THE WRATH OF MAN
Psa. 76:10:—"Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee."
The Seventy-sixth Psalm is represented by a very old tradition—it is already embodied in the Septuagint version—as a hymn of praise to God for the destruction of Sennacherib. There is no reason why this tradition may not be supposed to preserve the truth. But its truth or falsehood does not particularly concern us. The Psalm was in any case written upon some such occasion as the destruction of Sennacherib. It celebrates a great deliverance wrought by the power of God; a deliverance beyond all expectation, wrought by God alone. The essence of its representation is that Jehovah is a man of war, above all comparison great. When He enters the field, all the machinery of conflict stops. The lightning-like arrows which fly from the bow cease in their courses; the shield and the sword fall helpless to the ground; the stoutest-hearted with their chariots and horses drop into the inactivity of death. For Jehovah is terrible. None can stand before Him when His wrath begins to burn but a little.
As the Psalmist contemplates the certain destruction that befalls all the foes of Israel, when Jehovah speaks, he rises from the particular to
the general. He proclaims the praises of the eternal and universal providence of God, as it is illustrated in the great fact that even the most violent passions of men are under His control, and conduce only to the fulfilment of His ends. "Surely," he cries, "the wrath of man shall praise Thee, and the residue of wrath Thou wilt restrain," or "the residue of wrath wilt Thou gird upon Thee." The fundamental sense is that the ebullitions of the wrath of man, however violent and outbreaking they may be, are, nevertheless, like all else that occurs, under the complete control of God and are employed by Him as instruments for working out His ends. Like all else that comes to pass, then, they illustrate God's glory. For the rest, the passage teaches, according as we construe the last half of the verse, either that all the wrath of man which would not conduce to the divine glory God restrains and does not permit to manifest itself in action, so that the completeness of His control over man's wrath is what is emphasized; or else, that after all the wrath of man raging in its utmost fury has exhausted itself in vain struggles against the rising wrath of Jehovah, there remains to Jehovah, in opposition to it, the fullness of wrath, with which He girds Himself for action, so that the resistless might of Jehovah as over against the puny weakness of man is what is emphasized. We need not now attempt to decide between the two interpretations; it is enough to fix our minds on the main declaration—this to wit: that the wrath of man also is under divine control, and it too, like all else that occurs in the world, conduces only to the divine glory.
It is well for us to remind ourselves of this great fact in a time like this. It may seem to us as if the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the world were on the point of being overwhelmed by the violence of human passion. Men seem to have broken away from the government of conscience, and even from the guidance of the common instincts of humanity. The whole earth appears to have become a churning mass of rage. We see millions of our fellow-creatures flying at one another's throats in a ruthless struggle, and whole countries harried and reduced to ruin. Up from the battle-fields, and up from the wasted lands behind the battle-fields, rise only cries of rage and despair. It is good for us to remember that the Lord God Omnipotent reigns over all. That all this welter of blood and iron He holds well in hand. That none of it would have occurred without His direction; that nothing can occur in it apart from His appointment; and I do not say merely that He will overrule it all for His glory, but that all of it will conduce to His praise. For, "surely the wrath of man is to Him for praise, and the remainder of wraths will He restrain."
It may be hard for us to understand or even to believe it—for our sight is dim and the range of our vision is narrow—but all things work together under God's governing hand for good. Even the things which in themselves are evil, in all their workings work together for good in this world of ours; for it is God's world after all, and He is the Governor of it, and He governs it for good, and that continually. John Calvin reminds us that though Satan may rage about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, yet he has a bit in his mouth and it is God who holds the reins. "Oh, Assyrian, the rod of My anger," cries Jehovah. It was for his own ends—lust of conquest, delight in power— that the Assyrian on his part was doing it. He knew not that he was but the instrument in God's hands for working higher ends, and that when they were secured, the sword would drop from his inert fingers and he would himself fall on sleep. "Glorious art Thou and excellent," sings the Psalmist, "more than the mountains of prey: the stout-hearted are made a spoil, they have slept their sleep; and none of the men of might have found their hands. At thy rebuke, 0 God of Jacob, both chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep" In the midst of the turmoil of war, let us rem iber that war too is of God, and that it, too, will m His hands work for good: that even the wrath of man shall be to Him for praise.
But there is more than even this in the Psalm for our learning, at least by implication. We read in it not only of the wrath of man, but also of the wrath of Jehovah; and the wrath of Jehovah is set over against the wrath of man as greater than the wrath of man—greater, more lasting, more prevailing. None can stand when the wrath of Jehovah only begins: when all other wrath is quenched the wrath of Jehovah abides— He girds Himself with it and is terrible to the kings of the earth. We must not then fall into the fancy that all wrath is evil, and that we must always and everywhere suppress it. There is a righteous anger, as well as an unrighteous. Else we would not read, "Be ye angry, and sin not." If to be angry were already sin, we could not be exhorted not to sin in our anger. God is angry. He is angry with the wicked every day. His wrath is revealed from heaven against all that work iniquity. If it were not so, He would not be a moral being: for every moral being must burn with hot indignation against all wrong perceived as such. That is precisely what we mean by a moral being: a being which knows right and wrong, and which approves the right and reprobates the wrong. If we do not react against the wrong when we see it, in indignation and avenging wrath, we are either unmoral or immoral.
Therefore also, Christ was angry. The Gospels are filled with instances of the manifestation by Him of the emotion of anger in all the varieties of this emotion: from mere annoyance, as when He rebuked His disciples for forbidding the children to be brought unto Him, to burning indignation, as when the unfeeling Scribes would not permit Him to heal the suffering on the Sabbath day—yes, even to what the Evangelists do not scruple to call outbreaking rage which shook with its paroxysm His whole physical frame, as when He advanced to do battle with death and sin—the destroyers of men—at the grave of Lazarus. Even the Lamb feels and shows wrath. Christ is our perfect example. And if we are to be His perfect imitators, we not only may, but must, be angry; we not only may, but must, exhibit wrath—whenever, that is, good is assaulted and evil is exalted. We too, must be found, on proper occasion, with the whip of small cords in our hands; we too, must not draw back when righteousness is to be vindicated or when the oppressed are to be rescued. In this sense too, the wrath of man is to God for praise. We please Him when we are righteously angry. He who never feels stirring within him the emotion of just indignation is not like God in that high element of the image of God in which he was made—His moral nature. Indignation is an inevitable reaction of a moral being in the presence of wrongdoing, and it is not merely his right, but his duty to give it play when righteousness demands it.
No doubt we are to seek peace and ensue it. But this is the peace not of the condonation of evil, but of the conquest of it. We are to conquer evil in ourselves. We are to know no inordinate anger. We are to be slow to anger and quick to put it aside: we are not to let the sun go down upon our wrath. We are to remember that anger is a short madness, and not trust ourselves too readily in wreaking it on others—even when we think it righteous: not avenging ourselves, but giving place to the wrath of God, knowing that in His own good time and way He will avenge us. We are to conquer it in others: by the soft word which takes away anger, by the patient endurance which disarms it, by the unwearying kindness which dissolves it into repentance and love. Love is the great solvent; and love is the bond of peace. Where love is, there wrath will with difficulty live, and only that wrath which is after all outraged love can easily assert itself. But so long as there is wrongdoing in the world, so long will there be a place in the world for righteous indignation.
It is only when the world shall have been remade and there is no longer anything in it that can hurt or destroy that the lion and the lamb shall lie down together—because now the lion has ceased to be a lion. These things are to us an allegory. They mean that peace is the crowning blessing of earthly life and comes in the train of righteousness. Peace is, in the strictest sense, a by-product and is not to be had through direct effort. He works best for the world's peace who works for the world's righteousness. It is only when the world shall come to know the Lord and obey Him, that the peace of God can settle down upon it. We may cry, "Peace, peace," and there be no peace. But he who cries, "Righteousness, righteousness," will find that he has brought peace to the earth in precisely the measure in which he has brought righteousness. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, because He takes away sin; and you and I are workers for peace when we preach His Gospel, which is the Gospel of peace just because it is the Gospel of deliverance from sin. Sin means war, and where sin is, there will war be. Righteousness means peace, and there can never be peace where righteousness has not first been realized.