Page images

wrathful passions, is the most intense of all misery. In thus connecting the punishment with the crime, making their own wickedness to reprove them, and their backslidings to correct them, the avenging hand of a righteous governour is conspicuous; and thus the observation of the Psalmist is fully verified; the wicked have drawn out the sword, and bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy ; but their sword shall enter into their own heart. *

The wrath of man also praises the justice of God in the punishment of other criminals, as well as of the wrathful themselves. Ambitious and lawless men are let loose upon each other, that, without any supernatural interposition, they may fulfil the just vengeance of Heaven in their mutual destruction. They may occasionally be cemented together by conspiracy against the just; but as no firm nor lasting bond can unite them, they become at last the prey of mutual jealousy, strife, and fraud. For a time, they may go on, and seem to prosper. The justice of Heaven may appear to slumber; but it is awake, and only waits till the measure of their iniquity be full. God represents himself in Scripture as sometimes permitting wickedness to rise to an overgrown height, on purpose that its ruin may be the greater, and more exemplary. He says to the tyrant, of Egypt, that for this cause he had raised him up, that is, had allowed him to prosper and be exalted that he might show in him his power ; and that his name might be declared throughout all the t earth. The Divine administration is glorified in the punishment contrived for the workers of iniquity, as well

Psalın xxxvii. 14, 15.

+ Exod. ix. 16.

as in the reward prepared for the righteous. This is the purpose which the Lord hath purposed upon all the earth; and this is the hand that is stretched forth over all the nations. *

IV. The wrath of man is made to praise the goodness of God. This is the most unexpected of its effects; and therefore requires to be the most fully illustrated. All the operations of the government of the Deity may be ultimately resolved into goodness. His power, and wisdom, and justice, all conduce to general happiness and order. Among the means which he uses for accomplishing this end, it will be found, that the wrath of man, through his over-ruling direction, possesses a considerable place.

First, It is employed by God as an useful instrument of discipline and correction to the virtuous. The storms which ambition and pride raise among mankind, he permits with the same intention that he sends forth tempests among the elements to clear the atmosphere of noxious vapours, and to purify it from that corruption which all things contract by too much rest. When wicked men prevail in their designs, and exercise the power which they have gained with a heavy and oppressive hand, the virtuous are apt to exclaim, in bitterness of soul, Where is the Lord ? and where the sceptre of righteousness and truth ? Hath God forgotten to be gracious ? or doth he indeed see, and is there knowledge in the Most High? Their oppressors are, in truth, no more than the ministers of God to them for good. He

[ocr errors][merged small]

sees that they stand in need of correction, and therefore raises up enemies against them, in order to cure the intemperance of prosperity; and to produce, in the serious hours of affiction, proper reflections upon their duty and their past errours.

In this light the disturbers of the earth are often represented in Scripture, as scourges in the hand of God, employed to inflict chastisement upon a degenerating people. They are commmissioned for the execution of righteous and wise purposes, concealed from themselves; and when their commission is fulfilled, they are recalled and destroyed. Of this we have a remarkable example in the use which God made of the king of Assyria with respect to the people of Israel; I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of iny wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey. Howbeit, he meaneth not so; neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut of nations not a few. Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. * In vain, then, doth the wrath of man lift itself up against God. He saith, by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent. Skall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith ? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? All things, whether they will it or not, must work together for good to them that love God. The wrath of man, among the test, fills up the place assigned to it by the ordination

[ocr errors][merged small]

of Heaven. The violent enemy, the proud conqueror, and the oppressive tyrant, possess only the same station with the famine, the pestilence, and the flood. Their triumphs are no more than the accomplishment of God's correction ; and the remainder of their wrath shall he restrain.

SECONDLY, God makes the wrath of man contribute to the benefit of the virtuous, by rendering it the means of improving and signalising their graces ; and of raising them, thereby, to higher honour and glory. Had human affairs proceeded in an orderly train, and no opposition been made to religion and virtue by the violence of the wicked, what room would have been left for some of the highest and most generous exertions of the soul of man? How many shining examples of fortitude, constancy, and patience, would have been lost to the world? What a field of virtues peculiar to a state of discipline had lain uncultivated ? Spirits of a higher order possess a state of established virtue, that stands in need of no such trials and improvements. But to us, who are only under education for such a state, it belongs to pass through the furnace, that our souls may be tried, refined, and brightened. We must stand the conflict, that we may be graced and crowned as conquerors. The wrath of man opens the field to glory; calls us forth to the most distinguished exercise of active virtue, and forms us to all those suffering graces which are among the highest ornaments of the human soul. It is thus, that the illustrious band of true patriots and heroes, of confessors and martyrs, have been set forth to the admiration of all ages, as lights of the world; while the rage and fury of

enemies, instead of bearing them down, have only served to exalt and dignify them more.

THIRDLY, The wrath of man is often made to advance the temporal prosperity of the righteous. The occasional distresses which it brings upon them, frequently lay the foundation of their future success. The violence with which wicked men pursue their resentment, defeats its own purpose ; and engages the world on the side of the virtuous whom they prosecute. The attempts of malice to blacken and defame them, bring forth their characters with more advantage to the view of impartial beholders. The extremities to which they are reduced by injustice and oppression, rouse their courage and activity ; and often give occasion to such vigorous efforts in their just defence, as overcome all opposition, and terminate in prosperity and success.

Even in cases where the wrath of man appears to prevail over the peaceable and the just, it is frequently in its issue converted into a blessing. How many have had reason to be thankful, for being disappointed by their enemies in designs which they earnestly pursued, but which, if successfully accomplished, they have afterwards seen would have occasioned their ruin? Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord. *

While the wrath of man thus praises God by the advantages which it is made to bring to good men as individuals, the divine hand is equally apparent in the similar effects which it is appointed to produce

Psalm cyii. 43.

« PreviousContinue »