Did it ever strike you, dear reader, that the same word which yields sweetest consolation to the true believer effectually extinguishes every ray of hope for the unbeliever, and leaves him nothing but darkness and utter despair? That word heads this little paper.
To make this the more distinct let us ask two questions which, from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, are both answered by this very word.
1. Can the man or woman who dies in unbelief ever be saved? Mark the solemn answer—NEVER!
2. Can the one who has been born again of the Spirit of God ever be lost? NEVER!
Now if this weighty little word were but the utterance of feeble man, to quote it might be of little moment. For example, the apostle Peter used it on two important occasions in his history, but only displayed thereby his own utter weakness—"Though all men shall be offended because of thee," he said, "yet will I never be offended," Matt. 26:33.
Yet what followed? Was he not as vehement in the denial of his Master as he had, a few short hours before, been vehement in the pledge of his faithfulness?
Then again, in John 13:8, we find him saying to the Lord, "Thou shalt never wash my feet;" and yet, the next moment, only too glad to submit to even more than his gracious Master purposed. So we see that Peter's 'never' was proved to be as weak as water, and rendered utterly worthless by the first test brought to bear upon it. But let God say 'never', and who shall gainsay it? Who can twist His 'never' so as to bring it within the bounds of human possibility? Nay, who dare try? Who? Alas! it has been tried, and, still worse, professed followers of Christ—preachers and teachers—either in blind ignorance or daring self-will, have done it. How deeply solemn!
But let us turn to God's Word, and there find His answer to the questions just proposed.
Mark 9:43-48 bears directly upon the first, and though, for want of space, I shall quote only one of these solemn verses, I would beg you to read, slowly and thoughtfully, the whole passage.
Verse 43 runs thus: "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched."
Now, mark this well, I pray you: not only is the fire "not quenched" (see Mark 9:44, 46, 48), but, as the Lord repeats again in Mark 9:45, it "never shall be."
And yet, in the very face of such unmistakable language, poor foolish man (wise in his own conceits) would seek, by the breath of human argument, to quench that "fire." He would fain treat the gracious Saviour's solemn warnings as mere idle threats, or persuade his alarmed conscience that, if there is a hell, it will only be of limited duration, and that, after a few thousand years of punishment, there will be an end to it. But what God said of some who made light of His gracious warnings, in Jeremiah's days, solemnly applies to these human reasoners of modern times: They "shall know whose words shall stand, mine, or theirs," Jer. 44:28. Consider it well, then. "Never shall be quenched" is the unchanging word of the Lord. There it stands on record, as it fell from the lips of the righteous Judge and gracious Saviour. There it stands, and, as God is true, there it shall stand forever. Not all the craft and power of Satan, nor all the tears of the weeping lost, will ever avail to quench that fire—never! Never!
Be warned in time, dear unsaved reader, lest too late you awake some day to the awful discovery that when the Lord Jesus Christ warned sinners of the fire that "never shall be quenched" He meant what He said! Remember, it will not be possible then to correct your fatal mistake.
But "why will ye die?" Ezek. 33:11. Why ruthlessly push from you the outstretched hand of mercy? Christ still waits at the Father's right hand and, while He thus waits, "whosoever will" may come.
'Thousands have fled to His spear-pierced side;
Welcome they all have been, none are denied.'
Men, with crimes of deepest dye, have come and been washed from every crimson stain in His precious blood. The hardest of men have had their hearts melted and won by His mighty love. And why should you still refuse Him?
Be entreated. Fall at His feet even now; and, oh, what a welcome the poor prodigal will get! What arms of love will encircle him! His sins will all be forgiven, and all forgotten too. "Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins," Acts 10:43. Again I beseech you to beware of trifling with such momentous issues.
'Resist not the Spirit, no longer delay.
God's gracious entreaties may end with today.'
And then a long eternity of despair in that "fire that never shall be quenched" will certainly be yours.
May God, in rich mercy, save you from such an appalling doom.
But it may be that some fellow-believer, who reads these pages, may be saying, 'Though I can and do believe that "never" answers the first question, I cannot as readily accept it as an answer to the second'.
Well, then, on what ground do you accept it as answering the first? And why do you believe that the punishment is eternal; that the fire of hell never will be quenched?
You reply that, when the Son of God said, "Never shall be," the matter was forever settled.
Certainly. Whenever He spoke, He was simply uttering the "words of God;" so that to receive His testimony is to set to your seal that God is true (John 3:33, 34).
Now, then, turn with me to other words of this same blessed One—words none the less plain and unmistakable: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand," John 10:27-29.
Just take your pencil and write down the two important words we have been considering in Mark 9:43, and then beneath them write the two found in John 10:28, thus:
Look at them honestly, as before Him who once uttered them, and say which you consider to be more worthy of your trust. Surely both are equally true, and therefore equally worthy of being received.
'Ah, yes,' you say; 'and I believe that Christ's sheep shall never perish, if—' Stop there! Why did you not say that the fire 'never shall be quenched, if—'?
Ah, reader, there are no 'ifs' about the matter! "Never shall" and "shall never" are, alike, the words of the Son of God, and must stand or fall together. Fall, did I say? Nay. "The word of our God shall stand forever," Isa. 40:8. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away," Matt. 24:35. And again, in this very chapter, John 10:35, we are told that "the scripture cannot be broken". "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar," Prov. 30:5, 6.
It is our wisdom not to reason about His words, not to add to them or take from them to suit our own ideas, but to receive them by simple faith, and rest our souls upon them.
But it may be asked, 'Who are the sheep of Christ?'
Well, every true believer is a "sheep." The Lord said to the unbelieving Jews in that day, "Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep," John 10:26.
Now, if the true believer is a sheep of Christ, and if the Great and Good Shepherd has given us His word for it, that no sheep of His shall ever perish, why not honor His blessed word, and take the comfort for your trembling soul which He desires you to have?
But it may be further objected, 'May not some of these "sheep" turn out very badly after all, and fall sadly and deeply into sin?'
Of this there can be no doubt whatever. But there is another question it may be helpful for us to consider first, viz., Did not the Shepherd, who uttered such assuring words about His sheep, know at the time He uttered them how every one of these very sheep would 'turn out'? Most certainly He did. This very chapter is witness of it. When He said, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15), was He thinking only of His then disciples? Look at the very next verse: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold" (i.e. the Jewish fold), "them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd." "Must bring." Why this "must"? Ah! there is, in that little word, the gracious constraint of His own love; just as there was a righteous necessity, because of God's holiness and our guilt, in that same word to Nicodemus—The Son of man must be lifted up (John 3:14). Oh, what a Saviour He is!
Without doubt, then, He had, at that moment, the whole of His flock before His mind. And, let me ask, was He going to die for them without knowing their sins beforehand? Impossible! Did He not let Peter understand that He knew his sins beforehand? Yet, of Peter with the rest, He could say, "Shall never perish." No doubt Satan earnestly desired to pluck that sheep out of the Good Shepherd's hand. "But," said Jesus, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not," Luke 22:32. Precious assurance! Just notice here, in passing, that we have three distinct persons brought before us—"the Shepherd," "a sheep" and "a roaring lion," seeking whom he may devour, as Peter himself speaks of Satan afterward (1 Peter 5:8). Now the question comes, Who is to have that sheep? the "Shepherd" or the "lion"? "Satan hath desired to have you," was the Lord's word to Peter. But can he accomplish that desire? That is the vital question. Did he try? He did. And, as far as the "sheep" was concerned, he would have come off victorious; for Peter could not keep himself, though he thought he could. But He who was going to lay down His life for the sheep knew as well how to restore by His intercession as to save by His death. "I have prayed for thee." "The Lord is my shepherd." "He restoreth my soul."
Not the feeblest nor the most faulty sheep of Christ will Satan ever get. Blessed be God for that! If we had been told that even one would be tempted away and devoured, we should each one of us be saying, 'I fear that one will be myself.' But not so. The Father gave Him the "sheep" (John 10:29). And He says two all-important things about them in connection with their being His Father's gift to Him:
1. That He GIVES ETERNAL LIFE to as many as the Father gave Him (John 17:2).
2. He says, "Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost," John 17:12. And afterward, "Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none," John 18:9.
And what is the secret of their being kept thus? Is it their love or their faithfulness? No! A thousand times, NO! Not their love, but His.
"Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end," John 13:1.
Peter might fall—did fall, in spite of himself. He utterly broke down, and that when he meant to do his best. But had his blessed Master's love broken down in consequence? No, no! Peter's word, too, had fallen to the ground. Is the word of the Lord to fall likewise? Never!
Could you not understand Peter saying, when he heard the cock crow on that eventful morning, and when the thought of his sin burst upon him with all its depressing power, 'Now, my Master will forever turn His back upon me!' Nay, Peter. The very opposite of that. See, what grace! Why, His face is turned towards His erring disciple immediately, and that loving look—with all its unspoken language—broke his heart, and he went out to weep bitterly.
Ah! no, dear fellow-Christian; no one is able to pluck us out of His mighty hand or rob us of a place in His loving heart! Indeed, He speaks of His sheep in somewhat the same way in which He speaks of His own life (compare John 10:18, 28). Of His own life He could say, "No man taketh it from me." Of His sheep He says, "Neither shall any man" (or any one) "pluck them out of my hand." And, in another place, He says, "Because I live, ye shall live also," John 14:19. Col. 3:4 states that He is our life; and in the previous verse, "Your life is hid with Christ in God." And again, in 1 John 5:11, "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
How eternally secure, then, is every sheep of Christ! It is no surprise to Him when, to use a familiar expression, they turn out badly. He knew all about them to start with; and, notwithstanding all, died for them. And now He never takes His eye off one of them, but lives to support them in their weakness, and to serve them, as their Advocate, if they sin (1 John 2:1). This all-prevailing advocacy of His is the means which He employs to bring a failing believer to repentance and confession of his sins, and thus to restore communion.
But will not the knowledge of such unchanging love make us careless in our walk?
The very opposite. It is this love of Christ that constrains those who have really tasted its heavenly blessedness, not to live unto themselves, as once they did, but to Him who died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5:15). And if, in their folly and self-will, they do stray from His sheltering side, He will certainly never rest until He has brought them back, though He has to use His chastening hand, and deal heavy strokes, to accomplish it; and all this because of what they are to His heart and to His Father's.
How blessed, then, thus to be kept and cared for all life's journey through, till in glory we meet Him who died for us; and all, I repeat, because of what His love was, though He knew, at the start, all that ever we should be!
Till that day let us never forget that He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24). And not only "able to keep," but "able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them," Heb. 7:25.
Finally, let no mere cold, lifeless professor dream that these precious assurances apply to him. Judas was a splendid professor, and outwardly made a better show than Peter did. The friendly kiss looked better, far better, than the denying oath. Yet He who searches all hearts said of Judas, "One of you is a devil," John 6:70. And at last we read that he went "to his own place," Acts 1:25.
This is a day of easy-going outward religiousness, in which it is often easier and more popular to profess Christ than to join rank with the openly infidel and profane. Success in business is too often, alas! in close alliance with the renting of a pew in church or chapel. But I solemnly urge that it is not to such that "never perish" applies. Another "never," found in Matt. 7:22, 23, applies to such—"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" That was their profession. Now listen to Christ's: "Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
But, as we have seen, He says, in John 10, "I... know my sheep;" so that, if these had ever been "sheep," He certainly could not say to them, "I never knew you." Believest thou this, my reader?
God grant that you may be brought to see and honestly confess that the 'never' of grace is as great a reality as the 'never' of judgment; and, on the other hand, that the eternity of the unbeliever's damnation is as distinctly marked in God's word as the eternity of the believer's blessing. —Geo. Cutting.
Written by George Cutting, (1834-1934). Published by Kingston Bible Trust, Wembley Gardens, Lancing, England, no date.