Why Go to Hell?
Archibald G. Brown, December 18th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"Why will you die?" Ezekiel 33:11
Doubtless those of you who were with us last Sunday evening have not yet forgotten the subject of discourse. It was a solemn time to us all. God was in our midst, and we felt that we had received a warning from Him to prepare for death. "This year you shall die!" sounded in our ears, and not knowing who the one would be, many of us took the message as if specially addressed to ourselves. Looking death in the face, and contemplating the tremendous results depending on it — we realized something of the experience of one of old when he exclaimed "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God."
Many of you will also remember that I said while preaching, that it was deeply laid upon my heart that some of my hearers would be in eternity before the year was out. This statement proved to be only too true. Oh, how much greater would have been the solemnity of the service, if you all had but known what I learned only three minutes after the sermon was concluded. While I was preaching, there was one lying a corpse, who was in this Tabernacle on the previous Sabbath evening. He heard with many of you that sermon on the text, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife!" and alas on the following Tuesday, he was cut down with little warning. I know he was impressed — but whether more than that, I cannot say. What a voice this has to us! It says to me, "Preach as a dying man to dying men; waste no time over mere prettinesses of speech — but plead with men as for eternity."
"O God, save me from trifling with immortal spirits, and speaking as if I only half believe the warnings that I utter, or the gospel that I proclaim!"
But my hearers, it speaks to you. Before this year has gone, few though its remaining days are, some of you may be swept away as with a flood! Time with you may be over — and eternity commenced!
Is it so? How then should you listen — with what breathless interest should you attend when we tell you of the only way whereby you may be saved. Will you sit listless and careless as if the subject did not concern you, when we plead with you about matters which will decide your eternal well-being — or eternal woe? Awake! awake!! you drowsy ones, for what I have to tell you this night will be remembered by you either in Heaven — or in Hell.
My subject is a more stupendous one than last Sunday night's. Then I spoke only of the death of the body — but now I am going to speak about the death of the soul.
Listen to me, you shall. God has brought you this evening under the sound of the word, and there is something within me that tells me that God will this night give me a message to some of you. I do not doubt some will be offended, for I will speak some plain truths in rather rough language; I do not care not if some are offended — for I must have souls at any price. An overwhelming desire is within me to clear myself of the blood of all, and if I have never warned or pleaded with you before, I will now, God helping me.
This year has almost gone; but one Sunday now remains, and that, being Christmas day, many of you will not be here. To numbers of you, then, this is the last sermon I will preach this year — to some perhaps, it is the last forever. I am going to ask you a startling question tonight, one very different from my usual kind. Hundreds of times I have asked you, "Why will you not be saved?'' But now I ask you, "Why will you be damned?" It is not this evening, "Why will you not go to Heaven?" but "Why will you go to Hell?"
I want a reason for your madness. I want a cause for your preference for perdition. But wait, I am in error; it is not I — but God, who asks the question. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who says, "Say to them: As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live! Turn, turn from your evil ways, for why will you die?"
Looking now to the Lord for power and earnestness, I will try and dwell upon three things in the text:
First, you have in it a horrible resolution implied — to die.
Secondly, a plaintive question asked — why?
Thirdly, a glorious truth taught — God does not desire your ruin.
I. First then, We have a Horrible Resolution.It is a resolution to die — a determination to be eternally damned!
"Wait, sir," says one, "that is far too strong an assertion; whoever heard anyone say that he intended to go to Hell?" I never said anyone had been heard to say so; all I say is, they determine to to go to Hell. There are two ways of pleading: one by the lip — and the other by the actions. And I am inclined to think the latter way is often the most truthful; at all events, the old saying declares that "actions speak louder than words." I have never heard a sinner say he had made up his mind to be eternally damned — but I have often seen him say it, and seeing is believing. There are several ways of expressing a resolution to be damned, without uttering a word. I will mention three of them, and leave it with you to determine whether I am justified or not in saying that sinners are determined to go to Hell.
A man may be said to have resolved to die, when he uses the means of death. After knowing that a certain course of action will be sure to end in death — then if he still persists in it, it is a mere quibble to say that he never intended to die, because he never told anybody so with his lip. He did tell them so in the most emphatic manner he could.
As I want to bring the solemnity of the subject home to every heart, I will employ some illustrations perhaps more forcible than elegant. Elegant did I say! Elegancies are out of place when immortal souls are in the balance.
Come then and let me show you a picture. Do you see that man in yonder room? He carefully locks and double locks the door — he casts his eye around to make sure no one is concealed — with determined step he advances to the cupboard, and mounting a chair, he takes from the top shelf a small bottle. He puts it to his lips and drinks a few drops.
What is it? Why look! Don't you see that red label on it, with the words "Poison!" That is what it is! He drinks again — a cold chill seems to grip his heart, and from head to foot he shudders. Again he puts the deadly mixture to his lips, and now, while his heart feels like ice, his brain begins to burn. It feels to him as if the fiery chariot of Elijah was coursing through his veins. He drinks again. His hands become palsied — his throat parched — all swims around him, and . . . But we will follow the wretched suicide no further, nor attempt to describe the last few moments of his poisoned life.
What I want you to answer is this, "Did that man's actions not declare without a word on his part, that he meant to die?" Of course they did, the mixture was labeled poison; he read it so, knew it was so — and yet he took it. Do you say "he was mad"? Granted, perhaps he was; but that does not alter the argument — in his madness, he resolved to die.
Let me now present to you the horrible reality of which this is but an illustration. There is a black mixture, sweet to the natural taste of man — but labeled by God "Poison!" called sin. The result of taking it is declared, in language that cannot be mistaken, to be certain death.
"The soul that sins, shall surely die." Ezekiel 18.20
"The wages of sin is death." Romans 6.23
"Sin when it is finished brings forth death." James 1.15
These are a few of the red labels of caution that God has put upon sin. Now if the sinner, in spite of all warning, not only refuses the antidote for the poison he has already imbibed — but loves the death-dealing draught, and revels in his secret drams — then what conclusion can we come to than that he is determined to go to Hell?
O, young man, I would that I could speak a word tonight to arrest you in your miserable madness. Your secret sins, like stolen waters, you now find to be sweet. An impulse well-near irresistible draws you again and again to the fatal drink. For Heaven and Hell's sake, stop! It is poison that you are drinking! But alas! you, with sinners of all kinds present, know it. Sin has been marked as "poison" a thousand times before your eyes — and yet you roll it like a sweet morsel under your tongue! Surely you must have determined to be damned! It has sent the deadly chill to your heart; its poison is working in your mind and memory tonight — and yet you grasp the damnable cup, and with Hell-inspired resolution, you murmur, "I will have more!" You are a suicide, man, and of the worst kind, for you are killing your eternal soul! God's verdict over you, when the poison has done its work, will be "You have destroyed yourself!"
But again, the man may be said to have determined to die, who spurns all that could save him from death. On this point I think I will be able to touch some of your hearts, who have warded off the former blow. You say, "Ah, that slow poison illustration does not affect me much. I am no open sinner who revels in his sin; I am not rushing to eternity without a thought; I am most particular about my morality, and I pay great respect to religious affairs."
Stop a minute, friend! Not quite so fast, please. You are just as determined upon soul-suicide as the poor madman we have described. Remember, it is possible to ensure death by simply refusing to accept anything that could rescue you from it. Granted, for the sake of argument, that you are not one who delights in open sin and drinks down its poison with delight — yet you have sinned.
The poison is in your blood, working death — and in rejecting Christ you have given as solemn a proof of determination to go to Hell as you could ever have given by the vilest of lives.
Let me hold a mirror before you, so that you may see yourself. On that bedstead there lies a man dying to all appearance as fast as possible. The death dew stands upon his brow, and for every breath he has a struggle. The poison has well-near done its work. But lo! a physician rushes in. He has heard of the case, and come with overwhelming earnestness to tell the man he has an antidote that can save him completely. He assures him he was poisoned himself by the same thing, tried the antidote, and was saved by it. He offers it — presses it upon the man. Taking the medicine in his hand, and without saying a solitary word, the dying wretch summons all the strength he has, and hurls it through the window! What does that action say? Why, "I am determined to go to Hell." Ah! moralist, remember that with all your morality, you are rejecting Christ, the heavenly antidote; and that says, without your uttering a word, "I mean to be damned forever!"
Lastly on this point — a man may be said to have determined to die, who surmounts all obstacles placed in his way in order to prevent him from dying.
I see a man making his way with dreadful haste to the canal. I know he means death. I rush in front of him and hold out my arms across the path. With an curse, he dodges under them and pursues his headlong race. I call to another man to stop him — but with a blow the maniac fells him. There is one last chance. Across the footpath along which he runs there is an open gate. I call to one at hand, and he swings it close. "Thank God," I exclaim, "he is saved now." Not so; with one leap he clears it, and nothing now remains to thwart his purpose. What purpose? Why death, of course. Has he not fought his way to it?
Lost sinner, I mean you. God only knows how many obstacles you have overcome in your race to eternal ruin. In early days a mother stopped your path — but you soon evaded her, and broke her heart. You can now jest about the foolish fears of the "old woman," as you term her. A Sunday school teacher did his best to arrest you — but he proved no great obstacle; you soon left his class when you found he was satisfied with nothing less than the salvation of your soul. Hundreds of sermons have been flung across your path — but you have somehow gotten over them all. I am trying to shut a gate before you this evening — but I have little doubt you will soon surmount it and laugh around your supper table tonight, at the folly of the preacher who tried to stop you!
Well, I can only mourn if it is so, and tell my Lord, "Lord, I did my best to be the means of saving him — but it was of no avail; he has made up his mind to be damned." We must now get to our second point.
II. The Text asks a Plaintive Question.Why will you die? Why this determination to be ruined forever? Surely, friend, you must have some weighty reason for a resolution so fraught with eternal importance. What can it possibly be? I fear it must be one founded on a delusion — so I will ask you two or three questions which I pray God may be the means of shaking you out of your madness.
Is Hell so pleasant a place that you want to enter there? Is there anything in the descriptions given of it in scripture that can possibly become father to the desire of going there? Unless I am under one of the strangest delusions, I think I have read of things such as . . .
a fire that is never quenched,
a worm that never dies,
smoke of torment that ever ascends,
outer darkness, and
weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth!
Unless my Bible is a different one to yours, I think I have read that Christ said — and surely He ought to know — that it would be better for a man never to have been born, than to ever enter Hell. Was it not the psalmist who said that horror seized him at the thought of the sinner's doom? The Hell described in my Bible is a very awful one, and I think you will find the same in yours.
O sinner, to be damned is no trifle! The Hell of scripture makes your resolution the resolution of a maniac.
"Why will you die?" But if it is not that Hell is desirable — is it because Heaven has no charms? Are the descriptions of Heaven such that they present no attraction to you? Is Heaven a dreary, joyless place, not worth a thought? If you think so, certainly your Bible cannot be the same as mine. Surely I have read of it as a place where there is no pain, no sickness, no sorrow, no tears, no death. I cannot be mistaken on that point. Have I not read of golden streets and gates of pearl, of harps and crowns, and singing loud as the sound of many waters? Surely I have. O friend, the Heaven described in your Bible and mine is worth suffering a martyrdom to obtain. Then if it is so, why go to Hell?
If perdition's attractiveness, and Heaven's lack of attraction, are not the reasons for your resolution — then what are?
Is eternity a trifle in your estimation? Do you consider it a mere addenda to life, a thing only to be thought of when there is nothing else to occupy the mind — a mere postscript to life's letter? Is eternity a matter of so little importance, that it does not concern you whether you are forever damned or forever saved?
How sad the thought that the vast mass of mankind lives as if the few years on earth was the chief portion of its existence, and the eternal ages beyond are of secondary importance.
Let me try and arrest your attention by the thought of the boundlessness of your future life. I could better understand your indifference to salvation, or, as we are describing it tonight — your preference for eternal perdition — if the future state in either case was of only limited duration. But to risk the loss of a soul, when forever and forever is part of the contract — is almost sufficient to stagger belief, were there not so many sad witnesses to the fact!
Think, friend, that with the close of this life, closes all hope of any future alteration.
As death leaves you,
the judgment will find you, and
as the judgment leaves you, eternity will keep you!
O, eternity, eternity, what are you? What mind can grasp your immensity — what tongue can describe you rightly? O eternity, you "life-time of God," make your unknown ages eloquent with souls now. Tell them that if they are damned, it is without hope of rescue forever! Ask them, if in their resolution to die, they have reckoned you in the costs.
How will I give you any idea of what eternity is — how will I convey to your minds any true conception of the meaning of the word "forever"? I can only employ the finite to illustrate the infinite — the limitable to describe the illimitable.
It was just the other day you watched the snowflakes as they fell in numbers that dazzled the eyes. Millions a minute seemed to whirl in eddies around you. They covered the ground — festooned the trees — though tiny in themselves, they mantled, by their countless multitudes, the earth for miles around.
Now suppose that only one flake melted in a thousand years; how long would it be before every vestige of the snow storm had passed away? The mind reels at such a course of time. We are almost tempted to exclaim "the time could never come, when for miles around there would be but one flake left, and then a thousand years must pass before that last one had vanished; the time is inconceivable."
Yet the time would come when the last flake had gone.
Now after a thousand such snowstorms had fallen and passed away — eternity would have only just commenced. No period of time, however vast, can bring the end one iota nearer. Eternity has no end!
Sinner, have you thought of all this? Or has the ocean of eternity, without a bottom or a shore, been thought of as a trifle, beside the drop in the bucket that you call life? Stop!! And with the waters of this ocean at your feet, listen to God's question: "Why will you die?"
I have one more question to ask, and then I will have exhausted all possible reasons I can think of for your determination. Do you consider your soul to be worthless?
Among your possessions, does that rank for nothing? If so, I can understand your willingness to have it lost, for men do not fret over the loss of what they do not value. You value your health, you value your home, you value your friends — but you set no value on your soul! Is it so?
Then let us see if that is not a lamentable error in judgment. Surely that which will outlive all the other possessions of a man, must be of some worth. When health has gone and death has come — your soul will still survive. When your home has gone to ruins, and the world has gone to ashes — the soul you set so little count on will still survive.
Nothing can destroy your soul;
nothing can even age it;
it is eternal as our God Himself.
Remember also, that if you count it of but little value, it has been differently estimated by one who ought to know, considering that he made it. Have you never read anything like this before, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Mat 16.26
Christ considers that the worth of one soul, outweighs the accumulated wealth of a universe. I would that you thought so too; but alas, in answer to the question, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" You reply "Give me a little pleasure, give me a little frothy mirth, give me something of this world — and the devil may take my soul!" Friend, believe me, it is an awful bargain you are making, and one you will repent forever when it is too late!
Your soul is priceless in its value, that it was worth — so thought Jesus — a bloody sweat in Gethsemane, and a cruel death at Calvary. Then if these things are so, tell me, tell me now, "Why will you die?"
Thus far this evening's subject has been far more solemn than joyful. I have been obliged to dwell upon the dark side of the picture in order to clear my soul of responsibility. As watchman, I have seen the enemy coming, and I have endeavored to blow a blast of warning, so that if any of you are cut down by him, your blood may be upon your own head and not mine. Let us turn now to the joyous part of our subject.
III. The Text teaches a glorious truth, full of hope for lost sinners. If this text proclaims anything, it declares with trumpet-tongue that Hell is not unavoidable. This verse steps in the path of the sinner, throws a barrier before him, and argues with him to turn him from his fatal resolve. "Sinner," it seems to say, "why will you die, why will you go to Hell when you need not unless you determine it? Why make your eternal perdition unavoidable, when God has not?" O friends, what a joyful message this is which I have to tell! How could I not tell it to you!
But alas, what mortal tongue can utter words worthy of the theme; they should be words melting with tenderness, ringing with joy, flashing with earnestness. An escape is possible from Hell!! Why, such a message is enough to make a sick man forget his pain, and preach with joy. Hell is avoidable! It would be worth an angel's while to fly from Heaven to earth's remotest nook, to tell the news. Think for a moment what it means. It means that Hell may be forever and forever an unknown place to you. It means that you need never know what the unquenchable fire feels like, or hear the weeping and the wailing of those who gnash their teeth in agony. It means that it is possible for you to escape all the horror and despair summed up in that one word, "Damned!"
These thoughts burn within me like a fire — the immensity and the eternity of the eternal interests involved, well-near overwhelm me; and I find it true, that often when the heart is fullest, the lips can say the least. I feel as if I could but stand before this throng, and sob "Sinner, you need not, you need not be lost — Hell can yet be escaped!"
Yes, I would willingly come in your midst, and taking hold of the hand of him who is resolved to die, say, "Dear friend, will you be damned, when there is no occasion for it?" There are none present who are shut up in the steel prison house of doom, to be led forth, against their cries and prayers, to execution. If a man is saved, it is God's work from first to last. But if he is finally lost — his blood shall rest upon his own head — from the commencement to the close, his damnation has been his own!
But friends, how should you receive such a message? Surely if I ought to deliver it with earnestness, you ought to listen to it as for your life! Oh what a hateful thing sin is — that makes a man hear his own doom, and his possible mercy, with indifference! It would not be so if the life concerned was his natural one on earth.
In yonder cell there sits a man who has been tried and condemned by his country's laws. The day of execution draws near, and a shivering despair settles down upon the miserable wretch. I am allowed to be a messenger of hope and mercy to him. The bolt grates in the socket, and the lock springs back with a snap, and I stand before him. Placing my hand on his shoulder I whisper in his ear, "I have come to tell you that death may yet be averted and your life spared!" See the startle he gives, mark the imploring look in his eye, as starting to his feet he cries with a cry that makes the stone walls ring, "Is it true, I may yet be saved?" There is no indifference on his part as I tell him it is yet possible for him to leave the dungeon, escape death, and enjoy life.
Lost sinner, you are the man, and looking in your face I tell you tonight "Hell may be escaped — perdition may be avoided, and Heaven entered!" O cry out, "How?" I answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved!"
A word or two only on the next glorious truth taught in the text, a truth which I have already rather anticipated: God does not desire the sinner's ruin. It is no pleasure to God to deliver over the sinner to his just doom — He takes no delight in Hell. The infinitely happy God does not find one of the sources of his happiness in the perdition of His creatures. He will punish them eternally if they die in their sin; His truth and justice require it; but he finds no joy in that punishment. The bottomless pit was never dug to gratify revenge, nor were the eternal fires kindled in order to give vent to blinded fury. Hell was never meant for man at all — but for the devil and his angels; and it is only if man prefers Satan to God on earth, that he must reap the consequence of his choice in eternity — by dwelling forever in the home of the one he has preferred.
God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, nor His Spirit into the world to seal men for destruction. It is they who, rejecting the Son and resisting the Spirit, make their own destruction certain. God has declared by an oath that He takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner. "As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Not only does God repudiate the idea of His finding pleasure in the death of the sinner — but he also declares He finds pleasure in their salvation: "but that the wicked turn from His way and live." Ezekiel 33.11. Let Gethsemane bear its witness — let Calvary add its deep "Amen."
How shall we now conclude? What can I say to arrest you in your course, and save you from its consequences? I will cry out, in the language of the text, "Turn, Turn!" I see tonight a multitude of immortal spirits rushing with the speed of time to eternal doom, of which they have no conception. I behold a number of mad souls choosing eternal damnation rather than eternal life. O, turn, turn! Why will you die?
Stop sinner! For your soul's sake — for Heaven's sake — for Hell's sake — stop! For eternity's sake, stop and turn!
Do you cry, "Turn where?" Why yonder, to the Rock of Ages. Hide yourself in the cleft of the rock — take shelter in the wounds of Jesus. Do not wait one moment — but escape for your life! Turn, Turn, Why will you Die?