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The quality of the persons subjected to this Divine wrath : the children of disobedience, 'ETÀ TOUS ÚLOÙS TĪS åtegelas.
1. For which things' sake] namely, for fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, the wrath of God falleth upon sinners. These words are not to be taken in such sense, that we should conclude it is peculiar to these sins alone to excite the Divine wrath (for this meets all sins); but because upon those gross flagitious crimes, which especially overthrow human happiness, God is especially provoked to exercise vengeance. And on this account, the chief argument is : These sins are the occasion of heavier punishments; therefore, from them we must abstain with all care, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, Heb. x. 31. The Apostle wished to point out distinctly the cause of human misery, and of the Divine judgments, for two reasons,
1. That God might be cleared froin all suspicion of cruelty or injustice, and might be acknowledged by all most merciful and just. For God is the Father of mercies, and not willing to overwhelm the human race with such calamities : but as the Poet formerly sang :
At heaven itself we aim through folly ;
Hor. lib. 1. od. 3. Therefore our wickednesses provoke the Divine wrath against us.
2. To throw a restraint upon the wicked : For, as saith Cyprian, it affords great power to the wicked when he can deliberately rush forward with impunity. On the other hand, It hath great power in restraining sin, when he understands it to be the sure cause of future misery. This the Apostle intimates in these words, For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh, &c.
The wrath of God. We pass from the cause to the effect. The Fathers with almost unanimous consent explain the wrath of God to be the Divine punishment or vengeance. For it is not fit to assign troubled affections to God; since, as Augustine hath truly said, in Evang. Joan, The anger of God is not the perturbation of an excited mind, but the tranquil constitution of righteous judgment. And in Enchirid ad Laurent. cap. 33, When God is said to be angry, perturbation is not signified, like what is in the mind of an angry man ; but his vengeance takes the name of anger from human motions. Ambrose in Psalm xxxvii. God does not lie open to passion, so that he should be angry; since he is without passions ; but because he avenges he seems to be angry. This seems so to us, because we are accustomed to avenge ourselves with commotion. The Schoolmen speak the same, but more compendiously : Anger is attributed to God, not according to the passion of inquietude, but according to the effect of vengeance. From this common opinion of theologians, Tertullian in 1 contra Marcion, and Lactantius in lib. De ira Dei, cap. 5, and 16, seem to differ: whose opinion is either to be softened down by a suitable interpretation, or rejected. · We may therefore assume, that by the wrath of God vengeance is to be understood, or the punishment imposed upon sinners; and it will be easy to shew that this wrath of God is joined and connected with sin, and especially the sins of luxury. In Gen. vi. 11, we read, The earth was corrupt and filled with violence. Here is the sin! But directly it follows, ver. 17, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth and destroy all flesh. Behold the wrath or vengeance! So in Gen. xviii. 20, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is great, and their sin is very grievous. Here you have the sin. Gen. xix. 24, Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire. Here you have the vengeance. It would be tedious to go through all the examples of sacred Scripture. Let that in Job xxxi. 3, suffice: Is not destruction to the wicked, and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity ? as though he had said, It is certain, and placed beyond doubt, that God is estranged from sinners, and provoked to destroy them. · Seldom hath punishment, though halting in ils pace, failed to overtake the wicked striving to keep head of il* Nay, it
never fails, unless the sinner repent, and forsake his wickedness.
2. If we now inquire, Why the wrath of God is poured upon sinners, the reasons are at hand.
The first is derived from the Divine justice. For although God is not pleased with the sins of men, yet he is pleased with his own righteousness, according to which, punishment is due to sinners. Therefore, it is not evil in God to punish the wicked, because it proceeds from the love of righteousness; but the evil is in man, to deserve punishment; because it proceeds from the love of wickedness.
The second is derived from human advantage. For this is the particular end of punishments, that they may effect the amendment of sinners. Whatever the Divinity may avenge before the last judgment, is not for the destruction of men, but is to be believed as intended for their recovery, Augustine, contra epist. Man. cap. 1. Nor is it any objection to this argument that unbelievers are not so much admonished by these punishments to conversion, as blinded to condemnation, because this does not prevent them from sowing the seeds of a good harvest among the godly; for, as Cyprian, De zelo, remarks, the punishments of the imprudent convey health to the prudent.
The third is derived from the settled Providence of God : For God is the author of order throughout the universe, nor suffers any disorder to exist. But yet sin by its very nature is nothing else than mere disorder. As Aquinas has truly observed, Quæst. disp. De pecc. orig. art. 8, Every sin is restored to order by means of punishment, in that it reduces its inequality to a certain quality. And again, Quæst. disp. De pecc. venial, art. 10, For it is just and determined that he who wishes to seek the pleasure of sin against the Divine will, shall be compelled to experience the bitterness of punishment against his own will. John Gerson has spoken well concerning this matter, Part. 3, Whatever thing deviates from one Divine constitution is driven into another ; so that which deviates from the constitution of mercy, rests in that of justice: where no less in conformity with this constitution are the condemned fired in hell than the blessed in heaven. So far concerning the cause of the Divine wrath, and the outpouring of the same.
Upon the children of disobedience. The quality of the persons subjected to this Divine wrath, is described in these words. In the Greek it is 'erà tous Úlo's tñs ånedelas. Some translate these words, upon the children of distrust, or incredulity; others, upon the intractable, or disobedient children. All these come to the same point; and denote men of that kind who can by no means be persuaded to believe the Divine word, and renounce their sins. In this term umedeias, therefore, two crimes are involved; one of unbelief, the other of disobedience ; this latter is the genuine offspring of the former. Such were those who lived before the flood in the days of Noah; whom Peter, 1 Epis. ij. 20, calls the incredulous ;* who, as Christ says, did in security, eat, drink, marry, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away, Matt. xxiv. 38, 39. Such were the people of Sodom and Gomorrha, who would not believe at the preaching of Lot, but, as though he spake in mockery, slighted him, Gen. xix. 14. Finally, such are all the reprobate, to whom that saying of the prophet Zechariah vii. 11, well applies, But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. It is plain, therefore, that the reprobate and blinded are described in this place : For although the elect may be disobedient for a time, yet they are not the children of disobedience upon whom the wruth of God cometh; because, being softened by the effectual operation of Divine grace, they at length yield; as we may perceive in all the examples of the godly who have fallen.
But here it may be doubted, what the Apostle meant, when he said, for these sins, viz. fornication, uncleanness, &c. the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience. Does it not also come upon the children of God? Who is ignorant that David felt the arrows of Divine wrath for his adultery with the wife of Uriah ? and that other saints have been grievously punished for other crimes of theirs ?
* Incredulons in the Vilgate ; disobedient in our version, more consis. tently with the original.
I answer, It is not to be denied that even the children of God, when they give the reins to the flesh, and yield themselves to sin of this sort, feel the wrath of God falling upon them: but it does not lie perpetually upon them; because they do not continue in these sins. Yet we must distinguish concerning the wrath of God : for God sends his wrath upon his fallen children, but paternally and for chastisement; and upon disobedient children as an enemy and to cut them off. Therefore, in these latter words the Apostle preferred to hold forth examples of the Divine wrath, that thus he might, indirectly as it were, instil the fear thereof into the pious. But we must add this also : When believers rush into sins of this kind against conscience, although that bond of the eternal good-will of God which depends upon election is not loosened ; yet the love of friendship is loosened for a time, or at least the perception and enjoyment of it, which depend upon faith and sanctification. Therefore, whilst they are asleep in such sins, God acts towards them as with enemies; they are not able to apprehend God otherwise than angry and hostile towards them : they cannot, therefore, approach the throne of grace with confidence, but, like Adam, they flee from God, and throw themselves into hiding-places. There is need, therefore, of stirring up their faith and love; there is need of serious repentance, to avert the wrath of God, and obtain the favour and the smile of his countenance : For that declaration of St. Paul is true, Rom. ii. 9, &c. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil: but glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good. For there is no respect of persons with God.
From these things we may draw the following instructions.
1. Under public calamities and miseries, we must not murmur against God; but impute whatever evils we suffer to our sins.
2. As often as we are solicited to sin, we should oppose to its allurements the consideration of the Divine wrath, which closely follows sinners.