THE SEVERITY OF THE FACE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3:8-17
7-24-60 7:30 p.m.
In our Bible, all of us turn to 1 Peter chapter 3. The text is verse 12 [1 Peter 3:12]. The title of the message is The Severity of the Face of God. And the context that we read together is verses 8 through 17 [1 Peter 3:8-17]. The first letter of Simon Peter, almost at the end of your Bible, chapter 3, beginning at verse 8, reading through verse 17. Now everybody together:
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
[1 Peter 3:8-17]
And the text again, in the twelfth verse, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12].
To the man who will bend the knee before God; who will pray in penitence, in confession, in contrition; who will ask forgiveness for his sins and turn from them; to that man, God will bow down to hear his prayer. God will forgive all of the iniquity and transgression of his life [2 Chronicles 7:14]. God will write his name in the Lamb’s Book and save him forever [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. To the one who will humble himself and pray, who will seek God’s face and turn from his wicked ways, God will give to that man an everlasting, enduring, eternal salvation [John 3:16]. But to the man who will not pray, who will not bow the knee to God, who persists in his evil and iniquitous way, who turns aside from the overtures of grace, who does despite to the blood of the covenant wherewith Christ would sanctify us [Hebrews 10:29], that man shall be cast away, shall fall into perdition, shall lose his life and his soul forever [John 3:36]. The severity in the face of God. “For the face of the Lord is against them that do evil [1 Peter 3:12] . . . Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and ye have not regarded; ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity” [Proverbs 1:24-26].
God seems to take it for granted that there is a calamity that inevitably awaits those who refuse Him. “I will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you” [Proverbs 1:26-27]. And isn’t that strange? All of us who’ve been taught all our lives that God is somehow like an Old Mother Hubbard, God somehow like an old woman who wouldn’t speak evil against anybody, and always, however men flout Him or blaspheme Him or curse Him or deny Him or reject Him, however, man need not be afraid. “Live in sin, give your life to evil and iniquity, spurn God’s love and mercy; God will not care, God will not matter, God will not call a man into judgment or condemnation.” The Book doesn’t say that, nor is there any delineation in the Bible of the character of God that even approaches that! “I will laugh at your calamity” [Proverbs 1:26], as though God takes it for granted we shall someday meet that inevitable judgment:
And when your fear cometh, and your desolation, and your destruction as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me, and they shall not find me.
They that hated knowledge, and did not choose the Lord;
They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
They said no to the preacher, and no to the Holy Spirit, and no to the appeal of God. In that day, therefore they shall be cast out of the way: “They shall be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them” [Proverbs 1:31-32].
Even the smallest fiend out of hell can destroy the strongest man, much less the archangel called Satan. In that day of judgment and damnation, “and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them” [Proverbs 1:32]. Thinking to escape, thinking to prosper in iniquity and evil, thinking to live and spurn God, these are the fools, God says, who lead us into destruction and perdition and damnation. The severity in the face of the Lord: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears attend unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12].
I read something this week in the life of F. B. Meyer that certainly corroborated an experience of my own as a child, but I’d never seen it before. F. B. Meyer was a great Baptist preacher in London in the days, and he was a contemporary and compatriot, with the immortal Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And F. B. Meyer was wonderfully gifted in personal counseling and in personally meeting with people. And upon a day in London, there was a convocation at a dinner of about four hundred missionaries and preachers and Christian leaders. And in the course of the evening, F. B. Meyer, meeting with the group, asked when they were converted, and how come them to give their lives to the ministry of Christ. And it finally developed an astonishing thing to the preacher and an astonishing thing to everyone present, for it came out, in meeting with those four hundred preachers and missionaries and Christian leaders, that almost everyone of them, without exception, that almost every one of them had been converted by a knowledge of and a sensitivity to of the fear and the judgment of God! Who trembles today before the Almighty, who has power to cast our bodies and our souls into hell? [Luke 12:5]. When I was boy I used to tremble at the preacher’s sermon. I used to go to night, to bed at night sometimes terrified at the prospect of the abyss and of the flame and of the torment. And the Book says, and repeats it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Proverbs 1:7, 9:10]; that a man should tremble in the presence of God, that a man should be afraid of the awful, hideous face of his sin. “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12]. And if there’s anybody here in divine presence tonight that has ever done wrong, there’s damnation for that sin. There’s judgment from heaven for that iniquity; the face of the Lord against us [1 Peter 3:12].
I don’t know where we got the idea, unless it comes out of modern watered down theology, I don’t know where we got the idea that God was a palaver, that He never meant what He said, and that God was like some wishy-washy, colorless, without foundation, without ground, without stability, without dedication; but that men could move Him as they will, and that men could get by with their sins. And as I said a while ago, like some dear old saintly woman, who wouldn’t say anything bad, wouldn’t say anything caustic, and wouldn’t say anything critical about anybody; how ever people were and how ever they are, just let them go, no judgment, no word of condemnation, no damnation, no furor, no fire, no brimstone, no hell. I don’t know where we got that idea, except out of the watered-down, colorless presentation of modern theology.
For example, just a few minutes, I want to take you through the whole sweep of the Bible, and see the delineation of the character of God in the Holy Scriptures. There is something in God’s face that is terribly severe! There is something in God’s character that is righteous and holy, and cannot bear the presence of our sin and our iniquity! Now for this sweep through the Bible, just to see, just to look at the character of God, and see if it’s confirmed in our own experience. First thing I do when I open the Book; I see an innocent, beautiful, godly pair in the garden of Eden, the man and his wife. And God says, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17].
And this is the first lie: “There’s not any judgment in God; there’s not any righteous wrath in the Almighty. Yea, did God say, Thou shalt surely die? Thou shalt not surely die” [Genesis 3:1-4]. You can twitch God, you can spit on God, and you can deny God, and not die; that’s what Satan said. And they believed him. And they took of the forbidden fruit [Genesis 3:6]. And when the Lord came in the evening to visit with the pair that He had made, why, God sat down with the sinner man and the sinner woman and said, “Well, that’s all right, that doesn’t matter. Why, you’ve transgressed My commandment; why, it is a peccadillo. You disobeyed My interdictions; nothing is to be made of it, and nothing is to come of it.” What did God say? He turned to the woman and cursed her; God did it. The Book says He did it. “Out of sorrow shall she bear and conceive” [Genesis 3:16]. Then He turned to the man and said, “For your sake the whole earth is cursed, and thorns and briers and thistles shall it bear” [Genesis 3:17-18]. Then after He cursed the serpent [Genesis 3:14-15], the Book says, “And God,” it says, “God, and God drove out the man and the woman whom He had made” [Genesis 3:23-24] God did that.
“Oh, I can sin with impunity; I can flout God to His face, I can blaspheme His name, I can call His Son a liar, I can refuse and reject His mercy; it’s nothing. When I did it last Sunday night, nothing happened. When I do it tonight, I’m not expecting anything to happen.” But God says there is a day of calamity and there’s a day of judgment [2 Peter 2:9, 3:7]. And you have the picture of the Lord here in the Book: “And God drove them out” [Genesis 3:23-24], and they died [Genesis 5:5], like you’re going to die. Don’t you think you’re going to be around here very long; you’ll soon be gone, like all of the rest of those who’ve met God face to face, and will be resurrected, some to contempt and judgment and damnation, and some in the mercy of God, those who’ve loved our Lord, in forgiveness and in salvation [Daniel 12:2-3; Revelation 20:4-6].
It’s no different. The same Lord God that drove out the man and the woman in the days of their sin [Genesis 3:23-24], looked down from heaven—as I read the page, and as I turn the next chapter, “And God saw that man was vile and wicked in the earth [Genesis 6:5]. And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, yet a hundred twenty years, yet a hundred twenty years and all flesh will I destroy from the face of the earth” [Genesis 6:3, 7]. When Noah sent out the dove, and the crow, the Book says the dove came back, she found no place, no rest for the sole of her foot [Genesis 8:6-9]. But the crow didn’t come back. Why? Because he found a place to rest, and he found food to eat in the putrid decaying carcasses of the humanity God had made floating and swollen death on the bosom of the deep. God did that—the severity in the face of God [Proverbs 1:26-27]. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” [Proverbs 9:10].
I turn the page. Abraham, the patriarch, looks toward Sodom and Gomorrah, for whom he had bowed in intercessory prayer, and behold, the cities of the plain and the land went up in smoke like unto a great furnace [Genesis 19:28]. God did that. I turn the page, and the Lord God said, “You go into the land of Canaan, and you do those sins of the Canaanites, like Sodom and Gomorrah, you do that, and the land will vomit you out as it vomited out the inhabitants before you” [Leviticus 18:28].
And when I turn to the life of my Lord, I see no different manifestation of the character of God, the severity in the face of Jesus Christ. In the beginning of the ministry, and He took a cord and He drove them out of the temple in anger and in righteous indignation, and He threw over the money changers tables, and He drove out those that bought and sold [John 2:13-16]. And when I turn the page again, and they were watching to see if He would heal on the Sabbath [Mark 3:2]; and when Jesus had looked about on them with anger [Mark 3:5], there’s no sissy Christ in the Book. Can you imagine one man, and that temple area covered about thirteen acres of ground, and money changers everywhere, and those that were buying and selling everywhere, and He drove them all out, one man? [John 2:13-16]. He looked around them with anger. And when I turn the page again, the most vitriolic, the most violent, the most caustic and burning of all the passages in human literature is the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ye devour widows’ houses, for a pretense make long prayers: ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! you compass sea and land to make a proselyte, and when you make him he is twofold more a child of hell than yourself.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! you are like whited sepulchres, on the outside you are pretty nice… you are pretty and nice, and inside you are full of dead men’s bones.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell?
[Matthew 23:14-15, 27, 33]
That’s our Lord; the severity in the face of God.
And when I turn to the end, hastily going through this Book, there’s no difference in it; it’s the same Lord all the way through. When I turn to the end of this Book, “In the presence of the Lamb, the wrath of God is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation . . . and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever and ever and ever” [Revelation 14:10-11]. And the Book closes with that delineation of the character of God [Revelation 22:15]. There is a justice in God, there’s a righteousness in God, there’s a holiness in God, that makes a poor sinner man tremble in His presence [Isaiah 6:5]. “O God, and what of me? And what of my soul? And what of my sins? And what of the wrong and the iniquity that stains my life? How shall I stand in the great day when His wrath has come?” These are the things that God says to you, to us, to me, to us all: if you have sinned, you face the justice and the judgment, the severity of God! [Romans 3:23, 6:23].
Paul has a text here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “Behold,” he says, “Look, behold therefore the goodness of God,” amen! But I have left out a word: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of the Lord [Romans 11:22], Behold the goodness and the severity of God.” The throne of our Lord, as the psalmist said, is established in righteousness, in holiness [Psalm 47:8, 89:14]; and there’s no escaping the judgments of God [Acts 17:31].
For just a moment, before I make this appeal to your heart, may I speak of the corroboration of that in time and in history? The greatest living historian is Arnold Toynbee; the greatest modern exponent of the interpretation of history is Toynbee. Toynbee’s monumental work is entitled The Meaning of History. And in that work the great thesis of that incomparable historian is this: that in history, civilizations do not live and die according to economic or political determinism, but they live or die according to the moral judgments of God! The thesis he develops in those series of volumes is this: that nations do not revolve around themselves, the great mass and on flowing of the human stream of life is not to be discerned in individual nations; but he says it is to be discerned in whole civilizations. He says it is not nations that live and die, it is civilizations that live and die. And Toynbee says, in the history of the world there have been twenty-one civilizations. And he says that sixteen of them have died. And he says, without exception all sixteen of those civilizations that have died did so because of the moral judgment of God! The thing that I find and the thing that I read in the Holy Scriptures of God is the thing that I find and the thing that I read in history and in modern day contemporary, current developments all around me—the severity in the face of God [Romans 11:22].
Then how can a man live who has sinned? If God is just, and if God is righteous, and if God is holy, and if God cannot bear the presence of iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13], and if the judgment of God is upon the sinner [2 Peter 2:9], then how shall I live? That is the great elective purpose of grace, and redemption, and love, and mercy that has come even unto us. Listen as the incomparable apostle writes it in the great, great letter to the church at Rome: “For,” he says, “there is none righteous; no, not one, not one” [Romans 3:10]. Since the days of sinner Adam and sinner Eve [Genesis 3:1-6], through their children Cain and Abel, down to us their progenitor, down to us their descendents today, that same evil and that same black stream is in our blood and in our lives and in our souls. “There is none righteous; no, not one. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:10, 23]. He looks upon the whole world and you, and we’re all alike. To us some of us are blacker than others, and to us some of us are viler than others, and to us some of us are bigger, deeper, darker sinners than others; but in God’s sight all of our righteousnesses as well as our unrighteousnesses are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6], all of us condemned in God’s sight, all of us facing death and shall inevitably die, and all of us facing the judgment that is yet to come [Acts 17:31]. “There is none righteous; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:10, 23].
Then he announces the redemption, the redemption. Why, the very word has in it a theology. “The redemption,” that’s the next verse:
The redemption: we were sold unto sin, condemned to die and to death and to face judgment; the redemption, buying us back, pleading us back, loving us back, the redemption that is Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, to make reconciliation, to make payment, a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of our sins through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus.
How can God be just and at the same time justify, declare righteous, us who have sinned in His sight? He did that, the great apostle says, and the Book says, He did that by vindicating His law and vindicating His righteous judgments in the suffering, in the death, in the blood of Jesus Christ. And He is just and the justifier of those that trust in Him by an imputed righteousness [Romans 3:25-26]. That is, not that we have it in ourselves, but that He has it; not that we are righteous in ourselves, but that He is righteous; not that we have life in ourselves, but that He has it; not that I am able, but that He is able; not that I am strong, but that He is strong. And when I identify myself, and my cause, and my soul, and my life with Jesus, God for Jesus’ sake justifies us who are unrighteous [Ephesians 4:32].
At the same time, God does not abdicate His throne, established and built in justice and in righteousness. God is still just, righteous. And God still controls His world by law; and those who violate and transgress God’s law, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; God vindicates His law. God established His throne in righteousness [Psalm 47:8, 89:14]. Only the penalty and the judgment for all of our sin and iniquity and unrighteousness is laid upon our great Advocate and sin-bearer; and to those who identify themselves with Him, they have an imputed righteousness. The Bible calls it, “We are justified by faith” [Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24]. “He was raised for our justification” [Romans 4:25]. That is, Jesus declares us righteous by faith; not by merit, not by worth, not by sale or purchase or price; but just by trusting Him, and looking to Him and believing in Him and committing our cause unto Him [Acts 16:31]. I don’t come before God and say, “God, look upon me; I’m ready to bear the face of the holy God. Let Him look into my life, let Him search out all of the corners of my soul; let Him probe into the deep secrets of my heart. And when God has searched me and tried me, He will still find me righteous and holy, not a blemish, not a spot, not a stain, not a sin, not a transgression. All my life, pure and holy and undefiled.” Why, there’s not a man who has ever lived that could come into the presence of God and say, “Search me, and try me, and see if there is any iniquity in me,” and when God looks into your life and He looks into your heart and He looks into your soul, there’s sin everywhere, every day, all of the way of your life. “None righteous; no, not one” [Romans 3:10].
But I have a declared righteousness, an imputed righteousness in Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9]. Jesus my advocate, Jesus my pleader, my intercessor, my mediator [1 Timothy 2:5]. Jesus says, in that day of judgment, as He says now, “This is one of Mine. See his name written in My book. For him I paid the penalty of his sin [2 Corinthians 5:21], I took the punishment of all his transgressions [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the holiness and the purity and the righteousness of My life I place to his account” [1 Corinthians 1:30]. Like I might be in debt, and the Lord places at my account, more funds than I could ever write on, were I to write a check on it the rest of my life. “All of My righteousness I place at his account. And Lord, look upon him as You look upon Me, and do with him as You would love Me, and for My sake, these the sheep of My pasture and the flock that God hath given to Me, without loss of one, as You would love Me, open the doors to Me, and welcome Me, receive these; for they’ve identified themselves with Me. They’re Mine.” And we have an imputed righteousness; not that we are, but that we’re declared so. We are justified [Galatians 2:16]. That word means not that you are righteous, but that God looks upon you as being righteous; all of it for Jesus’ sake, for Jesus’ sake [1 Corinthians 1:30].
I don’t preach much like the preachers that I heard when I was a very small boy. I lived in a little town. Our preachers were unlearned and unlettered and uneducated. They never went to school; they never searched – they were not able – in those original Scriptures. Consequently, when they preached, they preached almost always in a series of stories. Maybe in a sermon that a man would preach for forty minutes there’d be ten, fifteen illustrations in it; they preached by stories, they preached by a series of illustrations. I’m not criticizing them. I didn’t mean it that way. I’ve just said that to say this—and I’m sorry I mentioned it—I loved my pastors when I was a little boy; I was converted under them, I was baptized by them. It’s just my memory. But what they said in those illustrations just stayed in my heart and still does. And I want to take one of them, which is very typical, and illustrate this thing of an imputed righteousness, a sonship in Jesus’ name, a salvation for Jesus’ sake [Romans 3:24], an acceptance in heaven because God loves the Son and for His sake we are received [Romans 8:28-30].
Now my pastor said, when I was a small boy, he said that in the war—and that was World War One—in the war there was a rich boy named Charles. And he went over there to France, fighting for his country. And in the providence of God he had a buddy – and they so often used that word “buddy”—he had a buddy in the war; and they shared the same pup tent together, and they shared the same mess kit together, and they marched together, and they fought together, and they went over the top together. They were real friends. Charles was a rich man’s son. His buddy, the other, was an orphan boy. And in one of those campaigns on the fields of France, Charles, the rich boy, wrote out a letter and sealed it, and put it in the hands of his buddy, the orphan boy, and said to him, “Will you promise me that if I don’t come back, you’ll find my home and my parents and personally deliver this letter?” And naturally the boy said, “If you don’t come back, and I do, I will deliver this letter, sealed, to your father and your mother.” So the signal came, the zero hour, they went over the top, they were in the thick of the war. And when the battle was ended, the rich boy lay dead on the field, and the orphan boy came back alone. When the war was over, [he] made his way in faithful keeping to the promise, searched out the home in the big city, walked up to the big mansion. And when the man came to see the boy, and learned that he was the buddy of Charles, with what gladness; and he delivered the letter. And the letter said this: described the situation, described the boy, an orphan and poor, described their preparation for that battle, and then the appeal: “I’ve made him promise if I don’t return, he’ll deliver this letter personally to you. And now, Dad, I want you to take this boy into the home, and let him be your boy in my stead and in my place.” And when the father read the letter, he turned to the orphan lad and said, “Son, for Charlie’s sake, come in, come in, come in. Our son, our boy, for Charlie’s sake, come in, come in.”
Those, I realize, are melodramatic stories; but they burned in my heart as I listened to my pastor preach, and they helped me to understand as a small child that it was not for the righteousness that I had done, or the merit that I might command, that I was invited into the holy house of God; but I was welcome for Jesus’ sake [Ephesians 4:32], that He loved me, and gave Himself for me [Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2], that He wrote my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and called me His own. For Jesus’ sake, come in [Matthew 11:28-30].
And that is the whole presentation of the Word of the Lord; all of us sinners, all of us [Romans 3:23]. “And through the redemption of Christ, to declare at this hour His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” [Romans 3:26]. Not for us, Lord, not for us; we plead the mercy [Titus 2:3], and the death [1 Corinthians 15:3], and the blood [1 Peter 18-19], and the wounds [Isaiah 53:5], and the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], and the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and the forgiveness [1 John 1:9], and the pardon of Jesus. And God says the man that will bow the knee in His presence [Romans 14:11], and look up in faith to the sacrifice of His Son [Ephesians 2:8], stand at the cross in adoration, in reverential penitence, in grieving repentance, in loving acceptance and in faith [Mark 1:15], to the soul that will look to Jesus, God says, “I adopt him as My own” [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-5]. Forgive our sins; write our names in the book [Luke 10:29; Revelation 20:12, 15], and ours the inheritance forever, both in this life and in the life that is yet to come [1 Peter 1:4].
And this is our appeal to your heart tonight. All of us stand in the way of the judgment of God; all of us sinners in His presence [Romans 3:26]. But in Jesus, in faith looking to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], we have a hope, we have a life, we have forgiveness [1 John 1:9], we have an adoption [Galatians 4:5], a justification [Romans 4:25]; and He hath promised it to us who look to Him in faith [John 1:12]. He hath promised it to us forever. Never take it away from us, never deny us, never let us fall into the hands of the waster and the destroyer; but He will keep us forever [John 10:28]. And it’s ours just for the look [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9], just for the faith, of asking and receiving. And that’s our appeal to your heart tonight. Humbly, in reverence, in fear of the judgment of death, in faith, in the acceptance of eternal life [John 3:16, 10:27-30], “Here I come, looking to Jesus.” Would you do it? Would you do it now? In the balcony, one somebody you; on this lower floor, one somebody, you, coming down to the front and to the pastor, “Pastor, I give you my hand in token; I have given my heart in trust and faith to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], and here I am, here I come.” Is there a family to come? Is there somebody to put his life with us in this appeal, in this ministry, in the fellowship of this glorious church? As God’s Spirit shall say the word and open the door, will you walk in? “Here I am, preacher, and here I come; I make it tonight, I make it now,” while we stand and while we sing.