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 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning is in somewhat of a different vein. It is a solemn message, one of deepest sobriety. It is an exposition and we are preaching through the letter of Simon Peter; it is an exposition of the fourth chapter, verses 17 and 18, and is entitled The Judgment of God. These are the words of inspiration:
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 to them that obey not the gospel of Christ? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
[1 Peter 4:17-18]
He rhetorically asks two questions there. If judgment falls on God’s people, what shall the end of the ungodly people be? And the second question, the next verse: if salvation is barely secure to the righteous, what shall happen to the obstreperously unrepentant transgressor? It is an awesome thing to think of; so let us take the first verse for our first part and the second verse for our second part.
First: the judgment of God upon His people. Do you remember the author of Hebrews wrote just before the passage that you read together, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people" [Hebrews 10:30]. And the passage that you read, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" [Hebrews 10:30], "For our God is a consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:29].
The judgment of God upon His people: it comes in two ways; by direct intervention of the Almighty, the hand of God upon us; second, it comes indirectly – the judgment of God – through the permissive agency granted to Satan to hurt us, to sift us, to weigh us, to afflict us.
First: the judgment of God directly, the intervention of heaven in our lives here in this world now. All the Old Testament is that, from the beginning of it to the end of it. We read of a Samson, of a Saul, of a David – even the man after God’s own heart, to whom the Lord sent the prophet Nathan and said, "The sword shall never leave thy house" [2 Samuel 12:10] – the judgment of God upon His people here in this world.
In the New Testament, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Spirit, and they fall down dead there before the congregation in the Lord’s house. Just think of what would happen to us if all the liars fell down dead! No wonder it says in the next verse, "Of the rest of the people, no man durst join them" [Acts 5:13]. If to join them meant to fall down dead if you told a lie or misrepresented the truth – oh, that would be awful on all of us! Is there anybody here who never has said something that wasn’t quite the truth? Would you hold up your hand? I’d just like to see one more demonstration of our lying. They fell down dead: the judgment of God upon His people.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, the judgment of God falls upon Simon, who sought to buy the power of the Lord with money [Acts 8:18-19]. That’s where your word "simony" comes from: the effort to buy preferment in the ecclesiastical organization of the church.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts – just going right on through – in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, the judgment of the Lord God falls upon Herod Agrippa I, and he dies of worms. Isn’t that unspeakable?
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts – just right on through – because Elymas, the sorcerer, opposes the preaching of the apostle Paul in the court of Sergius Paulus, the Roman deputy, senatorial appointee of Cyprus, the province of Cyprus, he’s struck blind! [Acts 13:8-11].
Not only does God judge His people by direct intervention, but He does it also through the permissive will of the Lord in an agency of Satan. Satan said to God, "No wonder Job serves You: You do not let the wind blow upon him; You do not let his enemies get to him; You hedge him about on every side. He does not serve Thee for naught; but You let me have him, and he will curse You to Your face!" [Job 1:6-12].
So God turned Job over into the hands of Satan. And then as the story progresses, we get a little insight into why sometimes God permits us to fall into the evil hands of the evil one. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Jo, – you never read such pride in your life! But when Satan got through with him, Job says, "Lord, I just heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" [Job 42:5-6].
Satan, not only sifting Job; Satan sifted all of the apostles. He is bold in attacking God’s children. He looks upon us as a wolf looks upon a flock of sheep. To Satan, all Christians, all disciples of Christ, are in one of two categories: to Satan we’re all hypocrites or we’re all deluded. Satan thinks we’re stupid, we’re dupes! Or he thinks that we’re hypocrites; that we serve God for a reason, for what we can get out of it.
And Satan sifted the apostles themselves, and he used bait for Judas, and finally so enticed Judas that Judas committed suicide [Matthew 27:5]. He used money, thirty pieces of silver. A lot of God’s saints fall into that trap. Silver, money, ambition, advancement hide their faces from the will of God.
He even baited Simon Peter with fear for his life; and isn’t that a remarkable thing? At the encouragement of his friend the apostle John, Simon Peter went into the courtyard where Jesus was being tried inside. And warming himself by the devil’s fire, a little maid suggested that he must be a disciple because he talked like one of them. Simon Peter said, "You think I talk like one of His disciples? Well, listen to this!" And he uttered a blue streak of a curse and an oath; saying, "I never saw Him. I don’t know Him" [Mark 14:71].
Isn’t that remarkable what Satan can do with God’s people, even the apostles? For you see when they arrested the Lord, the disciples, for fear of their lives, ran away; they fled [Matthew 26:56]. And Simon Peter was afraid for his life because they were trying Jesus to execute Him. How Satan sifts God’s people.
But not only are the Lord’s people judged in this life, we’re also judged in the life to come. The apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter says, "For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" [2 Corinthians 5:10]. And then he describes to us in the [third] chapter of the first Corinthian letter what that judgment is going to be like. He says:
There is no other foundation that a man can lay but the Lord, and we build on that foundation gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, stubble. Every man’s work shall be tried of what sort it is. And if a man’s work burn – burn – he shall suffer loss: though he himself shall be saved; yet just as by fire.
[1 Corinthians 3:11-15]
When God’s people stand in the presence of the great Almighty, think of the rubbish in our lives that’s going to be burned up. How little actually do we do out of the sheer love for Christ and for no other reason? Singing: it’s so easy to sing in order to be heard of men, that they hear the fine voice and look upon the beautiful presence; but just to sing for the glory of God? Or to preach: how easy it is to prepare a sermon – to want to prepare a sermon – that its language might be beautiful, and its logic might be impeccable, and that its delivery might be forceful, that the people might say, "What a fine message!" But for the man to preach just for the hope of exalting our Lord and to pluck souls out of the burning: how much self there is in what we do!
And when we stand at the judgment bar of almighty God, all of those things of self and pride will be burned up, all of it! And only what is done for our blessed Lord will endure. God shall judge His people. That’s in the very woof and warp of the Word.
Now, the apostle says if judgment falls upon God’s people, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? [1 Peter 4:17]. When the Lord offers mercy and pardon in His love and grace and the man turns it down, what of him? The solemnity of the judgment that shall face a man who rejects Christ: there’s no pardon, there’s no grace in rejection.
Let me tell you: in my reading I came across one of the most unusual court decisions in American jurisprudence. It’s an astonishing thing that happened. This is the decision, the unanimous decision, of the Supreme Court of the United States under the greatest chief justice, John Marshall, in the days of President Andrew Jackson. What happened was this: there was a railway mail clerk riding on the train through Pennsylvania, and he killed his fellow clerk and tied himself up in some way with a rope, stealing the mail.
When the train got to its destination, they found the living clerk tied up and the dead clerk lying in his own blood. And the story of the living clerk was that they had been assailed by bandits, by robbers, and this one was killed, and he was tied up, and the mail was stolen. But as the officers of the law began to question the living clerk, there were discrepancies in his story. And as they pounded in those little crevices that didn’t quite fit, the man finally confessed that he killed his friend and had done the whole thing as a tragic hoax.
He was tried and sentenced to be hanged in the federal penitentiary. But as time went on, as so often happens, people – in I think misguided pity – they forget about these people that are dead, that have suffered at the hands of the criminal in order to placate, and ameliorate, and mollify the criminal. Isn’t that right, Claude Williams? There’s never a greater truth I’ve said than that. These people that are dead and buried in the ground, and I’ve buried some of them, and the orphans they leave behind, and the widows they leave behind, and the tragedy and sorrow and need they leave behind; and yet never think about that, only thinking about this criminal, who so many times is a desperate one, a confirmed one.
Well anyway, this pity circulated around, and finally political pressure brought upon President Andrew Jackson, and he pardoned this man, George Wilson. So the warden of the penitentiary came to the man and said, "The president of the United States has pardoned you."
To the astonishment of the warden and to the astonishment of the whole world, the man refused to accept the pardon and said, "I want to be hanged. I want to die." The warden didn’t know what to do. He called in the greatest legal minds, and it was finally carried to the Supreme Court of the United States. And this is the decision handed down unanimously and written by the chief justice, John Marshall. This is what the court wrote, quote:
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 in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, they hanged George Wilson.
That is an exact repercussion of the truth of the living God. Christ died for our sins, He was buried for our justification, He suffered that we might be forgiven: we have free and absolute pardon in Him. But if a man refuses it, it is no longer a pardon; there remains nothing left but a fearful looking for, and falling into, the hands of the living God. "For judgment must begin at the house of the Lord: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of Christ?"
The second rhetorical question: "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" [1 Peter 4:17]. What shall happen to the confirmed transgressor, the one who refuses the mercy and pardon of Christ? If the saints are barely saved – if we scarcely are able to enter in – what shall happen to the man who’s outside the door?
That’s a strange way to argue, "If the righteous scarcely be saved . . ." What could that mean? Could it mean that the covenant of grace is loosely, and superficially, and barely arranged for? Was our salvation a second thought of God? And is it adventitiously done? Are we just barely in because God barely thought of it? No! For the Word says that our salvation was worked out in the Lamb of God who was slain before the foundation of the earth [Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8]; before God flung these spheres into their orbits He already planned for our salvation.
Well, what is that, that the righteous scarcely be saved? Does it refer to the atoning blood of our Lord? That it is hardly efficacious, it is hardly sufficient? That the blood of Christ barely is able to save us? No! The whole Bible presents the all-sufficiency of the atonement of our Lord. "Come," says God, "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]. Listen to the Word of the Lord: "For the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin" [1 John 1:7]. Listen to it again: "He is the propitiation of our sins: and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world" [1 John 2:2]. "Where sin did abound, grace did much more overflowingly abound" [Romans 5:20]. What does it mean, ",if the righteous scarcely be saved"? [1 Peter 4:18]. That Jesus is weak? That our Savior could barely carry the burden of our lost souls? No! No!
In that glorious song that the choir sings, "His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful," out of the ninth chapter of Isaiah, listen to how it begins: "For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulders" [Isaiah 9:6]. Great, mighty strength in Christ! Matthew 28, the Lord says, "All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" [Matthew 28:18]. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews: "He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him" [Hebrews 7:25]. There’s no weakness in our Lord.
Well, what does it mean if the righteous "scarcely be saved"? Does it mean that the Lord’s children may yet apostasize, we may fail of heaven’s gate? We may get almost there and then not make it? Could it be that God does not ultimately and finally save us? Well, here again the revelation of the Scriptures is the reverse, the opposite of that. In the tenth chapter of the Book of John our Lord says, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" [John 10:28]. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans, for example, Paul says, "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]. That is, the life of Christ in heaven; He is up there at the right hand of the Majesty in order to see to us, that we who have trusted in Him will be ultimately and finally saved; that we’ll make it, that we’ll get there. That’s what the Lord is doing in heaven now.
We are saved forever. In the first chapter of this Book of Simon Peter that I’m preaching out of, he says:
Praise be to God, who through Jesus Christ has begotten us unto a living hope from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for us who are kept by the power of God,
[1 Peter 1:3-5]
There’s no such thing as our failing the beautiful gate. We’ll make it.
Well, what then does it mean, "If the righteous scarcely be saved"? [1 Peter 4:18]. If we just barely make it, "where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Well, here’s what that refers to. Simon Peter is referring to the drag of the old nature that we Christians have, who live in this body of flesh. Our hearts are regenerated; we’ve given ourselves to Jesus. We’ve accepted Him as our Savior, but we still live in this old house; this old carnal nature is still a part of us and it drags us down, and there’s no Christian but that knows the drag of that carnality.
I was reading one of the books of sermons by Dr.Truett, the sainted pastor – and if ever there was a sainted pastor, he was; that man of God that preached here behind this very pulpit desk for forty-seven years. Now I copied out of one of his sermons this witness; listen to it. Dr. Truett says:
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 have 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 laid 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 smoked, and clouds enshrouded. Oh, how little I knew about what the Christian life means.
"If the righteous scarcely be saved"; we are assailed on every side, and this old nature drags us down. Paul cried in the seventh [chapter] of Romans, "O wretched, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death? For what I want to do, I don’t do; and what I do do, I don’t want to do" [Romans 7:15, 24].
Isn’t that tragic? God’s people assailed every step of the way, and will be until this house of clay turns back to dust and God speaks a new immortalized body out of the heart of the earth and out of the depths of the ground. "If the righteous scarcely be saved." And not only the terrible tragedy of the drag of that old nature that we still have, the same time that we have in us that new nature, the old nature is still there. Not only that, but the weakness of the new nature. We are born into the kingdom of heaven, and we come in as little babes. The man may be sixty, seventy, eighty years old, he’s just saved, he’s a babe in Christ, and all of us coming into the kingdom are like little children, little babes. Sometimes I think of myself, and I’ve been in the kingdom fifty-four years now, sometimes I think of myself still as just learning the ABCs of the Christian faith – the weakness of the little nature, and how much we need training, and encouraging, and teaching.
As you know, we have a little grandson in the orbit of our family and home. His name is Paul Daniel, and I’ve watched him ever since he was about that big. He’s just about that big now, and I see him toddling around. Yesterday evening I saw him stumble over a little ole’ thing, it wasn’t that high. And as I looked at the little thing, I think how much care, and attention, and direction, and love, and encouragement – how much has to be poured into the life of that little fellow for him ever to be where he can stand on his own feet and make his own choices. That, according to the Word of God, is exactly like the baby Christian. Oh, how they need help, and encouragement, and teaching!
"If the righteous scarcely be saved"; and not only that, but we have the opposition of the evil one. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "I wanted to come to you time and again, but Satan hindered me" [1 Thessalonians 2:18]. In the third chapter of Zechariah, the prophet sees Joshua, the high priest, standing before God and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him [Zechariah 3:1]. Everything we do, he’s right there to hinder and to hurt us.
And not only that, but the agony of the Christian life; the Lord said in the thirteenth chapter of Luke, "Strive." The Greek word is agonize, agonizomai , "Strive to enter in the straight way" [Luke 13:24]. Strive; it is an agony. Paul wrote in the fifth chapter of the Book of Galatians,"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusteth against the flesh" [Galatians 5:17].
And not only that, but the trials and the sorrows of the Christian life; if the saint of God barely is saved, the trials that the child of God knows! I think of a Jacob looking upon the coat of many colors of his beloved Joseph, and those bad, evil brothers had taken the blood of a kid goat and had dipped the coat in that blood and brought it to old Jacob and said, "This is your son’s coat." And Jacob looks upon it and says, "That evil animal has eaten my boy! Oh, I’ll go down to the grave mourning for my son" [Genesis 37:31-35]; Israel, the prince of God.
Or think about Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are not [Jeremiah 31:15]. Or think of the men; the Scriptures say men made great lamentation over Stephen, who was stoned to death [Acts 8:2]. Think of the beloved apostle John when his brother James was beheaded by the sword [Acts 12:2]: God’s people! God’s people!
Late yesterday evening in Baylor Hospital, I walked out of one of those rooms and walked down those steps with my head so low and my heart so sad. One of them that I visited with was a saint of God, and she had some kind of a tumor operation on the brain, and she tried to talk to me, and she couldn’t frame the words to say them. Her brain was damaged. And finally she just broke out into a sobbing wail, crying, crying, crying. And I left her, crying, crying, crying. The saints of God, they know trial and sorrow.
"If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Here’s a Christian, a sainted man of God, and he loses his health, and the rest of his life he lives on a bed of pain, wracked by every hurt that the human body can endure. But when he dies, he lifts up his eyes in glory, and there are no crippled bodies in heaven, and there are no diseased physical frames in glory. We are well there! God gives us new bodies [Revelation 21:4-5].
But here is a man who’s not in Christian, and he lives in health all of his life and he dies. What is health in hell? When he lifts up his eyes being in torments [Luke 16:23], what is that to being well and strong? Or here is a Christian man, and he loses everything that he has, and he lives in poverty the rest of his days. But when he wakes up in glory, all of the riches of heaven are his, everything, every treasure God has is his!
Here is a man who is rich all of his life and he lives in affluence and wealth, and he dies. What is money in hell? "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" [1 Peter 4:18]. It is an awesome thing for a man to turn down the pardon of God. It is a solemnity, a sobriety that ought to bring a man down to his face.
O God, O Lord, I need someone to forgive my sins! I need an advocate and a pleader to remember me at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and I need the Lord’s blessings in this life, in this world, in this day, and in my time. Lord, if You can mediate the mercy and the forgiveness of God to my soul, then Lord, today I take Thee for my Savior. Would you do that? Would you? In a moment our people stand to sing our invitation hymn, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, responding to the appeal of Christ: "Here I come, and here I am." On the first note of that first stanza, come. When you stand up, stand up walking down that aisle. God speed you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.