Is Hell a Myth? – Robert G. Lee (historic sermon 1886-1974)
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”—Matt. 10:28.
I. The Asking—”Is Hell a Myth?”
A myth? Like Aeolus imprisoning in a leather bag tied with a silver string such winds and tempests as might be hurtful to the further voyage of Ulysses? Like the cranes of Ibycus? Like the Minotaur, the fierce animal with a bull’s body and a man’s head, which demanded a tribute of seven young men and seven young women—and the killing of this beast by Theseus with the aid of Ariadne?
A myth? As when Proserpina cried for help and her voice was heard by all the mothers of earth? As Laocoon, the priest of Neptune, and the serpents of the sea in fierce attack? As Nemesis, the avenging deity of mythology? As the three Furies -Alecto, the relentless -Tisiphone, the avenger -Megaera, the grim –three woman-like creatures, with writhing snakes for hair, a whip of live scorpions in the other?
A myth? As Hercules and the poison garment of Nessus? As Hercules strangling two serpents with his hands at birth? As Hercules and his “Twelve Labors”? As Midas and his golden touch? As Sisyphus who made a chair with automatic workings -so that when a creditor called upon him to collect a debt, Sisyphus invited him to sit down, and no sooner had the fellow taken a seat when one hundred ligaments of steel darted out and bound the fellow fast -and Sisyphus kept him there until he canceled the debt?
A myth? As the winged feet of Mercury? As Ulysses who filled the ears of his crew with wax and bound himself with knotted thongs to the mast -as they neared the sorcerer’s shore?
Asking , “Is Hell a myth?” is but an interrogatory way -on the part of some -of stating the Hell is a myth -as much as the wild mythologies of the Greeks. With playful raillery do many speak of the fact of Hell. With a blighting barriken do many speak of the fact of Hell, With many hell is the wild nightmare of a disordered brain -the fanciful fake of an erratic mind. A myth? Just as well say a lion has the mouth of a mouse! A myth? Just as well say an eagle has a sparrow’s wings! A myth? Just as well say you can cradle a furnace in a thimble! All of which brings us to consider some…
Asseverate means “to affirm, to aver positively or with solemnity.” Many there are who, with ridicule of those who disagree, declare that there is no Hell. Atheists tell us that we die like dogs – that our souls perish with our bodies -that when the earth has swallowed us up, we become part and parcel with clay; and that is the end of the whole matter. We, believing not what the atheists say, doubt if the atheists believe themselves.
But note what some say: “Milton’s conception of Hell was inconsistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” “The pulpit teaching about Hell is an unauthorized accretion to the true doctrine -and repugnant to reason.” “Hell-fire is a riot of imaginative genius.” “The Dantesque picture as a place of penal flames, smoke, and physical torture is an absurd picture.” “Indeed, it is to be doubted whether men ever believed fully in the existence of such a Hell, for if preachers believed in the Hell they taught thirty years ago, and had any humanity in them, they would have been unable to sleep in their beds. To talk of a Hell so horrible that no man with a heart in him would throw a dog into it, and yet to preach that the Almighty Father casts the bulk of the human family into it to burn for ever and ever, was to insult the very name of the Being whom we are taught to love.”
And more: “Hell is a state -and not a place. To live in harmony with what we understand to be God’s law is the truest Heaven. To live out of harmony with that law is Hell.” “Heaven and Hell might be the same place -and Heaven will be Hell to the man who loves evil things.” “Many of the terms describing Hell are allegorical or metaphorical or poetic -and imply the spiritual state which is the antithesis of salvation.” “If the Bible teaches ‘everlasting punishment,’ so much the worse for the Bible, because we cannot believe it! We are no longer the slaves of a book, nor the blind devotees of a creed, we believe in love and evolution!”
Now let me ask, if there is no Hell, is not the Bible a bundle of blunders, a myth, a book of fairy tales? Are not the prophets, who spoke of God’s mercy, liars? If there is no Hell, does not Jesus Himself deserve to wear the label of the impostor? Into the valley of Hinnom, outside the city of Jerusalem, the Jews threw the refuse of the city and the dead carcasses of animals -where the worms would eat them and a fire was kept continually burning. Jesus used this great valley of offal to describe the awful reality of Hell.
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off” it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:43-44
If there is no Hell, is not Calvary, with all its suffering and sacrifice and finished atoning work, a blunder and all the voices thereof a babel of incoherence? By every contemptuous mouthful of spit that befouled His face, by every hair of His beard which cruel fingers tore from His cheeks, by every bruise of His face, by every mark of the scourge upon His back, by every thorn that punctured His brow, by every nail that held Him to the tree, by every breath He drew which was a pang of death, by every beat of His heart which was a throb of agony -by all the shadows that covered the earth when black midnight came at noon-day, we say that if Calvary be not the way of escape from an eternal Hell, then Calvary is a mistake!
It is not credible that the Son of God should have become man and died on the cross merely to save men from the short and temporal consequences of sin. The infinity of the sacrifice implies as infinity of punishment as that from which the sacrifice was intended to deliver those who would accept the sacrifice. If a man accepts the atonement of Christ -how can he doubt the dogma of Hell? Let us ask, can there be a Heaven if there be no Hell? The Bible, book above and beyond all books as a river is beyond all books as a river is beyond a rill in reach speaks of Heaven. But the same Bible also speaks of Hell. The same Bible that speaks of the glories and bliss of Heaven speaks of the woes and pains and miseries of Hell-as the portion of those who reject Christ. So let us consider thee…
Though some today in the theological and educational world are “fond of a mist that rises from the ground” and rebel against the concrete, the definite, the actual —still there is a Hell. Though many vaporize every great fact and doctrine of the Christian faith and talk as though they believed that only when these great facts and weighty doctrines have been “sublimated into the mythical and poetic” are they worthy of the intellectual–still there is a Hell.
We need realities to meet realities –and we find them in the New Testament, which is not “a collection of Photographed mirages” and does not “tantalize wit vapors a world perishing of thirst.” Watkinson says” To take away Hell is to reject the physician and leave the plague, to overthrow the lighthouse and leave the hidden rock, to wipe out the rainbow and leave the storm, to take away the firelight and leave the fire to rage, to take away the vaccine and leave the smallpox. To take away Hell is to meet the tragic blackness of sin with a candle gospel, to make a mild twilight out of eternal retribution, to take away the trumpet and open the gate to enemies, to take away roses and leave the thorns, to throw away gold and press bankruptcy upon human life.”
In the light of Bible truth, consider the actuality of Hell. If there is NOT a Hell, I do not want to preach that there is. But I would rather believe and preach unpleasant truth than to believe and preach error. And as awful as the thought is, I can have no other conclusion than that there is a Hell –because I believe the Bible is the very Word of God. The Bible is the only book that makes the death room bright. The Bible is an oasis in a desert of despair. I must believe it! In the original purpose of God, there was no manifest provision for Hell. Every being, bearing the image of the Creator, was with Him about the throne of Heaven. There was no necessity for a Hell. Necessity arose when His hosts rebelled in Heaven and were cast out. Then was the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared, for the devil and his angels.”—Matt. 25:41.
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when 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.” —II Thess. 1:7-9
Hell is a terrible actuality.
Yet some say: “Scholarly preachers have given up belief in an orthodox Hell.” If so, they did not give up that belief for reasons of Greek or New Testament scholarship. If so, they gave it up for sentimental and speculative reasons. No man can go to the New Testament and not find Hell there. But suppose it is true that some preachers have given up a belief in Hell. That would not prove anything. Religious scholars have been wrong more than they have been right.
None of the scholars in Noah’s day believed a flood would come. But it did. No scholars, except for Abraham and Lot, believed that fire would fall on Sodom and Gomorrah. But it did. No scholars, except Jeremiah and Baruch, believed Jerusalem would be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. But it was! Four leading schools of thought in Jesus’ day scoffed at Jesus’ prediction concerning the coming judgment of God on Jerusalem. But secular history tells us that in spite of the dissent of all the scholars, it came true just as Jesus predicted. No university in the world in the days of Luther and Huss believed in the doctrine of justification by faith. But it was so –and Luther was right –and every university of Germany, France, England and Scotland was wrong. So if all the scholars, preachers, scientist, artists, statesmen, politicians, musicians, and teachers on earth gave up belief in the doctrine of an orthodox Hell, it would not prove anything.
Some say: “I hate hell.” So do I. But nobody can hate Hell out of existence. I hate snakes, but my hatred does not exterminate them. I hate rats, but rats still live. If we are Christians, we hate hypocrisy. But hypocrisy continues. Christians hate all manner of sins, but that hatred does not alleviate the sins. The hatred of Hell does not alter the fact that THERE IS A HELL!
Now consider some…
1. The Bible. We have looked at some scripture on the subject already. Here are more verses:
“And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be iveeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25:30.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matt. 25:41.
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28.
See also, Rev. 20:15; Mat. 13:40-42; Rev. 14:10-11
2. Dr. R.A. Torrey: “I claim to be a scholarly preacher. I have a right to so claim. I have two degrees, specializing in Greek in one of the most highly esteemed universities in America. I have read the Bible in three languages for many years. I have written between thirty and forty books that have been widely read. I have a right to claim to be a scholarly preacher. Yet I believe the old-fashioned Bible doctrine regarding Hell.”
3. D.L. Moody: “The same Christ that tells us of Heaven with all its glories, tells us of Hell with all its horrors; and no one can accuse Christ of drawing this picture to terrify people, or to alarm them, if it were not true.
4. T. DeWitt Talmage: “Not having intellect enough to fashion an eternity of my own, I must take the word of the Bible. I believe there is a Hell. If I had not been afraid of Hell I do not think I would have started for Heaven.”
5. Charles Spurgeon: “Our joy is that if any one of us are made, in God’s hands, the means of converting a man from the error of his way, we shall have saved a soul from this eternal death. That dreadful Hell the saved one will not know, that wrath he will not feel, that being banished from the presence of God will never happen to him.”
6. Paul Stewart: “The preaching that ignores the doctrine of Hell lowers the holiness of God and degrades the work of Christ.”
7. B. H. Lovelace “There are foregleams of Hell all around us (Rom. 8:22). Read the tragedies that besmear the front pages of our daily newspapers, behold the victim of drink writhing in the tortures of delirium tremens, see the human wrecks strewn all along life’s highway, and hear the sobs and sighs of a sin-cursed world. These are but a few sparks from the Lake of Fire, the eternal abode of the lost. Hell is a logical necessity. It is the ultimate and inevitable consequence of the law of moral gravitation, which begins in life and ends in eternity. What was said of Judas Iscariot will be true of all men, ‘he went to his own place.’ ”
8. William Elbert Munsey “There is a Hell. All principles of quality, character, and state exist in correlative dualities. God and evil are correlates. The very argument which makes Heaven the saint’s reward beyond the grave must, give a correlating punishment to the lost beyond the grave.”
9. Billy Sunday: “You will not be in Hell five minutes until you believe that there is one.”
10. Sam Jones: “I believe in a bottomless Hell, and I believe that the wicked will be turned into Hell. The legitimate end of a sinful life is Hell. Every sinner carries his own brimstone with him. How many men can meet Truth without a tremor in their muscles?”
The popular theory of this age is: “I die like my dog. I die a sinner, and am nowhere ever after. The coffin holds both body and soul so any kind of eternal punishment is an impossibility.” This theory denies the immortality of the soul. God says, “The wicked shall be turned into hell…where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Go to your Bibles, men and women! Let us have the truth about the matter, whatever it be! I cite God himself, “The wicked shall be turned into hell..” You may scatter the everlasting mountains or split the sun in two, but you cannot alter God’s Word. I cite the tenderhearted Savior; and three times in one chapter! (Mark 9) He speaks of a worm that never dies, and a fire that never shall be quenched. Take time, you, whoever you are, to read the 9th chapter of Mark. Read it and then tell me, did the Lord Jesus lie when he spoke of unquenchable fire? Did the Son of God picture a lie when He showed us the rich man lifting up his eyes in torments, and begging a drop of water to cool his tongue? Did He purposely put fright in our souls with lying pictures of something which never existed? Scripture says, “It is impossible for God to lie.” Well, then, it is impossible that there is no Hell, and let that forever settle the question.
Now along with these attestations, I would have you think of some…
Here are some adjectives that describe the severe nature of Hell.
1. “Everlasting Fire” I am not going to split hairs to prove the fire of Hell is literal fire any more than I would split hairs to prove the gold of Heaven is literal god. I believe when God says “fire,” He means “fire.” When He says “gold” he means ” gold.” Those who would deny the “fire” of Hell have only removed part the physical pain, which is the least significant feature of its character. Hell is the madhouse of the universe where remorse and an accusing memory cause unspeakable torture. All words are incapable of describing that awful place. The very thought of Hell ought to make one uncomfortable. No music -but the weeping, wailing gnashing of teeth. No rest -but the wicked wanting rest, yet forever tired. No fragrance -“smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever.”
2. “Everlasting fire is a real PLACE.” The rich man of Luke 16 is in Hell bodily. He wanted his brothers to know that where he was after death was a PLACE. Jesus taught that the body would be in Hell along with the soul. (Mat. 10:28)
3. A place of TORMENT. “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” Rev. 14:10-11
4. A place of VILE COMPANIONSHIPS. “But the fearful, and unbelieving and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and birmstone: which is the second death.” Rev. 21:8 The Devil will be there with all his demons. Read the list of the wicked persons in Romans 1:29-31…
5. A place from which there is NO EXIT. In public halls we find in bold letters, “EXIT.” But “exit” is a word not in the vocabulary of Hell. In other places there may be signs to help point the way out. But there are no exit signs in Hell. Jesus says “there is a great gulf fixed…” It is impossible to escape from Hell to a better place.
6. A place that is ETERNAL. ” And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matt. 25:46 No one has any trouble believing the “eternal life” part of this verse. But by every known law of exegesis, it must mean the same thing in the other part of the verse. This word means “unto the ages of the ages.” It is an unimaginable duration, a length of time that cannot be expressed. Sometimes it is used to describe the duration of the blessings of the saints, other times it describes the suffering of those in Hell. Eternal… Without end…. There are 10,000 grains of wheat in one bushel, let us day. Multiply that by all the grains in the millions of bushels of wheat grown every year. Multiply that by all the leaves on all the trees of the world. Now multiply that number by all the grains of sand on all the seashores of the globe. Now take that number and multiply it by the number of stars in the sky. The number you would get after making such a calculation, if you could, would not even begin to count the length of eternity. Hell would not be Hell if it were just a 10-year sentence.
The Greek word “Gehenna” means a place of everlasting punishment. Southeast of Jerusalem was a valley where, for a long time, the idol Molech was worshipped. Little children were thrown into his fiery arms and consumed in the flames. Because of their cries it came to be know as the Valley of Lamentation, or the Valley of Hinnom. Those horrible sacrifices were abolished by Josiah. (2Kings 23:10) The jews so abhorred the place that they cast into it all manner of refuse, dead bodies of animals, and of criminals who had been executed. Fires were constantly needed to consume the dead bodies and so the place was called “Gehenna of fire.” It is the word “Gehenna” that the New Testament uses to describe the place of punishment appointed for the unsaved after death.
What a terrible place Hell must be. A world where the Holy Spirit never strives, where every soul is fully left to its own depravity; and where there is no leisure for repentance, even if there was a desire for it. Richard Fuller called it “An immortality of pain and tears: an infinity of wretchedness and despair; the blackness of darkness across which conscience will forever shoot her clear and ghastly flashes -like lightning streaming over a desert when midnight and tempest are there; Weeping a wailing and gnashing of teeth: long, long eternity, and things that will make that eternity seem longer, making each moment more miserable than the last…”
But now I would have you to think of the….
Now I speak of the assistance the doctrine of Hell is in preaching to win the lost. The preaching of this doctrine is ever an asset -never a hindrance- to the success of gospel preaching. The minister of the Gospel is under obligation to preach the whole truth of God’s Word. If he does, God will take care of the results. We are to preach “as a dying man to dying men,” as Richard Baxter wrote. If we are to preach at all, we must preach the whole message, and that includes the doctrine of Hell.
Mary Slessor, who became a missionary to West Africa, heard a message on Hell. She feared for her soul and turned to Christ. Look at the thousands who have been saved because of Mary Slessor’s ministry. Preachers must preach the doctrine of Hell to wake up sinners to their lost condition. Salvation implies a danger. There is a place for fear in preaching if the danger is real. If we are never to preach on Hell, what is one saved from?
A.C. Dixon said, “If we had more preaching on Hell in the pulpit, we might have less hell in the community.” General Booth said, “If I had my way I would not give any of my workers a three-year training in a college, but I would put each of you twenty-four hours in Hell -the best training for earnest preaching you could have.”
We need to preach this doctrine along with the truth of the cross. Preach it -not as dainty tasters of intellectual subtleties. Preach it -not as dealers in finespun metaphysical disquisitions. Preach it -not as administrators of laughing gas for the painless extraction of sin. Preach it -not with stammering tongue but as a trumpet that gives no uncertain sound. Preach it -with broken heart and yearning soul. Believing in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the whole world, we must accept the doctrine of Hell -for no lesser fate can they expect who, having heard the offer of the Gospel, deliberately reject it. How great the folly of suppressing the revealed fact of Hell!
But think now of the…
Not only of those agonize in Hell, but the agony of soul we should have in prayer and in preaching with concern to save the lost. If this city had a pestilence descending on it -what would we not do to stop its onslaught? If your children were in danger of smallpox -how concerned you would be! If a mad dog were loose in a school -how you would risk your life to save children from the virus of rabies from the dog’s fangs! How much more when there are souls in danger of Hell -eternal Hell!
Who can arrange or describe fitting funeral obsequies of a lost soul? All the tears ever shed by all the graves and tombs of earth cannot. All the moans and sobs and sighs ever uttered cannot. If the inanimate world could break her silence—would that do it? If all seas should utter their deep and dreadful wails—would that do it? If all the mountains should lift up rumbling voices—would that do it? If the sun should drape in darkness—would that do it? If the moon should refuse to give her light—would that do it? If all the stars turned to clay—would all these fitly show the dire catastrophe of a lost soul? No songs on earth, no prayers, no words can fitly show what it means to be lost!
Yet I fear we agonize not as did Abraham over the wickedness of Sodom and Gommorah. Nor as Moses who pleaded for God to blot him out rather than the people. Nor as Jacob over the disappearance of his son Joseph. Nor as Samuel wept all night over Saul. Nor as David who cried all night over Absalom. Nor as Jeremiah who wept like a brokenhearted archangel. Nor as Ezekiel who ate filth to show the horrors of slavery. Nor as Job who asked God questions through lips that festered with disease. Nor as Paul who counted all things but loss.
I fear that we as Christians treat our main business as an incidental. We should be like Whitefield who said, “I am willing to go to prison and to death for you, but I am not willing to go to Heaven without you.” When fishermen are sent to the river, they fish. When nurses are sent to the hospital, they nurse. When painters are sent to a house, they paint. When soldiers are sent to the battle, they fight. But when our God sends us into the world to win souls, we sing “Throw Out the Lifeline” but do not throw. We sing “I Love to Tell the Story” and do not tell it. Our singing and our practice are so strangely at variance.
We need the passion that girded Francis Asbury as he traveled a distance equal to five circuits around the world every five years, on the average, for forty-five years -and that mainly on horseback. We need the passion that fired Livingstone and kept him aflame amid jungle dangers and twenty-seven attacks of African fever -the passion that was the power working in the heart of David Brainerd who said: “I care not what hardships I endure, if only I can see souls saved” -the passion that drove General Booth who said, “God shall have all there is of William Booth.”
And lastly let us examine the…
VIII. The Antithesis
We cannot leave speaking without giving the antithesis to Hell. Allow me to say a word about Heaven. Heaven is the place where no hostility can reach us, where no temptations can assail us, where no pain can pierce us, where no night can shadow us. Heaven is the most beautiful place the wisdom of God could conceive and the power of God could prepare.
Dr. Biederwolf tells us of a little girl who was blind from birth and only knew the beauties of the earth from her mother’s lip. A noted surgeon worked on her eyes and at last the operations were successful, and as the last bandage dropped away she flew into her mother’s arms and then to the window and the open door. As the glories of earth rolled into her vision, she ran to her mother with tears, crying, “Oh Mama, why didn’t you tell me it was so wonderful?” “I tried to tell you,” she said, “but I couldn’t do it.”
And one day when we go sweeping through those gates of pearl and catch our first vision of the enrapturing beauty all around us, I think we may hunt up the Apostle John and say, “Why didn’t you tell us it was so beautiful?” And John will say, “I tried to tell you when I wrote the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters of the last book in the Bible after I got my vision, but I couldn’t do it.”
Heaven -the land of no heartaches, no graves, no wars or poverty, no hearse rolls its dark way to the tomb. Let us have and hold and preach the Bible conception of Hell. Let us have and hold and preach the antithetical conception of that perfect vision of God which we call home -Heaven. Every human must make his choice. We pray that choice is Heaven!