The Great Separation
Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:12
The verse of Scripture before us this morning contains words which were spoken by John the Baptist. They are a prophecy about our Lord Jesus Christ, and a prophecy which has not yet been fulfilled. They are a prophecy which we will all see fulfilled one day, and God alone knows how soon.
Let us seriously consider the great truths which this verse contains. I invite you to give me your attention, while I unfold them, and set them before you in order. Who knows but this text may prove a word in season to your soul? Who knows but this text may help to make this day the happiest day in your life?
I. Let me show, in the first place, the two great classes into which mankind may be divided.
There are only two classes of people in the world in the sight of God, and both are mentioned in the verse we are considering. There are those who are called the wheat, and there are those who are called the chaff.
Viewed with the eye of man, the earth contains many different sorts of people. Viewed with the eye of God it only contains two. Man’s eye looks at the outward appearance:—this is all he thinks of. The eye of God looks at the heart:—this is the only part of which He takes any account. And tried by the state of their hearts, there are only two classes into which people can be divided:—either they are wheat, or they are chaff.
Who are the wheat in the world? This is a point which demands special attention.
The wheat means all men and women who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ,—all who are led by the Holy Spirit,—all who have felt themselves sinners, and fled for refuge to the salvation offered in the Gospel,—all who love the Lord Jesus and live to the Lord Jesus, and serve the Lord Jesus,—all who have taken Christ for their only confidence, and the Bible for their only guide, and think of sin as their deadliest enemy, and look to heaven as their only home. All such, of every Church, name, nation, people, and tongue,—of every rank, station, condition, and degree,—all such are God’s “wheat.”
Show me people of this kind anywhere, and I know what they are. I do not say that I will agree with them in every detail, but I see in them the handiwork of the King of kings, and I ask for nothing more. I know not where they came from, and where they found their religion; but I know where they are going, and that is enough. They are the children of my Father in heaven. They are part of His “wheat.”
All such, though sinful and vile, and unworthy in their own eyes, are the precious part of mankind. They are the sons and daughters of God the Father. They are the delight of God the Son. They are the habitation of God the Spirit. The Father sees no iniquity in them:—they are the members of His dear Son’s mystical body: in Him He sees them, and is well-pleased. The Lord Jesus sees in them the fruit of His own labour and work upon the cross, and is well satisfied. The Holy Spirit considers them spiritual temples which He Himself has brought up, and rejoices over them. In a word, they are the “wheat “of the earth.
Who are the chaff in the world? This again is a point which demands special attention.
The chaff means all men and women who have no saving faith in Christ, and no sanctification of the Spirit, whosoever they may be. Some of them perhaps are infidels, and some are formal Christians. Some are sneering Sadducees, and some self-righteous Pharisees. Some of them make a point of keeping up a kind of Sunday religion, and others are utterly careless of everything except their own pleasure and the world. But all alike, who have the two great marks already mentioned—no faith and no sanctification,—all such are “chaff.” From the dead churchgoer who can think of nothing but outward ceremonies, to the unconverted admirer of sermons in the present day,—all, all are standing together before God: all, all are “chaff.”
They bring no glory to God the Father. They do not honour the Son, and so do not honour the Father that sent Him. (John 5:23.) They neglect that mighty salvation which countless millions of angels admire. They disobey that Word which was graciously written for their learning. They do not listen to the voice of Him who condescended to leave heaven and die for their sins. They pay no tribute of service and affection to Him who gave them “life, and breath, and everything else.” And therefore God takes no pleasure in them. He pities them, but He counts them no better than “chaff.”
You may have rare intellectual gifts: you may sway kingdoms by your counsel, move millions by your pen, or keep crowds in breathless attention by your tongue; but if you have never submitted yourself to the yoke of Christ, and never honoured His Gospel by heartfelt reception of it, you are nothing in His sight. Natural gifts without grace are alike worthless. The lowliest crawling insect is a nobler being than you are: it fills its place in creation, and glorifies its Maker with all its power, and you do not. You do not honour God with heart, and will, and intellect, and your members, which are all His. You invert His order and arrangement, and live as if time was more important than eternity, and body better than soul. You dare to neglect God’s greatest gift,—His own incarnate Son. You are cold about that subject which fills all heaven with hallelujahs. And so long as this is the case you belong to the worthless part of mankind. You are the “chaff” of the earth.
Let this thought be deeply engraved in our minds, whatever else we may forget. Remember there are only two sorts of people in the world. There are wheat, and there are chaff.
There are many nations on earth. Each differs from the rest. Each has its own language, its own laws, its own peculiar customs. But God’s eye divides the world into two great parties,—the wheat and the chaff
There are many classes in society. There are the elite and common people,—farmers and shopkeepers,—blue collar and white collar ,—rich and poor. But God’s eye only takes account of two classes,—the wheat and the chaff
There are many and various minds in every congregation that meets for religious worship. There are some who attend for a mere form, and some who really desire to meet Christ,—some who come there to please others, and some who come to please God,—some who bring their hearts with them and are not soon tired, and some who leave their hearts behind them, and consider the whole service tedious work. But the eye of the Lord Jesus only sees two divisions in the congregation,—the wheat and the chaff.
No doubt the world dislikes this way of dividing professing Christians. The world tries hard to imagine there are three sorts of people, and not two. To be very good and very strict does not suit the world:—they cannot, will not be saints. To have no religion at all does not suit the world:—it would not be respectable.—“Thank God,” they will say, “we are not so bad as that.” But to have religion enough to be saved, and yet not go into extremes,—to be sufficiently good, and yet not to stand out,—to have a quiet, easy-going, moderate kind of Christianity, and go comfortably to heaven after all,—this is the world’s favourite idea. There is a third class,—a safe middle class,—the world imagines, —and in this middle class the majority of men persuade themselves they will be found.
But this notion of a middle class is an immense and soul-ruining delusion. Take care not to be carried away by it. It is as vain an invention as the Pope’s purgatory. It is a refuge of lies,—a castle in the air,—an empty dream. This middle class is a class of Christians nowhere spoken of in the Bible.
There were two classes in the day of Noah’s flood, those who were inside the ark, and those who were outside;—two in the parable of the Gospel-net, those who are called the good fish, and those who are called the bad;—two in the parable of the ten virgins, those who are described as wise, and those who are described as foolish;—two in the account of the judgment day, the sheep and the goats;—two sides of the throne, the right hand and the left;—two abodes when the last sentence has been passed, heaven and hell.
And just so there are only two classes in the visible Church on earth,—those who are in the state of nature, and those who are in the state of grace,—those who are in the narrow way, and those who are in the wide way,—those who have faith, and those who do not have faith,—those who have been converted, and those who have not been converted,—those who are with Christ, and those who are against Him,—those who gather with Him, and those who scatter abroad, —those who obey him and lead others to obey him, and those who despise his commandments and lead others to do the same. —those who are “wheat,” and those who are “chaff.” Into these two classes the whole professing Church of Christ may be divided. Beside these two classes there is none.
Consider now what cause there is for self-examination. Are you among the wheat, or among the chaff? Neutrality is impossible. Either you are in one class, or in the other. Which is it of the two?
You attend church. You go to the Lord’s table. You like good people. You can distinguish between good preaching and bad. You attend religious meetings. You sometimes read religious books. It is well: it is very well. It is good: it is all very good. It is more than can be said of many. But still this is not a straightforward answer to the question.—Are you wheat or are you chaff?
Have you been born again? Are you a new creature? Have you put off the old man, and put on the new? Have you ever felt your sins, and repented of them? Are you looking simply to Christ for pardon and life eternal? Do you love Christ? Do you serve Christ? Do you loathe heart-sins, and fight against them? Do you long for perfect holiness, and follow hard after it? Have you come out from the world? Do you delight in the Bible? Do you wrestle in prayer? Do you love God’s people? Do you try to do good to the world? Are you vile in your own eyes, and willing to take the lowest place? Are you a Christian in business, and on weekdays, and at home? Consider well these things, and then perhaps you will be better able to tell the state of your soul.
I urge you not to turn away from the question, however unpleasant it may be. Answer it, though it may prick your conscience, and cut you to the heart. Answer it, though it may prove you in the wrong, and expose your fearful danger. Do no rest not until you know how it is between you and God. Better a thousand times find out that you are in an evil condition, and repent in time, than live on in uncertainty, and be lost eternally.
II. Let me show, in the second place, the time when the two great classes of mankind will be separated.
Our text foretells a separation. It says that Christ will one day do to His professing Church what the farmer does to his corn. He will winnow and sift it. He “will clear his threshing floor.” And then the wheat and the chaff will be divided.
There is no separation yet. Good and bad are now all mingled together in the visible Church of Christ. Believers and unbelievers,—converted and unconverted,—holy and unholy,—all are to be found now among those who call themselves Christians. They sit side by side. They listen side by side to sermons. They participate side by side to the Lord’s table, and receive the same bread and wine.
But it will not always be so. Christ will come the second time with His winnowing fork in His hand. He will purge His Church, even as He purified the temple. And then the wheat and the chaff will be separated, and each will go to its own place.
(a) Consider first that, before Christ comes separation is impossible.
It is not in man’s power to bring it about. There is not the minister on earth who can read the hearts of everyone in his congregation. About some he may speak decidedly; he cannot about all. Who have oil in their lamps, and who do not, who have grace as well as profession,—and who have profession only and no grace,—who are children of God, and who of the devil,—all these are questions which in many cases we cannot know. The winnowing fork is not put into our hands.
Grace is sometimes so weak and feeble, that it looks like nature. Nature is sometimes so plausible and well-dressed, that it looks like grace. Many of us would probably have said that Judas was as good as any of the Apostles; and yet he proved a traitor. We should have said that Peter was a reprobate when he denied his Lord; and yet he repented immediately, and rose again. We are only fallible people. “We know in part and we prophesy in part.” (1 Cor.13:9.) We scarcely understand our own hearts. It is no great wonder if we cannot read the hearts of others.
But it will not always be so. There is One coming who never errs in judgment, and is perfect in knowledge. Jesus will purge His floor. Jesus will sift the chaff from the wheat. We must wait for this. until then it is better to lean to the side of charity and tolerate much chaff in the Church than cast out one grain of wheat. He will soon come who has “his winnowing fork is in his hand,” and then the certainty about every one will be known.
(b) Consider also that before Christ comes it is useless to expect to see a perfect Church.
There cannot be such a thing. The wheat and the chaff, in the present state of things, will always be found together. There is “chaff” everywhere. There are imperfections and infirmities of some kind in every communion on earth. There are few tables of the Lord, if any, where all the communicants are converted.
Does anyone desire a perfect Church? He must wait for the day of Christ’s appearing. Then, and not until then, you will see a glorious Church, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Eph. 5:27.) Then, and not until then, the floor will be purged.
(c) Consider lastly that before Christ comes it is vain to look for the conversion of the world.
How can it be, if He is to find wheat and chaff side by side in the day of His second coming? There are some who expect that missions will fill the earth with the knowledge of Christ, and that little by little sin will disappear, and a state of perfect holiness gradually glide in. But this is to misunderstand God’s purposes, and can only lead to bitter disappointment. We are to expect nothing of the kind. There is nothing in the Bible, or in the world around us, to lead us to expect it. We can only expect to see a few raised up as witnesses to Christ in every nation, some in one place and some in another. Then the Lord Jesus will come in glory, with His winnowing fork in His hand. And when He has purged His floor, and not until then, His kingdom will begin.
No separation and no perfection until Christ comes! When the infidel asks why all the world is not converted, if Christianity is really true. We can answer, It was never promised that it would be so in the present order of things. The Bible says that believers will always be few,—that corruptions and divisions and heresies will always abound, and that when the Lord returns to earth He will find plenty of chaff.
And Christ will come again. Sooner or later there will be a separation of the visible Church into two companies, and it will be a fearful separation. The wheat will make up one company. The chaff will make up another. The one company will be all godly. The other company will be all ungodly. Each will be by themselves, and a great gulf between, that no one can pass. Blessed indeed will the righteous be in that day! They will shine like stars, no longer obscured with clouds. They will be beautiful as the lily, no longer choked with thorns. (Cant. 2:2.) Wretched indeed will the ungodly be! How corrupt will corruption be when left without one grain of salt to season it! How dark will darkness be when left without one spark of light! It is not enough to respect and admire the Lord’s people! You must belong to them, or you will one day be parted from them forever. There will be no chaff in heaven. Many, many are the families where one will be taken and another left. (Luke 17:34.)
It is a mark of those that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity that their greatest trials are in the company of worldly people,—their greatest joys in the company of the saints. If you are one of them there are many weary days, when your spirit feels broken and crushed by the earthly tone of all around you,—days when you could cry with Psalmist, “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!” (Ps. 120:5.) And yet there are hours when your soul is so refreshed and revived by meeting some of God’s dear children, that it seems like heaven on earth. Do you not resonate with this? Are these things true for you?
See then how you should long for the time when Christ will come again. See how you should pray daily that the Lord would hasten His kingdom, and say to Him, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20.) Then, and not until then, will be a pure unmixed communion. Then, and not until then, the saints will all be together, and will go out from one another’s presence no more. Wait a little. Wait a little longer. Scorn and contempt will soon be over. Laughter and ridicule will soon have an end. Slander and misrepresentation will soon cease. Your Saviour will come and plead your cause. And then, as Moses said to Korah, “the Lord will show who are His.” (Num.16:5.)
Is there anyone here that knows his heart is not right in the sight of God? See how you should fear and tremble at the thought of Christ’s appearing. Woe indeed for the man that lives and dies with nothing better than a cloak of religion! In the day when Christ will purge His floor, you will be shown up and exposed in your true colours. You may deceive ministers, and friends, and neighbours,—but you cannot deceive Christ. The paint and varnish of a heartless Christianity will never stand the fire of that day. The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. You will find that the eye which saw Achan and Gehazi, has read your secrets, and searched out your hidden things. You will hear that awful word, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (Matt. 22:12.) You ought to tremble at the thought of the day of sifting and separation! Surely it never pays, like Ananias and Sapphira, to pretend to give God something, and yet to keep back your heart. It all fails at last. Your joy is but for a moment. Your hopes are no better than a dream. Awake, and take this to heart, and tremble: tremble and repent!
III. Let me show, in the third place, the portion which Christ’s people will receive when He comes to purge His floor.
Our text tells us that, in good and comfortable words. It tells us that Christ will “gather his wheat into the barn.”
When the Lord Jesus comes the second time, He will collect His believing people into a place of safety. He will send His angels and gather them from every place. The sea will give up the dead that are in it, and the graves give up the dead that are in them, and the living will be changed. Not one poor sinner of mankind who has ever laid hold on Christ by faith will be missing in that company. Not one single grain of wheat will be missing and left outside, when judgments fall upon a wicked world. There will be a barn for the wheat of the earth, and into that barn all the wheat will be brought.
It is a sweet and comfortable thought, that “the Lord takes pleasure in his people” and “cares for them.” (Ps. 149:4; 1 Pet. 5:7.) But how much the Lord cares for them, is really little known, and dimly seen. Believers have their trials, beyond question, and these both many and great. The flesh is weak. The world is full of snares. The cross is heavy. The way is narrow. The companions are few. But still they have strong consolations, if their eyes were only open to see them. Like Hagar, they have a well of water near them, even in the wilderness, though they often do not find it out. Like Mary, they have Jesus standing by their side, though often they are not aware of it for very tears. (Gen. 21:19; John 20:14.)
Let us pause and look into something of Christ’s care for poor sinners that believe in Him.
(i) For one thing, the Lord takes pleasure in His believing people.
Though black in their own eyes, they are pleasing and honourable in His. They are all fair. He sees “no spot” in them. (Cant. 4:7.) Their weaknesses and shortcomings does not break the union between Him and them. He chose them, knowing all their hearts. He took them for his own, with a perfect understanding of all their debts, liabilities, and infirmities, and He will never break His covenant and cast them away. When they fall, He will raise them again. When they wander, He will bring them back. Their prayers are pleasant to Him. As a father loves the first stammering efforts of his child to speak, so the Lord loves the poor feeble petitions of His people. He endorses them with His own mighty intercession, and gives them power on high. Their services are pleasant to Him. As a father delights in the first daisy that his child picks up and brings him, even so the Lord is pleased with the weak attempts of His people to serve Him. Not a cup of cold water will lose its reward. Not a word spoken in love will ever be forgotten. It is a blessed thing to be God’s wheat!
(ii) Again, the Lord cares for His believing people in their lives.
Their dwelling-place is well known. The street called “Straight,” where Judas dwelt, and Paul lodged,—the house by the seaside, where Peter prayed, were all familiar to their Lord. None have such attendants as they have:—angels rejoice when they are born again; angels minister to them; and angels encamp around them. None have such food;—their bread is given them and their water is sure, and they have food to eat of which the world knows nothing. None have such company as they have: the Spirit dwells with them; the Father and the Son come to them, and make their home with them. (John 14:23.) Their steps are all ordered from grace to glory. They that persecute them persecute Christ Himself, and they that hurt them hurt the apple of the Lord’s eye.
Their trials and temptations are all measured out by a wise Physician:—not a grain of bitterness is ever mingled in their cup that is not good for the health of their souls. Their temptations, like Job’s, are all under God’s control.—Satan cannot touch a hair of their head without their Lord’s permission, nor even tempt them above that which they will be able to bear. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”(Ps. 103:13) He never afflicts them willingly. (Lam.3:33.) He leads them by the right way. He withholds nothing that is really for their good. Come what will, there is always an underlying reason for their good. When they are placed in the furnace, it is that they may be purified. When they are chastened, it is that they may become more holy. When they are pruned, it is to make them more fruitful. When they are transplanted from place to place, it is that they may bloom more brightly. All things are continually working together for their good.
(iii) Again, the Lord cares for His believing people in their deaths.
Their times are all in the Lord’s hand. The hairs of their heads are all numbered, and not one can ever fall to the ground without their Father. They are kept on earth until they are ripe and ready for glory, and not one moment longer. When they have had sun and rain enough, wind and storm enough, cold and heat enough,—when the ear of corn is perfected,—then, and not until then, the sickle is put in. They are all immortal until their work is done. There is not a disease that can bring them down, until the Lord gives the word. A thousand may fall at their right hand, but there is not a plague that can touch them until the Lord sees good. There is not a physician that can keep them alive, when the Lord gives the word. When they come to their deathbed, the everlasting arms are around about them, and comfort them in their sickness. When they die, they die like Moses, “according to the word of the Lord,” at the right time, and in the right way. (Deut. 32:5.) And when they breathe their last, they fall asleep in Christ, and are at once carried, like Lazarus, to Abraham’s side. It is indeed a blessed thing to be Christ’s wheat! When the sun of other men is setting, the sun of the believer is rising. When other men are laying aside their honours, he is putting his on. Death locks the door on the unbeliever, and shuts him out from hope. But death opens the door to the believer, and lets him into paradise.
(iv) Again, the Lord will care for His believing people in the dreadful day of His appearing.
The flaming fire will not come near them. The voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God will proclaim no terrors to their ears. Sleeping or waking, alive or dead, mouldering in the coffin, or standing at the post of daily duty,—believers will be secure and unmoved. They will lift up their heads with joy when they see redemption drawing close. They will be changed, and put on their beautiful garments in the twinkling of an eye. They will be “caught … to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thess. 4:17.) Jesus will do nothing to a sin-laden world until all his people are safe. There was an ark for Noah when the flood began. And there will be a barn for all the wheat of the earth in the last day. It is a blessed thing to be Christ’s wheat!
(v) And, lastly, the Lord keeps them safe until the end.
The Lord Jesus will never lose one of His flock. He will not let Satan pluck away from Him so much as one sick lamb. He will not allow one bone of His mystical body to be broken. He will not let one jewel fall from His crown. He and His bride have been once joined in an everlasting covenant, and they will never, ever be separated. The trophies won by earthly conquerors have often been wrested from them, and carried off; but this will never be said of the trophies of Him who triumphed for us on the cross. “My sheep,”‘ He says, “will never perish.” (John 10:28.) Christ’s people will persevere to the end.
He is a perfect and complete Saviour. Those whom He loves, He loves to the end. Those whom He washes in His blood He never leaves nor forsakes. He puts His fear into their hearts, so that they will not depart from Him. Where He begins a work, there He also finishes. All whom He plants in His garden on earth, He transplants sooner or later into paradise. All to whom He gives life by His Spirit He will also bring with Him when He enters His kingdom. There is a barn for every grain of the wheat. All will appear in Zion before God.
If you have not yet taken up the cross and become Christ’s disciple, you have no idea what privileges you are missing. Peace with God now and glory hereafter,—the everlasting arms to keep you by the way, and the barn of safety in the end ,—all these are freely offered to you without money and without price. You may say that Christians have tribulations;—you forget that they have also consolations. You may say they have peculiar sorrows;—you forget they have also peculiar joys. You see only half the Christian life. You do not see it all. You see the warfare;—but not the recompense and the wages. You see the tossing and conflict of the outward part of Christianity; you do not see the hidden treasures which lie deep within. Like Elisha’s servant, you see the enemies of God’s children; but you do not, like Elisha, see the chariots and horses of fire which protect them. Do not judge by outward appearances! You can be sure that the least drop of the water of life is better than all the rivers of the world. Remember the barn and the crown. Be wise in time.
If you feel that you are a weak disciple, do not think that weakness shuts you out from any of the privileges of which you have just heard. Weak faith is true faith, and weak grace is true grace; and both are the gift of Him who never gives in vain. Do not fear nor be discouraged. Do not doubt, nor despair. “A bruised reed Jesus will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isa. 42:3.)
The infants in a family are as much loved and thought of as the elder brothers and sisters. The tender seedlings in a garden are as diligently looked after as the old trees. The lambs in the flock are as carefully tended by the good shepherd as the old sheep. Rest assured that it is just the same in Christ’s family, in Christ’s garden, in Christ’s flock! All are loved. All are tenderly thought of. All are cared for. And all will be found in His barn at last.
IV. Let me show, in the last place, the portion which remains for all who are not Christ’s people.
Our text describes this in words which should make our ears tingle: “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ comes to purge His floor, He will punish all who are not His disciples with a fearful punishment. All who are found impenitent and unbelieving,—all who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,—all who have clung to sin, stuck to the world, and set their affections on things below,—all who are without Christ,—all such will come to an awful end. Christ will “burn up the chaff.”
Their punishment will be most severe. There is no pain like that of burning. Put your finger in the candle for a moment, if you doubt this, and try. Yet it is still only a faint picture of the torments of hell. This is an image of the portion to which the Christless and unbelieving will come. Christ will burn up the chaff with fire.
Their punishment will be eternal. Millions of ages will pass away, and the fire into which the chaff is cast will still burn on. That fire will never burn low and become dim. The fuel of that fire will never waste away and be consumed. It is “unquenchable fire.”
These are sad and painful things to speak of! But they are things written for our learning, and it is good to consider them. They are a part of that Scripture which is “all profitable,” and they ought to be heard. Painful as the subject of hell is, it is one about which we must hear. Who would want to speak of hellfire if God had not spoken of it? When God has spoken of it so plainly, who can safely be silent about it?
Clearly there is a deep-rooted unbelief that lurks in people’s minds on the subject of hell. It takes the form of the utter apathy in some: they eat, and drink, and sleep, as if there was no wrath to come. It can be seen in the coldness of others about their neighbours’ souls: they show little anxiety to pluck brands from the fire. Let us not be numbered with such. Believing that there is a “wrath to come,” (Matt 3:7) as well as the “reward for the righteous,” (Ps 58:11) all who profess to believe the Bible ought to be on their guard.
(a) There are some who do not believe there is any hell at all. They think it impossible there can be such a place. They call it inconsistent with the mercy of God. They say it is too awful an idea to be really true. The devil of course rejoices in the views of such people. They help his kingdom mightily. They are preaching up his own favourite doctrine: “You will not surely die.” (Gen.3:4.)
(b) Again, there are some who do not believe that hell is eternal. They say it is incredible that a compassionate God will punish men forever. He will surely open the prison doors at last. This also is a mighty help to the devil’s cause. “Take your ease,” he whispers to sinners: “if you do make a mistake, never mind, it is not forever.”
(c) There are some who believe there is a hell, but never allow that anybody is going there. All people, with them, are good as soon as they die,—all were sincere,—all meant well,—and all, they hope, got to heaven. Sadly, what a common delusion this is! But is just that: a delusion and will not stand one moment of reasonable examination.
(d) And there are some who believe there is a hell, and never like it to be spoken of. It is a subject that should always be kept back in their opinion. They see no profit in bringing it forward, and are rather shocked when it is mentioned. This also is an immense help to the devil. “Hush, hush!” says Satan, “say nothing about hell.” The wolf would like the shepherd to sleep while he prowls round the fold. The devil rejoices when Christians are silent about hell.
All these notions are the opinions of man. But what is it to you and me what man thinks in religion? Man will not judge us at the last day. Man’s fancies and traditions are not to be our guide in this life. There is only one point to be settled: “What says the Word of God?”
(a) Do you believe the Bible? Then depend on it, hell is real and true. It is true as heaven,—as true as justification by faith,—as true as the fact that Christ died on the cross. There is not a doctrine which you may not lawfully doubt if you doubt hell. Disbelieve hell, and you unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in Scripture. You may as well throw your Bible away. From “no hell” to “no God” there is but a short series of steps.
(b) Do you believe the Bible? Then depend on it, hell will have inhabitants. The wicked will certainly be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God. “These will go away into eternal punishment.” (Matt. 25:46.) The same blessed Saviour who now sits on a throne of grace, will one day sit on a throne of judgment, and men will see there is such a thing as “the wrath of the Lamb.” (Rev. 6:16.) The same lips which now say, “Come: come to Me!” will one day say, “Depart … you cursed!” (Matt 25:41) Sadly, how awful the thought of being condemned by Christ Himself, judged by the Saviour, sentenced to misery by the Lamb!
(c) Do you believe the Bible? Then depend on it, hell will be intense and unutterable misery. It is vain to talk of all the expressions about it being only figures of speech. The pit, the prison, the worm, the fire, the thirst, the blackness, the darkness, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth, the second death,—all these may be figures of speech if you please. But Bible figures mean something, beyond all question, and here they mean something which man’s mind can never fully conceive. The miseries of mind and conscience are far worse than those of the body. The whole extent of hell, the present suffering, the bitter recollection of the past, the hopeless prospect of the future, will never be thoroughly known except by those who go there.
(d) Do you believe the Bible? Then depend on it, hell is eternal. It must be eternal, or words have no meaning at all. Forever and ever—everlasting—unquenchable—never-dying,—all these are expressions used about hell, and expressions that cannot be explained away. It must be eternal, or the very foundations of heaven are cast down. If hell has an end, heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall together.—It must be eternal, or else every doctrine of the Gospel is undermined. If a man may escape hell at length without faith in Christ, or sanctification of the Spirit, sin is no longer an infinite evil, and there was no such great need for Christ making an atonement.
These are solemn things! Alas, for that day which will have no tomorrow,—that day when men will seek death and not find it, and will desire to die, but death will flee from them! Who will dwell with the consuming fire? Who shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Rev. 9:6; Isa. 33:14.)
(e) Do you believe the Bible? Then depend on it, hell is a subject that ought not to be kept back. It is striking to observe the many texts about it in Scripture. It is striking to observe that none say so much about it as our Lord Jesus Christ, that gracious and merciful Saviour; and the apostle John, whose heart seems full of love. It is likely, if anything, that we do not speak of it as much as we ought.
Let us beware of false views of this subject. Beware of new and strange doctrines about hell and the eternity of punishment. Beware of manufacturing a God of your own,—a God who is all mercy, but not just,—a God who is all love, but not holy,—a God who has a heaven for everybody, but a hell for none,—a God who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity.
Such a God is an idol of your own, as really as Jupiter or Moloch,—as true an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple,—as true an idol as was ever molded out of brass or clay. The hands of your own imagination and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible; and besides the God of the Bible there is no God at all. Your heaven would be no heaven at all. A heaven containing all sorts of characters indiscriminately would be miserable discord indeed. Alas, for the eternity of such a heaven! there would be little difference between it and hell. There is a hell! There is a fire for the chaff! Beware lest you find it out, to your cost, too late.
Beware of being wise above that which is written. Beware of forming clever theories of your own, and then trying to make the Bible align in with them. Beware of making selections from your Bible to suit your taste,—refusing, like a spoilt child, whatever you think bitter,—seizing, like a spoilt child, whatever you think sweet. What does it amount to but telling God, that you, a poor short-lived worm, know what is good for you better than He does. It will not work. You have to take the Bible as it is. You have to read it all, and believe it all. You have to come to the reading of it in the spirit of a little child. Do not dare to say, “I believe this verse, because I like it. I reject that one, because I do not like it. I receive this, because I can understand it. I refuse that, because I cannot reconcile it with my views.” Indeed, “but who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:20.) By what right do you talk in this way? Surely it were better to say over every chapter in the Word, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam 3:10)—If men would do this, they would never deny hell, the chaff, and the fire.
And now, let me say four things in conclusion, and then I am done. We have seen the two great classes of mankind, the wheat and the chaff.—We have seen the separation which will one day take place.—We have seen the safety of the Lord’s people.—We have seen the fearful portion of the Christless and unbelieving.—I commend these things to your conscience as in the sight of God.
(1) First of all, settle it down in your mind that the things of which we have been hearing are all real and true.
There are many who never see the great truths of religion in this light. Many who never listen to the things they hear from ministers as realities. They regard it all, like Gallio, as a matter of “words and names,” (Acts 18:15) and nothing more; a huge shadow,—a formal ceremony,—a vast sham. The last novel, the latest news from Ottawa, Washington, Europe, or the stock market, or Google or Tesla,—all these are things they realize: they feel interested and excited about them. But as to the Bible, and heaven, and the kingdom of Christ, and the judgment day,—these are subjects that they hear unmoved: they do not really believe them.
I can only urge anyone who has arrived at this unhappy frame of mind to cast it off forever. Whether you mean to hear or not, awaken to a thorough conviction that the things brought before us this morning are real and true. The wheat, the chaff, the separation, the barn, the fire,—all these are great realities,—as real as the sun in heaven,—as real as this room we are in. Consider well: heaven, hell, a coming judgment, a day of sifting. These are all real. I can only urge you to live as if these things were true.
(2) Settle it down in your mind, in the second place, that these things concern yourself. They are your business, your affair, and your concern.
Many never look on religion as a matter that concerns themselves. They attend its outward part, as a decent and proper fashion. They hear sermons. They read religious books. But all the time they never ask themselves, “What is all this to me?” They sit in churches like spectators in a theatre or court of law. They read Christian writings as if they were reading a report of an interesting trial, or of some event far away. But they never say to themselves, “I am the man.”
If you have this kind of feeling, you can be sure that it will never do. There must be an end of all this if ever you are to be saved. The words of our verse are about you. You are this very day either among the “wheat” or among the “chaff.” Your portion will one day either be the barn or the fire. Would that all were wise, and would lay these things to heart! Would that no one would trifle, and linger, and live on half-and-half Christians, meaning well, but never acting boldly, and at last awake when it is too late!
(3) Settle it down in your mind, in the third place, that if you are willing to be one of the wheat of the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ is willing to receive you.
Does anyone suppose that Jesus is not willing to see His barn filled? Do you think He does not want to bring many sons to glory? If so, you do not know the depth of His mercy and compassion! He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. He mourns over the impenitent and the thoughtless in our day. He sends you invitations by my mouth this morning. He invites you to hear and live, to forsake the way of the foolish and go in the paths of understanding. “As I live,” He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live: why will you die?” (Ezek.18:31, 32.)
If you never came to Christ for life before, come to Him this very day! Come to Him with the penitent’s prayer for mercy and grace. Come to Him today. Come to Him while the subject of this sermon is still fresh on your mind. Come to Him before another sun rises on the earth, and let the morning find you a new creature.
If you are determined to have the world, and the things of the world,—its pleasures and its rewards,—its follies and its sins;—if you must have your own way, and cannot give up anything for Christ and your soul;—if this is your case, there is only one end before you. I honestly warn you,—I plainly tell you:—You will sooner or later come to the unquenchable fire.
But if anyone is willing to be saved, the Lord Jesus Christ stands ready to save you. “Come to Me,” He says, “weary soul, and I will give you rest. Come, guilty and sinful soul, and I will give you free pardon. Come, lost and ruined soul, and I will give you eternal life.” (Matt. 11:28.)
(4) Settle it down in your mind, last of all, that if you have committed your soul to Christ, Christ will never allow that soul to perish.
The everlasting arms are round about you. Lean back in them and know your safety. The same hand that was nailed to the cross is holding you. The same wisdom that framed the heavens and the earth is engaged to maintain your cause. The same power that redeemed the twelve tribes from the house of slavery is on your side. The same love that bore with and carried Israel from Egypt to Canaan is pledged to keep you. They are well kept whom Christ keeps! Our faith may rest calmly on such a foundation as Christ’s omnipotence.
And so take comfort, doubting believer. Why are you cast down? The love of Jesus is a deep well. The compassion of Jesus is a fire that never yet burned low: the cold, grey ashes of that fire have never yet been seen. Take comfort. In your own heart you may find little cause for rejoicing. But you may always rejoice in the Lord.
You say your faith is so small. But where is it said that none will be saved unless their faith is great? And after all, “Who gave you any faith at all?” The very fact that you have any faith is a token for good.
You say your sins are so many. But where is the sin, or the heap of sins, that the blood of Jesus cannot wash away? And after all, “Who told you, you had any sins?” That feeling never came from yourself. Blessed indeed is the one who really knows and feels that he is a sinner.
Take comfort, I say once more, if you have really come to Christ. Take comfort, and know your privileges. Cast every care on Jesus. Tell every need to Jesus. Roll every burden on Jesus: sins,—unbelief,—doubts,—fears,—anxieties,—lay them all on Christ. He loves to see you doing so. He loves to be employed as your High Priest. He loves to be trusted. He loves to see His people ceasing from the vain effort of carrying their burdens for themselves.
And so, only be among Christ’s “wheat” now, and then, in the great day of separation, as sure as the Bible is true, you will be safely in Christ’s “barn” forever after.