The Ten Commandments

by Thomas Watson

The Wrath of God

What does every sin deserve?

God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come.

"Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!" Matthew 25:41. Man having sinned, is like a favorite turned out of the king's favor, and deserves the wrath and curse of God. He deserves God's curse. Gal 3:10. As when Christ cursed the fig-tree, it withered; so, when God curses any, he withers in his soul. Matt 21:19. God's curse blasts wherever it comes. He deserves also God's wrath, which is nothing else but the execution of his curse.

What is God's wrath?

I. It is privative. That is, it deprives of the smiles of God's face. It is hell enough to be excluded his presence—in whose "presence is fullness of joy." Psalm 16:11. His smiling face has that splendor and beauty in it, which ravishes the angels with delight. This is the diamond in the ring of glory. If it were such a misery for Absalom, that he might not see the King's face; what will it be for the wicked, to be shut out from beholding God's glorious face! "To be deprived of the sight of God, is the greatest of all punishments."

II. This wrath has something in it positive. It is "wrath come upon them to the uttermost." 1 Thess 2:16.

[1] God's wrath is IRRESISTIBLE. "Who knows the power of your anger?" Psalm 90:2. Sinners may oppose God's ways—but not his wrath. Shall the briers contend with the fire? Shall finite contend with infinite? "Have you an arm like God?" Job 40:9.

[2] God's wrath is DREADFUL. We are apt to have slight thoughts of God's wrath; but it is very tremendous and dismal, as if scalding lead should be dropped into one's eyes. The Hebrew word for wrath signifies heat. To show that the wrath of God is hot, therefore it is compared to fire in the text. Fire, when in its rage, is dreadful. So the wrath of God is like fire, it is most dreadful. Other fire is but painted fire, compared to this. If when God's wrath is kindled but a little, and a spark of it flies into a wicked man's conscience in this life, it is so dreadful, what will it be when God shall "stir up all his wrath"? Psalm 78:38.

How sad is it with a soul in desertion! God then dips his pen in gall, and "writes bitter things;" his poisoned arrows stick fast into the heart. "I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me." Psalm 88:15, 16. Luther, in desertion, was in such horror of mind, that he had no blood seen in his face—but he lay as one dead. Now, if God's wrath be such towards those whom he loves, what will it be towards those whom he hates? If those who sip of the cup find it so bitter, what will they do who drink its dregs? Psalm 75:8. Solomon says, "The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion." Proverbs 19:12. What then is God's wrath? When God musters up all his forces, and sets himself in battalia against a sinner, how can his heart endure? "Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you?" Ezekiel 22:14. Who is able to lie under mountains of wrath? God is the sweetest friend—but the most dreadful enemy!

(1) The wrath of God shall seize upon every part of a sinner.

The wrath of God shall seize upon the BODY of a reprobate. The body, which was so tender that it could not bear heat or cold, shall be tormented in the wine press of God's wrath! Those eyes which before could behold amorous objects, shall be tormented with the sight of devils! The ears, which before were delighted with music, shall be tormented with the hideous shrieks of the damned!

The wrath of God shall seize upon the SOUL of a reprobate. Ordinary fire cannot touch the soul. God's wrath burns the soul. The memory will be tormented to remember what means of grace have been abused. The conscience will be tormented with self-accusations. The sinner will accuse himself for presumptuous sins, for misspending his precious hours, and for resisting the Holy Spirit.

(2) The wrath of God is without intermission. Hell is an abiding place—but no resting place; there is not a minute's rest. Our earthly pains have some abatement. If it is the stone or colic, the patient has ease at times; but the torments of the damned have no intermission; he who feels God's wrath never says, "I am at ease."

(3) The wrath of God is eternal. So says the text. "Eternal fire!" No tears can quench the flame of God's anger; no, though we could shed rivers of tears. In all pains of this life, men hope for cessation—the suffering will not continue long; either the tormentor dies or the tormented; but the wrath of God is always feeding upon the sinner. The terror of natural fire is, that it consumes what it burns; but what makes the fire of God's wrath dreadful is, that it does not consume what it burns. "Those that are lost will so die, as to remain always alive." Bernard. The sinner will forever be in the furnace! After innumerable millions of years, the wrath of God is as far from ending—as it was at the beginning. If all the earth and sea were sand, and every thousand years a little bird should come, and take away a grain of sand, it would be a long while before that vast heap of sand were emptied; but if, after all that time, the damned might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but this word "FOREVER" breaks the heart!

How does it consist with God's justice to punish sin, which perhaps was committed in a moment, with eternal fire?

On account of the heinous nature of sin. Consider the Person offended; it is a charge of the highest treason. Sin is committed against an infinite majesty, therefore it is infinite, and the punishment must be infinite. Because the nature of man is but finite, and a sinner cannot at once bear infinite wrath, therefore he must be satisfying in enmity, what he cannot satisfy at once.

(4) While the wicked lie scorching in the flames of wrath, they have none to commiserate them. It is some ease of grief, to have some to condole with us; but the wicked have wrath and no pity shown them. Who will pity them? God will not. They derided his Spirit, and he will now laugh at their calamity. Proverbs 1:26. The saints will not pity them. They persecuted them upon earth, therefore they will rejoice to see God's justice executed on them. "The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance." Psalm 58:10.

(5) The sinner under wrath has no one to speak a good word for him. If an elect person sins, he has one to intercede for him. "We have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1. Christ will say, "It is one of my friends, one for whom I have shed my blood; Father, pardon him." But the wicked who die in sin have none to solicit for them; they have an accuser—but no advocate; Christ's blood will not plead for them; they slighted Christ and refused to come under his government, therefore Christ's blood cries against them.

[3] God's wrath is just. The Greek word for vengeance signifies justice. The wicked shall drink a sea of wrath—but not one drop of injustice! It is just that God's honor be repaired, and how can that be but by punishing offenders? He who infringes the king's laws deserves the penalty. Mercy goes by favor, punishment by desert. "To us belongs confusion of face." Dan 9:8. Wrath is that which belongs to us as we are sinners; it is due to us as just wages, which are paid.

Use one. For information.

(1) God is justified in condemning sinners at the last day. They deserve wrath, and it is no injustice to give them that which they deserve. If a malefactor deserves death, the judge does him no wrong in condemning him. "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged. Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments." Revelation 16:5-7. "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!' And again they shouted: 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever!'" Revelation 19:1-3. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Galatians 6:7.

(2) See what a great evil sin is—which exposes a person to God's wrath forever! You may know what an evil sin is—by the wrath and curse it brings! When you see a man brought to the gallows, you conclude he is guilty of some heinous crime which brings such a punishment; so when a man lies under the fierce anger of God's wrath, and roars out in flames, you must say, "How horrid an evil sin is!" Those who now see no evil in sin—will see it looks black, in the looking-glass of hell-torments!

(3) See here, that which may check a sinner's mirth. He is now brisk and frolicsome; he "sings idle songs to the sound of the harp" (Amos 6:5). "But know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment!" Ecclesiastes 11:9. Let him remember that the wrath and curse of God hang over him, which will shortly, if he does not repent--be executed on him! The sword of God's justice hangs over a sinner, and when the slender thread of life is cut asunder--it falls upon him! For a drop of pleasure--you must drink a sea of wrath! Your momentary pleasure cannot be so sweet--as God's eternal wrath is bitter. The delights of the flesh cannot countervail the horror of conscience. Better lack the devil's honey--than be stung with the eternal wrath of God! The garden of Eden, which signifies pleasure, had a flaming sword placed at the east end of it. Gen 3:24. The garden of carnal and sinful delight is surrounded with the flaming sword of God's wrath!

Use two. For reproof.

The stupidity of sinners is reproved, who are no more affected with the curse and wrath of God, which is due to them. "None considers in his heart." Isa 44:19. If they were in debt and the sergeant was about to arrest them, they would be affected with that; but though the fierce wrath of God is ready to arrest them, they have no concern. Though a beast has no shame, he has fear—he is afraid of fire. But sinners are worse than brutish—for they fear not the "fire of hell" until they are in it! Most have their consciences asleep, or seared; but when they shall feel the vials of God's wrath dropping, they will cry out as Dives, "Oh! I am tormented in this flame!" Luke 16:24.

Use three. For exhortation.

(1) Let us adore God's patience, who has not brought this wrath and curse upon us all this while. We have deserved wrath—yet God has not given us our desert. We may all subscribe to Psalm 103:8, "The Lord is slow to anger;" and to ver 10, "He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities." God has deferred his wrath, and given us space to repent. Rev 2:21. He is not like a hasty creditor, who requires the debt, and gives no time for payment; he shoots off his warning-piece, that he may not shoot off his damning-piece. "The Lord is long suffering to us, not willing that any perish." 2 Pet 3:9. God adjourns the assizes, to see if sinners will turn; he keeps off the storm of his wrath: but if men will not be warned, let them know that long forbearance is no forgiveness.

(2) Let us labor to prevent the wrath we have deserved. How careful are men to prevent poverty or disgrace! O labor to prevent God's eternal wrath, that it may not only be deferred—but removed.

What shall we do to prevent and escape the wrath to come?

[1] By getting a saving interest in Jesus Christ. Christ is the only screen to stand between us and the wrath of God; he felt God's wrath—that those who believe in him should never feel it. "Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." 1 Thess 1:10. Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace was a type of God's wrath, and that furnace did not singe the garments of the three Hebrew children, nor did they have "the smell of fire upon them." Dan 3:27. Jesus Christ went into the furnace of his Father's wrath; and the smell of the fire of hell shall never pass upon those who believe in him.

[2] If we would prevent the wrath of God, let us take heed of those sins which will provoke it. Edmund had a saying, "I had rather leap into a furnace of fire, than willingly commit a sin against God." There are several fiery sins we must take heed of, which will provoke the fire of God's wrath.

The fire of rash anger. Some who profess religion cannot bridle their tongue; they care not what they say in their anger; they will even curse their passions. James says, "The tongue is set on fire of hell;" chap 3:6. Oh! take heed of a fiery tongue, lest it bring you to fiery torment! Dives begged a drop of water to cool his tongue. Cyprian says he had offended most in his tongue—and now that was most set on fire.

Take heed of the fire of malice. Malice is a malignant evil, whereby we wish evil to others; it is a vermin which lives on blood; it studies revenge. Caligula had a chest where he kept deadly poisons for those against whom he had malice. The fire of malice brings men to the fiery furnace of God's wrath!

Take heed of the sin of immorality. "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." Heb 13:4. Such as burn in immorality are in great danger to burn one day in hell! Let one fire put out another; let the fire of God's wrath—put out the fire of lust!

(3) To you who have a well-grounded hope that you shall not feel this wrath, which you have deserved—let me exhort you to be very thankful to God, who has given his Son to save you from this tremendous wrath. Jesus has delivered you from wrath to come. The Lamb of God was scorched in the fire of God's wrath for you! Christ felt the wrath which he did not deserve—that you might escape the wrath which you have deserved! Pliny observes, that there is nothing better to quench fire, than blood. Christ's blood has quenched the fire of God's wrath for you. "Upon me be your curse," said Rebekah to Jacob. Gen 27:13. So said Christ to God's justice, "Upon Me be the curse, that My elect may inherit the blessing."

Be patient under all the afflictions which you endure. Affliction is sharp—but it is not wrath, it is not hell. Who would not willingly drink in the cup of affliction—who knows he shall never drink in the cup of damnation! Who would not be willing to bear the wrath of man—who knows he shall never feel the wrath of God!

Christian, though you may feel God's rod—you shall never feel God's bloody axe! Augustine once said, "Strike, Lord, where you will—so long as my sin pardoned." Say, "Afflict me, Lord, as you will in this life, seeing I shall escape the wrath to come!"