Hebrews 10:31

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. "Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord" (1 Chronicles 21:13). State briefly what led to this utterance of David. The taking of the census, etc. Wherein was the sin of numbering the people? Not in the mere act; for Israel had been numbered thrice before by the command of the Lord. But David took this census

(1) without Divine authority or sanction;

(2) from motives of pride and ostentation.

Perhaps he was contemplating schemes of foreign conquest. Certainly the motive was a sinful one, and therefore the act was sinful. God was displeased thereby, and he determined to punish the king and his people for this and previous sins, e.g. the rebellions in which the people had joined. He, however, sent Gad the seer unto David to give him the choice of one out of three punishments (1 Chronicles 21:11-14). With becoming humility and piety, the king left the judgment in the hand of God. He prayed that he might "not fall into the hand of man," and his people be destroyed three months before their foes; but whether the punishment should be "three years' famine, or three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land," he left to the decision of the merciful God. "David said unto Gad," etc. (1 Chronicles 21:13). After these words the text from our Epistle has a strange sound: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The sacred writer has been treating of a sin of extraordinary wickedness - apostasy from Christ; and apostasy characterized, not by ignorance, but by despite of the clearest knowledge; not by weakness, but by willfulness; not by transitoriness, but by persistence. It is of the punishment of such an apostate that it is said, "It is a fearful thing," etc. "The hands of God are his almighty operations, whether in love or wrath." He is "the living God" because he is self-existent; his existence is independent, absolute, eternal. So "the hands of the living God" present the ideas of his almightiness and eternity. How fearful to fall into the punitive hands of such a Being! Man may be angry with me, but his power is limited, and he dies, and then he can injure me no longer; but it is a fearful thing to fall into the avenging hands of him whose power is unlimited and whose existence is endless - the hands of the almighty and ever-living God, Contrast these two fallings into the hands of God.

I. THE ONE FALLS VOLUNTARILY INTO GOD'S HANDS; THE OTHER, COMPULSORILY. David deliberately and freely elected to leave himself in the hands of the Lord; that was his choice. But the willfully and persistently wicked wilt fall into his hands as the guilty culprit falls into the hands of the officers of the law. The strong hand of Divine justice will seize the hardened rebel against God, and from that grip there will be no escape. Of our own free will let us now fall into his almighty and loving hands.

II. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS IN HUMBLE PENITENCE; THE OTHER, IN HARDENED IMPENITENCE. David was sincerely and deeply repentant of his sin (1 Chronicles 21:8, 17). But in the case supposed in our Epistle the sinner willfully and defiantly persists in known and terrible sin, and is arrested by the Omnipotent hands as a daring rebel. And we have sinned and deserved God's wrath. How shall we meet him? in penitence, or in presumption? "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength," etc. (Job 9:4). "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry," etc. (Psalm 2:12).

III. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS FIRMLY TRUSTING IN HIS MERCY; THE OTHER, DEEPLY DREADING HIS WRATH. "David said... for very great are his mercies." He could and did confide in the love of God even in his judgments. But when the desperately wicked fall into God's hands it will be in abject terror (cf. ver. 27). Again let us imitate David, and trust God's mercy, not man's. "If you are accused, it is better to trust him for justice than to trust men; if you are guilty, it is better to trust him for mercy than to trust men; if you are miserable, it is better to trust him for deliverance than men."

IV. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS CHASTISING HAND; THE OTHER, INTO HIS AVENGING HAND. David and his people were to be punished, but the punishment was paternal chastisement for their profit. They were to suffer that they might be saved as a nation. But very different is the punishment of the willful and persistent sinner (see vers. 26, 27, 30, 31). What is our relation to God? Penitence, or persistence in sin? Humble trust, or abject terror? We must fall into his hands somehow. How shall it be? "Hast thou an arm like God?" Let it be thus -

"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my Strength and Righteousness,
My Savior, and my All."

(Watts.) - W.J.

A fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(With 1 John 4:16): — A sermon on these two texts was published by Mr. Charles Voysey, and entitled, "A challenge to the orthodox." The heading of the sermon puts the matter in an interrogative form: "Is God love? OR, IS it a fearful thing to fall into His hands?" The two ideas are regarded as incompatible, and evidently it is suggested that they are startling opposites. Now it will be for us to consider whether they are really opposites, and whether there is any contradiction of moral idea in them at all.

I. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION IS OFTEN HARMONISED IN HUMAN LIFE. Most of US have known the love of home, as amongst the dearest experiences of earthly life; and we shall not easily forget the dewy eyes that looked so carefully into the trunk that was being packed for us with sacrificial love. True! but yet we can remember times when it was "a fearful thing to fall into our earthly father's hands"! The fatherly spirit seemed turned into a consuming flame of righteous anger. Nay, in cases of guilty betrayal, the deeper the parental love, the more intense the indignation at the harm done to some dear child of the home. And who can measure the terrible influences of sin in God's fair universe? Is His voice the only voice that is to be silent? Is His hand the only one that is not to hold the sword of justice? Is He who is the author of the eternal moral law, and who is the inspirer and quickener of all moral intuition, to be assailed as wanting in love, if by the lips of one of His own inspired apostles He declares that " it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands"?

II. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION WAS HARMONISED IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST HIMSELF. All ages since the Redeemer's advent have at least agreed in the testimony that He was a Lord of love. And yet, while His whole life is a revelation that "God is love," He casts some clear light, upon the truth that "it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands." Wicked men trembled as He read their hearts. He saw where sin was taking the forms of hypocrisy and hardness. And would any universe be beautiful or desirable that had not a retribution for such as these hardened hypocrites? Would it not be a fearful thing, if it were not " a fearful thing for them to fall into the hands of God"? Were they to "devour widows' houses for nothing"? Were they to be "full of all uncleanness," and yet meet no condemnation from the immaculate God? Where is justice in the universe, if they escape from "the wrath to come"'?

III. THIS SEEMING CONTRADICTION IS NOT A CHRISTIAN ONE ALONE. It is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands" of Nature, if you disobey her laws. The tempest, will not let you play with the lightning; the precipice will not let you tempt her indulgence by plunging into the depths; the sea soon casts upturned and ghastly faces on to the shore if you tack amid the rocks, even though there be "beauty at the prow, and pleasure at the helm"! And what are we reminded of when Nature thus resents our negligence and ignorance? We are told that all these laws and powers could not be altered for one instant in the smallest degree without injuring man, and that to secure his welt-being and safety all these laws are established. What would be the good of saying, Now you must choose one horn of this dilemma — "You cannot say, Nature is love, and yet it is a fearful thing to fall into her hands"?

IV. THESE SEEMING CONTRADICTIONS HAVE BEEN HARMONISED WITHIN BY CONSCIENCE ITSELF. Instincts are often truer than arguments. We feel in relation to what is Called crime that a merely reformatory system is not enough. It would be wrong to pass over their crimes, wrong to make Nemesis impossible! What? with their miserable victims of yesterday tortured, pillaged, traduced, and murdered! Would it be right to say, as does Mr. Voysey, "Love makes no bargain, and imposes no conditions; can never so betray itself as to say, 'Believe and thou shalt be saved,' but, 'thou shalt be saved whether thou believest or not!'" A fearful enough universe such an one would be; an altogether unmitigated misery to live in it. "Love imposes no conditions"! Is it so? Is there to be no "Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow"? I venture to affirm that the righteous instincts of human nature say emphatically, "Amen," as of old, to all these condemnations.

(W. M. Statham, M. A.)

I. The text asserts that " It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and our first statement shall be, that SURELY IT IS SO; as we may certainly gather from several considerations.

1. It must be a fearful thing for impenitent sinners to fall into God's hand when we remember the character of God as revealed in His judgments of old (Deuteronomy 7:10; Isaiah 66:6). What instances does the Scripture give of what Paul calls " the severity of God," and how true is it that " It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God"!

2. Pursuing our heavy task, we shall not draw your solemn attention to the words of the Saviour. Our Lord Jesus Christ we believe to be the incarnation of God, and to represent our God under a most tender aspect. It is a very remarkable fact that no inspired preacher of whom we have any record ever uttered such terrible words concerning the destiny of the lost as our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. We feel that it must be a fearful thing to be punished for sin when you remember the atonement.

4. The conscience of every sinner tells him that there wilt be a wrath to come. Dying men who have lived in impenitence, have often exhibited fears that are not to be accounted for, except upon the supposition that the shadow of a terrible doom had cast itself upon their minds.


1. Do not deny the fact, at any rate if you do, be consistent and deny Scripture altogether.

2. Do not have the edge of this truth taken off by those who suggest a hope that though you may be punished for a time in the next world you will ultimately be destroyed and annihilated.

3. Some suppose that instead of annihilation, restoration awaits the lost. What can there be about hell fire to change a man's heart?

4. Some ungodly men say, "Well, you do not believe for a minute that there is any material fire, do you?" But if it were not so, do you think that soul punishment is a trifle? Why, man, it is the very soul of punishment. It is far more dreadful than bodily pain.

III. CONSIDER HOW THIS TEXT IS PUT. The punishment to be endured is here described as falling into the hands of the living God. Will not that be fearful? But what could there be that would alarm the soul in falling into the hands of the living God? Let me remind you. You sinners, when you begin to think of God, feel uneasy. In a future state you will be compelled to think of God. That thought will torment you. You will have to think of God as one to whom you were ungrateful. You will feel remorse, but not repentance, as you recollect that He did honestly invite you to come to Him, that He did call and you refused. As you think of the happiness of those whose hearts were given to Him, it will make your miseries great to think of what you have lost. Well may the wicked gnash their teeth, as they note the overthrow of evil and the establishment of good!


(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Not one jot or title of the old revelation of God as a God of Righteousness is lost or cancelled. The moral teaching is stern and uncompromising as ever. God's love, which is Himself, is not the invertebrate amiability or weak good-naturedness to which some would reduce it. "The New Testament," it has been said, "with all its glad tidings of mercy is a severe book" (Church). For the goodness and the severity of God are, as it were, the convex and the concave in His moral nature.

(Aubrey L. Moore.)

The Almighty will not appear as an injured individual avenging his wrongs, but as a righteous Judge administering the law.

(J. Howard Hinton, M. A.)

David Mallet was a great free-thinker, and a very free speaker of his free thoughts; he made no scruple to disseminate his sceptical opinions whenever he could with any propriety introduce them. At his own table, indeed, the lady of the house (who was a staunch advocate for her husband's opinions) would often in the warmth of argument say, "Sir, we Deists." She once made use of this expression in a mixed company to David Hume, who refused the intended compliment by asserting that he was a very good Christian; for the truth of which he appealed to a worthy clergyman present, and this occasioned a laugh, which a little disconcerted the lady and Mr. Mallet. The lecture upon the non credenda of the free-thinkers was repeated so often, and urged with so much earnestness, that the inferior domestics became soon as able disputants as the heads of the family. The fellow who waited at table, being thoroughly convinced that for any of his misdeeds he should have no after-account to make, was resolved to profit by the doctrine, and made off with many things of value, particularly plate. Luckily he was so closely pursued that he was brought back with his prey to his master's house, who examined him before some select friends. At first the man was sullen, and would answer no questions put to him; but being urged to give a reason for his infamous behaviour, he resolutely said, "Sir, I had heard you so often talk of the impossibility of a future state, and that after death there was no reward for virtue, or punishment for vice, that I was tempted to commit the robbery." "Well, but, you rascal," replied Mallet, "had you no fear of the gallows?" "Sir," said the fellow, looking sternly at his master, "what is that to you, if I had a mind to venture that? You had removed my greatest terror; why should I fear the lesser?"

(Thomas Davies, on David Mallet.)

We are all, in one sense, in " the hands of the living God" (Psalm 139:7-10). In conversion, too, the sinner, in some sense, "falls into the hands" of God. The alien is restored — the rebel is welcomed back again — the prodigal returns to his Father's house, and sinks into his Father's arms. Glorious privilege! — And yet, the sacred writer testifies, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Jehovah is here regarded as the God of vengeance. To fall into the hands of Jehovah as the unreconciled Thunderer, is certain ruin for the guilty soul of man. In that case, the righteous Governor fulfils upon the sinner the curses of the broken covenant of works; the dark and dreadful threatenings of His word upon the workers of iniquity are carried into execution; God meets men as an enemy, and His wrath blazes out against them. Nor does the mercy with which Christianity is suffused interfere with the execution of the threatenings of heaven upon those who finally reject the "great salvation." The very greatness of that salvation, and the very "meekness and gentleness of Christ," serve to aggravate their guilt, and to augment their punishment. Oh, now let the sinner fall into His hands as the hands of God in Christ, bidding him welcome to their kind and sheltering embrace; lest, hereafter, he "fall into His hands" as the hands of an avenging potentate — an unreconciled and desolating foe.

(A. S. Patterson.)

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