Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God's wrath, as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the divine character or some blot upon the divine government. But what says the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the facts concerning His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is:
"Look now; I myself am He! There is no god other than Me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one delivers from My power! Now I raise My hand to heaven and declare, "As surely as I live, when I sharpen My flashing sword and begin to carry out justice, I will bring vengeance on My enemies and repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword will devour flesh!" (Deut 32:39-42).
A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God—than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy—He hates all sin; and because He hates all sin—His anger burns against the sinner (Psalm 7:11).
The wrath of God is as much a divine perfection—as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be, if "wrath" were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who does not hate sin—is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency, look with equal satisfaction upon virtue—and vice; wisdom—and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His "severity" (Rom 11:22) toward it? How could He, who delights only in that which is pure and lovely—not loathe and hate that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite, as Heaven is! Not only is there no imperfection in God—but there is no attribute in Him, which is less perfect than another.
The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of divine justice, against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence, which He passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God's government, shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is—which they despise; and how dreadful is that threatened wrath—which they so little regarded. Not that God's anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it—or in return for injury received. No, though God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.
That divine wrath is one of the perfections of God, is not only evident from the considerations presented above—but is also clearly established by the express declarations of His own Word. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" (Rom 1:18). Robert Haldane comments on this verse as follows:
"The wrath of God was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise. Afterwards it was revealed by such examples of punishment as those of the Deluge, and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from heaven—but especially by the reign of death throughout the world. It was proclaimed in the curse of the law on every transgression, and was intimated in the institution of sacrifice, and in all the services of the Mosaic dispensation. In the eighth chapter of this epistle, the Apostle calls the attention of believers to the fact, that the whole creation has become subject to vanity, and groans and travails together in pain. The same creation which declares that there is a God, and publishes His glory—also proves that He is the Enemy of sin and the Avenger of the crimes of men. But above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven—when the Son of God came down to manifest the divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in His sufferings and death, in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given, of His displeasure against sin. Besides this, the future and eternal punishment of the wicked is now declared in terms more solemn and explicit than formerly. Under the new dispensation, there are two revelations given from heaven, one of wrath, the other of grace."
Again, that the wrath of God is a divine perfection is plainly demonstrated, by what we read in Psalm 95:11: "Unto whom I swore in My wrath." There are two occasions of God's "swearing": in making promises (Gen 22:16), and in pronouncing judgments (Deut 1:34ff). In the former, He swears in mercy to His children; in the latter, He swears to deprive a wicked generation of its inheritance because of murmuring and unbelief. An oath is for solemn confirmation (Heb 6:16). In Genesis 22:16 God says, "By Myself have I sworn." In Psalm 89:35 He declares, "Once have I sworn by My holiness." While in Psalm 95:11 He affirms, "I swear in My wrath." Thus the great Jehovah Himself appeals to His "wrath" as a perfection equal to His "holiness". He swears by the one as much as by the other! Again, as in Christ "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:9), and as all the divine perfections are illustriously displayed by Him (John 1:18), therefore do we read of "the wrath of the Lamb!" (Rev 6:16).
The wrath of God is a perfection of the divine character, upon which we need to frequently meditate.
First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God's detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God's abhorrence of sin, and His frightful vengeance upon it—the more likely are we to realize its heinousness.
Secondly, to beget a true fear of God in our souls: "Let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire!" (Heb 12:28-29). We cannot serve him "acceptably" unless there is due "reverence" for His solemn Majesty and "godly fear" of His righteous anger; and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that "our God is a consuming fire!"
Thirdly, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for our having been delivered from "the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1:10).
Our readiness or our reluctance to meditate upon the wrath of God, becomes a sure test of our hearts' true attitude toward Him. If we do not truly rejoice in God, for what He is in Himself, and that because of all the perfections which are eternally resident in Him—then how does the love of God dwell in us? Each of us needs to be most prayerfully on his guard, against devising an image of God in our thoughts which is patterned after our own evil inclinations. Of old the Lord complained, "You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself!" (Psalm 50:21). If we don't rejoice "at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psalm 97:12), if we don't rejoice to know that in a soon-coming Day, God will make a most glorious display of His wrath by taking vengeance upon all who now oppose Him—it is proof positive that our hearts are not in subjection to Him, that we are yet in our sins, and that we are on the way to the everlasting burnings!
"After this, I heard the sound of a vast crowd in heaven shouting, 'Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants.' Again and again their voices rang, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from that city ascends forever and forever!'" (Rev 19:1-3).
Great will be the rejoicing of the saints in that day when the Lord shall vindicate His majesty, exercise His awful dominion, magnify His justice, and overthrow the proud rebels who have dared to defy Him.
"If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord—who shall stand?" (Psalm 130:3). Well may each of us ask this question, for it is written, "the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment" (Psalm 1:5). How sorely was Christ's soul exercised with thoughts of God's marking the iniquities of His people, when they were upon Him! He was "filled with horror and deep distress" (Mark 14:33). His dreadful agony, His bloody sweat, His strong cries and supplications (Heb 5:7), His reiterated prayers ("If it is possible—let this cup pass from Me"), His last dreadful cry ("My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?") all manifest what fearful apprehensions He had of what it was for God to "mark iniquities." Well may poor sinners cry out, "Lord, who shall stand," when the Son of God Himself so trembled beneath the weight of His wrath! If you, my reader, have not "fled for refuge" to Christ, the only Savior, "how will you stand in the swelling of the Jordan? (Jer 12:5).
When I consider how the goodness of God is abused by the greatest part of mankind, I cannot but be of his mind who said, "The greatest miracle in the world is God's patience and bounty—to an ungrateful and rebellious world. If a prince has an enemy fortified in one of his towns, he does not send them provisions—but lays heavy siege to the place, and does what he can to starve them. But the great God, who could wink all His enemies into destruction, bears with them, and is at daily cost to maintain them! Well may He command us to bless those who curse us, who Himself does good to the evil and unthankful. But do not think, O sinners, that you shall finally escape! God's mill goes slow—but grinds small! The more admirable His patience and bounty now is—the more dreadful and unsupportable will that fury be—which arises out of His abused goodness. Nothing is smoother than the sea; yet when stirred into a tempest, nothing rages more! Just so, nothing is so sweet as the patience and goodness of God—and nothing is so dreadful as His wrath when it takes fire! " (William Gurnall, 1660).
Then "flee," my reader, flee to Christ; "flee from the wrath to come!" (Matt 3:7) before it is too late! Do not, we earnestly beseech you, suppose that this message is intended for somebody else. It is to you! Do not be contented by thinking you have already fled to Christ. Make certain! Beg the Lord to search your heart and show you yourself.
A Word to Preachers—