Their foot shall slide in due time - Deuteronomy 32:35.
In this verse, God is threatening vengeance on the wicked, unbelieving Israelites who were His visible people and lived under His grace. Despite all the wonderful works God had done for them, they remained, as expressed in Deuteronomy 32:28, “void of counsel,” having no understanding. Despite all the cultivation of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit, as in the two verses before my text.
The phrase I have chosen for my text, “Their foot shall slide in due time,” implies the punishment and destruction these wicked Israelites were facing.
1. They were always at risk of destruction, like someone walking on slippery ground who is always at risk of falling. This is suggested by the way their destruction came upon them, being represented by their feet slipping. This is also expressed in Psalms 73:18, “You certainly put them in dangerous places; you sent them down into destruction.”
2. It implies that they were always at risk of sudden, unexpected destruction. Just like someone walking on slippery ground who can’t predict one moment to the next whether they will stand or fall, and when they do fall, they fall immediately without warning. This is also expressed in Psalms 73:18-19, “You certainly put them in dangerous places; you sent them down into destruction. How suddenly they were brought to ruin!”
3. Another thing implied is that they were liable to fall of their own accord, without being thrown down by someone else. Just like someone standing or walking on slippery ground who only needs their own weight to make them fall.
4. The only thing keeping them from falling into destruction is that God’s appointed time has not yet come. When that time arrives, it is said that “their foot shall slide” and God will no longer hold them up in these slippery places. They will be left to their own devices and will immediately fall into destruction, just like someone standing on the edge of a pit who can’t stand on their own and falls as soon as they are let go.
I would like to emphasize the following point based on what I have said:
Doctrine: Nothing but God’s grace prevents wicked people from going to hell at any given moment.
When I say “the mere pleasure of God,” I’m referring to his absolute authority and will, which is not bound by any obligation or hindered by any difficulty. This is as if nothing else but God’s will had any influence in keeping wicked people alive for even a moment.
The truth of this can be seen in the following points:
1. God has the power to send wicked people to hell at any time. No one can stand against God when He rises up; the strongest have no power to resist Him, and no one can be saved from His hands.
He is not only capable of sending wicked people to hell, but he can do it with ease. An earthly ruler may struggle to put down a rebel who has fortified themselves and gathered a lot of supporters, but God has no such difficulty. No fortress can protect against his power. Even if his enemies join forces and become a huge crowd, they are easily destroyed – like a pile of straw in a whirlwind or a heap of dry twigs in a fire. We can easily step on a worm crawling on the ground or snip a thin thread that something hangs from – and it’s just as easy for God to send his enemies to hell. Who are we to think we can stand up to him, when the earth trembles at his rebuke and rocks are thrown down?
2. They deserve to be sent to hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it has no issue with God using his power at any moment to destroy them. In fact, justice demands an infinite punishment for their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that produces such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down; why does it take up space on the ground” (Luke 13:7). The sword of divine justice is constantly hovering over their heads, and it is only the hand of mercy and God’s own will that keeps it at bay.
3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They not only deserve to be sent there, but the law of God, that unchangeable rule of righteousness, has been passed against them and stands against them; so that they are already bound for hell. John 3:18 says, “Whoever does not believe is already condemned.” So every unconverted person rightfully belongs in hell; that is their place; they are from beneath, as John 8:23 says, and that is where justice, God’s Word, and the sentence of His unchangeable law have assigned them.
4. They are now the objects of the same anger and wrath of God that is expressed in the torments of hell. The only reason they don’t go down to hell at this moment is not because God, who holds them in His power, is not angry with them; He is as angry with many of those who are now suffering in hell and feeling the fierceness of His wrath. In fact, God is much more angry with many people on earth, even in this congregation who may be feeling comfortable and secure, than He is with many of those in the flames of hell.
God is not like them, even though they may think He is. His wrath is burning against them and their damnation is certain. The pit is ready to receive them, the fire is hot and the flames are raging. The sword is sharpened and held over them and the pit is open and waiting.
5. The devil is ready to pounce on them and take them as his own, whenever God allows it. They are his; he has their souls in his grasp and under his control. The Bible describes them as his “possessions” (Luke 11:21). The devils keep an eye on them; they are always nearby, at their side; they wait for them, like hungry lions that spot their prey and anticipate getting it, but are held back for now; if God were to remove his hand, which is restraining them, they would instantly attack their poor souls. The old serpent is salivating for them; hell opens its mouth wide to take them in; and if God were to permit it, they would be quickly swallowed up and lost.
6. Wicked men have hellish principles reigning in their souls, which would quickly ignite and burst into hellfire if not for God’s restraints. There is a foundation for the torments of hell already present in the nature of carnal men; these corrupt principles are powerful and violent, and if God did not hold them back, they would soon be unleashed, burning with the same intensity as the same corruptions and enmity do in the hearts of the damned. The souls of the wicked are compared to a troubled sea in Scripture (Isaiah 57:20). God is currently restraining their wickedness with His mighty power, just as He does the raging waves of the sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further” [Job 38:11]. If He were to remove this restraint, it would quickly take over. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature, and if God were to let it run free, it would make the soul completely miserable.
The corruption of the heart of man is boundless and if it were not held back, it would set the course of nature ablaze. As it is, the heart is a sink of sin, but if sin were not restrained, it would turn the soul into a fiery oven or a furnace of fire and brimstone.
7. Wicked people cannot rely on the fact that there are no visible signs of death around them. It is no guarantee that a person who is currently healthy and does not see any immediate danger in their circumstances will not suddenly pass away. History has shown us that this is not a reliable indicator that someone is not on the brink of eternity.
There are countless unseen and unexpected ways for people to leave this world. Unconverted people are walking on a fragile surface above the pit of hell, and there are many weak spots that they cannot see. Death can strike at any time, even in broad daylight, and the sharpest eyes cannot detect it. God has so many different, unsearchable ways of taking wicked people out of the world and sending them to hell that it does not require a miracle or any extraordinary measures.
All the means of sinners leaving this world are in God’s hands and completely subject to His power and will, so it is entirely up to Him whether someone goes to hell at any given moment, even if no means are used.
8. No matter how much we try to take care of ourselves or how much others try to take care of us, it doesn’t guarantee us a single moment of life. This is something that both divine providence and our own experience can attest to. It’s clear that our own wisdom can’t protect us from death – if it could, we would see a difference between wise and prudent people and others in terms of their vulnerability to early and unexpected death. But what do we actually see? Ecclesiastes 2:16 says it all: “How does the wise man die? Just like the fool.”
9. All the efforts and plans wicked people use to try and avoid hell while they keep rejecting Christ won’t protect them from it for even a moment. Most people who hear about hell will comfort themselves with the thought that they will be able to escape it. They rely on themselves for safety and they think highly of what they have done, what they are doing, or what they plan to do.
Everyone has their own ideas about how to avoid damnation and they think they have come up with a better plan than anyone else. They hear that only a few people are saved and that most people who have died in the past have gone to hell, but each person believes that they have come up with a plan that will be successful and that they won’t end up in that place of torment.
The foolishness of mankind leads them to believe in their own schemes and strength, when in reality they are trusting in nothing but a shadow. Most of those who have lived under the same means of grace and are now dead have gone to hell, not because they were any less wise than those alive today, but because they did not plan for their own escape.
If we could speak to them, one by one, and ask if they ever expected to suffer such misery, we would likely hear them say, “No, I never intended to end up here. I thought I had it all figured out. I was sure I had taken the necessary steps, but it came upon me unexpectedly. Death tricked me and God’s wrath was too quick. How foolish I was to think I could get away with it. I was so sure of myself, believing I had found peace and safety, but then sudden destruction came upon me” [1 Thessalonians 5:3].
10. God has not made any promises to keep any non-believer out of hell. The only promises of eternal life and deliverance from eternal death are found in the covenant of grace, which are given through Christ. Those who are not part of the covenant and do not believe in the promises of the covenant, nor have faith in the Mediator of the covenant, have no claim to these promises.
It is clear and evident that no matter how hard a person without faith in Christ works to pursue religion, or how many prayers they make, God is not obligated to keep them from eternal destruction.
So, it’s like this: Natural people are held in God’s hand over the pit of hell. They have earned the fiery pit and are already sentenced to it. God is extremely angry with them, just as angry as with those who are already suffering in hell. They haven’t done anything to make God less angry or to make up for it. God isn’t obligated to keep them safe for even one more moment.
The devil is waiting for them, hell is ready to swallow them up, and the fire in their hearts is trying to break out. They have no mediator, no way to protect themselves. In short, they have no escape, nothing to hold onto. The only thing that keeps them safe is the arbitrary will and uncovenanted mercy of an enraged God.
The potential for awakening those who are not yet converted in this congregation is real. What you have heard applies to each and every one of you who are not in Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is right beneath you. There is the terrifying pit of God’s wrathful flames; there is hell’s gaping mouth wide open; and you have nothing to stand on, nothing to hold onto. There is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only by the power and grace of God that you are kept from it.
You may not be aware of this, but you may think that it is your own actions that keep you from going to hell, such as taking care of your health and using the right precautions to stay safe. However, these things are nothing compared to the hand of God. If God were to take away His protection, all of your efforts would be useless in keeping you from falling.
Your wickedness weighs you down like a heavy lead, pushing you closer and closer to hell. If God were to let you go, you would immediately fall into the bottomless abyss. Your strength, your caution, your best efforts, and all your righteousness would be powerless to keep you out of hell, just like a spider’s web would be unable to stop a falling rock.
If it were not for God’s mercy, the earth would not be able to bear you for even a moment; you are a burden to it. The creation groans under your corruption, and the sun, the earth, the air, none of them willingly serve you in your pursuit of sin and Satan. The sun does not willingly give you light, the earth does not willingly yield its bounty to satisfy your desires, and the air does not willingly provide you with breath to sustain your life while you serve God’s enemies.
God’s creatures are good and were created to serve God. They don’t willingly submit to any other purpose and suffer when they are misused. The world would reject you if it weren’t for God’s sovereign hand. Right now, dark clouds of God’s wrath are looming over you, ready to unleash a terrible storm. But God is restraining it for now. If it weren’t for His sovereign pleasure, the wind of destruction would come with fury and you would be swept away like chaff in the summer.
The wrath of God is like a great dammed up river, growing ever stronger and higher until an outlet is provided. Judgment against your wrongdoings has not been enacted yet, but your guilt is still increasing and you are storing up more and more wrath. The waters are rising and becoming more powerful, and only God’s will is keeping them back. If He were to remove His hand from the floodgate, it would open and the fierce wrath of God would come upon you with unstoppable force. No matter how strong you are, it would be impossible to withstand it.
The bow of God’s wrath is drawn, and the arrow is ready to be released. Justice has the arrow aimed at your heart, and is ready to fire. It is only God’s will, and that of an angry God, that is preventing the arrow from piercing you.
Therefore, all of you who have not undergone a great transformation of heart, through the powerful Spirit of God, and have not been born again, made anew, and brought back from death in sin to a state of new and previously unknown light and life (even if you have improved your life in many ways, have had religious feelings, and have kept up a form of religion in your homes, closets, and in the house of God, and have been strict in it) are in the hands of an angry God. It is only His will that is keeping you from being swallowed up in everlasting destruction this very moment.
No matter how skeptical you are of what you’re hearing now, you’ll eventually be convinced of its truth. Those who have been in the same situation as you can attest to this; destruction came upon them without warning, when they least expected it and were feeling secure. They now realize that the things they thought would bring them peace and safety were nothing but illusions.
The God who holds you over the pit of hell, much as one would hold a spider or some loathsome insect over a fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he sees you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is too pure to bear having you in his sight. You are infinitely more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him more than any stubborn rebel has ever offended their prince.
It is only his hand that holds you back from falling into the fire every moment. It is only because of him that you did not go to hell last night when you closed your eyes to sleep. There is no other reason why you have not dropped into hell since you awoke this morning, other than God’s hand holding you up. There is no other reason why you have not gone to hell since you have been sitting here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes with your sinful, wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. In fact, there is nothing else that can be given as a reason why you don’t drop down into hell this very moment.
O sinner! Reflect on the dire situation you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, filled with the fire of God’s wrath, and you are held over it in His hand. His wrath is as provoked and inflamed against you as it is against many of the damned in hell. You are hanging by a thin thread, with the flames of divine wrath flickering around it, ready to burn it apart at any moment. You have no mediator to turn to, nothing to save yourself with, nothing of your own, nothing you have done, nothing you can do, to make God spare you even for a moment.
And think more carefully about the wrath you are in such danger of.
First, whose wrath are we talking about? It’s the wrath of the infinite God. If it were just the wrath of a human, even a powerful prince, it would be nothing to worry about. Kings are often feared, especially absolute monarchs who have complete control over their subjects. Proverbs 20:2 says, “The fear of a king is like the roar of a lion; whoever angers him sins against their own soul.” If someone angers an absolute ruler, they can expect to suffer the worst punishments imaginable. But even the most powerful earthly rulers are nothing compared to the great and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth. When they are at their angriest, they can do very little.
All the kings of the earth before God are like grasshoppers; their love and hatred is insignificant. The wrath of the King of kings is much more terrifying than theirs, as his majesty is greater. Luke 12:4-5 says, “And I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
Second, we must consider the ferocity of God’s wrath that we are exposed to. We often read of the fury of God in passages such as Isaiah 59:18, which states, “According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay fury to his adversaries,” and Isaiah 66:15, which reads, “For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebukes with flames of fire.” The words are truly terrifying: if it had only said “the wrath of God,” it would have been enough to evoke fear, but it goes further to say “the fierceness and wrath of God.”
Who can even begin to imagine what such words imply? But it doesn’t stop there, it goes on to say “the fierceness and wrath of almighty God,” as if His omnipotence were to be unleashed in His fury. What will become of the poor soul that must endure it? Who can be strong enough to withstand it? What an unfathomable, indescribable depth of misery awaits the unfortunate soul that must suffer it!
Think about this, all of you who are here and still remain in an unsaved state. God’s anger will be fierce and without any mercy. When He looks at your desperate situation and sees how your soul is crushed and overwhelmed, He will have no compassion. He will not lessen His punishment and nothing will be withheld, even if it is too hard for you to bear. Ezekiel 8:18 says, “Therefore, I will act with fury; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. Even if they cry out to me with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.”
Now, God is ready to show mercy. This is a day of grace and you can cry out to Him with hope of being heard. But once the day of mercy is gone, your cries and pleas will be in vain. God will have no regard for your welfare and you will be a vessel of wrath, only meant to suffer misery. He will not pity you when you cry out to Him, but will only laugh and mock (Proverbs 1:25-32).
How terrible are the words of Isaiah 63:3, spoken by the great God: “I will trample them in my anger and crush them in my fury, and their blood will be splattered on my clothes, staining all my garments.” It’s hard to imagine words that express more contempt, hatred, and fierce indignation. If you cry out to God for mercy, He won’t show you any kindness or compassion. Instead, He will trample you under His feet, even though He knows you can’t bear the weight of His omnipotence. He will crush you mercilessly, and your blood will be splattered on His clothes, staining all His garments. He will not only hate you, but He will have you in utter contempt, treating you as nothing more than dirt beneath His feet.
Third. The suffering you are exposed to is God’s way of showing what His wrath is like. He wants to demonstrate to both angels and humans how great His love is, as well as how terrible His wrath can be.
Sometimes earthly kings will demonstrate their anger by punishing those who have provoked them severely. For example, Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful ruler of the Chaldean Empire, wanted to show his wrath when he was angry with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. This was as hot as humanly possible, but the great God also wants to show His wrath and magnify His awesome majesty and power through the extreme suffering of His enemies. Romans 9:22 says, “What if God, willing to show His wrath and make His power known, endured with much patience the objects of His wrath, prepared for destruction?” And knowing this is His plan, and what He has decided to do, to demonstrate how terrifying the unrestrained, unbridled wrath of the Lord is, He will do it to make an impact. Something will be achieved and brought to fruition that will be a sight to behold.
When the great and angry God rises up and carries out His terrible vengeance on the unfortunate sinner; and the wretched soul is actually enduring the infinite strength and might of His wrath, then God will call upon the entire universe to witness the awesome majesty and power that is on display. Isaiah 33:12-14, “The people will be like burning coals, like thorns cut down and burned in the fire. Listen, all you who are far away, to what I have done; and you who are near, recognize my might. The sinners in Zion are terrified; fearfulness has seized the hypocrites. Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with everlasting burnings?”
If you remain in an unconverted state, you will experience the full might and terror of an all-powerful God. Your torment will be witnessed by the holy angels and the Lamb, and the glorious inhabitants of heaven will come to observe the awful sight of God’s wrath and ferocity. Isaiah 66:23-24 says, “From one new moon to another and from one sabbath to another, all people will come to worship the Lord. They will look upon the bodies of those who have rebelled against Him, for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched. They will be a horror to all mankind.”
Fourth. It is everlasting wrath. It would be terrifying to experience the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God for even a moment; but you must endure it for all eternity: there will be no end to this unbearable misery. When you look ahead, you will see an endless forever, an infinite span of time before you, which will overwhelm your thoughts and astound your soul; and you will have no hope of ever being freed, of ever having any respite, any relief at all; you will know for certain that you must endure countless ages, millions upon millions of ages, while struggling and battling with this almighty, merciless vengeance; and then when you have done so, when so many ages have passed, you will realize that it is only a drop in the ocean compared to what remains.
So your punishment will truly be forever. Oh, who can describe what the state of a soul in such a situation is like? All we can say about it is a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is indescribable and inconceivable: for “who knows the power of God’s anger?” (Psalms 90:11).
It is truly frightening to think of those who are constantly in danger of God’s wrath and infinite misery. This is the sad reality for everyone in this congregation who has not been born again, no matter how moral, strict, sober, or religious they may be. Whether you are young or old, please consider this. It is likely that there are many here who will end up in hell. We do not know who they are or what they are thinking, but they may be feeling comfortable and secure. If there was only one person in this congregation who was destined for this misery, it would be a terrible thing to consider. But instead of one, it is likely that many will remember this sermon in hell. It is possible that someone here in this meeting house could be in hell before the end of the year.
Those of you who remain in your natural state will be there soon enough. Your damnation is coming quickly and unexpectedly for many of you. You should be amazed that you are not already in hell. There are those who you have known who never deserved hell more than you, yet they are now in extreme misery and despair. Here you are in the land of the living, in the house of God, with the opportunity to be saved. How much would those poor, damned souls give for just one day of this opportunity!
Today is a remarkable opportunity, a day when Christ has opened the door of mercy wide and is standing in the doorway, calling out loudly to all sinners. Many are coming from all directions to join the kingdom of God. People who were in the same miserable state as you are now in a much happier place, their hearts filled with love for the one who has loved them and washed away their sins with his own blood, rejoicing in the hope of God’s glory.
It’s a terrible thing to be left behind on such a day, to see others feasting while you are starving and suffering. To see others rejoicing and singing with joy while you have cause to mourn and howl in distress. How can you remain in such a state? Aren’t your souls as valuable as the souls of the people at Suffield, who are flocking to Christ every day?
Are there not many here who have lived a long time in the world, yet have not been born again and are therefore excluded from the kingdom of Israel? They have done nothing but store up wrath for the day of judgment. Sirs, your situation is especially perilous; your guilt and stubbornness is immense. Don’t you see how many of your age are being overlooked and left out in this remarkable and wonderful time of God’s mercy? You must take yourselves seriously and wake up from your slumber; you cannot withstand the fury and wrath of the Almighty.
Young men and women, will you ignore this precious moment when so many of your peers are giving up their youthful frivolities and coming to Christ? You have a special chance now, but if you let it slip away, you will soon find yourselves in the same dire circumstances as those who wasted their youth in sin and are now in a state of blindness and hardness.
Are you children who are not yet converted aware that you are heading towards hell, to face the terrible wrath of an angry God? Would you be content to remain the children of the devil, when so many other children in the land have been converted and become the holy and blessed children of the King of kings?
Let everyone who is still outside of Christ, and teetering on the edge of the pit of hell, whether they be old, middle-aged, young, or children, listen to the urgent calls of God’s Word and providence. This year of grace, a time of such great favor for some, will likely be a day of equal retribution for others. People’s hearts become hardened and their guilt increases quickly on a day like this, if they neglect their souls. Never has there been such a great risk of these people being abandoned to a hardened heart and a blind mind. God appears to be quickly gathering in His chosen ones from all over the land; and it’s likely that the majority of adults who will ever be saved will be brought in soon. It will be like it was in the time of the apostles when the Spirit was poured out on the Jews – the elect will be chosen and the rest will be blinded.
If this happens to you, you will forever regret this day and the day you were born, to have seen such a time of the outpouring of God’s Spirit; and you will wish you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now, it is just like it was in the days of John the Baptist – the axe is being laid at the root of the trees so that every tree that does not bear good fruit can be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Therefore, let everyone who is not in Christ wake up and flee from the coming wrath. The wrath of Almighty God is surely looming over much of this congregation. Everyone should flee from Sodom. Hurry and escape for your lives, don’t look back, run to the mountain, or else you will be destroyed (Genesis 19:17).