“He Disarms the Wrath of God”

Shanna purchased 25 new songs from SacredAudio.com a couple weeks ago, several of which came from a new album entitled Depths of Mercy. I was able to squeeze all but one on a CD, which we have had playing in the car on the way to and from work.

One line in “Depth of Mercy” bothers me every time I hear it: “He disarms the wrath of God.”

The original text was written by Charles Wesley in 1740. Here is the slightly revised text from the audio version we have.

Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God his wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my Advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus’ face,
Now before the throne of grace.

I my master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
And profaned his hallowed name;
Put him to an open shame.

Jesus speaks and pleads his blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father’s mercy move,
He receives me with his love.

I have long withstood his grace,
Long provoked him to his face,
Would not hearken to his calls,
Grieved him by a thousand falls.

There for me the Savior stands;
Shows his wounds, and spreads his hands!
God is love! His grace so free,
Depth of mercy there for me.

I realize that this is poetry and not a theological treatise, but there are at least four reasons that this language of disarming doesn’t sit well with me.

  1. Disarming usually, if not always, involves opposing parties with conflicting interests. The Father and the Son worked together in perfect harmony to accomplish salvation. The normal implications of disarming are inappropriate for what the Son did w.r.t. the Father’s wrath.
  2. The Scripture speaks of Christ disarming (ἀπεκδυσάμενος), but the object is not the Father or His wrath but τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας (Col 2:15).
  3. Disarming suggests defeat, frustrated purposes, and weakness in the Father.
  4. Disarming implies that the weapon of God’s wrath was stripped from Him and never used. But God did pour out His wrath on the Son, the righteous one who is the ἱλασμός for our sins (1 Jn 2:1–2).

I’d suggest something like “He absorbs/endures/exhausts the wrath of God.”

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4 Responses to “He Disarms the Wrath of God”

  1. Chris Anderson January 20, 2008 at 8:16 pm #

    Good stuff, Phil. Words matter, particularly when they are describing the significance of the atonement.

    I appreciate Jerry Bridges’ treatment of propitiation in The Gospel for Real Life:

    “I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. He held nothing back.” (54)

    Just as that stood out to me as a good definition, Packer’s definition in his otherwise excellent Knowing God stood out as inadequate:

    “What is a propitiation? It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin and canceling guilt.” (156)

  2. Derek Rogers January 21, 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    Good article!

  3. David Mills April 27, 2008 at 7:56 am #

    Are you sure that the wrath of God was exhausted at the cross? Scripture only calls for a sufficient payment to be made, for His blood to be shed, for our iniquity to be placed on Him. The Passover called for a sprinkling. He is the Passover Lamb. Peter says that we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Jesus did not need to take the whole wrath of God for us, He only needed to make the necessary payment, so the wrath of God was disarmed.

  4. Phil Gons May 7, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    I find no indication in Scripture that wrath remains for the justified. In fact, I find plenty of indications to the contrary. We are saved from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9; 1 Thes 1:10; cf. Rom 5:1). The evidence seems to point strongly in the direction of ἱλασμός meaning satisfaction of God’s wrath.

    Even if you disagree with the above, I still think the negative implications of disarm would make another term more appropriate.

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