The Fourfold Wrath of God

Even in our hymns we praise the glory of God’s anger.

Till on the cross as Jesus died,
  The wrath of God was satisfied. 

The love of God is wonderfully complex, but it is not alone. In at least four different ways, the doctrine of God’s wrath amazes the worshiper. In order to love Him rightly and in order to praise Him fully, we must even adore Him in His wrath.

1. During their lives, the wrath of God waits upon the non-elect in His expressed, promised, and internal hatred of their sins and even of themselves to the degree that their persons are interwoven with sin. God thus expresses the glory of His holiness by his statements in Scripture and the milder demonstrations of His anger in His sometimes physical punishment of sinners on earth. His wrath is also evident in His dire promises of eternal vengeance beginning with the Second Coming (2 Thess. 1:7-9). His wrath is internal in that He takes pleasure (Psalm 115:1-3) in despising in His own inner workings every action of sin which owing to total depravity spills over to the sinner’s entire being. The non-elect sinner can thus be fully an object of God’s wrath.

2. During their lives, the wrath of God waits upon the elect sinner before he is called by grace in much the same way as the non-elect sinner (Eph. 2:3) saving that this wrath is mitigated, even before their conversion, by His foreknowledge of them and His gracious purposes for them (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15). As if both the elect and the non-elect had eaten fiery chillies, yet the elect sinner has also been given some comfort of water, either in promise or even in actual fact. Thus, the wrath of God being mingled with special love from God could be seen as a different kind of wrath as it appears to the elect before their conversion.

3. During their lives, but after their calling, the wrath of God comes against believers as often as they sin (Heb. 12:7, 9; Psalm 60:1; 85:5). Yet the full force is constantly softened, redirected, and diluted by virtue of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:12-13). It is softened because God has placed us as sons and Himself as our Father which relationship does not affect the full weight placed upon the unbeliever. It is redirected to the Son because that wrath was born by Christ on the Cross whereby he finished all the just payment for those sins. And it is diluted to an even greater extent after the elect have believed because now they are able to enjoy the overwhelming benefits that come with salvation (Eph. 2:13-22). Notwithstanding all these great changes in God’s wrath, and the great expiation made by Christ, believers can and do still sin, and this sin is the fullest object of God’s holy wrath. So much therefore as a Christian commits sin and, for however brief a period of time continues without repentance, he is under God’s fatherly displeasure. We know not how to think of this displeasure except as a species of wrath. Is it against sin? Yes. Is it directed in some way at me the converted sinner? Yes. However, Scripture does not commonly talk this way presumably because of the great changes brought about on the cross and at justification. Yet when it does speak this way, we should as well.

4. After the judgment, the damned will see and feel and know as full as any finite being can, the full weight of God’s wrath such as they cannot now perceive. They will know it then in a different way because: a. they shall have an infinity of time to discover it, b. they shall already have had their eyes open to the authority and Lordship of Christ regardless of their scoffing and ignorance now (Phil. 2:9-11), c. they shall feel it bodily, d. they shall feel it in some way in community with the others who share that fate because it is common to many in our day that the Bible threatens Hell to all demons and unbelievers. Since this wrath will now be expressed in its totality, it is different from that form of anger that God takes today with sinners which is so much covered with earthly mercies.

For the breadth of depth of God’s love we praise Him (Eph. 3:18). Shall we not do the same for His holy and just wrath? Is this hatred of sin not as glorious, energetic, and immutable as His other graces? Is it not perfectly seen in the Christ’s work on the cross? Then let us not neglect to give honor that is due.

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