Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 21 September 2014
For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
About Life and Happiness
Isaiah – the prophet – was in the temple of God in Jerusalem – the time was about 740 BC – when suddenly the veil to the supernatural world was removed and he saw God – or at least his throne and the train of his robe – and he saw angels and he heard them calling out to one another and – as all of this was happening – everything in the physical world shook and the temple was filled with smoke:
Isaiah 6:1-4: … I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
If you saw a vision of God and angels, what do you think would be your reaction? It would be logical to go: “Wow! This is awesome! God is real and mighty and on the throne!” There are instances in the Bible where angels appear to people – they become visible – and the experience is so overwhelming – they are so magnificent – (My friend had five appear around his bedside and he described them: “They seemed to be full of sparkle; every inch of their body was radiating this vibrant sparkling energy”) – that involuntarily humans bow down to them and begin to worship them – until they are stopped (Revelation 19:10; 22:8; see also Colossians 2:18). There is something in us that – looking at excellence (even a brilliant piece of machinery, great craftsmanship and skill, heroes of a game, great beauty) – makes us go: “Wow! What glory!” And the angels themselves – those above God’s throne – certainly had and have this response of worship, crying out (probably at the top of their voices): “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Yet, Isaiah – the prophet – had a totally different reaction. He was scared stiff and even the angels above God’s throne did not dare to look at him and have his feet exposed before him: “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” Isaiah thought that he would die because he had come too close to God:
Isaiah 4:5: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
If this has not happened to you, it may be a novel thought but God can be scary. He is holy and full of glory and the closer we come to him, the more we feel exposed before him because our nature is not holy – it is selfish and petty and vengeful. For us, God is like the sun which we cannot look at with our natural eyes. He is too bright. He “lives in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16). [Cf. Moses and his face reflecting God’s glory / Stan Rudowski and the joy of God / Charles Finney and Dwight Moody and the love of God.]
As long as we do not see God and are not somehow touched by his presence, we may not recognize the problem but stand before God and your reaction will be the same as Isaiah’s: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips …’”
Not everyone has the privilege of receiving visions of angels and God himself but we are all meant to hear about them because Isaiah saw God because God sent him to his people:
Isaiah 6:8-9: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people …”
Yet – and this is what Isaiah also experienced – not everyone believes the messenger and not everyone pays attention to what is said about God. Where is God in your life? How much time have you invested in hearing about him and the truth about him and about yourself? Is there a God that made you – created you – to live here on earth for a purpose? Who are you? Is God interested in you?
Right now, these are questions which are rarely discussed in our newspapers or television or school – questions about God and truth seem to be out of touch with modern trust in science and the belief there is nothing beyond the visible world – [Indonesia may be dangerous for Christians because of radical Islam but at least the Indonesians ask about God and the truth and are open to search for God] – but – and this may be the case even for you tonight – there is something in us that eventually asks about God because otherwise there is something missing in life. Just look at the experiences of Don Johnson, Lauren Bacall and Woody Allen:
[http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/huskyvoiced-lauren-bacall-entranced-humphrey-bogart-and-filmgoers/story-e6frg8pf-1227023425957: Lauren Bacall, the sultry femme fatale who at 19 entranced Humphrey Bogart and taught him to whistle, hypnotised the world from the moment she burst on to the silver screen in the 1940s.
With her smouldering gaze and deep, husky voice, the legendary American actress, who died yesterday after a stroke at the age of 89 († 13 August 2014), was a scorching-hot property in Hollywood and on Broadway. Searing an indelible mark in the Hollywood fabric through her roles with husband Bogart, the smoky seductress landed on the American Film Institute list of the top 25 actress legends and was named by People magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
Bacall spent much of the rest of her life coming to terms with her early superstardom, which grew into a seven-decade screen and stage career beginning in the golden age of Hollywood and spanning wartime dramas and film noir with Bogart, action movies with John Wayne, a romance picture with Gregory Peck and a comedy with Marilyn Monroe.]
Lauren Bacall: “I don’t think anybody that has a brain can really be happy. What is there really to be happy about? You tell me. If you’re a thinking human being, there’s no way to divorce yourself from the world. Yes, I probably was happy when I was married to Bogie, but I was very young then. I had a good growing-up life, I would say, but I wasn’t really happy, because I was an only child, and I wasn’t part of a whole family—what we in America consider the proper family, a father and a mother and child, which, of course, is a big crock we know—and yet I had the greatest family anyone could wish for in everyone on my mother’s side. So what you think is happy? Happy shmappy. I think you have to be unconscious to be happy.”
The US Week (9 July 2014) – Johnson’s vice-free life:
Don Johnson is a changed man, said Kevin Maher in the Irish Independent
(Ireland). After being cast in the hit 1980s TV show Miami Vice, the actor
indulged in a life of unbridled hedonism—bingeing on booze, cocaine, and
beautiful women. Then, while sitting on the porch of his Colorado ranch one day
in the late 1990s, he took inventory of his wealth—his 20 cars, his boats, his
houses. “I had what everyone assumes are
the elements that make you happy,” says Johnson, 64, “and I was intensely unhappy.” He’d begun acting as a teen as a way
to escape his brutal home life. “I came from a very poor family in Missouri
that believed in corporal punishment.” Those demons drove him to seek money and
fame, but Johnson realized that his debauchery had left him looking like a “fat Elvis.” He quit
drink and drugs, and after marrying his third wife, schoolteacher Kelley
Phleger, in 1999, got rid of his fleet of fast cars. “I didn’t need them to get
laid,” Johnson says. He even cut back on the amount of starch and sugar he
eats. “My doctor did a blood workup recently—he’s Nick Nolte’s doctor, and I
figure if he can keep Nick alive, he can keep anybody alive—and he said, ‘Your
labs haven’t been this good in years.’ I’m down to 11 per cent body fat.”
Kevin Maher – The Times (12 September 2014): WITHIN 15 minutes of encounter, Woody Allen lays it all out. “There is no God,” he says. “There is no magic. There is nothing other than the cold hard facts of what you see with your eyes. It begins. It ends. There is no reason for anything. And that’s that.”
The 78-year-old filmmaker and neurotic existentialist is on form today. Championing the so-called “depressing underlying message” of his latest — and 46th — movie, Magic in the Moonlight, the diminutive maestro hammers home a series of moribund riffs on the “meaningless tragedy” of human life that would buckle the sunniest of dispositions.
“The truth is very painful,” he says at one point, referring to Thomas Hobbes’s line quoted by Moonlight’s central protagonist, a debunker of spiritualism played with fiery verve by Colin Firth. “Life is nasty, brutish and short.”
Allen delivers these diatribes, often with a hopeless shrug, from the security of a plush suite at the sumptuous Le Bristol Hotel in Paris. (David Beckham lived here when playing for Paris Saint-Germain, while Allen used it as a location for the ballroom scenes in Midnight in Paris.) The director is a Francophile who would contemplate immigrating to Paris if only his wife, 43-year-old Soon-Yi, could make the decision for him. “If my wife was enthusiastic about it, it would be possible,” he claims. “I just need the encouragement.”
In person, Allen is polite, serious, sharp as a tack and, ultimately, kind of inscrutable. Dressed neatly in khaki shirt, brown tie and khaki trousers, he boasts a sprightly intensity that belies his years, the results, it seems, of a rigorous health regime, including a fish-friendly, fat-free diet (“I treat myself to a steak twice a year!”) and daily devotion to the treadmill in his New York apartment. And green juices? “Oh no, I don’t do that,” he groans. “What’s-his-name does. Owen Wilson. He used to make this green compound in a bottle that he would drink all day long when we made Midnight in Paris. The most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”
In conversation he speaks with the measured tone of a comic actor used to delivering deadpan one-liners. Which means that everything he says, no matter how serious, carries the tiniest hint of an offhand gag. Professionally, his stock couldn’t be higher. Topping a 50-year film career that has produced iconic movies such as Annie Hall and Manhattan and earned him a record-breaking 24 Oscar nominations and four wins, his last three movies (including Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris) have suddenly connected with audiences everywhere and together have made more than $US300 million at the box office.
... His private life is slowly, very tentatively, recovering from the high-stakes implosion that occurred in early February, when Dylan Farrow, his adopted daughter with ex-partner Mia Farrow, reiterated the abuse allegation that had previously emerged during Allen’s very public break-up with Farrow in 1992.
Back then the world had been scandalised by Allen’s affair with Farrow’s 21-year-old adopted daughter Soon-Yi …
Magic in the Moonlight is set in the south of France in the 1920s and pitches Firth’s dyspeptic rationalist and celebrated magician, Stanley, against Emma Stone’s seemingly authentic psychic, Sophie, and watches the sparks fly. Here while Sophie nurtures romantic hopes between seances and ghostly chitchat, Stanley marches about in self-tortured despair, firing out zingers such as: “There is no spirit world. Just mad people desperate for a little hope in a world that has none!” …
We do the whirlwind trip through Allen’s life. Growing up in a poor and rambunctious Brooklyn household. Becoming an existentialist at five after realising that life was transient. Writing gags for newspaper columnists straight out of school. Writing gags for radio. Performing stand-up in Greenwich Village nightclubs. Screenwriting. Acting. Directing. Oscars. Fame. But always somehow returning to the futility of it all and the inevitability of death.
“All this talk of legacy?” he says, suddenly. “I always find it so laughable. The whole world can come to your grave and sing your praises, but it doesn’t mean a thing. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. I just want to be cremated.”
Of course, he’s not planning to die any day soon. He has too many movies to make, including his next as yet untitled work, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Stone. And if they stop financing his movies? He’ll write books or plays.
And at the end of it all, when he is finally checking out, and the Woody Allen story is nearing its close, might there be any chance, like Oscar Wilde or John Wayne before him, of a deathbed conversion to God?
“Oh no, I can’t imagine that,” he says grimacing at the idea. “But who knows? Maybe I’ll be so delirious with pain, or so petrified, that my senses will leave me. But I don’t think so. I think I’ll probably just drop dead with my same lousy attitude. And that will be that.”
Lauren Bacall, Don Johnson and Woody Allen seem to have had it all – fame, money, achievements, an adoring crowd, plenty of people in their bed and marriages – but none of these common goals in life – what everyone else is also striving for so hard in life – how hard are you chasing money, fame and success – gave them happiness or even contentment. In fact, they experienced the opposite. They were and are unhappy – Lauren Bacall: “I don’t think anybody that has a brain can really be happy. What is there really to be happy about? You tell me.” / Don Johnson: “I had what everyone assumes are the elements that make you happy, and I was intensely unhappy.” / Woody Allen: “There is no God. There is no magic. There is nothing other than the cold hard facts of what you see with your eyes. It begins. It ends. There is no reason for anything. And that’s that. The truth is very painful.”
Woody Allen is an existentialist – quite deliberately embracing existentialism which became a popular philosophy in the fifties and sixties (Sartre, Camus) and requires you to determine your own meaning of life in an absurd and meaningless world. However, one of its key thinkers – Albert Camus – exposed its limitations and underlying unhappiness by declaring: “The only serious question in life is whether to kill yourself or not.”
Life without God is not working – at least for most people on earth – and one of the earliest Christian preachers summed up neatly the essence of a different life that is available to us: “The kingdom of God [a life with God] is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Life is not about eating or drinking meaning that life is not about twenty cars in the garage or twenty-four Oscar nominations or any other stuff and toys. [It is also not about eating and drinking in the sense of making religious rules about doing certain things.] Life is about getting it right with God – righteousness which is another word for acceptance (being acceptable) and having peace with God which results in joy. Even on a mere human level, we know (or learn with age) that relationships – acceptance and peace with one another (family and community relationships) – are more important than possessions but it is even more important when it comes to our relationship with God.
Here I come back to the experience of Isaiah who – one day in the temple – saw a vision of God and angels. God was attractive. He was holy – pure and truthful and full of light. Angels cried out in worship and Isaiah wanted to serve him – wanted to be in relationship with him – but God was also scary until God purified and cleansed him:
Isaiah 6:6-7: Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
There is another famous account of orphan children (aged from six to eighteen) in China in the 1920s. They also had visions and saw God in heaven with the same result of joyful attraction to God and fear (what Isaiah felt before God) and what they experienced confirmed other accounts in the Bible.
Visions Beyond the Veil by Harold A. Baker is a book that documents a series of visions that some Chinese orphan children had when revival broke out in their midst. The children saw angels, demons, heaven, hell, etc. They related their experiences to missionary H. A. Baker and his wife Josephine, who oversaw the orphanage where the children lived. The visions changed the children’s lives and behaviours. The children would or lay sit still for hours as if in a trance, then they would report their visions to the Bakers, who faithfully documented them. These visions make amazing and inspiring reading …
H. A. Baker was a missionary to China operating an orphanage in the Yunnan Province beginning in the early 1920s. One day, the Lord unexpectedly commenced a mighty outpouring of His Holy Spirit in their midst. As a result, the Chinese beggar children from his orphanage had visions that fill page after page of H.A. Baker’s book, Visions Beyond the Veil. Mr Baker purposefully did not copyright the original book so that it would live on and bless generations to come.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: At different times several children experienced this sense of the downpouring of rain. Six months after the great outpouring, and after a “dry spell,” the flood gates of heaven were opened again, and there was another down pouring of the Holy Spirit. Again two of the small children experienced rain, “the latter rain,” that seemed to fall upon their heads, penetrating and flooding their whole beings.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: Through visions or other workings of the Holy Spirit, sin and the lost condition of each one was made so real that every ground of hope was banished unless the Lord in undeserved mercy would answer prayer for the lost and save him. Then the Holy Spirit made the wonderful salvation and grace of God as real as had been the lost condition.
One after another soon came through to a clear “I know” experience of salvation. This made such a transformation in the lives and testimony of the Adullam family that there was no mistaking that the Home was made up of many who were born again.
The whole atmosphere of the place was changed. The joy unspeakable and full of glory came in until it bubbled over. As the boys were at their work in opening ground for a garden they praised the Lord so much that some of the boys in the neighbourhood, mocking them said, “Praise the Lord,” whenever they met our boys. When one boy went into a store to buy nails, before he realized it he said, “Hallelujah! I want some nails.” The tribal boy has had a wonderful experience from the start. One day on his way to work he danced down the street in the joy of the Holy Spirit, praising the Lord somewhat like the style of Billy Bray. Being cleansed from sin and born again of the Holy Spirit and still seeking more and more of the Lord, the children were carried into these deeper things of God until over twenty of the Adullam people spoke in other tongues as people did on the day of Pentecost; as they did when the Holy Spirit was poured forth at the House of Cornelius; as they did when they received the fullness of the Spirit at Ephesus; as the apostle Paul did; and as the Samaritan Christians undoubtedly did when they received the Holy Spirit in mysterious power and manifestation, so striking and wonderful that Simon wanted to buy it.
Although most of these Adullam people had never seen any such demonstrations, having been taught to seek the Lord for the Holy Spirit, they were not only rewarded with a great “joy unspeakable and full of glory” in their own hearts, but they got the “I know” satisfaction about the baptism of the Holy Spirit …
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: The Adullam children were caught up in vision to this city of God. How they could see the city I do not know. How Abraham saw it I do not know. How Paul could be caught up to Paradise, either in the body or out of the body, I do not know. These things are beyond natural order. We need not, at present, know the How. We know the Fact. John was shown the city. He was told by the Lord to write the things he had seen and send them to the Churches.
In the Spirit Adullam children were caught up to this city time after time, not as in a dream but as a living reality. Their visits were so real, in fact, that the children supposed their souls actually left their bodies to go to heaven and return, or that in some unaccountable way they had gone to heaven soul and body just as they might in daily life visit some distant place.
Frequently when in Paradise the children were plucking and partaking of the heavenly fruit they gathered some extra to tuck in their garments to bring back to earth for “Muh Si and Si Mu” (Pastor and Mrs Baker).
They knew they were only on a visit to heaven and soon to return. Upon returning, when the Spirit lifted from them, finding themselves in our Adullam rooms they proceeded at once to search in their garments for the delicious fruit they had brought back to please us. Not finding this fruit in their garments, a look of great surprise, confusion, and disappointment came over their faces. They could not, for the time, believe they had not bodily gone to heaven and come back with the fruit tucked in their garments. [The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking even though it is of utmost importance here on earth for survival and continues in heaven.]
Walking on the streets of the New Jerusalem was to them as real as walking on the streets of a Chinese city. One day, when walking down the street in bright sunshine, I asked the boys if the visions were as real and as clear as what we then saw. “Just as real,” they said, “but much clearer due to the light in heaven and the white garments and the cleanliness everywhere, all adding to the brightness.”
When in the Spirit, the children were usually lost to their natural surroundings. In many cases, although they supposed they were in heaven, they talked aloud, describing what they saw, thus carrying on conversation that we all could hear. Often they acted out before our eyes what they supposed they were doing in heaven.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: When we saw the children, with closed eyes, all dancing about the room in rhythm, we found that in vision they were dancing with the angels in heaven and keeping time to the heavenly music. When we saw them apparently blowing a trumpet or going through the motions of playing a harp, we found that in vision they were joining the heavenly orchestra in the praises of the King. We could not see the heavenly harps or trumpets. We could not see the angels’ joyful dance or hear their song. We could hear only the children singing heavenly songs. It. was a daily sight to find some child off in a corner by himself, lying comfortably on the pine needles, going through the motions of playing a harp. Upon going near, we could hear him singing a new song we had never taught him. Approaching still nearer, we would discover that the words were as strange to us as the tune. The singer was singing in the heavenly choir. His song was the song the angels taught him. The words of the song must have been in the language of angels. Seeing the children singing in this heavenly angelic choir was a sight not to be forgotten. Sometimes several of them in some place in the heavenly city or its wonderful Paradise would decide to play and sing together. With closed eyes, while fully under the power of the Holy Spirit, three or four of them would get off by themselves. If we were near, we would hear a consultation as to who would play the trumpet and who would sing. After all was decided and everybody was ready, the heavenly hymns began. The trumpeters held their hands up before them and blew as though blowing trumpets. The harpists both played and sang, while those without instruments joined in the singing. In these cases they always sang in languages we did not understand, unless by mutual agreement they decided to sing one of those hymns they “used to sing down on earth.” In that case they sang in Chinese.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: The climax of all heavenly joy and wonder was “seeing Jesus” and worshipping Him who had saved them by His blood.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: Many of these visions were given to several at the same time. Nearly all of the visions were seen by quite a number of persons. In many cases the children came to ask if the Bible said anything about certain things they had seen in vision.
The visions, seen by even some of the smallest children six years of age, as well as by the older boys, were seen while they were under the Power of the Holy Spirit, not as a dream but as real life.
Some of the visions seen were: Christ tied to a post and scourged; Christ bleeding on the cross while scoffers looked on; the body of Christ taken from the cross, carried to the tomb, placed in the tomb, and the tomb closed; an angel opening the tomb and Christ’s resurrection; His appearance to the women, to the disciples by the sea, and to those in the upper room; the ascension of Christ and the descent of the two angels; heaven; detailed visions inside the New Jerusalem in heaven; angels; the redeemed; hell; the condition of the lost in hell; demons; the devil; the great tribulation and things pertaining to saints and to the subjects of the beast during that time; the battle of Armageddon; the binding and imprisonment of Satan in the pit; the binding of the Anti-Christ; the devil cast out of heaven; the Great Supper of God and birds eating flesh of kings and captains of the earth; the coming of Christ with his angels; the sun and moon changed; heaven quake and earth quake and destruction that attended the coming of Christ; the resurrection of the righteous; the marriage supper of the Lamb in Paradise; detailed views of our mansions in heaven and other heavenly scenes.
This work of the Holy Spirit through visions, as well as in the heart, created such a great interest in Bible study that even the smaller children wanted to know if they could not stop studying “earthly books” and study the Bible only.
ð Highpoint of their experiences was always meeting Jesus, the Son of God / Summary of Christian message (incarnation, sacrifice of love, offer of salvation, etc)
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: After two or three weeks of the Lord’s dealing with them, nearly all the children wanted to preach, even the younger ones. There was some real preaching in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Some of both the younger and older boys hardly seemed like our boys when they preached under the real unction of the Holy Spirit, not timidly and apologetically as before, but as having authority. Hell and heaven, the devil and his power, Christ, His blood, and His salvation, were no myths to these boys. They knew the Lord told them to preach, and they were given the message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As we listened to some of these messages preached with great assurance, warning people to flee from the wrath to come and showing them the wonderful salvation in the love of Christ, our hearts rejoiced within us. When the Power of God was especially great in our midst there was some unusually miraculous preaching.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil, Minneapolis: Osterhus Publishing House, p29: The Adullam children said they went to the third heaven. As they passed through the first heaven they felt air on their faces. Having passed the second heaven, they looked back upon the stars in their wonderful beauty, much as from a mountain height a person might gaze down upon a beautiful, light-studded city below. From this starry heaven they passed on into the third heaven until they came to the Heavenly Jerusalem. [See also Henry Gruver’s testimony.]
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil: The Bible tells us the heaven of the redeemed is “the third heaven.” The future home of the people of the Lord is a place in the third heaven. This place is a city. The name of this city is “The New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is not “a figure of speech.” It is not a combination of ideas skillfully clothed in earthly words of the Lord to give man a false conception of something it is not. The Bible says this New Jerusalem is a real city with a real foundation which God himself laid.
This celestial city is foursquare, one thousand five hundred miles on every side, surrounded by a wall two hundred feet high with foundations of twelve kinds of precious stones, the most beautiful precious stones known to man. The wall itself is jasper, which sends forth a brilliant jasper light. Twelve gates lead into the city, the streets of which are like burnished gold. In this city are the homes of the redeemed, the abode of angels, Paradise, and the throne of God.
H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil, Minneapolis: Osterhus Publishing House, p51-57: Over and over again children had visions of hell and the lake of fire. The first time any one was under the anointing of the Spirit he usually had a vision of hell. He was bound in chains by demons and taken through a region of darkness. Some children could hear demons all about them in this region. If taken far, they could see a dim light in the distance which proved to be reflections from the lake of fire. Some children were forced so near they could see the lake of fire ahead. All the time they were pleading the blood of Christ, asserting that they would not obey and would not be subject to the slavery of their captors. They believed Jesus would surely save. We have already told how at this climax, before the lake of fire was reached, the Lord did intervene with His blood bought salvation.
The Bible pictures hell as a place of blackness and darkness, and it teaches that part of the devil’s angels are now reserved in chains of darkness awaiting judgment. The children saw not only darkness in hell, but also the Lake of Fire that was always approached through a region of stygian darkness. In vision they were led to the edge of a great lake of molten fire in a semi-dark pit from which arose clouds of smoke. When the smoke settled low the fire in the lake was less distinct. When the smoke lifted a little, the burning lake with red and greenish flames and its inmates could be distinctly seen.
When the children were peering down into this pit in hell we saw them taking a firm hold on some piece of furniture or getting down on their hands and knees, cautiously bending forward to peep into the infernal regions. They looked a moment and then drew back, afraid lest they fall in. They were horrified at what they saw. Then very cautiously they looked again and drew back. Sometimes the children lay flat on their stomachs, lest they slip and fall while looking over the brink of the lake of fire.
The lost were seen going into hell. Some fell in, some walked over the brink, and some were bound by demon chains and cast into hell by demons. One boy saw groups of the wicked bound in bundles, ready to be cast into the furnace of fire. When the fire abated and the smoke settled down the moans of the miserable could be heard. When the fire at intervals increased in intensity and the smoke lifted a little there were shrieks and wails of agony.
One person was rolled on the floor and caused to cry out as would a suffering soul in hell. In the lake of fire were oceans of hands reaching up for help. Those below appealed to those looking in upon them to come to their rescue. We could hear the children talking to them just as you can hear someone talking over the telephone and get but one end of the conversation. We could hear one end of a conversation like this: “I can’t help you.” “No, I cannot do anything for you.” “But when you were alive you would not obey the gospel.” “No, it is too late; before you got here I preached to you, but you made fun of me and despised Jesus. Now you know I told you the truth.” “No, I cannot do anything; this is the judgment of God.” “If you had obeyed, you would now be enjoying heaven with us.” After some such conversation the children were led away to enjoy the presence of Jesus in heaven or the glories of the golden streets of the Paradise of God ...
One boy saw his grandmother in hell, whom he had tried to win to Christ. She was once a sorceress and murderer who had withstood the gospel she heard in her village and caused many to refuse the light. Other children also had visions of relatives in hell. This tribal boy who saw his grandmother in hell was the boy who saw his little sister and his believing aunt in heaven ...
There was no vision of any one in heaven or the name of any one on the mansions by the golden streets who did not trust in Jesus. Those in hell were all unbelievers. One night when the Lord spoke through a small boy in wonderful prophecy, among the things he said was, “There will be no one in heaven except those who believe the gospel.” After the Lord had taken the boys and girls through most wonderful and systematic lessons in the Holy Spirit they nearly all came at last to the parting of the roads.
In this vision, repeated until it seemed the impression could never be forgotten, the one in vision seemed to be standing by the cross at the parting of the two great roads. The one was the narrow way of life that leads to heaven and glory; the other was the broad way to hell and destruction. Great, busy, hurrying multitudes—multitudes hustling with business, carrying great loads of sin and rushing along with the affairs of life—were passing by in endless streams and countless numbers. The child was the preacher at the cross roads. Again we heard one side of the conversation: “Hello! my friend! Please wait a minute; I want to speak to you. Say, do not go down that broad road; it leads to hell and ruin. I have been down that way and have seen hell for myself. Stop here by the cross and let Jesus wash all your sins away. From the Cross of Christ here you can start up this other road that will lead you to heaven and everlasting life and joy. Oh! that fellow does not believe it. There he goes on down the broad road. What a pity! I will stop this other man and see if he will believe. Hey there! Just a minute! Say, do not follow that crowd. They do not know where they are going. That road leads to destruction; that is the road to the lake of fire. Please don’t go on. I came out here to stop as many of you as possible and give you fair warning. Better turn aside here, let Jesus wash your sins away, and go with us up the road to heaven where God is. Oh, there he goes, too! “Here is another. Wait a moment! Say, come out of that crowd. Cannot you see there is no one travelling back this way? They all go down that road; no one ever comes back. That is the broad road to hell. Stop here by the cross, believe the gospel of salvation through Jesus’ blood, and you will be safe. There is no other road further on. This is the only road to heaven. Turn in here or you will be lost too. “Oh, what a pity he does not believe me. There he goes with the others.”
Sometimes the youthful preacher would decide that if no one believed him he would follow the wilful crowd to see what happened. When he arrived with the crowd at the brink of the lake of fire in hell, ee heard him say, “Look at that crowd falling into hell! Not one escapes. Everyone goes in.” Slowly drawing near the edge of the pit and leaning over and looking down into the lake with its suffering multitudes, the preacher said: “I cannot help you now. I told you all about this back there at ‘the gospel cross roads,’ but you would not believe. No, you would not believe, even if I could help you out. No, I am helpless now. If you had listened when I warned, the Lord would have saved you; you came on and fell in because you would not take advice. No, I can’t. I am going back to the cross roads to see if I can find some one who will listen, and stop a few at any cost.”
He was occasionally successful in persuading one to listen. Then he would say, “Now, you get down there at the foot of the cross of Jesus and pray. Oh, you don’t know how to pray? Well, you say what I tell you. ‘Jesus, I am a sinner! I was on my road to hell. I am only fit for hell. The big load I carry is only sin. Forgive my sins and teach me to live only for your glory. Amen’.” There was rejoicing then as the sinner was saved and started up the narrow road, while the preacher went out to try to rescue another deluded traveler.
These visions, with some variations, were repeated many times, making it clear that salvation was only by repentance and belief in the blood of Christ, through the preaching of the gospel; that the many were called; that few were saved; that the road to destruction is broad and multitudes pass that way; that the way of life is narrow and few there be that find it. It was made equally clear that the Christian is to stand in the gap at the parting of the ways and persuade and warn to the limit of his ability.
We have told how the boys, even the small boys, went out at that time and preached on the streets with unction of the Holy Spirit, sometimes under direct inspiration such as we had never before witnessed.
I will close this chapter with the story of the university student who went by the cross road. Opposite our front gate lived a university student who was to have graduated from the university that year. After moving here I talked with him, asking him to come over and discuss the Bible and Christianity in a friendly way. He came a few days, and I felt certain he was convinced of the truth of what I said. The questions he raised seemed to be answered to his full satisfaction. Through him I managed to get a chance to talk with some of the other university students during their vacation. I had been going to their rooms ten days, when there came the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Adullam.
The students were friendly, and I felt that the student I have mentioned saw clearly the truth of the gospel. I could see that, although he was polite, he was not disposed to accept the truth and did not seem to like the friendly way the other students responded to the Bible discussions. One morning when one of our girls was out at our front gate it happened that this young university student was out there too. The girl began telling him he ought to be a Christian, in a simple way urging him to believe in Jesus to save him from his sins, make him a good man, save him from hell, and lead him to heaven.
“What’s the use of my being a Christian ? I do not need to be saved.” “You might die suddenly in your sins, and you would go to hell.” “Who are you?” scoffed the student. “You are a little snip of an ignorant girl, just a sort of useless beggar. What do you suppose you are trying to do? You are trying to teach me something when you are not worthy to even talk to me. I am a university student. I am wise. I have read many books. I have been many years in Peking. I can speak and read English as well as Chinese.” He then spat in her face and told her to mind her own business.
Two weeks later hearing a funeral commotion in the front alley, I was surprised to learn that they were carrying this university student to his burial; I had seen him on the street a few days before. One of the boys said that as we were going out to preach, a few days previous, he had offered this young man a tract, but he would not take it. I knew nothing of this conversation with the girl.
About a month later this girl was in a trance under the power of the Spirit. After seeing visions of heaven and the glories of the redeemed she stood still and bent over as though looking into hell. This is what I heard: “Ah! There is hell. No, I cannot; I have no power to help you now. You certainly are in an awful plight. It is you who are worse than a beggar now, all dirty, all filthy, and suffering in the lake of fire. In fact, you look worse now than any beggar I ever saw. I thought you told me you were rich and that you had a great education. Where is your education now? Well, I cannot help you now even if you do apologize. That may be, but I have no power. No, only Jesus can save you, but when I told you about Him you made fun of Him and cursed me. “Look what we beggars who believe in Jesus have received in heaven: all is joy, all is happiness; all is love in the city of golden streets with its wonderful Paradise of God.”
Then the girl seemed to be crossing the lake of fire over a narrow bridge. We saw her walking as though she were walking a rope, placing one foot carefully in front of the other while extending her arm on either side until she recovered her balance. With a sigh of relief she said, “My! this is dangerous! But the Lord will help me. I will get across to the other side.” Then she carefully brought the other foot forward and nearly lost her balance again. She praised the Lord until she recovered her balance and proceeded as before. In this way having crossed the room, she seemed to be safely in heaven, past every danger of ever falling into the lake of fire.
[See also the testimonies of John Bunyan and William Booth who had visions of hell. These visions propelled them into their respective ministries.]
The orphan children experienced early in life that life is not about twenty cars in the garage or twenty-four Oscar nominations – life is not about eating or drinking or consuming other amenities – (they did not have to learn the hard way of chasing the world but ending up unhappy) – but it is about God and his kingdom and righteousness before him and peace and joy because he loves us. The orphan children saw many a time what they had not yet been taught: heaven and hell and the truth about Jesus, and – like Isaiah – it made them share and preach to others. Nothing was more important to them.
Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 10:28: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Happiness does not come to us naturally (even when you have a good run like Lauren Bacall, Don Johnson and Woody Allen) because something is broken in this world and we are being separated from God by sin. We are inheriting from our ancestors and in our own makeup rebellion and disobedience against God – a lack of holiness which bars us from God’s presence: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips …” Unless there is a change of our circumstances, we are going to a place of eternal separation from God which the Bible calls hell and which the orphan children have seen (as have William Booth – the founder of the Salvation Army – and John Bunyan – the author of “A Pilgrim’s Progress”).
Yet, this is not what God wants. This is not what God wants for you. Therefore, he made a way for us which is not hard for us – does not require impossible efforts of self-improvement to become more acceptable to God. God made a way through his son Jesus Christ, whom he sent from heaven, to become one of us and then sacrifice his perfect life for us on a cross as the once-for-all punishment for all of our sins:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 3:21-25: But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith…
And with righteousness – the free gift of forgiveness through Jesus – comes peace with God and unspeakable joy – joy that surpasses the fleeting moments of human happiness because this joy bubbles forth in us by the Spirit of God: “The kingdom of God [a life with God] is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
It is the Spirit of God that gave Isaiah a vision of God in the temple and it was the Spirit of God that gave visions to the Chinese orphans and it is again the Spirit of God that makes you listen now. Let him talk to you and stir you and show you the truth of what I am saying.
God is wonderful. You cannot help but be attracted to him and worship him. Yet, he is also scary for people with unclean lips – anyone that has not been cleansed by putting his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus and honouring him as our Lord. If tonight is a crossroad for you, take the narrow road that leads to heaven and glory – not the other one. Be happy now and in eternity. Amen.