FUTURE PUNISHMENT ETERNAL
From two sermons by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843)
“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
It is very interesting to notice who they are in the Bible that speak about hell. Now, some think that speaking about hell is not preaching the gospel; and others think that simple men have no right to speak of it. Now, to them who think it is not gospel preaching, I say it is the truthÂ—the Word of God; and to them who say it is not right to speak about it, I would have them notice who it is that speaks most about it. Let us consider,
1. The persons in the Bible that speak most about hell.
2. Why these persons speak so plainly of hell.
3. The names given to hell.
4. The hell spoken of in the Bible is not annihilation.
5. This eternal hell is closed in and surrounded by the attributes of God.
1. Let us consider the persons in the Bible that speak about hell. And the first I would mention is David. He was a man after God’s own heart, yet he speaks of hell. He who wrote all the Psalms, the sweet Psalmist of Israel; he who was filled with love to men, and love to God; yet hear what he says about hell: ‘The sorrows of hell compassed me about,’ Psalm 18.5. Again, ‘The sorrows of death compassed me about, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me,’ Psalm
116.3. And hear of his deliverance: ‘And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell,’ Psalm 86.13. And he tells us also of the fate of the ungodly that will not accept Christ: ‘The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,’ Psalm 9.17. ‘Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup,’ Psalm 11.6. ‘Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell,’ Psalm 55.15. Now, whatever you think of the propriety of speaking about hell, David did not think it wrong, for he sang about it.
The next person I would mention is Paul. He was filled with the love of Christ, and he had great love to sinners. Surely that love wherewith God loved Jesus was in Paul. He loved his enemies:
notice when he stood before Agrippa, what his feelings were, ‘I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds,’ Acts 26.29. He wished them to have the same loveÂ—the same joyÂ— the same peaceÂ—the same hope of glory. Now, Paul never mentions the word hell. It seemed as if it were too awful a word for him to mention; yet hear what he says, ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,’ Rom. 9.22. ‘For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction,’ Phil. 3.18. ‘For when they shall say peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them,’ 1 Thess. 5.3. ‘The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,’ 2 Thess .1.7-9. Do not these show you, brethren, that they that have most love in their hearts speak most of hell?
The next person I would speak of is John, the beloved disciple. He had leaned on Jesus’ bosom at the last supper, and drawn love out of his bosom. His character was love. You will notice how affectionately his epistles are written. He addresses them ‘beloved,’ little children.’ Yet he speaks of hell; he calls it, seven times over, the bottomless pit’Â—the pit where sinners shall sink through all eternity. He calls it, the great winepress of the wrath of God, Rev. 14.19. But John has got another name for hell, ‘the lake of fire,’ Rev. 20.14. It had often been called ‘hell’; but it was left for John, the beloved disciple, to call it ‘the lake of fire.’
The next person I shall mention is the Lord Jesus Himself. although He came from God, and ‘God is love,’ though He came to pluck brands from the burning, yet He speaks of hell. Though His
mouth was most sweet, and His lips like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrhÂ—though ‘the Lord God had given him the tongue of the learned, that he should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary’; though He spake as never man spakeÂ—yet He spoke of hell. Hear what He says, ‘Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire,’ Matt. 5.22. But I think the most awful words that ever came from his lips were, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ Matt. 23.33. again, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,’ Matt. 15.41. And He speaks of it in some of His parables too: ‘The angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth,’Matt. 13.49,50. And He repeats the words of our text three times over. And could anything be plainer than the words in Mark: ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’
2. Let us consider, dear brethren, why these persons speak so plainly of hell.
1. Because it is all true. Christ is the faithful and true witness. Once He said, ‘If it were not so, I would have told you.’ Once He said to Pilate: ‘Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’ He
Himself is ‘the truth.’ ‘It is impossible for God to lie.’ When Jesus appeared on earth. He came with love, He came to tell sinners of hell, and of a Saviour to save from hell; and how could He keep it back? He saw into hell, and how could He not speak of it? He was the faithful witness; so it was with David, Paul, and John. Paul said he had kept nothing backÂ—he had not shunned to declare all the counsel of God. Now, how could he have said that, if he had not spoken of hell as he did? So must ministers. Suppose I never were to mention hell again, would that make it less tolerable? Oh, it is true! and we cannot but mention it.
2. Because they were full of love to sinners. They are the best friends that do not flatter us. You know, beloved, Christ’s bosom flowed with love. Out of love He had not where to lay His head; out of love He came to die; out of love, with tears He said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Matt. 23.37. And with the same breath He said, ‘How can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ So it was with Paul:
‘Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,’ 2 Cor. 5.11. Paul would weep over sinners; he says,’For many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ,’ Phil. 3.18. His tears fell on the parchment as he wrote. Oh! if we had more love to you, we
would tell you more about hell. They do not love you that do not warn you, poor hell-deserving sinners. O remember that love warns!
3. A third reason why they spoke so plainly of hell, was that they might be free from bloodguiltiness. Jesus did not want your blood laid at His door, therefore He spoke of the ‘furnace of fire,’ and of the worm that dieth not.’ Ah! He says, ‘How often would I have gathered you, but you would not!’ God would not have bloodguiltiness laid to His charge. He says, ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil way, for why will ye die?’ So it was with David: ‘Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God!’ Psalm 51.14. It was fear of blood-guiltiness that made David speak so plainly. So it was with Paul; he -says, ‘I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men,’ Acts 20.26. So it is with ministersÂ—we must acquit our conscience, and if you go to the judgment-seat unpardoned, unsaved, your blood will be upon your own heads. As I was walking in the fields yesterday, that thought came with overwhelming power into my mind, that every one I preached to would soon stand before the judgment-seat, and be sent either to heaven or hell. Therefore, brethren, I must warn you, I must tell you about hell.
3. Let us consider the names given to hell in the Word of God. And the first is ‘fire’; it is taken from an earthly element suited to our capacity, as Christ takes to Himself a name to suit us, as a shepherd, a door, a way, a rock, an apple tree, the rose of Sharon, etc. So when God speaks of heaven. He calls it Paradise, a city which hath foundations, golden streets, pearly gates. Now, one of these names will not describe it, nor any of them; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things God hath prepared for them that love Him. So when God speaks of hell He calls it ‘a furnace of fire,’ ‘a bottomless pit,’ ‘perdition.’ Now, one of these names will not do, but take them altogether, and you may conceive something of what hell is.
The first name given to hell is ‘fire.’ On the southern side of Mount Zion there is a valley covered over with vinesÂ—it is the valley of Hinnom, where Manasseh made his children pass through the fire of Moloch. Now, this is the name by which Christ calls it, ‘a valley of fire.’ And, again, He calls it’ a furnace of fire,’ the walls will be fire;
it will be fire above and below, and fire all round about. Again it is called a ‘lake of fire.’ The idea is something like a furnace of fire; it will be enclosed with burning mountains of brass. There will be no wreath of wind to pass over their faces; it will be flames of fire for ever and ever. It is called ‘devouring fire.’ ‘Who among us shall
dwell with the devouring fire,’ Isaiah 33.14. Compare this with Hebrews 12.29: ‘For our God is a consuming fire.’ It is the nature of fire to consume, so it is with the fire of hell; but it will never annihilate the damned. O it is a fire that will never be quenched; even the burning volcanoes will cease to burn, and that sun now sweetly shining upon us will cease to burn, and that very fire that is to burn up the elements will be quenched; but this fire is never quenched.
Another name given to hell in the Word of God is ‘the prison.’ So we learn that the multitudes that perished at the flood are shut up in this prison. Ah! sinner, if you are shut up in it you will never come out till you have paid the uttermost farthing, and that you will never doÂ—the bars are the justice and holiness of God.
Another name given to hell is ‘the pit.’ Ah! it is the bottomless pit, where you will sink for ever and ever; it will be a continual sinking deeper and deeper every day. Ah! sinner, is it not time to begin and cry, ‘Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink’? ‘Let not the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me’?
Another name given to hell in the Word of God is ‘a falling into the hands of God,’ ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,’Heb. 10.31. ‘Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?’ Ezek. 22.14. God will be your irreconcilable enemy, sinner. God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he should live Â— that God, I say, will be your eternal enemy if you die ChristlessÂ—if you will not believe Â— if you will not be saved. O what will you do, poor sinner, when his wrath is kindled?
Another name given to hell is ‘the second death.’ ‘And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death,’ Rev. 20.14. This is the meaning of God’s threatening to Adam: ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ Perhaps you may have stood by the bed of a dying sinner, and you may have seen how he gasps for breath Â— his teeth clenched Â— his hands clasp the bed-clothes Â— his breath turns fainter and fainter till it dies away. Ah! this is the first death: and is like the second death. Ah! the man would try to resist, but he finds it is in vain; he finds eternal hell begun, and God dealing with him, and he sinks into gloom and dark despair. This is the death sinners are to die, and yet never die.
Another name given to hell is ‘outer darkness.’ Christ calls it outer darkness. ‘But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness,’ Matt. 8.12. ‘Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness,’ Matt. 22.13. You will see it also in 2 Peter 1.4: ‘God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness.’ Again, Jude, 13th verse: ‘Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the
blackness of darkness for ever.’ O my dear friends! this is hellÂ— ‘the blackness of darkness,’ ‘outer darkness,’ ‘chains of darkness.’
4. I come now to show you that the hell spoken of in the Bible is not annihilation. Some people think that though they are not saved, they will be annihilated. O it is a lie; I will show you that:
1. First of all, by the cries of the damned. ‘And he cried, and said, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me Â— for I am tormented in this flame,’ Luke 16.24. And, again, look at the words in Matt. 22.13, ‘There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Oh! these plainly show us that it is no annihilation. In hell the multitudes will be bundled up together in the great harvest day. ‘Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them,’ Matt. 13.30. There will be bundles of swearers Â— bundles of Sabbath-breakers Â— bundles of drunkards Â— bundles of hypocrites Â— bundles of parents and children; they will be witnesses of each other’s damnation.
2. Hell will be no annihilation, when we consider that there will be different degrees of suffering. ‘It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you,’ Matt. 11.22. And it is said, the Pharisees would receive ‘greater damnation.’ Every man is to be judged according to his works.
3. It will be no annihilation, if we consider the fate of Judas. ‘Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; it had been good for that man if he had not been born,’ Matt. 26.24. Judas is wishing he had never been born. I have no doubt he wishes to die, but will never be able to die. So it will be with all here who shall go to hell Â— all unworthy communicants. Ah! I tell you, if you die Christless, you will wish you had never been born Â— you will wish you had never seen the green earth or the blue sky. Ah! you will wish you had never been born. O dear brethren! better never to have had a being, than to be in hell. Ah! there are many in hell today who are cursing the day they were born.
4. It will be no annihilation, for it is an eternal hell. Some weak and foolish men think and please their fancy with the thought that hell will burn out, and they will come to some place where they may bathe their weary soul. Ah! you try to make an agreement with hell;
but if ever there comes a time when the flame that torments your soul and body shall burn out, then Jesus will be a liar, for three times He repeats the words of our text, and says, it shall never be quenched. It is eternal, for it is spoken of in words never used but to denote eternity. ‘And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever,’ Rev. 14.11. Ah! you see it is for ever and ever. Again, ‘And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and
shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever,’ Rev. 20.10. Compare this with Rev. 4.9,10, ‘And when those beasts gave glory and honour, and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,’ etc. So you see the torments of the damned are spoken of with the eternity of God. Ah! if ever there comes a time when God ceases to live, then they may cease to suffer. Again, the eternity of hell and the eternity of heaven are spoken of in the very same language. ‘And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever,’ Rev. 22.5. The same words that are used for the eternity of the saints, are used for the eternity of the damned. ‘They shall be tormented for ever and ever.’ O sinner! if ever there come a time when the saints shall fall from their thrones, or the immortal crowns fall from their heads, then you may think to leave hell; but that will never, never be Â— it is an eternal hell, ‘for ever and ever’; eternity will be never-ending wrath; always wrath to come. O that you were wise, that ye understood this, that ye would consider your latter end.
5. I come now, last of all, to consider that this eternal hell is surrounded and closed in by the attributes of God. It is the righteousness of God which makes Him punish the wicked eternally. Psalm 11.6,7: ‘Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup, for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness.’ I believe there is a great deal of ignorance about an eternal hell. There are many men that think God will cast sinners into hell on account of mere passion. Now, it is right to know that God did not create hell merely out of passion. Brethren, if it was passion it would pass away. But it is not from mere passionateness that He has kindled hell. And it is right that you should still farther consider that it is not that God hath pleasure in the pain of his creatures. I believe that God does not delight in the pain even of a worm. You will see this in Ezek. 18.23:
‘Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?’ And then, verse 32: ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.’ You will observe in this chapter that you have it put in two forms; you have it put in the interrogative form, and then you have it in the affirmative. Again, we are told, in the New Testament, that ‘God will have all men to repent, and come to the knowledge of the truth.’ ‘He is not willing that any should perish.’ And in the 17th chapter of Acts, it is said, ‘God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.’ These passages show that there is an essential benevolence in God, that He has no pleasure in the pain of his creatures. Speaking humanly, God would rather that the wicked should turn from his
evil ways and live. Some will ask, Why then is there a hell? The answer, brethren, and it is an answer I desire to be written on the heart: it is that the righteous Lord loveth righteousness. The only reason why God casts the unbelieving into the fire that never shall be quenched is because God is a God of righteousness, and therefore He will reign till all His enemies are put under His feet. Perhaps, brethren, some of you will say. Why does His love of righteousness make Him punish sinners in an eternal hell? There are two answers to that: First, sin is an infinite evil, and therefore it demands an infinite punishment. I do not know if you understand this. The thing I was praying for in secret was that I might be enabled to vindicate God’s proceedings. Then, brethren, sin is an infinite evil, because it is the breaking of an infinite obligation. I suppose there are none here who will say that God is not infinitely lovely; and therefore none will say that there is not an infinite obligation upon us to serve Him. Then, if you and I do not this, we are breaking an infinite obligation; and if it be an infinite evil, then it demands infinite punishment. But how can man bear infinite punishment? If God were to put on infinite punishment, who could bear it? Therefore it is eternal in duration: ‘Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup, for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness.’ I said there is another answer to this question; how is it a righteous thing in God to punish sinners eternally? You know you would not care what a criminal said at the bar whether his sentence was just or not. He might probably say it was not just; but you would believe the judge. Now, God says it is a righteous thing. See 2 Thess. 1.6: ‘Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.’ You will observe it is said: ‘It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.’ And how much more then will everlasting destruction be righteous. God’s whole way is equal. God, who holds the balance in his hand, says it is a righteous thing. Dear brethren, I pray you, in God’s name, to think of this. If punishment come from the righteousness of God, then there is no hope. If it were out of passion, then it might pass away. Often you observe a man whose face is red and swollen with passion, but it passes away. But ah! it is not out of passion. If it were out of passion surely God would have some pity when He saw the sufferings of the lost for many ages; but ah! no. From what then does it proceed? It proceeds from the rectitude of God. If God can cease to love righteousness, then the fire may be quenched; but as long as He is a righteous God, that fire will never be quenched. Oh! brethren, it is a foolish hope you entertain that the fire will be quenched. I have seen some on their death-bed thinking that the fire may be quenched. Ah! it is a vain
hope, sinner; God will never cease to be a righteous God. God will do anything to save a sinner; but He cannot part with His rectitude in order to save you. He parted with His Son in order that He might gain sinners, but He cannot part with His righteousness Â— He cannot part with His government; He would need to call good evil, and evil good first. ‘Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup, for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness.’
1. I shall now apply this: First of all, to you that are believers. Dear brothers and sisters, all this hell that I have described is what you and I deserved. We were over the lake of fire, but it was from this that Jesus saved us; He was in the prison for you and me Â— He drank every drop out of the cup of God’s wrath for you and me; He died the just for the unjust. O beloved, how should we prize, love, and adore Jesus for what He hath done for us. O we will never, never know, till safe across Jordan, how our hell has been suffered for us
Â— how our iniquity has been pardoned! But, O beloved! think of hell. Have you no unconverted friends, who are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath? Oh, have you no prayerless parent, no sister, nor brother? Oh, have you no compassion for them Â— no mercy’s voice to warn them?
2. To you that are seeking Christ anxiously. I know some of you are. Dear soul, what a mercy in God to awaken you to flee from this fiery furnace! O what a mercy to be awakened to flee! Â— to be in earnest. Ah! your unconverted friends will tell you there is no need of being so anxious. O is there no need to flee from the wrath to come? O learn, dear soul, how precious Christ is; He is a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest. All the things in the world are like a speck of dust, all is lost for Jesus. He is all in all. He is free to you, beloved Â— take no rest till you can say, ‘He is mine.’
3. To you that are unconverted. Ah! you are fools and you think you are wise; but O I beseech you, search the Scriptures. Do not take my word about an eternal hell; it is the testimony of God, when He spoke about it. O if it be true Â— if there be a furnace of fire Â— if there be a second death Â— if it is not annihilation, but an eternal hell
Â— O is it reasonable to go on living in sin? You think you are wise Â— that you are no fanatic Â— that you are no hypocrite; but you will soon gnash your teeth in pain; it will come; and the bitterest thought will be, that you heard about hell, and yet rejected Christ. O then, turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?