To Hell and Back
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel there are three beautiful stories recorded that fell from the lips of our Divine Lord. These stories are of “A Lost Sheep,” “A Lost Coin,” and “A Lost Boy.”
There are certain interesting points of likeness and certain equally interesting points of difference. You will note an increase in the valuation of that which was lost. The sheep was one of a hundred. The coin was one of ten. The boy was one of two.
When the sheep went astray the shepherd left the flock in the fold and went out in the wilderness seeking until he found the sheep that was lost. The woman lighted a lamp and swept her house, searching every nook and corner until she found the missing coin. But what did the father do to recover the lost boy? Advertise by placards, “Boy Lost”? Summon the police department to rake the dens and slums of the underworld to find the boy who was sowing his wild oats? Nothing of the sort.
The father stayed at home and did nothing at all but looked and listened and waited, with breaking heart, until the wayward and wandering boy came home. And why did he do that? Because a man is not a sheep. Because a man is not a piece of metal. A man is a moral agent with responsibility and the power of choice.
Will you note the close of each story, with the wonderful logic of the sovereign application. He does not say that there is joy because the lost sheep has been recovered, or that the missing coin has been regained, but there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth.
Let us picture the pilgrimage of this boy who took a trip to hell and came back again. There are three steps or stages in his going, and three steps or stages in his coming back, with an alternative that would have been his fate had he not come back.
A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.”
The first step is self-will. We are told that there is something peculiar, cold-blooded and hard-hearted about this request. This younger son uses language that is found in a will, as if his father were dead and buried, and with unseemly and unfilial greed was reaching out after his inheritance. Some have blamed the father for granting the request. But if the boy’s heart was in the far country then his body might as well be there too. It is a sad thing when some prayers are granted. The Bible tells us that although He gave them their request, He sent leanness to their souls.
This boy had a desire for independence. He was willful before he was wayward, and this is self-assertion. He wanted to break away from all of his friends; to cut off the old home ties and see life. All of our trouble comes from self-will. Sin begins with insubordination. Man erected his own will against God. Man was bound to have his own way. Why is antichrist characterized in prophecy as the willful king? Because Satan’s man is the incarnation of self-will. What a contrast from God’s man, who had no will of his own. “Not my will but thine be done.”
God pity the men and women that have their own way. I once heard a definition of entire sanctification that I have never forgotten. It was this: “Entire sanctification is nothing less than a steadfast determination never to have your own way about anything.” We love to have our way; to break down opposition; to do the thing as we desire, and yet happiness is never found in that direction. Misfortune and defeat and disaster follow self-will and self-assertion. All sin originates in choice, in willfulness, in disobedience and in insubordination. All this boy’s trouble began here. “Father, give me mine inheritance,” and he divided unto them his living. Not long after, the younger son gathered it all together and took his journey into a far country and wasted his substance in riotous living.
The second step is self-indulgence. Satan is always in a hurry. “Not long after.” He could not wait. The money burned a hole in his pocket. He gathered it together and turned his back on his father’s house, and went out into a far country to gratify his appetite, to indulge in sin, to have his own way.
Oh, what regnant phrases are here. He wasted his substance. Every moral agent is born into this world with certain resources, mental, physical, spiritual. Sinful life depletes, diminishes to the vanishing point, each and every one. He wasted his substance. Sin drafts a man’s capital. No sinner can ever live upon his income. His substance is being wasted to the vanishing point. Many a young man tonight is drifting into physical debility and insanity through sin. Many another is rapidly drifting to bankruptcy and penury through sin.
The substance is going fast. He wasted his substance in riotous living. We are now living in a self-indulgent age. Oh, the millions and millions of money in a world where people are dying in hunger, that is being lavished on pleasure and things that are non-essential. Elaborate banquets are being spread in cities where men and women and children are starving for the lack of food. Self-indulgence everywhere. That always follows self-will.
Let us pass to the third step. “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
“And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
“And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.”
In the Far Country
Self-degradation always follows self-indulgence. “When he had spent all.” Where are the friends that gathered around him in his days of feasting and of rejoicing? Where are the flies that gather about the sugar bowl after the sugar has disappeared? Where are the friends that drank his costly wine and smoked his rare cigars and sailed his racing yachts? Where are the friends that gathered around him in prosperity and slapped him on the back and called him the prince of good fellows?
There is no friendship in this world of ours. If you want friends you will find them among the people of God; not in the world. No man gave unto him. For why should they? God said, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” What right have we to make it easy? Some one has said: “To save men from the consequences of their folly is to fill the world with fools.” “And no man gave unto him.” See the lad sitting by the swine trough. His clothes are in rags; penniless, friendless. Is it the same boy that crossed the threshold of his father’s house with a fine suit of clothes and his pocket-filled with money? Yes, the same boy. What difference does it make what a man has upon the outside? “God looketh on the heart.” What difference does it make what kind of clothing covers a wicked heart? Poverty, hunger, rags are blessings in disguise if only they bring the boy to himself. But there is a picture of self-degradation. He has touched bottom at last. He is in the far country. He is in hell.
We must admit that hell is a location just as heaven is a location. “I go to prepare a place.” Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Not for me. God never intended that a human being should enter into hell. What a shame it is that a man made in the image of God should turn his back on Heaven and crowd in the devil’s territory, where he has no business to be.
Hell is a place as well as a state. Salvation is only similarity of feeling with God. Perdition is only dissimilarity of feeling with God. If a man loves what God loves and hates what God hates, that man is in heaven, and heaven is in him. It makes no difference whether he is singing the Doxology in this world or shouting Hallelujahs in the skies. But if a man loves what God hates and hates what God loves, that man is in hell, and hell is in him. It makes no difference whether he is cursing his Maker on this footstool, or groaning in the dungeons of despair.
This poor boy now sitting by the swine trough has reached the very bottom of his low estate. It is but poetic license for us to say that boy is in hell, and had he died among the swine he would have never come back. The boundary line between time and eternity can never be crossed, for there is no repenting in hell. “He that is filthy let him be filthy still.”
The fourth step is self-discovery. There was self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-degradation, and now self-discovery. “And when he came to himself.” Ah he had been beside himself! Sin is insanity. Righteousness is reasonableness. “Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord. The psalmist said: “I thought on my way and I turned my feet.” Do you discover any logical connection between the thinking and the turning?
There is cause and effect. He thought. He turned. Sin is thoughtlessness. The etymology of the word “religion” is thoughtfulness. Hell has been called the penitentiary of the universe, but it is also a great lunatic asylum. “When he came to himself.” There is self-discovery. He said: “Oh, what a fool I am. How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!”
Now his standards are reversed. Now he sees his father’s home and his father’s face in memory, and he bows his head and weeps. Self-discovery. Conscience holds up the mirror. He sees himself for the first time.
Then comes the last step, self-surrender. “I will arise and go to my father.” Here is the yielding of the will. Here is the action, saying, “I will.” Here is where sin began. Here is where salvation must begin, in the surrender of the will. For if sin is insubordination, salvation begins with subordination, and the moral agent chooses the will of God. God never takes a sinner by the collar and drags him into Heaven. There is no coercion in the moral world. A man is not a sheep. A man is not a coin. You can lift a sheep out of the ravine and carry him back to the fold. You can pick the missing coin out of the crack, but God Himself cannot cross the threshold of man’s moral agency and save a sinner against his will.
The boy said, “I will arise,” and upon that act of self-surrender comes the next step in his return, self-recovery. “He arose and came to his father.” What did he say? What did he do? “Father, I have sinned.” That is the confession of the sinner. May I tell you in a few moments, just what to do in order to be saved? Let every unsaved man and woman in this church listen, and I will tell you exactly how you can be saved in two minutes, if you will.
May I say, first, that I sincerely hope that nobody here tonight will ever, under any circumstances, profess religion. God forbid! “Stand aside; I am holier than thou,” is a profession of religion. The word “profession” is not found in the New Testament, at least not in the revised version. We have no business ever to profess anything, but on the authority of God’s word we are commanded to confess two things, and only two.
First, I must confess myself to be a sinner, and any man who is willing to do that is half saved.
Second, I must confess the Lord Jesus Christ to be my personal Saviour, and any man who is willing to do that is fully saved.
How long does it take to do those two things? Less than two minutes. “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin.” “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” “He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father and His holy angels.”
This is all we have to do. Anybody can do that. If any unsaved person here tonight will confess himself to be a sinner in need of salvation, and then confess the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour, according to God’s Word he is saved. This is not the advice of man. It is the Word of God. But it is so simple and so easy that a lot of people say, “Not now; some other time.”
This boy rehearsed a long speech of apology on his way home.
“I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee.
“‘And am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ Let me come in anywhere. Do anything.” How much of that speech, rehearsed so carefully, was ever expressed? Only the opening sentence. There was an interruption. The father’s kiss, the father’s embrace, the father’s love put an end to that confession.
This is not only the parable of the prodigal son. It is the parable of the loving father. It is just what God will do when a sinner turns his face and heart home.
The seventh thing is an alternative, and with this I will close. Trace the pilgrimage and we have self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-degradation, self-discovery, self-surrender and self-recovery. Suppose the last three steps had never been taken. What would have been the outcome? Self-destruction.
Every sinner is a suicide. Sin is self-murder. When the Saviour stood upon the pinnacle of the temple and Satan stood beside Him, he said, “Cast thyself down.”
Why did not the devil push Him down? You know why. The devil had to ask permission of the Lord Jesus Christ. The demons had to get permission before they could enter the herd of swine. The devil cannot lay his finger on a hog unless God lets him, much more on a child of God and the temple of the Holy Ghost. If the devil had the power he would kill every one in the world in the next five minutes.
He would kill sinners to make sure of their damnation, and he would kill saints to keep them from serving God. Many a foolish sinner follows his advice and takes a leap into space and goes dashing to pieces.
God, by no arbitrary decree, sends man into perdition. God appeals to man, and He has said:
“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, Oh house of Israel? Thou hast destroyed thyself but in me is thy hope.”
This appeal goes out into the far country tonight for every wanderer from the Father’s house. God is waiting. Angels are hovering around, and the loving Christ with outstretched hands is saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”