The current judicial exercise in ensuring a hard separation between religion and the federal or state governments has a fairly short history. It really dates to the last century when Justice Hugo Black resurrected a comment that Thomas Jefferson had made in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. The Connecticut group had written to congratulate him upon his election to the Presidency in 1804. His use of the phrase â€œa wall of separationâ€ is its first occurrence in text in this land, and in its context it was used as part of his explanation as to why he had chosen not to call for a national day of fasting and thanksgiving as his two predecessors had done upon election. Justice Blackâ€™s appropriation of the remark was much more insidious.
Do you know that God has laid himself under no obligation to keep anybody out of hell for even one moment?
God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but only what is contained in the covenant of grace, and in the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are; and that his offer requires our individual response and then to his stated terms. Outside of this there is nothing, because the obligation to keep the soul out of hell is strictly given over to individuals to be the keepers of their own destiny.
So in spite of what some have imagined and pretended about promises made to people who pray for Jesus to come into their hearts, that whatever pains a person takes in the name of religion, whatever prayers he or she makes, whatever prayers are made then on their behalf, that until they believe in Christ and are repentant and baptized into his body and obedient to his will, that God is under no manner of obligation at all to keep them for one moment from the promised eternal destruction in spite of what they may think or believe in their hearts. It is God’s Word that is the divider and disputer of souls. We have already proved this in the previous portions of this essay and in numerous articles appearing on this site.
You know that some will be cast into the pit this very day. They will cease to walk this realm and pass into the rest of eternity just as they are without one plea. And you know the devil and his angels are waiting for them, that death and hell is gaping open, the flames gather and flash about them, and the lake that burns with fire and brimstone would lay hold on them, and swallow them up. The fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and as they have no interest in any Mediator, there is no means within their reach for any safety and security. In short, they have no refuge, no way out, nothing to take hold of; they are without hope, without help; without pity; and all that preserves them every moment here is the mere arbitrary will and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of God.
What you have read in these three parts is the case of every one of you that are outside of the body of Christ. It is the case with those who think they are in Christ, those who have never come up out of the waters of baptism or who perhaps have even been baptized and yet who do not do his will, those who have not come under his subjection. It is the end of every one of you that thinks that they can go on sinning and not putting off the old man or woman of sin, those who because they have called upon Jesus in some unacknowledged and arbitrary way may think that they have security and are safe – it is simply the end of those who do not do his will.
If you are in that category, that world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is fanned out beneath you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide open mouth; and you have nothing at all to stand on, nor any thing to take hold of to stop you from falling into the fiery lake. There is nothing between you and hell but the moving air and the pleasure of God that holds you up.
You probably are not aware of this. Because you find that right now you are kept out of hell, and yet you don’t see the hand of God in it. Perhaps you look to other things, as the good state of your health, your reason, your own goodness or your lifestyle, or you think you are not a “bad” person. But these things are nothing and mean nothing if God should at once withdraw his hand and they could not keep you from falling into the depths of despair and destruction.
Your sin makes you as heavy as lead, and without God’s restraint, it would carry you down with great force towards hell. And if God should let you go, you would immediately and swiftly plunge straight there and sink into the pit; and your healthy constitution, your own supposed righteousness, your notions and devices, your thoughts and feelings, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of that swift destruction, than a spiders web would have to stop a falling rock.
The earth does not willingly yield its increase simply to satisfy your lusts; nor is it a stage for your arrogance. The air does not willingly serve you breath to maintain your life, while you spend your time in the service of God’s enemies. And the world would spew you out were it not for the sovereign hand of God who has subjected it to himself. For the present God has stayed his mighty wind; otherwise it would come with a fury, and your destruction would follow as a storm comes with the whirlwind, and you would be carried away like the chaff on the summer threshing floor.
The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow is tensed on the string, and justice bends the arrow and aims it at your heart and now strains to keep the bow steady; and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, without any promise or obligation, that keeps the arrow from being let go and from being made drunk with your blood and the stain of your sin.
So it stands and so it will be: all of you that have never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Word of God; all of you that were never born again, and made new creatures, raised from being dead in sin to a new state of light and life, all of you who called but who did not follow, or who are yet hiding a closet full of sin – are found precariously held in the hands of an angry God.
However you may have reformed your life, and may have had some religious affectations, and may keep up a form of religion day by day, in the eyes of others, even within your own families, or even before the members of the house of God; it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being swallowed up this very moment and cast down into everlasting destruction.
However unconvinced also that you may now be of this truth and of what you have just now heard – by and by you will become fully convinced of it; “For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, “every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Those that are gone from being in the same circumstances with you and me know that it was so with them; for destruction came upon them when they least expected, and while they were saying, “Peace and safety.” Yet now they see that those things upon which they had depended for their confidence were nothing but thin air, vapors, and cold empty shadows.
The God that holds you up over the valley of death and Gahenna — over the very pit of hell, much as one holds an insect over the fire, is dreadfully provoked: his wrath burns like fire. O sinner, wont you please consider the fearful danger. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” and it is most fearful to fall from his hand and out of this life unrepentant and without an advocate.
How awful are those words in Isaiah 63:3, which are the words of the great God? “For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes.”
If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from that or in showing you the least regard or favor. Instead he says he will tread you under his foot.
“You who are afar off hear what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge My might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:13, 14)
Now let every one that is out of Christ, and dangling over the pit of hell, whether old, middle aged or young, hear God’s word. This the acceptable day of the Lord; that which is a day of such great favor to some, will doubtless be a day of remarkable vengeance to others. The people’s hearts will harden, and their guilt increases as they neglect the need of their souls and of their own safety; and never was there so great a danger of persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind.
Perhaps God is loosening his grip right now and he will allow you to drop from this life to your eternal destiny. Perhaps God is beginning even now to gather up his elect and while the elect will obtain the rest will be destroyed. What man knows what time is judgment and what is in the heart of God? Perhaps the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord will be this day for you. Now undoubtedly it is as it was in the days of John the Baptist, that the axe is at the root of the tree, and that every tree which does not bring forth good fruit, will be cut down and cast into the fire.
Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, awake and fly from the searing wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now hanging over the greater part of this world and nation. Let every soul fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountains, lest you be consumed.” (Genesis 19:17)
Won’t you come to Jesus while it is still today? Won’t you repent and be baptized without delay? Won’t you seek to do his will? Won’t you come before you fall from the mighty hand of God?
(This was adapted, as were the previous two sections, from the great Jonathan Edward s sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God which is public domain. I have used it in some form as a spoken lesson successfully. It is here reduced in scope but certainly not in intent, and it has been updated and modified for our CMS reading audience. You might be interested in reading the original, which can be found by Google searching ” Jonathan Edwards ” or its title above.)