Excerpt (1st chapter):
Jonathan Ward preached one of his famous sermons on „sinners at the hands of an angry God” (1) and Count Nicolas Renard sat in a front pew of the church and frowned. The guards were hidden in the back of the building for now, waiting for Nicolas’s sign. Jonathan was preoccupied with the account of hell torment and had no idea that hell was really waiting for him soon. The king himself planned to make it of his life.
(1) Jonathan Edwards SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD SERMON VI. Jonathan Edwards sermon from 8.7.1741, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/pdf/edwards_angry.pdf
„It’s like walking on a slippery sidewalk over an abyss. It’s a matter of time before you fall into that abyss. The only reason you haven’t fallen there yet is because it’s not the right time. It is as easy for God to throw you there as it is for you to crush a worm that you see crawling on the ground. And sinners deserve to end up in hell! Justice itself cries out: punish them for their sins forever! It is not that a verdict is awaited, he who does not believe is already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. God is very angry with you, earthly sinners, as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of His wrath.“
Jonathan Ward paused, looked around at his audience, then continued. „The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive sinners; the flames do now rage and glow. The devil stands ready to fall upon you, sinner, and seize you as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. You belong to him; he has your souls in his possession. The devils watch you; they stand waiting for you; like greedy hungry lions, that see their prey!”
Jonathan threatened on from the pulpit, and Nicolas shook his head in disbelief for a moment. Then he controlled himself. He had a job here and he needed to look neutral. For a moment, he stopped paying attention to Jonathan’s words and studied the young preacher thoughtfully. He was twenty nine and Nicolas was the same age. Physically, however, they were all completely different. Nicolas was tall, slender, and dark-haired, while Jonathan was relatively short, a little chubby and blonde. Yet he looked like a giant, perhaps because he had such a loud voice, and because he always looked and behaved so seriously.
„Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment, for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you,“ Jonathan thundered. „The black clouds of God’s wrath are now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God they would immediately burst forth upon you. Repent, sinner! The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much in the same way as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. O sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in!”
Jonathan Ward certainly had no idea what danger he was in at the moment, and that the earthly king was knocking with rage over him, shouting angrily, and that in his anger he had shattered the plate that came to his hands. Nicolas had never seen David so furious, and in his tantrum he trembled with almost the same horror as the sinners in one of the many churches in Rouge, the capital of Le pays des Cygnes. And then David cried. And it was perhaps even worse.
„He who enrages an earthly prince, is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human art can invent, or human power can inflict,” Ward continued, as if sensing what was going through Nicolas’s head, „But all the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred are to be despised. The wrath of the great King of kings, is as much more terrible than theirs, as His majesty is greater. This is the day of mercy and if you do not accept it, God will never have mercy on you again. You will be vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel, but only to be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to Him, that it is said He will only ‚laugh and mock.‘ He will not only hate you, but He will have you in the utmost contempt; no place shall be thought fit for you, but under His feet, to be trodden down as the mire of the streets. God hath had it on His heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent His love is, and also how terrible His wrath is.”
Nicolas frowned and shook his head, he was sure that the words ‚laugh and mock‘ were actually said in the Bible by Wisdom and not by God. Jonathan Ward noticed him for the first time now. The two did not know each other personally, but Nicolas had no doubt that the preacher knew who he was. He was too well known and his controversial work was discussed in all churches. Nicolas Renard was the exact opposite of Jonathan Ward and believed that in the end all mankind would be saved and sometimes preached about it too when Pastor Lucas let him.
Jonathan looked at Nicolas now and continued, „Some people don’t understand how important this is. When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed His awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of His indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold the awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it. Sinners shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.
It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you, sinner, must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration, before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your souls; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance’s, and end, any mitigation, any rest at all; you will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. O, what can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: for, „Who knoweth the power of God’s anger?“ This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of great mercy to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over every unregenerate sinner. Let every one flee out of Sodom: Escape for your lives. Look not behind you!”
Jonathan finished and looked around at his listeners. Nicolas heard that someone in the church was crying and most of the people were staring at their preacher in terror. Jonathan Ward frowned as Count Nicolas Renard raised his hand and broke the sacred silence.
„Could I ask you something?“ Nicolas turned to him, and without waiting for an answer, he continued. „If hell awaits most people, what about children? Is it worth calling a doctor to them? Isn’t it better to let young children die, for example, to ensure that they will be saved?“
„Of course,“ Jonathan Ward frowned, „but only some will get that kind of grace.“
Nicolas continued: „So wouldn’t it be better to kill them right away? I ask just in theory, if murder was not a sin. Wouldn’t killing young children be more of a form of mercy?“
„It certainly would be,“ Jonathan nodded, „but the biblical answer is different, and I’ve been telling you this for a long time – don’t marry, don’t have children, as the apostle Paul also advises us in Corinthians, but few listen to him!“
With a sigh, Nicolas rose from his seat, turned back, and nodded. That was an agreed sign.
The guards headed to him, and the whole church watched them in amazement.
„What’s that supposed to mean?“ Jonathan Ward’s eyes widened as the guards, equipped with the shackles, reached the pulpit. „I know you persuaded the king that everyone would be saved, but you can’t have me arrested for having a different opinion, because there’s a lot of religious freedom in this country,“ Jonathan Ward said angrily, staring at Nicolas while the guards began to handcuff him in front of the entire congregation.
Nicolas looked at him sadly and stepped out onto the pulpit.
„Hold on a second,“ he looked at the guards. „The young man should know why he was arrested,“ he said with a sigh.
Nicolas grabbed the pulpit with both hands, glared at the startled audience, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes for a moment.
„Something terrible happened this afternoon,“ he said slowly. „One of your preacher’s followers took his views literally, broke into an orphanage after worship and killed there ten of the smallest orphans.“
Nicolas made a dramatic pause and motioned for the guards to lead the preacher away as people looked around in shock and began to talk quietly together.
„Try to pay attention for a while longer,“ Nicolas told them, opening the first chapter of James‘ epistle. „Let us now read one more practical verse from the Bible: ‚Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.‘ (James 1:27 NIV) You’ve heard enough about the pollution of the world today, and I want to talk about the first part of this sentence now. If I’m not mistaken, there are about seven churches in our capital. How many of you are here today? One hundred and fifty? Two hundred? Only you yourself should be able to take those few children out of the orphanage. So tell me, if you are so zealous for God’s word, why are the children there at all, when there are so many Christians here? You are one of the few churches to have services on Sunday evenings, and I do not have the opportunity to address any more now. There are twenty-two more children in the orphanage. I want to see those kids in families. They are frightened and need someone to devote themselves to them at this moment, and with the word devote I do not mean to preach to them about hell. Take them to the sea, buy them a toy and talk to them, they really need it. The sermon usually ends with a challenge, so here’s my challenge: Come forward, all of you who are ready to help at this point.“
Nicolas looked around at his listeners. Some couples began to talk quietly together, and it took a while for some of them to get up and go to him. Nicolas, meanwhile, looked around the gathered. He saw a couple of his students among them, and then noticed a young woman with tears streaming down her cheeks and pale as a wall. Emma. Nicolas closed his eyes for a while and returned in his memories to the moment he first saw the girl.