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THE BRITISH PULPIT.
THE REVELATION OF THE WRATH OF GOD.
REV. W. JAY.
ARGYLE CHAPEL, BATH, SEPTEMBER 28, 1834.
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness
of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”-ROMANS, i. 18.
Some parts of the office and the work of ministers are much more pleasing than others. It is delightful to delineate the character of the righteous, and to show the path of the just, which is “ as the shining light, which shineth more and more until the perfect day.” It is delightful to dwell on the glories and blessedness of the enly world, and to hear of our “meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.” It is delightful to hold forth God's goodness, shewing him in his abundant mercy, and the exceeding riches of his grace; not sparing his own Son, but delivering him up for us all; raising him up from the dead, and giving him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God; exalting him at his own right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins; and sending forth his messengers to compel men to come in, that his house might be filled with inhabitants, and his table furnished with guests.
But our feelings are not to regulate our duties. The truth is, we have no choice; as preachers we are bound—if we would be faithful to our commission, and be free from the murder of souls-we are bound not to shun to “ declare all the counsel of God.” What says God to Ezekiel ? “When I say unto tlie wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand.” This demands, therefore, that, “knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men,” and that some we should endeavour to save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” Even Paul—who is called
by Augustine “the herald of grace"-even Paul could say that he “shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” And here, says he to the Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
Our reflections will turn this evening on four things: first, the wrath of God; secondly, the revelation of it from heaven; thirdly, the objects against which it is denounced ; and, fourthly, the class of victims peculiarly obnoxious to it.
First The WRATH OP God. It is no easy thing to speak of wrath in connexion with God. Among us it is known to be a passion; it is well known, also, seldom to be a righteous passion. But it is not a passion in God; “Fury is not in me:" in him it is principle; in him it is the love of order; in him it is a determination to maintain equity; in him it is a resolution to punish sin. It results, therefore, from the perfection of his nature; and is not the effect of cowardice and malignity, but the conviction of judgment. The legislator is not angry when he promulgates his laws: the judge is not in a passion when he pronounces sentence of death on the criminal; yea, it does him honour when he does it with pity and with tears. But the case is, that society cannot be maintained without laws, and laws are nothing without penalties and sanctions. Be assured he is not a Christian, he is not a friend to criminals themselves, who is always railing at criıninal jurisprudence, and who would strip it of some of its wholesome severities, in the present state of the world. In all well-ordered countries crime is punished, and must be punished; and can it escape in the empire of a Being who is “ righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works ?" We discard at once the phrase “vindictive justice," as implying in it hatred, and rancour, and revenge: and we substitute for it “vindicatory justice," or “ permittive justice." And this we contend to be essential to the very character of God: we contend that we could not esteem him, nor love him, if we supposed that he viewed equally truth and lies, honesty and injustice, cruelty and benevolence. What would you think of a magistrate who should bear the sword in vain; who, if a.“ praise to them that do well,” would not be “a terror to evil doers ;" who, if when he had before him the incendiary who burned down your house, the very murderer who killed your child, should smile and say, “ This does not concern me: go in peace?" God is the dictator of the universe, and God is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” * The wicked," he says, “shall not stand in my sight; I hate all workers of iniquity." Therefore, he has in the Scriptures, pronounced a peculiar curse upon the man who presumes upon impunity: “If it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: the Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven." So much for the nature of this wrath.
But what shall we do with the dreadfulness of it? Who has courage to pro
ceed here? And what is to be said here? “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” If “the wrath of a king” be, as Solomon says, as “the roaring of a lion," what must the wrath of God be? " Who knoweth the power of his anger 9” Can the devils tell us ? No, they cannot : they are “ reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day:" and there is as much difference between their present and future state, as between imprisonment and execution. Cannot the damned in hell tell us what is the power of his anger? No, they cannot: they are yet only spirits ; all the misery that can rush into them through the body, and by the eye, and by the ear-all these parts of woe are necessarily postponed till after the resurrection, for want of a system of organization to receive them. “ Who knoweth the power of his anger? Even according to thy fear so is thy wrath.” In
many cases the evil is far less than the fear ; and when the reality comes it is found to be nothing compared with the apprehension. But here the reality will equal, the reality will surpass, all imagination. When one drop of this wrath has fallen upon a man, judicially from God, he has been driven into despair; his soul has “preferred strangling, and death rather than life.” And even when a little of it has been felt by the Christian himself, under conviction of sin, he has “eaten ashes like bread;" he has “mingled his drink with weeping;" he has slept, but he has been scared with dreams, and terrified with visions ; he has said with David, “When I suffer thy terrors I am distracted ;" he has exclaimed with Solomon, “ A wounded spirit who can bear ?"
Let us, secondly, consider THE REVELATION OF THIS WRATH. wrath of God is revealed from heaven." It is made known in various ways: it is revealed to our faith; it is revealed to our conscience; it is revealed to our very senses.
It is revealed to our faith. And this is done by the Scriptures: faith sees it plainly enough in this book; there hell is naked before it, and destruction has 113 covering; there faith beholds the outer darkness where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Those who believe this Volume must admit this misery, and those who deny the misery must get rid of the Volume; that is, they must get rid of the truth of it; before they can feel satisfaction they must believe that this book is a cunningly-devised fable. We talk of “the faith of a Christian" what is his faith compared with the greatness of the sight of the man who believes that a scheme so harmonious in its parts, so sublime in its discoveries, so wise in its contrivances, so holy in its nature, breathing such pure morality, so benevolent in its tendency, so conducive to the welfare of man, individually and socially considered—a scheme preserved by Providence, established by miracles, in defence of which the best of men have died, and the wisest of men have lived—the faith, I say, of a man who can believe that all this is the offspring of a weak or a wicked mind?
It is also revealed to the conscience. Thus it is revealed in those uneasinesses and apprehensions which attend the commission of sin. It is hard, if not impossible, for a sinner to deliver himself from these : and why so? We are generally referred to the apprehension of human detection and human punishment: but what are we to do when we find these apprehensions where no human detection is expected, where no human punishment is reckoned upon ?
Whence is it that any unusual appearance or awful occurrence gives to the mind a kind of fearful determination? When Joseph's brethren were in the hold, they said one to another, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us.” What was there here to remind them of Joseph ? O, there was enough. Inhumanity deserves and demands punishment; and conscience knows it. And when Belshazzar was at his feast, and saw the fingers inscribing some characters on the ceiling, his face gathered terror, the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Why? Since he does not understand the writing, how does he know but that it is an eulogium upon his character—but that it is an announcement of the raising of the siege by Cyrus—or that it is a prediction of the extension of his reign? There was something within him that foreboded of evil; and the interpreter, therefore, only came in to confirm the exposition of his own feelings. So was it with Herod.
It is commonly supposed that Herod was a Sadducee; and, if so, he denied the existence of spirits, and the resurrection of the dead : and yet, when he heard of the fame of Jesus, he said, “ It is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works are done by him." His conscience was too strong for his creed.
It is revealed even to our senses. This is conclusive, by our being able to appeal to facts. All nature abounds throughout with tokens of God's displeasure against sin. Proofs of the Deluge, for instance, are everywhere to be found. What diseases, what famines, what hurricanes, what earthquakes sometimes desolate our earth! What sufferings of every kind have been inflicted upon individuals, upon families, upon nations ! Surely these could not have been looked for in the ordinary course of things, under the government of a holy, and benevolent, and kind Being, whose mercies are said to be “over all his works ;"> neither could it have been the effect of chance; but it is the result of the appointment of Him who has established a connexion between sin and misery. And though the present is not properly considered a state of retribution, (that is future,) yet there is obviously such a connexion established already between sin and misery; and though there is a tendency in the one to produce the other, yet in the present state it is checked, it is hindered ; because we are in a mixed condition, and God exercises long-suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish : and some are spared for the sake of others; and some are spared to accomplish providential designs. Thus the tendency of sin to produce misery has not its full influence. But yet to any reflective mind, there is enough to be seen to convince that there is such a tendency in sin to produce misery; and that, were the obstruction that now hinders the tendency in various particulars to be removed, it would work out and issue in all the dreadful things the Scriptures have made known. Thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven; revealed to our faith, revealed to our conscience, and revealed to our very senses.
And before we dismiss this part of the subject, we will observe, that, while the existence of this wrath shows us the holiness and justice of God, the revelation of it displays his mercy and his grace too.
He would not take
you sinners by surprise: he would not strike before he spoke. He has revealed the wrath before. Why? To inflict it? No ; but that you may escape it.