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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, February 5, 2012

“The great and terrible God” (Nehemiah 1:5).

“O Lord, the great and dreadful God” (Daniel 9:4).

Much of this sermon is adapted from “The Great and Terrible God” by Dr. John R. Rice (Sword of the Lord, 1977, pp. 7-38). These two texts of Scripture call God the terrible, dreadful God. Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God.” Again, in Nehemiah 4:14, Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, which is great and terrible.” And in Nehemiah 9:32 he said, “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God...” God is called “a mighty God and terrible” in Deuteronomy 7:21. In Deuteronomy 10:17 He is called, “God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible...” Daniel spoke of “the great and dreadful God” (Daniel 9:4). The Bible uses this language to describe God. In Isaiah 59:18 God said “he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies.” This is the way God is often pictured in the Bible, pouring out His wrath against sin.

Those who speak of Him only as a God of love and mercy do not give the whole description of God as presented in the Bible. He is also a God of judgment and vengeance. We are plainly warned in the New Testament, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). All this modern teaching of grace without law, of faith without repentance, of God’s mercy without wrath, of Heaven without Hell is a perversion of the truth about God. It is a dishonest presentation of God’s message. God is a terrible God, a dreadful God, a God of fury against sin, a God of vengeance, a God to be feared, a God that should make sinners tremble.

Why don’t we hear more sermons on the terrible God of the Bible? Because many preachers are afraid to tell the truth about God. They fear that carnal, unconverted people in their churches don’t want to hear about such a God. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). The carnal minds of unconverted men are naturally against the great and terrible God of the Bible.

Yet it is necessary to proclaim this God to unconverted sinners. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,

The thing that separates the gospel from all other teaching is that it is primarily a proclamation of God and our relationship to God. Not our particular problems, but the same problem that has come to all of us, that we are condemned sinners before a holy God and a holy law (Romans, Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, p. 95).

Sinners will not feel lost until they are brought face to face with the great and terrible God of the Bible. Only when they feel condemned in the face of the great and terrible God of Scripture will they be convinced that they need Christ.

Yet to speak of a dreadful, a terrible and terrifying God, a God of fury and consuming fire, shocks and offends many church people today. But they are wrong to be shocked.

Dr. Rice said, “We ought to fear this dreadful, terrible God! Throughout the Bible the fear of the Lord is held up as one of the greatest of all virtues. It is the foundation of Christian character and holiness. It is necessary for genuine repentance and real conversion” (ibid.).

The Oxford Concordance lists fifteen passages of Scripture in which we are commanded to love the Lord, or where love for God is mentioned as a virtue. But that same concordance lists forty-six passages in the Bible where the fear of the Lord is commended or listed as a virtue!

Three distinct verses in the Bible tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10). We are told that the fear of the Lord prolongs our lives (Proverbs 10:27; 19:23; 14:27). We are told that the fear of the Lord is the way to success and plenty (Proverbs 15:16). And throughout the Bible godly men and women are mentioned as those who fear God. Solomon, the wisest man on earth, said, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

But the Bible says that lost sinners do not fear God. In that terrible list of the sins of mankind in Romans 3:9-18,, the last and final climax, showing the depravity of the natural human heart, is given in these words, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

Not long ago someone said to me, “I’m not afraid of God.” He said that as though he were a special person. Not at all! That is the case of every lost sinner! “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In his great song “Amazing Grace,” John Newton said, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” No sinner will feel the fear of God unless God’s Spirit gives him special grace. The one who does not fear God lives in sin. He thinks nothing of God’s warnings and does not think deeply about God’s wrath and judgment. But God is a terrible God, a dreadful God, a God that ought to be feared.

No wonder that the sons of Eli did not fear God. “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord” (I Samuel 2:12). “They knew not the Lord.” No wonder they did not fear God. They did not even know the great and terrible God. The dreadful God of the Bible was unknown to them. Eli’s sons had no personal experience with God. They never thought seriously about God. There was no room for God in their thoughts. “They knew not the Lord” – and they were not even interested in knowing the Lord! They were sinful, and they were godless, and they would not listen to the preaching. The preacher said, “If a man sin against the Lord, who shall [intercede] for him?” But they refused to be corrected by him. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not...because the Lord would slay them” (I Samuel 2:25). Then a prophet came and warned them that they would “die both of them” (I Samuel 2:34). But they went right on in their sin. The threat of death made no impression on them at all. Then, again, God revealed to young Samuel that Eli’s sons would be killed and judged for their sins, “And the word of Samuel came to all Israel” (I Samuel 4:1). Yet Eli’s sons did not listen to that warning either.

Now on a certain day, Israel went into battle with the Philistines. Things were going badly, so the people went with the sons of Eli, and took the Ark of the Covenant out of the Tabernacle, into the middle of the battle. They thought that they could “magically” get God to bless them. But they were wrong – dead wrong! You cannot get God to bless you if you do not fear Him! “And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (I Samuel 4:11). Yet it really wasn’t the Philistines that killed them in the battle. It was really God who was behind it. It was really God who executed them, “because the Lord would slay them” (I Samuel 2:25). It was really the great and terrible God that destroyed them and sent them to Hell, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

I remember a Bible-rejecting professor at the Southern Baptist seminary I attended. I graduated with a Master’s degree. A year later I went back and applied to enter the Doctor of Ministry program. This man looked at me with a sneer, and turned down my application because I had taken a strong stand in defense of the Bible. But within a few months this same man put a gun in his mouth and committed suicide. Another man lied and attacked me viciously on television. He was dead from a strange malady in less than thirty-six months. A third man attacked me for taking a zealous stand against abortion. He was young and strong – but he was struck down dead in less than twenty-four months. This did not necessarily happen to them because they attacked me. These terrible judgments came to them because they “knew not” the great and terrible God of the Bible!

Now, I ask you, do you have any fear of God? Do you think about the great and terrible God when you are alone? Remember, it is the fear of God that you need to feel. That is what to think about and pray for when you are alone. Remember, it is only when you are alone that it counts. Jacob was alone at night when he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid” (Genesis 28:16-17). It was late at night when “Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). That was when he was converted, wrestling all night with the pre-incarnate Christ! Abraham was alone at night when God came down and confirmed to him the Abrahamic Covenant. “And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). Horror and great darkness fell on Abram when God came to him that night. That is what great Christians of the past have sometimes called “the dark night of the soul.” It is what Luther, and Bunyan, and Wesley and Whitefield, and Judson, and Spurgeon felt. Before their conversions they experienced the frightening and terrible God of the Bible.

Do you ever think about this great and terrible God when you are alone? Do you ever feel guilty when you are alone – knowing that Abraham’s God has seen your sins, even the sins of your mind and heart? Even the sins that no one else knows about – but you and God? Has “an horror of great darkness” ever fallen on you at night, as it did on Abraham? (Genesis 15:12).

Oh, how we pray that you will feel such conviction and awe when you are alone with God at night! The sons of Eli never felt such conviction and awe, “because the Lord would slay them.” When God comes to you, and you feel His awesome power and wrath against sin, then you may be led to flee to Jesus, for cleansing from sin in His precious Blood! How we pray that will be your experience!

Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was a powerful preacher during the First Great Awakening in New England. Revivals came down several times during his ministry. In 1758 he was chosen to succeed Jonathan Edwards as president of Princeton University. He died three years later at the age of thirty-seven. Samuel Davies knew the great and terrible God of the Bible. Listen to the words of his hymn, which Mr. Griffith sang before this sermon.

How great, how terrible that God,
   Who shakes creation with His nod!
He frowns: earth, sea, all nature’s frame
   Sink in one universal flame.

Where, oh, where shall sinners seek
   For shelter in the general wreck!
Shall falling rocks be o’er them thrown?
   See rocks like snow dissolving down.

In vain for mercy now they cry;
   In lakes of liquid fire they lie;
There on the flaming bellows tossed,
   For ever – oh, for ever lost!
(“The Wreck of Nature” by Samuel Davies, 1723-1761).

We are praying that you will begin to feel the reality of this dreadful God. We pray that you will feel the guilt of your sin, and that you will be convinced that only the Blood of Jesus can cleanse you in the sight of our great and terrible God!

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: II Thessalonians 1:7-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“The Wreck of Nature” (by Samuel Davies, 1723-1761).