Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery
A Message by Pastor Eric Chang
Today we continue to study again the teaching of our Lord Jesus in Matthew Chapter 5. I say again and again that we have not come here to listen to the preaching of a man, to listen to human ideas, but to listen to the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. Let us read Mt 5:27-30:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Sin Is Conceived in the Heart
The Lord’s teaching in this passage is exceedingly rich and in the time that we have we will seek to see what the Lord has to teach us in these words. First let us be clear because in studying the teaching of the Lord Jesus, we must look exactly at the words, and then secondly, understand the spiritual principles that the Lord is expounding, or instructing us with. Here the Lord Jesus says, “If anybody looks at a woman so as to possess her in a lustful sort of way, that person has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” No matter what the seventh commandment says that you shall not commit adultery, but what is adultery? Is it only the physical act that is adultery? Or is adultery already commenced in the heart? Everybody knows that no sin would have been committed if it were not already first in the heart. As James says, “It is that which is first conceived of in the heart and then brought forth - that then is sin.” [Jam. 1:14-15] So sin always starts in the heart.
We must therefore understand that sin is a matter of the heart because whether we commit a sin or not is simply a matter of opportunity. We may not have the opportunity to commit a sin, but that does not mean that we would not commit that sin. The Lord Jesus is saying that God looks upon your heart. The fact that you did not commit a sin may only prove that you did not have the occasion, the opportunity to commit it. But granted the occasion, you would have done so because the sin is already there in your heart. So we must, as the Lord Jesus says, wipe away the superficial notion that only sin actually committed is sin, that sin of the heart is not sin. The Lord Jesus says, “Not so! God looks upon your heart.”
I often think of the Japanese who, when they came to China, committed every manner of sin. Were the Japanese people worse people than anyone else was? Not at all! In their own country, they do not commit more sins than anyone else does. The crime rate is not worse in Japan than anywhere else. Then why, when they came to China, they behaved like animals? What is it? It is because now, what society had prevented them from doing, [they could do]. The fear of the police, the fear of the law, the fear of society, the fear of other people’s criticism, the fear of other people’s opinion of you - those prevent a lot of sin from blossoming forth, if you could speak of it in this way. But take away the restrictions, take away the pressure and then see what happens? Everybody becomes like wild animals. The same is true of everybody; there is no exception to this. When I go to England, I see the English people behave decently and in order. Generally speaking, they are a law-abiding people. They are polite and courteous like everyone else. But do you know what they did when they went to Egypt? Do you know what they did in 1956? Well, you would hardly dare to contemplate the things that they did - the crime and the evil that was perpetrated. Why? Because now they are in a foreign country! The restrictions of the law had been removed! And these people who would normally behave in one society would in another way behave quite differently.
We all know also how so many American soldiers behave in Southeast Asia. It is well known throughout the whole of Southeast Asia. But are the Americans worse people than anyone else? Not at all! Are they worse than us? Are the Japanese worse? Are the British worse? Of course not! We deceive ourselves if we think so. Because granted if we were in a similar position, under the same pressures - with the social norms, the social mores, the social restrictions removed - you dare not think what you would be capable of doing. So the Lord Jesus looks deep beyond the purely superficial restrictions of society and He looks into the heart of man, and says, “Let me tell you something. Don’t think that God waits for you to actually commit adultery before He is going to judge you. The moment the thought of adultery is conceived in your heart, you have sinned before God and as every bit as guilty of adultery as the person who actually committed it, because if you were given the opportunity to do it, you would do it. Don’t deceive yourself.”
‘Looking’ Continuously & Intently with a Purpose of Lusting After a Woman
But now, let us ask a question: Is the Lord Jesus here saying that every time you look at a woman and you happen to like her, you have already committed sin? Wow! Then it would be hard to walk around in the world. You would say, “I would have to go out not only with sunglasses, but with blinds! Because if I look at a girl and I think, ‘Wow! She’s pretty!’ dear me, I have done it. I have committed sin in my heart already!” How can we live the Christian life? If that is the Lord’s teaching, I am afraid that we are all going to be in a hard way. So if a girl looks at a boy and says, “Wow! He’s good-looking!” she has sinned. She is ready for hell! “Wow!” you say, “This kind of teaching [is frightening]. Let us get to the door! Let me get out of here! I can’t stand it!” So perhaps the greatest blessing is to be blind, so that you will not be able to be led into temptation. Is that what the Lord Jesus is saying? No! Let us look carefully. The Lord Jesus is not saying things like this. People would be full of guilt complexes because, after all, if you see a boy or a girl who is good-looking, you cannot help saying, “Mmm, good-looking!” But that does not mean that you have lusted after the person. What the Lord Jesus says, [we will find out in a moment].
Here, when you study the Word of God, every tense is very important. The tenses are very important. What do we have here? We have here in the original what is a present participle. The present participle means there is a continuous looking, a gazing at the person. It is not just one glimpse, where when I look at a girl, I say, “Oh, she’s good-looking”, or at a boy and say, “He’s good-looking - a handsome guy!” No, it is a continuous gazing at the person. Have you found somebody sort of staring at you, gazing at you, until you feel very uncomfortable? What is this? It is this kind of gazing or looking at you all the time, and then with a certain lustful intent.
I think we in this world are familiar with people who do exactly this kind of thing. Many times you see them in the cafes, you see them in the buses - you see a boy staring at a girl, sort of looking at her and the very lustful intention is already written on his face. This is what the Lord Jesus means. It is not that you just have a glance, that you cannot look at a woman, that somehow every look is already sinful. But that you are gazing and then the next [part], which does not come out well in the English, is the expression of intention - looking intently with a view, with a purpose of lusting after her. That is what the Lord Jesus is saying specifically - a continuous looking with the purpose of lusting after her. That is more than just a glance, more than just a fleeting thought. It is an intention which is working and is building up. The will is involved in this kind of action. It is not just a fleeting thought, because otherwise every time a thought passes your mind, you have already sinned. That would be terrifying. We will have to pursue every thought and repent for every thought. You will spend the whole day repenting. Maybe that is a good thing, but is not exactly what the Lord Jesus is talking about here.
So here the Lord Jesus is not saying that if a boy looks at a girl, or a girl looks at a boy and likes and desires this boy, he has or she has already sinned. For as we saw, if that is the case, we cannot marry at all because, clearly, you are not going to marry somebody that you do not desire. You do not marry somebody that you do not love, that you do not like, that you do not somehow find something desirable in that person. And if looking at a girl and desiring to have her is already sin, then anybody who marries is already involved in sin before he has gone anywhere. The Lord Jesus is not talking about this. He is talking then about the attitude of sin.
The High Calling of Righteousness - Not Harboring Sin Even in Our Heart
Thus, having got this very clear in our minds, we see that sin is of the heart. And do not think that if you hide a sin in your heart that you shall not be judged for it. Never get away with this idea. It is sin in the heart. This is the principle that the Lord is teaching here, that if you harbor a sin, you nourish that sin in your heart - not just a passing thought that flashes through your mind, where you say, “Lord, let’s stop this. I won’t have this.” - but if it is a thought that you nourish, that you harbor, that you enjoy, the Lord says, “Be careful what you are thinking because God will hold you to account for your thoughts.”
Here we see the standard of purity, of righteousness the Lord requires of his disciples. The purity of heart, do you remember? The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. [Mt. 5:8] Now He is telling us what purity of heart means. Purity of heart means this: that you do not harbor sin in your heart. Don’t nourish the thought! Don’t nourish the sin in your heart! How important is this? How serious is this matter? The Lord Jesus says this, “If there is sin in your heart, you have to act so sternly and severely about it, that if you have to take out an eye or chop off a hand, [you would do so]. It is better that you do that than that your whole body goes into hell.
So, we are called to a very high calling of righteousness. God examines our hearts. He knows what you are thinking right now and what you think in the evening - what you think in the morning, but especially in the evening. When you are tired, when you lie upon the bed and you do not discipline your thoughts, and then your thoughts begin to wander - an adulterous thought, or thoughts of fornication begin to pass through your mind - that is the time to do something about it. Do not say, “Nobody sees!” because God looks upon the heart.
Another thing is this: as a man thinks in his heart, so he is. That means to say, if you nourish those thoughts, one of these days you are going to have the chance to do it, and my, you are going to do it! You are going to be sorry for it because you are going to pay for it - with God’s holiness and justice. So be careful of what you think. We must purify the heart.
Deal with Sin with Severity - Or Lose Your Salvation!
Let us continue to pursue this more carefully and to analyze what the Lord Jesus is saying to us. First let us study the relationship of the heart to its members. The Lord Jesus goes on to say, “Now if you sin like this, then pluck out your eye, for it is better to have your eye plucked out, if you look lustfully at a woman in order to commit adultery with her, than that you should go into hell.” What is the Lord Jesus saying? Is He saying literally take a knife and gouge out your eye? Is He saying [for us to think]: “Okay, this hand of mine is ready to commit sin, to steal, to commit adultery. Therefore I’ll take a knife and wallop it off and chop off the right hand.” What about the left hand? The left hand can sin, too. So having chopped off the right hand, the left hand is going to sin. What do you do with this one? Chop that one off, too? So what does the Lord Jesus mean? Does He mean literally that we should get a big knife and dispose of our hands? I think we shall all be cripples long before we ever get to the end of this life. Huh? We should all, as Christians, be cripples, because after all, which one has never had a sinful thought passing through the mind? Who has not had some kind of sinful thought? Therefore promptly grab the knife! And I think that surely every good Christian will be a crippled Christian by the end of the day. Is that what the Lord Jesus is telling us? Now surely the Lord Jesus has just said that sin is of the heart. Then what is the use of chopping off my hands? Gouging out my eye?
Is not the lesson clear to us? That no matter what pain is involved, what cost is involved, whatever you do, see to it that you do not commit sin because there is nothing more important in this world than that you should be saved. Our eye [is precious to us]. Many people say, “I would give my right eye for it.” What do they mean by this? They mean that their eye is something very precious to them. Their eye is very precious to them. There is nothing more precious to you in your possessions [than your eye]. I am sure you are ready to give up your car, give up your whatever. “Take it, so long as I can have my eye.” Your eye is more precious to you. But the Lord Jesus says that [line]!
Let us not be too literalistically-minded! When the Lord Jesus says of the Pharisees, that they strain out a mosquito and they swallow a camel, and you say, “Wow! The Pharisees have a great big mouth - they can swallow a camel. What kind of people were they?” Well, I think we must not fall into this kind of absurdity. The Lord Jesus is not saying that we all should go around with our kitchen knife, stick it in our belt there, and the moment we think of sinning, we grab out our kitchen knife and wham! Out it goes! Make sure we buy a nice sharp one in Chinatown! No, no, this is not the point. The Lord is saying, “So important it is, that if you had to, do it! Even so, it would be worth doing.” That is to say, there is nothing more important, no matter the suffering. Can you imagine the pain that would be involved to take out an eye, to gouge it out? In those days there were no anesthetics. You gouge it out - incredible! It almost makes you feel sick to think about it. And to chop a hand? Ouch! Think about that. But the Lord is saying, “No matter what is the pain, no matter what is the cost - and the cost is very high! It is because, look, if you chop off your right hand, you cannot work anymore. You are finished. How is a nurse going to work in a hospital with one hand? How are you going to work with one hand? You have become maimed; you are crippled. Your livelihood is gone. So not only the concept of suffering is there, but the concept of the loss of everything is involved, to be maimed and crippled. But the Lord says it is even better to endure all that than to lose your salvation. Now consider this. When I look at the Christians, I do not see that there is this understanding of salvation. I do not see there is this understanding of salvation at all. I see that there are Christians who still put many things - their profession, their work - everything else as being somehow more important than the work of salvation. So we must come to understand that there is simply nothing more important than the Gospel. Yet I find people, when you speak to them about the Gospel, what do they say? They say, “I don’t have time. I will come if I have time.” What kind of a concept is this? Do you think that there is something more important than salvation? You see the error of this thinking is due to the fact that we think only of the temporal, and we have failed to see the importance of the eternal. They are those who simply do not see spiritual values. There is no need to gouge out their eyes because they simply do not see the value of eternal things. They simply do not see. They are blind already. To gouge out their eye is of no value. These words are being addressed to Christians.
Self-Control Is Essential to Salvation
But now I would like to touch on one other important point. Does the Lord Jesus mean so figuratively that there is no particular meaning to the cutting off of the hand, gouging out of the eye, apart from saying that we must understand the importance of being saved? Not at all! We must understand that for a Christian, the whole body must be brought under subjugation. This subjugation many Christians do not seem to understand - the disciplining of the body. Did you know that salvation is closely tied up to the disciplining of the body? That this body, its feelings, its lusts, its desires must be firmly controlled. One of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, as we have seen before. Why? Because self-control is essential to salvation! Did you know that? Paul spoke about judgment, of self-control and righteousness in Acts 24:25. Surprising, isn’t it? Why did he speak of self-control? It is because salvation is closely tied up with self-control. That is why Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:27: “That I bring my body under slavery, lest having preached to others, I myself should be cast away.” I bring my body into slavery. I subjugate my body. I give my body black eyes. How do you compare to that? Why did Paul do that? Is he just somebody who liked to beat himself? Is he an ascetic who likes to punish himself? Not at all! Paul is no ascetic.
There are some monks, for example, who sleep on hard beds because they think that this earns them merit with God. That is wrong! We do not earn any merit. But salvation has to do with the control, the subjugation of the body. I wish that there was time to develop this aspect of the Lord’s teaching, but we will content ourselves today with just mentioning it and coming back to it on some other occasion.
If you want to be saved, if you want to be sure that you are not going to be disqualified at the end, understand that you need to bring your body under subjugation, control, discipline. And one of the very good ways of disciplining the body is fasting. Did you know that truth? Fasting is little understood today, but it is still an important element in the teaching of the Lord, an important element in the teaching of the church. It was very much practised in the Early Church, not to earn salvation, but to discipline the body, to bring the body under subjugation.
The Spiritual Battle - Conquer Our ‘Self’
If we cannot conquer our body, if we cannot have the victory over our self, our greed, our lusts, how are we going to win any spiritual battles? The victory in spiritual battles then, let us understand clearly, begins with the victory over ‘self’, and over the flesh. That is why Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:27 that: “I bring my body into slavery.” He says that in many other ways. He says the same thing in Gal. 5:24, 6:14, and Rom. 8:13. All these places, he says about mortifying the deeds of the flesh. What does that mean? That means bring the deeds of the flesh to death. That means do not allow them to find any expression. It is strange that today in the teaching of the church, this kind of important teaching finds virtually no expression. The only emphasis is always on being saved.
Being saved has a lot more to it than just being baptized. There is the battle, that spiritual warfare that we are engaged in. And the first step is to win the victory in ourselves. That is why it is said in a proverb, “He who overcomes himself, who brings himself under control, is greater than he who conquers seven cities”. That is very true, you know. There are people who conquer the whole world but cannot conquer themselves. They end up being defeated, ruined, destroyed, so that they lose everything else that they ever conquered. The victory must be won first and foremost in ourselves.
But here there are other questions when we meditate into the words of our Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus says here that so important it is that we must win the victory in ourselves. Why? So that we do not go down into hell! If you commit the sin of adultery, whether in your heart or in actual practice, the OT sentence upon adultery is death. It is a mortal sin - a sin punishable by death. For that kind of sin, there was no sacrifice in the temple. For that kind of sin, the sentence was death. How does one get forgiveness for such a sin? There is no discussion here of forgiveness. So let us ask a question: If this is so, then when you were not a Christian, did you not commit that kind of sin sometime or another? Maybe you actually committed adultery and fornication, never mind in your hearts. But if that is the standard of justice, then even if only you commit it in your heart, you are already, by the standard of God sentenced to hell. You have committed mortal sin - sin punishable by death, for which there is no sacrifice in the temple.
You see in the OT, in the temple, the only sacrifice that was available was sacrifice for sins of ignorance, sins unwittingly committed, not for deliberate sins, which were sins that were planned, cool, calculated, worked out, until they were conceived and executed. For that kind of sin, there was no temple sacrifice. There was no sacrifice in the temple for that. So then what happens to all of us who committed sins before we came to know the Lord, let alone all the sins we committed after we become Christians? What is going to happen to us? Are we not all already condemned to hell? Is it not clear then that there is no living person who can avoid the disaster of hell? Is there anybody here who can say that I never committed sins in my thoughts? Think of the sins you already actually committed in your body, never mind the things that you did in your mind. Then how, how is any living person to be justified under the teaching of Jesus? We are all finished! How shall we be saved?
By His High Standard, Jesus Implies the Need for Salvation through Him
This very teaching of the Lord brings up the whole question of salvation. It sets a standard such that no living man, no flesh can be justified before God. How then shall we escape the disaster of hell? Do you not see then that in the light of this teaching that the Lord Jesus is giving, that He is saying exactly what Paul said in Rom. 3:23? Well, Paul is saying exactly what the Lord is saying, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We are all finished! We are all condemned men - condemned to die! Now if you are not a Christian, then you best attend carefully to the words of the Lord Jesus here. The Lord is saying categorically to you, you have only one future awaiting you: that future is hell. How are we going to be saved?
We can see then that the Lord’s teaching presupposes - it implies, it establishes - the need for salvation. It establishes the need for the forgiveness of sins, which we are unable for ourselves to achieve. Because here it says, “Don’t commit it!” but it does not tell us what to do if we already committed it. What are we going to do? Well, the Lord Jesus, thanks be to God, has told us elsewhere what we are to do. We are to repent! He opened - remember we started on the teaching of the Lord Jesus where He began with the words: “Repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That was the first word in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Be totally changed! Change the whole direction of your life.
From all this now, we begin to see that all this causes us to realize, when we see how God looks at sin, then we realize the terribleness of sin, the fearfulness of sin. Understand this if you are not a Christian, and understand it clearly that God, in His holiness, will have nothing else to do with you than to consign you to hell if you persist in sin. This universe of God is meant to be sinless and He is going to remove every stain of sin. You can be sure of that. Some people ask why does God not do something about the problems of the world. Why does He not do it? Let me tell you, He is doing something about it every minute. There is no point asking such questions. He is going to remove every bit and every stain of sin that is in this world. If you hang on to sin, He will have to remove you with all the sin. But thanks be to God that He has given us an alternative! That having caused us to see the terribleness of sin, the Lord Jesus shows us now why He came into the world. He started His teaching, as we saw with the word ‘repent’.
But you say that there is no use to repent because this sin has no forgiveness under the OT law. Adultery is punishable by death! There is no sacrifice to cover it. So what is the use of repenting? True, the OT could not save you. But thanks be to God! The Lord Jesus says for example in Mk.10:45, “I have come” - “the Son of man has come... to give his life as a ransom for many.” He came precisely to save you. That is what He came for. And when we partake of Communion - every week when we take Communion - it is reminding us again, that if it were not for His body and His blood, all of us would be ending up in hell. Not one of us will avoid the disaster of hell! And take that thought to you to Communion. Every time you come to Communion, think about it: “If it were not for this body, Lord, if it were not for this blood, I would be going right down there and spend all eternity in destruction.” Ponder carefully then the wonder of the Lord’s teaching.
Having Been Saved from Sin, We Are Not to Sin Again Freely
But then, shall we say, “Therefore, because the body and blood of Christ has redeemed me, ah, therefore I am free to continue in sin?” Well, this thinking is too common among Christians and I have dealt with this before and I shall not delay here on this point now. But remember, if these words are not addressed to the disciples, then who are they addressed to? The Lord Jesus is here talking to His disciples, and He says - He warns them - “Be careful how you think!” This same teaching is repeated in Mt. 18:8-9. It is also repeated again in Mk. 9:43-48 to emphasize the importance of His words here. The important sayings of the Lord Jesus are repeated again to emphasize the importance. We are slow to learn. Often we hear a thing once, we do not remember it. The Lord repeats it that we may remember it, that it may enter into our dull spiritual understanding.
If these words are not addressed to the disciples, then who are they addressed to? For to speak to a non-Christian about that, that he will cut his hand or gouge his eye out, there is not even a possibility that he would even consider. You would be throwing your pearls before swine. No, no! Think carefully about this. The Lord is warning His disciples: “Don’t think that because I have redeemed you with My blood, don’t think that because I have come to put My life down as a ransom for you, that therefore you can think of going on in sin! Don’t dream of it!” Paul says, “God forbid! Don’t let the thought even cross your mind. Don’t deceive yourself. God is not deceived!” And he goes on to say, as we saw the other time, “that no fornicators, no sinners, no adulterers...” - the whole list, and he says, “none of these will enter the kingdom of God, no matter what they call themselves.” [Gal. 5:19-21] Consider carefully the Word of God. Make sure you live a holy life. Salvation is not an excuse to sin. Do not let any human notions, traditions or doctrines blind your eye to the dangers that are ahead, even for Christians. Follow! Look at the teaching of Jesus; do not look at the teaching of men and see what He says to you, not what I say to you.
No One Can Escape the Judgement of God at the Resurrection
Our time is going quickly and I have to pause just on one other thing, or two other things. The first is about your body. Notice carefully the words of the Lord Jesus, there is so much in it. He says, “Gouge out your eye or chop off your hand so that your whole body may not be thrown into hell.” “Ha!” you say. “What about those guys who got cremated? What about those people in Northern Ireland who got blown up by the bombs? There is no ‘body’ to throw into hell. They have long since been blown into dust. Ah! There is no problem then. The best way (you know, there are some people who think like this) to escape judgment is to get cremated after you die because there is no body to throw into hell. Well, do not be deceived and do not be naïve, because, of course, here you can see, if you look carefully at the Lord’s teaching, the teaching of the resurrection is immediately implied. And of course, He goes on specifically to speak about the resurrection later. You see how, in a simple passage like this, so many doctrines are involved - the doctrine of redemption, the doctrine of the resurrection, the doctrine of sanctification, the doctrine of salvation - everything is into these simple words. It looks simple, doesn’t it? Now you can see what is the depth and the riches of the teachings of Jesus. For the unseeing eye, there is nothing to see. For the seeing eye, there is so much to see that you hardly know where to begin. Such are the riches.
So there is already presupposed the doctrine of the resurrection before the doctrine of the judgment as well as the doctrine of the last things - the doctrine of hell. That is exactly what Paul says, in fact, in Acts 24:15, which last Sunday we read together and maybe many did not notice. What does Acts 24:15 say? Paul says there that we shall be raised - “both the just and the unjust” - in the resurrection - the resurrection to the judgment. Don’t think there is any way of escaping the judgment of God! Otherwise, do you see why God in His wisdom has given us the doctrine of the resurrection? Because many evil people will say to themselves, “So long as I die and I get my body blown up and burned and they scatter my ashes in the sea, then I can escape the judgment of God.” No such luck! No such hope! That is why the doctrine of the resurrection is there. The Lord has warned us: we will in no way escape His judgment; we will never outwit God. He will bring together your dust and your ashes and see to it that you stand there in His judgment.
The Doctrine of Hell
I must conclude on this point on the doctrine of hell. The Lord Jesus has spoken here several times about hell and it is time for us briefly to look at it and so important is this doctrine that I shall come back to it again. But when we come to the doctrine of hell, I want to say immediately in these closing moments, that nobody should preach about hell who cannot feel the pain and horror of hell in his heart. Anyone who preaches hell as though it were something to relish over - that he can roast the sinners in there, hang them over the sulphuric flames, and see them there sizzling like sausages in a barbecue - anyone who relishes in the doctrine of hell, I think that person had better keep his mouth shut and leave the church in peace. Nobody is entitled to preach about hell who cannot preach with a sense of the pain, the horror, the fearfulness of hell and the reality of hell.
There was a girl in Shanghai who was not a Christian. She was in one of the colleges in Shanghai, and she died. She died for several hours, but they left her body there. A few or some hours later, I forgot whether it was 8 or 9 hours later, she came back to life. When she came back to life, she was wet with perspiration and was trembling with fear. People asked her, “What happened to you? Do you know that you died?” She said, “I know I had died. I want to tell you something. I had the most horrible and frightening experience in my life!” They said, “What happened to you?” She said, “I have been granted a vision of hell. I was taken down to have a look at hell.” She was not a Christian, remember that. And she said, “When I saw hell, when I saw this fearful and terrifying place, God allowed me to return. He allowed me to return to tell you all what hell is like, that you may, if you are not afraid of God, you may be afraid of hell.” There are some sinners who are not afraid of anything. You tell them of the love of God - it has no impression on them. The only language they seem to understand is the language of fear, and God in His wisdom gives us both languages - the language of love and the language of fear. This girl - and what I am telling you is absolutely true - was not a Christian. She became a Christian after this experience. As a result of this, this whole college in Shanghai had a revival, and hundreds of them came to the Lord upon her testimony because they knew that she spoke the truth and they knew that she was no Christian. The reality of hell is something fearful, if only one can grasp it.
Not Believing in Hell or Other Things Do Not Change the Facts
Do not say to yourself, “Well, I don’t believe in this.” I have emphasized this before, that believing a thing or not believing a thing changes no facts whatsoever. Always remember clearly in your mind that belief changes nothing in your life, as far as the facts are concerned. You do not believe it? It does not make any difference! If you do not believe there is a place in the world called Australia, what difference does it make? Does Australia disappear because you do not believe it? If you tell the ancient people that there would be planes flying in the air and they say, “I don’t believe it” what difference does it make? Facts do not change because you believe it or do not believe it. It only changes you! Faith changes you; it does not change the facts. Always remember this clearly. So do not comfort yourself and say, “Well, if I don’t believe it, there wouldn’t be any hell.” I tell you, you will just have a nasty surprise when it comes to you!
If this house were on fire, and somebody says, “The house is on fire”, and it is really on fire, and you say, “I don’t believe it”, do you think the fire will go out? It will be so convenient. I wish it could be put out, just by saying, “I don’t believe it” and the fire goes out. That would be marvellous - a quick solution to every problem! Unfortunately, believing a thing or not believing a thing changes absolutely nothing as far as the facts are concerned. It only changes you, so be careful how it is.
So if the doctor tells you one day that you have cancer, and you say, “I don’t believe it! I don’t feel anything! I have no pain in my body. I feel perfectly normal”, do you think your cancer will disappear? That is exactly what the doctor said to my father: “You have cancer in your neck.” He did not feel anything. No pain! Nothing! Two months later, he was dead. He still did not feel any pain at the time, but he died. So do not think that believing or not believing a thing makes any difference. I say this particularly because people like to shut out hell from their thinking. They say, “I don’t want to think about hell. I don’t want to think about death, and so it doesn’t exist.” Unfortunately it is there. It is not going to go away because you do not believe it. Always remember that! Always remember then that faith affects you; it does not affect the facts. It affects your attitude towards the facts.
The Necessity of Having a Hell
When we come to this matter of hell, I want to share just a few points since our time is going by very quickly. First, why is hell necessary? I think about it and ponder the matter and I say, “Thanks be to God that there is a hell!” You say, “What did you say?” I say, “I thank God that there is a hell.” And I say this in all humility, in fear and trembling. You say, “Oh, how can you say a thing like that?” Well, I tell you why! If there is no hell, there will be no justice in this world. I think, for example, of the things that happened in this century. I think of the horrors - to bring our minds to recent times - the horrors of the Second World War. I think of those people who put 6M Jews and other people - Poles, Dutch and the like - in the gas chambers. These included women and children as well as men, who did not even know what the war was all about, and gassed them mercilessly to death. I think of the kind of evil that can do this kind of thing. I think of the evil that can take delight in torturing people slowly to death. I think that there must be some way to settle the account.
I think of people like Hitler who caused the deaths, not only of the 6M people in the gas chambers, but of the 20M people in Europe alone who died - bombed to death, shot to death, burned to death - all because of this man, this megalomaniac. And he, when the disaster came, having brought the world down in flames and ruins around him, just put a bullet in his own head and blew himself up to escape the judgment of men. I would say to myself, “Should this man - who had caused the death of 20M people, people who were fathers and sons and mothers and sisters and daughters and grandmothers and all kinds of people, who caused the misery and the pain and the suffering of countless millions - should he just get away with one shot in the head?” I say that is not justice. Do you think that is justice? I would say that he must be made to be held to account for the deaths of those multitudes. That is, if these people must suffer, then his suffering must be at least 20M times what they suffered. Otherwise, frankly I do not see there is justice. Not that I suffered; I suffered nothing very much at the hands of this man. But I think of those others who suffered; for their sake, I feel there must be justice. Do you think there is justice that this man, having caused the misery and wretchedness of countless millions should escape with one shot, with no pain, no suffering, nothing? Would you say that that is justice? Well, you are entitled to your opinion, but I thank God that there is a place of justice in this world, that God will settle the account. Every man will have his share. And I then would praise God because justice, as I understand it, and inadequate as my understanding is, will have been fulfilled.
Evil and Sin Must Be Eradicated - Hell Is There to Do This
So we can see that God intends to wipe out evil and sin in this world. Remember that! When people say to you, “What is God doing?” You can say, “God is doing an awful lot! He is going to see that every scrap of evil and rottenness, [would be dealt with]. If I have a feeling of injustice and fury over sin, what must be God’s feeling about sin, I wonder? If a sinful man like me can be indignant about sin, then what must be the holy God’s conception about sin?
So, evil must be eradicated and hell is there to eradicate evil. What is God going to do with the sin? What is God going to do with evil? What is God going to do with the Devil? We spoke about Hitler, but what of the Devil? Are these people going to be just left hanging around forever? Is this universe going to tolerate this kind of evil? Not at all! That is why God has prepared a place for the eradication of evil - to burn up, to purge out the evil. But here we must distinguish a number of things. Some people have the notion that everybody is going to roast in hell for the same length of time, that hell is some kind of a grand barbecue. No, no! Hell is simply there for the eradication, the extermination of evil. Remember that!
Wrong Notions about Hell
Here, I want to correct some wrong notions about hell. First, remember this. No one will be readily sent to hell by God! God is a compassionate and merciful God. He has no delight whatsoever in the death of the sinner. [Ezek. 33:11] The Bible says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner. Let us get away from the sadist idea in which God sort of enjoys seeing the sinner roasting. Hell has only one practical function: the eradication of evil. It is not meant for any pleasure of torturing people.
Secondly, let us remember this: that what we read in the Bible about hell is that it is a place of extermination, that is, of evil. When we read this, it is not a place that is just there to roast people. When you read the teaching of the Bible and look at it carefully, you will find every time that it teaches this: that hell is a place to wipe out evil and wipe out those who refuse to repent from evil. Think carefully of that. It is not a place where people sit there forever and ever. The Bible does say that the fire of hell is forever. It does not say that the destruction of the sinner is forever. These two must be carefully distinguished, and it is very important for us to distinguish it. The fact that the fire of hell is eternal does not mean that the punishment of the sinner is eternal. I would like you to distinguish this clearly in your mind. I repeat: the fact that hell-fire is eternal does not mean that the punishment of the sinner is eternal.
I have investigated very, very carefully the teaching of the Bible concerning hell because I am a preacher of the Word of God and I want to give you the exact facts. Take for example Jude 7. Jude 7 says something very remarkable. It says that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by eternal fire. Think carefully what this means. Eternal fire! Sodom and Gomorrah - are they still burning today? No, they are gone! Then how can the fire be eternal? In expounding the Bible, we must be very accurate in our understanding of it. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by eternal fire - what does that mean? Eternal fire signifies God’s fire - the fire of God is always eternal; that is why it speaks of eternal fire. It does not mean that Sodom and Gomorrah are still burning today. Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah are gone! They are finished! But the fire is still eternal. Do you see? So therefore, let us not make the mistake that when we read the Bible where it says ‘eternal fire’, it means the sinner is roasting in the fire forever and ever. Sodom and Gomorrah are finished! They are gone. They are burned out. They have ceased to exist. They were annihilated by the fire. God Has Done All - He Even Sent His Son - to Save Us from Hell
God has no pleasure in putting sinners there to roast for eternity. But He has the sad duty - the sad duty of wiping out the sinners who refuse to repent. He takes no pleasure in it, but He has been left with no alternative. Think of the pain of it! He has no alternative, brothers and sisters, but to destroy the sinner who refuses to repent. What alternative does He have? You do not want to repent. He has done everything for your salvation; what more can He do? You tell me what more God can do to save you. That His very Son hung on the cross to die, to pour out His blood to its last drop - what more can He do to save you? On that Day of Judgment, what can you say against God, I ask you, if you are consigned to eternal destruction. What can you say against Him? He has done everything! And I am telling you, He has done everything for your salvation. You do not want it. You say, “I don’t believe it!” So what? It does not change any facts. He has done it for you all the same.
When you are faced with the eternal reality of hell, I think God will have to say, “Sorry! I have done everything for you, My friend. I Myself sent My dear Son, what is most precious to Me, more than My arm, more than the chopping off of My hand, more than the gouging out of My eye. I sent My Son to die! I would rather have gouged out My eye - that is less painful than sending My Son to die. Any of you who are fathers and mothers will know that. “You will not come to Me! You don’t want to come to Me! What alternative do you leave Me, My friend, but your extermination?”
That is why the Lord Jesus says there in Matthew 10, “Don’t be afraid of those who destroy the body, but be afraid of Him who can destroy” - notice the word ‘destroy’ - “both body and soul in hell.” [Mt. 10:28] It is fearful; it makes you shudder. He says, “Don’t be afraid of anything in this world. There is nothing this world can do to you! But be afraid of Him who can destroy your body and soul in hell.” Does He take pleasure in it? I say again, not one bit of pleasure. It will cause Him exceeding pain to have to do it. You are also His creature, but what choice do you leave to Him, my friend?
The Period of Suffering in the Outer Darkness
There is certainly a period of suffering that the Bible teaches. The suffering comes during the waiting for the execution, you might say, in the outer darkness. The Lord speaks of outer darkness and also fire, two things. The one comes first; the other afterwards. When you are sitting in the outer darkness, in the “nether gloom” as Jude 13 speaks about it, you will have a lot of time to think about spiritual realities which you did not think about in this life. You will have all the time to think about it. Sometimes people come to church and they say, “Aiyah! Why is this message so long?” I tell you, you will be so blessed, because on that day while you are waiting for the judgment of God, you will say, “Boy, this time is long. How long do I have to sit here and wait for the judgment? Let’s get it over with!” You will have all the time to think, to remorse, “When I was on earth, what did I do with my life? Foolish man that I am! When I listened to the Gospel, it went into one ear and went out of the other. Now, I wish it went down into my heart and stayed there. Wretched man that I am!” That is the period of suffering. The fire that will burn inside your heart before the fire that exterminates.
The suffering is unbelievable - the suffering of remorse is almost unparalleled in human suffering. It is like the mother who was looking after a child, after her baby. She turned around to pick up something and the baby fell off the wall, right down on the other side. Can you understand the feeling of remorse that a mother in that situation suffers? Can you put yourself in her position? As she turned around one moment, the baby fell off the wall, right down to his death. Only one second! The remorse, the bitterness - what will she do? That is remorse, my friend. There is no suffering like it if you have never experienced it. You might have felt a pinch of it, if you have at some time experienced failing an exam, or something like that. You have had a slight touch of it. There is nothing to compare it with. You say, “Ah, if only I had worked a little harder, but now, what’s the purpose?” That is remorse. The bitterness of it is incredible. It eats inside like a worm chewing up the soul. The mother who did this must have been ready to commit suicide. The pain is unbearable because the child fell over the wall just in that second that she turned around. How is she going to live the rest of her life with that thought?
Hell - the Place of Destruction in the Unquenchable Fire
So, hell is there - and I want every person to be clear about it - as a place of destruction. I say this clearly on the authority of God’s Word. In Mt. 3:12 John the Baptist says this, “He will gather his wheat into the barn, but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [NASB] The word there that is used by John the Baptist, ‘burn’ up or ‘consume’ with unquenchable fire, means to be burned out completely; there is nothing left. There is nothing left of it. It is exactly the word that is used in Ex. 3:2. There God appears to Moses in the bush. Remember what happened? The bush was on fire but it was not consumed! That is the word - it was not ‘burnt’ up, not ‘destroyed’, not ‘eaten away’ by the flames. Fire is something dreadful, a powerful thing! It consumes things; it destroys them instantly. But here it says the chaff will be consumed, burned up; there will be nothing left! The word always means in the Greek a total destruction. The same thing is in Lk. 3:17 where John the Baptist says exactly the same thing.
I think that all of you now, I trust will understand clearly the importance of God’s Word. I have taken time over this. It is a teaching of exceedingly great importance. We must understand then that hell is there. The reality of hell is fearful and the destruction of hell is as real as anything that ever was real. Never deceive yourself into thinking that you will escape it because the God of all holiness and justice will see that in His universe, not one stain of evil and sin will remain. It will all be consigned to the destruction of hell.
We have seen also that the sinner will be destroyed in hell, in the end, soon. We also saw that there are some people, such as Hitler and the like I should think, will be in hell for a very long time. They will not be allowed to so quickly escape. They will be made to suffer the torment that they inflicted upon others. I should think that such people will be in hell-fire for a very, very long time, not because God takes any pleasure in it, remember that, but because it is necessary to carry out justice. And so we find in Rev. 20:10 that the devil, the beast and the false prophets will be in the fire of hell forever. So great is their evil that it will take all eternity to settle the account with them. But of the others we read that they will be destroyed in hell. So let us understand clearly the teaching. But this is not all there is to the teaching of the Lord Jesus on hell; we will come back to it in the future. But let us now consider then all this to accurately understand the teaching of the Lord Jesus.
So today we have dealt with a very important aspect of the Lord’s teaching, and of course, we have to realize that everything the Lord teaches is important. In the time we had together, I tried to share with you as much as possible of the riches, the profound importance of God’s teaching. Take it deeply to heart because otherwise, you will have all eternity to regret if you did not take it to heart. We deal with the things that we know to be true, so be careful how you hear the Word of God. Realize that in this world, there is nothing more important, therefore, than that we may be saved, that we may get right with God and enter into the life that He wants to give us, that He longs to impart to us. That is why He says, “Ask - you will receive!” He is longing - He is waiting - to give it to us. He is waiting for us to ask.
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