Oh YES, man has a will of his own and can "RUN ON FOR A LONG TIME", as the Elvis song says. His stubborn will is like that of a wild horse and it will be broken in time. Some will require but few stripes and some will require many stripes. God said He WILL BE ALL IN ALL to all his creation, and He will.
"But this pastor friend of mine told me this story. He said, In the parish in which I was the pastor, there lived a man that had become suddenly rich. He was a Texan who had become oil rich, even had put up a small refinery. And he had made already several millions of dollars. He had built a lovely home. He had a wife and two beautiful boys. And the wife and two boys were Christians, fellowshipping in our Church. And this pastor went on and said, This man was the worst blasphemer I had ever met in my life. I've never heard a man talk as that man would talk. He would blaspheme God, curse God. And his wife was so concerned about him and asked me to go see him. I went to see him, and I've never been treated like that in my life. He cursed me from the time I opened my mouth until I got out of earshot. He called me everything that was in the book and some things I didn't know were in the book. He was vile. His wife and one of his little boys took sick during the flu epidemic and both died at the same time. I went over that night to see them. I went in and there sat the father and the little boy that was alive. I went over and sat down beside them and began to talk, and he began to abuse me again. And curse - I've never heard anything like it! It was vile beyond description. He blasphemed God's name. There was nothing left for me to do but get up and walk out of there, which I did. I had the funeral. The man wouldn't even speak to me. And he became more vile after that. But all of the love that he'd had for his family, and that seemed to be the only thing about the man that was a redeeming feature, was now turned to this one little boy that was left.
"That little boy was in the New London School. This man, when he heard of the explosion, went out to that school and went through that rubble like a madman until he found the torn and twisted, broken body of that little boy. Then he took it in his arms and walked up and down that schoolyard like a madman until they actually took it away from him and carried it to the funeral home. You know, I felt it was my duty to go and talk with him. So that night I went over to that big home, and I went in and there was that little white casket and there he sat, the same place he'd sat before. I just steeled myself for the cursing that I was to get. I was afraid to say anything. I just sat down. Then that great big hulk of a fellow looked up and our eyes met. He hadn't cried before, but there were tears in his eyes. And instead of cursing me, he said to me, God has been after me all the time. He's tried to speak to me all my life, and I turned my back on Him. He took my wife and my other little boy, and I knew He was talking to me. But I was afraid of what men might say, those I worked with and was associated with. Oh, what a coward I've been. And now He's had to take this one! Well, he said, God can have me now. And that man got down on his knees beside that casket and took Christ as his Saviour. The last time I saw that pastor friend of mine he told me that that oil man was still serving God" -end quote.
That man did not respond to the POSITIVE witness of the Gospel of God's grace, so corrective measures were needed, and God stretched forth His hand and brought NEGATIVE forces into action, thereby getting his attention. Once broken under the judgmental dealings of God, he knelt before the Lord and received the goodness and mercy and deliverance so graciously proffered. Hallelujah! It should be clear to every thinking child of God that God does not use the same means and measures with every man to bring them to Christ. It would be very simple to fill this book with instance after instance from Holy Scripture which loudly and unmistakably proclaim the nature and purposes of all God's judgments from the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden's fair garden in Genesis to the blazing inferno of the lake of fire in Revelation. But I would point you briefly to one plain and positive illustration which proceeded from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ. "But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delays his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will APPOINT HIM HIS PORTION WITH THE UNBELIEVERS. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be BEATEN WITH MANY STRIPES. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be BEATEN WITH FEW STRIPES. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Lk. 12:45-48).
In this parable it is plain that Christ is teaching degrees of punishment. The Christ teaches that those who have committed things worthy of many stripes, will receive many, and those who were ignorant, and with lesser light did not know or understand the will of God, yet did things worthy of stripes, shall receive but a few. Here is set forth in the plainest of language not only varying degrees of punishment, but also varying lengths of time for the punishment. What ever the judgment typified by the "stripes," it takes longer to inflict many stripes than just a few, so it should not be difficult to understand that some men are punished for a longer period of time than others. The Word of God declares that the Judge of all the earth shall do right, and I believe that He shall do just that. As our children were growing up we did not have one stock punishment for all their misdeeds. We suited the punishment to the disobedience, yet we haven't granted the same privilege to God! We have said that everyone is to receive the very same common punishment, hell fire, and that that judgment would endure for the very same length of time for all - eternity! How, then, I ask, can some be beaten with "many stripes" and others with "few stripes" if all receive the same punishment of endless hell fire? How foolish can we be! It is always extremely foolish to hold to a doctrine that clearly contradicts the Word of God.
I can almost feel the holy wrath, I can almost hear the stinging invective of some who think they have me now -"Ah, " they say, "but Jesus is not talking in this parable about the condition of thelost; He is teaching about the punishment of disobedient SERVANTS OF GOD!" And you are so very right, my friend! We never want to forget it. Nothing could be plainer, for Jesus prefaces His remarks with these significant words: "Who then is that FAITHFUL AND WISE STEWARD, whom his Lord shall make ruler over His household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that SERVANT, whom His Lord when He comes shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that He will make him ruler over all that He has" (Lk. 12:42- 44).
There would be no answer to your argument; I would be forced to throw up my hands and admit that these words of our Lord apply only to the correction and discipline of servants of the Lord, and have absolutely no bearing whatever on the judgment of unbelievers, or on hell, or on the lake of fire, were it not for one significant statement that appears in verse forty-six. The Lord says, "The Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looks not for Him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will APPOINT HIM HIS PORTION WITH THE U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-E-R-S." Do you see that? Ah, the punishment of this SERVANT is the SAME PUNISHMENT as the UNBELIEVER receives! He is appointed his portion WITH THE UNBELIEVERS! The punishment, therefore, of this servant of the Lord and the punishment of the unbelievers is equal, identical, of the same intensity, for the same length of time, the very same punishment, and that punishment is? -MANY STRIPES! Not unending stripes; not everlasting whipping; not eternal torment under the hands of the tormentors; but - many stripes. And of what precise judgment speaks our Lord when He commands "appoint him his portion with the unbelievers?" What is the "portion of the unbelievers?" Hear it! "But the fearful, and UNBELIEVING ... shall have their part (portion) IN THE LAKE WHICH BURNS WITH FIRE AND BRIMSTONE" (Rev. 21:8). The "portion of the unbelievers" is the lake of fire. And not only are the unbelievers judged there, but the unfaithful servants of God are dealt with there, too! And, by Jesus' own words, this punishment is called "many stripes," and is shown to be limited in its duration and corrective and remedial in its nature.
I believe every word that the Bible says about the lake of fire; I don't believe what Rome says about it, nor what the apostate Churches say about it, nor what tradition says about it; but I certainly believe what the Bible says about it.
The teaching concerning the lake of fire does not appear anywhere in Scripture except in the book of Revelation where it is spoken of in the following passages: Rev. 14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10; 20:13-15 and 21:8. This last passage definitely states, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." There should be no question remaining as to the certainty of this lake of fire; neither should there be any doubt as to the awful consequence of having to be cast into it. These Scriptures with their dreadful foreboding should be a fearful warning to all unthinking and foolish people who, because of their love for the world, the flesh, and the devil, have dared to ask why we should serve God now if all are going to be saved eventually. Such people have no love for God nor fear of God, and they manifest by what they say that their professed serving of God is only a pretense, arising - not from any true love for Him - but from fear of punishment. If there were no prospect of hell these would promptly tell God to go to hell and they would, themselves, go to the devil. It is not thus with those who truly love God, for they serve not from fear, but from pure love and devotion. Remove punishment completely from the universe, and they would still serve God with all their hearts.
Because of the gross misunderstanding of almost all people concerning the lake of fire, I would like to draw your attention to three words found in the passage quoted above. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which BURNS with FIRE and BRIMSTONE: which is the second death." The word BURN means combustion, or to consume. To consume does not mean to annihilate, for there is no such thing as annihilation in the absolute sense. When fire consumes a log in your fireplace it does not destroy any of the elements within the log, it merely changes their form. Combustion is the process by which chemicals combine to form new chemicals. For example: a tree might be cut down, sawed into fire wood, and burned. When the wood is burning the heat causes the chemicals of which the wood is composed to vaporize, mixing with the oxygen in the air to form new chemicals, including water and the gas carbon dioxide. So what was formerly a tree is no longer identified as the form of a tree, but the substance thereof is now simply CHANGED into a DIFFERENT FORM and exists in its new form within the atmosphere as water, carbon dioxide, etc. Thus, to bum, means to CHANGE. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that fire does not burn down; it always burns up; it seeks the highest level. And all that it consumes "goes up in smoke," to exist in a new form in a higher dimension. Even if you take a pan of water and place it over a fire, before long the water will take on the property of the fire and will begin to go up in steam. To burn means to CHANGE, and the change is always UPWARD in its motion.
FIRE is the heat and light that you feel and see when something burns. It takes heat to start a fire, but once the fire is started it produces heat that keeps the process going. Thus, fire is really HEAT and LIGHT.
In my study of the lake that burns with fire and brimstone I was very much helped and impressed by the understanding given by Charles Pridgeon and I would like to quote from his scholarly work on the subject of BRIMSTONE. He says: "The Lake of Fire and Brimstone signifies a fire burning with brimstone; the word 'brimstone' or sulphur defines the character of the fire. The Greek word THEION translated 'brimstone' is exactly the same word THEION which means 'divine.' Sulphur was sacred to the deity among the ancient Greeks; and was used to fumigate, to purify, and to cleanse and consecrate to the deity; for this purpose they burned it in their incense. In Homer's Iliad (16:228), one is spoken of as purifying a goblet with fire and brimstone. The verb derived from THEION is THEIOO, which means to hallow, to make divine, or to dedicate to a god (See Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 1897 Edition). To any Greek, or any trained in the Greek language, a 'lake of fire and brimstone' would mean a 'lake of divine purification.' The idea of judgment need not be excluded. Divine purification and divine consecration are the plain meaning in ancient Greek. In the ordinary explanation, this fundamental meaning of the word is entirely left out, and nothing but eternal torment is associated with it" -end quote.
I realize that the above thoughts define the subject very briefly, but let us summarize the meanings thus: BURN means combustion; to change the form of. FIRE means heat and light. BRIMSTONE means divine. Putting these three together can we not see that the lake burning with fire and brimstone is, actually, DIVINE HEAT AND LIGHT PRODUCING A CHANGE! Is such a process eternal? All the laws of nature shout that it is not! More than 2500 years ago the Holy Spirit warned the wicked inhabitants of Jerusalem that God would kindle a fire at Jerusalem's gates which would devour her palaces. "But if you will not hearken unto Me ... then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not he quenched" (Jer. 17:27). Did not God say this fire "shall NOT BE QUENCHED?" This prophecy was fulfilled and the fire did occur a few years later and it did destroy all the houses of Jerusalem (Jer. 52:13). Since God said no person or thing would "quench" this fire, did that mean that it would burn for ever? Since it accomplished the work it was sent to do, and since it is NOT BURNING TODAY, it obviously went out by itself after accomplishing its purpose! Unquenchable fire is not eternal fire - it is simply fire that cannot be put out until it has consumed or changed everything it is possible for it to change! It then simply goes out, for there is nothing more to burn. Yet I hear the preachers ranting and raving about poor souls being cast into bell fire where "their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched" and this, we are told, means eternal, unending torment. How foolish, illogical, anddeceptive! Such a view contradicts the plain meaning of the term "unquenchable" and its use in the Word of God.
Are the judgments of God permanent? Isaiah says, "When Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). And Mat. 12:20 says, "A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till Hesend forth judgment unto victory." Judgment, therefore, is not an eternal condition, but it is given to produce that victory. Judgments of themselves do not save anyone, but they are used by God to bring one to one's self, to effect a change of attitude and will, to consume away the stubbornness and rebellion of men. Punishment by fire is a beneficent one. "Our GOD is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). The basic purpose of this divine fire of God is to cleanse, purify, purge, temper and change. It is to rid of impurities, of filth, of undesirable elements. There is no better way to deal with filth than to deal with it by fire.
The punishment by penal fire leads back to the beginning of things. The final work of God in this world will be the destruction of the world (order) by penal fire. That will change all things. That will melt all the elements, so that no man can tell you where his original grab was. It will burn up all the governments, institutions, systems, and fruitage of the carnal mind. It will melt all the customs, cultures, traditions, and practices of society and make of this earth a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. Every man's work will eventually be tested in this fire. The fire will try every man's work of what sort it is. If you and I build into our walls wood, hay, and stubble, that fire will find it out, and the wall will come tumbling down. When God turns on the HEAT, the BLAZING LIGHT OF HIS SPIRIT AND WORD - some things begin to change! The fire is never sent to destroy the PERSON, but to purge out all that hinders and separates him from his God, to consume the pride, arrogance, hostility, defiance, and rebellion of the flesh, the carnal mind, that He might then be wooed and drawn by the Holy Spirit unto the Father of Spirits and live.
More than three centuries ago when the Black Plague swept through London, England, more than 68,000 men, women, and children were sickened with the putrid fever, suffered nameless agonies, passed into delirium, sometimes with convulsions, and then died. Before the end of the terrible nightmare of anguish and death, what was thought to be an even greater tragedy occured. The city caught fire, the whole heavens were ablaze as the Great Fire destroyed more than 13,200 homes and 89 churches. Most of the city, which was built largely of wood, lay in ashes. Wonder of wonders! As soon as the last dying embers cooled and the smoke cleared, the inhabitants of the city discovered that the Plague had been stayed! Not another person died of the epidemic. The Plague never returned. The fire had killed the bacteria-carrying fleas and rats that caused the Plague. It took a fire to do it! Fire is a great cleanser, purifier, and changer.
We all know that a horse must be broken, that is, its will must be broken before it is of any practical use to man. God put that will in the horse, but it must be broken and made to conform to the will of man. Just as surely did God put the will in man, BUT IT MUST BE BROKEN and we will benefit by the very process of breaking. Man may do a lot of crying and wailing, but when he is broken to HIS will, what a wonderful condition it is. God may take man over some rough places, even through the lake of fire and brimstone, but the love of God will break every man to His will.
If you think the Kingdom of God is rosewater, or eau-de-cologne, you are mistaken. You cannot war on the devil with that. You cannot war on the carnal minds of men with that. You have to make war on the world, the flesh, and the devil with a sword sharper than any twoedged sword. You have to make war on the carnal mind with fire, divine fire that must burn up every inherent altar of Baal, and lick up the very dust around. Make no mistake! OUR GOD is a consuming fire! He is man's "horse breaker" and He will break you, precious friend of mine, and bring you to the foot of the cross of Jesus no matter how hot He has to build the fire around you! Even if long ages of fiery judgment and tormenting darkness fall upon you, they will last no longer than till the Great Fire of God has melted all arrogance into humility, and all that is self has died in the bloody sweat and all-saving cross of the Christ, which will never give up its redeeming power till sin and sinners have no more a name among the creatures of God.