“This evil generation hath labored to take away from God the sword of his justice; they have endeavored to prove to themselves that God will clear the guilty and will by no means punish iniquity, transgression, and sin.” ~from “Turn or Burn,” a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1883
I suppose things really haven’t changed that much in 125 years. While we (I) gravitate quickly and fiercely to Christ’s love, we (I) tend to overlook or ignore the righteousness of our God that demands justice and judgment. But the truth is there is no need for salvation through Christ Jesus if there’s no coming judgment. God’s grace is entirely unnecessary if there’s no coming punishment. We can’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love in Christ and the enormity of our deliverance through his death, burial, and resurrection until we set it against the reality of God’s holy judgment.
In studying for last night’s “Oasis” lesson on 2 Corinthians 5, I came across a couple of very, very old sermons: the Spurgeon homily on Psalm 7:11-12 quoted above and a classic preached by Jonathon Edwards during the Great Awakening in 1741. The title of Edwards’ sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s probably the most famous sermon ever preached in America.
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. (He’s just getting warmed up here) You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.
It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell last night; that you were suffered to awake in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose this morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in this house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else to be given as a reason why you do not at this very moment drop down into hell. (At this point, if one of us were attempting to preach this sermon today, an emergency session of the elders would already be gathering and a couple of deacons would have already dialed 9-1-1)
O Sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in; it is a great furnace of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against any of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you have ever done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”
Wow. And that’s just a part of the introduction.
Ever heard a sermon like that? I never have. I doubt I ever will.
Maybe we’re too sophisticated now. Maybe it’s too blunt for our sensitivities. It’s not loving enough or tolerant enough for us today.
Or, maybe in this country in this age, we’re caught in a deadly and eternally damning cycle. As our sense of self grows larger and larger and our sense of God becomes smaller and smaller, maybe we fear God so little that we don’t understand the seriousness of our sin. And we sense the seriousness of our sin so little that we seldom fear God.
The words of the old hellfire and brimstone preachers are true. And that’s what makes the love and the mercy and the grace and the forgiveness of our holy and righteous God through Christ Jesus all the more wonderful and amazing. That’s what makes the words of the old apostle John so powerful:
“And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” ~1 John 2:28