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The third argument — This divine attribute demonstrated in the works of providence — That passage of the apostle to the Romans, chap. i. 18, considered — Anger, what it is — The definitions of the philosophers — The opinion of Lactantius concerning the anger of God — Anger often ascribed to God in the holy Scriptures — In what sense this is done — The divine anger denotes, 1. The effect of anger; 2. The will of punishing — What that will is in God — Why the justice of God is expressed by anger — The manifestation of the divine anger, what it is — How it is “revealed from heaven” — The sum of the argument — The fourth argument — Vindicatory justice revealed in the cross of Christ — The attributes of God, how displayed in Christ — Heads of other arguments — The conclusion.
III. 9090 See division, page 512.It remains, then, that we should now consider, in the third 542place, what testimony God has given, and is still giving, to this essential attribute of his in the works of providence. This Paul takes notice of, Rom. i. 18. “The wrath of God,” says he, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
The philosopher Aristotle says that “anger is a desire of punishing on account of an apparent neglect;”9191 Book viii. chapter 5, of his Topics. a definition, perhaps, not altogether accurate. Seneca says that Aristotle’s definition of anger, that it is “a desire of requiting pain,” differs but little from his own, namely, that “anger is a desire of inflicting punishment,” book 1. “Of Anger,” chapter 3, where he discusses it with great elegance, according to the maxims of the Stoics. But Aristotle reckons ἀοργησίαν9292 A deprivation of irascibility. among vices or extremes, Ethic. Nicom. lib. 2. cap. 7. But Phavorinus says that “anger is a desire to punish the person appearing to have injured you, contrary to what is fit and proper.” But in whatever manner it be defined, it is beyond a doubt that it cannot, properly speaking, belong to God. Lactantius Firmianus, therefore, is lashed by the learned, who, in his book “Of the Anger of God,” chapter 4, in refuting the Stoics, who contend that anger ought not in any manner whatever to be ascribed to God, has ventured to ascribe to the Deity commotions and affections of mind, but such as are just and good. Suarez, however, excuses him, in his disputation “On Divine Justice,” sect. 5, and contends that the nature of anger is very specially preserved in the disposition of punishing offences.
But however this matter be, certain it is that God assumes no affection of our nature so often to himself in Scripture as this; and that, too, in words which for the most part, in the Old Testament, denote the greatest commotion of mind. Wrath, fury, the heat of great anger, indignation, hot anger, smoking anger, wrathful anger, anger appearing in the countenance, inflaming the nostrils, rousing the heart, flaming and consuming, are often assigned to him, and in words, too, which among the Hebrews express the parts of the body affected by such commotions.9393 Numb. xxv. 4; Deut. xiii. 17; Josh. vii. 26; Ps. lxxviii. 49; Isa. xiii. 9; Deut. xxix. 24; Judg. ii. 14; Ps. lxxiv. 1, lxix. 24; Isa. xxx. 30; Lam. ii. 6; Ezek. v. 15; Ps. lxxviii. 49; Isa. xxxiv. 2; 2 Chron. xxviii. 11; Ezra x. 14; Hab. iii. 8, 12.
In fine, there is no perturbation of the mind, no commotion of the spirits, no change of the bodily parts, by which either the materiality or formality9494 The materiality of anger is what is essentially necessary to constitute anger; the formality means its external marks and characters. — Tr. (as they phrase it) of anger is expressed, when we are most deeply affected thereby, which he has not assumed to himself.
But since with God, beyond all doubt, “there is no variableness, 543neither shadow of turning,” it will be worth while strictly to examine what he means by this description of his most holy and unchangeable nature, so well accommodated to our weak capacities. Every material circumstance, such as in us is the commotion of the blood and gall about the heart, and likewise those troublesome affections of sorrow and pain with which it is accompanied, being entirely excluded, we shall consider what this anger of God means.
First, then, it is manifest that, by the anger of God, the effects of anger are denoted: “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? God forbid,” Rom. iii. 5. And it is said, Eph. v. 6, “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience;” that is, God will most assuredly punish them. Hence the frequent mention of “the wrath to come;” that is, the last and everlasting punishment. Thus, that great and terrible day, “in which God will judge the world by that man whom he hath ordained,” is called “The day of his wrath,” because it is the day of “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” Rom. ii. 5. And he is said to be “slow to wrath” because he oftentimes proceeds slowly, as it seems to us, to inflict punishment or recompense evil. But, perhaps, this difficulty is better obviated by Peter, who removes every idea of slowness from God, but ascribes to him patience and long-suffering in Christ towards the faithful. And of this dispensation even the whole world, in a secondary sense, are made partakers. “The Lord is not slack,” says he, “concerning his promise” (the promise, namely, of a future judgment), “as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pet. iii. 9.
Nay, the threatening of punishment is sometimes described by the words “anger, fury, wrath,” and “fierce wrath.” Thus, Jonah iii. 9, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” that is, “whether he may not, upon our humiliation and repentance, avert from us the grievous punishment denounced by the prophet.”
But, secondly, It denotes a constant and immutable will in God of avenging and punishing, by a just punishment, every injury, transgression, and sin. And hence that expression, Rom. ix. 22, “What if God, willing to show his wrath,” — that is, his justice, or constant will of punishing sinners; for when any external operations of the Deity are described by a word denoting a human affection that is wont to produce such effects, the holy Scripture means to point out to us some perfection perpetually resident in God, whence these operations flow, and which is their proper and next principle.9595 That is, the principle from which they immediately flow. — Tr.
And what is that perfection but this justice of which we are discoursing? For we must remove far from God every idea of anger, 544properly so called, which, in respect of its causes and effects, and of its own nature, supposes even the greatest perturbation, change, and inquietude of all the affections in its subject; and yet we are under the necessity of ascribing to him a nature adapted to effect those operations which are reckoned to belong to anger. But since the Scriptures testify that God works these works as he is just, and because he is just (and we have proved it above), it plainly appears that that perfection of the divine nature is nothing else but this vindicatory justice; whence Thomas Aquinas asserts9696 Quest. 47, art. 1. that anger is not said to be in God in allusion to any passion of the mind, but to the judgment or decision of his justice. Nay, that “anger” may not only be reduced to “justice,” but that the words themselves are synonymous, and that they are taken so in Scripture, is certain: Ps. vii. 6, 9, “Arise, O Lord, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.” To “judge in anger,” or with “justice,” are phrases of the same import: Ps. lvi. 7, “Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God;” or, “In justice cast them down, because of their iniquity.” Thus, when he justly destroyed the people of Israel by the king of Babylon, he says it came to pass through his anger: 2 Kings xxiv. 20, “For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.”
But the apostle says that this anger or punitory justice is “revealed from heaven.” The apostle uses the same word here that is translated “revealed” in the preceding verse, when speaking of the manifestation or revelation of the righteousness of faith in the gospel. Therefore, some have been of opinion that the apostle here asserts that this very anger of God is again and again made known and manifested, or openly declared, in the gospel against unbelievers. But to what purpose, then, is there any mention made of “heaven,” whence that manifestation or revelation is said to have been made? The apostle, therefore, uses the word in a different sense in Rom. i. 18, from that which it is used in the preceding. There it means a manifestation by the preaching of the word, here it signifies a declaration by examples; and therefore one might not improperly translate the word “is laid open,” or “clearly appears,” — that is, is proved by numberless instances. Moreover, this verse is the principal of the arguments by which the apostle proves the necessity of justification by faith in the remission of sins through the blood of Christ, because that all have sinned, and thereby rendered God their open and avowed enemy.
545The apostle, then, affirms that God hath taken care that his anger against sin, or that his justice, should appear by innumerable examples of punishments inflicted on mankind for their sins, in his providential government of the world, and that it should appear in so clear a manner that there should be no room left for conjectures about the matter. Not that punishment is always inflicted on the wicked and impious while in this world, or, at least, that it appears to be so, for very many of them enjoy all the pleasures of a rich and flourishing outward estate; but besides that he exercises his anger on their consciences, as we proved before, and that the external good things of fortune, as they call them, are only a fattening of them for the day of slaughter, even in this life he ofttimes, in the middle of their career, exercises his severe judgments against the public enemies of Heaven, the monsters of the earth, the architects of wickedness, sunk in the mire and filth of their vices; and that, too, even to the entire ruin and desolation both of whole nations and of particular individuals, whom, by a remarkable punishment, he thinks proper to make an example and spectacle of to the world, both to angels and to men.
Therefore, although “God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known,” not in that way only, — namely, by exercising public punishments in this life, — of which we are now speaking, “endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” and though he should not instantly dart his lightnings against all and every individual of the abandoned and profane, yet mankind will easily discern9797 Namely, from those instances of punishment which he is pleased in his wisdom sometimes openly and awfully to inflict upon the wicked. — Tr. what the mind and thoughts of God are, what his right and pleasure, and of what kind his anger and justice are, with regard to every sin whatever. Therefore, the apostle affirms that the anger of God, of which he gives only some instances, is by these judgments openly declared against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men whatever, whether they fail in the worship and duty which they owe to God, or in the duties which it is incumbent on them to perform to one another; moreover, that the solemn revelation of this divine justice consists, not only in those judgments which, sooner or later, he hath exercised upon particular persons, but also in the whole series of his divine dispensations towards men: in which, as he gives testimony both to his goodness and patience, inasmuch as “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” and “leaveth not himself without witness, in that he doeth good, and giveth us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness,” Matt. v. 45; Acts xiv. 17; so also he gives equally clear signs and testimonies of his anger, severity, and indignation, or of his 546punitory justice. Hence, on account of the efficacy of the divine anger exercising its power and influence far and near, this visible world, as if the very fuel of the curse, is appointed as the seat and abode of all kinds of misery, grief, lamentation, cares, wrath, vanity, and inquietude. Why need I mention tempests, thunders, lightnings, deluges, pestilences, with many things more, by means of which, on account of the wickedness of man, universal nature is struck with horror? All these, beyond a doubt, have a respect to the revelation of God’s anger or justice against the unrighteousness and the ungodliness of men.
Moreover, the apostle testifies this revelation to be made from heaven. Even the most abandoned cannot but observe punishments of various kinds making havoc everywhere in the world, and innumerable evils brooding, as it were, over the very texture of the universe. But because they wish for and desire nothing more ardently than either that there were no God, or that he paid no regard to human affairs, they either really ascribe, or pretend to ascribe, all these things to chance, fortune, the revolutions of the stars and their influence, or, finally, to natural causes. In order to free the minds of men from this pernicious deceit of atheism, the apostle affirms that all these things come to pass “from heaven;” that is, under the direction of God, or by a divine power and providence punishing the sins and wickedness of men, and manifesting the justice of God. Thus, “The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven,” Gen. xix. 24: which cities, by that punishment inflicted on them from heaven, he hath set up as an example, in every future age, to all those who should afterward persevere in the like impieties. To these considerations add, that the apostle, from this demonstration of the divine anger from heaven against the sins of men, argues the necessity of appointing an atonement through the blood of Christ, Rom. iii. 18–26; which would by no means follow but upon the supposition that that anger of God was such that it could not be averted without the intervention of an atonement.
But not to be tedious, it is evident that God, by the works of his providence, in the government of this world, gives a most copious testimony to his vindicatory justice, not inferior to that given to his goodness, or any other of his attributes; which testimony concerning himself and his nature he makes known, and openly exhibits to all, by innumerable examples, constantly provided and appointed for that purpose. He, then, who shall deny this justice to be essential to God, may, for the same reason, reject his goodness and long-suffering patience.
IV. The fourth argument shall be taken from the revelation of that name, glory, and nature, which God hath exhibited to us in 547and through Christ: John i. 18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him;” — him who, though he be light itself, and dwelling in light inaccessible, yet in respect of us, who without Christ are naturally blinder than moles, is covered with darkness. In creation, in legislation, and in the works of providence, God, indeed, hath plainly marked out and discovered to us certain traces of his power, wisdom, goodness, justice, and long-sufferance. But, besides that there are some attributes of his nature the knowledge of which could not reach the ears of sinners but by Christ, — such as his love to his peculiar people, his sparing mercy, his free and saving grace, — even the others, which he hath made known to us in some measure by the ways and means above mentioned, we could have no clear or saving knowledge of unless in and through this same Christ; for “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In him God hath fully and clearly exhibited himself to us, to be loved, adored, and known; and that not only in regard of his heavenly doctrine, in which he hath “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”9898 2 Tim. i. 10. God finishing the revelation of himself to mankind by the mission and ministry of his Son, but also, exhibiting, both in the person of Christ and in his mediatorial office, the brightness of his own glory and the express image of his person, he glorified his own name and manifested his nature, to all those at least who, being engrafted into Christ and baptized into his Spirit, enjoy both the Father and Son. But in the whole matter of salvation by the Mediator, God-man, there is no excellence of God, no essential property, no attribute of his nature, the glory of which is the chief end of all his works, that he hath more clearly and eminently displayed than this punitory justice.
It was for the display of his justice that he set forth Christ as a propitiation, through faith in his blood. He spared him not, but laid the punishment of us all upon him. It was for this that he was pleased to bruise him, to put him to grief, and to make his soul an offering for sin.
The infinite wisdom of God, his inexpressible grace, free love, boundless mercy, goodness, and benevolence to men, in the constitution of such a Mediator, — namely, a God-man, — are not more illustriously displayed, to the astonishment of men and angels, in bringing sinful man from death, condemnation, and a state of enmity, into a state of life, of salvation, of glory, and of union and communion with himself, than is this punitory justice, for the satisfaction, manifestation, and glory of which this whole scheme, pregnant with innumerable mysteries, was instituted. But that attribute whose glory and manifestation God intended and accomplished, both in the appointment 548of his only-begotten Son to the office of mediator, and in his mission, must be natural to him; and there is no need of arguments to prove that this was his vindicatory justice. Yea, supposing this justice and all regard to it entirely set aside, the glory of God’s love in sending his Son, and delivering him up to the death for us all, which the Scriptures so much extol, is manifestly much obscured, if it do not rather totally disappear; for what kind of love can that be which God hath shown, in doing what there was no occasion for him to do?
We will not at present enter fully into the consideration of other arguments by which the knowledge of this truth is supported; among which that of the necessity of assigning to God (observing a just analogy) whatever perfections or excellencies are found among the creatures, is not of the least importance. These we pass, partly that we may not be tedious to the learned reader, partly because the truth flows in a channel already sufficiently replenished with proofs. It would be easy, however, to show that this justice denotes the highest perfection, and by no means includes any imperfection, on account of which it should be excluded from the divine nature. Neither, in the definition of it, does one iota occur that can imply any imperfection; but all perfection, simple or formal, simply and formally, is found in God. But when this perfection is employed in any operation respecting another being, and having for its object the common good, it necessarily acquires the nature of justice.
I shall not be farther troublesome to my readers; if what has been already said amount not to proof sufficient, I know not what is sufficient. I urge only one testimony more from Scripture and conclude. It is found in Heb. x. 26, 27: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” “But perhaps God will pardon without any sacrifice.” The apostle is of a contrary opinion. Where there is “no sacrifice for sin,” he argues that, from the very nature of the thing, there must be “a looking for of judgment and fiery indignation;” — the very point that was to be proved.
I could heartily wish that some sinner whose conscience the hand of the omnipotent God hath lately touched, whose “sore ran in the night and ceased not,” and whose “soul refused to be comforted,” whose “grief is heavier than the sand of the sea,” in whom “the arrows of the Almighty” stick fast, “the poison whereof drinketh up the spirit,”9999 Job vi. 2–4. were to estimate and determine this difficult and doubtful dispute. Let us, I say, have recourse to a person, who, being convinced by the Spirit of his debts to God, is weighed down by their burden, while the sharp arrows of Christ are piercing the heart, Ps. xlv. 5, 549and let us inform him that God, with the greatest ease, by his nod, or by the light touch of his finger, so to speak, can blot out, hide, and forgive all sins. Will he rest satisfied in such a thought? will he immediately subscribe to it? Will he not rather exclaim, “I have heard many such things; ‘miserable comforters are ye all;’100100 Job xiii. 4, xvi. 2. nay, ‘ye are forgers of lies, physicians of no value.’ The terrors of the Lord, which surround me, and beset me day and night, ye feel not. I have to do with the most just, the most holy, the supreme Judge of all, who ‘will do right, and will by no means clear the guilty.’ Therefore, ‘my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.’101101 Ps. cii. 3–5. ‘I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.’102102 Ps. lxxxviii. 15, 16. I wish I were hid in the grave, yea, even in the pit, unless the Judge himself say to me, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom.’103103 Job xxxiii. 24. Indeed, when the recollection of that very melancholy period comes into mind, when first God was pleased by his Spirit effectually to convince the heart of me, a poor sinner, of sin, and when the whole of God’s controversy with me for sin is again presented to my view, I cannot sufficiently wonder what thoughts could possess those men who have treated of the remission of sins in so very slight, I had almost said contemptuous, a manner.” But these reflections are rather foreign to our present business.
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