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3.3 The Wrath of God

What does every sin deserve?

God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come.

‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.’ Matt 25: 41. Man having sinned, is like a favourite turned out of the king’s favour, and deserves the wrath and curse of God. He deserves God’s curse. Gal 3: 10. As when Christ cursed the fig-tree, it withered; so, when God curses any, he withers in his soul. Matt 21: 19. God’s curse blasts wherever it comes. He deserves also God’s wrath, which is nothing else but the execution of his curse.

What is this wrath?

I. It is privative; that is, deprives of the smiles of God’s face. It is hell enough to be excluded his presence: in whose ‘presence is fulness of joy.’ Psa 16: 11. His smiling face has that splendour and beauty in it that ravishes the angels with delight. This is the diamond in the ring of glory. If it were such a misery for Absalom, that he might not see the King’s face, what will it be for the wicked to be shut out from beholding God’s pleasant face! Privatio Divinae visionis omnium suppliciorum summum [To be deprived of the sight of God is the greatest of all punishments].

II. This wrath has something in it positive. It is ‘wrath come upon them to the uttermost.’ 1 Thess 2: 16.

[I] God’s wrath is irresistible. ‘Who knoweth the power of thine anger?’ Psa 90: 2: Sinners may oppose God’s ways, but not his wrath. Shall the briers contend with the fire? Shall finite contend with infinite? ‘Hast thou an arm like God?’ Job 40: 9.

[2] God’s wrath is terrible. The Spanish proverb is, The lion is not so fierce as he is painted. We are apt to have slight thoughts of God’s wrath; but it is very tremendous and dismal, as if scalding lead should be dropped into one’s eyes. The Hebrew word for wrath signifies heat. To show that the wrath of God is hot, therefore it is compared to fire in the text. Fire, when in its rage, is dreadful. So the wrath of God is like fire, it is the terrible of terrible. Other fire is but painted to this. If when God’s wrath is kindled but a little, and a spark of it flies into a wicked man’s conscience in this life, it is so terrible, what will it be when God shall ‘stir up all his wrath’? Psa 78: 38. How sad is it with a soul in desertion! God then dips his pen in gall, and ‘writes bitter things;’ his poisoned arrows stick fast into the heart. ‘While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted; thy fierce wrath goes over me.’ Psa 88: 15, 16. Luther, in desertion, was in such horror of mind, that nec calor, nec sanguis superesset [no warmth or blood remained]; he had no blood seen in his face, but he lay as one dead. Now, if God’s wrath be such towards those whom he loves, what will it be towards those whom he hates? If they who sip of the cup find it so bitter, what will they do who drink its dregs? Psal 75: 8. Solomon says, ‘The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion.’ Prov 19: 12. What then is God’s wrath? When God musters up all his forces, and sets himself in battalia against a sinner, how can his heart endure? Ezek 22: 14. Who is able to lie under mountains of wrath? God is the sweetest friend but the sorest enemy.

(1) The wrath of God shall seize upon every part of a sinner. Upon the body. The body, which was so tender that it could not bear heat or cold, shall be tormented in the wine press of God’s wrath. Those eyes which before could behold amorous objects, shall be tormented with the sight of devils. The ears, which before were delighted with music, shall be tormented with the hideous shrieks of the damned. The wrath of God shall seize upon the soul of a reprobate. Ordinary fire cannot touch the soul. When the martyrs’ bodies were consuming, their souls triumphed in the flames; but God’s wrath burns the soul. The memory will be tormented to remember what means of grace have been abused. The conscience will be tormented with self-accusations. The sinner will accuse himself for presumptuous sins, for misspending his precious hours, and for resisting the Holy Ghost.

(2) The wrath of God is without intermission. Hell is an abiding place, but no resting place; there is not a minute’s rest. Outward pain has some abatement. If it be the stone or colic, the patient has sometimes ease; but the torments of the damned have no intermission; he who feels God’s wrath never says, ‘I have ease.’

(3) The wrath of God is eternal. So says the text. ‘Everlasting fire.’ No tears can quench the flame of God’s anger; no, though we could shed rivers of tears. In all pains of this life men hope for cessation — the suffering will not continue long; either the tormentor dies or the tormented; but the wrath of God is always feeding upon the sinner. The terror of natural fire is, that it consumes what it burns; but what makes the fire of God’s wrath terrible is, that it does not consume what it burns. Sic morientur damnati ut semper vivunt [Those that are lost will so die as to remain always alive]. Bernard. The sinner will ever be in the furnace. After innumerable millions of years the wrath of God is as far from ending as it was at the beginning. If all the earth and sea were sand, and every thousand years a bird should come and take away a grain, it would be a long while ere that vast heap of sand were emptied; but if, after all that time, the damned might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but this word ‘Ever’ breaks the heart.

How does it consist with God’s justice to punish sin, which perhaps was committed in a moment, with eternal fire?

On account of the heinous nature of sin. Consider the Person offended; it is Crimen laesae majestatis [a charge of the highest treason]. Sin is committed against an infinite majesty, therefore it is infinite, and the punishment must be infinite. Because the nature of man is but finite, and a sinner cannot at once bear infinite wrath, therefore he must be satisfying in enmity what he cannot satisfy at once.

(4) While the wicked lie scorching in the flames of wrath, they have none to commiserate them. It is some ease of grief to have some to condole with us; but the wicked have wrath and no pity shown them. Who will pity them? God will not. They derided his Spirit, and he will now laugh at their calamity. Prov 1: 26. The saints will not pity them. They persecuted them upon earth, therefore they will rejoice to see God’s justice executed on them. ‘The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance.’ Psa 58: 10.

(5) The sinner under wrath has no one to speak a good word for him. If an elect person sins, he has one to intercede for him. ‘We have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ 1 John 2: 1. Christ will say, ‘It is one of my friends, one for whom I have shed my blood; Father, pardon him.’ But the wicked who die in sin have none to solicit for them; they have an accuser, but no advocate; Christ’s blood will not plead for them; they slighted Christ and refused to come under his government, therefore Christ’s blood cries against them.

[3] God’s wrath is just. The Greek word for vengeance signifies justice. The wicked shall drink a sea of wrath, but not one drop of injustice, It is just that God’s honour be repaired, and how can that be but by punishing offenders? He who infringes the king’s laws deserves the penalty. Mercy goes by favour, punishment by desert. ‘To us belongeth confusion of face.’ Dan 9: 8. Wrath is that which belongs to us as we are simmers; it is due to us as any wages that are paid.

Use one. For information. (1) God is justified in condemning sinners at the last day. They deserve wrath, and it is no injustice to give them that which they deserve. If a malefactor deserves death, the judge does him no wrong in condemning him.

(2) See what a great evil sin is, which exposes a person to God’s wrath for ever. You may know the lion by his paw; and you may know what an evil sin is by the wrath and curse it brings. When you see a man drawn upon a hurdle to execution, you conclude he is guilty of some capital crime that brings such a punishment; so when a man lies under the torrid zone of God’s wrath, and roars out in flames, you must say, ‘How horrid an evil sin is!’ They who now see no evil in swearing, or Sabbath breaking, will see it looks black in the glass of hell-torments.

(3) See here a handwriting upon the wall; that which may check a sinner’s mirth. He is now brisk and frolicsome, he chants to the sound of the viol, and invents instruments of music (Amos 6: 5); he drinks ‘stolen waters,’ and says, ‘they are sweet;’ but let him remember that the wrath and curse of God hang over him, which will shortly, if he repent not, be executed on him. Dionysus thought, as he sat at table, that he saw a naked sword hang over his head; but the sword of God’s justice hangs over a sinner, and when the slender thread of life is cut asunder it falls upon him. ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth . . . but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement.’ Eccl 11: 9. For a drop of pleasure thou must drink a sea of wrath. Your pleasure cannot be so sweet as wrath is bitter. The delights of the flesh cannot countervail the horror of conscience. Better want the devil’s honey than be stung with the wrath of God. The garden of Eden, which signifies pleasure, had a flaming sword placed at the east end of it. Gen 3: 24. The garden of carnal and sinful delight is surrounded with the flaming sword of God’s wrath.

Use two. For reproof. The stupidity of sinners is reproved who are no more affected with the curse and wrath of God which is due to them. ‘None considereth in his heart.’ Isa 44: 19. If they were in debt and the sergeant was about to arrest them, they would be affected with that; but though the fierce wrath of God is ready to arrest them, they remember it not. Though a beast has no shame, he has fear: he is afraid of fire; but sinners are worse than brutish, for they fear not the ‘fire of hell’ till they are in it. Most have their consciences asleep, or seared; but when they shall see the vials of God’s wrath dropping, they will cry out as Dives, ‘Oh! I am tormented in this flame!’ Luke 16: 24.

Use three. For exhortation. (1) Let us adore God’s patience, who has not brought this wrath and curse upon us all this while. We have deserved wrath, yet God has not given us our desert. We may all subscribe to Psa 103: 8, ‘The Lord is slow to anger;’ and to ver 10, ‘He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities.’ God has deferred his wrath, and given us space to repent. Rev 2: 21. He is not like a hasty creditor, who requires the debt, and gives no time for payment; he shoots off his warning-piece, that he may not shoot off his murdering-piece. ‘The Lord is long suffering to usward, not willing that any perish.’ 2 Pet 3: 9. God adjourns the assizes, to see if sinners will turn; he keeps off the storm of his wrath: but if men will not be warned, let them know that long forbearance is no forgiveness.

(2) Let us labour to prevent the wrath we have deserved. How careful are men to prevent poverty or disgrace! O labour to prevent God’s eternal wrath, that it may not only be deferred, but removed.

What shall we do to prevent and escape the wrath to come?

[1] By getting an interest in Jesus Christ. Christ is the only screen to stand betwixt us and the wrath of God; he felt God’s wrath that they who believe in him should never feel it. ‘Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.’ 1 Thess 1: 10. Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace was a type of God’s wrath, and that furnace did not singe the garments of the three children, nor had ‘the smell of fire passed upon them.’ Dan 3: 27. Jesus Christ went into the furnace of his Father’s wrath; and the smell of the fire of hell shall never pass upon those that believe in him.

[2] If we would prevent the wrath of God, let us take heed of those sins which will provoke it. Edmund, successor of Anselm, had a saying, ‘I had rather leap into a furnace of fire, than willingly commit a sin against God.’ There are several fiery sins we must take heed of, which will provoke the fire of God’s wrath. The fire of rash anger. Some who profess religion cannot bridle their tongue; they care not what they say in their anger; they will even curse their passions. James says, ‘The tongue is set on fire of hell;’ chap 3: 6. Oh! take heed of a ‘fiery tongue,’ lest it bring thee to ‘fiery torment.’ Dives begged a drop of water to cool his tongue. Cyprian says he had offended most in his tongue, and now that was most set on fire. Take heed of the fire of malice. Malice is a malignant humour, whereby we wish evil to others; it is a vermin that lives on blood; it studies revenge. Caligula had a chest where he kept deadly poisons for those against whom he had malice. The fire of malice brings men to the fiery furnace of God’s wrath. Take heed of the sin of uncleanness. ‘Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.’ Heb 13: 4. Such as burn in uncleanness are in great danger to burn one day in hell. Let one fire put out another; let the fire of God’s wrath put out the fire of lust.

(3) To you who have a well-grounded hope that you shall not feel this wrath, which you have deserved, let me exhort you to be very thankful to God, who has given his Son to save you from this tremendous wrath. Jesus has delivered you from wrath to come. The Lamb of God was scorched in the fire of God’s wrath for you. Christ felt the wrath which he did not deserve, that you might escape the wrath which you have deserved. Pliny observes, that there is nothing better to quench fire than blood. Christ’s blood has quenched the fire of God’s wrath for you. ‘Upon me be thy curse,’ said Rebekah to Jacob. Gen 27: 13. So said Christ to God’s justice, ‘Upon me be the curse, that my elect may inherit the blessing.’ Be patient under all the afflictions which you endure. Affliction is sharp, but it is not wrath, it is not hell. who would not willingly drink in the cup of affliction that knows he shall never drink in the cup of damnation? Who would not be willing to bear the wrath of man that knows he shall never feel the wrath of God?

Christian, though thou mayest feel the rod, thou shalt never feel the bloody axe. Augustine once said, ‘Strike, Lord, where thou wilt, if sin be pardoned.’ So say, ‘Afflict me, Lord, as thou wilt in this life, seeing I shall escape the wrath to come.’

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