In speaking from these words we will notice:
- Some ways in which God reveals His wrath against sin.
- No sinful creature is able to stand against the wrath of God.
- Sinners have much reason to fear the wrath of God.
1. Some ways in which God reveals His wrath against sin. First. The wrath of God flows principally from the hatred He has to sin, and as a proof of His hatred. The Scriptures plainly teach us that God has a perfect hatred to sin and that He can by no means let it pass unpunished. God does not hate anything in the whole universe but sin. He does not hate man, as man – only this cursed thing, sin. God’s hatred to sin is unchangeable. Nothing can incline His heart to be at peace with sin. God may be at peace with the sinner who forsakes his sin and turns to Himself with true repentance, but He cannot be at peace with sin, or with the man that continues in the love of it. God’s hatred to sin is so strong that He cannot hide it. It is true that He is long-suffering and slow to wrath. He may restrain His wrath for a time, but sooner or later His wrath will be revealed in flaming fire against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. God reveals His hatred to sin by forbidding and punishing it in the world; but especially in following it with eternal punishment in the world to come.
Second. God reveals His wrath against sin in the fearful sentence of death against the first Adam when he ate of the forbidden fruit. God created Adam in a state of innocence, in possession of everything that might make him satisfied with his condition and thankful to his Maker. He was free from guilt, from trouble of conscience and from fear of punishment. He had health of body and soundness of mind. He was also at peace with God and with all the creatures God had created, until he fell into an estate of sin and misery. But when God saw His creature, who was under so great an obligation to be obedient to Him, giving heed to His enemy, His anger was kindled. The rebel was called to account, and the sentence of death was pronounced against Adam and his posterity, who fell with him in his first transgression.
It is sad to see one man doomed to death, but what is one man, or even many men, in proportion to the millions of the seed of Adam that are doomed to death by the great and righteous Judge of the world? For although some of the human race are saved from guilt and punishment, through the efficacy of the blood of Christ, who gave Himself a ransom for them, yet there was eternal punishment in the death threatened by God from the beginning against man’s disobedience. The wages of sin is death; every sin deserves God’s wrath, both in the present world and in that which is to come.
Third. God often reveals His wrath against sin by visiting the inhabitants of the earth with fearful judgements. If we look back to the days of Noah, we may see God coming out of His place to chastise the inhabitants of the world in an awful manner. The wicked generation that inhabited the old world was warned of the wrath that was pursuing them; but they would not hear. They would not repent or be humbled under the almighty hand of God. They made light of all the warnings; they continued eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, abounding in their revelling and rebellion against God, until the flood rose about them and swept them away into the world of spirits. Fearful was the way in which God revealed His wrath against the inhabitants of Sodom for their unrighteous deeds, when He destroyed them openly by a stream of fire and brimstone from heaven. How dreadful also was the manner in which He dealt with Pharaoh and his armies when they were overwhelmed by the sea. He blew upon them, the sea compassed them, and they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
The Jews, whom God set apart under the Old Testament as a peculiar people for Himself, were a rebellious race. By their idol worship and disobedience, they often provoked God to visit them with sore judgement. By the chastising hand of God they were carried captive to Babylon, and at length they were driven from their inheritance and scattered throughout the world. The Word of God tells us that the time is coming when His wrath will be revealed in a most awful manner against the Church of Rome, and against the kingdoms that drink of the wine of her fornication and give their power to the beast. It is evident from the teaching of Scripture concerning the fall of this Antichrist that it will be accomplished with awful tokens of the wrath of the Almighty. When the seventh angel will pour out his vial, there will be thunderings and lightnings, the like of which has not been since men have been upon the face of the earth.
Fourth. The wrath of God will be revealed in a fearful manner on the Day of Judgement. God is able in His wrath to shake the kingdoms of this world asunder, to dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel. Although the rulers of this world and their armies would combine and set themselves in order for battle against the Lord and His anointed, they would all be as dry stubble in His presence; His wrath would go through them and burn them up together. The rulers and great men of the world will be weak as water when they will fall into the hands of the living God. God is able to shake, not only the kingdoms of the world, but also the world itself, whereon these kingdoms stand, turn it upside down and burn it with fire.
This will come to pass on that great day when God will judge the world in righteousness, and when His wrath will be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. “The day of the Lord cometh”, says the Apostle Peter, “as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up.” All the works of men shall be turned into ashes on this great day. Their houses, their palaces, and all the ingenious works of their hands will be destroyed. Not only the work of men, but the great and wonderful works of God, will be burnt with fire. They are all reserved unto fire against the Day of Judgement and perdition of ungodly men. The mountains and the hills, earth and water, will be turned into a lake of burning fire. God cursed the earth for man’s sake and, being under this curse, its end is to be burned, and who can abide this destructive burning? “Who”, says the Prophet Nahum, “can stand before His indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him.”
2. No sinful creature is able to stand against the wrath of God. First. God’s wrath was revealed against the fallen angels. Whenever the angels forsook the fountain of living waters and rebelled against their Creator, He was provoked to anger. There went up a smoke out of His nostrils, and His wrath burned against them so furiously that they could not stand before Him. God drove them out from the light and happiness of heaven and hurled them into the bottomless pit; He delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto the judgement of the great day. It is true that the punishment of devils is not so great at present as it will be after the Day of Judgement. However, God is angry with them every day; they are as rebels in chains, passing the present time with a fearful looking for of the Day of Judgement and of that burning wrath that will at last destroy His adversaries. They believe and tremble because of the wrath that is to come upon them to the uttermost in the prison of despair to all eternity.
Second. It is plain that the wrath of God lay heavily on the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ when He undertook for the guilty and bore their sins on the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ was born free from sin and continued in a state of holiness, separate from sin, all the time of His sojourning in this world. He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, and therefore He could not suffer for any sins of His own. But it was not for His own sin that Christ suffered, nor especially for His own benefit, but for the sins and the benefit of His people. The just suffered for the unjust that He might bring them to God. He died for the guilty and rose again for their justification.
Although Christ was free from original and actual sin, He was not free from sin as a substitute. The sins of all the elect were imputed to Him by the great Judge of all the earth, that He might bear the heat of that wrath which they deserved. Under the weight of this wrath, the soul of Christ was made sorrowful even unto death. What was the cause of all His wrestling, His sweat as great drops of blood, and His strong crying with tears in the Garden of Gethsemane, but the heat of this wrath? He had not yet fallen into the hands of wicked men, but if no visible hand was on Him, the invisible hand of God was heavy upon Him, for it pleased the Lord to bruise Him and to make His soul an offering for the sin of His people. The cup which Christ drank was a bitter cup, without the least consolation, for when His body was smitten and bruised, His soul was sorrowful, His heart melted like wax under the heat of that wrath which the sins of His people deserved. At the same time His Father’s face was hidden from Him and, being left in utter darkness, He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Third. When a sense of God’s wrath, even in a little measure, lays hold of the conscience of guilty creatures, they are generally much disquieted. “A wounded spirit”, says the wise man, “who can bear?” Many people pass their time thoughtlessly, without any sense of their danger as sinners. In general, the heathen live without any fear of the wrath to come, and many who hear the gospel deceive themselves with vain hopes. It is to be feared that the greater part of the world abound in this indifference, until they are awakened by the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched.
Yet no sooner had Adam eaten of the forbidden fruit than his conscience rose against him. He was no longer able to look with confidence to the great God against whom he had sinned. Many of the people of God have suffered in this way, not only when they were first awakened to a sense of their lost condition, but many a day after they were brought from death to life. Job, David, Heman and many others suffered much under fear of wrath. But who can understand what many of the wicked have suffered? What did Cain, Saul, Judas and thousands of others suffer under fear of the wrath of the Almighty? The consciences of some of the ungodly are awakened on their death bed and they are filled with fear and trembling. This has often been the case with deceivers who forsook the faith after making an open profession of godliness. It has often also happened to persecutors who made their sins red as scarlet by shedding the blood of the saints. They have often found out before they left this world that no creature is able to stand before the wrath of God.
Fourth. The wrath of God follows unconverted sinners out of this world into the world of spirits. There is a thick veil between us and them, so that we do not see the extremity of their sufferings, nor hear their wailing; but the Word of God informs us of the things that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard. It tells us plainly that, in eternity, the wrath of God will come on the wicked to the uttermost. “Fear not them”, said Christ to His disciples, “that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” These words plainly teach that whatever men may suffer on earth is light in comparison with the pains of hell. Many saints suffered a painful death, but their persecutors could do no more than kill the body. There is no doubt that, had it been in their power, they would have utterly destroyed the soul as well as the body, but this they had no power to do. Whenever their souls left their bodies, they entered the haven of rest, where no enemy will ever be able to follow them. But the affliction of the wicked only begins at death, for God casts their souls unto hell, where their worm dieth not and where wave upon wave of His burning wrath will roll over them throughout the endless ages of eternity.
3. Sinners have much reason to fear the wrath of God. First. It is chiefly the guilt of sin that leaves sinners subject to the fear of wrath. Whenever he ate of the forbidden fruit, the innocent creature became guilty. He saw himself naked, and his flesh trembled for fear of the wrath of his Creator. He therefore vainly attempted to escape and hide among the trees of the garden. When God came down upon Mount Sinai and revealed Himself to the Children of Israel in the midst of smoke, fire and thunder, the hill shook and the people drew back. They were a very rebellious and guilty people, and this left them subject to a troubled conscience and fear of wrath.
The guilt of sin has left many full of dismay at death. They knew beforehand that they would die, but they did not think that it was so near. They therefore flattered themselves with the hope that they would repent at a convenient time. But before this time came, the messenger of death summoned them to the judgement seat. They are now face to face with death and full of fear. And they have reason to be afraid, for they neglected the work of the day until the night came, in which no one can see to work. Preparation has now to begin when it should be finished, and everything is so much out of order that they know not what to do first. They look about to see which of the saints will give them of their oil, but the greatest saint on earth can spare none. The saints must say to them, “Go to them that sell and buy for yourselves”, but they are so weak through sickness and distress that they can do nothing. What would they now give for a little more strength, for a little more time to prepare for eternity! But the end of the journey is at hand, death hastens upon them, their heart trembles, their pulse is low, their tongue loses its strength, and the mist of death is already on their eyes. They are now in the last gasp, giving up the ghost, and going to their own place. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, but woe to them who die strangers to saving grace, without an interest in Christ! It would have been better for them had they never been born.
Second. The Day of Judgement will make all the world tremble. Even in this life, it is the cause of much fear to the ungodly. When Paul reasoned with Felix, the Roman Governor, of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come, Felix’s conscience smote him. Although unconverted sinners in this world are generally fast asleep, without any sense of danger, some tremble when they hear the law thundered in their ears or the torments of hell mentioned, and some go down to death with a fearful looking for of judgement that shall devour the adversaries. But the Day of Judgement will be the cause of much fear to all the wicked. The sound of the last trumpet will reach the ends of the world, the bottom of the ocean, and the heart of the earth. The dead will awake – they that have done well unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done ill unto the resurrection of damnation.
All the wicked will come with guilty consciences and, when they look up and see the righteous Judge sitting upon His white throne, the terrors of the second death will fall on their souls. “Every eye shall see Him,” says the Apostle, “and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” What is the cause of all this lamentation? It is the fear of coming into the presence of the Judge, the fear of punishment, for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand? The wicked would rather hide their guilty heads in the grave than come into the presence of the Judge. But they cannot put it off, for they must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive according to their deeds. Although they call to the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, it will be all in vain. The angels are already around them to gather them into the presence of the great Judge.
Third. The work of the Day of Judgement will also be the cause of much fear to the wicked. When a rebel is convicted of some crime in the presence of an earthly judge, he is generally in some measure afraid. Often has the guilty one fainted on hearing his own doom pronounced. At the Day of Judgement all the inhabitants of the earth will be called to account, the books will be opened, and the indictment of the wicked will be openly read out of God’s book of remembrance. Much of the sin committed in the world from day to day is hidden from the eyes of men, but it will all be made manifest at the Day of Judgement. The works of darkness will be declared openly, and the works of iniquity put to perpetual shame. No one will be able to deny his own guilt, or find an excuse for one among a thousand of his sins. All will be condemned in their consciences by their own hearts. Then the Great Judge will pronounce His righteous sentence: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”.
What terror will lay hold on the wicked when they hear these words! Their condition will be ten thousand times worse than was Belshazzar’s when he saw, Mene, Mene, written on the wall before him. His countenance changed; his knees smote one against another; and he cried aloud. When the destroying angel passed through Egypt to cut off the firstborn, what a sore cry was among them! But it is certain that there never was any lamentation like what there will be at the Day of Judgement. However, the wicked will not get much time on earth to lament after the work of this day is over, for there will come from the presence of the Lord a fiery whirlwind that will set the world on fire and sweep them all away full of trembling into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth for ever.
Fourth. The fear of God’s wrath is not without cause. The devils believe and tremble and, if the children of men believed in like manner, the whole world would be trembling for fear. But most inhabitants of the world deceive themselves with false hopes, which keep them at rest in sin. However, this rest is a rest of death, which prepares them for the place where there will be no peace for ever. If people understood their danger, and believed that God was angry with them every day because of their guilt, they could not be free from fear. Great men who were once full of courage will tremble on the Day of Judgement. All on the left hand of the Judge will be crying out with fear, “Who can stand it?” But however terror-stricken the wicked may be, their terror will by no means exceed their cause for fear. For “who knoweth the power of God’s anger? Even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath.”
Conclusion. First. We may learn from these words that sin is a great evil. It is the greatest evil and the most destructive thing in the whole world. It separates between God and man; it puts the Creator and the creature against each other; and it draws the wrath of the Almighty from heaven upon the inhabitants of the world. Sin was the cause of the unequalled troubles and painful death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the cause of all the misery that the wicked will have to suffer in hell for ever. What need we have to be delivered from this cursed thing, sin!
Second. It is a fearful thing for unconverted sinners to fall into the hands of the living God. In one sense unconverted sinners are continually in His hands; they are daily under His control and subject to His wrath. He may reach them at any time He pleases. But it is at death, and especially at the Day of Judgement, that sinners fall into His hands. And, having once fallen into these powerful hands, they have no way of escape for ever. As no enemy is able to pluck Christ’s sheep out of His hand, no creature is able to deliver the wicked from under that wrath which will oppress them for ever.
Third. It is plain that no creature is able to stand before God’s wrath. If He but look in anger on the earth, it will tremble; if He touch the hills they shall smoke. And if His wrath kindles against men even a little, they lose their courage, for a wounded spirit who can bear? Who is able to escape the power of the last enemy? Where is the hero that will be able to stand before the wrath that will be revealed at the Day of Judgement? On this great and terrible day, kings and many of the great men of the earth will be as weak as water, trembling like leaves, and calling to the rocks and to the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
Fourth. We may learn the need sinners have to flee from the storm of God’s wrath to the Lord Jesus Christ. God is angry with unconverted sinners every day; His wrath abides on them, and there is no way of escape from this wrath except by fleeing to Christ. Therefore all who would escape everlasting woe must forsake their sins, part with their idols, and flee for refuge to the blood and righteousness of Christ. When the flood came upon the earth, Noah had reason to be thankful that the ark was ready, its door open, and an opportunity given him to enter it and hide from the storm.
1. MacMillan (1776-1843) was a minister in Arran in the early nineteenth century. His account of revivals on the island appears on page 207. His is said to have been the first volume of original Gaelic sermons to be printed. Ten of his Gaelic sermons appeared in The Free Presbyterian Magazine during the 1920s. This sermon has been abridged.