|« Prev||Sermon XXIII. Psalm xc. 11.||Next »|
Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
THIS description of God’s anger, set forth by such a pathetical exclamation, seems to come from a person that spoke not only his thoughts, but his experience; even from Moses, who had felt the sad effects of his own anger, and therefore might well be sensible of the weight of God s. When God shewed himself as a legislator, it was with all the pomps of terror, and the circumstances of dread; but here we have him in the grimmer dress of a revenging judge. Then the mountain smoked, but now it flames. And Moses seems so possessed with an awful reflection upon the amazing terrors of the divine anger, that he can scarce look up; but with fear and distance, as it were, avoids the sight, and seems to have recourse to his veil, and to hide his face, not from being seen by men, but from seeing God.
Before we proceed upon the words, it will concern us to see how anger can be ascribed to God: for an infinite and divine nature cannot be degraded to those affections and weaknesses that attend ours. Anger is a passion, but God is impassible. Anger is always with some change in the person that has it, but God is unchangeable.
Crellius, in his treatise of God’s attributes, asserts 439the affections of anger, love, hope, and the like, to be really and properly in God. Thus they in a preposterous manner deny Christ to be God, and yet make God to be a man. For they make him subject to those passions which the Stoics will not allow in him who is perfectly wise, and a philosopher; but assert them to be weaknesses dwelling in vulgar breasts, that have not yet lopped off the excrescencies of the sensitive appetite, nor subdued their passions to the lure and dictates of right reason.
Certainly, therefore, anger, and the like affections, can by no means be ascribed to the infinitely perfect God in the proper and usual acceptation of the words, but only by an anthropopathy; attributing that to God, which bears some analogy and proportion to what we find in men. Thus God is said to be angry, when he does some things that bear a similitude to those effects that anger produces in men.
It is therefore in God, not as a perfection inherent in his nature, but only as an effect of his will. In deed it is not in him at all, but is only an extrinsical denomination from a work wrought without him; from the miseries and calamities which he inflicts upon a guilty creature.
I cannot see any thing else of difficulty in the words. The prosecution of them I shall manage in these following particulars.
I. I shall lay down some preparatory considerations concerning God’s anger.
II. I shall shew those instances in which it does exercise and exert itself.
III. I shall consider those properties and qualifications, 440 that declare and set forth the extraordinary greatness of it.
IV. I shall make some use and improvement of the whole.
I. For the first of these, I shall lay down these two preparatory, cautional observations.
1 . That every harsh and severe dispensation is not an effect of God’s anger. The same effect, as to the matter of it, may proceed from very different causes. Love is sometimes put upon the rigour of those courses, which at the first aspect seem to carry in them the inscriptions of enmity and hostility.
God may sweep away a man’s estate, snatch away a friend, stain his reputation; and yet the design of all this not be revenge, but remedy; not destruction, but discipline.
He sees perhaps something evil in us to be cured, and something worse to be prevented; some luxuriancies to be abated, and some malignant humours to be evacuated; all which cannot be effected, but by sharp and displeasing applications. And in all the hard passages of Providence, when God strips a man of all his externals, God’s intent may be, not to make him miserable, but to make him humble; not to ruin, but to reduce him.
If you look only upon the outside of an affliction, you cannot distinguish from what principle it may proceed; Gehazi’s leprosy and Lazarus’s sores may seem to be inflicted by the same displeasure; and yet one was a curse for hypocrisy, and the other a trial of humility.
David’s and Saul’s afflictions were dispensed with a very different hand: Saul could not pursue him so 441fast, but mercy followed him as close. St. Stephen was stoned as well as Achan; but certainly God did not with the same arm fling the stone at one, with which he did at the other.
Consider the saints in Heb. xi. 37, afflicted, tormented, nuked, destitute, sawn asunder. And what could anger itself do more against them? And yet the God who did all this was not angry. That very love which makes God to be our friend, makes him sometimes to appear our enemy: to chastise our confidence, to raise our vigilance, and to give us safety instead of security.
Persons who are truly holy, and tender how they offend God, are yet very apt to look upon God’s dealings on the wrong side, and to make hard conclusions concerning their own state and condition. David is much an example of this, who, through the transports, sometimes of diffidence, sometimes of impatience, is high in his expostulations with God. Psalm lxxvii. 9, Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And in Psalm lxxiv. 1, Why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?
Now all this, perhaps, was commenced upon the sense of some outward affliction, not considering (as he does elsewhere) that when God deals with his chosen ones, with the sheep of his pasture, his rod is still attended with his staff; and as with one he strikes, so with the other he supports.
And as persons holy are, upon the sharp passages of Providence, very prone to conclude God’s anger against themselves; so. on the other side, men of a 442 morose, uncharitable, conscience-pretending temper, from such instances of outward miseries, are as ready to denounce God’s anger against others. If such dogs meet with a Lazarus, instead of licking his sores, they will bite his person, bark at his name, and worry his reputation.
Nothing can befall any man, besides themselves, but presently it is a judgment; and they have cried out judgments! judgments! so long, that they are even become judgments themselves: indeed the greatest and sorest that a nation can groan under.
Wherefore, let us rest assured of this, that the roughest of God’s proceedings do not always issue from an angry intention: it is very possible, because very usual, that they may proceed from the clean contrary. The same clouds which God made use of heretofore to drown the earth, he employs now to refresh it. He may use the same means to correct and to better some, that he does to plague and to punish others. The same hand and hatchet that cuts some trees for the fire, may cut others into growth, verdure, and fertility. This is the first thing to be observed.
2. We must observe, that there is a great difference between God’s anger and his hatred; as great as there is between the transient, expiring heat of a spark, and the lasting, continual fires which supply a furnace. The nature of hatred is to pursue its object to death, to a total extinction of its very being. And as it is said of God’s love, so, I think, it may be also said of his hatred, that whom he hates, he hates to the end.
I do not desire to wade into the depths of God’s 443decrees; for our notions about these are very uncertain, and therefore our determinations must needs be dangerous.
But surely we are exceeding ignorant of the actuality, simplicity, and immutability of the divine nature, if we think that God can alter his counsels, or revoke his purposes.
But we shall not meddle with God’s hatred as it is bound up in his purpose, but as it lies open and visible in the execution: and so, it is the pursuance of a standing enmity against a sinner, a gradual accomplishing of his final destruction, a disposal of all passages, all contingencies and circumstances of his life, to the ruin of his soul, and the fatal issues of damnation.
But God’s anger is not of so malign and destructive an influence; the choicest of his saints have shared in some of the severest instances of it. God was angry with Moses, angry with David, angry with Hezekiah, and with his peculiar people; but we do not read that he hated them. The effects of his anger differ as much from the effects of his hatred, as the smart of a present pain from the corrosions of an abiding poison. It must indeed be confessed, that the heats of it are fierce and dreadful: but it is such a fire, as though it burns, yet it does not consume the bush; it may affright, but it will not destroy a Moses. Nevertheless, though it does not bring God’s elect under the power, it may bring them into the shadow of death, into the suburbs of hell; and give them a glimpse of those horrors, a taste of those vials of wrath, that are poured out in full measure only upon the sons of perdition.444
And thus much for the first general head.
II. I shall now, in the second place, shew what are those instances in which this unsupportable anger of God does exercise and exert itself.
I shall mention three.
1. First, it inflicts immediate blows and rebukes upon the conscience. There are several passages in which God converses with the soul immediately by himself; and these are always the most quick and efficacious, whether in respect of comfort or of terror.
That which comes immediately from God, has most of God in it. As the sun, when he darts his beams in a direct, perpendicular line, does it most forcibly, because most immediately.
Now there are often terrors upon the mind, which flow thus immediately from God, and therefore are not weakened or refracted by passing through the instrumental conveyance of a second cause: for that which passes through a thing, is ever contracted according to the narrowness of its passage. God’s wrath, inflicted by the creature, is like poison administered in water, where it finds an allay in the very conveyance.
But the terrors here spoken of, not being inflicted by the intermediate help of any thing, but being darted forthwith from God himself, are by this in comparably more strong and piercing.
When God wounds a man by the loss of an estate, of his health, of a relation, the smart is but commensurate to the thing which is lost, poor and finite. But when he himself employs his whole omnipotence, and is both the archer, and himself the arrow, there 445is as much difference between this and the former, as when an house lets fall a cobweb, and when it falls itself upon a man.
God strikes in that manner that he swears; never so effectually, as when only by himself. A man striking with a twig does not reach so dreadful a blow, as when he does it with his fist; and so makes himself not only the striker, but the weapon also.
These immediate blows of God upon the soul, seem to be those things that in Psalm xxxviii. 2 are called God’s arrows: they are strange, sudden, invincible amazements upon the spirit, leaving such a damp upon it, as defies the faint and weak cordials of all creature-enjoyments. The wounds which God himself makes, none but God himself can cure. And thus much for the first way.
2. God’s anger exerts itself by embittering of afflictions. Every affliction is of itself a grievance, and a breach made upon our happiness; but there is some times a secret energy, that so edges and quickens its afflictive operation, that a blow levelled at the body, shall enter into the very soul. As a bare arrow tears and rends the flesh before it; but if dipped in poison, as by its edge it pierces, so by its adherent venom it festers.
We do not know what strength the weakest creature has to do mischief, when the divine wrath shall join with it; and how easily a small calamity will sink the soul, when this shall hang weights upon it.
What is the reason that David is sometimes so courageous, that though he walks through the shadow of death, yet he will fear no evil? as in Psalm xxiii. 4. And at another time, God no sooner hides his face, but he is troubled, as Psalm xxx. 7. What is the cause that a man sometimes breaks through a greater calamity, and at another time the same person fails and desponds under a less of the same nature? I say, whence can this be, but that God infuses some more grains of his wrath into one than into the other?
Men may undergo many plagues from God, and yet by the enchantment of pleasures, the magic of worldly diversions, they may, like Pharaoh, harden their hearts, and escape the present sting of them. But when God shall arm a plague with sensible, lively mixtures of his wrath, believe it, this will not be enchanted away; but the sinner, like those magicians, (whether he will or no,) must be forced to confess, that it is the finger of God, and consequently must bend and lie down under it.
God may cast a man into prison, nail him to the bed of sickness, yet still he may continue master of his comforts; because the sun may shine, while the shower falls. The soul may see the light of God’s countenance, while it feels the weight of his hand.
But for God to do all these things in anger, and to mark the prints of his displeasure and his indignation upon every blow; this alters the whole dispensation, and turns it from a general passage of Providence into a particular design of revenge.
It is like a deep water, scalding hot, which as it drowns, so at the same time it redoubles its fatal influence, and also burns to death. An unwholesome air will of itself make a man sick and indisposed; but when it is infected, and its native malignity 447heightened with a superadded contagion, then presently it kills.
And such a difference is there between afflictions in themselves, and afflictions as they are fired, poisoned, and enlivened with God’s wrath. And thus much for the second way by which God’s anger puts forth itself; it embitters afflictions.
3. It shews and exerts itself by cursing of enjoyments. We may, like Solomon, have all that wit can invent, or heart desire, and yet at last, with the same Solomon, sum up all our accounts in vanity and vexation of spirit.
There is a pestilence that walks in darkness, a secret, invisible blow, that smites the first-born of all our comforts, and straight we find them dead, and cold, and sapless; not answering the quickness of desire, or the grasp of expectation. God can send a worm to bite the gourd, while it flourishes over our heads; and while he gives riches, deny an heart to enjoy them.
For whence is it else, that there are some who flourish with honours, flow with riches, swim with the greatest affluence of plenty, and all other the materials of delight; and yet they are as discontented, as dissatisfied, as the poorest of men?
Care rises up and lies down with them, sits upon their pillow, waits at their elbow, runs by their coaches; and the grim spirits of fear and jealousy haunt their stately houses and habitations.
I say, whence is this, but from a secret displeasure of God, which takes out the vitals, the heart, and the spirit of the enjoyment, and leaves them only the caput mortuum of the possession?448
We may be apt to envy such or such an one’s greatness, his estate, his happiness; but greatness is not always happiness. It is not impossible, but that he who has this, may rate it with another esteem, and perhaps feel that in it which we cannot see. The garment may present fair and handsome, and neat to the eye which beholds it; but still it may wring the body that wears it.
It was a notable speech of Haman, Esther v. 11, 12, 13, reckoning up his riches, his substance, and all his grandeur; and then bringing up the rear of all with this sad conclusion: Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. God put in a little coloquintida, which spoiled the whole mess. A little spice of contempt from his rival in the king’s favour, soured all the relish which he had from his other honours and enjoyments.
Christ determines the case fully and philosophically in those words, Luke xii. 15, A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of those things which he does possess. No; they are the smiles and favour of God the giver, that must animate and give life to the gift. As it is not such a number of hours and minutes, such a space of time, but it is the shining of the sun, which makes the day.
If God frowns and is angry, presently the whole scene of affairs is changed, all is overcast; power is a trouble, honour a vanity, riches a burden; and gold loses its brightness, and retains only its heaviness.
Is it any pleasure to a son to have his father reach him meat, if he does it with a frowning countenance, 449that looks as if he would devour, instead of feeding him? It makes that which is meat, not to be food; fit only to fill, but unable to nourish. God can make a man tumble and toss, and be disturbed upon a bed of down. He can make his silks sit uneasy, his cup bitter, and his delicacies tasteless and insipid, and spread a dulness and a lethargy over all his recreations.
Alas! it is not the body and the mass of those things which we call plenty, that can speak comfort, when the wrath of God shall blast and dispirit them with a curse. We may build our nest soft and convenient, but that can easily place a thorn in the midst of it, that shall check us in our repose.
And this is the third way, by which God’s anger shews itself; it spoils and curses our enjoyments.
III. Come we now to the next general head proposed; namely, to shew those properties and qualifications, which declare and set forth the extraordinary greatness of God’s anger.
I shall instance in these four.
1. The greatness of it appears in this, that it is fully commensurate to the very utmost of our fears, which is noted even in the words of the text; according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
Now we must observe, that all the passions of the mind enlarge and greaten their objects, and stretch things from the just standard of truth to the compass of imagination. Hence love, fear, and hope, always speak in hyperboles, and return the object greater than they received it; being as it were the womb of the soul, where things are no sooner entertained, but they grow, and are always brought forth bigger than they were conceived.450
From this it is, that experience judges short of the judgment of expectation; because expectation swells and widens according to the credulity of passion and desire: but every thing comes stript to its native truth and poorness, in the severe, impartial verdict of fruition.
And of all the passions, fear in this increasing faculty exceeds. Fear does not only tremble at shadows, but makes them; that is, it gives you some thing larger than the substance. Compare a danger feared and endured, and see how much the copy spreads beyond the original. Fear still supererogates and overdoes; and when it is to transcribe the truth of things, it gives a comment, instead of a translation.
What malefactor is condemned, who is not first executed by his fears? who does not both anticipate and enlarge those miseries, which truth and feeling would quickly contract to their own proper smallness? So that the execution endured, is not so much a punishment for his fault, as a release from his fears.
With how many blows does this kill, whereas death gives but one! Let a man have but a friend at sea, or in the wars, and how many storms and ship wrecks, wounds and battles, does this solicitous passion represent! Evils crueller than war, and larger than the sea; which, though of all other things the most remorseless, yet often spare those, upon whom fear has long since passed the sentence of death.
Let it run through the whole creation, it still adds, and would go a pitch beyond God and nature; not contracting the world into a map, but the world it self at largest is rather a map and an abridgment of our fears. And when at length it comes to God, 451it would do the same by him, were it not forestalled by infinity, that stops such attempts, and makes enlargements impossible. Such we see is the nature of this vast passion.
But now the wrath of God is the only thing which fear itself cannot enlarge; and eternity, which it can not multiply. This alone equals this passion, and bids defiance to all additions.
And here let any man call up his invention, and summon his fancy, the only creating faculty that is given to the creature, and which finds matter as well as form, and like a little deity creates things out of nothing: I say, let him give scope to his imagination, to rove over all terrors, and to represent to itself, not only things existent, but possible, and new ideas of things, and then unite them all into one apprehension of fear; yet here he shall find, that even imagination is still within the bounds of truth: the subject is so large, so inexhaustible, that there is reality enough in it to warrant the highest reaches of imagination.
Herein therefore does the divine wrath display its dreadfulness transcendently above all created terrors, that it verifies our fears, and realizes the utmost boundless suggestions of a fearful mind.
2. The greatness of God’s anger appears in this, that it not only equals, but infinitely exceeds and transcends our fears. The misery of the wicked, and the happiness of the saints, run in an equal parallel; so that by one you may best measure the proportions of the other. And for the former of these, we have a lively description of it in 1 Cor. ii. 9; Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what 452 God has prepared for those that love him. Why, the very same provisions of wrath he has made for those that hate him.
Now, what can be more unsatiable than the eye, greedier than the ear, wider and more comprehensive than thought? Yet, alas! both sight and intellect, sense and reason, are tired and swallowed up in the vast abyss of that wrath, which spreads itself into all the spaces of infinity. Endure it we may one day, (if mercy prevent not,) but never comprehend it; as the sun is known, not by our seeing his full bulk, which is here impossible, but by being scorched with his heat.
And herein sense goes a reach beyond under standing, which cannot discourse itself into a clear notion or theory of the divine wrath. For as God spoke to Job about his framing of the world, the like discourse we may address to any curious inquisitor about his wrath.
Where wert thou when God first sealed his decrees of election and reprobation? when he prepared the chambers of death, and the treasures of his wrath? when he laid the foundations of the infernal pit, and spread darkness over it, and covered it with the secret of horror for ever?
If we can answer these inquiries, and bring the matter we speak of under certain descriptions, then we may confess that our fear may reach the full compass of its object.
Our fear cannot be larger than our fancy; but even curiosity, and fancy itself, fails in the researches of an infinite. A thing not to be encountered, but by our faith; and of which, amazement, ecstasy, and astonishment are the best expressions.453
3. The greatness of divine wrath appears in this, that though we may attempt it in our thoughts, yet we cannot bring it within the comprehension of our knowledge.
And the reason is, because things, which are the proper objects of feeling, are never perfectly known, but by being felt. We may speak indeed high words of wrath and vengeance, but pain is not felt in a discourse. We may as well taste a sound, and see a voice, as gather an intellectual idea of misery; which is conveyed, not by apprehension, but smart; not by notion, but experience.
Survey the expressions of scripture, and see it there clothed and set forth in fire and brimstone, in the worm that never dies, in utter darkness, in weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. But what are all these but shadows! mere similitudes, and not things! condescensions, rather than instructions to our understanding! poor figurative essays, where, contrary to the nature of rhetoric, the figure is still beneath the truth.
Fire no more represents God’s wrath, than the picture of fire itself represents its heat: and for the proof of this, let the notional believer be an unanswerable argument, who reads, sees, and hears all these expressions, and yet is not at all moved by them; which sufficiently shews, that there is no hell in the description of hell.
But now, there is no man, who has actually passed under a full trial of God’s wrath; none alive, who ever encountered the utmost of God’s anger: and if any man should hereafter try it, he would perish in the trial, so that he could not report his experience. This is a furnace that consumes while it tries; as no 454 man can experimentally inform us what death is, be cause he is destroyed in the experiment.
4. And lastly, we may take a measure of the greatness of God’s anger, by comparing it with the anger of men. How dreadful is the wrath of a king! It is said in Prov. xix. 12, to be like the roaring of a lion; and when he roars, all the beasts of the forest tremble. What a weak thing is the greatest and most flourishing favourite, when his prince shall frown him into confusion! Haman, as the greatest of them, found it so. And to take another instance; how horrible, how amazing is the wrath of a conquering enemy! when anger sits upon a victorious sword, who dares approach it, who does not fly before it?
Are we not sometimes astonished to read of whole fields strewed with carcasses, streets running down with blood, desolations of whole cities and countries; not so much as one stone being left to cover the ruins of another? And yet, all these are but the works of a pitiful, enraged, angry, mortal creature, whose breath is in his nostrils, and whose rage can not outlast it.
And if these are so terrible, what can be said of the terrors of an almighty wrath, of an infinite indignation? the voice of which, as the Psalmist tells us, Psalm xxix. tears up the cedars, shakes the wilderness, divides the flames of fire, and removes mountains; so that the whole creation bends and cracks under it, and the strongest things in nature, confessing their weakness, return to their native dust, and crouch and sink into their first nothing.
Take and single out the most considerable man, endue him with as much power as mortality can 455wield, clothe him with as much majesty as can dwell upon human nature; and then let his anger swell up to an equal proportion to both these: yet still there is as vast a disparity between this and the divine wrath, as there is between the persons who are angry, between a finite and an infinite being.
And thus having despatched the third general head proposed, come we now, in the
Fourth and last place, to make some improvement of the point; which may be various: as,
1. It may serve to discover to us the intolerable misery of such as labour under a lively sense of God’s wrath for sin. Certainly they struggle with the quickest pains, and the most restless, vexatious troubles, that the nature of man is capable of lying under. Few do heartily commiserate the condition of such persons, because few have an experimental sense of God’s wrath bringing the guilt of sin home, and binding it close to their consciences. Few know what it is to feel what they only hear and read; and to have the very flames of hell flashing in their guilty faces. Yet some there are in the world, whom God is pleased to deal with in this manner; such as he follows with all his storms, such as even weep away their eyes, and grow old in misery, and from their youth up suffer his terrors with a troubled mind. So that the whole course of their life is a certain wrestling with God, and a kind of grappling with the wrath of the Almighty, by which they are often foiled, and cast, and flung into the very depths of horror and desperation.
And thus God sometimes thinks fit to discipline even such as he loves, such as he designs for heaven and a glorious eternity, leading them through the 456 vale of tears to the land of promise. For by this he serves many great purposes, both of his own glory and their happiness; it being the most sure, direct, and immediate way to possess the heart of such with a deep and quick sense of the intolerable evil of sin, and God’s unspeakable detestation and abhorrence of it; that it should provoke him to lay on such heavy and afflictive strokes upon those whom he otherwise so dearly loves; that it seems, for a time, to shut up the bowels of mercy itself, and to represent a tender father in the guise and posture of the fiercest enemy.
2. This may serve also to discover to us the ineffable vastness of Christ’s love to mankind in his sufferings for them. The whole burden of the divine wrath, which we have been hitherto discoursing of, he freely took upon his own shoulders; he intercepted the blow; he took the dreadful cup of God’s fury out of our hands, and drank off the very dregs of it: and so great was the strength, so venomous was the mixture of it, that he sweat blood, cried out, and was amazed. All that we have been speaking of, and much more than we can speak, fell upon him like a pouring, thundering storm from heaven. A storm, from which there could be no flight nor shelter; so that it crushed and quite beat down his humanity, till the very extremity of pain and anguish dissolved the union between his innocent soul and body, bringing him into the blackest regions of death and darkness for a season. All the direful stings of God’s anger fastened upon him, all the poisoned darts of his vengeance struck into his soul; so that they even terrified him who was God, and, as it were, shook and staggered omnipotence itself. And all this befell 457him for the infinite love he bore to the sons of men, who must otherwise have perished by the justice which they had provoked. His love and his sufferings were both beyond all parallel; and from one you may well take the dimensions of the other. Never was any love equal to his love, because indeed never was any sorrow like to his sorrow. For certainly so great, so pressing, so insupportable was it, that nothing but an infinite power could undergo such a burden, and nothing but an infinite love would.
3. The foregoing discourse speaks terror to such as can be quiet, and at peace within themselves, after the commission of great sins. Nothing, upon a rational ground, can be so fearful, as such a stupid want of fear. For upon what solid principles of reason can such persons be secure? Do they think that their sins do not deserve the divine wrath? or that they can either endure or escape what they have so deserved? Do they conclude, that there is perfect peace between God and them, because the terrible effects of his fury do not actually roar against them? Are they therefore finally discharged, because they are not presently called to an account? No certainly, these are frail and fond considerations, for any rational person to build his peace upon: for every sin stands registered in the black book of heaven, and that with all its circumstances and particularities; and consequently has the same sting, and guilt, and destructive quality, as if it were actually tearing and lashing the sinner with the greatest horror and anguish of mind imaginable. And no man knows how soon God may awaken and let loose the tormenting power of sin upon his conscience; how soon he may 458 set fire to all that fuel that lies dormant and treasured up in his sinful breast. This he may be sure of, that, whensoever God does so, it will shake all the powers of his soul, scatter his easy thoughts, and lay all the briskness and jollity of his secure mind in the dust. A murdering piece may lie still, though it be charged, and men may walk by it and over it safe, and without any fear, though all this while it has death in the belly of it; but when the least spark comes to fire and call forth its killing powers, every one will fly from its fatal mouth, and confess that it carries death with it. Just so it is with the divine wrath; nobody knows the force of it, till it be kindled.
But now God has, by a perpetual decree, awarded the sad sentence of tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; Rom. ii. 9. So that, if he gives not the sinner his portion of sorrow here, it is to be feared he has it in full reserve for him hereafter. Upon which account, the present quiet of his condition is so far from ministering any just cause of satisfaction to him, that he has reason to beg upon his knees, that God would alter the method of his proceeding, and rather compound and strike him with some present horror for sin, than sink him under the insupportable weight of an eternal damnation. When a man must either have his flesh cut and burnt, or die with a gangrene, would he not passionately desire the surgeon to cut, and burn, and lance him, and account him his friend for all these healing severities? This is the sinner’s case; and therefore when, upon his commission of any great sin, God seems to be silent, and to connive, let him not be confident, but fear. For one may sometimes 459keep silence, and smile too, even out of very anger and indignation. If the present bill of his accounts be but small, it is a shrewd argument that there is a large reckoning behind.
4. In the fourth and last place, the most natural sequel and improvement of all that has been said of God’s anger, is a warning against that cursed thing which provokes it. We see how dreadfully it burns; let us beware of the sin by which it is kindled.
Sin is the thing that exasperates goodness, that makes love angry, and puts mercy itself into a rage. God’s anger never seizes upon any but a sinner. Christ himself could not feel it, till he was a sinner by imputation. It seizes upon the soul, as distempers use to do upon the body; which never fasten an infection, but where they meet with an in ward corruption.
In a word, I have shewn how devouring and consuming the divine wrath is, and how sin is the only thing that it preys upon. And^ therefore all the advice that, I think, can be given, is, that men would begin here, and not expect to extinguish the flame, till they withdraw the fuel. Let them but do this, and God will not fail to do the other.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.460
|« Prev||Sermon XXIII. Psalm xc. 11.||Next »|