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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, October 20, 2013
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

The Harris poll puts John Wayne in the list of the ten most popular movie stars every year, even though he died in 1979. He was number five in the latest Harris poll. Only Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks were higher. All of them are still alive and working. John Wayne has been dead for 34 years but is still in the top five most popular stars. In fact he is the only dead movie actor on the list! This shows the great and lasting popularity of this Hollywood icon. In the year that he died he was at the very top as a box office draw. John Wayne was a superstar.  I tell you this to show you that it was no ordinary person who called for a pastor to come to him when he was dying.

The night before John Wayne was to be operated on for cancer, he had his secretary phone Dr. Robert H. Schuller, the then-famous TV preacher. Schuller went to John Wayne’s hospital room and found him dressed only in his shorts, lying on the bed. “Duke” was John Wayne’s nickname. After a few minutes of light talk, Schuller said, “Duke, may I pray for you?” Wayne said, “Sure, I need all the help I can get.” Schuller closed his eyes and said this prayer,

“Lord, John Wayne knows about you. He has heard about you all his life. He admires you. He respects you. And deep down he knows that you can and want to forgive him of all his sins. Deep down in his mind he accepts you and believes in you and loves you, now” (Robert H. Schuller, D.D., Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, Word Books, 1982, pp. 158, 159).

Schuller then said that he was sure John Wayne was now saved because Wayne’s face was “peaceful.” Schuller said, “Beyond a doubt, I spoke the right words, and he followed them without resistance and with sincere acceptance” (ibid., p. 159). However, Schuller did not say how he knew all that by just glancing at John Wayne’s face!

When I first read that I was filled with anger at Robert Schuller. I loved John Wayne. I would never say that about any other actor. He was a good man in some ways - patriotic and loyal to his friends. He was a friend of President Reagan when Reagan was the governor of California. And John Wayne reminded me of Bill McDonell, my stepfather. Bill was an old “jarhead” Marine who fought in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy in the jungle of the Solomon Islands, near Guadalcanal, in World War II. At one point he was trapped in a foxhole for days with the dead bodies of every other Marine in his outfit. To this day, I can’t watch John Wayne in “Back to Bataan,” or “The Sands of Iwo Jima” without thinking about my friend, Bill McDonell. Every time I hear the “Marines' Hymn” sung at the end of “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” my stomach goes into a knot and tears stream down my face.

From the halls of Montezuma,
    To the shores of Tripoli,
We fight our country's battles
    On the land as on the sea...
(“The Marines' Hymn,” author unknown; 1929 version).

There’s a photograph of John Wayne on the wall of my study at our house. His rugged face looked down at me as I prepared this sermon.

Now, you may think I’m going to preach on Schuller’s prayer. But I’m not. I’ll just say a few words about it:

1.  First, Schuller never mentioned the Saviour, Jesus. He started the prayer with “Lord,” but he never said who that was. A Muslim could have said that. The name of Christ was never mentioned even once in the prayer.

2.  Second, Schuller said that the “Lord” wanted to forgive him. But he did not say how, or on what basis, God could do that. For, you see, Schuller never once mentioned or even alluded to the Gospel of Christ. There was no mention of Jesus dying in the sinner’s place, to pay for his sins. There was no mention of the Blood of Christ, shed to cleanse the sinner. There was no mention of the resurrection of Christ, risen to give life to sinners. In other words, there was no mention whatever of the Gospel of Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

3.  Third, this was a completely Christless prayer. Christ appeared nowhere at all in the prayer.

4.  Fourth, Schuller did not even ask John Wayne to say the prayer with him. So this was in no way a “sinner’s prayer.” In fact, it really wasn’t a prayer at all – since it did not ask God to do anything. It was a speech, not a prayer.

Schuller said John Wayne was saved through this “prayer.” Impossible! No one can be saved without Christ! No one can be saved without the Gospel! Jesus is the only Saviour! The Bible says,

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

On the basis of what I read in Schuller’s book, I would have to say that John Wayne never experienced conversion, was never saved, and went to Hell when he died a few months later. I really hate to say that. But the evidence compels me to say that, in all probability, John Wayne went to Hell. And Schuller is to blame, for not giving him the Gospel. You see, John Wayne had his secretary put in a personal call to Schuller. Schuller was the preacher he thought of, because he was so popular on TV back then. But Schuller failed him. He did not give him the Gospel – so the evidence forces me to say that John Wayne went to Hell when he died.

Now I want you to turn in your Bible to our text. It’s the first half of Hebrews 2:3. Please stand as I read it.

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
       (Hebrews 2:3).

You may be seated.

My subject tonight is “Why John Wayne Went to Hell.” To be sure, John Wayne went to Hell because the false prophet Robert Schuller did not present the Gospel to him. But there is more to it than that. There is a deeper reason than that. The ultimate reason – the real, conclusive reason – John Wayne never got saved was that he neglected the salvation of his soul. He neglected “so great salvation” until it was too late for him to be saved!

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
       (Hebrews 2:3).

The key word in that text is “neglect.” That is a translation of the Greek word that comes from amĕlĭo – and it means “to disregard” (George Ricker Berry), “to be careless with,” “to neglect” (Augustus Strong).

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? What do you do to be lost? Nothing. You can be lost by neglect” (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 514; note on Hebrews 2:3). Dr. John R. Rice spoke of this in one of his songs,

You have waited and lingered still refusing the Saviour,
   All His warnings so patient, all His pleadings so kind;
Thus you ate fruit forbidden, you believed Satan’s promise;
   Thus your heart has been hardened; sin has darkened your mind.
Then how sad facing judgment, you’ll recall with no mercy
   That you tarried and lingered till the Spirit was gone;
What reproaches and mourning, if when death finds you hopeless,
   You have tarried and lingered and have waited too long!
(“If You Linger Too Long” by John R. Rice, D.D., 1895-1980).

“So great salvation” speaks of Jesus Christ, who came down from Heaven and died on the Cross to pay for our sins, then rose from the dead and ascended back to Heaven to give us life. That is the “great salvation” spoken of here. But how can you escape the judgment of God if you neglect this great salvation? How can you escape judgment and Hell if you are careless with, and disregard, and put off “so great salvation?”

Dr. Rice said, “Why do people remain lost? Why do they go out unprepared to meet God’s wrath instead of His mercy? The answer is that they do not intend to go to Hell. All men expect some day to be saved...But men who intend to be saved [some day] neglect salvation. Neglect is the main road to Hell!” (John R. Rice, D.D., in Revival Appeals, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1978 edition, p. 170).

There are many young people in college who receive an “F” for a course they are taking. They fail because they neglect to study every day, even though I warn them, in nearly every service, that they need to study every day. They expect to cram and study all night to make up for neglecting daily study. But it is too late! The days that they lose cannot be regained. They fail or do poorly in the course for just one reason – neglect!

Dr. Rice told of a young woman who came to him and pleaded with him to go and see her dying mother, who was afraid to die and wanted to be saved. He said he put it off for two days because he was so busy. Then, the third day, as Dr. Rice was preaching in a certain church, a man called the pastor and asked him to preach the funeral sermon for the woman Dr. Rice never got to see! Dr. Rice said, “My heart is ashamed and I weep many times with regret, but I cannot undo that which is gone. The woman who was afraid to die did die. Whether she met God in peace, I never knew. Oh, if I had only gone at once!” (ibid., p. 176). That poor woman may have gone to Hell – because of the preacher’s neglect!

When I was in high school I had a friend named Mike. He was a lonely boy, and so was I because I was new in the school. I pitied him in his loneliness. I listened to him talk, sometimes for hours. I knew he would come to church with me if I asked him. There was no doubt in my mind that he would come with me to hear the Gospel. But I put it off. There was plenty of time – or so I thought. Then one day there was a phone call. His mother was on the phone. She told me he went to a park and put a gun in his mouth, and killed himself. I went to see his mother. She wailed and cried until my heart felt it would burst. She tried to give me his typewriter. She tried to give me his clothes, all the while weeping and sobbing for her only child. I couldn’t take it any more, and I literally ran out of her house, hardly saying goodbye. I couldn’t sleep for several nights. My stomach was tied in knots. “You killed him! You killed him! You killed him!” – went over and over and over in my mind. Recently I told that story to a new-evangelical. He said, “Stop blaming yourself. It wasn’t your fault.” But his words gave me no comfort. It has been nearly 54 years since Mike killed himself, alone out under the trees in that park. I know I did kill him, just as surely as if I had pulled the trigger on that gun. I killed him by neglect. Instead of bringing him to church and pleading with him to be saved – I neglected to do what I knew was right. Yes, I killed my own friend by neglect! Oh, young people, don’t let your family and friends go out into eternity without doing everything you can to get them saved! Don’t go through life haunted by the guilt of neglecting their souls! Don’t let them go to Hell by neglecting to win them to Christ!

God help us! Neglect has sent more souls to Hell than all the other sins in the whole wide world combined!

Dr. Rice told about an old cowboy out in West Texas who got saved in a Methodist revival, like they used to have long ago. Then the old man went and got his son Roy, and brought him to a revival meeting in the Baptist church. When the invitation was given the old man said, “Roy, you ought to go. Roy, please go up and pray with the preacher.” But Roy shook his head and said emphatically he was not going to be saved that night.

Dr. Rice said that happened on Saturday night. One week later, on Saturday afternoon, Roy fell backwards off of a cart. Roy got up and dusted off his clothes, and laughed at his awkwardness with others who were there. But as he rode home, he fell off of the cart unconscious from internal injuries – and the next morning he died. Dr. Rice said, “I was at the funeral on Monday. The old cowboy came and stood beside his son’s coffin after the preacher had given a Gospel sermon. After everyone had come by to shake the old cowboy’s hand, he turned and looked down in the casket at the face of his dead son. The old man patted the boy’s cold face and said, ‘Good-bye, Roy.’ Then he said it again, ‘Good-bye, Roy.’ He stayed there a long time by the coffin, whispering again and again, ‘Good-bye, Roy.’ The tears streamed down his face and his lips quivered. He brushed back some hair from Roy’s cold forehead with trembling fingers and said again, ‘Good-bye, Roy.’” Dr. Rice said, “I knew what he meant. Everybody else knew what he meant. The old man was saying, ‘Good-bye forever!’ He knew the boy was in Hell and he would never see him again. You see, Roy had a chance to be saved, but he neglected the salvation of his soul” (ibid., pp. 179, 180).

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
       (Hebrews 2:3).

I solemnly warn you tonight that you cannot escape from judgment for your sin if you neglect so great salvation!

Do you remember when you first heard me preach a sermon like this? Do you remember how it used to make you so afraid that you thought about it for a long time? Do you remember that? But now you have neglected salvation so long that your heart is cold, and you won’t think about this sermon at all when you go home tonight! Do you know that soon you will not be moved at all by any Gospel sermon? Oh, when you neglect this great salvation, how are you going to escape the hardening of your heart?

John Wayne went to church when he was a little boy, growing up here in Glendale, California. But he was a big, strong boy – and he went off to USC, and was on the football team, with his friend, Ward Bond. After a few semesters these big boys were asked to go to a movie studio in Hollywood where they became “extras” in the movies, and then played small parts. Later John Wayne became a big movie star in Westerns and war movies. He lived fast, drank liquor, became a heavy smoker, and married three different Mexican girls. They asked him why. We smiled when he said, “Every time I wanted to get married, I just happened to be south of the border.” But he never gave any thought to the salvation of his soul. Even when the doctors cut out one of his lungs to get rid of cancer, he went right back to his life, smoking and drinking, while still neglecting the salvation of his soul.

Pretty soon, the days and years had flown by, and he was exactly my age now. You’ll never realize how fast time goes by until, all of a sudden, you are old. Then you’ll look back and say, “I never knew how fast the weeks and months, and years would fly – so quickly! So quickly! So very quickly!

Now John Wayne was in the hospital with a steady, aching pain in his stomach. The doctor said, “It’s probably cancer. We’ll have to cut it out of you tomorrow.” Finally, in that last moment, he thought, “I’d better see a preacher. I’d better see a man who can tell me how to be ready in case I die.” So his secretary called – Dr. Robert H. Schuller to come and see the dying actor. Wait a minute! Why didn’t he call a Gospel-preaching pastor? He probably didn’t know one. He had met Robert Schuller and had seen him on television a few times. What did he know about preachers, anyway? He had neglected salvation all his life. Wasn’t one preacher as good as another? So he called in Schuller, who gave a so-called “prayer” without the Gospel, and without any mention of Christ, as Schuller told us in his own words. And like the false prophet Balaam, Schuller gave him false comfort and let him go.

I watched the Academy Awards that spring because they said John Wayne would be there to make an appearance. They had to put him in a wet suit, under his tuxedo, because he felt freezing cold from the cancer. He was so frail and so thin that he looked like a dead man, as he stumbled out onto the stage and said a few words. It broke my heart to see him like that – lost throughout all eternity!

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
       (Hebrews 2:3).

Here is another true story from Dr. Rice about his boyhood, in a little church way out in the country, in West Texas. Dr. Rice was only a boy when his Sunday School teacher asked him and the rest of the class to pray that her son, Clyde, would be saved in the coming evangelistic campaign. Dr. Rice said,

       The first Sunday morning [after the sermon] I went to Clyde and said to him, “Clyde, your mother and the whole Sunday School class agreed to pray that you would be saved in this meeting. It is time to be saved, Clyde. All of us are praying for you. Won’t you come today?”
       I remember so well how he held onto the back of the seat before him, how tears dripped from his nose and onto the mahogany-stained pews. With trembling lips he said to me, “John, I am glad you are praying for me and I want you to keep on. And I am going to be saved, too. I am not quite ready, but I am sure glad you are praying for me.” His heart was stirred and tender...Yet he did not surrender [to Christ] that day.
       Another year came around and another [evangelistic] campaign. Still Clyde had not trusted Christ...A second time I went to talk with him and pled with him to accept Christ. This time he was polite and friendly. He thanked me for speaking to him, but he said he was not ready. And this time there were no tears. The fatal effect of [neglect] was taking place in his heart.
       Another year, two years went by. Clyde was now about grown. He went to work away from home. When he came back he was now a man. I was a year or two younger. Another [evangelistic meeting] came on. This time Clyde sat with a rough crowd of unconverted young men at the back [of the church]. When the invitation came I went to him again and urged him to accept Christ...He was no longer a boy. Now, [backed up] by his wicked companions, he sneered at me and said, “Don’t you think I would have enough sense to know if I wanted to go, without anybody telling me? I am not going [to do it]!”...I urged him, and took hold of his arm, but he refused. Finally he turned to me and said aloud, so that all around [us] could hear it, “No, I am not going, I tell you. Damn it, leave me alone!”
       I had spoken to Clyde many times before. I do not remember whether I ever spoke to him again about salvation.
       Once he was tender. Once he wept over his sins. Once, with trembling lips he thanked me for urging him to be saved. But as he neglected his soul’s salvation through the years, his heart became hardened, the door was closed so that he could not, even if he would have, turn to Christ to be saved.
       The years passed and 1918 came on [it was during World War I]. I was drafted [into the Army] and so was Clyde... He never came back from the war (Rice, ibid., pp. 183, 184).

He waited too long. He neglected the salvation of his soul until his heart was too hard to trust Christ. He died out there, cold and wet and alone, in the trenches in France.

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
       (Hebrews 2:3).

You cannot escape going into eternity unprepared, without having your sins pardoned, if you go on neglecting so great salvation offered by the Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7,8).

If you would like to speak with us about trusting Christ now, tonight, please leave your chair and walk to the back of the auditorium. Dr. Cagan will take you to another room where we can pray. Go now. Dr. Chan, please pray that someone will be saved tonight.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Mark 9:43-48.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“If You Linger Too Long” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).