Sermon: A Good Man's Hell

July 21, 2019
13 mins read

Editor’s note: The following is extracted from Sermons on Biblical Characters, by Rev. Clovis G. Chappell, D.D. (published 1930).

Jeremiah 15:4
“And I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh.”
The prophet of the Lord is here fixing the responsibility for the downfall of Jerusalem. He says that the wreck was due in an especial sense to one man. He makes it very plain that it was one man’s hands that had planted the infernal bomb that was destined in later years to blast the foundation from under the nation. “I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh.”
Had a jury at that day been impanelled to try this man Manasseh I do not know whether they would have found him guilty or not. Possibly they would. It is also possible that they would not. Had they failed to have done so it would have been because they did not know the facts; they were not entirely familiar with all the evidence in the case. But when God sought the man upon whose shoulders rested the chief responsibility for the wreck of the nation, He fixed on this man. When Manasseh stood on trial before Him, charged with the terrible crime of blasting a kingdom, he was found guilty.
It was a startling verdict. It is all the more startling when we realize that Manasseh in the last years of his life was a good man. It was only his earlier years that were spent in sin. In his old age he was a saint. In the last years of his reign he knew God and did all that he could to undo the evils of an ill-spent yesterday. But in spite of the saintliness of the eventide, in spite of his winter-time goodness, the full influence of his life was not a blessing but a curse. It did not make for upbuilding. It made for terrible downfall and ruin.
Take a glance at his life’s story. It is full of interest. Every young heart in the world should make a study of the life of this man. How it gives the lie to many of our false and easy conceptions of sin. How urgent it presses home the truth that the only salvation that can mean the most is the salvation that grips us from life’s earliest moment to its very last.
Manasseh came to the throne when he was only twelve years of age. He had not been long in his position of influence and power till he turned utterly away from the Lord and began to wallow in every form of sin. There was no dirty idolatry that he did not practise. There was no false belief to which he did not seem willing to give hospitality. There was scarcely any form of evil of which he was not guilty.
And his career of godlessness was all the more inexcusable because of the good opportunities that he had. He was the son of a great and good father. His father was Hezekiah. And Hezekiah was one of the best kings that Judah ever had. He was a man of spiritual power. He was a man who served as saving salt to his kingdom throughout his entire reign. When the Assyrians hung like a threatening storm cloud over his weak little nation, it was the compelling might of his prayer that stood as a wall between them and their enemy. So, Manasseh was the son of a great saint.
And mark me, it is no small privilege to be the child of a godly father or of a saintly mother. If God granted to you to open your baby eyes to look into other eyes that were “homes of silent prayer,” if He sent you to grow up in a home where the family altar and the saintly life made Christ real, then He has given you an opportunity unspeakably great. And as great as is your opportunity, just so great is your responsibility. How hard must be the sentence upon that boy or that girl who breaks away from such saving and sanctifying influences to go into the far country.
Not only was the guilt of Manasseh intensified by the fact that he had a saintly father. It was intensified further by the fact that he was repeatedly warned. Though he turned his back on God and though he gave himself up to a perfect orgy of wrong doing, God did not forget him and did not give him up. He sent to him messenger after messenger to bring home his guilt and to invite him back to the pardon and peace of his Father’s presence. But seemingly the more he was warned the deeper he plunged into sin.
And you who are in sin, you are even more guilty than he, because to you God has sent warning after warning, rebuke after rebuke. God has given you calls and invitations without number. He has called you through your conscience. He has called you through your wretchedness and restlessness and hunger of heart. He has called you through your longing for usefulness. He has called you through your sorrow and your pain and your losses. He has called you through ten thousand mercies. Oh, believe me, our need to-night is not so much for more light as it is for courage to live up to the light we have.
Not only was Manasseh guilty because he sinned in spite of the help of a godly father and in spite of repeated warnings. His guilt was deepened yet more because he knew that he did not sin alone. When he went away from God he carried a kingdom with him. The reign of Hezekiah had been a righteous reign. With the coming of Manasseh to the throne there was a violent reaction, akin to that that followed upon the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England. You know how that when Charles came to the throne the court life was changed into a brothel. Charles lived in open and notorious adultery, and the rottenness of the throne led to the rottenness of the kingdom. Such was the case here. Manasseh not only fell but he drew a kingdom after him.
It is profoundly true that no man ever sins alone. Your influence will not be so wide as that of Manasseh, yet however obscure your life may be this is true, that it will set in motion influences that will literally outlast the world. I have control over my own action before it is done, but after it is done I seek to control it in vain. If it is a fiendish act it laughs its devilish and derisive laughter in my face and says, “Control me if you can.”
Now, there came a time when this great sinner began to pay the penalty for his sin. Retribution slipped in by the guards at the door one day and took the king rudely by the shoulder. It shook him and shook him so roughly that his crown fell from his head and his sceptre dropped from his hand. Then it dragged him from his throne and dressed him in chains and sent him a captive into a foreign country.
Retribution, suffering for sin, does not always come as it came to this king. It does not always come at once but come it does. That is as sure as the fact of God. There are some shallow souls that fancy that because sin does not pay off every Saturday night that it does not pay at all. But to hold such views is to spit in the face of a most open and palpable fact. Manasseh had a fancy that he was a much freer man than his father had been, far more broad-minded, but he waked one day, as every man wakes sooner or later, to discover that sin did not mean freedom, that it only meant slavery.
Now, what effect did this degradation and shame and suffering have on the king? Suffering has very opposite influences on different types of character. Sometimes it hardens us, it makes us only the more bitter and rebellious. But suffering did not have that effect on Manasseh. It made him think, and it is a tremendously good day when God can get a man to think. He thought, I dare say, of his saintly father. He thought of his father’s God. This story is another evidence of how all but impossible it is for a child to break finally away from the saving influence of a truly good father or truly good mother.
This experience not only made him think but it sent him to his knees in an agony of prayer. He came to hate the sin that had been the ruin of him. He asked God for forgiveness. And God did forgive him. Truly, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” No man ever goes so far away from God, no man ever lives in sin so long but that if he will return to God, God will receive him and will give him abundant pardon.
Not only did God save this man. He brought him again to his throne. And he who had once been a captive in a strange land wore his crown once more. And for the remaining years of his life he was a devout follower of the Lord. He did his best to undo the evils of the earlier years of his reign. He tore down the altars to false gods that he had builded. He tried to bring his people back to the new and saving faith that he had found. His conversion was genuine and lasting.
But what was the result? He did not succeed. He found that it was easier to lead folks astray than it was to bring them back after he had led them astray. He was a good man. He knew God. But this was his hell, that he had to stand in utter helplessness and see his nation totter to its ruin because of the sins that he had committed. He was not even able to save his own home. His boy became a godless idolater, as he himself had been during the best years of his life.
So we are brought face to face with this fact. Repentance will bring us salvation whenever we repent, but there is one thing that repentance cannot do. It cannot save us from the consequences of our sin. Go out into the field of life and sow tares for half a century, if you dare. Even then God will forgive you if you will come in repentance to Him, but there is one thing that God will not do and cannot do. He cannot change the tares that you have sown into wheat. I may be exceedingly sorry for my wrong sowing, I will be, but the seed will grow none the less.
Did it ever occur to you how many faces the Prodigal missed on his way back home? Many a splendid young fellow that caroused with him as he went into the far country did not enjoy the fatted calf with him when he came back to the peace and plenty of his Father’s house. Some of them had gone into eternity and others had gone beyond his influence forever more.
While I was in Huntington a few weeks ago, the pastor for whom I was preaching told me of a young friend of his who carried his little baby in to see a noted eye specialist. The child’s eyes were very bad. The physician examined them and shook his head. “Her eyes will never get better,” he said, “but will get worse. She will be blind before she is grown.” And the father’s face went white and he said, “Doctor, you know my youth wasn’t what it ought to have been. Can that be the cause?” And the doctor said, “You needn’t to have told me. Certainly it is the cause.” And it was a broken-hearted man that left that office that day. And it was a broken-hearted and praying and penitent man that kissed his child to sleep that night. Oh, God will forgive him, but there is one thing that that forgiveness will not include and that is daylight for his little girl.
“I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh.” And Manasseh is good and pure and blood-washed, but the influences that he set in motion have gone beyond his reach forever more. What a fearful fact is this! I am talking to young men and women and you have your lives before you. You may give them to sin, and you may be saved at the last moment. That is a possibility, though it is a slight one. But such a salvation may mean the wrecking of many another life. The only safe way is to repent before you waste your life. Repent before you sin.
Do you remember Esau’s pathetic story? He sold his birthright for one mess of lentils. Nor was he at all displeased with his bargain. At least that was true for a little while, but there came a time when he was sorry. There came a time when his foolish bartering broke his heart. And the story says that he found no place for repentance though he sought it diligently and with tears.
That does not mean, of course, that God refused to forgive Esau. The moment we turn in penitent surrender to our Lord He will save us and give us an abundant pardon, however far we may have gone into sin. God forgave him when he repented, but there was one thing that his repentance could not do. It could not undo the past. It could not put him again in the light of the morning of life. It could not place in his hands the opportunities of yesterday. The good that he might have done and the service that he might have rendered and the crowns that he might have won had passed beyond the reach of his hand forever. Repentance saved his soul but it did not save his life.
And what a startling chapter is the story of the sin of David. David was a whole-hearted man. He never did anything by halves. When he sinned he sinned with a horrible abandon. Few men have dirtier pages in their life’s history than that of David’s sin against the house of Uriah. But as his sin was whole-hearted so also was his repentance. We can hear his heart-broken cry for pardon across the centuries: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness. According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin; for I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is ever before me.” It is the heart-broken cry of the penitent who has not one good word to say for himself. And God heard his prayer and washed him and made him whiter than snow.
But beyond that God with all His love and tenderness could not go. He could not save David from the consequences of his sin. His bloody and lustful deed became possessed of a power beyond his control. “Down!” he cries to it in helpless horror. But it will not down. “Then where are you going?” he asks, all a-tremble with dread. And the fiendish deed answers, “I am going to steal the purity of your daughter Tamar. I am going to make your son Ammon into a rapist. I am going to make your handsome boy Absalom into a murderer.”
When I was a boy there was a family living neighbors to us, all of whom were outside the Church. But when the children were almost all grown and the father was an old man he became a Christian. But instead of being influential in bringing his children to Christ they seemed only to be ashamed of him. He did not seem to have the slightest power to influence a single one of them for good. I would not say that he was not saved, I think he was, but I think his years spent in sin cost him the salvation of his children.
E. J. Bulgin said that he was holding a meeting some years ago in a city in Kentucky. A girl was converted in his meeting. She was in the early bloom of young womanhood. She belonged to a wealthy and prominent family. Her mother was not a Christian. The girl wanted to join the Church and the mother objected. The preacher went to see the mother and prayed with her and plead with her. She said she wanted her daughter to have her coming out dance soon and therefore she should not join the Church. And the preacher left that home with a heavy heart.
Three years later he was holding a meeting in a neighboring town. A long distance call came asking him if he would not come and conduct the funeral of Nellie, the girl who had not been allowed to join the Church. He went. The undertaker said that it was a request of the mother that the preacher ride with her and her other daughter to the cemetery. The journey was made in silence. The remains were being lowered when the mother ordered the undertaker to open the coffin again. All the crowd was requested to stand back. They moved some fifty feet away. Then leaning on the preacher’s arm the mother showed him her daughter. And lying upon her breast was a little armful of shame.
That was all. The grave was filled and on the way back home the penitent and heart-broken mother found Christ. She said to her daughter, “Mary, I have found Jesus. I have found the salvation that I rejected three years ago.” And Mary answered, “No, Mother, you have found salvation, it is true. But it is not the salvation that was offered to you three years ago. Your salvation then would have included the salvation of Nellie. Now it means only the salvation of yourself.”
Heart, you may be saved at another time. Many a father is saved after he has wrecked his boys. This mother was saved after she had destroyed her daughter. Manasseh was saved after he had ruined his kingdom. But I submit to you that it is not the largest salvation. It is a salvation that may yet leave you with a burning hell in your own heart, the hell of the memory of evil you can never undo, and wrongs you can never right, and of lost men and women, led away from God by your influence that you can never lead back again.
Therefore, because of these startling and palpable facts, I come to you with this oft-repeated word of our Lord upon my lips: “Now is the accepted time. To-day is the day of salvation.” Seek not to make religion into a fire escape. Give God your life now and in so doing you will both save yourself and those who are influenced by you. “Therefore, choose you this day whom you will serve.”

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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