Dreadfulness of God's Wrath Against Sinners!
Ezekiel Hopkins, 1633-1690
Hebrews 10:30-31 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay!" says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
There are two principal attributes of God, which the scripture propounds to us, as the most powerful and efficacious motives to restrain us from sin: and they are his mercy and his justice .
Mercy, though it is a gentle, yet it is a strong argument, to encourage us to purity and holiness. And, therefore, says the apostle, Romans 2:4. "The goodness of God leads us to repentance." And, certainly, that mercy that expresses itself so ready to pardon sin, cannot but lay a mighty obligation upon the sincerity of a Christian spirit, to abstain from the commission of sin. He, that can encourage himself in wickedness, upon the consideration of the infinite mercy and free-grace of God, does but strike at God with his own golden scepter. Yes he tears abroad those wounds, which were at first opened for him; and casts the blood of his Savior back again in his face!
But because sincerity is perished from off the earth, and men are generally more apt to be wrought upon by arguments drawn rather from fear than love, therefore the scripture propounds to us the consideration of the dreadful justice of God, arrayed in all the terrible circumstances of it; that, if mercy cannot allure us from our sins, then justice at least might affright us from our sins.
As those, who are to travel through wildernesses and deserts, carry fire with them to terrify wild and ravenous beasts, and to secure themselves from their assaults; so does the great God, who has to deal with brutish men, men more savage than wild beasts: he kindles a fire about him, and appears to them all in flames and fury; that so he may frighten them from their bold attempts to run upon his neck, and "upon the thick bosses of his buckler."
And, therefore, in the four preceding verses, we find the apostle threatening most tremendous judgments against all who should willfully transgress, after they had received the knowledge of the truth. He tells us in verse 26 that "there remains no more sacrifice for their sins;" nothing to expiate their guilt; but that they themselves must fall a burnt-sacrifice to the offended justice of almighty God; consumed with that fiery indignation that shall certainly seize and prey upon them forever!
And in verses 28 and 29 he sets forth the exceeding dreadfulness of their judgment, by a comparison between those who violated the law of Moses, and those that renounce and annul the law of Christ. Those who despised Moses' law," who himself was but a servant, and whose laws consisted of inferior and less spiritual ordinances; yet a despiser and transgressor of these was to die without mercy certainly—then how much severer judgments await those who reject the laws of Christ; and trample him who is the Son under foot; accounting his blood unholy and profane, renouncing his merits, and blaspheming the Holy Spirit by whom our Savior acted: such as these, says the apostle, shall eternally perish with less mercy, than those that died without mercy.
Where, by the way, observe the strange emphasis, that the apostle lays upon this dreadful commination. He tells us that they shall be more severely punished, than those that are punished without mercy: to let us know, that, as there are of transcendent glories, such as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart of man to conceive—reserved in the highest heavens for those that love God; so, also, are there woes and torments, such as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart man to conceive how great and insupportable they are, prepared in Hell for those that hate him. They shall die with less mercy, than those that die without mercy.
Now that we might not wonder at such a paradox as this, the apostle gives the reason of it in my text: "For we know him who has said, Vengeance belongs unto me. I will repay!" It is the vengeance of God almighty, and a falling into the hands of God: and, therefore, it is no wonder if their punishments shall be beyond all extremity! They fall under the power and wrath of an infinite God; which, when we have heaped superlatives upon superlatives, yet still we must express Him defectively. All, that we can conceive of his wrath, falls vastly short of reaching but a faint and languishing resemblance thereof. It is a state so full of consummate misery, that misery itself is too light a name to give to it. Yes, whatever we can speak most appropriate of it, is but diminishing it; for, because it is the wrath and vengeance of an infinite God , it can no more be known by us, than God himself! Plunge your thoughts as deep into it as you can, yet still there remains an infinite abyss which you can never fathom!
O that the consideration of this wrath might cause us all to tremble before this great and terrible God! That we might so fear his wrath, as never to feel it; and be persuaded to fall down at his feet, that we may never fall into his almighty hands!
And, that we may be thus affected, I have chosen this text to set forth the greatness and dreadfulness of that wrath and vengeance which the righteous God will execute upon all stubborn and disobedient wretches . A text, that speaks to us, as God did to the Israelites from mount Sinai, out of the midst of the fire and blackness, darkness, and tempest, in the voice of a trumpet.
And, truly, we have all need to have such rousing truths frequently inculcated upon us; for the best of us are lethargic; and though, sometimes, when our consciences are pinched hard by a severe and searching truth, we startle and look up; yet, as soon as the present impression is over, we suddenly close our eyes, and fall asleep again in sin and carnal security. A strange dullness and stupor has seized us; that we can no longer keep awake, but when we are shaken and startled.,
And, therefore, as we use to apply fire and burning coals to lethargic persons to awaken them: so we have need to heap coals of fire upon men's heads. We need to speak with fiery tongues, and thunder woe and wrath and judgments against them, that we may rouse them from their secure and stupid world.
In the words, we have these two parts observable.
I. An appropriation of vengeance unto God: "Vengeance belongs unto Me, I will recompense! says the Lord."
II. The dreadfulness of that vengeance inferred, from the consideration of the Author and inflictor of it: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
I begin with the first of these,
I. God's appropriating vengeance unto himself: "Vengeance belongs unto Me, I will recompense! says the Lord."
Which passage the apostle cites out of Deuteronomy 32:35, 36.
"To me belongs vengeance, and recompense." And," the Lord shall judge his people." It is his great and royal prerogative, that he does sometimes make use of in inflicting judgments upon the wicked, in this world; but, most especially, in the world to come: and, to this, future vengeance, the words ought particularly to be applied.
From this consideration , that vengeance in a peculiar manner belongs unto the great God—we may observe that God himself will be the immediate inflictor of the punishments of the damned.
It is therefore, here, likewise, called a falling "into the hands of the living God," which denotes his immediate hand in their torments.
It is true, God does use several instruments of torture in Hell. There are the worm , that never dies; and the fire , that never goes out: which I suppose to be a material fire; elevated to such a degree of fierceness, as that it shall, at once, torture the soul and not consume the body. And this fire the devils, who are the executioners, will be still very officiously raking about them; using all their malicious are to increase their eternal misery.
Yet these things are but small appendages, and only the slighter circumstances of their torments. The most exact and intolerable part of their torture, they shall feel inflicted upon them from another fire; an everlasting, and therefore an unquenchable fire—and that is God himself ; for so he is said to be, Hebrews 12.29, "Our God is a consuming fire."
And, though we ordinarily speak only of Hell-fire; yet not only Hell, but Heaven itself is full of this fire. Consult Isaiah 33.14, "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Would not one think, at the very first sound of the words, that the prophet speaks only of such as should be damned; of such as should be cast into Hell, to remain there in everlasting fire and burnings; and demands of them: Who among them could endure this? No, but it appears plainly that this fire and burning is in Heaven itself; and the prophet, by putting this question, "Who shall dwell with the devouring fire, and everlasting burnings?" asks who shall be saved, and not who shall be destroyed. And, therefore, in the 15th verse, he tells us, that he shall do it, "who walks uprightly, and speaks uprightly; who despises the gains of oppression, who refuses bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of blood, and who shuts his eyes from seeing of evil." Such a one shall dwell with the devouring fire—that is, he shall forever dwell and remain with God in Heaven.
So that we see that God is a fire, both to the wicked, and to the godly. To the wicked he is a penetrating and torturing fire; and they are combustible matter for the wrath and vengeance of God to prey upon. To the godly, he is a purifying fire only. And, as lightning does not only cleanse and refine the air, but rend trees and rocks in pieces, dissolve metals, and break through whatever opposes it in its passage—so this great and almighty Fire, only refreshes and comforts the godly; whereas it breaks and tears the wicked in pieces, and melts them down like wax before the its scorching heat!
And, though I deny not but there may be somewhat like that which we commonly apprehend when we speak of Hell, some unquenchable flames prepared by the wisdom and power of God for the eternal torment of those wretches that shall be cast therein; yet, withal, I think that their most exquisite torments shall be from that fire that is God himself .
For, if we observe it, it is said to be "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" Matthew 25.41. Now the devils are spiritual substances flames of fire themselves. "He makes his angels winds; and his ministers, that is his ministering spirits, whether good or evil, whether the ministers of his wrath and vengeance or the ministers of his mercy, he makes them "flames of fire!" Psalm 104.4. They are such piercing and subtle flames, that lightning itself is but heavy and dull compared to them.
Yet here is a fire that shall even torture fire itself! Here is a fire, that shall burn those flames of fire—and that is God; who, being a spirit and the God of spirits can easily pierce and insinuate into the very center of their beings.
So that the damned in Hell shall forever find themselves burnt up with a double fire: a material fire, suited and adapted to impress pain and torment upon the body, yet without wasting and consuming it; and an invisible, rational fire, that shall prey upon the soul, and fill it with unspeakable anguish and horror—and this is no other than God himself.
And, in this, there is a true parallel between Heaven and Hell. For, as in Heaven, though there are many created excellencies and glories, which contribute to the blessedness of the saints; yet their most substantial happiness is derived from their immediate fruition of God! So, likewise, in Hell, though there be many created, and, if I may so call them, many invented tortures; yet the highest and most intolerable misery of the damned, is from the immediate infliction and infusion of the divine wrath into them, which no creature does or can convey to them in such a manner and measure as they there feel it, but God himself pours the full vials of it into their souls!
And, therefore, as the saints are called vessels of mercy; so the wicked are called " vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction!" Romans 9.22. They are vessels, into which God will pour his vengeance, and which he will fill brimful with his wrath and fury, forever!
The apostle, 2 Thessalonians 1.9 speaking of wicked men, tells us that they" shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." Where we must not think that this phrase, "from the presence of the Lord," denotes only that part of their punishment, which we call "the punishment of loss;" but rather that it denotes the efficient cause of their "punishment of sense" not that their punishment shall only be to be forever banished from his presence; but that God's presence shall be active in inflicting punishments upon them. And we may well read it thus, "They shall be punished with everlasting destruction, by the presence of the Lord, and by the glory of his power!" For, as God's glorious power is effective of their punishment; so also is his presence—the dread presence of that consuming and tormenting fire!
And thus much, briefly, for the first thing observable in the text; namely, God's appropriating vengeance unto himself: "Vengeance belongs unto me," and it is a "falling into the hands of the living God."
I come now to the second thing observable in the words: and that is,
II. The dreadfulness of this vengeance, inferred from the consideration of the Author and Inflictor of it. For because it is divine vengeance, and a falling into the hands of the living God, therefore it must needs be very terrible.
And here I shall take notice of those expressions that my text affords, to set forth the terror of this wrath. And then I will consider other demonstrations of God's wrath.
1. Consider, that all other vengeance is as nothing, in comparison of that which God takes on a damned soul.
You may possibly have heard of strange and horrid revenges, that some cruel men have meted out to others; putting those who have offended them to such tortures, as were altogether unfit for men either to inflict or suffer. All histories abound with such barbarities. I am reluctant to offend your ears so much as to recount them. Let us only take an estimate, by the dreadful revenge that David took on the Ammonites: 2 Samuel 12.31, where it is said, "He put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln!" And all this severity, if not to say cruelty, was to revenge the insolent affront done to his ambassadors.
It is, doubtless, no small torture to be burnt alive; for fire is a tormenting thing, and eats deep into the senses; but yet this kind of death was a quick and merciful dispatch, in comparison of the others. Think what it is to be stretched out and to have the sharp spikes of a harrow tare up your flesh, and draw out your insides and bones after them. Or, what it is to be sawn asunder in the midst; and to have those small teeth eat their way slowly through you, while they jar against your bones, and pull out your nerves and sinews thread by thread. How many deaths, do you think, were these poor miserable creatures compelled to suffer, before they were permitted to die!
Yet, alas! these, and all the heinous tortures that ever were invented by the greatest monsters of cruelty, are nothing, in comparison of the vengeance that God will take upon sinners in Hell! And, therefore, he says, "Vengeance is mine, I will recompense!" As if he should say, "Alas! all that you can do one to another, signifies nothing; it is not to be called, nor accounted vengeance —that is too great a name for such poor effects.
It is a prerogative, that God challenges to himself, to be the Avenger! And whatever creatures meddle with, if they have not a commission from him, it is their sin, and therefore private persons whom he has not invested with any such authority, ought not to take upon them to avenge their own cause; or, if they have a commission, yet all their execution of vengeance is but feeble and weak.
We find in church history that the holy martyrs have often mocked at all the cruel tortures of their enraged persecutors. And God has either taken all sense of pain from them; or else, given them such strong consolations, that they have triumphed and exulted in all the extremity of them. They have hugged the stake at which they were to be burnt! They have courted the beasts that were to devour them! They have been stretched upon the rack , with as much contentment, as formerly they have stretched themselves upon their beds. Many have not so much suffered, as enjoyed their deaths! God has so mercifully taken off the edge and keenness of their torments, to show that vengeance is his right and due; and that they are but contemptible things that people can inflict upon another, scarcely worthy to be called vengeance.
And, besides, let men's vengeance be ever so sharp and cutting, yet it cannot be long durable. The more intolerable any torments are, the sooner do they work our escape from them. And, though spite and malice may wish the perpetuity of our pain; yet it is not possible for mortal men to prosecute an immortal revenge: the death, either of them or of ourselves, will put an end to our sufferings. And what a small matter is it, to undergo pain for a few days only! This is not worthy to be called vengeance; nor is it like that which the great God will inflict—which is both insupportable and eternal!
2. And, therefore, the apostle calls it a "falling into the hands of the living God." And this denotes to us the perpetuity and eternity of this vengeance.
God forever lives, to inflict it!
And sinners shall forever live, to suffer it!
For they fall into God's hands.
God has, as it were, leased out a life to every wicked man: he has his term of years set for him, wherein he lives to himself, enjoying his lusts, and the pleasures and profits of this present world. And, all this while, Divine vengeance meddles but little with him. But, when his life has expired and his years have run out, he then falls into the hands of the great Lord of all, and becomes the possession of God's vengeance and justice forever.
And, then, he is "the living God;" and such wicked wretches must forever live, to endure the most dreadful execution of his power and wrath! Were there any term or end set to their torments, should they when they have endured them thousands of thousands of years—and afterwards be annihilated, the expectation of this release, at the last, would give them some hope and support! Yes, it would be some solace to them in their sufferings, to think that, at last, they should be freed from God's wrath. But this is the epitome of their misery, and that which makes them altogether desperate, that it is forever! Forever, they must lie and wallow in those flames that shall never be quenched! Forever they shall always be bitten and stung with that worm that shall never die. They have "fallen into the hands of the living God!" who will never let them go as long as he lives, that is, never to all eternity! "He is a consuming fire!" but yet spends not any part of his fuel. He consumes, without diminishing them. He destroys, but yet still perpetuates their being.
'A wise fire,' as one says, 'that devours the damned, but still sustains them for eternal torments!'
And when they have lain burning in this fire beyond all the ages that arithmetic can sum up, millions after thousands, and thousands of millions—yet, still, it is but the beginning of their sorrows!
O think with yourselves, how long and tedious a little time seems to you, when you are in pain; you complain then, that time has leaden feet; and wish the days and hours would roll away faster with you; and you never find them so slow paced, as when they pass over your sick bed.
O then, what will it be, when you shall lie sweltering under the dread wrath and vengeance of "the living God!" The intolerableness of your pain and torment will make every day seem an age , and every year as long as an eternity; and yet you must lie there an eternity of these long years!
Methinks this consideration of eternal torments should astonish the heart, and sink the spirits of every wicked wretch; for even if they were not to be so excessively sharp as they are—yet the eternity of them is that which should make them altogether intolerable!
There is scarcely any pain so small, but it would make us desperate, were we assured it would never wear off, that we should never obtain any ease or freedom from it. Whatever pain we suffer, our usual encouragement unto patience is that shortly it will be over. But in Hell, there is no end fixed to the torments—they are all eternal. Therefore, whatever they are for the degree and measure of them—yet are they utterly intolerable, at least for their duration and continuance!
Could you thrust away millions of years with a wish, yet all this would avail nothing in Hell, for there are as many years in eternity as there are moments, and as many millions of years as there are years; that is, it is an infinite and boundless duration! And when you have struck your thoughts as deep into it as you can; yet, still you are but at the top of the heap, and it is still a whole eternity to the bottom!
3. Consider, also, that the wrath and vengeance of God is most dreadful, not only from the eternal continuance and duration thereof, but also from the excessive anguish and pains of those torments that he inflicts.Nothing, that we have ever felt or can feel in this present life, can come into any comparison with them; and therefore the text calls it, "a falling into the hands of God ." Here, on earth, God's hand does sometimes fall upon us; and it falls very heavy too, and lays upon us sore and weighty burdens. But these are nothing comparable to our falling into the hands of almighty God.
There is as much difference between his wrath and displeasure falling upon us, and our falling upon it—as there is between our having a few drops of a shower falling upon us, and our falling into the depths of the sea, and being overwhelmed with the great waters thereof. And, yet, how dreadful is it, when God's hand only falls upon us! It was a sad complaint of the psalmist, Psalm 32.4, that God's hand "lay heavy" upon him. And Psalm 38.2, that God's hand "pressed him sorely."
Grievous burdens and sore pressures may be laid upon us by this hand of God; and that, both as to outward afflictions, and inward troubles.
As to outward afflictions , how dreadfully does God stretch out his hand against some! Some, in their estates; some, in their relations; and some, in their bodily health and strength. Have you ever been around the sick beds of those who have roared out through the extremity of their pains; when every limb has been upon the rack, and God has filled them with a complication of loathsome, tormenting, and incurable diseases? And, yet, all this is but a falling of God's hand upon them.
As to inward troubles , we see how God cramps some men's consciences, breathes fire and flames into their very souls, and makes deep wounds in their spirits; forcing them, through the extremity of their anguish, to cry out that they are damned, they are damned. Yes, some have even wished that they were in Hell, supposing those everlasting torments would not be more unsufferable than what they here felt.
And, indeed, these inward troubles are far more grievous than any outward afflictions can be. We hear Heman crying out, that, because of these terrors of the Lord, he was "ready to die from his youth up," and, while he suffered this wrath of God, he was even "distracted" with it; Psalm 87.15. And Job , whose patience is celebrated for bearing all his outward afflictions, his loss of estate, of his children, of his health, with a heroic constancy, ("You have heard," says James, "of the patience of Job,") yet, when God comes to touch his spirit with his wrath, then we hear of his impatience: he curses the day of his birth, and wishes that God would destroy him, "that he would let loose his hand and cut him off." Job 6.9. And why these passionate requests? Why he tells us in verse 4, "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit. The terrors of God set themselves in array against me." Therefore, though he could patiently bear all that the rage and spite of the devil could do against him, when he touched his wealth, when he touched his children, yes when he touched his body—yet his patience could no longer hold out when God came to touch his soul and conscience.
And yet the greatest terrors of conscience, whether in the children of God to their reformation, or in the wicked to their desperation—are still but light and small touches of his hand, in comparison with what shall be expressed hereafter on the damned in Hell. For,
[1.] To the godly, all these afflictions are mixed with love and mercy.
They are brought upon them, not as plagues, but as medicines, to do them good. But in Hell—all is wrath, all is fury. All is pure wrath and judgment, without mercy. And, certainly, if those sufferings which are inflicted in love and allayed with mercy, are yet so very dreadful to the people of God—then how dreadful will the wrath of God be in Hell, where it shall be pure and unmixed, and nothing put into that cup of wrath which the damned are there to drink of, but the rankest venom that can be squeezed out of all the curses that ever God has denounced!
[2.] To the wicked, all the troubles and terrors which they here endure are nothing, in comparison with what they must eternally suffer in Hell.
They are now only sprinkled with a few drops of God's wrath; but in Hell, all his waves shall go over them!
Here, they do but sip a little of that cup, and taste a little of the froth of it; and, should they drink deeper, earth could not hold them, but they would grow drunk, and reel and stagger into Hell! But there, they must forever drink to the very dregs of that cup of trembling and astonishment!
And you, who now roar and struggle like a wild bull in a net, when God's hand is only upon you, what will you do when you shall eternally fall into his almighty hands? You now cry out of the intolerableness of your present pain. But alas! had you but felt one pain of the torments of the damned in Hell, you would choose to live forever here on earth in the most exquisite torture that could be devised, choose to bear the sharpest paroxysms of the stone or gout, to be stretched upon the rack, to have your flesh plucked off by fiery pincers; you would choose to suffer all these to all eternity; yes, and choose them too as recreations and diversions—rather than return again to that place of torment, where, not only the eternity , but the pain and anguish of them, is infinite and inconceivable!
And, as one day in the joys of Heaven is better than a thousand days, nay than a thousand years, in all the base delights of earth: so, one day in the torments of Hell, is far worse than a thousand in the sharpest miseries we can possibly endure in this life. Here, our pains usually are but partial —God aims and shoots with his arrow but at some one part of us. If he wounds our spirits—yet this invisible shaft, like lightning, passes through, without making a breach in our bodies, or in our estates. We have still our health and our plenty left to us. Or, if he strikes the body, usually it is but in one, or at most but in some few places, and we enjoy ease in the rest of the body. But, in Hell, God does, as it were, wrap the whole man up in searcloth, and set it on fire round about him, so that he is tormented in every part; neither soul nor body escaping, nor any power or faculty of the one, nor any part or member of the other.
When we fall into the hands of God, we are plunged into an ocean of wrath, and are covered all over with his fury and indignation! The understanding, will, conscience, affections—are all as brimful of torments as they can hold. For what can be greater anguish to the mind , than to know our misery, and to know it to be remediless? And what can be greater anguish to the will and affections , than most ardently and vehemently to desire freedom from those torments, but yet to despair of ever obtaining it? And what can fill the conscience with greater anguish, than to reflect, with infinite horror and regret, that it was only sinners' own folly and madness which brought them to this woeful and miserable condition? How will they be ready even to rend and tear themselves in pieces; their consciences curse their wills, and their wills curse their affections, and their affections curse the objects that enticed them to the commission of those sins—the revenges of which they must now eternally suffer!
And as for the bodies of these damned souls, they shall, after the resurrection and dreadful day of judgment, become all fire, like a live coal! Fire shall be imbibed into the very substance of them, and they not have so much as a drop of water afforded them to cool the tip of their tongues! Luke 16.24.
And this is a third consideration of the dreadfulness of everlasting vengeance: it is a falling into God's hands.
4. Consider, it is a falling into the hands of the living God himself, and not of any creature.
Indeed, we read in 2 Samuel 24.14, that David chose rather to fall into the hands of the Lord, than into the hands of men. It is true, when there are true repentance and hopes of obtaining mercy, this is far more tolerable: for the chastisements of the Lord are full of mercy; but "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." But, where all hopes and expectations of mercy are excluded, as they are in Hell; certainly, there, it is infinitely more dreadful to fall into the hands of a sin-revenging-God, than into the hands of all the creatures in Heaven, or earth, yes or Hell itself.
One would have thought it had been terrible enough, if the apostle had said, " It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of devils." And so indeed it would bee, if we consider, either their power or their malice. Certainly, they can easily find out such tormenting ingredients, and apply them also to such tender parts, that it would transcend the patience of any man on earth quietly to bear, but what one devil can inflict. Do we not often see, in the illusions of black and sooty melancholy, what strange fears and terrors they can imprint upon the imagination ; what horror and despair they can work in the conscience ; so as to make men weary of their lives, and many times persuade them to destroy themselves, only to know the worst of what they must suffer? And all this he can do outside of his own kingdom! What then can he do, when he has sinners into his own territories, and under his own dominion! What exact tortures can he inflict upon them there; such, indeed as we cannot tell what they are; and may it please God we never may know!
And yet the devil is but a fellow-creature: but wicked men are to fall into the hands, not of a creature, but of the great Creator —into the hands of God himself, whose power is infinitely beyond the devils, so that he is the tormentor even of them.
Think then with yourself, O sinner, that, if God binds and scourges and torments the very devils, who yet do so insufferably torment the damned: then how infinitely intolerable then is that wrath, which God himself shall inflict upon them! Consider with yourself, if you can not bear those pains and torments which the devils inflict; and if the devils cannot bear those pains and torments which God inflicts upon them; then how will you O sinner, be able to bear the immediate wrath, fury, and vengeance of the great God himself?
Nay, let me go yet deeper; and suppose that God should make use of common and ordinary creatures, for the punishment of wicked men: who is there that could bear even this?
If God should only keep a man living forever in the midst of a furnace of a mere earthly fire, how dreadful would this be! If but a spark of fire falls upon any part of the body, consider what an acute pain it will cause: much more, if your whole body should be all over aflame, and you forever kept alive to feel the piercing torment of it. And, yet, what is our dull, inactive fire, in comparison of God's exquisite, eternal fire?
Or, suppose God, who knows the several stings that are in all his creatures, should take out of them the most sharp ingredients; and, from them all, make up a most tormenting composition: if he should take poison and venom out of one, and fire and scorching out of another, and pain and stinging out of a third, and the quintessence of bitterness out of a fourth; and, by his infinite skill, heighten all these to an exquisite anguish: if now God should apply this composition, thus fatally mixed and blended together, unto any of us—what an intolerable torment* would it cause in us!
And, if creatures can cause such tortures, then what a dreadful thing then is it to fall into the hands of God himself! For, when God conveys his wrath to us by creatures, it must lose infinitely in the very conveyance. When God takes up one creature to strike another, it is but as if a giant should take up a feather to strike a man with; for, though he is ever so strong, yet the blow can be but weak because of the weakness of the instrument: and yet, alas! how terrible are even such weak blows to us! What will it then be, when God shall immediately crush us by the unrebated strokes of his own almighty arm; and shall express the power of his wrath, and the glory of his justice and severity, in our eternal destruction?
And this is the fourth demonstration of the dreadfulness of divine vengeance.
5. Consider, that the apostle calls this wrath, which the living God will inflict upon sinners by the name of "vengeance.""Vengeance is mine, I will repay it."
Now vengeance, when it is whet and sharpened by wrath, will enter deep, and cut the soul to the very quick.
God acts a two-fold part, in the punishment of sinners.
(1.) Of Judge.
In relation to which, their eternal torments are sometimes called condemnation. So in 1 Timothy 3.6 we have mention made of "the condemnation of the devil;" that is, that state of woe and wrath, to which the devil is forever sentenced—and damnation in Matthew 23:33, "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How can you escape the damnation of Hell?" And, sometimes, it is termed judgment, as in Hebrews 10.27, "A certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation!" And, in Jude 15, "to execute judgment upon all the ungodly;" which denotes that their punishment shall be inflicted upon them from God, as he is a just and righteous Judge.
(2.) God is an Avenger, as well as a Judge.
He is a party concerned—as having been wronged, affronted, and injured by their sins. And, in relation to this, the punishments, that God will inflict upon them, are called wrath and fury, smoking anger and jealousy! Deuteronomy 29.20, "The anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man." Also, "fiery indignation!" in Hebrews 10.27. All which we find amassed and heaped together, Zephaniah 3:8, "I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger!" All these expressions signify to us, the terribleness of that vengeance which God will take; for, when the wrath of man only stirs him up to revenge an injury, he will be sure to do it to the very utmost extremity of all his power: and, if the revenge of a poor weak man is so dreadful a thing; how insupportable will be the vengeance of the great God, who assumes it to himself as part of his royalty!
"Vengeance is mine." See that terrible place, Nahum 1:2, " The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies." God reserves wrath for sinners, and keeps it up in store; even that wrath, which they themselves have treasured up against the day of wrath.
This revenging wrath of God has these two things in it, that justly make it dreadful.
[1.] In that revenge always aims at satisfaction; and seeks to repair injuries received, by inflicting punishment on the offender.
This gives ease to the party grieved: and, if this revenge be commensurate to the greatness of the offence, he rests satisfied in it. And, therefore, God, speaking of himself according to the passions and affections of men, solaces himself in the thoughts of that vengeance, which he would take upon sinners, Isaiah 1:24, "Ah, I will get satisfaction from my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes!" And O think how dreadful that revenge must needs be, that shall ease the heart of God and give him satisfaction, for all the heinous provocations, that sinners have committed against him!
1st. For consider, how great and manifold our sins and offences have been. And every act of sin, yes the least that ever we committed, is an infinite debt ; and carries in it an infinite guilt , because committed against an infinite Majesty.
For all offences take their measures, not only from the sin committed, but from the person against whom they are committed. A reviling, injurious word against our equals, will not be punishable law. But the same reviling, injurious word against the prince, it is high treason, and punishable with death. So, here, the least offence against the infinite majesty of the great God, becomes itself infinite—the guilt of it is far beyond whatever we can possibly conceive. And, yet what infinite numbers of these infinite sins have we committed! The psalmist tells us in Psalm 40:12, "My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me!" Yes, we may well take all the sands of the sea-shore, to count up our sins. Our thoughts are incessantly in motion: they keep pace with the moments, and yet "every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil all the time." What multitudes of them have been grossly wicked and impious, atheistic, blasphemous, impure, worldly, and malicious! and the best of them have been defective; and far short of that spirituality and heavenliness, that ought to give a tincture unto them.
And besides the sins of our thoughts, how much have our tongues added to the sum of our sins! We have talked ourselves in debt to the justice of God; and, with our own breath, have been blowing up our everlasting and unquenchable fire!
And add to these, the numberless crowd and sum of our sinful actions , wherein we have busily employed ourselves to provoke the holy and jealous God to wrath: and we shall find our sins to be doubly infinite, in their own particular guilt and demerit.
And, now, O sinner, when an angry and furious God shall come to exact from you a full satisfaction for all these injuries, a satisfaction in which we may eternally acquiesce, such as may repair and recompense his wronged honor; think sadly with yourself, how infinitely dreadful this must needs be! Assure yourself that God will fetch his glory out of you, and take such a revenge upon you, as shall as much please and content him, as his infinite mercy does in those whom he saves and glorifies . And how great then must this vengeance be!
2dly. Consider how dreadful a revenge God took on his own dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, when he came to satisfy his justice upon him for our sins. His wrath fell infinitely heavy upon him, and the pressure of it was so intolerable that it squeezed out drops of clotted blood from him in the garden ; and that sad cry on the cross , "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?"
And yet our Lord Christ was supported under all his sufferings by the ineffable union of his Deity with his humanity.
He had infinite power for him, as well as against him! There was infinite power to bear him up, as well as to crush him! In Christ's sufferings, the power of God seemed, as it were, to encounter with itself; and to run contrary to itself, in the same channel. And, as he had the support of infinite power in his sufferings; so, likewise, had he in the greatest of his agonies the ministry of angels to comfort him, and to refresh the droopings and faintings of his human nature. And the infinite dignity of Christ's person, being God as well as man, might well compound for the rigor of his punishments; and stamp such a value upon his humiliation, that less degrees of suffering from him might be fully satisfactory. For, indeed, it cannot be but an infinite punishment, for an infinite person to be punished .
But you, who are but a vile contemptible creature, have nothing in your nature with which to satisfy the dread justice of God, but only the eternal destruction and perdition of it. You have no worth nor dignity, the consideration whereof might persuade the Almighty to mitigate the least of his wrath and fury towards you. And, when it falls in all its weight and force upon you, you have nothing to uphold or support you! It is true, the almighty power of God shall continue you in your being: but you will forever curse and blaspheme that support, that shall be given you only to perpetuate your torments! Ten thousand times you will wish that God would destroy you once for all, and that you might forever shrink away into nothing!
But alas! poor miserable wretch, that will not be granted you. No! you shall not have so much as the relief and comfort of dying; nor ability to escape the vengeance of God by annihilation. But his power will forever so support you, as forever to torment you! This is only such a support as a man receives on the rack or on the wheel; supported, so as they cannot come off—the very engine of their torture upholds them.
And, as for any help or relief which the ministry of angels will afford you, think what solace it will bring you, when God shall set on whole legions of infernal demons, black and hideous spirits, as the executioners of his wrath; who shall forever triumph in your woes and add to them, hurl firebrands at you, heap fuel about you, and fully satiate their malice upon you, as God satisfies his justice.
And this is one consideration of the dreadfulness of God's vengeance: in that it aims at and exacts satisfaction for sin, which will be infinitely intolerable; because our sins are infinite both in number and heinousness ; and because Jesus Christ, who was to satisfy not for his own sins (for he had none) but for the sins of others, though he were upheld by the divine nature and possibly underwent not such acrimony of wrath as the damned do, yet his sufferings were unspeakable and unknown sorrows! How much sorer then shall wicked men bear for their own sins, when divine justice shall come to reckon with them, and to exact from them to the very utmost farthing of all that they owe!
[2.] Consider, that revenging wrath stirs up all that is in God against a sinner.
Wrath, when it is intense and actuated by revenge, redoubles a man's force; and makes him perform things that he could not think of doing: it fires all a man's spirits and calls them forth to express their utmost efforts. So this revenging wrath of God draws forth all the force and activity of his attributes, and sets them against a sinner! How dreadful then must that execution needs be!
We see what great works God can perform, when he is not stirred up thereunto by his wrath and indignation: he speaks a whole world into being, and speaks it with a calm breath: certainly, it was no small piece of work, to spread out the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth, and to work all those wonders of creation and providence which we daily behold; but, yet, all these things God did, if I may so speak, without any emotion. But when he comes to take vengeance upon sinners, he is then inflamed: all, that is in God, is, as it were, on fire! 66 is the rage
"Jealousy," says Solomon, "is the rage of a man," Proverbs 6.34. Now, when God's jealousy shall be stirred in him, think how impetuously it will break forth in the fearful effects of it! Isaiah 42:13, "The LORD will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies!"
If the calm and sedate works of God are so great and wonderful, how great then will his vengeance be; when anger, fury, and indignation shall excite and heighten his power to show the very utmost of what it can do! Therefore, though God had inflicted dreadful plagues upon the Israelites in the wilderness, and had shown mighty effects of his power and vengeance, yet we find that the church blesses him, that "he turned away his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath," Psalm 78:38.
But, in Hell, God stirs up all his wrath! Everything is set and bent against the damned. And as to the saints in Heaven, every attribute of God concurs to make him merciful and gracious to them; so to the wicked in Hell, all the perfections of God conspire either to stir and kindle his wrath, or else to assist him in the execution of it upon them!
The infinite wisdom of God contrives their punishments; and which way to lay them on, so that they shall be most sharp and poignant.
The power of God rouses itself against them; and enlists all its supports and assistance unto vengeance.
The eternity and unchangeableness of God come in as a dreadful addition—and make that wrath, which of itself is unsupportable, to be also everlasting!
Yes, that sweet and mild attribute of God, his mercy , the only refuge and the only comfort of miserable mankind, yet even this turns against them too. Because they despised it when it shone forth in patience and forbearance, it will not now regard them when they stand in need of its rescue and deliverance.
So that all that is in God, arms itself to take vengeance on sinners.
An oh, think how fearful and intensified that vengeance will be, when God shall put forth all that is in himself for the executing of his wrath upon impenitent sinners!
And thus I have done with the demonstrations of the dreadfulness of God's wrath taken from the words in the text, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay it. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Let us now consider some other demonstrations of the greatness of God's wrath.
1. God's wrath appears to be exceeding dreadful, in that it is set forth to us in scripture by all those things which are most terrible to human nature.
God makes use of many metaphoric expressions of things most grievous to our senses, that from them we may take a hint to conceive how intolerable his wrath is in itself.
It is called " a PRISON " in 1 Peter 3.19 where mention is made of "the spirits in prison." That is, the souls of those men, to whom the Spirit of Christ in Noah went, and preached in the days of their mortal life; but which, for their disobedience, are shut up under the wrath of God in Hell. And, certainly, Hell is a prison, large enough to hold all the world; Psalm 9:17 "The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget God."
A prison it is, where the devil and wicked spirits are shackled with chains of massy and substantial darkness. 2 Peter 2.4, they are, says the apostle, reserved in chains of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. And they are there kept "in everlasting chains under darkness;" there being not one cranny in this great prison, to let in the least ray or glimpse of light.
It is called " a place of TORMENT " in Luke 16:28. It is a region of woe and misery; wherein horror, despair, and torture forever dwell.
It is called a drowning of "men in destruction and perdition " in 1 Timothy 6:9. One would think, that, to be drowned, might signify death enough of itself; but, to be drowned in perdition and destruction, signifies moreover the fatalness and the depth of that death, into which they are plunged.
It is called a being " cast, bound hand and foot, into outer darkness! " Matthew 22:13
It is called " a lake of fire " in Revelation 20:15 into which wicked men shall be plunged; where they shall lie wallowing and rolling among millions of damned spirits, in those infernal flames. And this lake is continually fed with a sulphurous stream of brimstone: Revelation 19:20. And this fire and brimstone is that, which never shall be quenched! Matthew 3:12, "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!"
And, lastly, to name no more, it is called " everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels " Matthew 25:41. And now we are arrived at the highest pitch of what sense can feel , or imagination conceive .
Or, if it be possible, that, in your deepest thoughts, you can conceive anything more dreadful than this, you may call it a sea of molten brimstone, set all on fire, and continually spewing out sooty dark flames: wherein endless multitudes of sinful wretches must lie tumbling to all eternity; burned up with the fierceness of a tormenting and devouring fire; scourged with scorpions; stung with fiery serpents; howling and roaring incessantly, and none to pity, much less to relieve and help them; grinding and gnashing their teeth, through the extremity of their anguish and torture.
If now you can imagine anything more terrible and dreadful than this—Hell is that; yes, and much more; for these things are metaphorical; and, though I cannot deny but some of these may be properly and literally true, yet the literal sense of these metaphors does but faintly and weakly show us what is the least part of those everlasting torments!
2. Another demonstration of the dreadfulness of this vengeance is this: that it is a wrath that shall come up unto and equal all our fears.
You know what an inventive and ingenious thing fear is: what horrid shapes it can imagine to itself, out of everything. Put but an active imagination into an affright, and presently the whole world will be filled with strange monsters and hideous apparitions. The very shaking of a leaf will sometimes rout all the forces and resolutions of men. Usually, it is this wild passion, that enhances all other dangers; and makes them seem greater and more dreadful, than indeed they are.
But, now, here, it is impossible for a wicked man to fear more than what he shall certainly suffer . Let his imaginations be hung round with all the horrid shapes that ever frighted men out of their wits; let his imagination dip its pencil in the deepest melancholy that ever any soul was besmeared with, and then strive to portray and express the most terrible things that it can judge to be the objects of fear, or the instruments of torment: yet the wrath of the great God vastly exceeds all that fear itself can possibly imagine .
See that strange expression, Psalm 90:11, "Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due unto you!" That is, according to the fear men have of you, as dreadful and as terrible as they can possibly apprehend your wrath to be—so it is, and much more. Let the mind of man stretch itself to the utmost bounds of imagination, and call into its aid all the things that ever it has heard or seen to be dreadful; let it (as that painter, who, to make a beautiful piece, borrowed several of the best features from several beautiful persons) borrow all the dreadful, all the direful representations, that ever it met with, to make up one most terrible idea —yet the wrath of God shall still exceed it. He can execute more wrath upon us, than we can fear!
Some wicked men, in this life, have had a spark of this wrath of God fall upon their consciences; when they lay roaring out, under despair, and fearful expectations of the fiery indignation of God to consume and devour them. But, alas! this is nothing, compared to what they shall hereafter feel . God now does but open to them a small chink and crevice into Hell: he now does but allow a few small drops of his wrath to fall upon them. And, if this is so anguishing, that their fears could never think of anything more dreadful than what they now suffer—oh, what will it be then, when he shall overwhelm them with a whole deluge of his wrath, and cause all his waves of fury to go over them?
"Fear him," says our Savior, "who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell! Yes, I say unto you, Fear him!" Matthew 8:28, Luke 12:5. And yet, when we have feared according to the utmost extent of our narrow minds—still, his infinite power and wrath is infinitely more fearful than we can fear it.
3. Consider the principal and immediate subject of this wrath of God—and that is the soul.
And this adds much to the dreadfulness of it. The most acute torments that the body is incapable of, are but dull things, in comparison of what the soul can feel. Now when God shall immediately, with his own hand, lash the soul, that refined and spiritual part of man, the principle of all life and sensation; and shall draw blood from it with every stripe; how intolerable may we conceive those pains and tortures to be! To shoot poisoned darts into a man's marrow, to rip up his insides with a red hot sword—all this is a nothing compared to it.
Think what it is, to have a drop of scalding oil or melted lead fall upon the pupil of your eyes, that should make them boil and burn until they fall out of your heads—such torment, nay infinitely more than such, is it, to have the burning wrath of God fall upon the soul!
We find that spirits, which are infinitely inferior unto God, can make strange impressions upon the souls of men: and shall not the great God, much more, who is the Father of spirits? Yes, he can torture them by his essential wrath. And that God, who, as the prophet Nahum speaks in chapter 1, verses 5 and 6, can melt mountains, and make hills and rocks flow down at his presence—can melt the souls of the damned, like lumps of wax: for, in his displeasure, he does sometimes do it to the best of men, even in this life: Psalm 22:14, "My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me."
4. The dreadfulness of this wrath of God may be demonstrated by this: that the punishment of the damned is reserved by God as his last work.
It is a work, which he will set himself about, when all the rest of his works are done. When he has folded up the world, and laid it aside as a thing of no further use—then will God set himself to this great work, and pour out all the treasuries of his wrath upon damned wretches: as if God would so wholly mind this business, that he would lay all other affairs aside, that he might be intent only upon this, having no other thing to interrupt him. Think, then, how full of dread and terror this must needs be, when God will, as it were, employ all his eternity about this; and have no other thing to take him off from doing it with all his might.
God has reserved two works, and but two, for the other world: one is the salvation of the elect; the other is the damnation of reprobates.
Now it is remarkable, that God's last works always exceed his former. And, therefore, we find in the creation of the world, God still proceeded on, from more imperfect kinds of creatures, to those that were more perfect; until he had fully built and finished, yes carved, and as it were painted, this great house of the universe. And, then, he brings man into it, as his last work; as the crown and perfection of the rest.
In the same way, God likewise acted in the manner of revealing his will unto mankind: first, he spoke to them by dreams and visions; but, in "the last days," as the apostle expresses it,"he has spoken unto us by his Son." So, also in the dispensation of the covenant of grace and exhibition of the Messiah: first, he was made known only by promise to the fathers; then, in types and obscure resemblances to the Jews: but, in the latter days, he himself came and took upon him the form of a servant, and wrought out a complete redemption for us.
So, usually, the last works of God are more complete, perfect and excellent than the former.
Now God's punishing work is his last work; and, therefore, it shall exceed in greatness all that ever went before it. In his first work, the creation of the world, he demonstrated his infinite power, wisdom, and godhead. But, in the destruction of sinners, which is his last work, he will manifest more of power and wisdom, than he did in his creating them. How fearful a destruction then must this needs be!
God has a variety of works that he is carrying on in this world; and, if his glory does not perfectly appear in one, he may manifest it in another. But, when he shall confine himself only to two, as he will in the world to come, the saving of the godly and the damning of the wicked, and this without any variety or change—then certainly these shall be performed to the very utmost of what God can do. For, as he will save the saints to the very utmost; so, likewise, will he damn and destroy sinners to the very utmost!
5. Another demonstration of the dreadfulness of this wrath shall be drawn from this consideration, that God will forever inflict it for the glorifying of his justice and power on the damned.
Romans 9:22 "What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known," and, 2 Thessalonians 1.9. "They shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." Now, certainly, if God will inflict eternal punishments upon them to show forth his power, their punishments must needs be infinitely great. For,
(1.) All those works, wherein God shows forth his power, are great and stupendous.
Consider what power it was, for God to lay the beams of the world, and to erect so stately a fabric as Heaven and earth. The apostle therefore tells us, that by "the creation of the world," is understood the "eternal power of God! Romans 1:20." When God showed his power in creating , oh what a great and stupendous work did he produce! and, therefore, certainly, when God shall likewise show his power in destroying , the punishments he will inflict will be astonishing and stupendous.
(2.) Consider, God can easily destroy a creature without showing any great power; or putting forth his almighty arm and strength to do it.
If he only withdraws his power, by which he upholds all things in their beings—we would quickly fall all apart into nothing—so easy is it for God to destroy the well-being of all his creatures. But, if God will express the greatness and infiniteness of his power in destroying sinners, whom yet he can destroy without putting forth any of his power, yes only by withdrawing and withholding it; oh then, how fearful must this destruction needs be! Alas, we are crushed before the moth; and must needs perish, if God does but suspend the upholding influence of his power from us. How dreadfully then will he destroy, when he shall lay forth his infinite power to do it, who can easily do it without power!
And thus I have laid down some demonstrations of the dreadfulness of the wrath and vengeance of God; five of them drawn from the words of the text, and five drawn from other considerations.
III. I shall now close with several words of APPLICATION.
1. Be persuaded to believe that there is such a dreadful wrath to come.
I well know you all profess that you believe,
Be the first to react on this!