The Attributes of God
by Arthur Pink
The WRATH of God
It is sad indeed to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or who at least wish there were no such thing. While some who would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the divine character—yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they do not like to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the divine wrath that makes it too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God's wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.
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: "See now that I myself am He! There is no God besides Me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to Heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen My flashing sword and My hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on My adversaries and repay those who hate Me" (Deuteronomy 32:39-41).
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. "God is angry with the wicked every day" (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 it is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon both virtue and vice, both wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy, disregard sin and refuse to manifest His "severity" (Romans 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 perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.
The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of divine equity 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" (Romans 1:18).
Robert Haldane comments on this verse as follows: "It was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise; and afterwards 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 (Genesis 22:16),
and in pronouncing judgments (Deuteronomy 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 (Hebrews 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" (Colossians 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" (Revelation 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 have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 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 Thessalonians 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 just like you" (Psalm 50:21). If we rejoice not "at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psalm 97:12), if we rejoice not 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—then 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!
"Rejoice, O nations, over His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants. He will take vengeance on His adversaries; He will purify His land and His people" (Deuteronomy 32:43). And again we read, "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in Heaven shouting: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants. And again they shouted: Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever." (Revelation 19:1-3).
Great will be the rejoicing of the saints in that day when the Lord shall . . .
vindicate His majesty,
exercise His solemn 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 deeply troubled and distressed (Mark 14:33). His awful agony, His bloody sweat, His strong cries and supplications (Hebrews 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 do in the swelling of the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 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 world.' If a prince has an enemy surrounded in one of his towns, he does not send them in provisions, but lays close 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 think not, sinners, that you shall escape thus; 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 smoother than the sea—yet when stirred into a tempest, nothing rages more. Nothing so sweet as the patience and goodness of God, and nothing so terrible as His wrath when it takes fire" (William Gurnall, 1660).
Then "flee," my reader, flee to Christ! "Flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 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: Brethren, do we in our teaching ministry, preach on this solemn subject as much as we ought? The Old Testament prophets frequently told their hearers that their wicked lives provoked the Holy One of Israel, and that they were treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath. And conditions in the world are no better now than they were then! Nothing is so calculated to arouse the careless and cause carnal professors to search their hearts, as to enlarge upon the fact that "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11). The forerunner of Christ warned his hearers to "flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7). The Savior bade His hearers, "Fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast into Hell; yes, I say unto you, Fear Him!" (Luke 12:5). The Apostle Paul said, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11). Faithfulness demands that we speak as plainly about Hell—as about Heaven.