If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!
It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands
to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire,
where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
In the home school American history class I teach, we learned that, as a teenager, George Washington composed a list of rules for proper conduct that he should follow. This list is in a book now, titled George Washington’s Rules of Civility. It was a list condensed from other such lists of etiquette rules for young men which had been circulating in European society for many years before young George was born.
When I was reading about the background for the Rules of Civility that the young Washington wrote, I came across a wise saying composed by a Mr. Hawkins around the year 1663, which finally shed some light on the mysterious phrase of Jesus, “where the worm does not die”:
43. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire,
44. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
45. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be cast into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire,
46. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
47. And if your eye causes you to sin, cast it out! It is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to be cast into the fire of Gehenna with two eyes,
48. where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
The phrase that Mr. Hawkins wrote was, “Conscience to an evil man is a never dying worm, but unto a good man it’s a perpetual feast.” The King James Bible was completed in 1611, fifty years or so prior to this sentence being written by Mr. Hawkins, which suggests that the figure of a “never-dying worm” was known to represent the conscience of a guilty man. And since Jesus used it that way, too, the figure was obviously an ancient one. That being the case, Jesus was warning us that in the place of the damned, the awful Lake of Fire, there will be no forgetting of the opportunities for eternal life that were neglected while living on the earth. When Jesus said, “In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” he was describing the effects of that never-dying worm.
Once, my elderly father was awakened in the middle of the night by an angel standing at the foot of his bed, singing a song. The next day, he told us that the song was “The Song of the Damned” and that he could remember some of the words. One of the lines of the angel’s song, he said, was, “We can’t forget the ones who told us of the Savior, Christ the Lord.” Not being able to forget is the “never-dying worm” that will torment the damned. Remembering lost opportunities to escape damnation will keep the “worm” alive, forever.
It is best that we take advantage of the opportunity we have now to bow at Jesus’ feet and do the will of God. The gift of life is not to be taken lightly. The breath with which we may call on Jesus’ name is to be used, with all humility and gratitude.