Would you not rather go to heaven?

Would you not rather go to heaven?

In the wonderful TV comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’ Sargent Wilson is the foil to Captain Mainwaring’s pompous authoritarianism. When ordered to fall the men in, Sargent Wilson was inclined to say something like ‘I say chaps, would you mind awfully falling in?’ Overhearing this Captain Mainwaring would express his disapproval ‘What kind of order is that?’

Would you not rather go to heaven? This is not the kind of language evangelists of past generations were inclined to use. My mother remembered attending Crosshouse Church in her youth and the Rev White exclaiming ‘The people of Crosshouse are going to hell’.

Diluted or Moderate Christianity was commonplace however long before. Francis Hutcheson (1694 - 1746) who became one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment preached in his father’s church and one member complained ‘Your silly loon, Frank, has fashed a the congregation wi’ his idle cackle: for he has been babbling this oor aboot a gude and benevolent God, and that the sauls o’ the Heathens themsels will gang to heeven, if they follow the light of their ain consciences. Not a word does the daf boy ken, speer, or say, abou the gude, auld, comfortable doctrine of election, reprobation, original sin and faith. Hoot, mon, awa’ wi’ sic a fellow’.

Strict Calvinism had been no fertile ground for evangelism. But in the first half of the 18th century there was a spiritual awakening throughout Britain, in Wales, in England with the Wesleys and in Scotland through various Godly, sincere and pious ministers. William McCulloch minister of Cambuslang from 1731 – 1771 was such an one. In the early months of 1742 revival broke out in the parish of Cambuslang, McCulloch wrote to the evangelist George Whitefield (1714 – 1770) ‘I believe that in less than three months past, 300 souls have been awakened … more than 200 of these, I think, are hopefully converted… We continue to have a sermon every day. I long much to see you here. Let me know by the first opportunity when you think to be with us’. Here is his counsel to Catherine Jackson in his manse. ‘Weeping bitterly, she declared that her sins were so many that Christ would not receive her. The story continues: ‘But he will, said the minister. If you be willing to come to him and accept of him: I can assure you in his name, he is willing to accept of you. Whatever you have been, whatever you have done, come to him and he will not reject you. When there is a willingness on both sides – he is willing, and you, I think, are willing – what should hinder the concluding of the blessed Bargain, the match between Christ and your soul?’

The Lewis revival of 1949 was led by Duncan Campbell (1898 - 1972). He had written ‘After spending seventeen years in a barren wilderness, baffled and frustrated in Christian work and witness, I suddenly came to realise that God had made provision for clean hands and a pure heart. And on my face in my own study at five o’clock in the morning I came to know the recovering power of the blood of Christ… I know that in some small measure – the revival in Skye and later in Lewis, must be related to the experience of that morning. What was it that led me into this full realisation of glorious deliverance in the Holy Ghost? I answer in one word, a baptism from God. Explain it as you will, it was a baptism from God. That experience was in my case preceded by a spiritual hunger, a longing for God to do something.’

‘Before the revival began some people prayed in a barn for six weeks until a young man declared that the prayers were wasted unless they were right with God. “Then he lifted his two hands and prayed, ‘God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?’ But he got no further. That young man fell to his knees and then fell in a trance and is now lying on the floor of the barn. And in the words of the minister, at that moment, he and his other office bearers were gripped by the conviction that a God sent revival must always be related to Holiness, must ever be related to Godliness. Are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?’

This was like the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries; it was all about people weeping as they were convicted of sin, they knew that outside of Christ they were damned. They realised their desperate need for God’s mercy and salvation. Some might weep for days before they got through to God and knew the joy of His forgiveness. The revival was all about the presence of God. Someone said that she felt the Spirit of the Lord was in the very air she was breathing. Whether they were in a meeting, walking along a road, in a boat, in a cinema, working in a field – the presence of God was everywhere! Singing was another important aspect of the revival. As mentioned they sang the Word of God and the singing was full of Holy Spirit. One person remarked, ‘the singing was like fire going through my whole being’. And ‘the singing was simply glorious, it was almost supernatural, full of joy and spiritual power.’ Love and unity was another result of the revival. A contemporary said, ‘We loved everybody! They were all enveloped in the wonderful love of God! We just loved them all.’ (From UK Wells)

Would you not rather go to heaven?

Jesus spoke a lot about hell. Matthew 10 : 28 reads ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’. Matthew 13 : 40 - 43 reads ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. Matthew 22 : 11 – 14 is uncompromising. ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 24 : 40 – 41 reads ‘That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left’. American evangelicals call this ‘The rapture’. There are 70 references to hell by Jesus and 162 references to hell in the New Testament.

Today there is little hell and damnation preaching, perhaps none at all. It is all lovey dovey huggy stuff these days. We look back with discomfort and even horror at the claims of previous generations of Christians to include and exclude people from eternal salvation. The basic issue was acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Saviour. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church held to its doctrine ‘extra Ecclesiam nulla salus’ – ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’. This is still its basic position but it is too scared to say so. It is manifestly untrue that there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther and John Calvin broke with this idea. They put their trust in Jesus Christ instead. There are hundreds of millions of Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church. Billy Graham ministered outside the Roman Catholic Church. So did David Livingstone and Mary Slessor in past years. Desmond Tutu is not a Roman Catholic.

Yet Christians today hide the logic of their Faith. Acts 4 : 11 – 12 reads ‘This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to  us  by which we must be saved'. Today public politics decree that we cannot say such a thing because it contradicts legislation on equalities of religion. This is regarded as divisive language, even as hate speech. It excludes those who adhere to other systems of belief, Jews, Muslims, Hindus for example – a very large proportion of all humanity. Peter preached ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (Acts 2 : 40). Paul wrote ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1 : 18).

Christianity from its outset was a salvation faith. It was different from the prophetic Judaism. The Day of Pentecost was a day of rejoicing, spiritual fulfilment and happiness. This positivity continues in the world today where the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is communicated. But not everyone throughout the last 2000 years has responded. The Christian impetus must always be the words of Jesus. ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (John 3 : 17). Arguably our own nation has turned away from Jesus Christ. Though there are many Christians in the land still, and the Head of State is a confessing Christian, politics and public values have departed from the Judaeo-Christian teaching of the Bible and of the Church throughout the ages. According to the inexorable logic of our faith, many many people are lost, without God and without hope for their eternal future. Have you heard any minister say so?

Would you not rather go to heaven?

Two of the most famous parables of Jesus about hell are ‘The rich man and Lazarus’ (Luke 16 : 19 – 31) and ‘The parable of the sheep and the goats’ (Matthew 25 : 31 - 46). They both belong to the Gospel of the Second Commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, what used to be called ‘the social Gospel’. In the first of these parables the beggar suffers much but when he dies the angels carry him to Abraham’s side. He is part of the virtuous poor. He is saved through his poverty. On earth he had less than nothing but in heaven he will have everything. The rich man is buried no doubt with much display of ostentatious professional mourning. But he finds himself in Hades. This is the underworld or place of the dead. He suffers the fires of purgation. Are these literal fires? Are they fires of realisation, regret and humiliation? Is this an agony of soul not an agony of body? He is not in a good place. He is conscious of distance. He recognises Lazarus who is beatified. He seeks Lazarus’ forgiveness and comfort. It is denied. Abraham calls him ‘son’. He is a descendant of the progenitor of Israel. But the locations are separate and cannot connect. His agony must continue. His heartless ignoring of the plight of his fellow son of Abraham is punished. Is this fair? Is punishment for eternity proportionate to sins committed on earth in a temporal life? No doubt human rights lawyers today would say ‘No’. Indeed this kind of judgement causes many to disbelieve in God or to reject God on grounds of arbitrary assize. The screw is turned further. The rich man asks that Lazarus go and warn his brothers lest they inherit the same fate. This is denied. The teaching of Moses and the prophets is there for them to obey. They have no excuse. A last throw of the dice. ‘Lazarus’s appearance from the dead will convince them’, says the rich man. ‘No’ replies Abraham. If they have not been devout Jews, they will not be able to apprehend or understand anyone rising from the dead. This parable is about not keeping the Law with regard to the poor, the unfortunate, the needy and the suffering. Not having a relationship with God meant that the rich man felt he could ignore the plight of the beggar at his door. Ignoring the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures because he had wealth brought about his eternal circumstance. Today we have Philip Green the former owner of Arcadia, as an example of the same kind of thing. Extravagantly rich, self indulgent and given to excessive luxury, he at the same time denied his employees their full pension rights and was forced by financial authorities into making partial compensation. But in this global village are we not ourselves rich compared with the poorest? Do we pass them by each day on our TV screens? Do we harden our hearts? Are we not filled with compassion and tears for the suffering of the world? Since Jesus the love of God is for everyone and all.

Would you not rather go to heaven?

Sheep and goats were prized possessions in the time of Jesus. One more than the other though and that is worth remembering. However the point of the parable is separation in eternal judgment. ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’…. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25 : 21ff).

There are a lot of wasted human lives. There are lives without humanity, community, care. There are selfish shut off lives - people who have hardly ever done anything for anyone. There are people in churches who say of the suffering poor of the world. ‘It is their own fault’. There are people whose hearts are hard and who have no sense of God. There are people who deliberately refuse to help others in need, be it water, shelter, clothes, nursing or companionship. Christianity has humanised social history. Few of us directly or indirectly have not helped someone somewhere. Thus we hope we may scrape a pass mark. But others will not do so.

Would you not rather go to heaven?

Just a final word of warning. In a different context Jesus said ‘Every kind of sin and every evil word spoken against God will be forgiven. But speaking evil things against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come’ (Matthew 12 : 30 -31). Militant atheism, blasphemy, sacrilege, absolute denial endanger human destiny. Jesus could forgive abuse and rejection of himself but he saw eternal reprobation in those who in seeing something good happen called it bad, who saw God at work and called it evil.

Would you not rather go to heaven?

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: replies@robertandersonchurch.org.uk