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Isaiah 34:1-10 - Homiletics

The terrors of the Lord not to be held back by the preacher,

"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord," says the great apostle of the Gentiles, "we persuade men. There is m these modern times a sickly sentimentality prevalent, which protests against the employment by preachers of arguments that address themselves to the fears of their hearers. Delicate nerves are not to be hurt by disagreeable images, or highly wrought descriptions of sufferings. Ears accustomed to flatteries are not to be shocked by suggestions that make the listeners uncomfortable. "Speak unto us smooth things" is the universal demand, or, at any rate, the universal desire. There is considerable danger of preachers yielding to the wishes of their hearers in this respect; since it is always pleasant to be popular, and disagreeable to be thought to take a pleasure in hurting people's feelings. But the preacher of God's Word should be actuated by higher considerations. He must shape his conduct by

I. THE EXAMPLE OF GREAT PREACHERS IN THE PAST . It is clear that Isaiah did not hold back the terrors of the Lord. Almost one-half of his prophecy is denunciatory; and the denunciations uttered are of a truly fearful character. All the great powers of the earth, and many minor powers, are threatened with the Divine vengeance, and that vengeance is depicted in very terrible language. Babylon is to be "brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit" ( Isaiah 14:15 ); Assyria is to be burnt up; his glory is to be consumed; he is to be "as when a standard-bearer fainteth" ( Isaiah 10:17 , Isaiah 10:18 ); Edom is to become "burning pitch" ( Isaiah 34:9 ), which "shall not be quenched night nor day" ( Isaiah 34:10 ); God's enemies generally are to be "slain" and "consumed," and set in a place where "their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched" ( Isaiah 66:24 ). St. Paul persuaded men by "the terror of the Lord" ( 2 Corinthians 5:11 ). He warned them to "look for judgment and a fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" ( Hebrews 10:27 ). He reminded them that "our God is a consuming Fire' ( Hebrews 12:29 ), and that "it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands" ( Hebrews 10:31 ). St. John, the apostle of love, spoke of those who should "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation," and who should be "tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and of the Lamb," and said that "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever," and that they "have no rest day nor night" ( Revelation 14:10 , Revelation 14:11 ). It is to our blessed Lord himself that we owe the picture of the rich man tormented in the flame, and praying Abraham to send Lazarus, that he might "dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue" ( Luke 16:24 ). Our Lord, moreover, adopts the dreadful imagery of Isaiah with respect to the undying worm and the fire that is never quenched, and points his teaching by revealing to us the awful words of the final sentence of reprobation, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" ( Matthew 25:41 ).

II. THE REAL NEEDS OF THOSE TO WHOM PREACHING IS ADDRESSED . It cannot be denied that fear is a strong constraining motive. Human laws are enforced, by penalties, the object of which is to "put men in fear." Punishment holds its place in every system of moral training, and punishment is an appeal to fear. Whatever may be the case with a chosen few, the hulk of mankind will always be more readily influenced by fear than by hope, by punishments than by rewards, by threats than by promises. The preacher cannot afford to lose the moral force which is thus put within his reach. It is hard enough to restrain men from evil courses, and induce them to lead a godly life, by freely using all the means of persuasion that are in our power. To refrain from using one of the most potent would be to fight Satan with one hand instead of two.

III. THE TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE CONCERNING THE DUTY OF A PREACHER . Preachers are directed to open to their disciples "the whole counsel of God." They are not to pick and choose what doctrines of Christianity they will teach. They are to deliver to others "the gospel," "that which they also received" ( 1 Corinthians 15:3 )—not "another gospel" ( Galatians 1:6 ). Now, it cannot be pretended that "the terrors of the Lord"—his wrath against sin, and its dreadful final punishment, are not as much portions of the teaching of Christ as any other. Not to preach them is to keep back a part of the message which Christ brought us from the Father. No preacher is entitled so to act, whatever the disinclination of his congregation to hear the plain teaching of Scripture on these points plainly declared. The disinclination is itself an indication of a need. Those who most dislike the doctrine of final punishment are probably those who most require to have the doctrine pressed upon them.

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