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weak imperfect men. 'In them, it is commonly tinctured with malignity, or ill will towards the offender. Of Simeon and Levi, Jacob said, “ Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” And this is often the case with men, when they recompense evil for evil. But though we read of the fierce anger of God, yet nothing of cruelty, nor any want of kindness, is ever attributed to the Almighty. The fierceness of his wrath is not a bitter passion; nor any passion at all. It is only an infinite opposition to iniquity, and an omnipotent disposition to discountenance it, for benevolent purposes.
It is to be observed, however, that by his vengeance, spoken of in our text, is evidently meant, vindictive justice; and not that fatherly correction which is intended for the good of the subject. A distinction is often made in scripture, between the chastisement of good men, and judgments sent upon the irreclaimably wicked. Of the former we read, Isa. xxvii. 9, “ By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin.” And in the eleventh Psalm it is said ; “ The Lord trieth the righteous : but the wicked, and him that loveth violence, his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” The trials and corrections of God's regenerate children, are rarely, if ever, expressed by the name of vengeance. And it is very evident that the vengeance spoken of in our text, and in Deuteronomy, from which our text is a quotation, means such punishment of the enemies of God's people as should terminate in their ruin, not in their reformation. It is rendering a just retaliation to them, according to the full demerit of their evil deeds.
Let us now consider, more particularly, how we are to understand that such vengeance is the Lord's.
1. Undoubtedly it is to be understood, that inflicting deserved punishment on all evil doers, of right, belongs to God. The truth of this cannot be disputed. Certainly, if any one can have a right to punish iniquity in any case, the Supreme Being has an unquestionable right to do it in all cases. His rightful authority to punish any one who deserves punishment, is most evident, because he is the Creator, Preserver, and absolute Proprietor of all. As it belongs to a father to chasten his own children, and to a master to correct his own servants : so, and much more, does it belong to God to punish his own creatures, when they do amiss. He must have an undoubted right to govern'all rational creatures, be. cause he hath made them, and in him they live, and move, and have their being.
2. God's saying vengeance is mine, implies, that Tendering adequate punishment for iniquity, belongs to him alone. This likewise, is indisputable. No one can have a right to punish His creatures, except by authority derived from Him. " Who art thou,” says the apostle, “ that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." And in our context he enjoins it upon christians, “ Recompense to no man evil for evil.” The civil magistrate may indeed, and must do this, in a degree, in some cases; but then he does it by divine appointment. Rom. xii. 4, “For he is the min. ister of God; a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” His power to avenge,
the injured, and to punish the injurious, is only a delegated power : and this delegation is also very limited. Earthly rulers, the highest of them, are not authorized to punish all kinds of iniquity ; nor any, according to their full demerit. The punishment of crimes belongs to them, only so far as is necessary for the present safety and peace of society. It is just, and on a larger scale, it may be necessary, that natural evil
should be recompensed for moral evil, in all cases, to the utmost of its desert. But this, He who inhabiteth eternity, hath reserved to himself.
3. Another evident truth, which may be implied in this saying of God, is, that he alone is able to award and execute righteous vengeance,
No one besides has knowledge sufficient, to judge always what is just and right, in rendering punish. ments for crimes. Man looketh only on the outward appearance: nor is it more than a very small part of the external actions of sinners, that falls under the immediate inspection, or can come to the certain knowledge, of the wisest human judges. They must depend, for the judgment they pass, upon the testimony of others. And hence they are very liable to clear the guilty, for want of evidence; or to condemn the innocent, through the falsehood or mistakes of witnesses. But “ the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” No darkness, nor distance, can prevent his perfect view of all that is done, or hearing of all that is said. 1 Sam. ii. 3, “ The Lord is a God of knowledge, , and by him actions are weighed.” And Jer. xvii. 10, “ I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways.” All the motives and principles from which any act, are fully open to His all-seeing eye: and these are of the greatest importance in weighing with exactness, the merit or demerit of moral actions.
Rendering just punishment is also peculiar to God, because no one else has power sufficient to execute deserved vengeance, in all cases, or indeed, in any case. The most absolute and most mighty potentates of the earth, are often unable to crush formi. dable rebellions, or to punish powerful offenders. But against the Almighty, all resistance and combination are in vain : “ He is wise in heart and mighty in strength,” says Job; “who hath hardened him
self against him and hath prospered.”—“ God hath spoken once,” says David, “ twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.” And hence it is said by Solomon, Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.
In no case are men able to inflict that punishment which is the full wages of sin. As our Saviour observes, they can at furthest only kill the body ; after that there is no more that they can do : but God, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.
Having endeavored to explain how it is to be understood, that vengeance is the Lord's ; let us consider, as was proposed,
II. The reasons we have to believe that he will repay. That is, will punish impenitent evil workers, with strict justice. And,
1. We have reason to believe this, from what he hath said.
Many declarations to this purpose in his word, all who have read their Bibles may easily recollect. See, as a specimen, Deut. xxxii. 39, 40, 41, “ I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me : I kill, and I make alive ; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.” Isa. xxviii. 17,“ Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet ; and the hail shall sweep away the refuges of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding places.” Isa. lix. 18,
According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.”
Ezek. xxii. 14, “ Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.” And 2 Thes. i. 7,8,9,—The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ : who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
2. That God will repay sinners with righteous punishment, we have reason to believe from what he hath done. By the judgments which he hath already executed, it is put beyond all reasonable doubt, that iniquity shall not go unpunished. Thus the apostle Jude argues : having spoken of certain ungodly men that had crept into the churches, who turned the grace of God into laciviousness, he says; “ I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, in like manner giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” That is, their destruction is left upon sacred record, as a warning to all others, and as an emblem of the final punishment of sinners in the fire which shall never be quenched. The destruction of the old world, of the Egyptian host, of Babylon, and of Jerusalem, may be considered as similar examples. And so may the destruction which has come upon innumerable other cities and nations, as well as upon individual sinners, in fulfilment of divine threatenings.