“A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” – Jeremiah 5:30-31
“A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land.” What was Jeremiah speaking about? First of all, he was speaking about the wonderful things God had done for the nation of Judah, which was the last tribe that represented the true and living God. God had blessed their land and increased their cattle. He had made their land to flow as a land of milk and honey. The people had prospered.
Jeremiah was looking at the wonderful things God was doing for the nation, but at the same time, he was looking at the horrible thing being done: the people were not responding to the goodness of God. The people were guilty of idolatry. Their hearts had been turned away from God to selfishness, deceit, and brutality. Their religion had degenerated to the place where the prophets and the priests no longer prophesied rightly, nor did the priests serve rightly.
To sum up the situation of that day, Jeremiah said, “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land.” But that was Jeremiah’s day. Let us consider our day in the light of Jeremiah’s conclusion. First, let us consider something wonderful.
A WONDERFUL THING
It is wonderful that we are living in a land where the Bible is the most popular book and not the Koran. It is wonderful that we are living in a land where the cross is revered and honored, not the hammer and sickle. It is wonderful that we have food on our tables and we do not have to go to bed hungry unless we want to. It is wonderful that we have conveniences such as high-powered automobiles and electronic appliances to make our housewives’ days easier. We have washing machines we don’t have to go down to the creek and bang our clothes on rocks. We don’t boil them in big black pots like our ancestors did down South. We simply put them in the machine and it does the dirty work and the heavy work.
It’s a wonderful thing that we live in a land like this one. With all its inequalities and its shortcomings, I still would rather be in this land I know.
It is wonderful that on the cross Christ paid our sin debt. It is wonderful that we can open the Bible and read that Christ paid for our sins on the cross. I don’t know about you, but to me that is worth more than the appliances we have to make life easier. To know that our sins were paid for by Christ — that’s wonderful. The sin debt that none of us could ever have hoped to pay, has been paid for by Christ’s death on the cross.
There’s truth in the old hymn that we sing. One of the lines is: “Long ago, long ago, the old account was settled long ago.” I believe with all of my heart that it is wonderful that all of us who have been born again can look back over two thousand years and see that our sin debt was paid.
Many of us are not strangers to debt. We know what it is to be over our heads in debt. I don’t know about you, but I’ve known that feeling. I know what it is like to over-extend my credit and get deep into debt. Someone was talking to me the other day and he said, “Preacher, I just can’t wait to get to church on Sunday and pay my tithe. I’m so sold on tithing, I just can’t wait until Sunday comes.” Now I remember a time when that church member didn’t have that thrill. He continued on, “I’m not working and I’m out of a job. But you know whatever we get, we tithe. I feel so good paying God’s part first that I find I have more now than I did when I was working! First we take ten percent and give that to God because it was His part first. Then we take ten percent for ourselves and put it away in savings. We live on the eighty percent. So every week I’ve got something to look forward to because I’m going to put away something!”
“I’m particularly excited today,” he went on, “because we have a place where we put our bills. We looked in our bill compartment and I pulled one out and noticed that the bill said, ‘last payment.’ There’s no better feeling than to know you’re pulling the last coupon out of the payment book. I simply said, Thank you Jesus.”
Debt is all right if you don’t go overboard. My dear wife went through all our credit cards and either sent them back or tore them up. I thought that was a terrible thing to do, but it was the best thing we ever did. She’s got more sense than I do. She realized the easier it is to get something, the more debt you’ll get into.
One lady was out shopping with a wallet full of credit cards. She said, “This is fun!” And she was shopping her heart out. “Give me this, give me that.” But she didn’t realize there would come a payday someday.
None of your material debts could ever begin to compare with the spiritual debt you owe to a holy God. Every time you sin you owe God. Our sin debt is pretty big. I don’t know about yours, but I was in way over my head. You owe God! There are only two places where that sin can be paid. You’ll either pay the debt in hell, or you’ll have it paid at the cross. Since God is eternal, the sinner must suffer eternally for every sin. That is why it is a terrible thing for one man to tell another to go to hell. Hell is a terrible place, yet every sinner with his debt unpaid will pay for it in hell, the lake of fire. Justice will collect.
I think it is wonderful that Christ paid our sin debt. It is also a wonderful thing that on the cross Christ brought to us forgiveness. The Bible says, “In whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins.” You have committed more than one sin, an uncountable amount, but we have forgiveness for them all. Through Christ’s death on the cross in our place we are forgiven. One verse of a particular song always fastens itself on my heart: “Forgiven, forgiven, forgiven by the atonement.” Those are heavy words! How are we forgiven? By prayer vigils? By punishing our bodies and ourselves? Paying money? No! By the atonement. It is wonderful that we can sit here and know that our sins have been forgiven by the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe with all of my heart that man’s greatest need is to be forgiven.
Some men believe they cannot be forgiven. They feel they have sinned so hard and so long that forgiveness is impossible. But God can forgive. There is no one too sinful for God to forgive. He can forgive anyone of anything.
Now you may be thinking, “What about blaspheming the Holy Ghost? Isn’t that an unforgivable sin?” I don’t believe that you can blaspheme against the Holy Ghost. I believe you can resist the Holy Spirit, but to blaspheme the Holy Spirit I believe you would have to be living in Jesus’ time. You would have to see Jesus raise the dead, open the eyes of the blind, feed the five thousand, and then say, “Jesus, you are doing these things by the power of the devil.”
God can forgive anything. There is nothing too hard for Jesus. It is wonderful to know that! It is wonderful to know that you can’t blow it! That’s one thing I pray each morning, “Lord, thank you for my salvation and thank you that you fixed it so that I can’t mess it up.” If God had left one loophole for man, we’d blow it. But the salvation we have was fixed so that we can’t mess it up.
We weren’t worth saving in the first place, so there is nothing we can do to make God send us to hell. Christ brought us forgiveness for all sins — past, present and future.
Some folks say, “Christ died for some of my sins, but not all of my sins. He died for my past sins, but not my present sins, unless I repent, and He certainly didn’t die for my future sins.” How do I answer that argument? I ask folks who hold that opinion, “Where were you when Christ died? You weren’t even here! So when He died, He died for your sins!”
Some folks may say you’re crazy for believing that Christ died for all your sins. But either He died for all your sins or you’re on probation and you’re not sure of going to Heaven. A lot of folks have a probationary salvation. They say, “Christ forgave my past sins, and He will forgive my present sins if I repent, but He hasn’t forgiven my future sins.” Probation means you are all right now, but if you blow it you’re gonna lose it!
I don’t have that kind of salvation and neither do you! If you’re saved and you believe you have a probationary salvation, I’ve good news for you — you don’t have that kind of salvation. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, His blood has washed you clean and you are justified by what Christ did on the cross. Your name is written in Heaven and there is no eraser that can wipe it out. There is nothing that can blot it out. Nothing can remove your name from the Lamb’s Book of Life.
If you are eternally saved, then is it okay to go out and get drunk, smoke dope, and do everything else? The Bible says, “Men by evil works deny the Lord.” So if a man says, “Well, I’m saved by grace, so I’ll go out and have an affair with my best friend’s wife,” he denies he is saved by his evil work. When a man says, “I have a license to sin,” he is nowhere near being saved. Nobody has a license to sin, but we Christians have mercy if we do sin.
If you are a Christian (notice I did not say “church member,” for there are many church members who are not saved), you will never come into condemnation. A lady asked me the other night, “Preacher, what gives you the right to say such and such a thing?” And I replied, “Lady, it is not me. It is the Word of God.” She wanted to know about women preachers. I said, “Well, God’s Word doesn’t authorize a woman to take authority in a church over a man or a pastor.”
Again she asked, “Who are you to say whom God will speak through? God once spoke through a jackass.”
I laughed. “I am not talking about jackasses. I’m talking about women preachers. God can speak through anything, but it is not a question of what God can do. What does He say?” The Word of God is the answer for our lives on earth. The Word of God tells us we should live soberly and righteously, and if you want to live like the devil, that is your business. But I fear God! I fear Him because He is my heavenly Father. Like my earthly father, He will take only so much then He’ll say, “It’s time to go to Strapville, young man.”
I fear God! Some folks have no fear of God. But though I know I am saved, I am afraid of my heavenly Father. I’m not afraid that He won’t love me. I’m not afraid that He’ll send me to hell. But I know that He’ll strap me if I get out of His will because He loves me. If you don’t love your children, you don’t chastise them. That’s why when I’m being chastised by my heavenly Father, I say, “Thank you, Jesus. I know I’m a child of God.”
It is not only wonderful that Christ brought us forgiveness and pardon once for all, but on the cross He also liberated us from the curse of the law. “He was made a curse for us,” says the Bible. What does that mean? When Christ hung on the cross He was made a curse for us because the Law said, “Cursed is he that does not continue in all things written thereof.” In other words, if you don’t do everything God says, you’re under a curse.
That curse covered the entire human race because none of us have done all the things that God said to do. That’s why the entire race is condemned before God if they seek to be justified by the Law. The Law can curse you, but it can’t save you. The Ten Commandments can point out the deficiencies in your life, but they can’t save you. There are people who don’t know that trying to keep the Ten Commandments is bondage. It is frustration, heavy-heartedness, disappointment and hopelessness. You must come to a point where you admit, “Yes, I am a sinner. I can’t do everything right. I stand, Lord, at your mercy.” Look to Jesus and you will find justification.
There are many folks who look to the Law to be justified. “You’ve got to keep the Sabbath day to go to Heaven,” they say. But you can keep the Sabbath day and go to hell. “You’ve got to stop smoking reefers,” or “You’ve got to talk in tongues,” they’ll say. You can stop smoking reefers, stop partying and be morally straight and still go to hell. You can be morally good and find yourself in hell for eternity with murderers, rapists, cut-throats, liars, cheats and all kinds of filthy people.
“There are all kinds of hypocrites in church!” a man once told me. Well, if you die and go to hell, you will find yourself surrounded by them for eternity. Down here, you’ll just have to spend a little while with them. Sure, there are hypocrites in church. There are play-actors and hypocrites in everything. There are phony cops who take money from drug dealers and then go out and pretend they are fighting dope. Politicians do the same thing. Businessmen launder money. There are hidden crooks, but there is nothing hidden from God.
God knows what we are doing and what we are intending to do. He knows when we are planning to do wrong and when we do wrong on impulse. God is not a man. That is why He had to keep telling Israel, ‘I am not a man that I should lie. Men lie, but I don’t lie. When I say something, I mean it.’
God is not man. He does not lie. That’s why He said to you and me: Why do you fear man that has one breath and is here for a moment and gone? Fear God! God is sovereign, and we have to remember that God has lifted this curse from us.
In the seventh chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul looked back and saw himself as a Christian trying to live under the Law. ‘I wanted to do what was right but something inside me was pulling me to do wrong,’ he said. ‘That which I wanted to do I found myself not doing. Oh, wretched man that I am!’
It is good for you and me to come to the place where we say, “Oh! Wretched man that I am! Who is going to deliver me from the body of this death? Who is going to take this monkey off my back? Who is going to cut loose the corpse of death from me?” That was a punishment under Roman law. A murderer would often be sentenced to carry the corpse of his victim, foot to foot, until the bacteria destroying the body of the corpse would also cause the death of the murderer. Paul saw himself as one carrying a dead man around, until he found Jesus.
Are you carrying a dead man around? I was. I carried around a corpse for almost 23 years. But thank God, I was justified and cut loose from the curse of the Law. Christ was made a curse for me.
There is a teaching that this “word of faith” movement is propagating through men like E. W. Kenyon. I sent for some materials from a group of Christians in California who investigate false doctrines and cults. They sent me a book which explains the “word of faith” movement. E. W. Kenyon said that when Christ died, He actually became a sinner. Kenyon says that Christ was actually a thief, a rapist, and a drunk. That is disgusting! The Bible doesn’t say that Christ actually was these things. It says He was reckoned to be a sinner. Christ was not a sinner. He was the spotless Lamb of God. See how the devil can corrupt the truth? He was made to be sin, but He was no sinner. God forbid that we should ever adopt such heresy. Christ was spotless and blameless.
It’s wonderful that on the cross Christ paid our sin debt, brought us forgiveness and liberated us from the curse of the Law. It is also wonderful that on the cross Christ reconciled us back to God.
How could sinful creatures ever fellowship with a holy God? When Adam sinned he came into a fallen nature and you and I, no matter whether you are black, white, oriental or whatever, have a father in Adam and a mother in Eve. Someone once asked me, “Where did black folks come from.” We all come from the same place — Adam and Eve. That’s our family tree and what you look like doesn’t matter. The guilt of Adam is in the blood of every human being who comes into this world.
How are we who are fallen in Adam to be reconciled to a holy God? How could God take black tar, put it on a white sheet, and have the sheet remain white? That’s tough. If you take a shovel of black coal and spread it on a bleached and pure white sheet, brother, that sheet isn’t going to be white anymore. But this is what God had to do. How could a holy God who is sinless, spotless and unable to look upon sin reconcile us to Him? Everything sinful is repelled from God! That is a question theologians have talked about for centuries, but it isn’t really too hard to figure out. Nothing is too hard for God who made the coal and the sheets. In the beginning, in the council of the Godhead, there were no angels, no creatures, no atmosphere, nothing — but God. God decided then that He would create a universe, a man and his helpmate, and put the man in a garden. He knew the man would sin.
Eve decided that the words that Satan presented to her were truth, but in reality those words were lies. But Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and man came into the possession of something foreign to God — a sin nature.
You could join every church in town — Catholic, Protestant, Charismatic, but you would still have a sin nature. You would still have an obligation to a holy God.
God solved the problem of our sin at Calvary. God decided that He would come down in the form of a servant and live according to the law of God and not break one precept. Christ, the sinless Lamb, paid the price of sin at Calvary. God will never ask you to pay what Christ has already paid for. It is just that simple, but folks just won’t believe it.
It is wonderful that on the cross, Christ paid our sin debt, brought forgiveness, delivered us from the law, and reconciled us back to God. But there is another part of Jeremiah’s message. Let’s consider something horrible.
A HORRIBLE THING
First, it’s horrible that sinners daily refuse the work of Christ — the sin-debt payer, the reconciler, the liberator, and the only source of hope in this life and the next. What a tragedy! What a waste of hope in this life and the next. What a tragedy. What a waste that lost sinners perish right under the shadow of the cross. Suppose a convicted man was on death row and the governor of the state gave him a last minute pardon. What if the convicted man rejected it? What a horrible thing.
It is easy to get people to take religion. You can tell a man you’ve got the best religion on the market, and he’ll buy into it. Tell him stopping some bad habits can save him, and he’ll join in an instant. The other day a fellow decided he would try to see how gullible people could be. He put an ad in a national tabloid paper saying, “I’ve discovered the secret for eternal life. For a special vegetarian plan, send me $20.00 and I’ll send you information. Signed, Mr. Lettuce Head.” That ad ran for two weeks and that man received 200 checks in the mail. We are so gullible! If you don’t believe people are gullible, just ask the executives on Madison Avenue in New York. They simply have to show you something in a catchy ad and you’ll want to join forces with those who have what is being advertised.
It is horrible that people walk around in the shadow of salvation and perish. It is also horrible that lost sinners daily stumble over the simplicity of the gospel. In the Old Testament, God said, “Look unto me all ye ends of the earth and be saved.” But the heathen nations didn’t look and some of the Israelites didn’t look. It is so simple, but people stumble over the truth.
It is like the fellow who had a wealthy uncle down in North Carolina. The uncle had acres and acres of valuable timberland when he died. Now the nephew, who had never met his rich uncle, heard that he was the beneficiary of the will and would be worth millions of dollars. The lawyers brought him the papers to sign, but he refused. He thought it was all a practical joke and never accepted his inheritance. He thought it was too simple and he remained a pauper when he could have been a millionaire.
God says, “Here is eternal life; here is Christ. Here is payment for all your sins no matter how rotten they are or how often they were committed. Just ask to receive.” Some people call this idea “Easy believe-ism.” They claim it is too crazy. They won’t simply reach out and accept the simple forgiveness of God.
It is a horrible thing that people perish because salvation is too simple. It is also a horrible thing that sinners daily resist the steadfastness of this message. You may know people you have witnessed to for a year, but they steadfastly resist the saving message of the Cross. Like many of the Jews of Christ’s day, they say, “We will not have this man rule over us. He is only a carpenter’s son.”
There are a lot of people like that today, people who want no part of church, salvation, or the Saviour. It is horrible that they die and go to hell.
Friend, I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people are unwilling to accept this simple message because they don’t want to do right. They just don’t want to do right because they don’t want to give up the pleasures of sin. They love smoking dope, shacking up and stealing more than they love salvation. They aren’t going to turn! If an angel came down from Heaven, they wouldn’t turn.
You can reason with some people and clearly show them the gospel, but some secret sin they love is going to take them to hell. Some folks won’t turn the bottle loose. Not long ago, I heard one of those radio shows where people call in for advice. One young woman called in and said her husband was cheating on her. The radio announcer said, “Well, even a rat has more than one hole; you’d better find yourself another man.”
That is the way the world thinks! Run out and grab anything that gives you pleasure. It is a horrible thing that men and women will allow sin to destroy them. It is a horrible thing that lost sinners daily refuse Christ. They stumble over the simplicity of the gospel; they steadfastly resist the gospel because they love their sins.
Those things are horrible, but you haven’t read anything yet that is really horrible: It is horrible that professing Christians never consider their worldly lifestyle as being dishonoring to Christ. That is a horrible thing! How can men or women who profess faith in Someone who has done so much for them live lives that are dishonoring to Him? Jeremiah looked at Israel and saw how good God had been to them, but they didn’t respond. They were hard-hearted.
I have a friend who was once a bootlegger. He got saved and became a devout Christian. He would preach the gospel on street corners. He once said to me, “You know, Preacher Brown, before I bring shame on my Saviour and before I go back to bootlegging and doing the things I used to do, I’d rather the Lord would just take me on home.
I’ll say “Amen” to that. Before I would become a disgrace and a dishonor to the One who has done so much for me, I’d rather say, “Lord, take me on home before I hurt Your Name.” If you’re really saved and born again and you are living a dishonorable life, God will speak to you and spank you. If you keep on living in your sin, God will keep on chastising you until you finally reach the point when God will say, “That’s enough. Come on home. You’re not going to bring shame on My Name any more.”
There won’t be any need for people to pray for you. The Bible says there are some sins you don’t pray for. If God is getting ready to take a child home who won’t listen to Him, there is no sense in praying for him. If you’re a child of God and you harden your heart and don’t listen, you can shorten your days! God will take you home! It is a horrible thing that professing Christians never consider their worldly lifestyle as being dishonoring to Christ.
We are told that seventy percent of Americans are born again. I do not believe that. How can seventy percent of Americans be Christians when we kill more babies than any nation in the world?
There is more drunkenness, more divorce, more brutality, and more sexual perversion. How can people who are born again live such terrible lifestyles? It is horrible that professing Christians live such worldly lives that they bring dishonor to Christ. And it is also a horrible thing that professing Christians never spend any time in prayer to Christ. How horrible that those who have been redeemed and justified, paid for and forgiven, never talk to the One who has done everything for them!
Many Christians never make any sacrifices at all for Christ. What a horrible thing! We who have been redeemed and pardoned over and over again do not sacrifice money, time, or talent and yet we say, “I’m a Christian.” It is horrible that Christians often know no kind of sacrifice for Christ. What a horrible thing that professing Christians never speak to anyone about Christ’s saving power. To know Christ, to have availed yourself of what God has done through His mercy, to be certain of Heaven and not hell, to have a peace that you didn’t have, to have pardon and forgiveness and a heavenly Father that you can go to — to know all this, but to tell no one is a horrible thing!
What a horrible thing that we have to beg you for money for the work of Christ. What a horrible thing that we have to ask Christians to be sacrificial. What a horrible thing that we have to be concerned over how we’re going to pay our bills, but the cults have no trouble at all raising money for false doctrine. How horrible that we who have the truth hold our money so tight and would not dare to get a loan for the cause of Christ. Oh, we’d get a loan for a new car or a new television or a new boat, but we will not make sacrifices for the One who did everything for us. What a horrible thing that we who profess to be Christians will not make sacrifices.
Christ does not have any deaf and mute disciples. He has no disciples that are deaf to His Word or unable to speak about it. All who belong to Christ speak about Him! God unlocked this stammering tongue in 1943 so that I could say, “Thank you, Jesus!” God unlocked this stammering tongue so that I could take away the dirty words and talk about the love of Jesus. He cut loose my stammering tongue so I didn’t have to stand up and mumble — I could stand up and say, “Christ died for my sins, took my heart that was in this world, and made it more like Him.”
I’ve been changed from a sinner to a saint. I’ve gone from the natural to grace. I’m still a come-shorter, but I don’t sin continuously and practically like I used to. “The old account was settled long ago!” God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven my sin. My Saviour walked to Calvary and bowed His head and took the penalty of my sin to keep me out of hell, and there is nothing too hard for me to do for Jesus.
A wonderful and horrible thing — that God has done so much for us and we’ve done so little for Him.
Dr. Joseph Brown is the long time pastor of the Manna Bible Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.