"For which things I sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience."—Col. 3:6.
In the Scriptures frequent reference is made to the " wrath of God," "Thou sendest forth thy wrath which consumed them as stubble." Ex. 15:7. "My wrath shall wax hot." Ex. 22:24. "The day of the Lord cometh with wrath." Rev. 6:17. Such language has been misunderstood and so falsely interpreted as to give to God the character of a merciless tyrant. Our heavenly Father has been represented as imbibing a hatred towards his own erring offspring, more terrible than ever dwelt in the bosom of the most depraved mortal that ever walked the earth. Hence, much of the worship and religious service in which people have engaged, has been designed to affect God, to placate his wrath, secure his favor and reconcile Him to man. Such views of God and religion have done great harm to Christianity and turned many away in disgust, from the Father of mercies, the God of our salvation. God cannot be angry, malignant, revengeful, and full of wrath, in any sense in which man is angry and wrathful, for "anger resteth in the bosom of fools." Eccles. 7:9. And we are commanded to "cease from anger and forsake wrath." Ps. 37:8. Therefore God cannot indulge in any such sinful emotion himself.
When we read of the "wrath of God," we understand the language to be used in a figurative sense, to denote God's disapprobation of sin, his aversion to transgression, and his retributive justice. In the Scriptures, God is spoken of as a man, having the organization and passions of mortal beings; but all such language should be understood figuratively. We read of the "arm" and "hand" and "fingers" of the Almighty; of the "right arm" of the Lord, and of his "heart" and "breath;" that he "sits" and "rides" and "walks;" but these are all figurative expressions, adapted to the condition and circumstances of the ancient Hebrews, indicating the poverty of language in which ideas adapted to the comprehension of the people were conveyed, and were never designed to be understood literally.
To express the divine approbation of any course of action, expressions, similar to those employed by the people for a like purpose, must have been introduced, and therefore to represent God's disapproval of sin and its merited retribution, He is spoken of as being "angry" with the sinner, and exercised by wrathful emotions. Merited retribution indicated to their undeveloped and uncultivated minds, "anger" and "wrath" in God. When nations and individuals brought upon themselves swift destruction, pestilence, famine and war, such punishment was spoken of as a display of God's anger and wrath. It was so with Babylon, and Sodom and Gomorrah, and with Tyre and Sidon. They rebelled against God, forsook his ways and trampled upon his laws, and brought upon themselves swift destruction. Such chastisement is spoken of as a display of divine wrath. Hence, says Paul, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men."
Macknight has some judicious remarks upon this subject, which we lay before our readers. He says:
"Thus, many words of the primitive language of mankind must have a twofold signification. 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 words 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 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 like form and use with the 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 man.
'The voice of the Lord God 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. 15:3 -6-8. 'Smoke out of his nostrils;' 'Fire out of his mouth;' 'Darkness under his feet;' 'He rode;' and 'Did fly.' Ps. 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. 24:2. '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.' 8:21. 'I will go down and see,' and 'if not, I will know? 18:20. 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh;' ' Shall have them in derision.' Ps. 2:4. 'The Lord awaked,' etc. 78:65.
These and the like expressions are highly metaphorical, and imply nothing more but that in the divine mind and conduct, [to human perception,] there is somewhat analagous 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. 32:15; Psa. 17:8, 18:2-31, and 91:4."— Macknight on the Epistles, Essay 8. Sec. 1.
We should remember that the sentiments of the ancient Hebrews come to us clothed in oriental costume, and bold metaphorical expressions are employed to communicate their ideas. We read of the floods clapping their hands, and the hills skipping like lambs. This, of course, was highly figurative language. And so when we read of the wrath of God, we understand the language to be used in a figurative sense, to set forth the righteous retribution of God in the earth. Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward. The antediluvian world was swept away by a flood. Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. Pharaoh and his hosts were swallowed up in the sea, and the cities of the plain were destroyed by divine judgment; and thus was the wrath of God revealed against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.