<< PARADOX III: God’s Apparent Anger and Real Love >>
Fury is not in me.—Isaiah xxvii., 4.
God is angry with the wicked every day.—Psalm vii., 11.
IT will easily be seen by a mind that reflects upon itself, and upon Divine things, that it is of the very highest importance that we should have a clear and consistent conviction of the nature of the God we serve. Religion being that which concerns the very inmost of our characters, entering more deeply than any other subject as the foundation of our whole life’s sentiments, affections, and habits, a mistake upon this most important part of religions truth cannot fail to have the effect, of weakening us for good. Error leaves us in many respects open to mistakes and delusions, fears, and phrensies, which we should altogether escape if we had early fixed in our hearts, fixed not by a mere fleeting sentiment, but by the steady bulwarks of sound reason, united to the instruction of the Word of God, what, in the beautiful language of the Psalm we have read for a lesson, The Lord is good to all, and is tender mercies are over all his works.
I have often looked over those sad asylums of insanity and disease, which are peopled by numbers who have carried out some of the delusions of the soul to an extreme. Some time ago having to pay a visit to one who was under a temporary affliction of that kind, and then in a state of recovery, he told me that the saddest companion he had was one who from narrow conceptions of God, although a preacher, had sunk into despair. He was unceasingly clenching his fist, and stretching upwards his arm at the supposed dreadful God; whose terrible fiats filled him with horror.
It is not always we meet with cases so extreme; but the lives of millions are often saddened by the want of an inward love for God, which can only exist when He is presented to them as the best of beings. Millions have either no clear conception of God at all, or they have a conception of Him as a Being to be adored, because He is feared;–feared not from reverence, but from terror. One half of the lives of such persons is poisoned because they have not the sweet consolations that would come if they had an entire conviction of the adorable goodness of Him who is God our Savior. It is my earnest prayer to our Good Lord that He may strengthen this conviction in you tonight; this one solid foundation of your life’s hope, and your eternal prospects. Pray you, my beloved hearers, that you may learn to see with clearness that God is in very deed the highest and the best, the holiest and the kindest of all beings, God is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.
The truth that GOD IS LOVE is really the teaching of the whole of Divine revelation, when direct teaching respecting God is given. There are incidental references, there are accounts of the state of the evil, there are in various parts of the Word allusions which represent God differently–which we shall consider more at length as we pass on in this discourse–but the direct and simple teaching of the Word is, that God is goodness itself, love itself, unswerving kindness and compassion. We have already referred to the declaration in the Psalms. We might have multiplied the references to these Divine poems to a great extent, for in those sacred pieces the declarations of the infinite goodness of the Lord are extremely numerous. Allow me, however, before passing away from this point to remind you especially of Psalm cxxxvi., which commences with the declaration, O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for His mercy endureth for ever, which goes through all the different parts of the Israelitish pilgrimage where there are events mentioned such as the slaying of kings, the overcoming of nations, the subduing of armies things which the parties concerned probably would not perceive to be the outbirths of Divine Mercy but yet in each case it is attributed to the infinite mercy of the Most High. Thirty-six times over in that Psalm it is declared His mercy endureth for ever; and then there is the finish at last, O give thanks unto the God of heaven, for his mercy endureth forever.
The first part of our text declares, Fury is not in me. Let us for a moment notice what is implied in the declaration, Fury is not in me. It does not state that there is not occasionally the appearance of fury attributed to the Lord; what it states is, that there is no fury in Him. There may be what to the wicked man seems fury; there may be operations that are attributed to that passion; but the Lord states, and this is the Divine Truth of the text, that anger, fury, and passions of that kind, do not dwell in Him.
Let us think for a moment of the possibility of the reverse being the case. If the Lord were furious, reason will easily enable us to see that the very destruction of the universe would follow. The Lord is an infinite Being; whatever He is, He is infinitely. And if He by any possibility could be furious, He would be infinitely furious. The whole world would at once feel the tremendous character of almighty wrath, and would perish before Him. But, according to the ideas of many who do not very closely think upon Divine things, God, is supposed to be both angry and gentle at the same time: angry with one man, gentle with, another, furious with one neighbor, all peaceful and gracious with the next; land so on all through the world. The Divine Being would be in incessant agitation if such ideas were true. He would be the most agitated Being in the whole universe; not only constantly changing His mind, but being in ten thousand humors at the same moment, which is in reality quite inconceivable. Fury is not in me.
We will enquire at a later portion of the discourse, how it is that fury is sometimes attributed to the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah said, Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good.–Jer. iii., 38. In fact, it cannot be so. If from the same Being there were to proceed both anger and the opposite, fury and peace, it would be quite clear that the first cause was divided at its very origin,–the Divine Being was half disposed to bless and half to curse. But if such were really the case, there could not then proceed any creative or providential. Influence, from God at all. If the Divine Being were half disposed to one thing and half disposed to an opposite, there would be in Him, two powers equal to each other contending in opposite directions, and there would never be anything done.
If there were opposite dispositions in God, they must exist unequally or equally. The disposition to bless might be supreme, and the disposition to punish be less powerful; but in that case the most powerful would overcome the other, for evil and good are opposites; and we should know nothing of the disposition to punish. If, on the other hand, the disposition to punish were the most powerful, it would overcome the goodness, and there would never be any blessing coming from God. The only other possible case would be, as I said, to have the two dispositions equal; and then there would be no action at all. So that there can only be one sound thought for reason on the subject of the Divine Being, and that is, that He is infinitely good–all good; or, as St. James puts it in the way of a question, Doth a fountain send for that the same place sweet and bitter? intimating that it cannot be so.
If we come to the New Testament, we shall find there the Lord’s teaching in the most express manner, shewing us what our Heavenly Father really is. Take, for instance, Luke vi., 35, 36,Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest, for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Now, here we have the Teacher of teachers, the Divine Being Himself in the flesh, telling us that the real nature of our Heavenly Father is such, that he is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. It is perfectly true, as we are told in Psalm cxxxix., that the Lord is present everywhere, present in the highest heaven to bless, present on earth to create and to do good to us all. If we fly even to make our bed in hell, He is there. But He is there, not as harsh souls have supposed, to increase the miseries of the wicked. He is there as the infinitely good; even to assuage the horrors of the evil He is there in His own glorious character; He is kind to the unthankful and the evil.
Hence, as we go on in the New Testament, we find the tenderest declarations. In the New Testament times the Lord Jesus had made God manifest more clearly in His true nature. So in James i., 17, you will find it thus written, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,not from the Father of frowns, not from the Father of terrors, but the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. This is essentially the same declaration that our Heavenly Father makes in the Old Testament—For I am the Lord, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed; where we see the very thought that we mentioned in an earlier part of these observations,–that if the Divine Being were to be wrathful, He would be infinitely wrathful, and that if that were to happen, even for a single moment, the whole universe would sink before Him. I am Jehovah, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. If He were to change for a single moment from what He is, destruction would pass through the universe. And hence, how beautiful is that teaching of the apostle, where, in 1 John iv., 8, and again at the 16th verse, the same great truth is repeated,–He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love; and God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. We have here, too, a clue to those apparent differences of teaching even in the Word. He that loveth knoweth God. The apostle says, He that loveth, thus teaching that it is needful, in order to understand God, to have somewhat of God’s nature in ourselves. The human mind is of such a character that all its perceptions partake of its own sympathies and idiosyncrasies. We know that this is true throughout life. The jaundiced eye still makes everything look yellow. Let there come into the heart the green-eyed monster, jealousy, that fancies something inconsistent with its own lordliness, and it gradually gives a color to the whole mind and perceptions. The foul mind sees everything distorted, everything according to its own foul nature. We have a very notable illustration of this in the gospel–all life indeed is full of it. In Matthew xxv., the Lord describes the way in which He bestows His various gifts, when He says that He is like a certain nobleman who called His servants before Him, and delivered to them His goods, giving to every man something to trade with, while He was away. He gave to every man according to his several ability.
There have been some who have imagined that even here, and elsewhere in the Word, there is a mark of caprice presented in God’s dealing–in His giving more to some and less to others. But notice the Divine Word–He gave to every man according to his several ability. God gives to us all according as we have the appetite for receiving. The gifts in this case were talents of silver. Silver is the symbol in the Sacred Volume of the Spirit of the Word of God: Thy Word is like silver purified in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. The Lord gives silver to each person according to his ability to receive it. And so He gave to one five talents, and to another, two, and to a third one and when He returned, descriptive of the Lord’s coming again to judgment, these parties presented themselves. Two who had made good use of their talents came quite gratefully and thankfully, giving the account of what they had done with their talents, how they had traded, and how they had been blessed.. They were in a state of gratitude to the Divine Giver. But the one who had not made use of his talent, came, and he said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and laid thy talent in the earth: lo, there then hast that is thine. None of the others knew that the Lord was a hard and austere man; it was only this one individual who knew, as he said, that the Lord was a hard man. Thus we learn how it happens, that with the soul, as well as with the body, there are appearances of truth resulting from our own states of mind. This is illustrated in every part of nature. Nearly all of the so-called facts of outward nature, as are first discern them, are mere appearances. We consider them more profoundly, and after a while we come to the conclusion that a thing is the very opposite of what it seemed to us. When the train is hurrying along its path, it seems to the passengers quietly seated in the carriages, as if banks actually ran away in the opposite direction. It is so even with the common circumstances of vision. It seems to us as if we saw all the wonders of nature around us; in reality it is the pictures that nature by light throws into the eye that we see. We do not absolutely go out and observe these objects at all. It is the world, as it were, thrown into our sphere of vision that we behold, and it is just so in every one of the departments of real life.
We talk of the sun being murky and red; it is the atmosphere through which it shines that gives it that aspect. The sun is shining as brightly as ever, and so it is with the Divine Sun as it comes into our souls; it is our owe states that shadow it and distort it. In Himself God is Love. He is our friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Our second test says, God is angry with the wicked every day. Yes, with the wicked, not angry in Himself every day, but angry as lie appears to them His ways and laws are all opposed to the evil, or rather the wicked are opposed to them. He is good in all things; but the wicked have wrought such a perversion of their very nature, that to them darkness is light, goodness is evil, heaven is hell, virtue is hateful. They have so entirely distorted every part of their being, that what would have given them happiness gives them pain. How beautiful is the suns light! It comes upon earth which is provided with an atmosphere that diffuses its friendly glow over all things around. It pours beauty over hill and dale, over river and mountain, tree and green herb. When the sun rises all is covered with beauty, the flowers are all lovely in their varied hues, and all orderly nature rejoices in the light. But how is it with the owl? When light appears the owl retreats to some dark corner in a barn. Its eyes are out of harmony with the suns brightness. Now, it is just so with evil spirits. The mental condition of a bad man becomes unfitted to goodness, love, brightness, and blessing; and hence, what would have given peace gives pain. In the gospel, we read when our Lord approached the man who was infested with evil spirits, before He had once spoken, the unclean spirits cried out, Oh, Jesus, art thou come hither to torment us before the timer His very presence gave to their maddened souls the utmost pain. Jesus had done nothing to them, had said nothing to them, but they cried out, Art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And no doubt such is the constitution of heaven, truth being its light, love its warmth, the Lord Himself being reflected in all its spheres, and order reigning in all its glorious arrangements; a spirit utterly unfit for those celestial abodes would be tortured by all it saw by all it heard, by all it felt–tortured by its own sensations.
Such a soul would fly out of the blessed abodes, and feel that it was a more terrible hell than any other it could imagine. Thus, you may see how it is that occasionally in the Scripture the Lord is represented as being angry, as being furious. It is the state of the wicked that is described, who feel. His presence, and His power, and His principles, to be tormenting and oppressive. It punishes them because of their distorted condition.
But how about hell? Is there such a place as hell? and if so, what is its condition, and its origin? Alas! it is undoubtedly true there are both states and places that are described by that terrible word. And, how shout hell fire? There are places which in some of their terrible aspects have been felt to be rightly designated, even in this metropolis of ours, as the hells of London, places were they assemble who are agitated by terrible passions. To these, laws human or Divine are alike hateful.
The hells of London enable us to understand the hells of the infernal world. The evil gravitate together. Those who are especially in evil dispositions similar to each other gravitate together. There are hells of the proud, hells of the cruel, hells of the self-conceited, hells of the unclean, hells of the vain, hells of the covetous, hells of the avaricious.
There are three things that form the threefold sources of the infernal condition and the infernal state of torment.
First, we have said pride, giving rise to haughtiness, to grasping, to ambition. This passion desires to subject all to itself; it increases in consequence of being fed, and gradually grows until it acquires so unbounded a lust that, if possible, it would dethrone the Deity. Nebuchadnezzar was a spirit of this kind–and the Babylonish spirit generally is a lust of a similar disposition–it will reign or destroy.
In our insane asylums there are great numbers of those who are mentally and morally wrecked by insane pride. They have gone on from step to step until they imagine they are as great, or greater, than God. Let us suppose ten thousand such like beings gathered together, and then imagine what a hell would be the result. Their fiendish malignity would perpetually desire to destroy all who refuse to obey their insane fancies.
Each one desires to trample on the others, to torture, to destroy, to have all the mild revenge of a savage nature gratified. Think, and you will see the origin of the hells. The Lord never made hell; men’s evils make hell. They torture one another. Infernals, more vivid by being freed from the body, actuated by passions intensified, make hell. Evil shall slay the wicked, it is said. The Lord says in Isaiah l., 11, Behold all ye that kindle a fire, and walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. It is men who kindles the fire, not God. Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled, this shall ye have of my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow. Yes, it is mad ambition, terrible lust, maddening passion, that burn within the soul, and would destroy everything. This is the central fire of hell. It burns in each heart, kindled and fed on earth by the unhappy habit of striving to have its own selfish way, until self possesses the whole darkened, yet burning and miserable being.
Another great class is composed of the worshipers of self-conceit, who confirm themselves in self-derived intelligence. These will not obey the Word of God; they will not listen to truth; they love darkness rather than light; their own false way rather than Divine Wisdom. The more they can do to make it appear that falsehood is truth, and truth is falsehood, the more they become insane, and their insanity is the outer darkness of the evil.
The third terrible source of the misery of the hells is uncleanness. In the Sacred Volume the infernal spirits are commonly characterized by the word unclean. Thou unclean spirit, the Lord says, come out of the man. When our Lord is speaking of the condition of the unhappy, He says, as you will read in Rev. xxii., 11, He which is filthy let him be filthy still. Many thoughtlessly suppose that if wickedness were not condemned it would be a thing far more delightful than goodness; but the truth is, sin is itself so horrible and hateful a thing, that were it left to itself, were it allowed to have its own way it would still be its own bitter curse. Evil pollutes all things, pollutes itself, and destroys the very capability of enjoyment. You remember the prodigal son, he at last came into the condition that he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him.
This class of the evil are like some of those. filthy savages in Central America who are said to live upon dirt. They thus pollute themselves who form to themselves an infernal nature.
The Lord describes the hells as where their worm dieth not. It is not His worm that does not die, but theirs; it is the worm of selfish craving lust, of pride, and hateful feeling, of an utter desire to grasp everything, and to make it subservient to self seeking indulgence. It is this which constitutes hell, and brings torment from its very nature. It forms unhappy abodes here, like hell upon earth. When souls go into the other life they sink downwards and crowd together, drawn by the terrible attractions of infernal spheres into the lower abodes of the spiritual world, where evil is their good, where darkness is their light, where each is a living hell to each, where each carries his hell with him wherever he goes. But, even the punishments there, which they inflict upon one another, are to prevent them from incurring deeper guilt and a deeper hell.
Let us now for a few moments survey the position of every man in this world of probation. He stands between the powers of good and the powers of evil. God, heaven,–and good men are on the one side; hell, evil spirits, and bad men on the other. Let us look up and contemplate our Heavenly Father, and the infinitude of mercies He grants to every one of us. Who can number the miracles of goodness which have been imparted to each of us from the earliest hour of our existence up to the present moment? Every power of soul and body is in reality a faculty of enjoyment given from our Lord. What is each man but an aggregation of faculties and abilities for the reception of blessings with two universes about him–the universe of mind from which streams truth, love, virtue, pleasure, sad peace; the true light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world; are ideas and sentiments of hope and joy flowing as a Divine river from the throne of God. Ten thousand mercies, graces, and delights press in and take up their abodes with us. Then, in the outward world, all the beautiful scenes of the universe surround us on every side. The stars pass over us by night, and the sun by day, the panorama of clouds, ever changing and ever lovely, woos our notice, and all the beautiful surroundings of nature are given to every one of us by our Heavenly Father.
The senses are so many doors by which the soul communicates with nature, for the entrance through each door, by hearing, smell, sight, taste and touch, of ten thousand thousand pleasures and delights. All that is needed to enjoy them is the heart which feels that the Lord is good to all; his tender mercies are over all his works, and He is especially good to me. Oh, let us each pray to be enabled to exclaim, I should feel deeply His mercy over all mankind and me. His mercy endureth for ever.
Let us now regard the other side of the picture and ask the Divine question, Why will ye die, O house of Israel? It is said, With the wicked He is angry, not because He really is so but because what is mercy in itself is felt as anger by them. All the Divine laws must be against the evil, and they cannot fancy anything to be against them except from anger. When the selfish man resists or punishes any one, it is from anger–he is furious and acts wildly from revenge. When his sins have brought pain upon him, he attributes anger to the Divine Being, and crouches before what he conceives to be the result of Divine vengeance. The Lord, out of mercy, to him permits him to think so, because his fears rouse him to a better life. He is startled out of his selfish way even by selfishness itself; and the dread of punishment leads him to repentance, or deters him from sin. He is allowed to think that God is angry with him, if by fear he may be startled to try and become a better man–live better, labor better, and look up to the Lord–to pray for something better. The ark of Noah was covered with pitch; so the ark that saves souls now is pitched with appeals, appeals to fear, intimations that the sinner must flee from wrath; a gulf is before him; terrors are around him; he must rise and flee for his life, for the whole land is polluted. When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.–Ezekiel xviii., 27. The Lord, his Heavenly Father, out of mercy permits him thus to be terrified; but when he treads the path of the Divine commandments, the Lord takes the blindness from his eyes, the hardness and pollution from his heart, the deafness from his ears, and he sees that his pains, and his specters were the echoes and phantasies of his perverted nature.
God is love, God is light, and in Him is no fury, no darkness. The mans soul was jaundiced, and all seemed yellow; his soul is purified, and all now seems bright. The Lord will receive and comfort him and ultimately take away from him every fear; for perfect love casteth out fear. The Savior will we him now a foretaste of heaven, and then raise him to that glorious home;–there all are happy, because all are good. The Lord thus suffers Himself to be seen by the forward, as it is said in Psalm xviii., 25, 26., as if He were forward; but to the merciful He always appears as a true, a merciful, and a gracious God. His tender mercies are over all His works, in heaven, earth, and even in hell. To Him be glory for ever and ever.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Scripture Paradoxes -Their True Explanation (1868)