SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Condensed by Lily Abraham
Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. 32: 35). This verse threatens the vengeance of God on the wicked, unbelieving Israelites. They were God’s visible people. They lived under the means of grace. In spite of all of God’s wonderful works towards them, they remained void of counsel, having no understanding in them (v.28). Of all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit (vv.32, 33). “Their foot shall slide in due time,” implies four things:
1. That they were always exposed to destruction; one that stands or walks in slippery ground is always exposed to fall.
2. They were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction just as he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall.
3. They are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by another. Their own weight and the weight of their sin are enough to throw them down.
4. The reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come. When that due time comes, their foot shall slide. When He lets go, he immediately falls and is lost.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God; His sovereign pleasure, His arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty. The truth of this observation may be clear from the following considerations:
1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. For God to cast His enemies into hell is as easy as it is for us to crush a crawling worm or to cut a stretched out slender thread. What are we that we should think, we can stand before Him at Whose rebuke the earth trembles and before Whom the rocks are thrown down?
2. They deserve to be cast into hell. God’s justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” about the trees that bring forth such grapes of Sodom ( Lk. 13: 7). The sword of Divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.
3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. “He who does not believe is condemned already”(Jn.3:18). Every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place. Hell is the place that justice, God’s Word, and His unchangeable law assign to sinners.
4. They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God that is expressed in the torments of hell. God is a very great deal more angry with many that are now on earth: yea, with many that are in this congregation, than He is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.
The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit has opened its mouth under them.
5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them. If God should withdraw His hand, he would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them. They belong to him; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them.
6. In the souls of wicked men those hellish principles are reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, the seeds of hell fire. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury.
7. Lack of visible danger to the life of wicked men is no security for them. Man is always on the brink of eternity; his next step could be into another world. God has many different unsearchable ways for taking men out of the world and sending them to hell.
8. Man is absolutely incapable of preserving his own life. Men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death. (Eccl. 2: 16) “How does a wise man die? As the fool.”
9. All the efforts of wicked men to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked, do not secure them from hell one moment.
If we could speak with those in hell today, every one of them would reply, “No, I never intended to come here. I thought I had taken enough care. Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness!”
10. God’s promise of eternal life, or deliverance from eternal death, is contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ. But the natural men have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.
Whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, unless he believes in Christ, God is under no obligation to keep them out of hell even for a moment. All that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, an uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.
This may be a warning for awakening unconverted persons, who are out of Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God, hell’s wide gaping open mouth are all extended abroad under you and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell, but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
You are kept out of hell; but you do not see the hand of God in it. You think your health, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation are doing it. But indeed these things are nothing, if God should withdraw His hand.
Your wickedness makes you as heavy as lead, and drives you downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell. Your own efforts and righteousness are like a spider’s web trying to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment, for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose. They groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of Him who has subjected it in hope.
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. Your guilt is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back. If your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.
All you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a new state of light and life, altogether unexperienced before, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families, closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but God’s mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. That you did not go to hell the last night, that you awoke again this morning, that you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, that you have not gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking His pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending His solemn worship, is all because God’s hand is holding you up.
Consider the following points about God’s wrath.
1. Whose wrath it is? It is the wrath of the infinite God, the great and Almighty Creator and king of heaven and earth. In comparison to Him, the greatest earthly potentates in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust. It is but little that they can do, when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of their fury. All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers. The wrath of the great King of kings is as much more terrible than theirs, as His majesty is greater. Luke 12: 4, 5. “And I say to you, My friends, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell: yes, I say to you, Fear Him.”
2. It is the fierceness of His wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of the fury of God; as in Isaiah 59: 18. “According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay Fury to His adversaries.” Isaiah 66: 15 reads, “For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.” In Rev. 19: 15, we read of “the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” The words are exceedingly terrible. It is “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivable depth of misery must the poor creature be sunk!
Consider this: God will execute the fierceness of His anger, implies that He will inflict wrath without any pity. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. Ezek. 8: 18. “Therefore I also will act in fury: My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare. How awful are those words, Isa. 63: 3, which are the words of the great God. “I have today trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes.” It is perhaps impossible to conceive of words that carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, viz. contempt, hatred, and fierceness of indignation. If you cry to God to pity you, He will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, but He will only tread you under foot. Though He will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, He will not regard that; He will crush you under His feet without mercy; He will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on His garments, so as to stain all His raiment. He will not only hate you, but He will have you, in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under His feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.
3. The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that He might show what that wrath of Jehovah is. God has had it on His heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent His love is, and also how terrible His wrath is. Rom. 9: 22. “What if God, wanting to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” When the great and angry God has risen up and executed His awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of His indignation, will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it? Isa. 33: 12-14. “And the people shall be like the burnings of lime; Like thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire. Hear, you who are afar off, what I have done; And you who are near, acknowledge My might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites.”
When you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty. Isa. 66: 23, 24. “And it shall come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the Lord. And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me; For their worm does not die, And their fire not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
4. It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a longing for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So, your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For “who knows the power of God’s anger?”
There is reason to think that there are many now hearing this discourse, who will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, but one, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas, instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning. Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, who shall keep out of hell longest will be there in a little time! Your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you.
Now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to Him, and pressing into the Kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to Him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in His own blood, and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition?
Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? They are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. They have done nothing but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. Oh, Sirs, your case, in a special manner, is extremely dangerous. Your guilt and hardness of heart are extremely great. You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God. You, young men and young women, will you neglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ?
Let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, middle aged or young people, or little children, now hear the loud calls of God’s Word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favours to some, will doubtless be a day of remarkable vengeance to others. As in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.
Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”