“And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them” (Rev 9:6).
Paul said, “knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2Cor 5:11). Do we know the terror of the Lord? Perhaps this is why we are not so urgent to persuade men. Paul is just as clear in the same chapter that it is the love of Christ that constrains us, but to warn of a wrath to come is intrinsic to the proclamation of the good news, since it is from wrath that we are saved. Where the severity of God in judgment is not justified as just, and not only just but necessary to the very being and nature of God, then mercy becomes indulgence and the glory of grace is destroyed. To uphold the one is necessarily to uphold the other. In the history of revival, it has been those most knowing of the terror of the Lord that have also been those most constrained by the love of Christ to warn and plead with souls to turn from dead works to serve the living God.
In his book, “The Holiness of God,” R.C. Sproul speaks about the wisdom of deliberately devoting the greater portion of our time to those themes and topics in scripture that most disturb us. There are certain passages of scripture on the solemnity of divine judgment that should deeply sober us and move us to vigilance and urgency in the enterprise of turning souls from darkness to light. In addition to the passage I put at the heading of this piece, there are two in particular that, for me, evoke the most sober picture of what it will mean to stand before God in that awful day without the vital covering of Christ’s righteousness. One is in Daniel Dan 2:35: “Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: …” Another is Rev 6:15-17: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Somehow the natural mind is able to entertain the impossible notion that death is a refuge, as well as an end. It is neither. There is no asylum from the holiness of God except as one is “in Christ” and thus in union with God. The very thing that will make hell hell is not the absence of God but the presence of His un-shielded holiness after the veil of the flesh has been forever removed. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess 1:9). More than fire or darkness, which stand for a reality that transcends human ability to conceive, it will not be some vainly imagined absence of God, but the unmitigated exposure to the holiness of His person and attributes that will make hell hell.
It will be the exposure of pride in the presence of His meekness, and so on. The brightness of His appearing will be to those in the graves and out of the graves an instant and automatic exposure and condemnation of all that is short of His glory. That is why it is so terrible to suppose that the light and holiness of God condemns only what we would judge as willfully evil. That is pure humanism. No, His unapproachable light condemns all that is short of His glory, which is to say, short of Christ. That’s why any supposed sanctification that presumes to mix anything of man with Christ is self condemned, as short of His glory. The only acceptable righteousness then is the righteousness that is gloriously His alone and nothing of our own, else it is a righteousness that is short of the glory of God.
That is why any supposed personal sanctification that is ‘short’ of His glory is evil, simply because it is a false covering, and thus an affront, as to “climb up some other way” (Jn 10:1). To mix is to destroy. That is why the final unveiling of that unapproachable light will cause all that is outside of Christ to blush in shame and terror and turn in on itself in unmitigated and unbearable self condemnation. The one thing most desired would be the presumed refuge of death, but neither death nor hell can provide sanctuary from His everlasting omnipresence.