoration awaits the lost. There are no texts in Scripture which, when readby honest men, can mean this. They must be wickedly and perniciously perverted before they can be made to teach anything ofthe sort. Scripture does not speak of the fire ofHell as chastening and purifying, but as punishment which men shall receive for deeds done in the body. They are to be visitedwith many stripes and receive just recompense for transgressions.
What can there be about Hell fire to change a man's heart? Surely the more the lost will suffer the more they will hate God!When God sent plagues upon the earth men blasphemed His name (Rev. 16:9). Men do so now. Are they likely to turn at His rebuke then? Satan has been punished for these sixthousand years-do you see any signs of repentance about him? Do you see any tokens of his being reclaimed? Is he not justas much a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour, as ever he was? And the case of Satan must run parallel withours! There are no tokens ofhis restoration now, nor will there be any tokens of ours then.
Besides, if the Gospel of Christ cannot save you, what can? If the wooing of Christ's wounds cannot make you love Christ,do you think the flames of Hell will? Oh, my Hearers, if, with such a Gospel as that which is proclaimed to you, you willnot turn, do you think you will turn in the world tocome? Jesus says not so, but declares that, "he that believes not shall be damned." You live in the company of saints now-atall events, you live in a land which represses immorality. But in Hell there are no preachers of the Gospel-no holy examplesto win you toholiness. The dwellers in Hell are enemies of God-a pretty school for virtue that!
Do you suppose, then, that you who leave this life without the fear of God will be led to turn to Him then? Cast away thethought, my Hearer, it will deceive you. This fearful doctrine did much mischief in America at one time, but it was so revoltingto the common sense of many consciences that itsday was soon over. This error will eat out the very soul of piety. Still, were it true, Believers in Jesus are as well offas you are. A gentleman once said to a Universalist who had been arguing with him, "I suppose if I hate your religion, laughat it, ridicule it, and spit on it,it will be all the same with me at the last?" "Yes," said the other. "Well," said the first, "mind you do not do that withmine, or you are a lost man."
I like the remark of the people who were requested to accept one of these preachers as ministers. They said, "You have cometo tell us that there is no Hell. If your doctrine is true, we certainly do not need you! And if it is not true, we do notwant you-so that, either way, we can dowithout you." It is a most dreadful fact that there is no provision made for the future restoration of the lost. Not a wordsaid about it except that for them remains the blackness of darkness forever.
Abraham did not say to the rich man, "My dear son, you will return to my bosom when you have undergone those purifying fires."Oh, no! That would have been something more than a drop of water to cool his tongue-that would have drenched him with bucketsfull of the cooling draught. But no, itwas just this: "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed so that they which would pass from hereto you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from there."
4. Some ungodly men say, "Well, you do not believe for a minute that there is any material fire, do you?" My dear Hearer,what is that to you? There is a text which speaks of destroying both body and soul in Hell, which seems to indicate punishmentfor the body. But if it were not so, do you thinkthat soul punishment is a trifle? Why, it is the very soul of punishment! It is far more dreadful than bodily pain. Go acrossto Bethlehem Hospital and observe poor creatures perfectly free of pain in body whose minds are wrung with bitter anguish-andyou will soon see thatnone can bear a wounded spirit.
Oh, listen to the Lord, for it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands. If there is no material fire. If there is no literalworm, this will be sorry consolation for a soul on flame with woe! Though I am thus speaking, I know what some will do. Youwill go away and say, "I could not bear to hearhim." I do not ask you to hear me, but I pray you do not neglect your souls. You will say, "What a harsh preacher!" Sayso, but do not be harsh with your own souls. You will say, "He brings up the old bugbear." If it is an old bugbear, you aremen and need not worry aboutit-but if it is not so, should I not be a demon if I did not warn you?
As long as God spares my life, I hope I shall not be found unfaithful to your souls. So long as I believe this Book, I cannotbut warn you that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
III. In the third place, and briefly, I should like you to CONSIDER HOW THIS TEXT IS PUT. The punishment to be endured ishere described as falling into the hands of the living God. Will not that be fearful? You hear men speak of falling into thehands of the devil-that, no doubt, would besomething terrible-but this is much worse, falling into the hands of the living God!
But what could there be that would terrify and alarm the soul in falling into the hands of the living God? Let me remind you.You sinners, when you begin to think of God, feel uneasy. In a future state you will be compelled to think of God. God isnot in all your thoughts now-it is the onlyplace where He is not-but when you enter the future state, you will not be able to escape from the thought of God. You willthen realize the words of David, "If I make my bed in Hell, You are there also." That thought will torment you. You will haveto think of God as One towhom you were ungrateful. You will look up and think, "There is the God who made me, who fed me, clothed me, and if He chastenedme, did it for my good, and I never thanked Him, but I used His name by way of blasphemy."
You will feel remorse, but not repentance as you recollect that He did honestly invite you to come to Him-that He did calland you refused-that He stretched out His hands and you paid no attention to Him. As you think of the happiness of those whosehearts were given to Him it will makeyour miseries great to think of what you have lost. You will hate Him, and here, it seems to me, will be your misery. Thehatred of the soul to everything that is good will involve fearful misery, and more so if that soul sees that good is infinite,that good is victorious, thatgoodness reigns in Heaven!
Well may the wicked gnash their teeth, as they note the overthrow of evil and the establishment of good! Ungodly men, bothhere and hereafter, hate God because He is good! Just as of old, the wicked hated the saints because they were saints- andthey hate Him all the more because He is sopowerful that they cannot defeat Him or frustrate His designs. Ah, those sins of yours will feed the flame within your conscienceand will be an undying worm within your heart. Oh, Friends, it is misery on earth to hate God! It is misery to live with thosewho hate God!
But when sin shall become fully developed there will be no need of racks and flames-sin itself will be enough to make itsown punishment-no punishment more acute and more terrible-while the Presence of God all the while shall act as a great excitingcause to stir up the badpassions, and the vile enmity, and the horrid rebellion of lost, fallen spirits. Oh turn to Him, for to turn FROM Him isto be unhappy! To love God is Heaven-to hate Him brings Hell. You are so made that you cannot sin and be happy.
It was right of God to make you such a creature that holiness and happiness should go together-it was right of Him to makeyou such a creature that sin and sorrow must go together, and if you will have sin, you must have sorrow. Oh turn from itwhile you may! Oh may God's Spirit turn you nowbefore you enter into that world where there is no turning, but where the die is cast and the road is chosen. As the arrowonce shot speeds onward in its course and turns not from it, so must you speed on in holiness and happiness or in sin andsorrow, for there is no turning fromthe course.
IV. I desire to close by saying, if THESE THINGS ARE SO, THEN ACT ACCORDINGLY. Sinner, unless you are prepared to say thistext is a lie, do not fall into the hands of the living God. But you say, "How can I escape, then?" By falling into the handsof the living God now, in another sense. If youwill come and confess your sin. If you will trust in Him whom God has set forth as a propitiation for sin, there is pardonfor you! There is pardon for you NOW!
However great your sins may have been, if with a broken heart you will say, "I will arise and go unto my Father," there isroom in His heart. There is room at the table of His Divine Grace. There is room in Heaven for you. Whoever among you turnsunto the living God shall certainly live. "Onlyconfess your iniquity," said He, "only return unto Me, and I will have mercy upon you-
"You sinners, seek His Grace, whose wrath you cannot bear: Fly to the shelter of His Cross, and find salvation there."
To trust Christ is the true way of escape! Rely upon Him and you shall live.
To the saint-what should be the effect of this doctrine? I will show you from the lips of one who hates it. I read in a newspaperyesterday the notes of a sermon preached by a certain Congregational preacher in London, a sermon which I must confess didnot altogether so much startle me as itwould have done if I had not known the gentleman's past.
But it did startle me when I read these words. I will quote a few sentences: "If I dwelt upon this doctrine Sunday after Sundayin this place of worship, and induced you to believe that people who have lived and died impenitent are thrown into a stateof condemnation and misery-I say, if Ibelieved that, how could I fail to feel for you or find rest to my spirit until I grasped every one of you and beseechedyou to consider how terrible is your destiny, and how awful your danger?
"Are we not giving up ourselves to all sorts of pleasures and entertainments? When the work of the day is over, do we nottry to obtain some sort of relaxation among the drama, the theater, the cards, and all kinds of social delights to directour thoughts from the terrible, piercing realitieswhich are every day and every hour wearing out our lives? How dare you do that if spirits of men are going into everlastingdamnation every instant that you breathe! If you believe that with every breath you draw there is some soul damned forever-somepoor human being whichhas lost its way and come into utter misery-how can you go about playing games? How can you be going to concerts and sittingin front of stages and theatrical entertainments and finding your pleasures and recreations there?
"If you do, you are like demons! If you can look on and see unnumbered millions of your fellow creatures perishing forever,and if you can live and enjoy yourselves, you deserve to perish forever." And then he goes on to say that if we can go tocomfortable places of worship and sit therecontentedly, and spend our lives in making money and live for nothing else, then we are false to our profession of beliefin this doctrine. And he denounces the inconsistency, and adds, "If I believe that doctrine I dare not preach here. I do notknow where I dare preach, butsomewhere under the open sky where I should be able to say that human beings are being lost. If this doctrine of everlastingdamnation is true, how ought you to labor to save souls from everlasting death!
"You ought never to think of anything else, but declare it from the housetops, and never enjoy yourselves or make more moneyor sit quietly in chapel! You ought to wander over all the earth and bring spirits back again to the God who will damn themif they do not come unto Him." Now when I read allthis, I thought, "It is even so. The doctrine of eternal punishment should thus act upon us! And for this very reason itought to be preached and insisted upon-one would not have been surprised to hear the preacher proceed to press the doctrinein order to produce just suchhatred of frivolity and worldliness, and just such zeal and fervor-but who is not horrified to find that the next sentenceis-"I really believe that the doctrine of everlasting damnation is a blasphemy against God! I believe it to be demoralizingto the spirit of man,and subversive of all the laws of humanity! I believe that the doctrine of Atheism would be better."
After first of all showing how we ought to live if that doctrine IS true, and very properly showing its influence in promotingzeal and fervor, this misguided man declares that Atheism would be better than a doctrine so practically useful! No answeris needed beyond his own words. Surely thatdoctrine is not so very demoralizing which would make ministers and hearers earnest to win souls, keep them from vain amusements,and make them give up mere money-making, and pleasure-seeking and self-comfort-and drive them into earnest, passionate weeping,longing and laborfor men that they might be saved!
I pray God that such teachers may have a better mind, and that all of us may be kept faithful by the power of the Holy Spirit,working to win men because "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."