Having said that much let me go on to say this further, and please let me say it all in softest sobbing voice—there is a hell. There must be a hell. You may leave this Bible sheer out of your reckoning in the matter. Still there must be a place for which that word of ugliest associations is the word to use. Philosophically there must be a hell. That is the name for the place where God is not; for the place where they will gather together who insist on leaving God out. God out! There can be no worse hell than that! God away! Man held back by no restraints!
I am very clear it is not what men have pictured it to be. It is not what my childish fancy saw and shrank from terrified. And, please let us be very careful that we never consign anybody there, in our thinking or speaking about them. When that life whose future might be questioned has gone the most we can say is that we leave it with a God infinitely just and the personification of love.
There has been in some quarters an unthinking consigning of persons to a lost world. And there has been in our day a clean swing of the pendulum to the other extreme. Both drifts are to be dreaded. Let us deal very tenderly here, yet with a right plainness in our tenderness. We are to warn men faithfully. We know the Book's plain teaching that these who prefer to leave God out "shall go away." The going is of their own accord and choice. Regarding particular ones we do not know and are best silent. The grave is closing. Let us deal with the living.
One day at the close of the morning hour at a Bible conference in the Alleghany Mountains a young woman came up for a moment's conversation. She spoke about a friend, not a professing Christian, for whom she had prayed much, and who had died unexpectedly. He had passed away during unconsciousness, with no opportunity for exchange of words. She was much agitated as the facts were recited, and then said as she finished, "he is lost and in hell: and I can never pray again."
We talked quietly awhile and I gathered the following facts. He was of a Christian family, perfectly familiar with the Bible, was a thoughtful man, of outwardly correct life in the main, had talked about these matters with others but had never either in conversation or more openly confessed personal faith in Christ. He was not in good health. Then came the sudden end. One other fact came out. She had prayed for his conversion for a long time. She was herself an earnest Christian woman, solicitous for others. There were four facts to go upon regarding him. He knew the way to God. He was thoughtful. He had never openly accepted. Some one had prayed.
Can one know anything certainly about that man's condition? There are two sorts of knowledge, direct and inferential. I know there is such a city as London for I have walked its streets. That is direct knowledge. I know there is such a city as St. Petersburg because though I have never been there, yet through my reading, pictures I have seen, and friends who have been there I am clear of its existence to the point of knowledge. That is inferential knowledge.
Now regarding this man after he slipped from the grasp of his friends, I have no direct knowledge. But I have very positive inferential knowledge based upon these four facts. Three of the facts, namely, the first, second, and fourth were favourable to the end desired. The third swings neither way. The great dominant fact in the case is the fourth, and a great and dominating fact it is in judging—some one in touch with God had been persistently, believingly praying up to the time of the quick end. That fact with the others gives strong inferential knowledge regarding the man. It is sufficient to comfort a heart, and give one renewed faith in praying for others.