TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Luke 16:19-20, 22-24
1-29-67 10:30 a.m.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, beginning at the nineteenth verse:
There was a certain man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
These words from the lips of our Lord are not unique, or strange, or peculiar, or separate from the entire revelation of the Word of God. This is but another instance, and typical of what God teaches us, and what our Lord Himself impressed upon our souls. The Scriptures reveal many things about the judgment that is yet to come for the unrepentant, for the lost, for the unsaved, for those outside of the forgiveness of Christ. The Scriptures say there is punishment. Matthew 25:: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment and pain.”
“Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:24]. And the offscouring and the garbage heap of God’s universe, when the Lord shall cleanse it and cast out of it all that offend, that reject, that do no repent, who are not saved; the name that is translated “hell” in the New Testament, the name is gehinnom, the Valley of Hinnom. Outside of Jerusalem on the southwestern side was a valley, and into that valley was cast the garbage and the carrion and the refuse of that great city for centuries and centuries. There the jackals fought over the carcasses of the dead, gnashing teeth. There the worm never died as it worked in the putrid mess, and there the fire was never quenched [Mark 9:43-48]. Gehinnom, this is the word “hell,” gehinnom in the New Testament. And it is God’s symbolic word for the offscouring of the filth and corruption of His whole universe.
Do not ever persuade yourself that God intended for this creation to be damned and guided by violence, and vice, and villainy forever and ever. “There shall be a cleansing, a purging of the whole universe when God shall bring down to this earth a new city wherein dwelleth righteousness” [2 Peter 3:12-13].
And another one of God’s vivid pictures of the great judgment day that is to come is one of separation. And how many times did our Lord speak of that: sometimes in the imagery of a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats; sometimes in the imagery of a thresher with the chaff burned with unquenchable fire and the wheat gathered in the garner; sometimes in the imagery of a fisherman, with the good kept and the bad thrown away [Matthew 25:31-46]; sometimes in the imagery in this story with a great gulf fixed in between. It is a part of the revelation of God, this judgment before which every soul shall stand and someday in which he shall share.
Now, so much of liberal theology scoffs and mocks at such a revelation and such a judgment. I have copied out of one of the books of a liberal theologian entitled, Life after Death. I have copied this sentence, and I quote from the theologian. “If the doctrine of eternal punishment was clearly and unmistakably taught on every leaf of the Bible, and on every leaf of all the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it.” And when I read that sentence, I thought, “That sounds strangely familiar to me. I have heard that sentiment before.” Then I remembered where I heard it.
When the Lord God said to our first parents, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely, surely die,” Satan, the sinuous, sensuous serpent said to Eve, “Yea, yea, hath God said, ‘Ye shall surely die?’’ and the first lie, the first lie: “Ye shall not surely die” [Genesis 2:17; 3:1, 4]. Do not believe it! And as the immortal John Milton wrote in the opening of his Paradise Lost of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world with all our woe: God said, “Ye shall surely die.” Satan said, “Yea, hath God said?”
What I read in the Holy Book is a confirmation of that revelation. There’s no deviation from it ever, never. The same Lord who took up into His arms little children and blessed them; the same Lord who came into this world, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might deliver us from the penalty of our transgressions and our sins; that same Lord Jesus is the one who speaks most, and most solemnly on this judgment. And the same book—the Book of Luke—the same book that tells us the story of the good Samaritan, of the prodigal son, of the justified publican, of the repentant thief who asked Christ to remember him in His kingdom, that same book is the same book that describes to us this torment of flame and of hell.
Nor can I forget that the same words that described the length, the duration of that everlasting judgment is the same word that described the duration of heaven and of the glory that God hath prepared for those who love Him. The same Book that tells us about God tells us about Satan. The same Book that tells about heaven tells us about hell. And the same Book that describes to us our great salvation is the same Book that describes to us what we are saved from. And if there’s not any hell, there’s not any heaven. And if there’s not any Satan, there’s not any God. And if there’s not any everlasting damnation, there is not any everlasting salvation. The same word is used to describe them both. And these shall go away into aeonios punishment, and the righteous into aeonios life. It is the same word, and if there is no thing to be saved from, there is no need for a Savior.
When these little children are brought to me who are to be baptized and I talk to the child, this is the way I begin: “Now, my little lad or my sweet little girl, Jesus is a Savior, but if He is a Savior, then He saves us from something. What does Jesus save us from?” and the answer is “From our sins.” Then the next question: “And who has sinned?” “All of us have sinned.” “And what is the penalty for our sins?” “Eternal death in hell.” “And who can save us from that eternal perdition?” “Jesus our Lord.”
He is no Savior unless He saves us. And He is no infinite Lord unless He saves us from an infinite loss. This is the Word of God. Nor do I find it any different as I think, as I reason. Nor do I find it any different as I observe in the world in which I live: a lost world, a darkened world, a sinful world. In my reason, in the nature of the universe, a part in it, of it, is this principle of separation. There’s not a doctor here, not one, who, if he’s true to his profession, but would try to separate those dangerous, eating, corrupting cancer cells from that healthy cells in the anatomy, and the surgeon that takes his knife is struggling towards that separation.
And the whole criminal procedure in court and in penitentiary is an attempt on the part of a vibrant society to separate these that hurt it and violate it. In the pastorate before I came here to Dallas, there was a fine, fine, noble family, a well-to-do family, whose son had been sent to the penitentiary as a life-termer, murder. And upon a day, out of compassion with that family and upon the appeal of some of our deacons, I made the journey with them to our capital city to make an appeal to the governor. The governor of the state was a deacon, and a godly one, a Sunday school teacher, and a faithful one—one of the richest men in America and one of the noblest statesmen. I took my place by the side of the mother of that boy and the father of that boy and my fellow deacons and made appeal for that lad in the penitentiary, that he might be pardoned. After all of it was reviewed and after the recommendation of the board of pardons, that Christian man and that Christian governor remanded that boy to the penitentiary for the rest of his natural life.
Are our courts evil? Are our laws unjust? Are our penitentiaries unnecessary institutions? It is a part of the fabric of what we know of life in this universe—this principle of separation. Nor shall God leave forever the tares and wheat, the saved and the lost. There shall be someday a great cleansing and a great purging in this universe, and God shall cast out of it all that offend. I find that also, as I think of it, what God says in this Book and what I can see and understand with my mind—I find it also in the nature of human character and human life. All life and all character tends to become fixed, not unfixed, but fixed! It tends to harden like concrete.
The antediluvians were wicked, and they became more wicked, and as men lived longer and longer they became still more wicked until God looked down from heaven and saw that the earth was filled with violence, and God judged it and destroyed the face of the earth. And only righteous Noah found favor in His sight. Character tends to become fixed.
In the days of Lot, who lived as the mayor of Sodom, who sat at the gate of Sodom, the men of Sodom were vile and wicked and they became more vile and more corrupt until finally God judged the city, snatching out of it righteous Lot, whose conversation, whose life was corrupted itself by the filthy manner of the Sodomites. Life, character has a tendency to become fixed and more fixed and more fixed.
And as I observe and as I look, that same judgment of God that finds its ultimate consummation in a vast separation, I find as I look, as I observe. Why don’t men turn? Why don’t they change? Why don’t they repent? Why don’t they come to God? My observation: pain and suffering, agony, fear, have no ability to change a man, never ever.
Have you ever followed in your daily newspaper the life of a criminal? Name any of them, the life of a hardened criminal; he will go to a surgeon to have his face changed, he will go to a surgeon and have the fingerprints cut off of the ends of his fingers, and he will live in terror. Every soft footfall at the door may be the coming of the sheriff or the police or the FBI—and he lives like an animal! Wouldn’t you think that a man who lived in such agony would turn, would repent? He becomes harder and harder and harder. Pain, suffering have no ability to change a man’s soul.
I was the guest in a home in Memphis, Tennessee. And the people were of a great, openhearted, devout commitment to God—and out of the gutter, and out of the sewer, they had rescued a girl. She was a prostitute, used and abused. They brought her into the home and took care of her, and cleaned her, and clothed her, and helped her, and loved her, and prayed for her. And before I had come to be a guest in the home, that girl had slipped out in the night and gone back into her sordid and wretched and unspeakable life.
Can you explain these things to me? It is a part of the curse of this universe! Pain and suffering and agony do not suffice to change human hearts and human lives. Nor does another opportunity and another chance ever in itself make any difference. The first time that a man says no, the second time it is easier. And the second time he says no, the third time is easier. And the third time he says no, the fourth time is easier. And every time he says no, it is easier to say no the next time until finally, with a gesture of his hand, with a sneer on his face, with a mockery of a hollow life, he will dismiss God, Christ, the love of God, the virtue and forgiveness of heaven, and will live, and will live in that utter and complete and ultimate rejection.
Oh, these things, these things: “Lord, before a depraved and a dying and judged humanity, O God in heaven, what do you do? How do you get them to Jesus? How do you save souls? How do you awaken families? How, Lord?” This is a part of the zeal that we find in those first century Bible apostles and evangelists and missionaries of the Lord Jesus. They believed that the decision that a man made in this life was final. It was forever and ever and ever. When a man makes his ultimate and final decision in this life, these men believed it was forever and ever and ever. As the tree falls, so shall it lie [Ecclesiastes 11:3], and when a man refuses Christ for the last time in this earth, it is a refusal forever and ever and ever. They believe that the decisions made in this life are final.
Another thing—they believed, they believed that the pagan world was lost. “There is none other name under name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. “For the day of our ignorance God overlooked; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30].
And they believed a third thing, a wonderful thing, a glorious thing. And they believed that Jesus could save; that Jesus had the power to change human hearts, human lives, homes, families, destiny, children, young people—Jesus could save. And from city to city and village to village and country to country and language to language, like liquid fire that saving gospel spread, preached by those early and first Christians. And this is our gospel today. We live in a dying world. We are a part of a dying people. ”It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27], but to those who love the Lord Jesus, whose faith and trust is in Him, whose soul and destiny is committed to Him—to those who love the Lord Jesus, there is no judgment [John 5:22-24]. Our judgment was on the cross. God does not demand that a man die twice for his sins, and if Jesus died for my sins, then I don’t die, I don’t die. If Jesus was judged for my sins, then I am not judged. If Jesus was condemned for my sins, then I am not condemned.
Death, what is called death, is nothing but a sleeping, and a graveyard to a Christian is just a koimeterion, a sleeping place, awaiting the great resurrection day of the Lord, when the entire purchase possession shall be redeemed: saved now in my soul—resurrected then at the coming of the Lord. For those who place their trust in Jesus, there is no other future but one of joy, and glory, and gladness, and halleluiah, and praise, and thanksgiving to God. There is heaven; there is the city of the New Jerusalem; there is the company of the redeemed; there is salvation forever and forever—now in this world, and in the world that is to come.
But to those that refuse, cast outside of the city, where the fire never dies, where the darkness is never lighted, where there is eternal separation from God and from the redeemed; nor is it my ableness to understand how a man could choose to be lost, to be damned, to be cast out rather than to come into the life of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is we who walk the glory road; it is we who have the good time. It is we who are blessed in heart, in home, in child, in family, in destiny. It is we who are the children of God.
Come and be with us, bring your family and come with us. While we sing this hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody you, “Pastor, today I take the Lord as my Savior, and here I am,” or “Pastor, all of us are coming today—this is my wife, these are our children, the whole family of us is coming today.” However God shall press the appeal to your heart, however the Lord shall say the word to your soul, make it now, come now. On the first note of the first stanza when we sing it, stand up coming. There’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side if you’re in this balcony; the throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, preacher, and here I come; I make it now, I make it now,” while we stand and while we sing.