THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

The Punishment of the Wicked

"What will you say when He shall punish you?"
Jeremiah 13:21

As we pass through life many sad and solemn scenes meet our eye- the natural result of the fall and the bitter fruit of sin. But, perhaps, no spectacle is invested with a solemnity so appalling as that of a criminal at the bar of justice, awaiting the judgment of the court, to whom the Judge, wearing the awful symbol of condemnation, addresses the terrible question, "Prisoner at the bar, what have you to say why the sentence of death should not be passed upon you?" Awfully impressive as is this scene, it is but the faint shadow of a spectacle infinitely more appalling which awaits this fallen world- the final and eternal condemnation of the wicked.
  That such an event is reasonable the light of nature teaches, and that it is certain, the Book of Revelation declares. Reason would teach us that, living under a moral government- a government of rewards and punishments, if we do well, it is accepted of God, and that if we do not do well, sin lies at the door and is righteously punished. Thus by the dim light of nature we may learn that, that must be an unholy government which would allow sin to pass unpunished, and that, that must be an unjust government that would allow good to go unrewarded.
  But, in proof of a judgment to come we have stronger evidence than that of reason. Divine revelation comes to our aid, and affirms emphatically and solemnly that, "We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that every man may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad." That, "God has appointed a day in which He will Judge the world in righteousness." That, "the Lord comes with ten thousand of His holy ones to execute Judgment upon all, and to convince all who are ungodly of all their unrighteous deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him."
  Such are some of the Scripture declarations concerning this momentous subject. It is to one particular view our present reading will be restricted- namely, the final, awful, and everlasting punishment of the ungodly. If we saw a friend, arraigned in a criminal court of justice about to be tried for his life, we would naturally and anxiously inquire, "Are you well prepared with your defense? Have you carefully weighed every jot of the evidence, and thoroughly examined the nature of the plea you purpose to adduce?" To the sinner speeding to the judgment seat of Christ we address a similar but an infinitely more momentous inquiry, "Are you prepared for your trial? With what plea are you provided in arrest of judgment? What have you to say why the sentence of eternal death should not be pronounced upon you? Have you any excuse for your sins, any palliation of your crimes, any reason for your rejection of His Son, which the Judge will accept? What will you say when He shall punish you?- what plea, what excuse, what extenuation will you allege when the Judge shall proceed to pronounce the awful sentence of eternal doom?" Such is the solemn, awakening subject, which now asks your serious and prayerful attention. May the Holy Spirit aid and bless our meditation.
  First, with regard to the CERTAINTY of the punishment of the wicked. No truth is more clearly revealed in the Bible than that it is God's solemn purpose to punish the ungodly. It must, from the very necessity of the case, be so. God is holy, and if just to Himself He must, from the holiness of His nature, punish sin. Were the ungodly, the impenitent and the unbelieving to go unpunished, what a lowering of His moral government, and what an indelible dishonor to Himself would present itself to the eyes of all the holy beings in heaven. Sin can never go unpunished. God's holiness, and justice, and truth must be vindicated, either in the person of the sinner or in the person of a substitute.
  A few declarations from God's Word will be sufficient to set this momentous question at rest. That of our text is decisive- "He shall PUNISH you." "He will by no means clear the guilty." "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: they shall be PUNISHED with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be PUNISHED." "How can you escape the damnation of hell?" "Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? " "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
  What need we further evidence of the awful truth that, God will most surely punish the wicked? The Bible is replete with awful examples confirmatory of the fact. The destruction of the antediluvian world by water, of the Cities of the Plain by fire, of Jerusalem by the invasion of Titus, and countless other examples testify to His hatred of sin and of His inexorable justice in punishing it.
  And, were it possible to unveil the bottomless pit, and for a moment penetrate the "mist of darkness" that enshrouds the damned, with what startling and convincing force would the terrible fact flash upon every skeptical mind, hitherto wont to regard hell as a myth and to make sport of its quenchless fire! Nothing, my unconverted reader, has kept you from increasing the countless witnesses to the truth that, God will by no means clear the guilty, but His infinite patience. "The patience of God is salvation."
  It has been thus far your salvation from immediate destruction, into which at any moment of its suspension, and at any hour of your being, you may inevitably and irremediably be plunged. There is no lack of power on the part of God to do this. More easily than you can crush a worm, or snap a thread, can God cast you into hell. He but "looks upon the earth and it trembles," and, "at His rebuke the rocks are thrown down!" It is no security against this awful infliction of God's power that there are no visible means of death at hand, no apparent prospect of immediate destruction. They are at hand, however unseen by you.
  When you go forth in the morning in an unrenewed state, your whole path throughout the day is on the very brink of an eternity of woe, and along the very mouth of the bottomless pit. The bow of death is bent, and the arrow, pointing at your heart, is upon the string, waiting but God's word to bid it fly. There is no necessity that God should suspend a single law of nature in order to remove you from the world. He has but to unveil His power, to withdraw His restraints, and the slightest hair, an atom of matter, a simple vapor, a drop of blood, could send your soul into eternity.
  Over the abyss of hell God holds you in His hand, as you would hold a deadly scorpion over burning coals, ready to let it fall. What are you in His sight, viewed as in your sins and guilt and rebellion, but as a loathsome thing, more repulsive and hateful to Him than to you is the most venomous serpent that drags its slimy form across your path.
 No, more, you are under present condemnation. "He that believes not is condemned already." The sentence is not yet executed, the law has not yet taken effect; but like a criminal condemned to die, you only wait the solemn knell that announces the awful moment has arrived. Again I remind you that nothing but the good pleasure of God that keeps you any moment out of hell. No robustness of health, no watchful guards posted along the avenues of life, no adroit evasion of the pestilence, no running from danger, no preservatives against, or palliatives of, disease, no remedy or skill, can prevail when God ceases His patience and withdraws His power.
  Then will He "laugh at your calamity and mock when your fear comes." "I will tread them in My anger and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My clothing." O solemn thought, that the Omnipotence of God will so crush out the blood of ungodly men, that it shall sprinkle and stain His very garments! Can any image convey to us a more appalling idea of the destruction of the wicked? "What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" What if that patience should in a moment cease?- that moment you are in hell!
  All the ministers of grace on earth, and all the angels of God in heaven, could not help you when the pit opens its mouth to swallow you up. Presume not, then, upon the patience of God. Persist not in sin and rebellion. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." God grant that this may not be your presumption and your end!
  The punishment of the wicked will be TERRIBLE in the extreme. The imagination of man cannot conceive any calamity so appalling as the final condition of a lost soul. The Italian poet Dante, with his intensely vivid imagination and marvellous powers of description, has drawn an appalling picture of hell; but no picture is so appalling, and none so true, as that presented to us in the Word of God. What are some of the expressions and images employed by the sacred penmen, to delineate the place and condition of the lost?
  Listen to them attentively, my reader, ponder them thoughtfully, and pray over them earnestly- it is for your life!  The hell of the wicked is described as–
"the outpouring of God's wrath"
"the lake of fire"
"fire and brimstone"
"the "bottomless pit"
"the worm that dies not, and as the fire that shall never be quenched"
"the perdition of ungodly men"
"an impassable gulf"
"outer darkness "
"the gnashing of teeth"
"destruction from the presence of the Lord"
"the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God "
"the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever."
  Surely we need not multiply these appalling expressions, so vividly and truly descriptive of the terrible condition of sinners falling into the hands of a holy, just, and angry Lord God. Will not this suffice to arouse, alarm, and induce you to pause and reflect upon what may be, upon what must be, the final end of your present course of sin and rebellion against God- of the rejection of Christ, and of the self-destruction of your own soul. Dying unconverted, dying with the weapons of hostility against God in your hands- terrible witnesses to your treason and your crime!- how can you escape the damnation of hell?
  The punishment of the wicked, thus terrible, will yet be most RIGHTEOUS. No truth will flash upon the condemned mind with more overwhelming force in the last great day than this- the perfect righteousness of God in the condemnation of the ungodly. Sinners will read in the lurid light of the quenchless flames of hell, as they never read before, the strict JUSTICE of their doom. In their eyes, God's throne, though awful, will appear guiltless; His justice, though severe, most just; and the sentence, though more terrible than thought can conceive, or language describe, based upon the principles of the divinest equity.
  O sinner, you neglecter of the great salvation, you despiser and rejecter of Jesus, you slave of Satan, you servant of sin, you Sabbath-breaker, you profane, you unclean, you who makes and loves lying, how will these sins then rise before you in all their measureless magnitude, indescribable blackness, and ineffaceable guilt! You will then remember- for no faculty of the mind will be in such awful force as memory- you will then remember the glorious Gospel that you heard but to turn from it; the faithful sermons but to reject them;  the life-boat of salvation that floated to your aid but to reject it; the convictions you had but to stifle them; the hand of God outstretched to you but to spurn it;  the loving, beseeching Savior inviting you but to disbelieve, despise, and reject Him!
  Then will you see that you preferred sin to holiness, Satan to God, yourself to Christ, hell to heaven, eternal woe to eternal happiness! Will not your condemnation, then, be strictly just? In giving you what you asked, in granting you what you preferred, in assigning to you a doom you yourself intelligently, deliberately, solemnly chose, will you not be most equitably judged, and most righteously condemned? Most assuredly! Every lost soul shall acknowledge that he himself, and not God, was the author of his ruin- "I am here," he will exclaim, "in this insufferable agony, in this interminable torment, in this quenchless fire, because I chose it. I am a moral suicide. I loved my sin, and served Satan, and followed the world; made a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell, and I now receive the due reward of my choice. The wages of sin is death: I faithfully earned my wages, and the just payment thereof is mine. You are righteous, O Lord, in that You have judged thus." This conducts to another and a yet more solemn thought.
  The punishment of the ungodly will be ETERNAL. That there should be those who deny this truth is no marvel. Satan has left no art unemployed, and no effort untried, to lessen in the eyes of sinners the terribleness of their appalling doom. One of his most ingenious and successful devices is, the denial of the eternity of future punishment. If he can succeed in palming upon his victims the fiction that hell is a myth; or, if this idea is too monstrous to believe, that it is, at the least, but a place of temporary purification, washed in whose flames, and purified by whose sufferings, the soul is fitted to enter Paradise, he has done much to lessen the apprehension of its terrors, and to reconcile the sinner to the thought of his dread doom. Hence the popular notion of a brief purgatorial state of punishment, so welcome to the depraved nature, the sin-loving heart of man.
  But no sophistry of Satan, and no ingenuity of error, and no self-deception of the human heart touches the revealed doctrine that the future punishment of the wicked is endless. In vindication of this all-momentous and all-solemn subject, human reason shall be silent. Let God's Word alone speak. His voice only shall be heard. And even here we are compelled to place a limit. A few Scripture proofs only must suffice. To the law and to the testimony let us refer a doctrine, involving interests outweighing the worth of ten thousand worlds like this. Listen devoutly and believingly to the following declarations-
  "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the Gospel; who shall be punished with EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power."  "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to EVERLASTING life, and some to shame and EVERLASTING CONTEMPT." "Depart from Me, you cursed, into EVERLASTING FIRE, prepared for the devil and his angels." "And these shall go away into EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT, but the righteous into ETERNAL life ." "If your hand offend you cut it off, it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that NEVER shall be quenched; where their worm DIES NOT, and the fire is NOT QUENCHED." "To whom the mist of darkness is reserved FOREVER." "And her smoke rose up FOREVER AND EVER." Let these awful statements suffice to prove the scripturalness of the doctrine, of the endlessness, the eternity of future punishment.
  O! what imagination can conceive the terribleness of never-ending woe!  How dreadful and indescribable the anguish of one moment's endurance of hell fire!  Imagine then, if it be possible, what interminable ages must be millions and millions of years rolling round, and yet millions and millions more to roll, and still no nearer the end of suffering than when it first began! O who can adequately portray the state of the soul in such a woe as this?
  And yet see how sinners risk eternal happiness, and court everlasting torment, and rush into quenchless flames, for the carnal, sensual, worldly enjoyment of a moment! Listen, O listen, to the searching, solemn question of our Lord: "What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" The loss of the soul! What can compensate for such a catastrophe? What make up for such a loss?  Not present wealth- nor fame- nor pleasure- nor anything that earth can give, when once the soul is cast away forever! O whatever else you lose, do not lose your precious, priceless, immortal soul. Once lost, it is lost FOREVER!
"Lord, shall we part with gold for dross,
With solid good for show!
Outlive our bliss, and mourn our loss
In everlasting woe!
 "Let us not lose the living God
For one short dream of joy,
With fond embrace cling to a clod
And fling all heaven away.
 "Vain world, your weak attempts forbear,
We all your charms defy,
And rate our precious souls too dear
For all your wealth to buy."
  But God propounds a personal, searching, and solemn question: "What will you say when He shall punish you?" In other words, "What, sinner, will be your excuse, what your line of defense, what your plea in arrest of judgment when God shall arise to punish?" What should we think of the wisdom of a man about to stand in a court of justice to meet a charge imperiling his most precious interests, who had bestowed no reflection whatever upon his line of defense? Or, yet more, what would be our opinion of the sanity of a criminal arraigned upon a capital charge, whose proposed proofs of innocence and pleas of defense should be of the most senseless and childish, even of a most treasonable and criminating nature? But such will certainly and inevitably be the position of every unconverted sinner cited to appear at Christ's tribunal in judgment.
  What then will you say? You will not, as a rational being, with your mental faculties unimpaired, and your consciousness of right and wrong unclouded, be able to plead exemption from punishment on the ground of irresponsibility. Nor can you plead that you possessed no Bible -had not been favored with a preached Gospel- had not heard of Christ- had not been warned by providence, nor admonished by conscience, nor moved by conviction, nor stirred by the Spirit. You cannot offer the plea that you had no time to seek salvation;  that your incitements to sin were irresistible, your evil passions irrepressible, your position in life surrounded by influences with which you had no power to combat. None of these pleas- even if you had the brazenness to present them- would avail to arrest the stern and terrible arm of Divine law and justice.
  What then will you say when He shall punish you? Alas! like the intruder at the marriage feast, not having on a wedding garment, to this solemn, heart-searching appeal you will be "speechless." You have now your ready excuses, your plausible arguments, your ingenious pleas why you should not be a Christian. You can start objections, and indulge in cavils, and postpone to a more convenient season the great work of conversion, the duty of repentance and faith, but what will you do in the solemn day? What will you answer Him when God shall punish you? Will you dispute His authority, defy His power, or flee from His presence? This you cannot do. All beings will then bend to Him the knee, and all nations will be prostrate at His feet.
  Escape from Him you cannot. No rocks, or mountains, or hills move at your call, to veil you from His eye, or shield you from His wrath. Speechless and self-condemned, bound hand and foot, you are led away, and "cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." Inquire, in the language of Job- "What then shall I do when God rises up? And when He visits, what shall I answer Him?"
  But must this be your terrible and inevitable doom? Listen to the touching message of God: "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!" "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon Him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."
  In proof of this, God has provided an expedient most glorifying to Himself and suitable to us, by which the greatest sinner, repenting of his sins and believing in Christ, may be saved. It is revealed in those wondrous words: "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Accept, in penitence and faith and gratitude, this marvellous message of love; abandon your excuses; cast away your weapons of rebellion against God; turn from your evil ways; look to the Cross; accept the Savior; believe and be saved!
 God now commands you to repent, and Christ now invites you to believe. Why, then, should you perish? Is there no balm in Gilead, and no Physician there? Is there no life-boat that will rescue you from the yawning abyss, no plank that will float you safely to the shore? Oh yes!  There is a Physician- it is Jesus. There is balm- it is His precious, sin-atoning blood. There is a plank that will snatch you from death- it is the Cross of Calvary. There is a life-boat that will bear you through the surging billows in safety to the shore of Heaven- it is the Savior who, upon the Cross, died for the chief of sinners, and of whom it is recorded that, "He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him." Why then will you, why should you die?
  Believer in Jesus! that day of wrath, that scene of punishment will have no woe nor terror for you. The day that will "rain upon the wicked snares, and fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest," will be to you a day of salvation, of glory, and of triumph. You will be found in Christ, robed with His righteousness, and washed from every stain in His blood.
  Your present faint love will then be found true love; your weak faith, real faith; your trembling hope, firm as the throne. Christ has engaged in covenant to bring home all that the Father gave to Him. There will not be one stray sheep from His fold, not one missing jewel from His cabinet, not a soul lost for whom he shed His atoning blood. All will be there when He comes in majesty, glory, and power to receive and to present His Bride to His Father.
  Oh, what a day of glory, of bliss, of triumph will that day be to you! From myriads of voices- and your's will swell the harmony- the anthem of salvation, the shout of joy will ascend and roll through the mansions of heaven: "Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us! this is the Lord, we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in Him."
  The very elements which will be employed in the everlasting destruction of the wicked, will be the very elements which will unite in the everlasting salvation of the righteous. The waters which drowned the antediluvian sinners, bore Noah and his family in safety to the shore. What proved a grave to the one, proved as an ark to the others. Terrible as the last day will be to the ungodly, it will be a day of consummate glory to the saints. In the person and face of the Judge you will recognize the form and countenance of the Savior. The eye that will flash indignation and vengeance upon His enemies, will beam love and kindness and welcome upon His friends. The voice, louder and more piercing than ten thousand thunders; which will say to them "DEPART!" -sweeter and more melodious than the united harps of angels, will say to you "come!"
  The Lord grant that we may find mercy of Him in that day. "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among its shall dwell in everlasting burnings?" Not one who has fled as a poor, lost sinner to the Cross, and has hid in the wounded side of the Savior. Covered within a cleft of this Rock, he shall be safe in the great, the terrible Day of the Lord.
  Reader! are you there? then, go forth and live and labor, and if need be, suffer and die for Christ!  If not there, give no sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids, until you know that you are! "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him;  lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Verily I say unto you, You shall by no means come out of there, until you bast paid the uttermost farthing."

"How will your heart endure
 The terrors of that day,
When earth and Heaven before His face
Astonished, shrink away?
 "But before the trumpet shakes
The dwellings of the dead,
Hark! from the Gospel's gentle voice
What joyful tidings spread.
 "You sinners seek His grace,
Whose wrath you cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of the Cross
And find salvation there."