Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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"And the ax is already lying at the root of the trees; every tree, therefore,
that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
John the Baptizer, in Matthew 3:10
John the baptizer gave this warning to the people of God, but in the main, it did not save a great number of Israelites from the fire that John spoke of. As with all of God's warnings throughout history, "only a remnant" really heard it and feared. Isaiah, for example, cried out, "Except the Lord had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah" (Isa. 1:9). But even that awful description of the nation went unheeded, for the most part. Some even mocked the warning itself, and in response to God's call to repentance, they threw a party (Isa. 22:12-13).
Reading John's words to Israel yesterday brought to mind the growing number of souls that I and others have seen come near to the edge of some spiritual abyss, and were earnestly warned. This has happened on several occasions within the past year or so, and in the more distant past as well. Looking back on all these times of warning, I would have to say that "only a remnant" of those warned made the necessary changes and survived being cut down. It must be that when someone's spiritual condition has deteriorated to the extent that such a dire warning is needed, there almost always isn't enough fear of God remaining in that person to process the message correctly.
Over the past thirty years of labor for Jesus and his saints, I have refused to receive tithes and offerings from a large number of the children of God who were guilty of the most serious offenses. (God is not a beggar.) In some instances, when a little fear of God remained in a sinner's heart, I have advised him to save up his tithes and offerings, in case the lost fellowship with Christ is regained and his gifts become acceptable to God again. Of those whom I have told to do that, I cannot think of a single person who passed the test of covetousness and regained his former fellowship with Christ. They all have loved money more than they feared God. Every single one. Please do not allow the fear and love of God to become so small in your heart that the love of money destroys you.
The grace of God comes to us in many forms. The love of God for us is such that His grace comes to us in whatever form will benefit us the most at any given moment. When we wander away from the right path so far that we stand at the edge of an abyss, the grace of God may come to us with frightening sternness. When John the baptizer came preaching, he was not a sweet talker. Israel's spiritual condition had degenerated beyond the point at which pleasant talk and reason would accomplish any good. Judgment was coming, and that was all they needed to hear. John gave blunt and clear commandments to people, even to soldiers. He told hypocrites that they were hypocrites and refused to baptize them, calling them "offspring of serpents" because of their attempt to beguile people as the serpent beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden. He stood his ground against the ruler of that region, and eventually was executed because he would not alter the message that he received from God for the people.
John was motivated by the love of God to say everything that he said. Israel's condition was critical, and they did not know it. The end of their covenant with God was approaching, but they thought it would last forever as it was, and they felt safe. God sent John to wake them up if he could, but most were too far gone. It was exactly as John wrote concerning the dullness of the children of God when Jesus came and labored among them (Jn. 12:37-40): "Although so many miraculous signs had been done by him in front of them, they did not believe in him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, who said, 'Lord, who believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' This is why they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart so that they might not see with the eyes and understand with the heart and be converted, so that I would heal them.' "
It is no small blessing to have the fear of God dwelling in your heart. It is grace from God. It means you are not yet turned over to wickedness because "the wicked fear not God." It means there is still hope for you. It means you are not dead. It means that God is still holding open for you the door to eternal life. The one who wanders from righteousness but who still retains some fear of God in his heart has hope because he has that fear. If God's dreadful ax is laid at his root in preparation for cutting him off, he might take heed to the warning and repent.
Hold on to your fear of God and His ax. That fear is precious. No one will ever see the face of God without it.