THE WRATH OF GOD
By Maurice Roberts
Reprinted from: June 2019 The Banner of Truth magazine
No subject in religion is more important to understand, in all aspects of it, then the subject of God’s wrath and anger. But, sadly, it is the subject least handled in the modern pulpit and least welcomed by the modern hearer.
To the person whose mind is steeped in evolution and unbelief the mere thought of God’s existence is enough to send a cold shiver down his spine. After all, modern man spends his brief life running away from the thought that there is a God to whom we are all answerable. But to be told that God not only exists but is angry with sinful mankind is a message more unwelcome than for a criminal to hear the police knocking at the front door.
Why should God be angry? We all know that none of us is perfect. “But we are not all that bad, surely.” So we think until we start to read the Bible. Oh! if only people would read the Bible! If only preachers would preach what the Bible everywhere teaches! No subject on earth is so important as these: Why is God angry with us? How can we make sure that he will grant us his pardon and blessing?
Bible experts tell us that in the Old Testament alone there are more than twenty words referring to the wrath of God. We are told by the Bible experts that these words are used in various forms a total of about five hundred and eighty times. To this staggering statistic we must add all the references in the New Testament.
Those who never read the Bible ought to make a note of these statistics and ask themselves: “Is it wise to ignore what the Bible teaches on this most serious and awesome subject?” Preachers who take the view that the doctrine of God’s wrath would upset their hearers and send them home unhappy ought to face the challenging question: “Why would god refer to his wrath and anger so very often in the Bible if it is not good for church people to hear about it?”
If this most serious subject is not a fit theme for modern preachers to preach on, why, we may ask, does the loving and gracious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, refer to it so often in his preaching? The truth is that Christ makes reference to the wrath of God perhaps more than any other preacher in the inspired Scriptures. A rapid glance at Christ’s sermons will show us at once that he frequently warns us of the reality of God’s holy anger. A brief glance at the four Gospels makes clear that Jesus refers often to the fire of hell, to eternal punishment and to the blackness of darkness where many spend eternity.
God’s wrath is his opposition to evil, his holy displeasure against men and angels who sin against him. God is absolutely holy and morally perfect. He requires of all his moral creatures that we too should be morally perfect. God made us all perfect. But the sad truth is that the human race fell from their original perfection into a state of sin and disobedience. How this happened is made very clear in the Bible.
God placed our first father Adam into the special position of being our Covenant Head in the Covenant of Works. When Adam disobeyed God he acted as a representative of the whole human race. Hence, the guilt of Adam’s first sin imputed to every person as soon as we are conceived in our mother’s womb (Psalm 51:5). So, the truth is this. We are not sinners because we sin; but sin because we are sinners.
Of course, those who reject the Bible and deny its authority will be ready to say: “Why should we be blamed for what Adam did centuries before we were born?” This, however, is a wrong way of thinking. The fact, whether we understand it or not, is that God, being perfectly holy, looks upon all Adam’s children as sinful, guilty and liable to punishment. The wise way to face up to this punishment in God’s sight is to submit to the truth of it and to pay attention to the way of forgiveness which God offers to us in his holy word. Whether or not we fully understand how our human race became sinful it clearly is sinful!
The correct way to approach the subject of God’s wrath is to admit that it is an essential part of God’s holy moral character. God must needs love what is good and hate what is evil.
The question may be asked, “Why does God not just forgive us all?” To this the proper answer is: “Because God is absolutely just and true.” God’s words to Adam before he sinned were that if he ate of the fruit of the tree in the garden his punishment would be death.
Because God is absolutely truthful he will keep his threatened word of warning. We are all sinners. We must all be punished, as he warned Adam in the beginning. The only hope we have of escaping punishment is to avail ourselves of the salvation which God has promised to those who believe in Christ.
The preacher’s duty is to make clear to all his hearers that they must pay attention to the seriousness of God’s warnings to us all as ruined sinners. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). God will punish the guilty.
But the thought quickly comes in our mind: “If I preach this awesome message will I not offend my people? Surely a preacher’s duty is to comfort his people?” The answer to this thought is hard for some preachers to hear, but it is vital for them to hear. We must only comfort sinners after they have felt the terror of God’s wrath and have repented of their sins.
To give comfort to sinners who are under God’s wrath hand have not repented is to deceive them. The faithful preacher must aim the doctrine of God’s wrath at the sinners conscience till the sinner cries out: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Every sinners true well-being is to be found, not in hearing worthless words of worldly comfort, but in being faced with the gospel call to believe in Christ and so to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7).
In our modern churches there is far too little seriousness or godly repentance. In times of revival churches witness dozens of convicted and alarmed sinners crying till the tears run down their face. When people see themselves as sinners under the wrath of a holy God they break down. No more trite questions about “Why is God angry with sinners?” when sinners feel their guilt before God and are convinced of their total depravity and their worthiness to be cast into hell fire they cry out with alarm: “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
The Bible presents to all of us two aspects of God’s holy character: his wrath and also his love. But God’s love is never valued as it should be until his anger and his righteous displeasure are understood by the sinner. The healthy (or those who think they are healthy) do not need a doctor. But when a man knows he has a serious disease, or a cancer, he will welcome the help of the doctor. So with sinners also.
The question which we need to face in our own generation surely is this: What emphasis should we place on the doctrine of God’s wrath in our own private lives as Christians and in our works as ministers of Christ?
It would surely be a wise practice for every believer to meditate often on God’s wrath. When we recall what we deserve but did not receive we are compelled surely to fall on our knees and to adore the God who saved us. We do well to imitate the devout gratitude of the woman, formerly a worldly sinner, who washed and kissed our Saviour’s feet (Luke 7:37). Love to Christ is multiplied in our hearts when we measure his love to us displayed on the cross.
The heart which is moved by the immensity of Christ’s love in redeeming us from God’s wrath will search for ways to express its gratitude. Such a spirit drove missionaries to spend their lives in distant lands. It roused young men to spend their lives in the task, much needed still, of entering the ministry of the church.
Preachers must include in their message the urgency of warning lost sinners to flee from the wrath to come. The preacher who is nervous about preaching on God’s wrath needs to read Jonathan Edwards’ awakening sermons, the titles of which are a sermon in themselves: “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” After all, if God’s wrath is real we must stir sinners to flee from it to embrace God’s love as it is to be had in Christ.