A Woman To Be Remembered
Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
“Remember Lot’s Wife.”—Luke 17:32
There are few warnings in Scripture more solemn than the one which our verse this morning contains. The Lord Jesus Christ says to us, in Luke 17 verse 32, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
Lot’s wife was a professor of religion: her husband was a “righteous man.” (2 Peter 2:8.) She left Sodom with him on the day when Sodom was destroyed; she looked back towards the city from behind her husband, against God’s express command; she was struck dead at once, and turned into a pillar of salt. And the Lord Jesus Christ holds her up as a beacon to His Church: He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not tell us to remember Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Sarah, or Hannah, or Ruth. No: He singles out one whose soul was lost forever. He cries to us, “Remember Lot’s wife.” It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus is upon. He is speaking of His own second coming to judge the world: He is describing the awful state of un-readiness in which many will be found. The last days are on His mind, when He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person who gives it. The Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy, and compassion. He is one who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoldering wick. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and pray for the men that crucified Him; yet even He thinks it good to remind us of lost souls. Even He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples: He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees, who hated Him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved Him; yet even to them He thinks it good to address a caution. Even to them He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, “Beware of following—take heed of imitating—do not be like Lot’s wife.” He uses a different word: He says, “Remember.” He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He urges us to keep the case before our minds. He cries, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
Let us look into the lessons which Lot’s wife is meant to teach us. Her history is full of useful instruction to the Church. The last days are upon us; the second coming of the Lord Jesus is drawing near; the danger of worldliness is ever present in the Church. Let us look to safeguards and antidotes against the disease that is around us; and, not least, let us become familiar with the story of Lot’s wife.
We will consider three things in order to open the subject before our minds.
I. We will consider the religious privileges which Lot’s wife enjoyed.
II. We will consider the sin which Lot’s wife committed.
III. We will consider the judgment which God inflicted upon her.
I. And so first, we will consider the religious privileges which Lot’s wife enjoyed.
In the days of Abraham and Lot, true saving religion was rare: there were no Bibles, no ministers, no churches, no missionaries. The knowledge of God was confined to a few favoured families; the greater part of the inhabitants of the world were living in darkness, ignorance, superstition, and sin. So very few had such good example, such spiritual society, such clear knowledge, such plain warnings as Lot’s wife. Compared with millions of her fellow-creatures in her time, Lot’s wife was a favoured woman.
She had a godly man for her husband: she had Abraham, the father of the faithful, for her uncle by marriage. The faith, the knowledge, and the prayers of these two righteous men could have been no secret to her. It is impossible that she could have dwelt in tents with them for any length of time, without knowing whose they were and whom they served. Religion with them was no mere formal business; it was the ruling principle of their lives and the source of all their actions. All this Lot’s wife must have seen and known. This was no small privilege.
When Abraham first received the promises, it is probable Lot’s wife was there. When he built his altar by his tent between Ai and Bethel, it is probable she was there. (Gen 12:8) When her husband was taken captive by Chedorlaomer, and delivered by God’s interference, she was there. (Gen 14:12) When Melchizedek, king of Salem, came out to meet Abraham with bread and wine, she was there. (Gen 14:18) When the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them; when they took them by the hand and led them out of the city, she was one of those whom they helped to escape. These were no small privileges.
Yet what good effect did all these privileges have on the heart of Lot’s wife? None at all. Notwithstanding all her opportunities and means of grace—notwithstanding all her special warnings and messages from heaven, she lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never really aroused and made alive; her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; her affections were never really set upon the things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for fashion’s sake and not from feeling: it was a cloak worn for the sake of pleasing her company, or soothing her conscience, but not from any sense of its value. She did as others did around her in Lot’s house: she conformed to her husband’s ways: she made no opposition to his religion: she allowed herself to be passively towed along in his wake: but all this time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived, and in this state she died.
In all this there is much to be learned: We have here a deep and important lesson for our day. We live in times when there are many people just like Lot’s wife: Let us pay attention to the lesson which her case is meant to teach.
Take careful note, then, that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul.
You may have spiritual advantages of every description; you may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace; you may enjoy the best of preaching and the richest instruction; you may dwell in the midst of light, knowledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and at last be lost forever.
I ask the modern Evangelical in the present day, to mark well what I am saying. You follow Mr. A or Mr. B on the internet: you think him an excellent pastor; you delight in his articles or sermons; you cannot follow anyone else with the same comfort; you have learned many things since you started following him; you consider it a great privilege to have discovered this vein of teaching! All this is very good. It is a privilege. Would that teachers like yours were known to many more. But after all, what have you got in your heart? Have you yet received the Holy Spirit? If not, you are no better than Lot’s wife.
I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the Gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. But beware that you do not remain barren and unfruitful in the sunshine of all these privileges: beware lest your heart remains hard, impenitent and worldly, notwithstanding the many advantages you enjoy. You cannot enter the kingdom of God on the credit of your parents’ religion. You must eat the bread of life for yourself, and have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. You must have repentance of your own, faith of your own, and sanctification of your own. If not, you are no better than Lot’s wife.
Would that all professing Christians, in these days, would lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But, after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Spirit. Lot’s wife had many privileges: but Lot’s wife had no grace.
II. We will next consider the sin which Lot’s wife committed.
The history of her sin is given by the Holy Spirit in few and simple words—She “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen 19:26) We are told no more than this. There is a naked solemnity about the history. The sum and substance of her transgression lies in these three words, ‘she looked back.
Does that sin seem small in your eyes ? Does the fault of Lot’s wife appear an insignificant one to be visited with such a punishment? This is the feeling that rises in some hearts. Give me your attention while I reason with you on the subject. There was far more in that look than strikes you at first sight: it implied far more than it expressed. Listen, and you will see.
(i) That look was a little thing, but it revealed the true character of Lot’s wife.
Little things will often show the state of a man’s mind even better than great ones, and little symptoms are often the signs of deadly and incurable diseases. The fruit that Eve ate was a little thing, but it proved that she had fallen from innocence and become a sinner. A crack in an arch seems a little thing, but it proves that the foundation is giving way, and the whole structure is unsafe. A little cough in a morning seems an unimportant ailment, but it may be the first evidence of a serious infection, and lead on to decline and death. A straw may show which way the wind blows, and one look may show the rotten condition of a sinner’s heart. (Matt. 5:28.)
(ii) That look was a little thing, but it told of disobedience in Lot’s wife.
The command of the angel was clear and unmistakable: “Do not look back.” (Gen. 19:17.) This command, Lot’s wife refused to obey. But the Holy Spirit says, that “to obey is better than sacrifice,” and that “rebellion is as the sin of divination.” (1 Sam. 15: 22, 23.) When God speaks plainly by His Word, or by His messengers, man’s duty is clear.
(iii) That look was a little thing, but it told of proud unbelief in Lot’s wife.
She seemed to doubt whether God was really going to destroy Sodom: she appeared not to believe there was any danger, or any need for such a hasty flight. But without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6.) The moment a man begins to think he knows better than God, and that God does not mean anything when He threatens, his soul is in great danger. When we cannot see the reason of God’s dealings, our duty is to hold our peace and believe.
(iv) That look was a little thing, but it told of secret love of the world in Lot’s wife.
Her heart was in Sodom, though her body was outside. She had left her affections behind when she fled from her home. Her eye turned to the place where her treasure was, as the compass-needle turns to the north. And this was the crowning point of her sin. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” (James 4:4.) “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15.)
I ask for your special attention to this part of our subject. It seems to be the part to which the Lord Jesus particularly intends to direct our minds. He would have us observe that Lot’s wife was lost by looking back to the world. Her profession was at one time fair and apparently correct, but she never really gave up the world. She seemed at one time in the road to safety, but even then the lowest and deepest thoughts of her heart were for the world. The immense danger of worldliness is the grand lesson which the Lord Jesus means us to learn. Would that we may all have an eye to see and a heart to understand!
Surely warnings against worldliness are as much needed by the Church of Christ today as they were in Ryle’s day. Every age is said to have its own peculiar epidemic disease: the epidemic disease to which the souls of Christians are liable just now is the love of the world. It is an all pervasive disease. I want to raise a warning voice, and try to arouse the slumbering consciences of all who make a profession of religion. We should all be warned to “Remember the sin of Lot’s wife.” She was no murderess, no adulteress, no thief—but she was a professor of religion, and she looked back.
There are thousands of church goers who are secure against immorality and infidelity, and yet fall victims to the love of the world. There are thousands who run well for a season, and seem on the right path to reach heaven, but before long give up the race, and turn their backs on Christ altogether. And what has stopped them? Have they found the Bible not true? Have they found the Lord Jesus fail to keep His word? No: not at all. But they have caught the epidemic disease: they are infected with the love of this world. Would that they would be brought to remember the sin of Lot’s wife.
(a) How many children of religious families begin well and end badly! In their childhood days they seem full of religion. They can repeat texts and hymns in abundance; they have spiritual feelings and convictions of sin; they profess to love the Lord Jesus and have desires for heaven; they like going to church and hearing sermons; they say things which are treasured up by their fond parents as indications of grace. But, alas, how often their goodness vanishes like the morning cloud, and like the dew that passes away! The boy becomes a young man, and cares for nothing but amusements, sports, worldly success. The girl becomes a young woman, and cares for nothing but dress, merry company, novel-reading, and excitement. Where is the spirituality which was once so promising? It is all gone: it is buried; it is overflowed by the love of the world. They walk in the steps of Lot’s wife. They look back.
(b) How many married people do well in religion to all appearance, until their children begin to grow up—and then they fall away! In the early years of their married life they seem to follow Christ diligently, and to witness a good confession. They regularly attend the preaching of the Gospel: they are fruitful in good works; they serve the church in many ways; they are never seen in vain and dissipated society. Their faith and practice are both sound, and walk hand in hand. But, sadly, how often a spiritual darkness comes over the household when a young family begins to grow up. A leaven of worldliness begins to appear in their habits, dress, entertainments, and employment of time. They are no longer strict about the company they keep and the places they visit. Where is the decided line of separation which they once observed? Where is the unswerving abstinence from worldly amusements which once marked their walk? It is all forgotten. It is all laid aside, like an old calendar. A change has come over them: the spirit of the world has taken possession of their hearts. They walk in the steps of Lot’s wife. They look back.
(c) How many young women seem to love decided religion until they are twenty or twenty-one, and then lose everything! Up to this time of their life their conduct in religious matters is all that could be desired. They keep up habits of private prayer; they read their Bibles diligently; they serve the church; they like religious friends; they love to talk on religious subjects; their writing is full of religious expressions and religious experience. But, sadly, how often they prove unstable as water, and are ruined by the love of the world! Little by little they fall away and lose their first love. Little by little the “things seen” push out of their minds the “things unseen,” and, like the plague of locusts, eat up every green thing in their souls. Step by step they go back from the decided position they once took up. They cease to be jealous about sound doctrine; they pretend to find out that it is “uncharitable” to think one person has more religion than another; they discover it is “extreme” to attempt any separation from the customs of the world. Before long they give their affections to some man who makes no pretence to decided religion. At last they end by giving up the last remnant of their own Christianity, and becoming thorough children of the world. They walk in the steps of Lot’s wife. They look back.
(d) How many church members were at one time zealous and earnest professors, and have now become passive, formal, and cold! Time was when none seemed so much alive in religion as they were: none were so diligent in their attendance on the means of grace; none were so anxious to promote the cause of the Gospel, and so ready for every good work; none were so thankful for spiritual instruction; none were apparently so wanting to grow in grace. But now, sadly, everything seems to have changed! The “love of other things” has taken possession of their hearts, and choked the good seed of the Word. The money of the world, the rewards of the world, the literature of the world, the honours of the world, now have the first place in their affections. Talk to them, and you will find no response about spiritual things. Mark their daily conduct, and you will see no zeal about the kingdom of God. A religion they have indeed, but it is no longer a living religion. The spring of their former Christianity is dried up and gone; the fire of the spiritual machine is quenched and cold: earth has put out the flame which once burned so brightly. They have walked in the steps of Lot’s wife. They have looked back.
It is sad to speak of these things, but it is far more sad to see them. It is sad to observe how professing Christians can blind their consciences by weak arguments on this subject, and can defend positive worldliness by talking of the “duties of their position,” the “courtesies of life,” and the necessity of having a “cheerful religion.”
It is sad to see how many a ship launches out on the voyage of life with every prospect of success and, springing this leak of worldliness, goes down with all her freight in full view of the harbour of safety. It is saddest of all to observe how many flatter themselves it is all right with their souls when it is all wrong, by reason of this love of the world. They began with Jacob, and David, and Peter, and they are likely to end with Esau, and Saul, and Demas, and Judas Iscariot. They began with Ruth, and Hannah, and Mary, and they are likely to end with Lot’s wife.
Beware of a half-hearted religion. Beware of following Christ from any secondary motive—to please relations and friends—to keep in with the custom of the place or family in which you live— to appear respectable and have the reputation of being religious. Follow Christ for His own sake, if you follow Him at all. Be thorough, be real, be honest, be sound, be whole-hearted. If you have any religion at all, let your religion be real. See that you do not sin the sin of Lot’s wife.
Beware of ever supposing that you may go too far in religion, and of secretly trying to keep in with the world. This is not to imply that anyone become a hermit, a monk, or a nun: No, everyone ought to carry out his duty in that state of life to which he is called. But every professing Christian who wishes to be happy must realize the immense importance of making no compromise between God and the world. Do not try to drive a hard bargain, as if you wanted to give Christ as little of your heart as possible, and to keep as much as possible of the things of this life. Beware lest you overreach yourself, and end up losing everything. Love Christ with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Seek first the kingdom of God, and believe that then all other things will be added to you. Beware that you do not prove a copy of the character John Bunyan draws—Mr. Facing-both-ways. For your happiness’ sake, for your usefulness’ sake, for your safety’s sake, for your soul’s sake, beware of the sin of Lot’s wife. It is a solemn saying of our Lord Jesus, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62.)
III. And now, in the last place, we will consider the punishment which God inflicted on Lot’s wife.
The Scripture describes her end in few and simple words. It is written that she “looked back … and she became a pillar of salt.” A miracle was performed to execute God’s judgment on this guilty woman. The same Almighty hand which first gave her life, took that life away in the twinkling of an eye. From living flesh and blood she was turned into a pillar of salt.
That was a fearful end for a soul to come to! To die at any time is a solemn thing. To die amidst kind friends and relations, to die calmly and quietly in one’s bed, to die with the prayers of godly men still sounding in your ears, to die with a good hope through grace in the full assurance of salvation, leaning on the Lord Jesus, upheld by Gospel promises—to die even in this way is a serious business. But to die suddenly and in a moment, in the very act of sin, to die in full health and strength, to die by the direct intervention of an angry God—this is fearful indeed. Yet this was the end of Lot’s wife.
That was a hopeless end for a soul to come to! There are cases where one hopes, as it were, against hope, about the souls of those we see go down to the grave. We try to persuade ourselves that our poor departed brother or sister may have repented to salvation at the last moment, and laid hold on the hem of Christ’s garment at the eleventh hour. We call to mind God’s mercies; we remember the Spirit’s power; we think on the case of the penitent thief; we whisper to ourselves, that saving work may have gone on even on that dying bed which the dying person had no strength to tell. But there is an end of all such hopes when a person is suddenly cut down in the very act of sin. Charity itself can say nothing when the soul has been summoned away in the very midst of wickedness, without even a moment’s time for thought or prayer. Such was the end of Lot’s wife. It was a hopeless end. She went to hell.
But it is good for us all to mark these things. It is good to be reminded that God can sharply punish those who sin wilfully, and that great privileges misused bring down great wrath on the soul. Pharaoh saw all the miracles which Moses worked—Hophni and Phinehas were sons of God’s High Priest—Saul lived in the full light of Samuel’s ministry—Ananias and Sapphira joined the Church in the days when the apostles were working miracles—Judas Iscariot was a chosen companion of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But they all sinned with a high hand against light and knowledge; and they were all suddenly destroyed without remedy. They had no time or space for repentance. As they lived, so they died: as they were, they hurried away to meet God. They went with all their sins upon them, unpardoned, un-renewed, and utterly unfit for heaven. And being dead they yet speak. They tell us, like Lot’s wife, that it is a perilous thing to sin against light, that God hates sin, and that there is a hell.
Let us take a few moments, and take the opportunity which the end of Lot’s wife affords, to consider the subject of hell. It is important to speak plainly about the reality and eternity of hell. The flood of false doctrine which Ryle says had broken in upon the church in his time, has continued to this day. Men are still saying today “that God is too merciful to punish souls forever—that there is a love of God lower even than hell—and that all mankind, however wicked and ungodly some of them may be, will sooner or later be saved.” We are invited to leave the old paths of apostolic Christianity. We are told that the views of our fathers about hell, and the devil, and punishment, are obsolete and old-fashioned and certainly do not lead to church growth. We are to embrace what is called a “kinder theology,” and treat hell as a Pagan fable, or a boogeyman to frighten children and fools. Against such false teaching let us stand firm and be resolved to maintain the old position, and to assert the reality and eternity of hell.
Consider that this is no mere speculative question. It is not to be classed with disputes about Church government and forms of baptism. It is not to be ranked with mysterious problems, like the meaning of Ezekiel’s temple or the symbols of Revelation. It is a question which lies at the very foundation of the whole Gospel. The moral attributes of God, His justice, His holiness, His purity, are all involved in it. The necessity of personal faith in Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, are all at stake. Once let the old doctrine about hell be overthrown, and the whole system of Christianity is thrown into disorder.
Again, consider that the question is not one in which we are forced to fall back on the theories and inventions of man. The Scripture has spoken plainly and fully on the subject of hell. It is really impossible to deal honestly with the Bible, and to avoid the conclusions to which it will lead us on this point. If words mean anything, there is such a place as hell. If texts are to be interpreted fairly, there are those who will be cast into it. If language has any sense belonging to it, hell is forever. Sadly, the man who finds arguments for evading the evidence of the Bible on this question has arrived at a state of mind in which reasoning is useless. It would be just as easy to argue that we do not exist, as to argue that the Bible does not teach the reality and eternity of hell.
(a) Settle it firmly in your mind, in the first place, that the same Bible which teaches that God in mercy and compassion sent Christ to die for sinners, does also teach that God hates sin, and must from His very nature punish all who cling to sin, or refuse the salvation He has provided. The very same chapter which declares, “God so loved the world,” declares also, that “the wrath of God remains” on the unbeliever. (John 3:16, 36.) The very same Gospel which is launched into the earth with the blessed good news, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” proclaims in the same breath, “whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16.)
(b) Settle it firmly in your mind, for another thing, that God has given us proof upon proof in the Bible that He will punish the hardened and unbelieving, and that He can take vengeance on His enemies, as well as show mercy on the penitent. The drowning of the old world by the flood—the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah—the overthrow of Pharaoh and all his army in the Red Sea—all teach the same awful truth. They are all given to us as beacons, and signs, and warnings, that we may not provoke God. They are all meant to lift up the corner of the curtain which hangs over things to come, and to remind us that there is such a thing as the wrath of God. They all tell us plainly that “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” (Psalm 9:17. NKJV)
(c) Again, settle it firmly in your mind, that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has spoken most plainly about the reality and eternity of hell. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus contains things which should make men tremble. But it does not stand alone. No lips have used so many words to express the awfulness of hell, as the lips of Him who spake as never man spake, and who said “The word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.” (John 14:24.) Hell, hell of fire, being sentenced to hell, resurrection of judgment, eternal fire, the place of torment, destruction, outer darkness, the worm that never dies, the fire that is not quenched, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal punishment—these, these are the words which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself uses. Away with the miserable nonsense which people talk in this day, who say that the ministers of the Gospel should never speak of hell! They only show their own ignorance, or their own dishonesty, when they say such things. No man can honestly read the four Gospels and fail to see that he who would follow the example of Christ must speak of hell.
(d) Settle it, lastly, in your mind, that the comforting ideas which the Scripture gives us of heaven come to nothing, if we once deny the reality or eternity of hell. Is there no future separate place for those who die wicked and ungodly? Are all men, after death, to be mingled together in one confused multitude? In this case heaven will be no heaven at all! It is utterly impossible for two to dwell happily together except they be agreed.—Is there to be a time when the term of hell and punishment will be over? Are the wicked after ages of misery to be admitted into heaven? Then the need of the sanctification of the Spirit is cast aside and despised! We read that men can be sanctified and made fit for heaven on earth: We read nothing of any sanctification in hell. The eternity of hell is as clearly affirmed in the Bible as the eternity of heaven. Once allow that hell is not eternal, and you may as well say that God and heaven are not eternal. The same Greek word which is used in the expression, “everlasting punishment,” is the word that is used by the Lord Jesus in the expression, “life eternal,” and by the Apostle Paul in the expression, “eternal God.” (Matt. 25:46; Rom. 16:26.)
All this may sound dreadful to many ears. But the only question we have to settle is this—Is it Scriptural? Is it true? Undoubtedly it is: and professing Christians ought to be often reminded that they may be lost and go to hell.
It is easy to deny all plain teaching about hell, and to make it repelling by offensive names. You have probably often heard of “narrow-minded views, and old-fashioned ideas, and fire and brimstone preaching,” and the like. We are told that “broad” views are what is needed in the present day. But we ought to be as broad as the Bible, neither less nor more. To pare down such parts of the Bible as the natural heart dislikes, and reject any portion of the counsel of God, that, is real narrow mindedness.
No one rightly speaking of hell can do so without pain and sorrow. But with it comes the glad offer of the salvation of the Gospel even to the very chief of sinners. We may gladly say to the vilest and most abandoned of mankind on his deathbed, “Repent, and believe on Jesus, and you will be saved.” But beware of keeping back from mortal man that Scripture reveals a hell as well as heaven, and that the Gospel teaches that men may be lost as well as saved. The watchman who keeps silent when he sees a fire, is guilty of gross neglect—the doctor who tells us we are getting well when we are dying, is a false friend; and the minister who keeps back hell from his people in his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man.
Where is the charity of keeping back any portion of God’s truth? He is the kindest friend who tells me the whole extent of my danger. Where is the use of hiding the future from the impenitent and the ungodly? Surely it is like helping the devil, if we do not tell them plainly that “the soul who sins shall die.” (Ez 18:20) Who knows but the wretched carelessness of many professing Christians comes from this, that they have never been told plainly of hell? Who can tell but thousands might be converted, if they would only be urged more faithfully to flee from the wrath to come?
If you would ever be a healthy Scriptural Christian, I urge you to give hell a place in your theology. Establish it in your mind as a fixed principle, that God is a God of judgment, as well as of mercy; and that the same everlasting counsels which laid the foundation of the happiness of heaven, have also laid the foundation of the misery of hell. Keep in full view of your mind that all who die unpardoned and un-renewed, are utterly unfit for the presence of God and must be lost forever. They are not capable of enjoying heaven: they could not be happy there. They must go to their own place: and that place is hell.
If you would ever be a healthy and Scriptural Christian, I urge you to beware of any ministry which does not plainly teach the reality and eternity of hell. Such a ministry may be soothing and pleasant, but it is far more likely to lull you to sleep than to lead you to Christ, or build you up in the faith. It is impossible to leave out any portion of God’s truth without spoiling the whole. That preaching is sadly defective which dwells exclusively on the mercies of God and the joys of heaven, and never describes the terrors of the Lord and the miseries of hell. It may be popular, but it is not Scriptural: it may amuse and gratify, but it will not save. Seek rather the preaching which keeps back nothing that God has revealed. Many may call it stern and harsh; they may say that to frighten people is not the way to do them good. But they are forgetting that the grand object of the Gospel is to persuade men to “flee from the wrath to come,” (Matt 3:7) and that it is useless to expect men to flee unless they are afraid. Well would it be for many professing Christians if they were more afraid about their souls than they now are!
If you want to be a healthy Christian, consider often what your own end will be. Will it be happiness, or will it be misery? Will it be the death of the righteous, or will it be a death without hope, like that of Lot’s wife? You cannot live forever: there must be an end one day. The last sermon will one day be heard; the last prayer will one day be prayed; the last chapter in the Bible will one day be read—meaning, wishing, hoping, intending, resolving, doubting, hesitating—all will be over before long. You will have to leave this world and to stand before a holy God. Would that you would be wise! That you would consider your latter end!
You cannot ignore it forever: a time will come when you must be serious. You cannot put off your soul’s concerns forever: a day will come when you must have a reckoning with God. You cannot be always playing, and eating, and drinking, and dressing, and reading, and laughing, and planning, and money-making. You may put off religion now, and refuse the counsel of God’s ministers: but the day is fast approaching when God will come down to speak with you. And what will your end be? Will it be a hopeless one, like that of Lot’s wife?
I really urge you, by the mercies of God, to look this question fairly in the face. I urge you not to silence your conscience by vague hopes of God’s mercy, while your heart clings to the world. I implore you not to drown convictions by childish notions about God’s love, while your daily ways and habits show plainly that the love of the Father is not in you. (1 John 2:15) There is mercy in God, like a river—but it is for the penitent believer in Christ Jesus. There is a love in God towards sinners which is unspeakable and unsearchable—but it is for those who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. (John 10:27)
Seek to have an interest in that love. Break off every known sin; come out boldly from the world; cry mightily to God in prayer; cast yourself wholly and unreservedly on the Lord Jesus for time and eternity; lay aside every weight. Cling to nothing, however dear, which interferes with your soul’s salvation; give up everything, however precious, which comes between you and heaven. This old shipwrecked world is fast sinking beneath your feet: the one necessary thing is to have a place in the lifeboat and get safe to shore. Be diligent to make your calling and election sure. Whatever happens to your house and property, see that you make sure of heaven. It would a million times better to be laughed at and thought extreme in this world than go down to hell from the midst of the congregation and end like Lot’s wife!
And now, we close with a few questions to impress the subject on our consciences. You have seen the history of Lot’s wife—her privileges, her sin, and her end. You have been told of the uselessness of privileges without the gift of the Holy Spirit, of the danger of worldliness, and of the reality of hell. Allow me to wind it all up by a few direct appeals to your own heart.
(i) Are you careless about the second Advent of Christ? Sadly, many are! They live like the men of Sodom, and the men of Noah’s day: they eat, and drink, and plant, and build, and marry, and are given in marriage, and behave as if Christ was never going to return. If you are such an one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(ii) Are you lukewarm, and cold in your Christianity? Sadly, many are! They try to serve two masters: they labour to keep friends both with God and the world. They strive for a kind of spiritual middle ground; they are neither one thing nor the other: not quite a thoroughgoing Christian, but not quite men of the world. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(iii) Are you halting between two opinions, and disposed to go back to the world? Sadly, many are! They are afraid of the cross: they secretly dislike the trouble and reproach of decided religion. They are weary of the wilderness and the manna, and would gladly return to Egypt, if they could. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(iv) Are you secretly cherishing some besetting sin? Sadly, many are! They go far in a profession of religion; they do many things that are right, and are very like the people of God. But there is always some darling evil habit, which they cannot tear from their heart. Hidden worldliness, or covetousness, or lust, sticks to them like their skin. They are willing to see all their idols broken, except this one. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(v) Are you playing with little sins? Sadly, many are! They hold the great essential doctrines of the Gospel. They keep clear of all gross transgressions, or open breach of God’s law; but they are painfully careless about little inconsistencies, and painfully ready to make excuses for them. “It is only a little temper, or a little levity, or a little thoughtlessness, or a little forgetfulness”—they tell us: “God does not take account of such little matters. We are none of us perfect: God will never insist on it.”—If you are such a one, I say to you this day, take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(vi) Are you resting on religious privileges? Sadly, many do! They enjoy the opportunity of hearing the Gospel regularly preached, and of attending many ordinances, and means of grace: and they settle down on their lees. They seem to be “rich, … (and to) have prospered, and … need nothing” (Rev. 3:17); while they have neither faith, nor grace, nor spiritual-mindedness nor any fitness for heaven. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(vii) Are you trusting to your religious knowledge? Sadly, many do! They are not ignorant, as other men: they know the difference between true doctrine and false. They can dispute, they can reason, they can argue, they can quote texts; but all this time they are not converted, and they are yet dead in trespasses and sins. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(viii) Are you making some profession of religion, and yet clinging to the world? Sadly, many do! They aim at being thought Christians. They like the credit of being serious, steady, proper, regular, church-going people; yet all the while their dress, their tastes, their companions, their entertainments tell plainly they are of the world. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(ix) Are you trusting that you will have a death-bed repentance? Sadly, many do so! They know they are not what they ought to be: they are not yet born again, and fit to die. But they flatter themselves that when their last illness comes they will have time to repent and lay hold on Christ, and go out of the world pardoned, sanctified, and fit for heaven. They forget that people often die very suddenly, and that as they live they generally die. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(x) Do you belong to an Evangelical congregation? Many do, and, sadly, go no further! They hear the truth Sunday after Sunday and remain as hard as granite. Sermon after sermon sounds in their ears. Month after month they are invited to repent, to believe, to come to Christ, and to be saved. Year after year passes away, and they are not changed. If you are such a one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
May these solemn words of our Lord Jesus Christ be deeply written on all our hearts! May they awaken us when we feel sleepy —revive us when we feel dead—sharpen us when we feel dull— warm us when we feel cold! May they encourage us when we are falling back, and check us when we are turning side! May they be a shield to defend us when Satan casts a subtle temptation at our heart; and a sword to fight with, when he says boldly, “Give up Christ, come back to the world, and follow me!
May we say, in such hours of trial, “Soul, remember your Saviour’s warning! Soul, have you forgotten His words? O my soul ‘remember Lot’s wife!’”