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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 of 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, seldoın 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 wher 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 criminal 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 upor. 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 wrathi.
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?" 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. "The 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 no 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, (thut 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 inind, there is enough to be seen to convince that there is such a tendency in sin to produce miscry; 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 disniiss 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. He has
revealed it in order to make sin terrible, that sin may produce flight, and that flight may induce you to enter the refuge of hope that is set before you in the Gospel.
Let us, thirdly, contemplate THE OBJECTS AGAINST WHICH THIS WRATH 18 REVEALED. It is against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men."
It is against ungodliness. Ungodliness comprehends all the sins against the first table of the law. Ungodliness consists in a disregard of God : the ungodly do not fear him; the ungodly do not love him; the ungodly do not worship him; the ungodly do not confide in him. God is not in all their thoughts : they practically say unto him, “ Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
If any of you think you may be very godly characters, notwithstanding all this, provided that you are moral, you are under a most dreadful mistake. Be assured, religion is nothing without godliness. What is the duty-what can be the duty you owe to any or all of your fellow creatures compared with that which you owe to Him who is your Maker, your Preserver, your Benefactor, your Governor, your Saviour? The servant that regards every one but his master—the child that is dutiful to every one but his father—the wife that is faithful to every one but her husband—these would be very inadequate images to hold forth the condition of the man who professes to pay a proper regard to other beings, while he lives without God and without hope in the world.
On the other hand, though righteousness is nothing without godliness, godliness is nothing without righteousness. Though there may be morality without religion, there cannot be religion without morality. We are therefore reminded that this wrath is revealed against unrighteousness. Unrighteousness comprehends all the sins against the second table of the law. Unrighteousness is injustice in your regards and in your dealings with your fellow creatures. “What," you say, “not paying them when they labour for us, and in not paying when we purchase from them?" Yes, nothing less than this.
“ Let no man," says the Apostle, “go beyond and defraud his brother.” But this does not go far enough. You may be unrighteous, and yet keep within the bounds of the law and civil decency, when yet you are unrighteous in other respects and instances ; unrighteousness if you render not to all their due, fear to whom fear, tribute to whom tribute; unrighteous if you do not afford relief to those who are in distress, when you have it in your power to do it. “Withhold not,” says Solomon, “good from them to whom it is due." Observe, they have claims upon you; and says the Apostle John, “Whosoever hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassions from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him ?" It is impossible, if we regard the commands of God, and the design of Providence, and the claims of our common nature upon us.
And this is not all: it is revealed against all ungodliness, and all unrighteousness—the concealed and the open, the refined and the gross. You are for ever laying down rules which God does not sanction, and distinguishing between things which have no difference in his sight. You do not worship a graven image, but then you take the name of your God in vain : did not he who gave
the second commandinent give also the third ? You do not swear; O no, you tremble at the thought: but then you profane God's holy day. “O no," you say; we should deem it very sinful indeed to employ a carpenter or a mason :" but you employ others. You would not for the world steal-not you: but you can surround the tea-table with a number of gospel-gossips, and bear false witness against your neighbour by the hour. You would not murder ; but you covet : and is not this equally forbidden? What pickings and choosings are here ! And do you imagine that God has left matters to your option in such a case as this? No; you are to regard all these without partiality.
There are three passages of Scripture which you would do well when you go home to reflect upon. One is the language of the Apostle John, when he says "All unrighteousness is sin.” Mind that. Another is the language of James
“ He that saith, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” And the other is the language of David in Psalm cxix, “ Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy command ments."
when he says,
We were, fourthly, to remark, THE CLASS OP VICTIMS PECULJARLY OB NOXIOUS TO IT. For, says the Apostle, “ The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." What men. “Who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Not that this is added by way of exclusion, as if these only would be punished; but in the way of enhancement and aggravation. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodly, and all the unrighteous, but more intensely burns (this is the meaning of the Apostle) against those who act against their knowledge, having a convinced judgment, but being wedded to a wicked life.
Now let us enter into this : for, my brethren, there is far more of this to be found than is commonly imagined. The heathen themselves never lived up to the light they possessed, never practised what they knew. This is the charge directly brought home against them by the Apostle in this chapter: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shown it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools; and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and to creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness." It was not otherwise also with the Jews: they never practised what they knew. This is the charge the Apostle brings against them in the next chapter : “ Behold thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that teachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dosť thou commit sacrilege ?"