The Face of Severity
November 18th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE FACE OF SEVERITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3:12
11-18-73 10:50 a.m.
We are preaching through the First Epistle of Simon Peter. We are in the third chapter, and the reading of the text is this, beginning at verse 10:
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—
That’s a good, old-time word, “eschew” evil; cannot bear the presence or the sight of evil—
And let him 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.
[1 Peter 3:10-12]
And that is the text, “But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12], prosopon, prosopon: the countenance, the face of the Lord.
In the little book that I wrote on Did Man Just Happen? I was describing the difference between a man and a beast. A man has a countenance. He has a face. The light of knowledge and of spiritual intuition and recognition and sensitivity is in his face. An animal has no countenance, but a man does. He is made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and the image of the Lord is reflected in his face.
Prosopon—the face of the Lord, the countenance of the Lord: epi, that’s the usual word for “upon,” but here it has an intensive characteristic. The word epi actually here means a “moving upon,” and we would say in the good translation of the King James Version, “moving against.” The face of the Lord, the countenance of the Lord, is intensely moved against that which is evil [1 Peter 3:12]. It is a very expressive sentence that Simon Peter has written. The face of the Lord, the face of severity; the face of the Lord is a moving against that which is evil, those who do evil [1 Peter 3:12].
F. B. Meyer was a famous British preacher who lived in the last century, a compatriot of Alexander MacLaren and John Clifford and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And reading some of his writings, F. B. Meyer said that he attended a convocation of missionaries; there were about four hundred of them present. And he said to his astonishment, and to the astonishment of all of those who were in that assembly, when the missionaries gave their experience of grace, told the story of how they were saved, he said, “I was astonished, with all the others, of how practically all of them referred to the fact that when they were saved, they were moved by some message that concerned the judgment and the terror of the Lord.” The reason that I remember that especially is that that was true of my experience as a boy. The message of the judgment of God, of hell and damnation, moved me to terror as a boy and brought conviction to my soul.
I don’t quite understand the modern theological approach to God and to the preaching of His Word. It seems to be that there are fads in theology and fads in preaching such as we find fads in clothing and fads in cultural thinking and life. You would think that theology would be a great revelation of God that was presented faithfully; therefore, as God doesn’t change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8], the theological message wouldn’t change, but that’s not true. There are fads in theology that I cannot understand. For example, back yonder in the days of Jonathan Edwards, those old divines preached on the judgment of God and upon hell and damnation. You remember one of the most famous sermons of all time, Jonathan Edwards delivered. He read it. Jonathan Edwards read all of his sermons word for word, stuck his face down in the manuscript and read. And yet, with his face down in the manuscript, reading the sermon entitled “Sinners in The Hands of an Angry God,” the people in terror cried out as though they were over the very pit and flames of hell itself.
Now that was in that generation. In this generation, you’ll never hear it mentioned. There are absolutely children and children’s children who have attended churches in our modern America who have never heard a message on hell, or damnation, or the judgments of Almighty God. Well, what is this that the Bible presents when it opens to view the judgment of God upon our sins, the face of severity, the face of the Lord against those that do evil?
Well, I have a first little foreword, an observation to make, and that is this: it is a graceful, gracious, kind, merciful, goodness of God that He reveals the truth to us. It is either factual or it is not factual. If it is factual, then how gracious is it of God to reveal it to us, like a railroad crossing with a sign, a warning sign, or a red light blinking on either post. It is a kindness of the company to warn of us of the fast-moving freight. Or, like the express shipment of a capsule of radium cobalt out here to our Baylor Medical Center, it is a kindness of the company to write on the box of delivery this dangerous possibility of radium in that cobalt unit. Or like a bottle of white sugary substance, and the chemical pharmaceutical company will put a skull and crossbones on it and underneath write, “Strychnine!” Somebody might taste it to see if it were some other medicine. And one taste would bring convulsive, horrible death. It was a kindness of the company to label it with a skull and the crossbones. So it is in the revelation of Almighty God in this blessed Word. It is a kindness, and a goodness, and a graciousness of God that the Lord points out to the man: this is the way that leads to disaster, and to damnation, and to death. This is the way to fall into hell and into the flames and fire of the judgments of God. If there is such a thing, it is a kindness of God that it be revealed.
Now Simon Peter writes: “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12]. The countenance of severity is unveiled in the face of God against iniquity and unrighteousness and unbelief. This is the revelation of the entire Bible. It is that, and it is none other than that. When I open my Book, I turn to the first chapters of Genesis, and in the [second] chapter of Genesis I read of the sweet fellowship between the Lord and the man and the woman that He made [Genesis 2:21-23]. He made them to love Him and to be friends to Him, for a mountain couldn’t say words of love to God, and oceans don’t speak language to the Lord, and the starry universe itself couldn’t think God’s thoughts. And God said, “I want somebody like Me, that can talk to Me and love Me and respond to Me.” And the Lord God made the man and his wife in His own image; “male and female created He them” [Genesis 1:27], in God’s image. And the Lord visited with them in the cool of the day. He went down to see the man and the wife, and He talked to them, and loved them, and was friends to them. And one day, while the Lord was away, one day the man and his wife disobeyed the plain mandate of God [Genesis 3:1-6]. And when the Lord came to visit with His friends in the cool of the day, He couldn’t find them. And the Lord lifted up His voice and said: “Adam? Adam? Adam? Where art thou, Adam? Where?” [Genesis 3:8-9]. And Adam replied, “O God! I am hidden away. My wife and I are naked, and we are ashamed in Thy presence, and I am afraid, and I have hidden myself out of Your sight” [Genesis 3:10]. And the Lord God said, “Who told you were naked? [Genesis 3:11]. And why is it that you are afraid?” [Genesis 3:8-11] And then, after the recounting of the tragic truth [Genesis 3:11-13], the face of severity—the Lord God cursed the ground [Genesis 3:17-18].
Look at it today. The planet is blasted with great deserts, and howling hurricanes, and thorns, and thistles, and briers, and weeds. And the Lord God cursed the ground [Genesis 3:17-18], and the Lord God cursed the woman [Genesis 3:16], and the Lord God cursed the man [Genesis 3:17-19], and the Lord God drove them out into death [Genesis 3:22-24]. He did that; God did that—the face of severity.
Any time God is presented to you as a sweet, motherly soul who is indifferent to the iniquity, and sin, and rejection, and rebellion of humankind, that’s not the God that we know in history or in the revelation of the Bible. It just isn’t. The face of severity [1 Peter 3:12]: and I turn the page of the Bible to the sixth chapter of Genesis, and the Lord God looks down and the earth is filled with violence and blood, murder [Genesis 6:11-13]. And the Lord God sent word and said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man. His days shall be a hundred twenty years” [Genesis 6:3]. And Noah, the preacher of righteousness [2 Peter 2:5], pled with his generation for 120 years without a convert [Genesis 7:23]. I can’t imagine that; if there were a service here in this church, and we never had a response, your pastor would just die in his soul. This man of God named Noah preached 120 years to a vile, and violent, and gainsaying generation without a convert. At the end of 120 years, the Lord God said: “It is enough!” [Genesis 7:4, 11, 12]. And He took Noah and his family and put him in the ark; and shut the door [Genesis 7:1, 7, 13, 16]. And God, God broke up the heavens above and broke up the earth beneath, and the entire world that breathed were floating corpses on the face of the deep [Genesis 7:17-24]. God did that. No man did that. God did that: the face of severity [1 Peter 3:12].
I turn the pages of the Bible to the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of Genesis. And the Lord God comes to visit Abraham, and the Lord God says, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I do? [Genesis 18:17]. He is a godly man, and he will teach his children to follow the Lord” [Genesis 18:19]. And the Lord God said to Abraham, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has come up unto Me, and I am going down to see if it is according to the cry that has come up unto Me” [Genesis 18:20, 21]. And we haven’t time to follow the story, but in the nineteenth chapter the verse says that Abraham stood on the top of a hill and he looked down and saw the smoke of the burning fire of the cities of the plain [Genesis19:28]. God did that! Man didn’t do that, God did that: the face of severity [1 Peter 3:12].
And I look through the pages of Genesis, and the Lord God says to Abraham: “Four hundred years your people will be in a furnace, but at the end of the four hundred years I will deliver them. For the iniquity of the Amorite”—the Amorite is the Canaanite, who is the son of Ham—“the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full. But at the end of four hundred years, I will judge them” [Genesis 15:13-16]. At the end of four hundred years Joshua took his people across the Jordan River [Joshua 1:1-11, 3:14-17], and according to the mandate of God, the Canaanite was to be wholly eradicated from the earth [Deuteronomy 20:16-18]. God did that: the face of severity [1 Peter 3:12].
And when I read the story of the deliverance of God, when the Lord said to Moses, “Those Ten Commandments that you broke; now you prepare two tables of stone like them, and come up here and write on them the words of the Lord” [Exodus 34:1-2, 27-28]. And so Moses goes up to Mount Sinai, and there the Lord passes by before him, and He proclaims His name:
The Lord God, merciful, gracious, longsuffering…Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that by no means will clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
[Exodus 34:6, 7]
And when I follow the story of the people of God in the pages and the pages thereafter, it is that: “who will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children . . . to the third and the fourth generation” [Exodus 34:7], the severity of the face of God [1 Peter 3:12], the unveiling of the judgments of God.
I read as I turn to the pages:
- the story of Samson. “Let me die,” he said, “with the Philistines” [Judges 16:28-30].
- I read the story of Saul, who took his own life, died a suicide [1 Samuel 31:4-5].
- I read the story of David—four times the judgment to come upon him and his family [2 Samuel 12:7-12]. And the sword of blood and murder never leave the household of David.
- The story of Solomon, whom God loved [2 Samuel 12:24]; yet leaving, bequeathing to the people a divided, debauched, and demoralized kingdom [1 Kings 11:4, 9-13].
- And finally, I read of the sins of Israel and the Assyrians who carry them away [2 Kings 17:6].
- And I read of the sins of Judah and the bitter Chaldeans who carry them away; and the house of God lies in ruins and the Holy City is destroyed and the people are in captivity [2 Chronicles 36:17-19].
- The severity of the face of God, “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation” [Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18].
Finally I turn to the face of our blessed Lord Himself in the New Testament. And when I open it, in the second chapter of John, just as John begins his Gospel, I have the story there before me of the Lord taking cords, binding them together, weaving them together, braiding them together in a scourge, overturning the temple money changers and driving out those that were trafficking and merchandising in the house of God itself [John 2:13-16].
Then I turn to the Gospel of Mark, and here in the Gospel of Mark: there stands in the synagogue a man with a withered hand, and it’s the Sabbath day, and these who look with scorn and supercilious disdain upon sorrow lest a tradition be broken. And when Jesus had looked round about them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, He said to that man, “Stretch forth thine hand.” And he stretched forth his hand. And the Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians how they could destroy Him [Mark 3:1-6], how they could murder Him. The Lord, filled with indignation and looking with anger [Mark 3:5]: the face of severity [1 Peter 3:12].
I haven’t time to follow the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Those are the most bitter, scathing, burning words in the human language. There is nothing in speech to rival the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees by our Lord: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones!” [Matthew 23:27]. And then the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the great division between the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-33]: “And these shall go away into everlasting torment” [Matthew 25:46]; the face of severity [1 Peter 3:12].
And when I follow through the Word of the Lord, I come to these sentences in the letters of the apostle Paul; for example, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1:
To you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power;
[2 Thessalonians 1:7-9]
That doesn’t sound as though He is a weak, anemic, motherly, not caring, indifferent soul about His children.
And when finally I come to the Revelation, the great apocalyptic visions of the consummation of the age, I read there of the smoke of their torment ascending for ever and ever [Revelation 14:11], and of the beast, and the false prophet, and Satan [Revelation 20:10], and all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:15]. I read of them being cast into the lake of fire for ever [Revelation 21:8]. The face of severity: God Almighty! [1 Peter 3:12]. And lest someone think this is just the Bible, this is just the rantings and the ravings and the shoutings of the preacher; it is confirmed in human history, and human history does no other thing than confirm that: the judgmental severity of the face of Almighty God [1 Peter 3:12].
In our twentieth century, the incomparably greatest historian is Arnold Toynbee, the famous British educator and writer. And in Time magazine, which was reviewing the monumental work of Toynbee, The Study of History, I copy this sentence. “Toynbee shattered the frozen pattern of historical determinism and materialism by openly avowing, asserting that God is a moral force in history.” All of these secularists describe what happens in time as being just something that people are doing. But Toynbee says the great moral imponderable in the life of a nation lies in God, the moral severity of the Lord [1 Peter 3:12]. And in this monumental work, A Study of History, Toynbee says that there are twenty-one civilizations in the history of mankind—twenty-one of them. Sixteen of them have already perished, and Toynbee says, without exception, all sixteen of those civilizations perished because it was inwardly decadent. It was evil, and it failed because of unrighteousness.
And don’t think that God will spare America; America cannot continue, it cannot exist, it cannot live in debauchery, and drunkenness, and moral decay. The great imponderable that lies in the history of a nation lies in the moral judgment of Almighty God. And what we read in the Bible is nothing other than what we see in daily experience, in human life, and in human story. Well, if it thus be with us, if God judges us, as the author of Hebrews says: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]…for our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12: 29]. If God judges iniquity: when a man stands before Him, he stands before a righteous Judge. And knowing us, we have to confess, “Guilty, O God. Guilty, guilty, guilty.” If it be thus with us, how can we ever be saved? How could a man ever look upon God’s face, and live? How could we ever escape the fires of hell and damnation? How could we ever be with the Lord in glory? How? That is the good news. That is why the gospel is called the euaggelion, the “good news.” How can a man who is a sinner live in the face and in the presence of God? How can he? This is the gospel.
In the sermon last Sunday morning from Simon Peter: “Jesus, our blessed Lord, His own self, bore our sins in His own body on the tree, in whose stripes we are healed” [1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5]. How is it that a man who is lost, a sinner, can ever stand in the presence of God, and live? It is because our blessed Jesus, God incarnate, God made flesh [John 1:1,14]—it is because the Lord Himself took our sins and bare our iniquities [Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24]. And the punishment that by rights should fall upon us, fell upon Him; and the death we should die, He died in our stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24], our great substitute, and we are saved and delivered in Him [1 Corinthians 15:3]. That is the good news; that is the gospel [John 3:16-17].
I grew up, as some of you know, in a little town in far northwest Texas. And we attended church in a little white crackerbox of a building. The church door was never open but that my family was there. And I’d sit on the front seat, as these little boys here, and I’d listen to the pastor as he preaches. And you know, the stories by which those old-time preachers would illustrate the gospel truth does more for me today in understanding the message of Christ than these tomes of theology that I pored over in these years since. How those preachers would illustrate the truth of the gospel message of Christ! Those stories stay with me as vividly today and as movingly today as when I heard them as a little boy, seated at the front with my head back, looking up and listening to the pastor. Here’s one of them: this is one of them, illustrating how God took our sins and took our iniquities and bore them Himself that we might be saved [1 Peter 2:24].
There was a little boy in the family, and he was disobedient. And the father and mother reproved him, and he continued, disobedient. And finally, upon an evening, when the little lad refused to obey, the father and mother said, “Son, you are disobedient and you have to be punished. Now you go up to the attic, and you’re to stay there all night long, and all day tomorrow, and all night the next night. And we’re going to give you bread and water, and you’re going to stay in that attic until you learn how to obey.”
So the little fellow went up to the attic to spend the night and the day and the night on bread and water. And that night, that night, the father began to turn and to toss in his bed. And he finally turned toward his wife and said, “Dear, I just can’t forget that little boy up there. I know he’s afraid. It’s dark, and I just can’t rest. Dear, I’m going to take some of these bedclothings, quilts. I’m going up there and stay with him.” So he took some bedclothing with him and went up there to the attic. And the little boy watched his daddy make a bed by his side. And the boy in such surprise says, “Daddy, what are you doing?” And the father replied, “Son, you’ve been disobedient, and I can’t rescind the punishment, but I’ve just decided to bear it with you. And daddy’s going to stay with you all this time.” So the father stayed with the little boy all that night, and he stayed with the lad all the next day, didn’t go work. And he stayed with the boy all the next night. And when the two came down the stairway together, it was justice and love together, and the little boy never forgot it. There was an endearment in it. There was a love manifest in it. There was a lesson in it that the little lad never forgot.
The story kind of halts when you compare it to what God has done for us. But the spirit of it is that; the Lord cannot be just and rescind the punishment. He cannot be holy and righteous and let us go without correction. But God has done this in His mercy, and in His grace, and in His infinite love. The Lord came down and He walked by our side, and He lived our life [Hebrews 4:14-15], and He took our punishment [1 Corinthians 15:3]; and He understands all about us. If you need a friend to talk to, talk to Jesus. He is with you. If you need somebody in encouragement, go to Jesus. He will see you through [Hebrews 4:16]. You need help in time of trouble. He was tried in every point such as we are, though He never failed [Hebrews 4:15]. That’s the gospel. That’s the good news. God doesn’t rescind His laws, nor does God evade His justice. At the heart of the universe is that punishment, inexorable, inescapable, for sin. But the heart of the gospel is: “Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5:20]. God took it, moved in pity by us, and became not only our God Creator, but our Redeemer and Savior [Galatians 4:4-5; Titus 2:11-14]. How could anyone fail to love a Lord like that?
And that is our appeal and invitation to you; looking to Jesus in confession and repentance [Romans 10:8-13], in loving acceptance and trust and belief, “Lord, here I am, and here I come.” A family, a couple, or just you, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway or here to the front, “I’m coming, pastor, today.” What a precious, beautiful, glorious hour God hath given us, just to stand in His presence before men and angels and praise His name for His wonderful goodness that reaches even to us! Come. Come. Come. As the Spirit of Christ shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God bless you, and angels attend you in the way as you respond, while we stand and while we sing.
face of the Lord is intensely moved against that which is evil
B. Meyer – being moved by message of judgment and damnation
Modern approach to preaching – never mention hell, damnation, judgment
is the kind, merciful goodness of God that He reveals the truth to us
II. Scriptural revelation of the
countenance of severity in the face of God
1. Eden(Genesis 3)
2. Noah(Genesis 6, 7)
and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:17, 20-21)
hundred years in the furnace(Genesis 15:13-16)
Lord to Moses – visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the children (Exodus 34:6-7)
life of our Lord(John 2:13-17, Mark 3:5, Matthew
apostle Paul(2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
Revelation (Revelation 21:8)
seen in history
Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History
III. The explanation for God’s severity
God’s justice(Hebrews 10:31, 12:29)
IV. God’s provision for our deliverance
bore the penalty Himself (1 Peter 2:24)
I’d hear old-time preachers tell when I was a boy
Little boy disobedient had so spend night and day in the attic – father decides
to bear the punishment with him
Love and justice together(Romans 5:20)