The Wrath Of

Paul speaks (Col. 3:6) of "the wrath of God on the children of disobedience." We have shown that wrath is a reprehensible passion, unworthy of men and impossible to God. The word can only be applied to God in a figurative sense, to denote his disapproval of sin.

Macknight (Presbyterian) gives a lucid exposition of the subject: "Thus, many words of the primitive language of mankind must have a twofold significance. According to the one signification, they denote ideas of sense, and according to the other they denote ideas of intellect. So that although these words were the same in respect of their sound, they were really different in respect of their signification; and to mark that difference, after the nature of language came to be accurately investigated, the words which denoted the ideas of sense, when used to express the ideas of intellect, were called by the critics metaphors, from a Greek word which signifies to transfer; because these words, so used, were carried away from their original meaning to a different one, which, however, had some resemblance to it.

"Having in the Scriptures these and many other examples of bold metaphors, the natural effect of the poverty of the ancient language of the Hebrews, why should we be either surprised or offended with the bold figurative language in which the Hebrews expressed their conceptions of the Divine nature and government? Theirs was not a philosophical language, but the primitive speech of an uncultivated race of men, who, by words and phrases taken from objects of sense, endeavored to express their notions of matters which cannot be distinctly conceived by the human mind, and far less expressed in human language. Wherefore they injure the Hebrews who affirm that they believed the Deity to have a body, consisting of members of the human body, because in their sacred writings, the eyes, the ears, the hands and the feet of God are spoken of; and because he is represented as acting with these members after the manner of men.

"'The voice of the Lord walking in the garden.'—Gen. 3:8. 'The Lord is a man of war' 'Thy right hand O Lord, hath dashed,' etc.; 'The blast of thy nostrils.'—Exod. xv:3-6-8. 'Smoke out of his nostrils;' 'Fire out of his mouth;' 'Darkness under his feet;' 'He rode' and 'Did fly.'—Psa. 18:8,9,10.

"In like manner they injure the Hebrews who affirm they thought God was moved by anger, jealousy, hatred, revenge, grief, and other human passions, because in their Scriptures it is said:

'It repented the Lord' 'It grieved him.'—Gen. 6:6. 'A jealous God.'—Ex.20:5. 'The wrath of the Lord.'—Num. 11:33. 'I hate."—Prov. 8:13. 'The indignation of the Lord' 'His fury'— Isa. 34:2. 'God is jealous' 'Revengeth and is furious' 'Will take vengeance' and 'He reserveth wrath.'—Nahum 1:2.

"They also injure the Hebrews who affirm that they believe the Deity subject to human infirmity, because it is said:

'God rested.'—Gen. 2:2. 'The Lord smelled.'—Gen. 8:21. 'I will go down and see,' and 'if not, I will know.'—Gen. 18:21. 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh' 'Shall have them in derision.'— Psa. 2:4. 'The Lord awaked,' etc.—Psa. 78:65.

"These and the like expressions are highly metaphorical, and imply nothing more but that in the divine mind and conduct (to human perceptions) there is somewhat analogous to, and resembling the sensible objects and the human affections, on which these metaphorical expressions are founded. If from the passages of Scripture in which the members of the human body are ascribed to the Deity, it is inferred that the ancient Hebrews believed the Deity hath a body of the same form with the human body, we must conclude they believed the Deity to be a tree, with spreading branches and leaves which afforded an agreeable shade; and a great fowl, with feathers and wings; and even a rock. because he is so called.—Deut. 37:15; Psa. 17:8; 18:2-31; 91:4."—Macknight on the Epistles, Essay viii: Sec.I.

The consequences of human misconduct, the judgments of God on wickedness, are ascribed to wrath, anger, hatred, to God, but always in a figurative sense; for he who is the same always, and whose nature is love, cannot literally be angry or wrathful.

"And said to the mountains and rock, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."—Rev. 6:16. At the opening of the sixth seal, "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, and the heavens departed as a scroll," etc.—Rev. 6:12,13.

The fearful evils of the times here prophesied are figuratively attributed to God's wrath. But all these scenes transpired on earth.

Dr. Clarke says: "All these things may literally apply to the final destruction of Jerusalem, and to the revolution which took place in the Roman Empire, under Constantine the Great. Some apply them to the day of judgment, but they do not seem to have that awful event in view."

Whatever the phrase means, it applies wholly to this life, and has no reference to the world beyond the grave. The phrase "Wrath of God" is an adaptation of human language to human apprehension; to ascribe human passions to him, is a metaphorical employment of terms. Man, smarting under God's chastisements, or beholding the results of his judgments, characterizes as wrath, hatred, what is dictated by love. God has not wrath as men are angry. There can be no such thing as hatred in him who is perfect love.

Prof. Stuart, in his comments on Romans, observes: "It is impossible to unite, with the idea of complete perfection, the idea of anger in the sense in which we cherish that passion; for with us it is a source of misery, as well as sin. To neither of these effects of anger can we properly suppose the Divine Being to be exposed. His anger, then, can be only that feeling or affection in him which moves him to look on sin with disapprobation and to punish it when connected with impenitence. We must not, even in imagi nation, connect this in the remotest manner withrevenge; which is only and always a malignant passion. But vengeance, even among men, is seldom sought for against those whom we know to be perfectly impotent, in respect to thwarting any of our designs and purposes. Now, as all men and all creation can never endanger any one interest (if I may so speak) of the Divine Being, or defeat a single purpose; so we cannot even imagine a motive for revenge on ordinary grounds. Still less can we suppose the case to be of this nature, when we reflect that God is infinite in wisdom, power and goodness. This constrains us to understand the anger and indignation of God as anthropapathic, i.e., speaking of God after the manner of men. It would be quite as well (nay, much better ) to say that when the Bible attributes hands, eyes, arm, etc., to God, the words which it employs should be literally understood, as to say that when it attributes anger andvengeance to him it is to be literally understood. But if we so construe the Scriptures in this latter case, we represent God as a malignant being, and class him among the demons; whereas by attributing to him hands, eyes, etc., we only represent him to be like men."

Dr. Clarke thinks that the word "wrath" in the new Testament ought to be "punishment."

"Taken in this sense, we may consider the phrase as a Hebraism; punishment of God, i.e., the most heavy and awful of punishments; such as sin deserves, and such as it becomes divine justice to inflict. And this abideth on him (the unbeliever), endures as long as his unbelief and disobedience remain."

These comments express our views, and they certainly afford no support to the idea of endless torment.

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