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GOD'S SPIRIT WILL NOT ALWAYS STRIVE

(FEAR – THE MISSING ELEMENT #5)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, July 19, 2008

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).


We have seen in the previous sermons on fear that this is the case of all mankind in its natural state. Something supernatural must happen to awaken a sinner from this condition. And we have seen that the required supernatural action of awakening is the work of God’s Spirit upon a human soul.

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).

When the Spirit of God comes to a lost man, He reproves and rebukes that man for his sin and lack of righteousness. And only then God’s Spirit frightens the man with thoughts and feelings “of judgment” to come, of the Last Judgment, of eternity, and the everlasting torment of Hell-fire. Then, he who previously had “no fear of God before [his] eyes” (Romans 3:18) will awaken from his sleep with pangs of conscience and fearful thoughts.

Before God’s Spirit comes to a lost man he is spiritually and mentally asleep – sound asleep, secure and satisfied, with no fear of death, no fear of the Judgment bar of God, no fear of eternal Hell-fire, no fear that he might not be one of the elect, no fear that God may pass by him forever, no fear that he might commit the unpardonable sin, the one sin that God will not forgive, no fear of judicial hardening and final reprobation.

That’s the way it was with this man named Felix, that we studied last Sunday night. He was the governor of Caesarea, but that isn’t important. He could have been any one of you, here tonight, who isn’t saved. And Paul comes to this man and speaks to him “concerning the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:24). And as Paul preaches to him of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” Felix trembled (Acts 24:25). That word translated “trembled” is “emphobos” in the Greek. It means “becoming afraid.” Since “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18) I take it that this must have been a supernatural fear, sent to Felix by the Spirit of God. But this fear is not irresistible. The grace that brings salvation may be, but the fear is not. You can resist the fear of God! The case of Felix was given to prove that exact point. You can feel the fear, and then lose the fear and, as a result, lose your soul for all eternity!

That’s what Jonathan Edwards preached in his famous sermon, “A Man May Eternally Undo Himself in One Thought of His Heart” (June, 1736). There are many instances of this happening in the Bible. Christ said of the Pharisees,

“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind”
      (Matthew 15:14).

“Let them alone.” What a terrible judgment!

“Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hosea 4:17).

Matthew Henry said of this verse,

It is a sad and sore judgment for any man to be let alone in sin, for God to say concerning a sinner, “He is joined to idols, the world and the flesh; he is incurably proud…let him alone. Let nothing awaken him till the flames of hell do it” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume 4, p. 899, comment on Hosea 4:17).

Dr. John Gerstner said,

There is a special type of hardening called “judicial” hardening. This refers to God’s judicially decreeing to give a person over to hardening, withdrawing any further overtures of the Spirit of God and thereby removing any further possibility of conversion (John H. Gerstner, Ph.D., Steps to Salvation, Westminster Press, 1955, p. 48).

Thomas Boston said,

God strives with them for a while, and convictions enter their consciences; but they rebel…They harden themselves against God, and He leaves them to Satan and their own hearts, whereby they are hardened more and more (Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964 reprint, p. 156).

This is exactly what happened to Felix. When Paul preached to him, he trembled, “emphobos.” He became afraid (center column note “t,” The Scofield Study Bible, note on Acts 24:25). He trembled with fear, but he did not come to Christ that day. Instead, he said to Paul,

“Go thy way for this time” (Acts 24:25).

He thought he would have another time just like this. It is true that he spoke with Paul many more times, for two years (Acts 24:26-27). But he never again felt the trembling fear he did before. It was too late for Felix. God gave up on him, “removing any further possibility of conversion” (Gerstner, ibid.). Although he learned more and more from Paul, he was never again convicted by the Spirit of God. He was left by God in the natural state of man,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

Dr. Asahel Nettleton said,

Sinners resist the Spirit by postponing the subject of [their conversion], like Felix, to a more convenient [time] – by self-righteousness – by refusing…to confess their sins to God…Let us consider the consequences of the Spirit’s ceasing to strive. When the Spirit has departed, the sinner may feel cheerful… He may feel little concern for the salvation of his soul…He may even laugh, and make [light of conversion]…He may listen to the preached gospel – to the most solemn warnings, and to the most melting invitations – but it will be [too late]. It will be all in vain. He will slumber on in impenitence till he awakes in hell, and his soul is lost forever (Asahel Nettleton, D.D., “God’s Spirit Will Not Always Strive,” Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, International Outreach, Inc., 1995 reprint, p. 444).

As an old gospel song puts it,

There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting our Lord,
   Where the call of His Spirit is lost,
And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng,
   Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
Have you counted the cost, if your soul should be lost,
   Tho’ you gain the whole world for your own?
Even now it may be that the line you have crossed,
   Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
(“Have You Counted the Cost?” by A. J. Hodge, 1923).

(END OF SERMON)
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