This is one of the danger-signals which God has placed across the sinner's pathway to Hell. At every turn of the Broad Road there are notice boards giving warning of the Destruction which lies ahead. The Sunday School teacher, the prayers of godly parents, the sermons of faithful preachers, the little Gospel tract, the warnings of conscience, the innate fear of death, the declarations of Holy 'Writ, are so many obstacles which God places in the way of the sinner-so many barriers to the Lake of Fire.
One chief reason why God wrote the Bible was to warn the sinner of the awful consequences of sin, and to bid him flee from the wrath to come. Our text is one of these warnings. There are many such scattered throughout the Bible. We mention one or two at random. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb.9:27). "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).
Our opening text naturally divides itself under three heads:
I. A Terrible Fact"Because there is wrath."
The reference here is to God's Wrath. In regard to the wrath of God let us now contemplate four things:
1. The Fact of God's WrathMen try to forget that there is such a thing as Divine wrath. The realization of it makes them uneasy, so they endeavor to banish all thought of it. At times they are terrified at the bare mention of God's wrath, hence their anxiety to dismiss the subject from their minds. Others try to believe there is no such thing. They argue that God is loving and merciful, and therefore God's Anger is merely a bogey with which to frighten naughty children. But how do we know that God is Loving and Merciful? The heathen do not believe that He is. Nor does Nature clearly and uniformly reveal the fact. The answer is, we know God to be such, because His Word so affirms. Yes, and the same Bible which tells of God's Mercy speaks of His Wrath, and as a matter of fact, refers more frequently (much more so) to His anger than it does to His love.
The fact of God's Wrath is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:18). "Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6). In these, and in other passages too numerous to mention, the fact of the Divine wrath is affirmed. And now let us consider:
2. The Necessity for God's WrathWrath is one of the Divine perfections. If God did not punish evildoers He would be a party to evil doing, He would compromise with wickedness, He would condone sin. Of necessity God is a God of Wrath. Consider an argument from the less to the greater. In the human sphere he who loves purity and chastity and has no wrath against impurity and unchastity is a moral leper. He who pities the poor and defenseless and has no wrath against the oppressor who crushes the weak and slays the defenseless, but loves them too, is a fiend. Divine wrath is Divine Holiness in activity. Because God is holy He hates sin, and because He hates sin His anger burns against the sinner. As it is written, "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Psalm 5:5). And again, "God is angry with the. wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11). And now-
3. The Manifestation of God's WrathGod's wrath is not an abstract quality. God's wrath is not some thing that is inactive and inoperative. During Old Testament times God's wrath was openly displayed against evil-doers, notably at the Flood; in the destruction of Sodom and Gormorrah with fire and brimstone from heaven; on the Egyptians and their haughty king, when He visited their land with plagues, slew their first born and destroyed their armies at the Red Sea; and in His dealings with the Nation of Israel, in selling them into the hands of their enemies, sending them into captivity and destroying their beloved city. God's wrath against sin was publicly manifested at the Cross, when all His billows and waves passed over the head of the blessed Sin-Bearer, "I am afflicted and ready to die from My youth up: while I suffer Thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over Me: Thy terrors have cut Me off" (Psalm 138:15, 16) was His solemn cry. And now:
4. The Greatness of God's WrathHuman wrath is oftentimes an awful thing. Scripture likens the wrath of a king to the roaring of a lion. When a man's anger gets the better of him and he allows his fury to burst all restraints; it is a fearful thing to behold. Scripture also speaks of the Devil having "great wrath because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Rev. 12:12). But what shall be said of the Wrath of God? To what shall we liken it? How indescribably awful must be the unrestrained and unmixed wrath of such a Being! With what shall we compare the wrath of Him who made the heavens and the earth by the word of His power, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast! What must the wrath of Him be like who shaketh the earth out of its place and maketh the pillars thereof to tremble! What must the wrath of Him be like who rebuketh the sea and maketh it dry, who removeth the mountains out of their places and overturneth them in His anger! What must the wrath of Him be like whose majesty is so terrible that no fallen man can live in the sight of it, and in whose presence the very seraphim veil their faces!
Scripture speaks of God's wrath "waxing hot" (Exod. 23:14). It declares "Great is the wrath of the Lord" (2 Kings 22:13). It makes mention of "The fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Rev. 19:15). It refers to God's wrath coming upon sinners "to the uttermost" (I Thess. 2:16). Everything about God is unique. His power is omnipotent. His wisdom is a great deep. His love is unsearchable. His grace is unfathomable. His holiness is unapproachable. And like all His other perfections and attributes God's wrath is incomparable, incomprehensible, infinite. It will be the Wrath of the Almighty! And what will the wrath of the Almighty be like when it comes upon sinners "to the uttermost"? And what power of resistance will poor, frail creatures of the dust have for enduring the full weight of it? None. None whatever. It will overwhelm them. It will utterly consume them. It will crush them more easily than we can a worm beneath our feet. It will sink them into the lowest depths of hopeless despair. It will be intolerable and unbearable. And yet it will have to be endured - consciously endured - endured day and night for ever and ever! May these unspeakably solemn thoughts prepare the unsaved reader for the next division of our text.
II. A Solemn WarningIn view of this terrific fact, "Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke."
Sinners are even now threatened with God's wrath, yea, they are by nature "children of wrath." It is true that God's wrath now slumbereth for a while, because this is the day of salvation. It is true that the time for the full and final and open manifestation of it has not yet arrived. It is true that sinners often defy God now with apparent impugnity, and because of this the wicked spread themselves like green bay trees. "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what profit should we have if we pray unto Him?" (Job. 21:14, 15). Let all such heed the Divine warning, "Because there is wrath, BEWARE lest He take thee away with His stroke." Sinner, be not deceived, God is not mocked. "O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. For their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps. Is not this laid up in store with Me, and sealed up among My treasures? To Me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste" (Deut. 32:29, 31-35). The sinner is treading a path more slippery than ice, and unless he forsake it, in due time his foot shall slide. The bow of God's wrath is already bent: the arrow of His vengeance is even now fitted to the string, and nothing but His infinite forebearance stays its release. My reader, the only reason why you have not already been cast into Hell fire is because it has been the good pleasure of the Most High to stay your doom. Flee then from the wrath to come while there is yet time.
"And thinketh thou this, O man that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" (Rom. 2:3). Did Adam escape the judgment of God? Did Cain, did Pharaoh, did Achan, did Haman? The only reason God has not "taken thee away with His stroke" before this is because He endures with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.
The time of the sinner's opportunity for fleeing from God's wrath is exceedingly brief and limited. The sad and tragic thing is that so few realize it. The sinner sees little cause for alarm and fails to apprehend his imperative need of promptly accepting Christ as his Saviour. He imagines himself secure. He goes on in his sin, and because judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily he increases in his boldness against God. But God's ways are different to ours. There is no need for God to be in a hurry - all eternity is at His disposal. When one man robs another, instantly the cry is raised, "Stop thief!" lest he should soon be out of reach. When a murder is committed the hounds of the law at once seek to track down the guilty One. A reward is offered lest he should succeed in escaping justice. But it is different with God. He is in no haste to execute judgment because He knows the sinner, cannot escape Him. It is impossible to flee out of His dominions! In due time every transgression and disobedience shall receive "a just recompense of reward."
"Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke." The immediate reference is to death - the removal of the sinner from this earth to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Scripture furnishes many solemn examples of God's stroke "suddenly cutting off sinners out of the land of the living." "And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censor and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:1, 2). Again, "Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the King's palace. And this is the writing that was written, Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting In that night was Belshazzar the King of the Chaldeans slain" (Dan. 5). Unsaved reader, you may be enjoying the health and strength of youth, yet, thou knowest not how soon the dread summons shall come, "This night shall thy soul be required of thee." Turning now to the last clause of our text, we have mention of:
III. An Utter Impossibility"Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke, then a great ransom cannot deliver thee."
Every member of Adam's race richly merits God's Wrath. Our sins which have mounted up to heaven; our profitless lives, spent in selfish gratification with no regard for God's glory; our indifference and carelessness respecting our soul's future welfare; our repeated refusals to respond to the invitations of God's grace, all cry aloud for judgment to descend upon us. But God's Mercy has provided a "Ransom" - a "covering" for sin - Christ! Our text speaks of this ransom as "great" - great in its value, great in its scope, great in its effectiveness, great because it delivers from so great a death and secures so great salvation. But great as this "ransom" is, it avails nothing for those who ignore and reject it.
"Beware lest He take thee away with His stroke, then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." If this ransom be despised then there is no possible escape for the sinner. If Christ be rejected there remains nought but wrath. How this text shatters the "Larger Hope"! How it repudiates any possibility of a "Second Chance" in the next world! How effectually it closes the door of hope against all who die in their sins! Let the stroke of God remove such from this world and "then a great ransom cannot deliver" them. There are other Scriptures equally explicit. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy" (Prov. 29:1). For the sinner there is no remedy, no deliverance, no hope whatever beyond the grave.
"Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." Why? Because it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that - not a second chance, not a further probation - but the judgment. Why? Because at death the sinner goes immediately to Hell (Luke 16 :22, 23) and there there is no preaching of the Gospel and no Holy Spirit to quicken into newness of life. Why? Because there awaits all such nothing but "the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29) and the judgment of the Great White Throne. "Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." Why? Because repentance then will be too late. "Therefore will I also deal in fury: Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in Mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them! (Ezek. 8:18). Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee. Why? Because, Whosoever's name was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the Lake of Fire - and a "lake" has no outlet!
Here then is a solemn warning against indifference, "Because there is wrath." Here is a solemn warning against procrastination, "Beware lest He take thee away with His stroke." Here is a solemn warning against hoping in another chance after death. "Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." Here is a powerful plea for accepting Christ NOW. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" We shall not! There will be no escape! Then "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found: Call ye upon Him while He is near."