Just What Do You Mean...Hell?
by J. Preston Eby
FROM the earliest years of my memory there stirred deep within my bosom an insatiable longing after Christ. Though only a child, I wanted to know Him who once was spat upon for me, who was crowned with thorns for me, who died and rose again and ascended into the highest heaven for me. I wanted to intimately know the Christ, the great and good Friend who was compassionate to all men, who forgave the thieves and harlots and drunkards, and healed the sick and gladdened the sorrowful, who brought the dead to life again, and loved and blessed the children. Oh, how I wanted to KNOW HIM!
Sometime after my twelfth birthday, the Lord came to me in a remarkable visitation, flooding my life with billows of His presence, power and glory. From that moment Christ became a living Reality. He filled the skies. He filled the earth. He filled my life and flooded mv heart with unspeakable love for His creation. He whispered in mv ear and flooded within the depths of my spirit the precious knowledge that He is the Good Shepherd who will seek until the last lost sheep is in His fold. He proclaimed the omnipotence of His love in the sweetest of tones. The Good Shepherd who came from heaven, and gave His life, will seek, and seek, and seek, and save, and save, and save, until He has brought all men back to God. This is the work of the Redeemer and the redeemed. I remember sitting, some time after this experience, in the auditorium of the public school in the rural community where we lived in southern Alabama, looking at the several hundred students assembled there, as the Spirit mused in my heart, "Someday, someway, somewhere, Christ will save them all!" The revelation was real to me, Christ was there bursting forth in my spirit, and I rose and departed with gladness that Christ is indeed Victor!
I do not hesitate to preach it. I do not hesitate to tell it. At the same time I have warned the sinner that if he sins, the face of God is against him; that if he will not submit to Christ, hell is in front of him; the way of the transgressor is hard, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience. But let us not falsely say that such men will never be saved; let us not limit the Holy One of Israel!
Most Christians believe that once a person dies, his or her fate is sealed for ever. If anyone has been fortunate enough to have repeated the "sinner's prayer" one moment before death stole the spirit away, he is guaranteed, according to the "orthodox" teaching, that he will go straight to heaven. Matters not whether he was truly drawn to the Son by the Holy Spirit; as long as he muttered the correct words before the final beat of his heart yielded to the stillness and silence of death, his salvation is eternally secured.
The question is, does physical death end the availability of God's grace? The death that came to Adam was first and foremost a spiritual death, and all men enter this world " dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Does physical death render our moral character changeless? Does it irrevocably fix our eternal destiny? Are the grace and mercy of God tied to our heartbeat? Here is a young man driving along the road on his way to an evangelistic meeting where he will hear an anointed message of salvation. Conditions are such that he may be saved this very night. His heart is tender. His mother is praying. The Holy Spirit will be mightily dealing. But - enroute to the meeting there is a terrible accident. The brakes are slammed on, the car skids wildly, spins uncontrollably off the highway, rolls down the embankment, crashing violently into a tree. Death is instant. Abruptly the young man is gone "out into eternity." The question comes--was the mercy and redemption of God tied to his heartbeat? Was there mercy for him if he would have made it to the meeting, but eternal damnation instead because a drunken fool pulled out in front of him in the darkness?
I do not hesitate to say that there is not one passage of Scripture in the whole Bible that indicates that the grace of God is limited to physical life, or that the mercy of God is tied to ones heartbeat. I am sure that my readers recognize that it is the spirit of man that is of the greatest importance to God. Why should there be salvation provided as long as the mortal body remains animate, but no salvation for the much more valuable spirit of the same man or woman as soon as the last mortal breath is drawn? Oh, I know the writer to the Hebrews states, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27), but that proves nothing relative to the question under consideration. It merely establishes the fact of judgment - not the process following judgment. The passage is conspicuous for what it does not say. It does not say, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this eternal damnation." The whole theory of eternal torment rests upon a faulty translation of a couple of Greek words, and actual distortions and perversions of what the Scriptures say.
So the Church system concludes that God has both the will and the power to save a breathing man, but no will and no power to save a non breathing man. It teaches that God has both the will and the power to regenerate a spirit which has a body of dust, but no will or power to save the same spirit without a body. God's mercy and power limited to the temporary function of certain animal organs! Good heartbeat, good mercy! No heartbeat, no mercy!
If, instead of bringing every sin into judgment, punishing that sin; we imagine the poor sinner suffering the eternal torments of hell with its unbearable anguish, the pangs of conscience, the taunts of fiendish demons, one hour of which is more than all his earthly sorrows rolled into one - lengthen this out to endlessness and season it with hopeless despair - and its horrors will be absolutely inconceivable. Though our lips may be afraid to frame the words, our hearts will whisper, "Can such be the final fruit of God's glorious plan?" Is this the response for which He hungered when He purposed that sin should estrange His creatures from Himself? But this is far from all! Multiply this single case by scores of billions of human beings, who age after age, have been hurdled into this hopeless hell - all tortured and tormented while the ages roll, and roll, and roll... without mercy and without remedy.
If the above scenario be true then something horrid must have happened to both God and His saints in heaven. Before the death of these people God loved them all, and in many instances they loved each other, saved and unsaved alike, and would have performed a great number of kindnesses for one another. Many of these had Christian friends and loved ones who were very concerned about them and prayed earnestly for them. But now that both saint and sinner are out in "eternity," God and all the saints in heaven have either lost their love and compassion for their lost loved ones, or else God has brainwashed all the saints so that they have erased from their memory the fact that their beloved mothers and fathers, their lovely sisters and brothers, their precious daughters and sons, and their good friends and neighbors are suffering the most terrible pain and hideous torture for all eternity.
So we see this: there is more love and compassion in the natural world in God and the saved ones, than there is in the spirit world. Furthermore, there is more love for sinners while they have bodies than there is for sinners without bodies. What has happened to cause God and the saints to turn from love and pity for the lost, to a feeling that the lost are now getting what they deserve and should suffer the torments of the damned for all eternity? What, I ask, has happened to God and the saints to cause them to love and seek the lost as long as their frail, mortal bodies endure, but to turn from that love for the precious unclothed spirit of the very same man or woman? Can we believe that God, having created all things for His pleasure, having so loved His creation that He freely gave heaven's most precious gift, after a few paltry years, the brief span of a man's mortal existence, throws up His hands in futility and disgust, saying that He has done all He can and men would not respond, so He must cease all effort, seat Himself upon His golden throne, and consign His creation to everlasting hell?
Yet this is exactly what we are told today. But how foolish! God is not that fickle, and God does not give up that easily. In fact, God does not give up! He started the whole program of creation and redemption and, blessed be His wonderful name! He will not cease His work until He is Victor - "All in All" throughout all the vastnesses of infinity for evermore!
How often we have heard preachers warn people that "the day of grace will soon be over for ever." Now nothing could be further from the truth, for as long as God exists the grace of God will be with us. The end of the grace of God, were it possible, would mean the destruction of God Himself, for grace is one of His eternal, immutable attributes. Please notice that Paul shows that the grace of God is going to be displayed and made known in the ages to come through those who have received it here and now in this dispensation. "And has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ, that in the ages to come He might show (Greek: exhibit, put on display for all to see) the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7-8).
Not only does this passage tell us of the great revelation of God's grace in the ages to come, but it also shows us that it is for this very reason that God is saving a firstfruit company now. The unveiling of the grace of God to the whole creation is the true reason for the manifestation of the sons of God. God has no intention of bringing all the world into the fold now. If that were His purpose He would surely bring it to pass, for He is the omnipotent God who works all things after the counsel of His own will. The whole purpose of this age is to gather out a people to display his grace in the coming ages. James also declared this truth when at Jerusalem he said, "Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out a people for his name... that the residue (rest, remainder) of men might seek after the Lord and all the Gentiles upon whom My name is called...known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:14, 17, 18).
This so-called "age of grace" is coming to an end, but grace will be more manifest in the future than in previous times. This age which is presently coming to a close should more properly be called the church age, for grace will not end, but the present form and administration of the Church will end. In the age to come God will move from calling out a body from among the nations, to the saving of the nations themselves. In ages beyond that God shall deal with the residue of men and all the reaches of His vast creation.
Ray Prinzing writes,
"God's purpose antedates time, for He purposed it in Himself before time began, and then arranged for the times in which He will fulfill it. Therefore His purpose is not in bondage to any man's time, be it a day, or a thousand years, but all time has to serve that purpose. Furthermore, God's grace, whereby this purpose shall be accomplished, also antedates time, for we read, 'Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world (ages) began' (II Tim. 1:9). The sufficiency of grace was freely given before time began, hence God's grace is not bound to time either. Grace can take all the time it desires for its manifestation, for it is not subject to the confines and limitations of time. The religious traditions of some speak of an age of grace, as if all other ages would be devoid of grace. This is utter nonsense. You cannot possibly limit the grace of God to any one age, for it is manifest in all ages, and is not bound to any certain age alone.
"Since man is saved by grace, not of self-works, and grace is a gift of a sovereign God, then obviously He can administer that grace to man whenever He chooses. The length of time has no claims upon that grace, it is but a servant to His grace, to reveal by degrees the wonder and glory of God's bountiful grace and mercy. Should God so arrange that this be the hour when He gives grace in your life, then bow low before Him in worship and praise. Yet if you have loved ones who have not yet been given this inflow of grace, do not despair, 'In Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order' (I Cor. 15:22-23), and God has fitted the ages so that there is an appointed time for grace to work in every life. We do not know HIS times and seasons, therefore we warn every man to turn to God now, knowing that we reap what we sow, and to continue sowing to the flesh means more harvests of suffering and sorrow. And we thank God for each heart that is opened to receive of God's grace now"
The limitation of God's mercy, if it were possible, would be the condemnation of God Himself. If there are limits to His mercy, the Word of God, which says that "His mercy endures for ever (all ages)," is a lie. The limitation of God's mercy is a trick of the devil, to discredit God and to defeat His Gospel. The limitation of God's mercy makes the disobedience of Adam more powerful and more enduring than the obedience of Christ. I am glad for a Gospel that is coextensive with, and greater than the devil's work in spirit, soul and body. I am glad for a Gospel that is not limited to one age, or to the threescore-and-ten years of man's frail existence, but reaches out into the ages to come until God is all in all. I am so glad for a Gospel which tells me that God has made a way by which even His banished may return. How gloriously true, then the words of the chorus: "His love has no limit, His grace has no measure, His power has no boundaries known unto man,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He gives, and gives, and gives again!A "SECOND CHANCE?"
The following words by George Hawtin are most challenging:
"The established visible Church has preached its multiplied sermons seeking to prove its tradition that the vast majority of God's human creation will be lost, finally, irrevocably, and eternally, and not only will they be lost to God forever and ever, but they will be given up to the most sadistic, inhuman, ungodly torments that could be devised by the vilest fiends. According to the tradition of the Church this hellish torment is to fall upon all who do not believe. It matters not a whit whether they had opportunity to believe or not. It matters not at all if they were born in the darkest jungles of Africa, the swamps of Borneo, or the deserts of India or China. The fact that they never heard there was a God will be no excuse whatever. The fact that they never heard that God had a Son will not impede their dreadful destruction. Heathen who never heard that God had a Son are, according to this teaching, faced with the same dreadful doom as men who heard the Gospel from their birth and yet rejected it. To add to the stupidity of their teaching they make pitiful attempts to prove that this is the justice of God and that God is manifesting His love in the punishment of sin. The doctrine of eternal punishment is based on a literal interpretation of some of the metaphors of Scripture, to the complete neglect of many other Scriptures. No doctrine has ever been propounded with more confidence and greater bitterness nor with a grossness and coarseness more hideous and repugnant, and, in the face of the love and kindness of God, more inconceivable and incredible"
Some people say that the ultimate salvation of all men makes a "second chance" Gospel. Not so! We do not have a "first chance" Gospel, nor a "second chance" Gospel, nor yet a "third chance" or "fourth chance" Gospel. Salvation is not by "chance" at all - it is by grace ! Had it been left to "chance" no one would have been saved, now or later. Salvation is of God! "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; BEING JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:10-12, 23-24).
But if, for the sake of illustration, we choose to use the term "chance," before we speak of a "second chance," we must make sure that those whom we have consigned to eternal damnation have had a "first chance." "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent ? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, that bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:13-15).
Billions upon billions have lived and died; and billions live today in ignorance of even the existence of the true and living God; much more in ignorance of His blessed Son. Some say there is no excuse for them. They could know if they wanted to. What an abominable lie! With Christendom divided into six hundred and sixty-six different sects and beliefs, with strife and hypocrisy and apostasy on every hand, it is no wonder men are confused! We cannot expect men to believe until they hear the Word of God in power and see the living God in manifestation. Nothing short of that is "the Gospel."
There have been some people who accepted Christ as their Saviour at the "first chance" they ever had. Three thousand people did that on the day of Pentecost. But I have asked many men if they accepted Christ the "first chance" they had, and few have answered in the affirmative. Most of us should be filled with thanksgiving to the Lord that not only did He give us a "second chance," but a third and fourth and sometimes a multitude of chances! I doubt if there is any reader of these lines who can truthfully say that he has obeyed God every "first time" that God has spoken to him. If God had taken our first answer or refusal to submit to Him, and had not given us a second opportunity, it would have been too bad for us! We simply would not be walking in God today if He had not given us many "chances." Christians are very free to grant this privilege to themselves, but seldom to the sinner, and never to the sinner whose heart has stopped beating. But does not the grace of God teach us that since in this life there is on the whole, so little of the Gospel of Christ touching the masses of humanity, the vast majority of men dying as they lived, like natural brute beasts, there must be an opportunity for the goodness and kindness and salvation of our ever-faithful God to reach them in the world to come? Indeed, since man has so poor an opportunity here, and the majority no opportunity at all, they must by the justice of God have an opportunity in the age or the ages to come. Justice demands it! And grace demands it I This is both reasonable and Scriptural. As one has written,
"Jesus gave a wonderful teaching in Matthew 11, one aspect of which is often overlooked. He said that if Tyre and Sidon had only witnessed the mighty works which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. That is, more knowledge and information, more light and revelation, would have brought them to repentance . Do you think, therefore, that God will torment the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon for ever because of their lack of knowledge? Again, He said that if Sodom could have witnessed the mighty works that were done in Capernaum 'it would have remained until this day.' Do you think that the inhabitants of Sodom will be tormented for ever just because they lacked the opportunities of Capernaum? Nay, indeed! God will not inflict ultimate punishment on men who have not had ultimate knowledge. 'For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to been be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth' (I Tim. 2:3-4). It is not just a matter of one 'chance' "
There is one Hebrew word and three Greek words which have been translated "hell" in our commonly used King James or Authorized Version of the Bible. In the Old Testament we find the word Sheol which according to our Hebrew dictionaries means "the place of the dead." The word always appears in the singular, never in its plural form. It is not the "places" of the dead, not the individual graves where reside their respective bodies, but the realm of the dead, the abode of the dead, or the state of the dead. The word is derived from the root shael, which means, by implication, "to request, to demand." And this reminds us forcibly of the common and inevitable end of all flesh. There is a realm and a state beyond this life which inexorably beckons men onward through the fleeting years of earthly ambition and toil till at last it lays its demand upon them, drawing them into its inescapable embrace.
In the New Testament there appears the word Gehenna referring to the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, which was the city dump outside the walls of Jerusalem, a place of constant burning of refuse. It is interesting to note that those who are pictured as going into Gehenna are, without exception, not the sinners of the world, but the sinners among God's people. How precise the type! Gehenna was the city dump of Jerusalem, the Holy City, where every unclean and unnecessary thing was burned and consumed. The antitypical Gehenna to which our Lord alluded in His teaching is the process of purifcation by which every unclean and unnecessary thing in the lives of His Holy People is purged and consumed by the fires of His judgment. "The Lord whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple...but who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appears? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi (the Priesthood), and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal. 3:1-3). Gehenna stands as a type of the place or process of the purification of God's people. It is referred to in the Old Testament by the name of "Tophet," located in the Valley of Hinnom, a place where many sacrifices were made and dead bodies consumed.
Next we consider the Greek word Tartaroo - the English form is "Tartarus." The passage where this word is found is II Pet. 2:4. "God spared not the angels (messengers) that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment." Jude also presents the same truth without mentioning the name as he writes, "And those angels (messengers) who kept not their first position of power and authority, but left their habitation, He has kept in chains under thick darkness, for the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). The whole thought is of a restraint, a confinement, a prison, a condition in which apostates are held for a specific period of time, in the same manner as prisoners are often held in jail awaiting the day of trial. Tartarus is not the judgment itself, but a state or condition in which persons are inescapably held over unto a day of judgment. I see men today who are apostates, they have turned from the truth, they have usurped the gifts and anointing of God for their own advantage and to their own ends, making merchandise of God's people, they have perverted the ways of the Lord and turned the truth of God into a lie, and have sunk into the blinding darkness of delusion, captivated by the fleshly ways and methods of this world, chained in the snare of the devil, they continue going through the motions of their "ministry," unable to escape from the devilish trap into which they have fallen, and are held there in their personal "Tartarus" reserved unto a day of judgment.
This brings us to our fourth and final word, the one we wish to consider in this study - Hades. Hades is the Greek word most often translated "hell." Where do the dead go? They go into what has cornmonly been called "the unknown." Concerning the literal meaning of the word Hades there can be no doubt. It comes from the Greek a(i)des. The "a" is a prefix which is equivalent to our "un-" and the stem "-id" means perceive. Thus we have un-percieve or imperceptible; the unseen. That is Hades - the unseen world, the unknown realm. Our English word hell is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word "hillan" or "helan," meaning a cavern, anciently denoting a concealed or unseen place. In parts of England men still say, "I plan to hell my potatoes," meaning to bury them in a hole or pit, that is, a covered place, out of sight. And in the old days a young couple seeking to be alone, sought a hell, a place where they could make love without being seen by prying eyes.
We know that the dead haven't passed out of existence altogether, for man is not only a body and soul, but also spirit. And when the spirit of man" passes from this present tabernacle of flesh it goes into a realm unseen by the eyes of mortal man. David, in speaking of it at the time his first son by Bathsheba died, said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." He knew there was a place where he would be able to join that infant child. And likewise the phrase often used in the Old Testament of their being "gathered unto their fathers" meant far more than having their bodies buried in the same grave. It bespoke a gathering in the unseen world. And our Lord spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, linking their names together as all being in the same place, and also added that their God is "not a God of the dead, but of the living," thus affirming that they were alive at that time, even though they were in the Hadean state. Indeed, they were all in Hades - the invisible world of departed spirits.
Some have contended that hell (Sheol and Hades) is never associated with the idea of suffering, pain or torment. That is far from the truth! A careful examination of the Hebrew and Greek words in context reveals that there is both the positive and negative aspects of hell, and there are those passages which connect hell, either literally or metaphorically, to darkness, restraint, distress, sorrow, suffering, pain, and torment.
Hell is certainly a place, a realm, a dimension of consciousness and existence, yet more than a place - it is a state or condition - in its negative application the inner state of depravity, perverted desire, burning lust and ambition, devilish emotions, mental anguish and despair - and because it is so twisted and warped it cannot obtain lasting fulfillment, being tormented by the fires of its own unsatisfied passions. Heaven and hell both are states of the soul rather than the body, whether it be the natural or the spiritual body. The spirit possesses the qualities of soul apart from the body, for the soul is so closely united to the spirit that only the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God can separate between them (Heb. 4:12). These are realities transcending place and time. As the poet puts it:
"I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that after-life to spell,
And by-and-bye my Soul returned to me,
And whispered, 'I myself am Heaven and Hell;'
Heaven but the vision of fulfilled desire,
And Hell the shadow of a Soul on fire."
Heaven and hell may dwell in the same home, sit at the same table, sleep in the same bed, but between them there is a great gulf fixed. Here, for example, is a home in which one boy goes wrong, bears about with him a guilty secret he may not be able to tell the rest, and yet he must keep the dreaded company of his guilty, tortured self. Every time that boy hears the happy laughter of brothers and sisters rejoicing in the joy of the Lord, the fires of hell are burning in his heart. Every time he receives his father's blessing or listens to his mother speaking of him in the language of maternal pride, he knows that between them and him there is a gulf fixed, and over it neither he nor they can pass. To the sinner abiding in his sin even the language of love is part of the torture of hell!
Here is another home in which an angry and unhappy man has power to inflict suffering on those who are weaker than himself. He has lived for wrong and vicious, devilish ideals all his life, and they have grown stronger as he has grown older. He has power to oppress and abuse and crush one faithful, beautiful woman, whose very presence and purity of character are a rebuke to him. The more nobly she lives, the better for him she cares, the fiercer seems to burn his anger and hostility, because he knows that he is not worthy of such devotion. He does not repent, but he suffers remorse, and inward self-hate, and between the two there is a great gulf fixed. The fires of hell are burning in that man's experience now, for guilt is often made more devilish by the presence of holiness.
In our acquaintance with life have we never suspected that the fires are burning where the world sees not? There are people facing life today with a smile who are not to be counted heroes, merely because behind the smile is anguish. Some people can smile in the shadow of the cross, and they do well. They are God's great ones! But there are others who wear the smile of dreadful joy, the smile of sin's make believe. Down beneath are the fires of hell, kindled by the pollution and the corruption and the wickedness on which the soul has fed. We can meet with hell in the palace, in the halls of Congress, in the business establishment, in the world of entertainment, in the home, on the street, and salute it and pass it by, and never know, but hell knows, for it has seen heaven. Naked and open are we to Him with Whom we have to do, and, believe me, nothing but the tender mercies and the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb can avail to save us from what we are in the great day of revelation, whether it come on this side of the grave or on the other, when delusions are gone, and we find ourselves in our heaven or our hell. We may eat, drink, and be merry; we may stifle the Voice within us, but some day it wakens and will be heard, and the wakening shall lead to brokenness and repentance, praise the name of the Lord! The truth is, nature is a mirror of the unseen world. Every form of death, all disease, decay, failure, pain, every fruitless seed, each ruined life, is the shadow of hell, and of the working of that spirit which destroys and mars God's handiwork, as all beauty, purity, harmony, and enduring love is the reflection of heaven.
"Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living One: I was even dead, but behold, I am living for the ages of the ages: and I have the KEYS OF DEATH AND HADES" (Rev. 1:17-18, Diaglott).
To John on the isle of Patmos there came One who announced Himself as "the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last." At His girdle hung "the keys of Hades and of death." Ah, the enemy has usurped control over mankind, ruling with fear, and bringing creation into bondage to the whole dreadful realm of death. Death was the adversary's "trump card," his final victory. He beguiled man into sin, and "sin when it is finished, brings forth death" (James 1: 15). After all the beguilement, which the enemy has exercised with ruthless working and deception, causing man to become perverted and corrupt, sinking into the quagmire of fear, sorrow, and hopelessness, the final result was death with its habitation in Hades.
When Jesus came into the world in the humiliation of the Incarnation, He started on a route of conquest that took Him through the lonely years prior to His introduction at the muddy waters of Jordan, when the bony prophetic finger of John the Baptist was pointed at Him and those significant words were uttered: "Behold, the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29). For some thirty-three and a half years He overcame and lived an impeccable life so that it was said of Him that "He was tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus' flawless life was followed bv a decisive death. He went to Calvary to endure inexplicable and incomparable suffering: suffering of which we can only have a hint; suffering we can only look at curiously with a sob in our throats; suffering veiled in the mystery of the bearing of sin; suffering surrounded by torn rocks and a sun that refused to shine and an earth that writhed in agony. As He hung there alone, God reached down His giant fist and gathered the accumulated sins of men and placed them upon Him. In the awful agony of Calvary, Christ made His soul an offering for sin. The sin of the world was imputed unto Him, and the waves of God's judgment were released upon Him. When He had become an offering for sin, He gave up the Ghost and came down from the mystery of His sufferings, having finished that work. What men saw was a man banging limp - every bone out of joint, a swollen tongue protruding from burning lips that cried out, "It is finished!"
For centuries now Christians have supposed that when Jesus cried, "It is finished," that meant that His work of redemption was completed. Many refer to this as "the finished work of Calvary." But there is too much stopping at the cross. If we stop at the cross we end with a dead Christ, and a dead Christ can save no one! Paul wrote, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins" (I Cor. 15:17).
We must get our thoughts broadened about the redemptive work of Christ. He died for our sins, but He was also raised again for our justification! There is no "finished work" at the cross. There is not even a "finished work" at the resurrection! The redemptive work of Christ was not finished until He had ascended up on high bearing the precious blood of His atonement into the Holiest Place of the heavenlies, as it is written, "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:12, 24). When the Christ cried, "It is finished," it was the cup of suffering - the excruciating agony of the cross - that was finished, not the plan of redemption. When He died He then entered the darkest night of death, and was ushered through the somber gates and behind the fearful bars of Hades. "You will not leave My soul in Hades" (Acts 2:31). The Christ not only died He went to hell!
One day, in Satan's realm - the dark domain, where souls of dead in chains of death remain, The Prince of darkness, boastful, spoke aloud to his abject, imprisoned, awestruck crowd: "Hearken, you spirits. Lo, I bring this day Another victim bound beneath my sway, Jesus, the Nazarene, the Master Fraud - Who proudly claims Himself the Son of God! I laid the snare, which the Imposter caught, And to the tree of shame the Boaster brought', And now, between two thieves He helpless hangs, In Death's dissolving and resistless pangs. You shall behold Him pass through Hades' door, To walk among the living - nevermore! My power shall hush the Archpretender's breath, And bind Him hopeless in the realm of death."
Then Hell itself in fear began to quake, And, in alarm, thus to the Devil spoke, "Jesus! Do you not fear that mighty Name? And is this Jesus - Nazarene - the same Who once cried, 'Lazarus! Come forth!' and swift the bands of death were loosed, his fetters rift, And through your gates impassable he broke, So soon as that almighty word was spoke? Let but that Jesus once invade these halls, And in that hour your boasted empire falls! What if the victim you do proudly claim Shall as the Victor bring your pride to shame?"
And then He arose the conquering Christ! What a marvelous turn of events! He took control of the situation as with one exultant shout He grasped the keys of death and hell from him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, stripped away the power of death, burst asunder the bars of hell, stalked boldly out in eternal triumph over all the dread powers of that unseen realm, entered back into His body in the garden tomb, passed through the walls of rock as water passes through a filter, ascended up far above all heavens, stepped up to the Father's throne, and presented the tokens of His redemption. The Father said, "Sit down, Son, at My right hand until your enemies are made your footstool!"
One hundred seventy-five years ago, the world was in chaos because "The Scourge of the Earth" (we know him as Napoleon Bonaparte) almost conquered the world. Everything fell before him. The British feared that soon their homeland would be invaded by the troops of France. In one last effort to stop the tremendous on-rush of Napoleon's army, they sent their greatest general. General Wellington invaded the heartland of Europe. The people waited as the forces were joined at Waterloo. Eagerly they followed the watchman on the tower of Winchester Cathedral as he looked out over the English Channel in the fog waiting for some sign of a ship to bring them news of the outcome. The hope of England rested on that report. Finally, as the fog lifted just a little bit, the watchman saw a ship blinking the signal of what had happened. The letters were taken down. Wellington Defeated. The fog sank and with it all the hope of England. The people quivered at the thought that soon they would hear the tramp of French troops upon their land. However, an hour or so later, the fog lifted and again the message was sent forth: Wellington Defeated Enemy! A wild shout of glee went out all over England; that feared invasion never came.
There is a great hero whose name is Jesus. On a hill outside the city wall of Jerusalem, He went forth to take on the combined forces of death, hell, and Satan. He did this with His hands and feet secured to across, and a lion out of the pit leaped forth in rage and threw itself upon Jesus. The world waited to see what the outcome of that life and death struggle would be. Hour after hour His life oozed forth drop by drop. The people waited, hoping that soon He would respond to their taunts, "Come down if You be the Son of God and we will believe on You." Jesus never moved. Finally the great cry - He bowed His head and gave up the Ghost. Word went out in the midst of that midday blackness, Jesus defeated. A pallor hung over the world. Life went out of the hearts of His disciples, joy was gone from the earth, all was black, hopeless and meaningless. But then, on the third day, as the sun began to break over that lonely sepulchre, a new light came with a dazzling radiance. The huge stone that blocked the door began to move back as if by some unseen hand. Those Roman troops were startled by the appearance of the messengers resplendent in white. Then, out of the darkness of that tomb, out of the very pit of hell itself, there stepped forth One who was dead and could now say, "I am He that was dead and, behold, I am alive forevermore and have the keys of death and of hell!" Word went out through all of Jerusalem. At first, just a whisper - then a voice - then a cry - then a shout - a chime - and a chant sublime:
JESUS DEFEATED DEATH!
JESUS DEFEATED HELL!
JESUS DEFEATED SATAN!
Jesus has the keys; He proved that He has the keys of both death and hell; for He unlocked both and arose Victor. Death could not hold its prey! Hell could not hold its prey! Oh Christ! You Son of the living God! You are the resurrection and the life. You were alive; You were dead; and, behold, You are alive forevermore and in Your nail-pierced hand does hold in triumph the keys of hell and death. Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? Oh gates of hell, you shall not prevail, for the Redeemer of Israel and the Saviour of the world holds in His triumphant hand the key.
Who now has the key of death? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Who now has the key to hell? Our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise God, no one passes through the gates of either of those two, hell or death, except the Lord open or close those gates. And now He proclaims, "Fear not; I have the keys of death and of hell." And what reason do we have to not fear? Those reasons are found in the statement of the Christ. He is the first. He is the last. He is the Living One. At one time He was dead, but behold, look! He is living for the ages of the ages. And this ever living One has the keys. . We commonly think of keys being used to lock or unlock doors, but there is another sense in which the word key is used. Many times when we say we have the key to a thing, we mean that we have the solution to a problem. Jesus was saying to John and to us all that He has the solution to the unseen world. He has all the problems connected with it unraveled and solved. He had worked out the problem for Himself, overcame in it, and now stands to proclaim to all men everywhere the Great Emancipation. Through His death and resurrection Christ took away from the enemy his power of death, and from hell its' power of containment; no longer can negation claim the final victory over any man - Christ has the key, and shall ultimately bring every man into the fullness of His life. Christ has the power to redeem, and He has the keys of death and hell.
Praise God! Not only does the firstborn among many brethren possess the keys of death and hell, but He shares them with His overcoming ones in whom is inwrought the triumph of His life. Jesus said to Peter, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Mat. 16:18). The gates of hell have not prevailed against our Lord Jesus Christ, and they shall not prevail against His Church. What are the "gates" of hell? Gates are used either to bar entrance or prevent exit. What does it mean that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ's Church? I used to erroneously imagine the conflict between the Church and Satan as a game of "Cat and Mouse." Satan was the cat and the Church was the mouse. Satan was big and powerful - the Church was small and weak, always on the defensive. But that's not what the verse about the gates of hell means. Far from it! The picture instead is of a victorious church laying siege to hell and breaking down its gates to release its prisoners! The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the example and prototype.
A lady wrote to me more than a year ago, expostulating about this thought of the wicked ever having any opportunity in the next world. She said she did not see it in the Bible, and craftily raised this question: "There is no need for us to witness to the lost for they will all be saved someday, someway, somewhere - right?" I thought her eyes must have been closed, as well as her ears, because the Scriptures are so meticulously clear on this point. God will never save our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, or any other person who has lived or ever shall live without a means, an instrument through which to reach them. And we are that instrument! God declares to His elect in Isa. 49:6: "I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth." The method by which God causes men to believe is revealed in Rom. 10:14-15. "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not BELIEVED? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not HEARD? and how shall they HEAR without a PREACHER? and how shall they PREACH except they be SENT?" Does the salvation of all men negate this procedure? By no means! It only intensifies it! The idea that if God is going to save all men then we need not preach or witness is an incomprehensible absurdity. It leaves God with a wonderful objective, but with no means of accomplishing His objective. The simple truth is that God purposes to save all men. The means by which He shall accomplish this is a people, a royal priesthood, the sons of God, who become one with the priestly ministry of Jesus the great High Priest, to intercede, witness, speak, exhort, warn, intreat, proclaim and preach the will of God and the good news of His glorious salvation until this ministry conquers all men for God. Most Christians are content to witness and preach the Gospel to a few lost souls here on earth, but how many would desire to so become ONE with the ministry of Jesus the Saviour until they would go even to HELL to PREACH? Jesus did!
It was for this very reason that Jesus Christ, after His death and resurrection, went to preach to the spirits in prison, the spirits of the the men who had been disobedient in the days of Noah. To them He carried the word of reconciliation, showing not only that Christ had died for their sins, but that He was risen for their justification. If perchance our minds are numbed with the glory of such a thought, let us consider the words from Weymouth translation. "Christ also once for all died for sins, the innocent One for the guilty many, in order to bring us to God . He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in (by) the Spirit, in (by) which he also went and preached to the spirits that were in prison, who in former times had been disobedient , when God's long-suffering patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons - eight in number - were brought safety through the water" (I Pet. 3:18-20).
Despite the crafty and deceptive efforts of some to twist and explain away the plain meaning of this passage, it reveals that Jesus, after His death and resurrection, went and preached, not to men in the flesh, but to spirits in prison; not to angels, not to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or any of the other Old Testament saints; but to those men who had been disobedient to the preaching of Noah in the days preceding the flood. And what did He preach to these long-departed spirits? Well, I Pet. 4:6 certainly answers this question! This passage is only a few verses further on from the one under consideration, and as Peter continues speaking of the same subject we are informed, "For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead , that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.."
The message is clear - though these were dead, and lived on in the spirit, the gospel was preached unto them that they might be judged, or dealt with, the same as men who were alive in the flesh. Please notice, precious friend of mine, it was not doom or gloom or judgment that was preached to these, but the gospel, the good news which is the power of God unto salvation was preached even to these spirits in prison, the disobedient ones!
It is written in the plainest of plain language. But there are some people who will not understand plain speech. They do not believe that the Christ went down into hell to preach the Gospel to dis-embodied spirits of wicked men; they think He went down somewhere in the heart of the earth to rescue Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the righteous people out of a place called Paradise and take them up to heaven. He may have done that, but there is not one shred of evidence for it anywhere in the pages of God's wonderful Book. The Bible nowhere says that. He preached to the disobedient and it was the Gospel that was preached to them, informing them of the death of God's Son, who was given as a propitiation for them, and that God had faith in the blood of His Son to deliver them from the bondage of sin and death and hell into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Shall our unbelief make the faith of God of none effect? Certainly not! If we believe not, yet He abides faithful. God's plan goes on just the same, and "God WILL have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:4). God will do what HE WILLS to have done whether we believe it or not.
Ah, does the fact that God purposes to save all men mean that it is meaningless to witness and preach? A thousand times no! Christ went to Hell and preached. God has chosen through the foolishness of preaching to save men, so we shall not preach less , we shall not witness less , for armed with the hope that the preaching will ultimately bear fruit we must preach more than ever before to those who are lost, for this is God's means for their salvation! Those who should give up preaching to the lost and witnessing to their loved ones are those who believe that most of them will burn for ever in hell anyway! What on earth could be more frustrating, worthless, unprofitable, vain and disappointing than witnessing and preaching to men when we actually believe that only a small fraction of them will ever be saved? Why bother? To what end all the effort? The devil gets most of them in the end anyhow! But, blessed be God! He has committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation, for God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (11 Cor. 5:19-20), therefore that is exactly what must be reconciled - the world!
I would point out to you, dear reader of these lines, that, contrary to popular teaching, it was not during the three days and three nights while the Christ's body lay in a Palestinian tomb that He went and preached to the spirits in Hades. Christ was not in Hades on a preaching mission during the time of His death, there was nothing to announce at that time, for redemption was not complete until after His resurrection and ascension. He was not there at that time to proclaim an as yet unrealized victory; He was there, rather, taking your place and mine as part of the penalty of our sin. He was there as a willing victim, not a deliverer. How and when then did He preach to the spirits in prison? Peter explains this. He says that Jesus was "put to death in the flesh, but quickened (made alive again) by the spirit," and then adds "By which (i. e. by this quickening in the spirit - the resurrection; also he went and preached to the spirits in prison." There is nothing in this text to indicate that Jesus went on a preaching journey during the time He was dead. The use of the expression "by which He preached" refers to Jesus' resurrection - "quickened by the Spirit." It was after He was raised from the dead, after He was both "delivered up for our offenses, AND raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25) that He went on this mission.
With the release of the mystery of iniquity into the Adamic race, the wickedness of man became great in the earth, "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5), and God used a restraining work to bold the upsurge of evil in check, restraining it according to HIS purpose. YET He did allow it to go a certain course for a certain length of time, knowing full well just how far HE could allow man to express these evil inclinations, and just where to draw the line. At the appropriate moment the spirits of these wicked men were put in prison, as society today puts a criminal in prison; the flood swept them away into hell and hell restrained the Antediluvians from committing more wrath upon earth.
The Christ, after His painful life on earth, His agony upon the cross, and His victorious resurrection from the dead, did not at once ascend into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. He went down to hell. He went down to the deepest hell, approaching its portals with the cry, "Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!" Entrance was not to be gained without some resistance, however, for the keepers of the gates hurled back their challenge over the ramparts of Hades: "Who is the King of glory?" To which the hosts of heaven replied, "He is the Lord strong and mighty - the Lord mighty in battle. He is the One who has just come freshly from the battlefield of Golgotha, where single-handedly He dealt a deathblow to all of Satan's plans and purposes, bore the sins of men, cut off the old Adamic order and died a decisive death, meeting the requirements for man. He is the One who has just grasped the keys of death and hell and strode out of Satan's domain triumphant. He is the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. NOW - will you lift up your heads, O you gates? Lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!"
Again, unsatisfied, the challenge rang out, "Who is this King of glory?" Again the triumphant response came, "He is the Lord of hosts. He is the King of glory. He is the One who is in charge of all the Celestial Hosts. But not only that, He is King now of a multitude which no man can number. He is God's delegated authority. He is the One who is to bring to God the fruit of His purposes. He is the King of Glory. Now swing back those gates and let the King of Glory come in!" Finally the gates could prevail against Him no longer. The gates swung back. He entered in, stepped up before the assembled throng, and began His mission.
The Christ was there on business! Wherever He went He did business for God. He went there to begin His new age deliverance ministry among a group of spirits that had been imprisoned there for two thousand three hundred and fifty years. They had been "disobedient in the days of Noah," and they were so bad that the Scripture says, "their thoughts" and all the "intents of their hearts" were "only evil continually." They were so bad that God could not wait for them to die, and another generation to arise, but in order to re-establish some order on earth He had to sweep all of them off the earth into hell. The fact that they remained there so long indicates that they were very bad, for I cannot doubt that the God of mercy was all the time in some way pleading with them to repent. They were ignorant and rebellious and would not learn of God. The race of Cain was a filthy, sensual, polygamistic race; they were hateful and violent and they were murderers. They were boastful and vile in the extreme, and would have nothing to do with the God who made them. They were the offspring of a murderer who slew his brother. I am sure that Christ felt a great, divine pity for the offspring of that murderer; and in a loving spirit, the One who reconciled the world unto God, not imputing their trespasses unto them, went down to hell.
And what was the result of such a wonderful mission? "Wherefore He says, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive... now He that ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things " (Eph. 4:8-10). Some suppose this leading "captivity captive" refers to the Lord at His ascension leading the Old Testament saints out of Paradise into the more immediate presence of God. The phrase is a quotation from the Old Testament, and in the two places where it occurs, on both occasions it plainly refers to the leading captive of FOES. In Judges 5:12, in the song of Deborah as she was leading the strains of a victory song after subduing the armies of Sisera, we read of her prophesying to Barak, singing, "Arise, Barak, and lead your captivity captive, you son of Abinoam." What was she speaking of? Barak went out against the armies of Sisera - he captured of the enemy, taking dominion over them with the sword - and any that were captured alive were led back captive to his own land, thus he "led that captivity captive," parading back victoriously. Who were the captives? The armies whom he had conquered!
So also in the passage from which the phrase is quoted in Eph. 4:8-10. The quotation is from Ps. 68:18 where we read, "You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive: You have received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord god might dwell among them! There is every suggestion here that the captives thus led were not the righteous but the unrighteous, for they are described as "rebellious." And Christ will dwell among the rebellious! What a word! What a work!
And when did Christ lead captive a host of rebellious ones? "When He ascended on high." He had preached to those spirits who were damned through their terrible wickedness in the time of Noah. Thank God, He gave them an opportunity of salvation, and He opened the Kingdom of Heaven to every son of Adam when He arose from the dead and ascended on high. He captured those wicked men from the snare of the devil and made them His subjects in the same way He conquered the proud, rebellious, murderous spirit of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. It is quite evident that Saul of Tarsus was not on his way to a revival meeting when the Lord struck him down on the road. Saul made no premeditated "decision for Christ" before his conversion. Saul's will was set on the destruction of the Church. But the will of God was that he become an apostle of Jesus Christ! When Saul, smitten, and blind, was led away into the city for his encounter with Annanias, he was led away as a captive, a conquered foe of the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul the apostle had total faith in Jesus and was motivated by the love of Christ, yet he never considered himself a "volunteer" for the Kingdom of God. He described himself as a "conscript," saying, "Not that I ... am already perfect, but I press on to lay hold of and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold upon me and made me His own." (Phil. 3:12, Amplified). He always spoke of himself as the "servant" or "slave" of Jesus Christ.
This is precisely what our Lord did when He went down into hell and led captivity captive and gave gifts to the rebellious.The Moffatt translation reads, "When He ascended on high He LED A HOST CAPTIVE." Weymouth says, "He ascended on high, He LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES." Another version renders, "When He ascended on high He CARRIED AWAY CAPTIVES." Out of the dark abyss of hell He took those prisoners. Now they are in heaven, forgiven and cleansed, whiter than the lily which sprang out of the dark earth. He took them from hell.
Then in the realm of Death's unbroken shade
Appeared the Conqueror in light arraved.
It was as tho' in crimson and in gold
The splendor of a thousand suns had rolled
Their mingled glory in one matchless beam,
And lit up Death Shade with the lustrous gleam.
Ineffable that glory; as it shone
Like to the radiance of the Great White Throne,
Whilst through the open gates and broken bars.
Toward realms of light more fadeless than the stars,
The Prince of Life a host of captives led
From out the night and bondage of the dead.
Christ has led captivity captive! The official name for such an event in the Roman world was called a "Triumph." It was a spectacle well known to every citizen of Rome. Tens of thousands of spectators would gather. On those occasions, when a great general would return, the army would gather outside the city and move through the triumphal arch on their way to the temple. First would come the trumpeters, sounding in thrilling tones the notes of victory. Behind the trumpeters would come great floats upon which had been erected the pictures of the cities which had been conquered - towers, wall, and all. Then would come rumbling by, the wagons filled with the spoils of victory. Then came seventy white oxen walking philosophically to their death, to be offered in sacrifice to the gods. Behind the oxen came, in chains, the chieftains and captains of the armies of the enemy who, like the oxen, would soon meet their end. Then there were the lictors, harpists, flutists, and those bearing incense. Great roars of victory went up! Then came the general in a purple toga, with a golden crown upon his head, with the ivory scepter in his hand, and with the laurel branch, the insignia of victory. Behind his magnificent white chariot came the rest of the conquered army, chained with their heads down. At last came the victorious army of Rome, each soldier wearing a crown. In the midst of the cries of the people, the sounds of the trumpets and the harpists, the fragrance of incense, they made their way to the Temple of Jupiter.
This was a Roman "Triumph" and Paul is telling us that Jesus Christ, the Captain of the well-fought fight, the greatest General of all times, has come and has had a greater victory than any of these. He has come, not only into the opposition and hostility of this world, but He has gone into the very portals of Hell. There He has taken on the most violent and the vilest of the underworld, and now He leads into the metropolis Of the Kingdom of God a great triumphal victory. Behind Him come all the hosts of heaven, all the saints of Old Testament times, and all those to whom He preached in Hell and that have trusted in Him. This is the Triumph!
Paul tells us, secondly, that this triumphal march, this triumphal entry into the Kingdom of God is still going on. The same apostle in II Cor. 2:14 says that God causes us always to be led in triumph by Jesus Christ. This is a triumphal march that is going on right now. But it is somewhat different from the triumphal marches of Rome. You see, in the army of Christ all of the vanquished have enlisted, and all of those that were once our enemies, such as Paul himself who once opposed Christ and who now is one of the leaders of that army. So, as we look at the Triumph of Christ we see that the vanquished and the conquerors merge as one. The apostle Paul once went forth to war against Jesus, but he was struck to the ground outside Damascus, the sword was smitten from his hand, and he was conquered by the Son of man. But in that conquest Paul was to realize his greatest victory and he, too, was to become a part of the ongoing triumph of Christ - a triumph which is even now proceeding into the heavenly city of Zion.
If Christ went to hell once, and preached, and led out a host of captives, I wonder why, on the same errand, He should not go or send to hell twice or even a thousand times? He considered the dreadfully and unspeakably wicked in the days of Noah fitting subject for His mercy, and shall He not so consider the poor, wretched creatures who have gone to hell by the billions from heathen lands and by the millions from our so-called Christian cities? They never heard the name of Jesus, except as profanely used or in some empty religious platitude. They know nothing of His word or His power. The Churches too often cared nothing for them, and care next to nothing for them today. I speak plainly, because it is necessary. I am not seeking to extenuate the crime of anyone, and I am urging no plea for the undue mitigation of just punishment. But unlimited mercy is an attribute of God, as love is His nature, and when endless punishment is taught I claim the right to enter protest against that horrible dogma. I admit, and declare, and warn men, that those who sin against light and knowledge will have the heavier penalty. They invite the just judgment of God. No man who rejects the Christ will go from earth into the joys and purity of heaven; he will certainly go to hell.
As Charles Pridgeon has stated, "One of the elements that makes punishment effective is its certainty. If a man thinks that there is a chance for him to escape the punishment for a wrong doing, he may take that chance. Every one needs to learn that this law of certainty has no exceptions. There is no chance about it; what you sow you reap (Gal. 6:7). Every sin has its certain consequences. This is true even of the wrongdoer who thinks that he has escaped the working of this law. He is mistaken. The evil has already wrought damage to his character, and one day its direful consequence will be manifest, unless divinely dealt with. Every offer of salvation; every presentation of more or new light; and every opportunity proffered, brings added responsibility. Every rejection increases guilt and multiplies the consequences. From this law there is no escape. The normal harvest exceeds by many fold the sowing. This is a wise provision in reference to punishment. The enjoyment or gain that comes through sin is very small in proportion to the evil consequences that naturally come to the one who so yields. This is one of the natural laws of the harvest. God means this law to cause men to halt and to cease from sin. Sin costs the sinner too dear; it cost God His only begotten Son!"
But, on the other hand, the doctrine that a temporal fault is to be punished with an eternal punishment is, in the very nature of things, unreasonable, illogical, and wicked. Such a doctrine could not be divine. As Adam fell, we fall each one, for Adam lives yet in his progeny. Because Adam had the principle of sin and death imposed as an actual feature of his biological life, his descendants also have inherited a life principle which involves a built-in death principle. The moment a child is conceived the nature of disobedience is in him and the power of death - so that in the same moment he is conceived he is a sinner by nature and also begins to die; he is dying ere he is born, and eventually the death principle wins out over the life principle and he does die. And, fallen in Adam, men prove he is in them, by walking just as he walked. Adam yet relives old Adam's life in every unregenerated man, as Christ in us yet lives Christ's life.
With all emphasis I must declare that at the very most, the worst offender on earth, has committed a crime which is inherent in his own nature, and the eye of the all-seeing God sees what even we. in most cases, cannot see, that the most wicked sinner on earth is simply doing that over which he really has no control. People tell me that "man has a choice," but I declare to you that when I came into this world some 47 years ago Adam had already made my choice for me. I wasn't consulted, God didn't ask me whether I would prefer to be born a sinner or a saint - Adam answered that question for me in the dim and distant past! What "choice " do dead men have? Never in my life did I have a choice until the day when the Spirit of God came and illumined my mind, convincing me of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and showing me the things of Christ, taking the glories of Him and unveiling them to my astonished soul; then, and not until then did I have a choice - and it did not take me long, beloved friend, to make that choice!
The Psalmist acknowledged that he had been "shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5). This was not a confession of some illicit act on the part of his mother, which resulted in his birth. Perish the thought! For the following verses bear out the fact that it was the hereditary "mystery of iniquity" which was passed upon all men, stamped upon the very "genes" of his makeup, the "seed of Adam" has blueprinted into its genes the propensities for evil, which he acknowledged, and for which he sought deliverance. "Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part You shall make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:6-7, 10).
Men have, in their very blood, been saturated with sin, with lawlessness, with nervous temperaments and diseases which have been the direct cause of their transgression. God in His great mercy knows this, and thus it is written, "And the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done" (Gen. 8:21). I do not hesitate to say that all the multiplied sins upon earth today are the result of hereditary weaknesses, inherited from Adam! And if God in His great mercy will not send a flood again, because He pities man in his weakness, shall He then proceed to commit an even more horrendous act by torturing men in everlasting hell-fire?
Any penalty which does not take into account the fact that a poor miserable human creature has been the victim of such an inheritance is an unjust penalty. The law of man may punish without mercy, but even that law should be merciful to the ignorant. But even when the extreme penalty of death has been visited upon the transgressors, the bigot adds to it a penalty far in excess of the crime when he says that a man who has not been drawn to the Lord will go to a burning, torturing hell and live on in misery, without hope or mercy, through unending eternity. That is a vile and devilish doctrine, which has no support in the Word of God. Those who say otherwise are ignorant or perversely wicked.
It is foolish to say that it is necessary to preach an everlasting hell to keep people from being wicked. I should be wicked if I preached it, and in conflict with both the love and the justice of God who is the Father of my spirit, and the Creator of my soul and body. I clearly see that it would be vile and wicked to make punishment so tremendously exceed the guilt. One should take into account what God remembers in dealing with humanity. He never forgets that we are "dust," and He remembers just the kind of muck from which our souls and bodies came. "Oh," you say, "when people are wholly bad, and their thoughts are evil, and that continually, they must go to hell!" Yes, that is right! they cannot go to heaven! And they must stay there for ever and ever!" you erroneously add. Then why did God send His Son to get them out of hell? Why did the Christ, after He arose from the dead, grab the keys of death and hell and descend into hell? What was He doing there? WHY does the blessed Redeemer HOLD THE KEYS? Thank God! hell is not the end of the matter. Banishment and torment do not spell the ultimate results of God's great plan. The end of all God's dealings is one of victory, deliverance, and full redemption and restoration.
To tell me, as I find in the Westminster Confession of Faith, that God had, by a predestined plan, so constructed man that he was born, and from all eternity designed to be wicked, and a vessel of wrath, that God Almighty might show His power by sending him to everlasting hell that is the most infernal lie that a man's tongue could utter, or type could print. That my God, the infinitely good and holy God, was the predestinator, and creator of multitudes of harlots, whoremongers, thieves, murderers, liars, to let them grow up, and to live and lust and die, and then glorify Himself by torturing them in eternal hell! Horrible! I tell you that all the divines that ever hatched a cocatrice egg could never make me swallow that.
Write it between your eyes and never forget it. The Good Shepherd who came from heaven, and gave His life, will seek, and seek, and seek, and save, and save, and save, until He has brought all men back to God. This is the work of the Redeemer and the redeemed. I desire to make this perfectly clear, because it is necessary to do so. When Jesus came He sought for sinners, wherever Satan had gone. He sent His disciples into the world to seek even farther for them. He seeks for sinners still. And He shall seek for them throughout ages yet unborn. The Good Shepherd will seek them until He finds them. If He didn't, He wouldn't he the Good Shepherd! He will seek them on earth and in hell. "Where shall I go from Your presence" the Psalmist asks. That question is unanswered and unanswerable. It has stood upon the page of Scripture for three thousand years, and no one yet of all the myriads that have read it has been able to devise a reply. Heaven says, Not here. Hell says, Nor here. It is not among angels, or demons, or the lost, or in the vast silent spaces of eternity. There is no creature anywhere not manifest to His sight. He who made vultures, able from immense heights to discern the least morsel on the desert floor, has eyes better than they. Then David says, "If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there!" (Ps. 139:8). Thanks be to God that He will seek His lost ones through all the Universe - through all the Earths and all the Hells until He has found and saved them all. He must seek until He finds.
"Where are you going Shepherd?
To find My sheep.
How far will you go?
As far as My sheep.
How far may that be?
To the world's end.
How long will you seek it?
Until I find it.
When you find it,
will it come to you?
No, it will flee from Me.
Where will it go then?
To the rocks and the sand.
When will it stop?
When it can run no more.
What will you do then?
Carry it home.
Friends, you will never get away from Jesus. Jesus will follow you everywhere and demand your heart's surrender. I am so glad for a Gospel that is coextensive with, and greater than, the devil's work in spirit soul, and body. I am so glad for a Gospel that is not limited to this age, but reaches out to all ages! I am so glad for a Gospel which tells me that God has made a way by which even His banished may return. I am so glad for a Gospel that is not limited to earth, but reaches into the depths of death and hell. I am so glad for a Gospel of Everlasting Hope, of Everlasting expectation, and for the conviction and divine revelation that the miserable and the wicked shall at last be brought to repent of their sin, and to find their God and Father. I should not want to be an elder, or pastor, or leader, of a people that would wish me to preach eternal damnation.
Mothers, your boys have sinned. They were dragged into sin and died in sin, and you have been weeping because they went to hell. Mothers, if the Christ would guide you down to hell to talk to your son there, would you not go? Would you not go and plead with your son to come back with you to the Kingdom of God? If I had my choice of any mission field, I think, if the Lord would send me there, I would like to have a lick at the devil at his headquarters in hell. I have never been afraid of him on earth, and I will not be afraid of him in hell. I would like to take the captives out of his hands. I mean what I have said, that if ever I am permitted in the good grace of God, there is not a hell in the universe to which I would not ask to be sent as a revelation of the Christ, that He might fill even that part of the "all things." There is nothing I should like better than to be sent on an evangelistic tour down to hell, and clean it out.
There is no hell that could be more vile than the hell I see around me right here in Florida; the hell of sin, sorrow, torment, fear, demon possession, hatred, murder, strife, drugs, vile rock music, immorality, rebellion, cursing, nervous breakdown, godlessness and wretchedness. We have a great deal of hell here in Florida, and there are no hells that could be worse than Miami, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, London, Hong Kong and Calcutta. "Oh, but there is a hell that is full of murderers!" you say. Well, these cities today are full of murderers. "But there is a hell that is full of devils!" you say. Well, these cities today are full of devils. "But there is yet another hell that is filled with liars, fornicators, and blasphemers!" you say. Well, these cities today are filled with liars, fornicators, and blasphemers. "Ah, but there is a hell where the devil himself dwells!" you say. Well, the devil himself is also right here on this earth, cursed to crawl upon his belly, to eat the dust of the carnal mind and nature of man. He that is joined to the devil is one satanic spirit. Or is it that people cannot be that bad? What about Dachau and Buchenwald? Just let a war start and see what devilish, satanic, vile, brutal, inhuman things men do!
Germany is the place where the Reformation started, it is a place of high education and culture. But it was Germany also where in the second world war some people made lampshades out of people's skins. It was a German who said, "We will eliminate the Jews from the face of the earth," and Germans killed in mass killings and devilish tortures. Remember how the Church in the dark ages persecuted the saints? You would not believe that a human being could conceive such evil! What makes them act like that? He that is joined to Satan is one spirit with him! That is why Cain slew Abel. The devil is a murderer from the beginning and that murderous spirit entered into Cain.
We have lots of hell beyond us, but our work is to follow Christ, to be willing, as Sons, not only to ascend the throne, exalted far above all heavens, but to be poured out as a River of Life into the lowest parts of the earth, into all the hells, and clean them out by His conquering power and transforming life, until there is no more hell anywhere. What father would not go to any of the hells of the world, what father would not trudge through the saloons of the Bowery or the sex-filth of Times Square in the hope that he might run across his son or his daughter who is captive to the devil there and bring them back to God and to the Kingdom? This is the Spirit of the Father who "so loved the world" and it is the Spirit of the Son who "descended into the lower parts of the earth" and it is the Spirit of every Son of God, born of the incorruptible seed of a Divine Hope, a Divine Faith and a Divine Love.
If you would not walk across the street to see some poor soul delivered and converted by the redeeming power of Christ, don't waste your time relating to me how you are one of God's "chosen ones" to help in the delivering of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption. The Spirit of Reconciliation must reign within our hearts even now. The Ministry of Reconciliation must proceed from our lives even now. Rivers of Living Water must, even now, pour forth from out of our innermost being, bringing hope and victory and life to all who will come and drink!
While preaching about the harlot who washed the feet of Jesus, J. A. Dowie related the following story which graphically illustrates the truth of which I write:
"This poor woman who came in from the streets is called 'Hamartolos'; in the original word, that is to say, a prostitute, a harlot; a poor, wretched, outcast woman. Oh, is there any being upon God's earth so much to be pitied, so deplorably miserable, as such an one? Perhaps she had known virtue, and a happy home. She may have been pampered and petted; perhaps educated and made to think that she was the cynosure of all eyes. Now she finds herself, by the betrayal of her heart's affection, a poor wretched outcast, whose only means of sustenance is to prey upon unclean and vicious and foul humanity. I know nothing so sad as this. In all its naked horror it appeals to no one. I have never ceased to shrink almost with terror, man of mature years though I now am, whenever I have been accosted in the street by such an one.
One night in Melbourne, Australia I had been engaged in writing in a newspaper office. I had been asked to write something for that paper, and I had written it for God, and for the people. It was very late. I came downstairs, and stood out in the cold night air for a moment, with bared head. I was looking up at the stars from the quiet, silent street. A little way off was a great thoroughfare where the people were coming out of the theater, and were crowding the street. I was in a quiet part of the street, standing there thinking what way I should go home; whether I should take a cab or whether I should walk.
I was enjoying, for a moment or two, that cool, fresh air, when I heard a clear and beautiful voice say to me, 'Good evening, sir.' I turned around and saw the lovely face of a very beautiful girl. I said, 'Good evening,' but I trembled as I said it; because I knew at once what kind of woman she was. Yet she did not seem to be deeply stained with sin. 'Good evening,' she said; and I again said, 'Good evening,' and that was all. She said, 'Will you go home with me?' And then, having silently prayed, I turned to her and said, 'Home with you?' 'Yes.' 'Where is your home?' So she told me. 'Oh, no,' I said, 'that is not your home. Your home is the house of her which is the gate of hell. The dead are there. If I went home with you I should share the fate of all who enter there, unless God delivers them. But will you go home with me?' She was trembling violently, holding on to an iron post with a ring at the top of it, and her fingers were grasping the ring. 'Home with you?' she said. 'Yes, sir, but where do you live?' I said, 'I live on earth, but my home is in the heavens. Oh, won't you go home with me to heaven, I will take you to a lovely woman tonight in Melbourne who will be as kind to you as to her own daughter.' She then knew that she had spoken to one who was a child of God.
"I am sure that she had not been long in sin. She opened her eyes wide and held up her hand, and I will never forget her cry - 'It is too late. The waters have gone over me. It is too late,' and with that she darted away. I went after her, but she was lost in a moment amidst the great multitude that was surging up and down the streets. 'Too late! The waters have gone over me.' I went home that night with these words ringing in my ears: 'Too late! Too late! The waters have gone over me.' I said, 'It is not so, God; we shall search for that woman in this city until we find her.' And blessed be God, today that woman is living a holy and happy and virtuous life"
This is the ministry of the Good Shepherd.
This is the ministry of the Son and the Sons.
Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o'er the erring one, Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Down in the human heart, Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, Awakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Oh God! Every man of the untold billions of earth is Your creative offspring. They may have wandered far from You. The mark of Cain may be upon the brow; but even Cain You would permit no man to kill; and You did send into the abyss Your sinless Son to bring back those who had sinned when the whole world rejected Your thousands of years before. Here in this land, and in all lands, there are many spirits in the prisonhouse of sin and darkness, and damning lust and fear, and vile habits and wretchedness, and all kinds of devious and guilty ways. God bring them out into the light! Help us, Oh Father, to BE THE LIGHT and shine, and shine, and shine, till there is no more darkness anywhere. Help all who read these lines to understand Your great love.
Jude tells us to "convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22-23). It is our job to do the snatching. Christ has shed His blood and poured out the Holy Spirit of power! Our part is to pick up our weapons and go out against the powers of darkness and drive them off the land. Christ bought us with His own blood - we belong to Him. And so, by the same token, do all men. John said that Jesus "is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn. 2:2). No person is exempt from Christ's work of salvation. What remains is for us to work with God - to fight the good fight that loosens Satan's bold on lost men and women and compels them to come into the banquet hall. Do you believe that the weapons with which God has equipped you are effective? Do you believe that merely speaking the Word of Reconciliation in faith, in utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit, will cast down strongholds and bring down every high thing that exalts itself against God? Do you believe that your weapons can and will bring minds - rebellious minds to obey Christ? They will! Let us challenge hell's gates. They cannot prevail against God's Church! Let us break them down in order to bring out the captives that they might serve Christ and know true freedom.
I do not wonder sometimes that those who only read my writing think that I am a hard and vindictive man, especially as I warn men of the error and abominable apostasy of the nominal Church systems. But if you only knew, I am one of the most peaceable and gentle men in the world. I am a very quiet man (except in the pulpit), and believe that I am merciful and compassionate toward every sinner. I have only been a fighter because I had to fight. Was Jesus Christ not a great fighter? Is He not a great fighter still? And is He not the Prince of Peace? Is He not God's Lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah? And is He not the Lamb of God? God's Lion is a Lamb! God's Lamb is a Lion!
I call God to witness and you to witness that when I have had to fight - for whom have I fought? I fought for God. I fought for Truth. I fought for reality. I fought against the false shepherds who were taking away the key of knowledge, who entered not in themselves, and them that were entering in they hindered. I fought those who fought the right ways of the Lord, deceiving the people and holding them in bondage to slavish forms of empty religion. Stephen fought the devils in the Jewish system to their very faces although he knew he would die. He saw his Master in the heavens. Do you see your Master in the heavens? Do you see Him by your side? Do you know Him within, in the depths of your spirit? Do you hear His voice? Do you know what He wants you to do? He wants you to follow in His steps, to become His salvation unto the ends of the earth. He wants you to deliver His creation from sin, sorrow, death, hell, and the demonic power which curses this world. Who follow in His train? Not those whose Christianity consists in a feeble conformity to a creed, and go through the motions of a Sunday morning ritual.
The peace of God means war with sin. He that is a friend of evil is the enemy of God. This is the kind of peace Jesus left. He made warriors of men. They went forth to fight the world and the devil, in Greece and Rome, with thirty thousand gods. They marched up the Acropolis; they marched upon the Parthenon; they threw down the altars of the boni dei; they threw down the altars of Venus; they destroyed the altars of Jove; they threw down the altars of Mercury. They smashed them, by the Spirit's power they trampled upon them; they triumphed, and they died.
Oh, that is such a sublime verse where Jesus said, "All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and teach all nations..." (Mat. 28:18-19). Do you see that? There is a tremendous power in that "Therefore," I am with you. I will back you. Every angel in heaven if needful will come forth and surround you. Fight! What does it matter, the puny governments and armies and courts of THIS WORLD? All authority is given to the Christ of God, and we are His body! The hosts of God will troop over all the skies, ten thousand times ten thousand millions, if need be. "I command ... Go therefore, you poor fishermen, and tax-gatherers and discredited rabbis, go, I am with you." If only we realized what power there is behind us!
General Grant marched out because he felt that it was an honest nation behind him that would lay all its millions of dollars down to carry that thing through, and can we not march out and take the devil's forts, knowing that we have got all the omnipotence of heaven with us? Cowards you are, talking about "holding the fort"! Get out of your forts! What is the use of going inside of fortifications? I tell you, the army that fights behind entrenchments is whipped every time. God is raising up a Sonship company that will go for the devil's fortresses, to batter him, shatter him and break up his kingdom. God is even now, in the end of this age, preparing an army of overcoming ones who shall go forth in the fullness of the power of the Spirit to pull down the strongholds of creed and ritual and religious ignorance and set the captives free; who will beat down the strongholds of sin and rebellion and let the prisoners go free!
I am not afraid to take the blows from the devil, and I am not afraid to give blows! I have a shield upon which I can take the fiery darts. I am glad for the fight. It is the good fight of faith. It is the good fight of love. The thing, however, that bouys up my heart above everything else is the hope, the hope that springs perennial in this breast, that I shall see victory; victory for purity and righteousness and peace; that I shall hear a song of universal joy from the whole earth, and from bell, and from the farthest reaches of the universe when they sing: "Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigns, and the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." Blessed hope!
We must have it! We shall fight it out to the end, and we will win. Sin shall be abolished. Disease, death, pain, and hell shall pass away. Then, O Christ, and then alone, will You see the travail of Your soul and be satisfied. Then, O Christ, and then alone, can we be satisfied; when the last rebel has bowed at Your feet, and there is no more fight; for there is no more rebellion anywhere. Hallelujah! God shall reign forever! It is a living hope; this hope that, at last, every poor sinner will have heard the glad sound, and that at last every poor spirit in earth and heaven and hell will bow before the Christ, and will own His sway, and there shall be harmony and peace and unity everywhere, for God shall be All in All. That is my hope.
"Oh," you reply, "the story of Lazarus, and the rich man who in Hades lifted up his eyes, being in torments, teaches us that there is no bridge between heaven and hell, no way to escape the tormenting fire." I shall speak very plainly about that. In the first place the story of the rich man and Lazarus is usually considered without any reference to its setting. Near the close of Jesus' ministry He had eaten dinner with a Pharisee, at which time He not only healed a man with dropsy, but gave some pointed instructions about how to give a dinner party. When He left the house, great throngs followed Him (Lk. 14:25).
Many of this crowd were publicans and sinners. In Lk. 15:1-2 we read, "Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners to hear Him, and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners, and eats with them." It is against this background of criticism from the scribes and Pharisees that the teaching of Lk. 15 and 16 are given. That whole discourse is called a parable. "And He spoke this parable unto them, saying" (Lk. 15:3). The Greek is very definite in making the word for parable clearly a singular noun. It is "the parable this." Five seemingly separate stories enter into His teaching to carry the truth of this parable. His usual method of teaching all but the inner circle of His disciples was by a parable. "All these things spoke Jesus in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spoke He nothing unto them" (Mat. 13:34). "But privately to His disciples He expounded all things" (Mk. 4:34).
Now, it is not my purpose to explain the meaning of the parable in this writing, for that is another story altogether. I would be remiss if I did not point out, however, that while the story itself is a parable, in all parables there must be a correspondence between the type and the antitype or they fail to have validity as parables. Let me illustrate. Jesus spoke a parable, saying, "Behold, a sower went forth to sow." He then explained how the seed fell upon various kinds of soil, and the result from each. Now, since this is a parable, it is obvious that Jesus is not just relating a series of facts; He is not talking about a certain literal farmer sowing actual seed such as wheat or corn. Each part of the story is a symbol, a metaphor, an illustration of something else, and we know, of course, that the sower is the Christ, the seed is the Word of the Kingdom and the soils are different kinds of hearts. But - if there were no such thing as seed, and no such activity as sowing, and no actual soil in existence, then the parable would have no base, no strength, no meaning - it would not be a parable at all, but merely a fantastic, unrealistic, imaginary fairy tale! It is the FACT of seed, sowers, and soils that gives the parable its strength.
So, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, if there is no such thing as Hades, and if there is no sense of suffering of punishment in Hades, then the application of the parable fails. There must be some reality to these things or the parable is not a parable at all! But in the parable Lazarus is said to be in "Abraham's bosom." The phrase "Abraham's bosom" was a well-known one, current among the people of Judea to express the state of the faithful Israelite who had died and been "gathered unto his fathers." Abraham's bosom typifies a position of acceptance and favor in the Kingdom of God, for, "If you be Christ's, then you are Abraham 's seed , and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29), and "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mat. 8:11).
The rich man wanted Lazarus to come and cool his tongue. He had been a very bad man, and so was tormented in the hell he had created for himself. But when he asked that Lazarus should cross, Abraham said, "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; no one can cross it." Abraham could not cross that gulf. It was a fixed gulf to him. Ah, no, Abraham could not get across to him! I know Abraham could not pass over it, and I do not wonder at Abraham's not being able to pass over it. I am not a great admirer of Abraham. A man that will hide behind his wife and say she is his sister in order to save his own skin, is not to be greatly admired! That is just what Abraham did. Abraham got behind Sarah's robes, saying to her in effect as follows: "Now, when Abimelech comes along, you say to him that you are my sister, and not my wife; you are so beautiful that if he knows you are my wife he will kill me. But it won't matter, even though you are carried off to his harem, you will know Abraham's skin is alright." I think that was a very pitiful kind of a man, if his name was Abraham. I do not wonder that he could not cross the gulf.
I do not wonder that Isaac could not cross. He was just the same kind of fellow, and did exactly the same thing. I do not wonder that Jacob could not cross. He was one of the cutest scamps that ever lived. He persuaded his brother to sell him his whole inheritance, his entire birthright, for a mess of portage, and then deceived his poor old blind father and brazenly lied and stole his brother's blessing. A very mean man was Jacob. "But these are Patriarchs!" you say. I know that, that shows what a poor lot the best of them were. Wonderful that God Almighty could make so much out of them! And we are a poor lot, too, and it is wonderful what God can make out of us.
The Bible says that Abraham could not cross that abyss, nor could Lazarus. There is no denying that, but the Christ crossed that abyss. There is the difference! You say that Abraham said, "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they which would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us." Let me remind you that, although Abraham said that, the Christ did not. That is right, Abraham, you could not bridge it! And even if you could, you did not have the keys to the gates . But the Christ crossed that gulf, and His salvation bridged it. Christ bridged it! The Christ Himself is the bridge! It is no use talking nonsense, saying that the gulf was not bridged. It was not bridged at the time Jesus told that story, but when He arose and grasped the keys of death and of hell, He made a way for His banished to return.
It was bridged by Jesus Christ, and there is not any gulf that He cannot bridge. I believe it! If there is, then He is not God, because there is no gulf that God and His love cannot bridge. Jesus Christ has bridged the gulf between God and man, between Israelite and Gentile, between bond and free, between male and female, between rich and poor, and between heaven and hell. He has bridged all the gulfs, blessed be His name, and so "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Thank God! a greater than Abraham is here. He bridges the gulf between heaven and earth and between earth and hell, for it is written, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11). Weymouth translates, "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of beings in the highest heavens, of those on the earth, and of those in the underworld, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." The hymn writer captured the wonderful truth of this when he penned these immortal words:
Oh, the love that drew salvation's plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty GULF THAT GOD DID SPAN at Calvary!
My greatest desire is to be filled with all the fullness of God and come into the image of Jesus Christ. My greatest obsession is that I might be counted worthy to stand in that glorious company of the manifested sons of God. As God knows my heart, it is not a selfish desire. The reason I want to be like Jesus is because I love Him so; but also because it is the only way I can ever be used in the restoration of fallen creation. I see the desperate needs of the world around me, and realize that I am powerless to do anything about it on a sufficient scale. Oh, yes, I can pray, agree with God, and see occasional conversions, deliverances, and victories. But anyone who says that they have reached the place where their ministry is meeting the needs of this sin-cursed world is either blind to the needs of man, a proud hypocrite, or a compulsive liar.
But God has a purpose in His people. God's purpose is NOT to redeem a bunch of people to sit at a bus stop and wait for a heavenly bus to come along and take them out of this mess. God is preparing SONS to change the world, to seek and save, to redeem and restore all back into God. These Sons will not be found looking up into the sky, expecting Jesus to come and snatch them away to heaven! God has redeemed us and is putting Himself into us so that He may send us to clean up the mess that the devil has made.
For this day of deliverance the whole creation groans! For these Sons who shall bring the deliverance all creation travails! "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us . For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God...because the creation itself also shall he delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now" (Rom. 8:18-22). From within the prisonhouse of sin and death and hell can be heard the groaning and the travailing of the whole creation. We know this groaning is not a groaning for the manifestation of merely God or of His Son, Jesus the Christ. Somehow, through the infinite wisdom and work of God, there is a faint ray of knowledge deep within the subconsciousness of the prisoners, that their release is going to come through the ministry of the Sons of God. God will not singlehandedly deliver the prisoners, and neither will Jesus the Christ. But some of the very prisoners of that prison, who once mingled with all the rest, have been ushered out to become a firstfruit of redemption and commissioned of God, chosen of God to pass through a process of training, preparation, testing. and transformation that they may return and release the captives.
The processing, the purging, the change, the transformation and the testing that the chosen ones must go through is of great importance to us. Hear now the inspired admonition of the apostle Paul in whose spirit this hope burned brightly: "I entreat you, therefore, brethren, by the tender compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice holy, well-pleasing to God, your rational service. And do not conform yourselves to this age, but transform yourselves by the renovation of your mind, that you may ascertain what is the will of God, the good, and well-pleasing, and perfect" (Rom. 12:1-2, Diaglott).
In God's wonderful plan there is the call for the presenting of our bodies. There is the ascertaining of His will, and the being conformed to the age and the ages that are to come. We are not to be married to this age, but we are to remain unmarried to it that we might be married to that age and those ages that are coming. The children of this age, Jesus said, marry and are given in marriage to this age, but the children of the resurrection, the Sons of God, those destined to deliver the creation, neither marry nor are given in marriage to this age, but are keeping themselves unto the age and the ages to come, and the gracious and glorious ministry reserved for that time.
Ah, let us surrender ourselves unto God for the blessing and deliverance of ALL CREATION!