This column by the late Executive Editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY is reprinted from the March 1, 1963, issue.

There hangs on a wall in our home a picture, simple, but with a tremendous story. Two lambs are resting peacefully on the ground; behind them is a large hand, and drooling and snarling behind that hand are several ferocious wolves. The lambs are lying in perfect peace, despite the danger, because the hand is restraining their enemies.

Most Christians respond to this portrayal of God’s protecting hand and rejoice that he still loves and cares for his own today.

At the same time there are many who would take advantage of the concept of God’s love without admitting that the love of God is but one facet of his being.

The stern words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees—the religious leaders of his day—carried deep meaning: “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” And this warning is not dated. The wrath of God is seen today and will be seen in the final judgment.

God’s wrath is not against the sinner because he is a sinner—all men are sinners. His wrath is against sin, against sin wherever it is found. Only in this light can we understand the implications of the Cross. Our Saviour’s death was not a sentimental example; it was an act of necessity. Only the death of the Son of God had in it the cleansing necessary—the power to deliver from the guilt and penalty of sin’s affront to a holy God.

In John 3:36 we read: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” In the light of this we have two choices: either John was mistaken, speaking from ignorance or from deliberate spite, or he was affirming a truth in which there is unspeakable comfort or warning of dire peril.

Is our concept of God and his Son a travesty of the truth? God is love, but he is also a consuming fire. He is love, but he also exercises a holy wrath against which nothing can stand. The writer of the Proverbs tells us, “The expectation of the wicked is wrath,” and such it is today. The fact that many pulpits ignore this truth is something for which some will certainly be held responsible.

Years ago Jonathan Edwards’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” brought literally thousands into the kingdom of God, for men were led to see themselves as God sees them and they cried out for forgiveness. What a far cry from most preaching today! Instead of being confronted by his sin and its consequences, the average sinner walks away from a sermon with the smug feeling that he is a pretty decent fellow and often with the delusion that he has done God an honor by being seen in church.

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The Prophet Isaiah says: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it” (Isa. 13:9).

The loving forgiveness of God is just as real as his wrath; his love and mercy are as available as his judgment is certain. The Apostle Paul had no illusions about the matter. In Romans 2:5 he says: “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Later in this same letter Paul says: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (5:9).

But today the idea of the “blood atonement” is considered passé by some. Only recently a prominent church leader spoke to a large group of women and in the course of his address warned them against emphasizing the blood of Christ, urging them to stress God’s love.

This incident brings to mind these words: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy [common] thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). How can we ignore these words, or “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), or “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29)?

Countless souls are being lulled into a false sense of security by those who ignore or deny the fact of God’s wrath against sin. His wrath is not anger as we sinners know anger, nor is it peevishness or arbitrariness. Rather it is a holy wrath by a holy God, a wrath directed against sin in every form, a wrath so great that the Son of God suffered death and separation from his Father to deliver those who believe from the wrath to come.

The Apostle Paul, speaking to Christians, says: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).

In those solemn words of the last book of the Bible we read: “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together …”; then we find the peoples of the earth crying out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:14 ff.).

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Can the Gospel be properly preached other than against the backdrop of the wrath of God?

A prominent minister recently observed that all we need to do is tap sinners on the shoulder and tell them they are saved and that they should go out and live like Christians. What a travesty on the Gospel! What a failure to preach the whole counsel of God! What a caricature of the holiness of God! What a failure to understand the implications of the Cross!

When we truly picture the gentle Christ, the One who would not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax, we must face the other side, the day when the words of Paul will be fulfilled: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:7–9).

Preacher, are you warning of the wrath to come? There is a bridge out down the road. Are you keeping quiet?

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