Can you conceive of a more sobering truth than hell?
The Bible teaches that hell is everlasting torment of body and soul in the lake of fire which is prepared for the devil and all who do not repent. There are many who say that the judgment of hell, of everlasting penalty for sin, is so enormous, so horrible a thought, that they could not conceive of a God who is capable of inflicting such a punishment. There are many who say, “My God would never send a soul to the eternal torment of hell.”
Those who speak so do not know the reality of sin, of how enormous an evil sin is in God’s holy judgment. Those who speak so do not know God, do not know God in His essential attribute of pure holiness. You see, it is not the doctrine of hell that is the point at issue. It is the truth of God’s holy being and the nature of sin which is at issue. Always the truth at issue is: Who is God? What is God? Always the point at issue is: Who is man, what is man, what is sin? And the Bible is straightforward and true on those issues. God is the Holy One. He is pure, perfect, and infinitely good. And man? Man, of himself is a sinner. And sin is an infinite offense against the holy God which truly deserves everlasting destruction. The Bible is straightforward to tell you the truth. Why is hell a reality? Why is there a lake of eternal burning to which impenitent sinners go? Because of the holiness and justice of God! Because sin is enormous and is committed against God. Because of the true nature of sin and the nature of an impenitent sinner. Get hold of this truth: the basic issue revealed in the Bible is not man’s welfare, man’s happiness, and man’s rights. But the basic issue revealed in the Bible is God, and His glory. The holiness of God and the awfulness of uncovered sin call for the eternal curse of God in the fires of hell.
Jesus taught this. He said, in Matthew 25:41, that in the last day, the day of judgment, He shall say unto impenitent sinners: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” That is what the Son of man, when He comes in all of His glory, is going to say. When He sits upon the throne of judgment and impenitent sinners stand before Him, Jesus Christ, the real Jesus Christ, is going to say to impenitent sinners: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Hell is to be separated from God. The impenitent and hard-hearted sinner gets exactly what he wants: banishment from God. That is the loss which the damned have.
When Jesus said that hell is to be separated from God, the idea is not that hell is the place where God is not. Psalm 139 says, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” But Jesus meant that hell is to be deprived of the glorious enjoyment of God and to have nothing but one wave after another of His wrath to roll over the sinner. It is to have God’s heart alienated from him, to be hated of a holy God. It is to taste, in the very center of the soul, divine vengeance against sin.
God is good. That is what Jesus said in Matthew 19. There is none who is comparable to Him. There is nothing that can make up for God. Psalm 73: Having Thee on earth, there is naught, there is nothing that I could yet desire. If you have God you have everything (the true God, that is). You may be cast off by man, your way may be very lonely. You may be distressed and filled with trial. But if you have God, you can sing and say, “I walk with Him and make His word my guide.” But to be separated from the living God, from the blessed and good One? To receive His burning anger? Hosea 9:12 says, “Woe also to them when I depart from them.” All peace is removed, all joy. There is unmixed sorrow. It is to be filled with horror and the anger of a holy God against you. What a horrible thing! When the creature made by the hand of God is separated from God, then only despair can seize that soul. That is why hell is called, in the Bible, “outer darkness.”
Be afraid of living in any sense separated from God. Do not make friends who will draw you away from your God. Do not reach out for the job, money, promotion which you know is going to put distance between you and your God, which is going to force you to compromise on your Sabbath observance and the attendance of God’s house on the Lord’s day. Do not put up walls of separation between yourself and your God by continuing in a sinful course, by willfully deceiving yourself, telling yourself lies that your sin is only for a little time and then you will put it away. Repent! Put it away! Tremble at the thought of distance between yourself and your God.
We can be so concerned at losing things, worldly things, losing this friend, losing this possession, losing this money, losing this business account. But think of His Words: What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Think of the Words: Depart from me, ye cursed. Then all those things a man sought to substitute for God are gone. The covetous person’s money is gone. He cannot have that in hell to soothe him. The drunkard’s bottle is gone, the fornicator’s bed, the philosopher’s wisdom. There is nothing left. Everything has vanished. And they are alone forever with the holy hatred of God whom they have offended.
Jesus said that to be cast into hell is to be cast into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. “Depart from me, ye cursed,” He says, “into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
I will not go into the question as to what kind of fire that is. The Bible uses stark language, repeatedly speaking of fire, of the fire that is not quenched, it is not put out; of the fire that burns with brimstone, intense, heated fire; of a lake of fire, an immensity of fire in which a soul will swim. Fire is the most horrible pain that we know.
What pleasure, what possession, what lust of your flesh, what amount of money could I offer you right now which would induce you to hold your hand over a lit candle, over a flame of a candle for one minute as it burned your flesh? What could I give you so that you would be induced to do that? Would you do that for all the wealth of the world? Would you? What pleasures of sin, what gratification of the flesh, what earthly possession, what honor is worth an eternity in hell? Do you see the folly of sin? Hell contains greater torments than anything found on earth.
When the Bible tells us about heaven it speaks to us of heaven as a city with gates of pearl and streets of gold. And we know that when the Bible speaks in those terms it is presenting heaven as being more excellent than the finest and most precious things in the world. When Jesus speaks of hell-fire, we must understand by it something more vehement, more tormenting than any fire ever seen by human eyes on earth. Heaven is represented as a treasure, as paradise, as a feast, as rest. And we know that the Bible is saying that words are not sufficient to express what God has in store for those who love Him. Even so, the torments of hell, represented in the idea of fire, a lake of fire burning with brimstone, those ideas are not sufficient to express the dread of falling into the hands of God as an impenitent sinner apart from Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And, understand, weeping and gnashing of teeth without repentance towards God. Revelation 16:21 reads: “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, and men blasphemed God because of the hail.” Their conscience will condemn them, but they will not repent. There is no repentance in hell.
What an awful punishment. Whose damnation, the Bible says, is just. It is everlasting fire in the company of the devil and his angels. That is dreadful, everlasting, no period to it, no stop, without intermission, without an end. We cannot conceive of that without horror. That is the evil of sin. The pleasures of sin are bought at a costly price. Brief moments of pleasure bring down eternal misery. That is the stark truth taught in the Bible. That is what sin is. Remind yourself of it. Sin is not a little thing. Sin is something so horrendous that it deserves everlasting punishment which only God’s Son can take away for us. What hatred God has for sin. How severe is His punishment. And, remember, God does not punish more than justice requires. Flee to Christ. In Jesus Christ you see sin as an ugly and vile thing.
Then, to be with the devil and his angels. What a horrible company! Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” In hell one is bound up with the devil; with the lion who seeks to destroy; with the serpent who hisses and spits his venom into a person’s face.
What a glorious thing it is for a Christian to have the company of the saints and Jesus Christ and the angels. What a terrible thing it must be to have nothing but the company of the wicked, of the devil, and his demons. Will you join yourself to those who worship the devil? Will you follow the way of those who follow the devil? Join yourself to those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Follow them in faith and holiness.
Flee the everlasting fire.
Do you tremble? Do you tremble because you take God’s Word seriously? Do you tremble because you know yourself as a sinner? Do you tremble because you say, “It is true. I violated God’s law. I deserve such a death.” This then is the testimony of God, the testimony of God to those who, by His grace, touched by His Spirit in their hearts to know their sins, this testimony comes now to them: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not your works can deliver you. Not your ability to merit deliverance. Believe the free gift of God. Trust in Christ as the only One who can take the hell-coals away from you. Jesus Christ was sent of God to bind up the eternal hell deserved by His own elect, to hold that hell in His hands, and then to extinguish it by pressing it into His own bosom upon the cross and dousing the flames with His blood. Trust in His righteousness. Follow Him in this world. Go to Him for strength for repentance and holiness. As great as the horror of hell is, and as strong as the trembling can be in us over it, so the grace of God is greater to His people, Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear that, believer? There is no condemnation to you in Christ Jesus. Jesus has taken away our eternal hell.
You might remember that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3 and Luke 3, cried out to his audience, “Flee the wrath to come.” In part he was speaking to Pharisees. Those Pharisees did not believe that they had to flee. They said to John, “What are you talking about? We are the children of Abraham. We are righteous. Hell is deserved by other people, not by us.” Oh, the blindness of self-righteousness. Let the Word of God tear those blinders from our eyes and prick our hearts. No, you are not righteous of yourself! No, you cannot remove your sin. Sin is an infinite thing. It is an infinite wrong against God. Sin is so heavy, so lasting in its vileness, that nothing can remove it. Your suffering for it eternally in hell cannot remove it. Only God’s mercy can remove it. The offended God must bring my sin to an end. He must kill it. My death must die in Jesus, and, praise be God, it did. For the Bible tells me that mercy awoke, meeting justice at the cross, that righteousness and peace have embraced, that they stand in full accord. God has shown mercy in the way of perfect justice. In mercy He has given His Son. In justice, His Son bore in the place of His elect their eternal hell. There is no condemnation for them in Jesus Christ.
Now the word is: flee! “Get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city,” said the angels to Lot when they came to take him out of Sodom. “Do not look back.” The angels took him by his hand and led him out. In Revelation, chapter 18, there is this Word of God to you: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins.” Press towards Christ. Your time is very short. Are you going to go on in the way of that sin? Will you for sixty or seventy years live simply to pile up wealth and possessions as being the end-all, and let your soul be poor? Will you come to lust and to greed and say, “Satisfy me, be my portion in this life?” Will you entertain hatred and unforgiveness in your heart? You, you who have been forgiven so great a debt? You who frankly could never pay what you owed? Is sin in your life, that pet sin, that ensnares and enslaves you? Is it that important? Is it that satisfying? Is it worth it? And are the difficulties of faith in Jesus Christ and of confessing His name so great? Repentance and forsaking sinful friends, standing up for the Lord-is that so hard, in the light of what He has done for you?
Eternal life! We must have it. There will be time enough to rest when we reach the other shore and sit down under the tree of life. Right now the time is short. For the child of God, the Bible says, there is a race to run. There is a fight to be fought. There is a Christ to confess. There are sins to be battled. Flee!
There is one argument that unbelief makes against the truth of hell, an argument that has cut me to the very bottom of my soul. It is not the argument that I already referred to, that “your God is so evil to do that. My God would never do that.” That argument does not move me. Anyone who would so argue does not know God in His holiness. And, very frankly, they do not know the reality of what their sin is. They are blinded to the horror of their own sin. Yes, sin deserves exactly that: eternal hell.
That is not the argument that moves me. There is another argument that hurts. It is put this way: “If it is true that hell awaits the impenitent sinner and burns with a fire which will never be put out, and you believe that, then why do you live as if it is not so? Why do you not warn your neighbor? Why are you so careless about your sins as if, after all, they are of no consequence? Is hell real? We cannot tell from your life that hell is a reality.” Do not let that be said about you, child of God.
Flee to Christ in faith and holiness. Escape the everlasting fire.
Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we praise Thy name for the great deliverance in Jesus Christ. Wilt Thou ever humble us and wilt Thou ever give to us that amazing and wonderful comfort that we are delivered. We shall not see death, but we shall live and praise the Lord. Amen.