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pressed with that day and his appearance before Christ, nothing could either terrify or allure him from the path of duty. Having asserted, in the preceding verse, that “ we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” in the text he makes a proper improvement of that solemn subject. He endeavours to persuade men to fly from the wrath to come, by pointing out the terror of the Lord. The connexion between this and the foregoing verse is similar to another declaration in his former epistle“ Yea, wo is unto me if I preach not the gospel!" While future happiness is often set before sinners to prevail with them to come to Christ, in this and many other passages, the great danger of neglecting salvation is also urged as a powerful motive.
In order to explain this text we shall endeavour to open up the TERROR of the Lord ;-the KNOWLEDGE which the apostle had of it;
and the IMPROVEMENT he made of it—we persuade men ;-and then apply the whole.
I. We begin by opening up the TERROR of the Lord.
The first idea that occurs concerning the terror of the Lord, is the terror of mind which a guilty criminal in prison has when he thinks of and anticipates his trial and execution. How must his heart throb when he hears that the judge is arrived, and the witnesses summoned and ready: when his own conscience
accuses, and warns him that an ignominious death, at once depriving him of life and all its pleasures, will certainly be the issue! Could any point out to such a one a possibility of escape, with what avidity would he listen to every word! Paul knew this to be a faint emblem of the situation of the sinner favoured with the means of grace, and therefore endeavoured to persuade him. But there is a melancholy difference between the criminal to be tried at a human court, and the condemned sinner to whom Christ is offered. The poor sinner neither knows nor will believe his true condition. He is ignorant of the danger of that eternal ignominy and death to which he is exposed; and instead of prizing, despises the remedy. He is unacquainted with the true character of the Judge, who is omniscient, inexorable, and the offended party. There is another difference of great moment which deserves our attention : other judges ought to be equally steady and inflexible before the trial as in the time of it; but the great Judge of the Gospel hearer, till the very moment of the trial, is slow to anger, and beseeches sinners to be reconciled. He sends his servants to the streets and highways to compel sinners to come in. He invites and persuades till the eleventh hour. But, with all this tenderness and mercy, he certifies them that if they now refuse, and are found enemies at that day, they will eternally feel “ the terror of the Lord,” which they are now warned to avoid. What this terror is will appear still more evident from the following observations:
1. This terror is founded in, and flows from, the holy nature of the Judge. Some things depend upon
the will of God; but to hate and punish sin is essential to his nature. Whatever some have said, God must surely punish a sinner continuing in sin so far as not to walk with him, and give him the light of his counte
Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. If life lies in the Lord's favour, to be eternally separated from the fountain of life is in itself a great punishment. If God could forgive sin without a satisfaction, how did he give his own Son to the death, and not spare him? If God does not afflict men willingly, how could he have willingly afflicted Christ? If there had been any other plan equally glorifying to the divine perfections, we may safely conclude that God would have adopted it. We are sure that the wages of sin is death; that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and render to every man according to his works; and that God will by no means clear the guilty.
Much is said in the Scriptures respecting God's holiness and justice.“ He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.” “ Sin is that abominable thing which he hates;” and “ he is glorious in holiness.” Divine holiness is that attribute by which God swears; and it reflects a lustre on all his other perfections. In short, the primary and fundamental reason why sinners may and should fear, is because God is a holy and just God.
2. This terror is annexed to his law as a penalty. In the day thou eatest thereof, said Jehovah, thou shalt surely die. Whether penalties are essential to a law, we shall not expressly determine; but the greatest number of human laws have them annexed.
In this, perhaps, more than in other things, human lawgivers have followed divine example. When God entered into covenant with Adam, he threatened death as the penal sanction. In this there was much mercy, as it fairly warned him. Besides, fear is a powerful principle in human nature. If it should be said that innocent Adam could not fear, or that that principle was inconsistent with his state of perfection: what, not be jealous of losing the good he had, or have an holy fear lest he should incur the punishment threatened! It is of the greatest importance here, and ought to be carefully observed, that the covenant was made with Adam, not for himself only, but for all his posterity: that it stands in all its unabated force to every one who is under it. The common phrase of the covenant of works being broken, only signifies that Adam broke the condition entitling to life, which by no means invalidates the curse or penalty annexed. God's sentence binding over to punishment, stands in full force against every sinner who is not interested in the covenant of grace. All who are not interested in the righteousness of the Surety are under the curse of the old broken covenant, and have contracted a debt of obedience in Adam their representing head, to which they are continually adding by transgressing the law as a rule of duty, and which they can never pay in their own persons; and therefore, if they continue in this state, the curse will fall upon them in all its weight. This seems evidently included in what the apostle wrote to the Romans, (Rom. iii. 19, 20,) “ Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them
who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” And also in what he wrote to the Galatians, (chap. iii. 10–12) “ For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse : for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith : but the man that doeth them shall live in them.”
3. The terror of the Lord is more fully explained and delineated in his word, and chiefly in the threatenings. It has been often said, that all the increasing light of the gospel is only an unfolding of the first promise. In it we have the Seed of the woman, and such a seed as could do more than Adam in innocence, With all his holiness and perfection, he could not resist the temptations of Satan, but fell before them: the Seed of the woman could bruise the head of that cunning adversary, after he had gained complete victory over our first parents, and restore the image of God after it was lost. The first promise was a revelation to our first parents of the covenant of grace, the expiating sacrifice which atoned for their sin, and the garment which alone could screen them from divine wrath. In like manner, the first threatening contained the punishment which will be inflicted on those who die under the curse; and every succeeding threatening only opens up the contents of the first.