The sermon is dated May, 1735. Jonathan Edwards makes his way into the pulpit to read his manuscript – which was his consistent habit. The full title of the sermon is When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come Upon Them to the Uttermost. The text that the preacher from Northampton utilizes is 1 Thessalonians 2:16 – “To fill up their sins alway; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
Before Edwards wrestles with the doctrinal implications, he makes two important observations:
1. To what effect was the heinous wickedness and obstinacy of the Jews, viz. to fill up their sins.
2. The punishment of their wickedness: “The wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” There is a connection between the measure of men’s sin, and the measure of punishment. When they have filled up the measure of their sin, then is filled up the measure of God’s wrath. Edwards observes, “God often punishes men very dreadfully in this world; but in hell “wrath comes on them to the uttermost.” He alerts his congregation to the certainty of this punishment: “For though the punishment was then future, yet it is spoken of as present: ‘The wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.'”
Edwards repeats his doctrine and continues by setting forth 3 primary propositions.
When those that continue in sin shall have filled up the measure of their sin, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost.
There is a certain measure that God hath set to the sin of every wicked man.
Edwards explains, “But sometimes the reason why God lets them alone is, because they have not filled up the measure of their sins. When they live in dreadful wickedness, they are but filling up the measure which God hath limited for them.” In other words, each person shall live until they reach the tipping point.
Proposition # 2:
While men continue in sin, they are filling the measure set them.
Proposition # 3:
When once the measure of their sins is filled up, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost. God will then wait no longer upon them.
Edwards notes, “Now is the day of grace, and the day of patience, which they spend in filling up their sins; but when their sins shall be full, then will come the day of wrath, the day of the fierce anger of God.”
God’s wrath is never fully exerted against wicked men while in this world but once they have filled up the measure of their sins, wrath will come upon them to the uttermost as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. Edwards makes five important observations about God’s wrath which will be unleashed on unregenerate men when they reach what I call the “tipping point.”
1. Wrath will come upon them without any restraint or moderation in the degree of it.
“The wrath of God will be poured out like fire. He will come forth, not only in anger, but in the fierceness of his anger; he will execute wrath with power, so as to show what his wrath is, and make his power known. There will be nothing to alleviate his wrath; his heavy wrath will lie on them, without any thing to lighten the burden, or to keep off, in any measure, the full weight of it from pressing the soul.”
“Then shall wicked men know that God is the Lord; they shall know how great that majesty is which they have despised, and how dreadful that threatened wrath is which they have so little regarded. Then shall come on wicked men that punishment which they deserve.”
2. Wrath will then be executed without any merciful circumstances.
Edwards is quick to point out that in this life, God shows forbearance with sinners; he is merciful. “But in hell there will be no more exercises of divine patience.”
3. Wrath will be so executed, as to perfect the work to which wrath tends, viz. utterly to undo the subject of it.
“The soul will be, as it were utterly crushed; the wrath will be wholly intolerable. It must sink, and will utterly sink, and will have no more strength to keep itself from sinking, than a worm would have to keep itself from being crushed under the weight of a mountain.”
4. When persons shall have filled up the measure of their sin, that wrath will come upon them which is eternal.
Edwards provides his congregation with divine perspective and adds, “Nothing can be longer than eternity.”
5. When persons shall have filled up the measure of their sin, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost of what is threatened. Sin is an infinite evil; and the punishment which God hath threatened against it is very dreadful.
Jonathan Edwards jumps immediately to application and draws the attention of his congregation to three concluding points. He is especially concerned to warn natural men to flee from sin!
1. Under what great means and advantages you continue in sin.
Edwards challenges adults who grew up in Northampton and were warned repeatedly to flee from sin. Some have even had what Edwards refers to as “awakenings,” but they continue in sin. He refers to some congregants who “narrowly escaped death by dangerous accidents” yet they continue to persist in their sin.
2. How dreadful the wrath of God is, when it is executed to the uttermost. To make you in some measure sensible of that, I desire you to consider whose wrath it is. The wrath of a king is the roaring of a lion; but this is the wrath of Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent.
3. Consider, you know not what wrath God may be about to execute upon wicked men in this world.
Edwards concludes with a stern warning: “Therefore it behooves all to haste and flee for their lives, to get into a safe condition, to get into Christ; then they need not fear, though the earth be removed, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof: for God will be their refuge and strength; they need not be afraid of evil tidings; their hearts may be fixed, trust in the Lord.”
Jonathan Edwards reminds us of the importance of faith in Christ and the dreadful consequences of anyone who refuses to turn from their sin and flee to him for forgiveness. His preaching may sound strange to the postmodern ear. His theology may be uncomfortable. His tone may appear sharp and uninviting. But these concerns only indicate the great height from which we have fallen.