Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Luke 16:19-31; Date: 30 March 2013
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Let Him Warn Them
When you die, what will happen to you? Where will you be? This may not be a question which keeps you awake at night but I think – taking into account that we are at a Christian Music Festival [on this Easter weekend (celebrating the resurrection of Jesus)] – at least among us, there is a general undercurrent of hope. When we die, life will go on and the general expectation is that it will be good – better than earth. There is this memory – embedded in our Western culture – that God loves people and promises them heaven.
Only Jesus told an interesting story. According to Jesus, there was a rich man, who had no worries in life – fine clothes and internet shopping – but then he died and was surprised. I read you the whole story from the Bible:
Luke 16:19-31: There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
The rich man knew Abraham as his father. Abraham was the faithful ancestor of the people whom God chose first – the Jews – and the rich man – like his five brothers – had “Moses and the Prophets” which is shorthand for the Bible – the writings of Moses and the prophets – our Old Testament. This man knew about God – as many do today. They grow up in the church, then leave but retain some sort of belief system. They know about God – they know about Jesus (who died for the forgiveness of their sins) – and they assume to be okay with God but – in Jesus’ story – the rich man – (despite knowing Abraham and the Bible in his home) – found himself in a place of eternal torment – separated from heaven where Abraham was – with no chance for a change in his condition. He was in agony – flames of fire around him –longing for a drop of water on his tongue.
I am quite aware that Jesus’ story is not politically correct in our times. 63.5% of Australians believe in heaven, only 23.2% believe in hell. (This is according to a 2007 survey.) To some, hell is an offensive concept – barbaric and unreasonable. God should be like us – modern – non-judgemental – tolerant of most views and behaviour – and – then – there is this question which makes hell appear unreasonable even among many Christians: Would an intensely loving God condemn people to eternal agony? Surely, God – with all the power at his disposal – would have to do something for us. He would not be able to bear the eternal suffering of those that he loves.
Yet – (and this is my counter-question) – why then does this loving God allow the present evil among us – here on earth – right now? We are already under judgement. According to the Bible, human sin has brought corruption and death into our world. Therefore, much of human history happens under the reign of darkness – sin, Satan and his demons – not God – and we know. People all over the world would put their hand up and say that they are already experiencing hell on earth.
Therefore, our loving God allows the evil of human history for a time. His love is not doing away with judgement – his love is not doing away with hell – (at least, logic is not demanding such a conclusion) – (this is also a matter of justice) – but his love went to extraordinary lengths to offer us a way out – rescue us from condemnation – salvation. More about this later.
(Tell the following testimony in your own words:)
Kenneth Hagin: I Believe In Visions: I gave my heart to the Lord and was born again the very first night I became bedfast. That was Saturday, April 22, 1933 at 7:40 p.m. in the south bedroom of 405 North College Street in McKinney, Texas. [He was 15 years old at the time.]
Earlier that evening, my heart had stopped beating and the spiritual man who lives in my body had departed. When death seized my body, my grandmother, my younger brother, and my mother were sitting in the room. I had time only to tell them “goodbye.” Then the inner man rushed out of my body and left my body lying dead, with eyes set and flesh cold.
I went down, down, down until the lights of the earth faded away. I don’t mean I fainted — I don’t mean I was unconscious — I have proof that I was actually dead. My eyes were set, my heart had stopped beating, and my pulse had ceased.
The Scriptures tell us about the lost being cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30). The farther down I went, the blacker it became, until it was all blackness — I could not have seen my hand if it had been one inch in front of my eyes. And the farther down I went, the hotter and more stifling it became.
Finally, far below me, I could see lights flickering on the walls of the caverns of the damned. The lights were caused by the fires of hell. The giant, white-crested orb of flame pulled me, drawing me as a magnet draws metal to itself. I did not want to go, but just as metal jumps to the magnet, my spirit was drawn to that place. I could not take my eyes off of it. The heat beat me in the face.
Many years have gone by, yet I can see it just as clearly today as I saw it then. It is as fresh in my memory as if it just happened. I came to the entrance of hell. People ask, “What does the entrance of hell look like?” I cannot describe it, because if I tried, I would have to have something with which to compare it. (Similarly, if a person had never seen a tree in his life, it would be impossible to tell him what a tree looks like.)
Coming to the entrance, I paused momentarily, because I did not want to go in. I sensed that one more foot, one more step, one more yard, and I would be gone forever and could not come out of that horrible place! Upon reaching the bottom of the pit, I became conscious of some kind of spirit being by my side. I had not looked at him, because I could not take my gaze off of the fires of hell. But when I paused, the creature laid his hand on my arm to escort me in.
At that same moment, a voice spoke from far above the blackness, above the earth, and above the heavens. I don’t know if it was the voice of God, Jesus, an angel, or who. I did not see him, and I do not know what he said, because he did not speak in English; he spoke in some other tongue.
When he spoke, his words reverberated throughout the region of the damned, shaking it like a leaf in the wind, and causing the creature to take his hand off my arm. I did not turn around, but an unseen power, like a suction, pulled me up, away from the fire, away from the heat, and back into the shadows of the absorbing darkness.
I began to ascend until I came to the top of the pit and saw the lights of the earth. I saw my grandparents’ home, went through the wall back into my bedroom, and it was just as real to me as it was any time I had entered through the door (my spirit needed no door).
I slipped back into my body as easily as a man slips into his trousers in the morning. It was the same way in which I had gone out — through my mouth. I began to talk to my grandmother. She said, “Son, I thought you were dead.”
My great-grandfather had been a medical doctor, and Granny had worked with him. She later told me, “I dressed many people for burial and laid them out in days gone by. I have had much experience with death, but I learned more about death in dealing with you and your experiences than I ever knew before. You were dead. You had no pulse or heartbeat, and your eyes were set.”
“Granny,” I said, “I am going again. I am dying. Where is Momma?” “Your mother is out on the porch,” she replied. And about that time I heard my mother praying at the top of her voice as she walked up and down the porch.
“Where is my brother?” I asked. “He ran next door to call the doctor,” Granny answered. If you’re not ready to go, you want somebody with you. You’re afraid! I said, “Granny, don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! I’m afraid I’ll go while you’re gone! I want somebody with me! Don’t leave me!” So she gathered me into her arms again.
I said, “Tell Momma I said goodbye. Tell Momma I love her. Tell Momma I appreciate everything she has ever done for me and for all of us. And you tell Momma that I said if I’ve ever put a wrinkle in her face, or a gray hair in her head, I’m sorry, and I ask her to forgive me.”
I felt myself slipping. I said, “Granny, I’m going again. You were a second mother to me when Momma’s health failed. I appreciate you. Now I’m going, and I won’t be back this time.” I knew I was dying, unprepared to meet God. I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye.
My heart stopped beating for the second time. It’s almost as real to me today, nearly half a century later, as it was that day. I felt the blood cease to circulate. The tips of my toes went numb — then my feet, ankles, knees, hips, stomach, and heart. I leaped out of my body and began to descend: down, down, down. Oh, I know it was just a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.
I began to descend again into the darkness until the lights of earth had faded. Down below, the same experience occurred. The voice spoke from heaven and again my spirit came up out of that place — back into my room and back into my body. The only difference this time was that I came up at the foot of the bed.
I began to talk to Granny again. I said, “I will not be back this time, Granny.” I asked, “Where is Grandpa? I want to tell Grandpa goodbye.” She said, “Son, you know your Granddad went down to the east part of town to collect rent off of some of his rent houses.”
“Oh,” I said, “I remember that now. I just forgot momentarily.” I said, “Granny, tell Grandpa goodbye. I’ve never known what it means to have a daddy. He’s been the nearest to a daddy I’ve known. He gave me a home when I had none. Tell him I appreciate him. Tell him I love him. Tell Grandpa that I said goodbye.”
Then I left a word for my sister and two brothers, and my heart stopped for the third time. I could feel the circulation as it cut off again — and I leaped out of my body and began to descend.
Until this time, I had thought, This is not happening to me. This is just a hallucination. It can ‘t be real! But now I thought, This is the third time. I won ‘t come back this time!
Darkness encompassed me ‘round about, darker than any night man has ever seen. I wish I had adequate words to describe the horrors of hell. People go through this life so complacently, so unconcerned, as if they will not have to face hell. But God’s Word and my own personal experience tell me differently. I know what it is to be unconscious — it is black when you are unconscious — but there is no blackness to compare with outer darkness.
As I began to descend in the darkness this third time, my spirit cried out, “God, I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!” I waited for Him to answer, but no answer came — only the echo of my own voice as it came back to mock me. It will take more than church membership — it will take more than being baptized in water — to miss hell and make heaven. Jesus said, “.. .Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
Certainly I believe in being baptized in water — but only after a person is born again. Certainly I believe in joining the church — but only after a person is born again. If you merely join the church and are baptized in water without being born again, you will go to hell!
The second time I cried a little louder, “God! I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!” Again I waited for an answer, but there was no answer, only the echo of my own voice through the darkness.
It would frighten a congregation out of their wits if I ever imitated the way I screamed the third time, although, if I could scare them out of hell and into heaven, I’d do it! I literally screamed, “GOD! GOD! I BELONG TO THE CHURCH! I’VE BEEN BAPTIZED IN WATER!” And all I heard was the echo of my own voice.
I came again to the bottom of that pit. Again I could feel the heat as it beat me in the face. Again I approached the entrance, the gates into hell itself. That creature took me by the arm. I intended to put up a fight if I could to keep from going in. I only managed to slow down my descent just a little, and he took me by the arm.
Thank God that voice spoke. I don’t know who it was — I didn’t see anybody — I just heard the voice. I don’t know what he said, but whatever he said, that place shook; it just trembled. And that creature took his hand off my arm.
It was just as if there was a suction to my back parts. It pulled me back, away from the entrance to hell, until I stood in the shadows. Then it pulled me up headfirst. As I was going up through the darkness, I began to pray. My spirit, the man who lives inside this physical body, is an eternal being, a spirit man. I began to pray,
“O God! I come to You in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask You to forgive me of my sins and to cleanse me from all sin.”
I came up beside the bed. The difference between the three experiences was that I came up on the porch the first time; I came up at the foot of the bed the second time; and I came up right beside the bed the third time. When I got inside my body, my physical voice picked up and continued my prayer right in the middle of the sentence. I was already praying out of my spirit.
Now, we didn’t have all the automobiles in 1933 that we have today — that was in the Depression. But they tell me that between me and Momma praying so loud, traffic was lined up for two blocks on either side of our house! They heard me praying from inside the house, and they heard my mother as she walked the porch praying at the top of her voice.
I looked at the clock and saw it was 20 minutes before 8 o’clock. That was the very hour I was born again due to the mercy of God through the prayers of my mother.
I felt wonderful — it was just like a two-ton weight had rolled off of my chest. Although I was rejoicing and was happy in my spirit — although I felt wonderful spiritually — I felt no better physically. The doctors had been called, and they told my family that I was going to die. I thought I would die that night, but it no longer bothered me. I knew I was ready to go.
My experience of being brought back from the dead is not new. Jesus raised three people from the dead: Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son. The Apostle Peter raised Dorcas from the dead; the Apostle Paul raised a young man from the dead; and others throughout Church history have had similar experiences.
Through my experience, God brought me to a knowledge of salvation, which is the best thing in the world to know. I was so thankful to know that my heart was right with God, and to know that if I should die before morning I would go to be with Him. Every night when the lights were out and my family was in bed, I was left alone with my thoughts. I did a lot of thinking and praying. I remember thanking God that I was saved and was His child ...
The testimony of this teenager may not convince you. What is the science of near-death experiences? However, the rich man in Jesus’ story – when he was in eternal agony, he made this request to Abraham – Luke 16:27-28: “ ... I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” In the story – Lazarus did not come back from the dead to warn this man’s brothers but – in real life – 2000 years ago – Jesus did and more.
This turn of events is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus – the Son of God – who spoke much about heaven and hell – eternal judgement and salvation – [he not only came from heaven to earth to serve us as a human being but – in human form – suffering the utmost of pain –] he tasted death on a cross, (as a dead person) descended to the place where the rich man was, but then rose to life again. Leaving his grave, (for a time) he met up with his disciples – proved to them the power of new life – confirmed his preaching – and then ascended to heaven.
He did what the rich man wanted. He was a dead person who had come back from the grave – a walking miracle –– and he spelled out again how any person may avoid in sharing the rich man’s fate of eternal agony. He charged his disciples – his witnesses – to go out and tell everyone the way of salvation – Luke 24:46-48: “... The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations ... You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus corroborated the way of salvation which the dying teenager experienced when he prayed: “O God! I come to you in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and to cleanse me from all sin.” This young man finally turned fully to Jesus and no longer relied on church membership and church ritual. He turned away from sin – he repented – which meant that – from now on – Jesus would be the governing authority of his life. He would obey Jesus – worship him and serve him. [Do the same!]
Jesus did come back from the dead. Listen to the power of this message. This extract is from the first sermon which the disciples ever preached:
Acts 2:32-39: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear ... Therefore let all . be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah ... Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Jesus conquered the grave. Love made him come and die for us – sharing our death – dying the death which we should die. He took upon himself the consequences of sin – our sin – so that when he conquered the grave, he would do so with the authority to offer all of us new life – eternal life – peace with God the Father for ever. Believing him – we can no longer be punished but receive eternal life.
I want to come back to Jesus’ story and the rich man’s request –Luke 16:19-31: ... “I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
Jesus did come back from the dead and warn us about the place of torment but he is not the only one. He is unique in the sense that he already received the new life of eternity in his transformed body (which then, for instance, could pass through walls) but there are others who have passed away and then returned to their old bodies – (like the teenager from before). In the Bible, Jesus himself raised a widow’s dead son (Luke 7:11-17), a dead girl (Luke 8:40-56) and his friend – another Lazarus – after four days in the grave (John 11:1-44).
Then, Jesus commissioned his disciples to do the same – Matthew 10:7-8: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” – which the disciples duly did – in due course. (The church leader) Peter raised Dorcas from the dead – a woman whose body was already being washed for burial (Acts 9:36-43) – and Paul raised up Eutychus – a young man who dozed off sitting on a window sill and then fell to his death from the third floor (Acts 20:7-12).
Some of these people, who have come back from the dead, have received glimpses of eternity – some of heaven, some of hell and some of both. In 2010, I was at a church conference in Fiji and met one woman who had died and was already in heaven. She loved heaven but then was told that she had to return. Her pastor was praying for her. She did not want to go. She resisted until a large angel grabbed her by the neck and flung her back to earth. According to her testimony, she entered her body again through her large toe and – surprisingly – had a bruise on her neck where the angel had grabbed her in heaven. [I do not know how this works because her body was not actually in heaven with her.]
There are now many stories of people returning from death with testimonies. For instance, Dr. Maurice Rawlings, MD, a heart surgeon, has written a number of books on the death experience and many of his patients, after being resuscitated on the operating table, spoke about hell. There is an American pastor in Mexico – Paul Hogan – who shared in 1998: “We’ve had over 200 people raised from the dead in our work. ... I’ve personally been in on 19 dead raisings and I know.” A well documented case involves a Nigerian man who was raised from the dead in the basement of a church while Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke was ministering. He had already been in the morgue – with embalming fluid being injected into him (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SroD02bP120).
Is this speaking to you? What is your heart telling you? When you die, what will happen to you? Will you die and then be surprised (like the rich man in Jesus’ story) because the afterlife is not pleasant for you but a place of torment? Jesus wants to give you every reason to believe in him. Consider the testimonies – weigh up what he has done for you – listen and see the miracles which point to him.
However, I finish by revisiting Jesus’ story – the request for Lazarus to come back from the dead and witness to the rich man’s five brothers. In the story, this request was denied. Why?
Luke 16:19-31: ... ‘I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
Why would the rich man’s request be denied to him and his brothers when Jesus did rise from the dead – the first with the transformed body of eternity – and many others have and are rising from the dead to their old bodies? Abraham said to the rich man: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [the Bible], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The rich man’s five brothers did not need proof that the Bible was right. You may be different but they accepted the truth of the Bible. The rich man wanted Lazarus to rise so that his brothers had further motivation – compelling reasons – (finally) to act on what they already knew – the truth of God – the need for humility and worshipping God.
They were like some other people whom Jesus faced. Jesus performed many miracles in his life here on earth. They were to encourage faith in his message. One day, he had healed another blind and mute man – (also driven out demons from him) – but this miracle and all the others did not move the church leaders to a faith commitment (even though they knew that they had happened). Instead, they came to him again and asked: “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” Finally, Jesus replied to them: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah [which was a reference to Jesus’ resurrection].” (See Matthew 12.)
You can always avoid making a commitment by asking for another testimony – another miracle – more preaching – another experience of the Holy Spirit prompting you to accept the saving truth of Jesus. This may even look good because it does not cast you in a rebellious light but makes you look inquisitive and careful. But – in Jesus’ story and in real life – Jesus does not play this game indefinitely.
Act on what you know. Take steps of faith on the evidence which has been presented to you. Today is your chance – a great opportunity. Make a commitment to Jesus now and know that when you die, you do not share the fate of the rich man but will be with Jesus in heaven. He died for you and he rose from the dead for you so that you will also rise with him. Trust him. His testimony is true. He loves you.
I close with the following testimony from Mozambique, Africa:
Heidi Baker – an American missionary in Mozambique – is at times teaching in their five bible colleges and when she is teaching in these bible colleges (there are no buildings – they simply sit in the dirt), she likes to ask her class this question: “How many of you have raised the dead.” Now this year in January she was sharing that when she was last in Pemba – again – three men raised their hands. They all wear ragged clothes. They have no shoes. The more prosperous among them can afford thongs. But three of them – three of these poor people of whom the world has never heard – they raise their hands. Heidi asked one of them to give his testimony.
He said that he lived in a Muslim village and there was a woman who really hated him. She was involved in witchcraft and hated him – and he hated her. She had come into his hut and ripped up his Bible. One day he was so happy because she died. She had hated him and he had hated her. And one day he was so happy that this mean and horrible woman had died. She had made his life so miserable. (At this point Heidi was wondering whether she should keep translating such a wonderful Christian testimony of grace to her English-speaking visitor.)
However, the pastor (Bible student) continued. A bunch of people were carrying the dead body of that woman right over to where he was. So he hid behind a tree. They knew that their church was raising the dead on a regular basis. Therefore he was hiding from them. He had no desire to pray, no faith, he hated that woman.
Yet, they found him. He said: “Rats. Rats.” They charged him: “You said that your God raises the dead. You pray for her.” He answered: “No.” They pressed him: “You pray for her.” He answered: “No.” They eventually made him. He prayed: “Jesus. Jesus.” And the woman got up and she said: “I saw Jesus. I am so sorry for what I have done to you.” She became a preacher in that village and now the whole Muslim village bows their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ.
[If you have any dead relatives, know that they would want you to be saved. Even the rich man in the eternal place of torment wanted his brothers to be saved.]
John Bunyan: Visions of Heaven and Hell: ... One morning I went out into nearby woods, where I had planned to kill myself. But before I tried to use the knife, I heard a secret whisper say, “Do not fall into everlasting misery to gratify the enemy of your soul. The fatal stroke you are about to give yourself will seal your own damnation. For if there is a God, as surely as there is, how can you hope for mercy from Him if you wilfully destroy yourself, who were made in His image?”
Where this secret whisper came from, I do not know, but I believe it came from God; for it came with so much power it made me throw away my knife, and it showed me the great evil of suicide. The horror of what I had almost done made me shake so much that I could hardly stand. I recognized my deliverance to have come from the Lord, and in gratitude I returned thanks.
I knelt down on the ground and worshiped Him, asking that He would take away the blackness in my soul so that I would never again question His being or great power which I had just experienced.
Suddenly I was surrounded with a glorious light, brighter than anything I had ever seen before. I saw coming toward me a glorious person like a man, but circled with beams of light and glory which shined from him as he came nearer. I tried to stand up, but had no strength left in me, so I fell flat on my face. As he lifted me up and I was given new strength, I said to him, “O my shining deliverer, how shall I acknowledge my thankfulness, and in what manner should I adore you?”
With majesty and mildness he replied, “Pay your adorations to God, and not to me who am your fellow-creature. I am sent from Him Whose being you have so lately denied, to stop you from falling into eternal ruin” ...
He took hold of me and said, “Fear not, for I am sent to show the things you have not seen.” Then before I was aware, I found myself far above the earth, which seemed now to be very small.
Then I said to my bright conductor, “Please let it not offend you if I ask a question or two.” To this he replied, “Speak on. It is my work to answer whatever you ask. For I am a ministering spirit, sent forth to minister to you and to those who will inherit salvation.”
Then I said, “Please inform me about that dark spot below, which has grown smaller and smaller as we have mounted higher, and which appears much darker since I have come into this region of light.”
My conductor replied, “That little spot that now looks so dark and despised is the world which you have lived on. To obtain one small part of that spot of earth so many men have risked and lost their immortal souls; which are so precious that the Prince of Peace has told us that though a man could gain the whole world, it would not equal so great a loss. As you have ascended higher towards heaven, the world has appeared still smaller and more insignificant; and it will appear the same to all who can by faith get their hearts above it. If men below could but see the world as it is, they would not covet it as they do now, but alas, they are in a state of darkness. And what is worse, they love to walk in this darkness. For although the prince of Light came down among them and showed them the true light of life—yet they go on in darkness and will not bring themselves to the light, because their deeds are evil.”
Then I asked him, “What are those multitudes of black and horrible forms that hover in the air above the world? I would have been much afraid of them, but I saw that as you passed by, they fled; perhaps not being able to abide your brightness.”
To this he answered me, “They are the fallen angels which for their pride and rebellion were cast down from heaven. They wander in the air by decree of the Almighty, being bound in chains of darkness and kept unto the judgment of the great day. They are permitted to descend into the world, both for the trial of the elect, and for the condemnation of the wicked. And although you see that they now have black and horrible forms—yet they were once the sons of Light. They once were clothed in robes of glorious brightness, like what you see me wear. But the loss of this, although it was the result of their own wilful sin, fills them with anger and hatred against the ever blessed God Whose power and majesty, they fear and hate.
“Tell me,” I said, “O blessed conductor, have they no hopes of being reconciled to God again, after some term of time, or at least some of them?” “No, not at all. They are lost forever. They were the first that sinned, and had no tempter; and they were at once cast down from heaven. Besides, the Son of God, the blessed Messiah by Whom alone salvation can be gained, did not take upon Himself the angelic nature. He left the apostate angels all to perish, and took upon Himself only the seed of Abraham. For this reason they have so much hatred against the sons of men, because it is a torment for them to see men made the heirs of heaven—while they are doomed to hell.”
By this time we were above the sun. My conductor told me this mighty globe of fire was one of the great works of God. Yet all the stars were not less wonderful; whose great distance away makes them appear like candles in our sight. They hang in their appointed places without any support. Nothing but His word that first created them, could keep them in their station.
“These words are enough,” I said to my conductor, “To convince anyone of the great power of their Creator, and to show the evil of that unbelief which questions the being of the God who has given so many evidences of His power and glory. If men were not like beasts still looking downwards, they could not help but acknowledge His great power and wisdom.”
“You speak what is true,” he replied. “But you will see far greater things than these. These are but the scaffolds and outworks to that glorious place, that the glorified above inhabit. A view of it shall now be given to you—as far as you are able to comprehend it.”
In a few moments I found what my conductor had told me was true. For I found myself transferred into heaven, where I saw things that are impossible to describe, and heard beautiful songs that I could never sing. Whoever has not seen that glory can speak but very imperfectly of it, and those who have seen it cannot tell the thousandth part of what it is. Therefore the great apostle of the Gentiles, who tells us that he had been caught up into paradise where he had heard unspeakable words which are not possible for a man to utter, wrote that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man—to conceive the things that God has prepared for those who love him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. I will give you the best account I can of what I saw and heard, as near as I can remember ...
Then the bright messenger who had brought me to heaven returned. “I have,” said the angel, “a commission to return you to the earth from where I took you, after first visiting the regions of the prince of darkness. There you will see the reward of sin, and what Justice has prepared as the judgment of those who would exalt themselves above the throne of the Most High God.”
To leave heaven for earth, was extremely disappointing. But to leave heaven for hell, turned my very heart within me! However, when I knew that it was God's good pleasure, I was a little comforted. So I said to my bright conductor, “That which God has ordered I shall always be willing to obey. Even in hell I will not be afraid—if I may have His presence with me there.”
To this my shining guardian replied, “Wherever the blessed God grants His presence—there is heaven, and while we are in hell He will be with us.” Then bowing low before the Almighty’s throne, swifter than thought, my guardian angel carried me on a speedy journey down through the heavens.
When I saw the stars I told my conductor that I had heard on earth that each one of these stars had their own worlds ...
By this time we had come down to the lowest regions of the air. There I saw multitudes of horrible forms and dismal dark appearances which fled from the shining presence of my bright conductor.
I said, “These surely are some of the vanguard of hell—so black and so frightening are their forms!” My conductor replied, “Now we are upon the borders of hell, and these are some of the apostate spirits that wander around like roaring lions.” Soon we were surrounded with a darkness much more black than night, and with a stench far more suffocating than that of burning sulfur. My ears were likewise filled with the horrible yelling of the damned spirits, which in comparison with—would make the most discordant notes on earth, sound like beautiful music.
“Now,” said my guardian angel, “you are on the edge of hell—but do not fear the power of the destroyer. My commission from the Imperial Throne secures you from all danger. Here you may hear from devils and damned souls—the cursed causes of their endless ruin. What you ask them about, they will answer. The devils cannot hurt you, though they would want to, for they are bound by Him who has commissioned me.”
We then came within hell’s territories, placed in the caverns of the infernal deep in the centre of the earth. There, in a sulfurous lake of liquid fire, sat Lucifer upon a burning throne. His horrid eyes sparkled with hellish fury, as full of rage as his strong anger could make him. I saw that the demons that had fled from us as we approached from heaven had given notice of our coming. This had put all hell in an uproar, and made Lucifer release horrid blasphemies against the blessed God with an air of arrogance and pride.
“What would the Thunderer have?” said he. “He has my heaven already, whose radiant sceptre this bold hand should bear. Instead of those never fading fields of light, He confines me here in this dark house of death, sorrow, and woe! What, would He take hell away from me too, that He insults me here? Ah! Could I but obtain another day to try it, I would make heaven shake and His bright throne to totter. Nor would I fear the utmost of His power, though He had fiercer flames than these to throw me in! Although I lost the battle that day, the fault was not mine! No winged spirit in heaven strove better for the victory than I did. But, ah!” he continued with a changed voice, “that day is lost, and I am forever doomed to these dark territories! But it is still at least some comfort to me—that mankind’s sorrow waits upon me. And since I cannot fight against the Thunderer, I will make the utmost of my anger to fall on them.” ...
We then passed on to see more sorrowful scenes. I saw two wretched souls being tormented by a demon. He was continually plunging them in liquid fire and burning brimstone, while at the same time they accused and cursed each other! One of them said to his tormented fellow sufferer, “O cursed be your face, that ever I set eyes upon you! My misery is due to you! ... ”
There were yet more tragic scenes of sorrow that we saw as we left these two cursed wretches accusing each other. One woman had flaming sulphur continually forced down her throat by a tormenting demon! He did this with such horrible cruelty and insolence, that I said to him, “Why should you so delight in tormenting that cursed wretch, and be pouring that flaming, infernal liquid down her throat?”
“This is a more than just reward,” replied the demon. “This woman in her life time was such a greedy wretch—that though she had plenty of gold, she could never be satisfied. Therefore I now pour it down her throat! She cared not who she ruined—as long as she could get their gold. And when she had gathered together a greater treasure than she could ever spend—her love of money would not let her spend enough of it to supply herself with her basic living needs. She often went with an empty stomach, though her money bags were full. She kept no house because she would not be taxed, and would not keep her treasure in her hands for fear she should be robbed. She would not put her money in bonds, for fear of being cheated; although she always cheated everyone that she could. She was so great a cheat that she cheated her own body of its food, and her own soul of mercy. Since gold was her god on earth—is it not a just reward that she should have her belly full of it in hell?”
When her tormentor had done speaking, I asked her whether this was all true. To this she answered me, “No; to my grief it is not.” “Why is this not true,” I said, “and why are you grieved that it is not true?” “Because if what my tormentor told you is true,” she said, “I would be satisfied. He tells you that he pours gold down my throat; but he is a lying devil and speaks falsely. If it was gold I would never complain. But he mocks me, and instead of gold he only gives me this horrid, stinking sulfur! If I had my gold I would be happy still, for I value it so much that if I had it —I would not part with it even if an entrance to heaven could be bought.”
I told my angelic conductor that I was amazed to hear a wretch in hell itself so greedy for riches, while forever being tormented. “This,” he said, “may convince you that it is sin which is the greatest of all evils. Whenever the love of sin controls a soul, it is the greatest of all punishments for them to be abandoned to that evil love. The love of gold which this cursed soul is consumed by—is a more fatal punishment than what the demons can inflict upon her!”
“O!” said I, “if only wicked men on earth could for one moment hear the horrid shrieks of those damned souls, they could not be in love with sin again.” “Eternal Truth has told us otherwise, for those who will not fear His ministers, nor have regard to what His Word contains—will not be warned, though one should come from hell.”
We had not gone much farther before we saw a wretched soul lying on a bed of burning steel, almost choked with brimstone ... I spoke to the sorrowful complainer, and told him that I had heard his woeful complaints. I saw that his misery was great, and his loss irreparable, and told him I would willingly hear more about it—if this might possibly help lessen his sufferings.”
“No, not at all; my pains cannot be relieved even for one small moment! But by your question I understand that you are a stranger here; and may you ever be a stranger! Ah, had I but the least hope still remaining, how I would kneel and cry and pray forever to be redeemed from this hell! But it is all in vain—I am lost forever! But so that you will be warned about ending up here—I will tell you what the damned suffer.”
“Our miseries in this infernal dungeon are of two kinds: what we have lost, and what we suffer. I will first speak about what we have LOST.
1. In this sad dark place of misery and sorrow, we have lost the wondrous presence of the ever blessed God. This is what makes this dungeon—hell ...
2. Here we have also lost the company of saints and angels, and instead have nothing but tormenting devils!
3. Here we have lost heaven, too—the centre of blessedness. There is a deep gulf between us and heaven, so that we are shut out from it forever! Those everlasting gates that let the redeemed into heaven—are now for ever shut against us.
4. To make our wretchedness far worse, we have lost the hope of ever obtaining a better condition. This makes us truly hopeless ...
... we are also tormented by suffering and pain, as I will try to explain to
1. First, we undergo a variety of torments. We are tormented here a thousand, no, ten thousand different ways! Those who suffer upon the earth seldom have more than one affliction at a time. But if they had ulcers, gallstones, headaches, and fever all at the same time—would they not be very miserable? Yet all those together are but like the biting of a flea—compared to those intolerable, sharp pains which we endure. Here we have all the sufferings of hell. Here is an unquenchable fire which burns us; a lake of burning brimstone which ever chokes us; and eternal chains which bind us. Here there is utter darkness to frighten us, and a worm of conscience which gnaws upon us everlastingly. Any one of these is worse to bear—than all the torments that mankind ever felt on earth!
2. But our torments here are not only various—but are also universal. They afflict every part of the body, and torment all the powers of the soul. This makes what we suffer—the worst of tortures. In those sicknesses which men have on earth, though some members of their bodies will suffer—yet other parts will have no pain. Here it is different; every member of the soul and body suffers at the same time.
“Our eyes are tormented here with the sight of devils who appear in all the horrible shapes and black appearances that sin can give them. Our ears are continually tormented with the loud continual yellings of the damned. Our nostrils are smothered with sulfurous flames; our tongues with burning blisters; and the whole body is rolled in flames of liquid fire! All the powers and faculties of our souls are also tormented here. The imagination suffers with the thoughts of our present pain and the memory of the heaven we have lost. Our minds are tormented as we remember how foolishly we spent our precious time on earth. Our understanding is tormented with the thoughts of our past pleasures, present pains, and future sorrows, which are to last forever. And our consciences are tormented with a continual gnawing worm!
3. Another thing that makes our misery so awful—is the sharpness of our torments. The fire which burns us is so violent that all the water in the sea can never quench it. The pains we suffer here are so extreme, that it is impossible for anyone to know them except the damned.
4. Another part of our misery is the ceaselessness of our torments. As various, as universal, and as extremely violent as they are, they are also continual. We have no rest from them. If there were any relaxation, it might be some relief. But there is no easing of our torments, and what we suffer now—we must suffer forever ...
This wretched soul had scarcely finished what he was saying when he was tormented again by a hellish demon, who told him to stop complaining ...
“The devils hate all the race of Adam,” said my conductor. “And because many souls are ignorant of their devices, they easily succeed to bring them to eternal ruin. You will see more how the demons treat the damned here” ...
At this point my shining guardian told me that he must bring me back to the earth again, and leave me there until it was time for me to enter my heavenly reward. “Come,” he said, “let us leave this place of sorrow and horror to the possession of their black inhabitants.”
In a very little space of time I found myself on earth again. I was left at the very place where the angel had met me, when I had been thinking about committing suicide through the temptations of the devil, who had tried to persuade me that there was no God. How I returned there, I do not know.
But as soon as I was back there, the bright angel who had been my conductor said, “John, I must go now. I have another ministry to complete. Praise Him who sits upon the throne forever, who has all power in heaven, earth, and hell. Praise Him for all the wonders of His love and grace—which He has shown you in so short a time.”
As I was going to reply, the shining angel disappeared and I was left alone. I spent some time considering the amazing things I had seen and heard—and then knelt down and prayed. When I rose up I began blessing and praising God for all His goodness.
When I returned back to my house, my family was very surprised to see how my countenance had so greatly changed. They looked at me as if they scarcely knew me. I asked them what they were staring at. They answered that it was the change in my face which caused their astonishment. I said, “How am I so greatly changed?” They told me, “Yesterday you looked so depressed that you seemed the very image of despair. But now, your face appears radiantly beautiful, and seems full of perfect joy and satisfaction.” “If you had seen,” I said, “what I have seen today—you would not be surprised at the change in me.”
Then I went into my room, took my pen and ink, and wrote down everything that I had heard and seen. And I hope that those who read this will be moved in their hearts—just as I have been, as I wrote everything down.