The Judgment of God
January 20th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
1 Peter 4:17-18
THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 4:17-18
1-20-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are worshipping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message on The Judgment of God. It is an exposition of two verses in 1 Peter 4:17-18. It is a most solemn message upon a most solemn text.
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
[1 Peter 4:17-18]
In the solemnity of this awesome revelation, the judgment of God, he asks two questions. Both of those verses end with a question mark. If judgment falls upon God’s people, if even God’s people are severely judged and sifted, what shall happen to those that are lost? [1 Peter 4:17]. And his second question: if salvation is brought to God’s people and they barely are saved, what shall be the end of those who are unrepentant transgressors? [1 Peter 4:18].
Well, let’s take both of them; first, the judgment of God upon God’s people [1 Peter 4:17]. There are two ways by which God judges His people: one, He does it directly, the intervention of the Almighty in your life and in the life of the fabric of the nation and society in which we live, God doing it directly; and second, God judges His people sometimes permissively, indirectly, through the agency of Satan. If God does it, the aim is benevolent. If Satan does it, the aim is malevolent. But in either event, it is the judgment of God.
We see the judgment of God upon His people in this life, in this world, now, here where we live, as well as in the judgment that is yet to come. The whole Old Testament is a record of the judgment of God upon His people. Just reading the stories of Samson or of Saul or of King David; “Thou art the man, said the prophet, “and the sword shall never leave thy house” [2 Samuel 12:7, 10]—the judgment of God upon His people.
And time would fail me to speak of the visitation from heaven upon the sins of Israel that finally destroyed the Northern Kingdom [2 Kings 17:7-23]. And upon the sins of Judah that finally destroyed the temple and the Holy City and led the people into captivity [2 Chronicles 36:14-21]. The whole Old Testament is a commentary upon the judgment of God upon His people.
When we begin reading these pages of the New Testament, we find that same direct intervention of Almighty God. When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, they fell down dead in the very presence of the congregation [Acts 5:1-10]. Do you remember the end of that story? It ends like this: when the people saw what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, they were filled with fear and durst not join the congregation [Acts 5:11-13]. And I don’t blame them. What if every liar in this church were to fall down dead before God? Just how many people would I be preaching to this morning, and just how many choir members would I have up here singing, and just how many ministers would I have up here on this pulpit? The judgment of God upon His people; fell down dead [Acts 5:5, 10].
Or Simon the sorcerer, he thought that the miracles of the apostles were the finest tricks he ever witnessed. Nothing like them he had ever employed in witchcraft and necromancy and sorcery; and he tried to buy it with money [Acts 8:18-19], and the judgment of God fell upon him [Acts 8:20-24].
I haven’t time to speak of the judgment of God upon Herod Agrippa 1 in the twelfth chapter of Acts, when God smote him, and he died eaten of worms [Acts 12:23]. And I haven’t time to recount the story of Elymas the sorcerer in Paphos, in Cyprus, when the apostle Paul, seeing his opposition to the gospel, called the judgment of God upon him, and he was struck with blindness [Acts 13:8-11]. The judgment of God upon His people, directly.
Then there is a judgment of God upon His people in the permissive, indirect will of the Lord through the agency of Satan. Job was the finest man in the East [Job 1:8, 2:3], but he knew it; he was proud of his righteousness. And God permitted Satan to sift him [Job 1:12, 2:6], and when Satan was done with him, Job cried before the Lord and said, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore . . . I repent in dust and ashes” [Job 42:5-6]. And that’s exactly what Satan did to the apostles. He sifted them.
Satan looks upon all of the saints as a wolf does when he looks upon a flock. To Satan, all Christians are of two kinds: they are hypocrites, or they are deluded. They are one or the other, all of them. In one category Satan looks upon us as being stupid, duped, drugged, inane, and in the other he looks upon us as serving God for hypocritical purposes, what we get out of it.
And he sifts even the apostles. He took Judas and baited him with money [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50], encompassed his downfall, an ultimate suicide [Matthew 27:5]. He took Simon Peter, the chief of the apostles, and baited him with fear [Matthew 26:69-75]. When they arrested the Lord the disciples all fled away [Matthew 26:56]. It was dangerous to be a Christian. And when the apostle John encouraged Simon Peter to come into the courtyard where the Lord was being tried, warming himself by the fire, he cursed and denied that he even knew Him for the fear of his life [Mark 14:71]. Satan sifts God’s people. He sifts you.
You know, there is a remarkable revelation of that in the Word of God that sometimes I stagger before it. You look at this verse in 1 Corinthians :19: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” To me, wrong doctrine and wrong teaching is terrible in the extreme. But the apostle Paul says it is necessary that these heresies develop among us that we might know those that are approved of God.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? And in the years that I have been the pastor of this church I have seen some of our people fall into and join some of the most far-out sects that you could imagine. And when I look upon it, I think could such a thing be true? These who have known the Lord, listened to the Word of God, sat here in this congregation, and Satan pulls them off and drags them out into some of the most outlandish, for unbelievable heresies that you could imagine. Paul says it is needful for us that we are sifted, that we might know who are approved among us, these whom God hath chosen [1 Corinthians 11:19].
There is one reason I like this class I began teaching last Wednesday night at 7:30 here in this big auditorium. We are learning the doctrines of the faith. And one of the things I said to them last Wednesday night was, when our people come and listen to the teaching, the doctrine of the truth, it makes them knowing, it makes them immediately sensitive, deeply sensitive, immediately sensitive when a man deviates from the truth.
These heresies, these siftings, are of God, Paul says [1 Corinthians 11:19]. One of the most amazing things in the same category is in 1 John chapter 2. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have no doubt continued with us: but they went out from us, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” [1 John 2:19].
Isn’t that an astonishing thing? God lets Satan sift us, and we are presented with all kinds of heretical doctrine. People invite us into these groups, and invite us into this teaching, and invite us into this strange philosophical presentation of what they call the revealed Word of God. And God allows that in order that those that are approved of the Lord may be manifest among us, and that these that leave that they might be manifestly shown to be untrue and unfaithful to the truth of God [1John 12:19].
Some of these things make me stagger. Now we must continue. If the judgment of God is upon His people in this world, right now, what we experience in this life, if the judgment of God is upon us here, and if the judgment of God is upon us there, all of us, says the apostle Paul in the 2 Corinthian letter chapter , “All of us”, Paul says, “must stand at the judgment seat of Almighty God” [2 Corinthians 5:10]. And Paul says in the [third] chapter of that first Corinthian letter, he says,
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Every man’s work shall be tried by fire: for the day of judgment shall declare it, reveal it.
And if any man’s work abide he shall receive a reward.
But if any man’s work is burned, he shall suffer loss: though he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
[1 Corinthians 3:11-15]
“If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” [1 Peter 4:18]. When we stand before God, the impression that I get out of the judgment is this: that most of our works are going to be burned up. They are rubbish. They are the flotsam and jetsam of our lives. How very little have we done, really, out of the love of God and the service of Christ? God’s people, standing at the judgment of the Lord [1 Corinthians 3:13].
Now the apostle says “if these righteous people are judged, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” [1 Peter 4:17] How shall it be with them if we are barely saved? There are those who are offered salvation, pled with to see Christ, and they steadfastly refuse. “I will not confess my sins before God. I will not ask Christ to forgive me. I will not trust in His saving grace. I choose to reject the offer of salvation.” Then what?
I came across something in my reading that is astonishing in the extreme! It is one of the most unusual decisions ever handed down by the Supreme Court. It was this: in the days of President Andrew Jackson there was a railway mail clerk by the name of George Wilson. And as the train sped through Pennsylvania, he killed his companion, the mail clerk working with him, stole the mail and somehow bound himself up with cords, with rope. And when the train arrived at its destination they found him bound there with rope, his companion in the mail coach slain and he had a story, a fictitious one, of bandits and robbery.
But as the officers of the law began to probe him about that story, they found discrepancies in what he would say. And as they continued the probing, the man, George Wilson, finally confessed that it all was a hoax, and that he had murdered his companion in the railway car and had bound himself with rope.
He was tried, convicted and sentenced in the federal penitentiary to be hanged. But as the days passed, as so many times this happens, there were those who circulated petitions to spare his life. And so built up was the political pressure for the sparing of his life that President Andrew Jackson commuted his sentence and pardoned him.
When the word was sent to George Wilson that the president of the United States had pardoned him he refused to accept it, and said, “I want to be hanged.” The warden of the federal penitentiary did not know where to turn or what to do. He called in the highest legal council and they didn’t know. It was finally brought to the Supreme Court which at that time was presided over by one of the greatest jurist of all time, Chief Justice John Marshall. And this is the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of the United States under Chief Justice Marshall. I quote from that decision:
A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that one under sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon. But if it is refused it is no pardon. George Wilson must hang.
And he was hanged in the federal penitentiary.
That is exactly what happens to a man who refuses the gospel of Christ. A pardon is no pardon if it is refused. Salvation is no salvation if it is not accepted. A man must receive from the hands of God the loving grace and the forgiveness of the Lord [Ephesians 1:7]. And if he refuses it there is nothing but damnation and perdition and the fires of an unending hell. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” [1 Peter 4:17]
Now the second question. “For if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” [1 Peter 4:18]. He argues there that the transgression of the unrepentant sinner, the Christ rejected is hopeless. He argues that from the fact that even the saints of God are barely saved [1 Peter 4:18]. What does that mean? That the saints of the Lord, we who are Christians, that we are barely saved. Well, does it mean that the covenant of grace is loosely and superficially and barely arranged? That it is adventitious, that it was an afterthought of God, that we just barely were provided for? Is that what it means? Couldn’t, because the Bible says that Christ was our offering for sin from before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8]. God planned this salvation before the planets were flung into orbit.
Well, what does that mean? We are barely saved [1 Peter 4:18]. Does it mean that the blood of Christ, the blood of Prince Immanuel is just barely sufficient to save us? The Word, the Scriptures, give us the opposite impression of that. “Come, saith the Lord, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” [Isaiah 1:18] “And the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. Or this verse from the second chapter of 1 John: “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” [1 John 2:2]. The impression is distinctly given in the Bible that the blood of Christ is all-sufficient for all of the sins of the world. When sins did abound, but grace did much more overflow, abound [Romans 5:20].
Well, what does it mean when it says that the righteous are barely, barely saved? [1 Peter 4:18]. Does it mean that Jesus is weak, that He can’t save us, that if He does He just barely is able? Does it mean that?
Why, in the ninth chapter of Isaiah when the choir sings that glorious chorus out of Handel’s Messiah, “And His name shall be called Wonderful,” remember how it begins, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder” [Isaiah 9:6]. Remember the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew, He said, “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” [Matthew 28:18]. Do you remember in the seventh chapter of Hebrews, “He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him?” [Hebrews 7:25].
We have no impression in the Bible but of the might and the glory and the power of the Son of God. Well, what does that mean, that we are barely saved? [1 Peter 4:18]. Does it mean that God’s saints are liable to fall into apostasy? That we may not make it to heaven after all? We trust in the Lord, we confess to Him our sins, we accept Him as our Savior, but as time goes on we might not make it; we just may fail. Is that what it means?
Ah, the Bible says such opposite things of that. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord says, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. Paul will say in the fifth chapter of Romans, “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10]. He’s talking about the life of Christ in heaven. The Lord God Jesus is up there in heaven to see to it that all of those who place their trust in Him make it, that we get to heaven, that we are finally, irrevocably saved [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].
Remember what Simon Peter says in this same book out of which I am preaching in the first chapter. He says, “Thanks be unto God, who hath redeemed us to Jesus Christ and hath given us an incorruptible crown, reward, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us who are kept by the power of God” [1 Peter 1:3-4]. It’s not a matter of my hanging on, or my barely making it. It’s a matter of the hand, the unchanging hand of God.
Well, what does it mean then when it says, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” [1 Peter 4:18]. How is it that we are barely saved? Well, this is what that refers to. It refers to the weakness of this old nature in which we are dragged down every day of our spiritual life. You know I was reading the other day a sermon by Dr. Truett, our great predecessor here in this pulpit, and I copied out of the sermon these words. Listen to them.
I went for years seeking Christ. From a lad I sought Him. I was definitely called when I was eleven years old. As vividly as though it were yesterday I can remember my burden, my pain, my loneliness, my fear. I was shrinking. I was timid. I could not venture to speak to anybody. Oh, if somebody could have divined my situation and had taught me. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was lost. I had a sense of alienation from the Holy God because of personal sin. I knew it all, but I could not see the way. I groped in the darkness.
Then after years and years, when young manhood came on, in a quiet church like this, one Sunday a man threw out the lifeline and said to me, “Lay hold on eternal life,” and I lay hold.
From that little church I went down the country road wondering if I would ever have another battle again. The skies were beautiful beyond words. The very stars seemed to be one great galaxy of mighty choirs praising God. And all about me nature seemed in unison with the divine will. I thought I would never, never, never know what it was to step aside, to stray, to blunder, to err again. And yet, the very next day every dog out of the pit seemed at my heels. Doubts came. Darts pierced. Temptation’s smoke and clouds enshrouded. Oh, how little I knew what the Christian life means.
Now that’s from one of the saintliest men who ever lived. Dr. Truett, pastor of this church forty-seven years. “The next day, after I accepted the Lord that night, every dog out of the pit at my heels.”
“If the righteous scarcely be saved” [1 Peter 4:18]; our hearts are regenerated, God has given us a new spirit, but we still live in this old body, in this old house, and it drags us down. It is still the same, and will be the same until God raises it incorruptible out of the dust of the ground [1 Corinthians 15:50-54], or until we are translated and transformed at the rapture, at the coming of Christ [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We’ve got this old body to live in.
You think, “Oh man, I’ve accepted Christ. I’ve been saved. He’s forgiven me of my sins. I’ve got my victory won.” You’ve just enrolled in the war. Paul said in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “O wretched man that I am! [Romans 7:24] . . . what I do I don’t want to do, and what I do not want to do, that I do” [Romans 7:15].
“If the righteous scarcely be saved” [1 Peter 4:18]. All right, second, what does it mean by that? He’s talking about the weakness of the new nature, the weakness of these—and that includes us who have looked in faith to the Lord, our weakness of the new nature.
You know, I have a little grandson named Paul Daniel, little bitty kid. I’ve been looking at him ever since he was about that big. And I think that is absolutely and positively the most helpless little piece of life that you could imagine. Can’t feed itself, can’t take care of itself, can’t even lift up its head as a little baby. You’ve got to put your—I was told, you know, be sure and put your hand behind his head. If not, his head will fall off, or back, or break his neck, or something. It’s just a sight.
And we are told in God’s Word that we are new babes in Christ. We are just born into the kingdom like new babes [1 Peter 2:2]. And you know, I get to thinking about that in preparing a sermon such as this. I get to thinking about that. These new babes, he may be sixty years old. He may be seventy years old. But he’s just a babe in Christ. He may be a young man in the strength of his life or a young woman in the threshold of young womanhood or just a little child. But they’re all new in the Lord.
And somehow after I have been in it for over fifty years, I still feel sometimes that I am just beginning in Christ. Ah, what can happen to us and how we need caring for and teaching and training and guiding? “If the righteous scarcely be saved” [1 Peter 4:18].
And then I think also of the power of the evil one. Who is a match for Satan? Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the second chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, “I wanted time and again to come to you; but Satan hindered me” [1 Thessalonians 2:18]. Do you remember in the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah he saw Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him? [Zechariah 3:1]
Every word the preachers say, Satan is standing right there saying to a man, “That’s a lie. You don’t need to pay attention to that. That’s not actually the truth. He’s just over enthusiastic, or he is paid to speak, or he is a hireling. That’s not the Word of God.” Satan is standing there, opposing every thing we do, and he stands at your right hand all the time.
“If the righteous scarcely be saved” [1 Peter 4:18]. What does he mean by that? I think of the word of our Lord when the Lord said, “Strive,” and the Greek word is agonize, “strive to enter in at the strait gate, for the way is narrow” [Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:24], strive. Paul, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Galatians said, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” [Galatians 5:17]. You live in a civil war all of your life.
At the heart of the universe is conflict, war; it’s war in heaven, and it’s war in your heart. You will never escape it, this confrontation that you have in your soul between what you know to be right and what you know to be God’s will, and what the flesh wants to do; agonizō, “strive to enter in” [Luke 13:24].
Why is it the saints are scarcely saved? [1 Peter 4:18]. I think of the trials and the troubles and the sorrows that our people endure. Jacob looked at the coat of many colors that those bad boys had dipped in a goat’s blood, kid’s blood. And Jacob thought his boy, on whom he doted in his old age, had been slain, had been eaten by wild beasts. And Jacob cried, “I will go down to my grave weeping for my son” [Genesis 37:31-35]. And I think of “Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they are not” [Jeremiah 31:15].
I think of the saints in the New Testament, and the men made lamentation, great lamentation, the Scripture say, over Stephen [Acts 8:2], when he was stoned to death [Acts 7:59-60]. And I think of John, the beloved apostle, must have felt when Herod cut off the head of his brother James [Acts 12:1-2]—the trials of God’s people.
Yesterday afternoon late, toward the evening, I left Baylor Hospital just like this, with my head down and my heart so heavy. Why? Because one of God’s saints that I went to visit there—evidently, I didn’t inquire— evidently had been operated on for a heavy tumor in the head. And when she tried to talk to me she couldn’t frame the words. Her brain is damaged, and unable to say the words and unable to talk, she began to cry aloud, just cry aloud, just sob aloud. God’s people, God’s saints. One of the mysteries of heaven, some of which God must reveal to us by and by, is the sorrows, the sufferings of God’s people. “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the sinner and the ungodly appear?” [1 Peter 4:18].
I have to close. Look just a minute. Here is a Christian man, a godly man, and he loses everything that he has, everything that he has. Some disaster, some bankruptcy, some falling of the market, some tragedy overwhelms him, and he loses everything that he has, and he lives the rest of his life in poverty. Then he dies, as all of us shall. Why the riches of heaven are his. All of the glories of God are his. There are no treasures in heaven God will withhold from those who love Him. He’s all right, though he lived in poverty. But here’s a man who rejects Christ and he’s affluent, he’s rich, he’s successful, and he dies. What is money in hell? What is money in this torment? That’s what he’s talking about.
Or here again: here is a saint of God, and he loses his health, and he lies on a bed of affliction, and he suffers, and he dies. And he lifts up his face in glory. There are no crippled bodies in heaven. There is no stooped and bent-over forms in glory. There is no disease, sickness, in that upward and better world. He is well again, whole again [Revelation 21:1-4].
But here is a lost man, and he lives all of his life in strength and in health, and he dies. And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment [Luke 16:23]. What is hell? What is strength when we fall into the tragedy of the dark abyss?
That’s what he says. “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” [1 Peter 4:18]. All these solemn, solemn thoughts; I must find my way to Jesus. I must. I am not sufficient for these things. I need God. I need a Savior now. In the day of my dying, and at the judgment bar of Almighty God [Hebrews 9:27], I need Christ.
And that’s why our preaching and our praying and our singing and our worshiping together, that you might turn and be saved [Romans 10:8-13]. “Lord, I also need Thee, and here I am. I offer Thee my heart, my soul, my life, every dream and vision. I turn it over to Thee. Lord, save me. Keep me. Help me.” Say that, and the promise of the Scriptures is unfailing. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. Call upon Him. Call upon Him. That’s what I did. That’s what we have done. Call upon Him, and see if God doesn’t answer from heaven.
In a moment we sing this hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.