SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD
Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Congregationalist preacher, revivalist, theologian, and philosopher. Though not a Puritan, he was influenced by the Puritans. He believed strongly in the sovereignty of God and stressed the beauty of God’s holiness. His most famous sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” preached on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut. (Edwards had earlier preached the sermon to his congregation in Northhampton, Massachusetts). In this sermon Edwards emphasized that God calls on men to repent of their sins, and if they fail to do so, they can expect God’s judgment of wrath. It is said that the sermon was so powerful and moving that people wept and cried out, “What must I do to escape God’s judgment?”
The anger and wrath of God are clearly a part of His divine nature. The Bible speaks directly and often of them. Yes, He is a God of love, grace, compassion, and tender mercy, but it is a mistaken and flawed view of God to discount His wrath. The apostle Paul urged the Roman saints to “behold the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). The apostle minced no words when he said that “the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). In dramatic fashion Paul warned that at His second coming Christ will be “revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (II Thessalonians 1:7-9). The unrepentant will be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, 15). Are preachers today preaching these truths about God? If not, why not?
The wrath and judgment of God have been evident throughout time. Peter points out that God “did not spare the ancient world…bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly” (II Peter 2:5). He goes on to remind his readers of God “turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (II Peter 2:6). Earlier, the same apostle had reminded his readers that God did not even “spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (II Peter 2:4). Do preachers need to be doing this kind of reminding to their hearers today? Fellow sojourner to eternity, when was the last time you heard a sermon on hell and the wrath of God? Preacher friend, when was the last time you preached on hell and the wrath of God? “Ear-tickling” preachers (II Timothy 4:3-4), those who want to emphasize only the positive and eliminate all the negative, those who want their hearers to always leave the services “feeling good about themselves” will not preach on hell and God’s wrath! These are not popular topics and people do not like to go to church and hear these matters discussed, but that is not the question. The question is, are they truths about God and eternity that need to be preached and fully absorbed by people today?
In preparing the people for the ministry of Christ John the Baptist urged the people to “bear fruit worthy of (showing) repentance” (Matthew 3:8). He spoke of Christ as one whose “winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).
Christ often spoke of the place of eternal torment. It has been observed that Christ said more about hell that any other person in the Bible. Quoting the Messianic prophet Isaiah (66:24), Christ spoke three times in rapid succession of hell as that place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). Christ told about a rich man who died “and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:19-31, note especially verse 23, ASV). If the doctrine of annihilation is true and hell does not consist of everlasting punishment, then when the rich man cried out for comfort, father Abraham should have said to him, “Hold on for a few more minutes, son… it is soon going to be all over for you.” But read the text and see if that is what Abraham said. In His verbal picture of the final judgment Christ declared that the disobedient “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Everlasting punishment is as long as eternal life! Can preachers today preach Christ and not preach what He said about hell? (Note: The doctrine of purgatory is not found in scripture, but is a dogma of the Catholic Church arising in the 12th century).
Throughout the four gospel records, the book of Acts, the twenty-one letters to first-century Christians, and the book of Revelation hell is a prominent subject. For example, Paul wrote that God “will render to each one according to his deeds: to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality—eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Romans 2:6-10). Earlier, we called attention to Paul’s warning in II Thessalonians 1:7-9 concerning the punishment that will be dealt out to those “who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Will those who refuse to know God and to obey the gospel heed the warning?
No, the anger and wrath of God and His punishment of sinners in an everlasting hell are not popular subjects. Sometime ago a preacher wrote to me and said that there were things in Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) that “disturbed” him. There are things in that account that “disturb” me. But that does not mean that what Jesus taught is not true. Perhaps we need to be disturbed. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the reality of hell. Perhaps we need to begin to again hear some “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermons. Perhaps we need to know what it will be like to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God! Ah, yes, I know that some people are now “reading the Bible differently than the way they used to,” but reading it “differently” will not change its message. It still says what it says!
Let us continue to teach and preach and emphasize the love, mercy, grace, and tender compassion of our gracious Father in heaven. Let us continue to emphasize the fact that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:8). But let us not overlook and neglect the wrath and judgment of God on sinners. We must not preach just one side of God’s nature. We must declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), including what God has said about His wrath and the punishment of sinners in an everlasting hell.
February 23, 2021