One of the most encouraging things at all is to see manifested on the part of intelligent men and women that disposition to hear, plainly put, what is conceived to be, at least by an honest heart, the word of God.
I want to talk to you quietly, if I may be able, from 1 Cor. 5:11, where Paul said: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”
I am quite certain that there is something wrong somewhere in our conception or consideration of those things that really are sacred, solemn, and serious. There are too many people in the world intelligent about all other matters, but are still indifferent toward Christianity. Somehow or other, the preachers of the country have not impressed upon humanity the solemnity of passing into the presence of the Lord. I do not know but that we may have a misconception, very largely, of Jehovah. Perhaps our indifference, our lack of response to the gospel call, our failure to blend ourselves in harmony with God’s will, is due to the fact that we overestimate God’s love, his goodness, and his mercy.
I know that, as a matter of fact, you can take too much for granted, you can extend your privileges too far on account of the fact that you misjudge the limitations of the other party’s extension of goodness and mercy; but in making that statement I would not have anybody think that I want to narrow, limit, or make finite either the love, mercy, or goodness of Jehovah.
I know that the Bible in John 3:16-17 says: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
I know that we read in the Bible that “God is love,” and that we magnify the kindly attributes of Jehovah. Do you suppose that some people think that because of God’s matchless and wonderful love he will overlook our indifference, our simple mindedness, and just somehow or other, prompted by love Divine, in spite of our disobedience, will at last bear us home to glory and give us a blissful crown at his right hand ?
Perhaps you might rely too much upon that one attribute and characteristic. I have read in Holy Writ quite a bit of the mercy of God, and I know that he is a merciful character; that one of the paramount attributes of his nature is that of mercy, favor, and grace unto the children of men. Maybe, however, that in my unconcern and failure to respond to duty’s demand I am blind and deluded by the idea that out of God’s mercy, in spite of our failure to obey him, God will take me home at last. I may speak too much and rely too strongly upon God’s mercy, love, and goodness.
I remember that David said (and we ought to learn this passage) in Psalm 103:17-18 “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting [note now] upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.”
Now, God’s mercy “is from everlasting to everlasting,” but “upon them that fear him”—not upon any others, but “upon them that fear him”—“and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.”
I want to say to you, my friends, that any character that can love can also hate. Any character that has the attribute of mercy also must have the antithetic quality and characteristic of vengeance, wrath, and anger. While you are relying upon God’s goodness, mercy, and love, don’t forget that God hates some things, that God’s anger may be kindled, that God’s wrath may be provoked; and hence Paul, in contemplation of the fact, said in our text: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord.” Paul on various occasions emphasizes other attributes, but he said: “Gentlemen, I know God’s terror as well as God’s love. I know God’s anger as well as his mercy. I know God’s wrath as well as his goodness.”
Now, when you come to balance the whole proposition, I want to say to you that the man that will walk the golden streets of that celestial city is not only the one that is the beneficiary of God’s love, goodness, and mercy, but he is the one also that with love obeyed God’s will, thereby enabling Jehovah to uphold the law of high Heaven and to command respect for the highest authority known to mortal man.
My friends, there are two books in the world of which Jehovah is the equal author—the book of nature and the book styled the “Bible,” or “Revelation.” In both of these opposite traits of divinity have been pictured. Where is the man so blind that cannot look out upon the natural world and see the evidences of God’s goodness on every hand? Why, the earth out of which we came and from which we get our support is kind and good to mortal man. I look beyond the realm thereof and unto the bending blue of heaven’s expanse and recognize that the worlds that float about tonight are but the handiwork of highest heaven evidencing God’s goodness to mankind. I look upon the surface of Mother Earth and see it at this time of the year clad in its velvet carpet of green. I have watched even to-day the budding and bursting forth of the fruitage of the earth, the beautiful, sweet-scented flowers, and the atmosphere made vocal with the voice of birds. What for? To brighten and cheer humanity on their rapid march from time to eternity. I have looked out upon the splendid hillsides of this most beautiful section of our State and watched the cattle grazing upon the blue grass there. I have watched the sheep likewise feasting upon the goodness of God. In digging down beneath the surface of Mother Earth we find an unlimited supply of mineral wealth and other resources that may be used for the benefit of mankind. All these things are evidences of God’s goodness as revealed in the book of nature. I have seen men to-day turning up the surface of Mother Earth, plowing to make it ready for the seed to be put into the bosom thereof, and by and by the grain shall be cast; and then the ripened fruit will be ours upon which to feast during the coming fall and cold, bleak days of next winter. Wonderful world in which we live, evidences of God’s goodness on every hand ! And yet I must not depend altogether on that.
I have seen, in passing by, some storm houses some places of refuge. Why, the man that built those was not ignorant of the phenomena of nature. He not only recognized that God in the natural world is a character of goodness and mercy, but there are evidences of his terror likewise about us. I have read of the old cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum that were buried by a great volcanic eruption. I have read of the great earthquakes which have sunk beneath the surface of the earth men and women, boys and girls, infants and sucklings—all. I have read of the terrific floods that have rushed down and baptized entire cities and swept them from the face of the earth. I have heard the thunder’s roar and have seen the lightning’s flash uproot mighty trees and rend into splinters the giants and monarchs of the forest. What about all of it? It is but the evidence of God’s terror as turned loose in the natural world.
I can appreciate the sunshine and the showers, but am not unmindful of the gathering storm and the oncoming cyclone, the rapid approach of the terrible hurricane that is likely to sweep us away unless we are able to hold ourselves safely behind the sheltering rock. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord.”
Well, in the Bible, God’s other book, I learn of his wonderful goodness. No man can read the story of the creation but that he is filled with appreciation and genuine gratitude because of the fact that God has made such a beautiful world, that he decorated and adorned it with a master’s touch. Finally, from the very dust of the earth man was created and made to bear the impress of divinity upon his brow and the very stamp of God’s image upon his heart. For him who was thus honored Jehovah said, “I will make for thee a helpmeet for life;” and then the fitting climax of handiwork—“a radiant gem, a jewel rare,” the brightest, fairest, dearest and best—was brought into existence for the comfort, happiness, and joy of man. What about all that? It was God’s wonderful goodness unto humanity, and throughout the sixty centuries of history there are evidences on every hand of the extended favors and continued mercies granted and proposed for our acceptance.
But the greatest exhibition of the love of Heaven was manifested, not through the Old Testament regime, not by the sacrifices on Jewish altars, not by the offering of he lambs and bullocks and heifers that characterized their service, but in the giving of Him who was to be the great sacrifice of the world. The Son of God left the realms of bliss above and came to earth to suffer, sorrow, and sigh. He came to teach the way of life and to be an example in whose footsteps all should follow. All this is an exhibition of the mighty love and mercy of God. At last, his work on earth being finished, he yielded to the demands of a bloodthirsty mob and was crucified upon that rugged cross for the salvation of the race. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, but by the power of Jehovah Divine he burst its bars and came forth on the third morning, thus gaining the victory triumphant over the powers of the Hadean world. He brought life and immortality to light. When the facts of the gospel had come to pass and the great commission was announced, he sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth; and thus again his goodness, mercy, and love were manifested to all the world.
Paul, the peerless apostle, would not minimize that. He would not have you depend less upon God’s goodness, upon his love, and upon his mercy; yet in the text to-night Paul said: “Brethren, I know the terror of the Lord. I know God’s vengeance. I am acquainted with his wrath and with the fact that his anger may be kindled. In view of God’s terror, wrath, and vengeance, I persuade my fellows. I am not pleading with God or Jehovah. I am not persuading Christ. I am not persuading the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit hath revealed in completeness the scheme of redemption. Instead of all that, I persuade men.”
Do you think that Paul was persuading in his own behalf? Do you think his pleadings indicated his inferiority? Was it for lack of something else to do? Was such action on his part a recognition of his inability to measure arms with any other man of his day? Certainly, certainly not. He was without a peer in intellect and in education, in birth and possibilities.
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he bath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead (Phlm 3:4-11).
Notwithstanding all this, Paul knew God’s attributes and Heaven’s characteristics. He, therefore, consecrated and dedicated his life to the persuading of men to be and to become what they ought to be.
Commencing with the very first pair in paradise and continuing on down the stream of human generations, the terror of God is seen on every side. Grandfather Adam disobeyed God’s law, refused to submit to Heaven’s authority, and though he stood created in God’s image as our federal head, God said: “Adam, my terror must be exhibited. Inasmuch as you have disobeyed one commandment, you will have to pass outside of this beautiful paradise.” Man must learn respect for order, for law, and for supreme authority. Why? It is for our good and for our ultimate happiness. All and each of- us must learn the lesson of submission, of subjection, and of obedience.
When Cain rose up in the heat of passion and slew his brother Abel, a mark of God’s terror and wrath came upon him.
A visitation of God’s wrath came upon the ante-deluvians because they refused to respect God’s word as spoken through Noah. God demonstrated his terror in that he sent—not the great Johnstown, Penn. flood, nor that of Galveston, Texas, but he sent a great world-wide flood that swept all beings from the earth in whose nostrils was the breath of life. What was that? It was but an exhibition of the terror of God Almighty.
When old Achan laid his hand upon the gold and silver of Jericho, and thus willfully violated the law, God said unto Joshua: “Stone that man. Get rid of him. He must not continue. Israel cannot succeed. Their backs will be turned to the enemy unless you rid yourself of such.” The result was that Achan was stoned with stones until he was pronounced dead, as an evidence of God’s terror, vengeance, and wrath.
When the Israelites, who carried the sacred ark of the covenant to engage with the Philistines in battle, met with defeat because of the lack of faith in God, the Philistines wrested the ark and carried it down toward the seacoast unto Ashdod. As a result, God’s wrath fell upon the Philistines, and they became anxious to get rid of this holy article found in their midst. They made a new cart on which to move it. This was a thing unknown for such a purpose. They tied to this cart two kine; and when all was ready, they started, lowing as they passed along down the way, and at last they came to the town of Beth-shemesh. The Israelites took charge of the ark of God and offered the kine for a sacrifice. David, being king of the nation, called a conference of the leaders thereof, and said: “Sirs, shall we send down now for the ark, or shall we not?” And with one voice they all said: “Send and fetch it.” Now watch. David surely understood what God’s law was regarding the handling of the ark; but, not content to do what God had told him, not satisfied with remaining faithful and loyal unto the old book, David said: “These Philistines have gotten up a pretty good scheme. Instead of carrying the ark on the poles, on the shoulders of the Israelites, the Philistines have showed me a new plan.” So he likewise made him a cart, hitched oxen thereto, and told his two nephews, Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab: “Go down to the house of Abinadab, and there bring the ark up on this cart.” As they came on the way, in disobedience every step to the will and to the word of God, what happened? They had come to Nachon’s threshing floor, and the Bible says one of the oxen stumbled and the cart shook. Uzzah put forth his hand to stay the ark, but because he did so the record says that God slew him. He died by the ark as a testimony to passers-by that every transgression and disobedience must receive a just recompense of reward.
Then what? David was wonderfully disturbed. There has been a breach made upon Uzzah. So the ark was turned aside in the house of Obed-edom, and there it stayed for three months. After coming to himself and seeing the folly of man’s wisdom and ways, he said: “Brethren, I understand why God killed my nephew. It was because we did not bring the ark as he had directed. I know now what to do.” Well, what is it, David? “Let’s just cut loose from man-made machinery and quit trying to pattern after the ungodly Philistines. You Levites go and bring the ark on your shoulders, as the Lord has said. For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for we sought him not after the due order.” And the record says that David got busy to do so after the due order.
My friends, it is a dangerous proposition to vary from the old landmarks. You may put it down as “old fogey;” you may say it is “antiquated;” you may call it a “back number” all you please; but hear it: when the everlasting terror, vengeance, and wrath of God Almighty shall come to pass, I have an idea that those only will stand accepted in God’s presence who have stuck to the old landmarks and followed in due order. When a breach is made upon us, some one will say: “It is because we patterned after the Philistines. We have tried to have us a cart on which to carry the ark instead of carrying it as God directed.” The “pole fashion” may be out of date, but our hope of reaching heaven at last depends upon it.
It is not in man that lives and that moves to direct his own steps. I am traveling toward that city. I am but a stranger and a pilgrim upon the earth. I have never been over the way. It is not mine to outline it. I trust that evermore I shall have that spirit of humility and submission to our Lord to say: “Speak, I will hear; command, I will obey.” I propose not to be wise above that “which is written,” for I know God’s terror, God’s wrath, and God’s vengeance unto the children of men.
But I call your attention to this fact: Just before Paul made the statement of our text to-night he had this to say in 2 Cor. 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
I have heard the story that Daniel Webster was once asked while a member of the United States Senate: “Mr. Webster, what is the most solemn, sacred, serious thought that you have ever entertained?” With just a moment’s reflection, Mr. Webster said, in substance: “The most serious proposition that ever challenged my attention is the thought that I must appear before the God of my being and give an account for the deeds that I do while in the body, whether they be good or bad.”
Friends, have you treated this matter lightly, or have you really studied the proposition? Are you passing through life like a bubble, in frivolity, in fun, and in foolishness? Are you upon the surface, lightly tripping away, headed for eternity unprepared? Or have you halted and seriously considered whither you are going?
Paul says: “I know that men must give an account. I know God’s terror. And to keep my fellows from being subjected unto the consequences of a disobedient career, I persuade them all of my days.”
I have called your attention to that wonderfully varied, checkered, and dangerous career through which the apostle passed—the trials that he withstood, the journeys that he made, and the difficulties that beset him in his extended journeys into the foreign land. He carried the gospel of salvation, the tidings of joy, and the beacon light of God to guide the footsteps of his fellows unto the halcyon fields of eternal bliss. As he returned from one of these eventful tours, he said to his brethren at Ephesus: “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God…I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Why, Paul? “I know the terror of the Lord. I know God’s attributes. I know Heaven’s vengeance. I know that God will recompense. I know that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for God will judge his people; and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where O. where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” But Paul said: “Brethren, I persuade men.” To what intent? I answer that by a concrete example. When he stood in the presence of King Agrippa, presumably to make a speech in his own behalf, he forgot himself and his own interests. He rehearsed his own conversion and turned to the preaching of Jesus Christ to a descendant of old Herod the Great. In the final climax of this address I learn what Paul persuaded men to do when he said: “King Agrippa, believes thou the prophets? I know that thou believes.” And the old king, trembling, said: “Paul, almost thou persuades me to be a Christian.”
What was Paul persuading men to do? Not to vote for him nor to advance his personal interests; but he was spending his time in persuading men to become and to be Christians. And I think it honorable to-night, I rather magnify my opportunity, to follow in the steps of this matchless man of God. He persuaded men to become Christians—not to pretend nor appear, but to be. There is a difference, friends, between appearing and being. Almost thou hast persuaded me to be a genuine, a real, and a true Christian.
I would to God to-night that all those who love to wear his name and who love to sit under the sound of the glad gospel of Christ were really Christians—not just simply “big-meeting folks,” not simply Christians while the fever is on and the excitement up, but every day in the year—on Monday, when there is no preaching, as well as on Sunday when the multitude is assembled and the gospel proclaimed. There are too many people all over the country that are professors only.
When the king said, “Almost thou persuadeth me to be a Christian,” Paul replied: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” My friends, that is the philosophy and that is the principle. Why? That the world may escape the terror and the vengeance of Jehovah.
We are rushing toward the judgment. After a while the rains will come, the floods will descend, and the winds will blow and beat upon our tabernacle. I wonder if it will stand.
Hearing and doing, we build on the rock; Hearing alone, we build on the sand.
Both will be tried by the storm and the flood. Only the rock the trials will stand.
Now, having talked long enough this Saturday night, I am glad to extend you the gospel call again. I appeal to you to-night, my friends, not only to appreciate God’s love and mercy, and goodness, but likewise respect his wrath, his anger, and his terror. Though God’s mercy is extended, his dignity and authority must be upheld and his law and order respected.
Hence, I am saved to-night, if saved at all, by the mercy of God, and at the same time by respect for his word and reverence for his truth.
If you would enjoy the goodness and mercy of God and escape his terror, you must yield in submission to his will. All who are willing to do so are invited to come.