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pictures in which poetry delights. Yet the ground, also, [of these external consequences,] lies deeper.”
The prosperity of the righteous and the overthrow of the wicked, as described in the latter part of Psalm i, arise from their respective moral relations to God and his law, as set forth in the former part of the Psalm. In Psalm 1, the inefficacy of the external rites of the law, considered in themselves, and the absolute necessity of right moral dispositions in the worshipper, and an humble reliance on the mercy of God, in order to forgiveness and acceptable homage, are so fully and explicitly stated, that it is of itself ample evidence of the spiritual and holy nature of that service which the Psalmists deemed pleasing to God. The holiness of God is a fundamental truth in the Mosaic law, which gives character and meaning to all its forms. Most awfully, too, had Jehovah guarded this doctrine against the sacrilegious irreverence which the examples of the heathen had induced in the Hebrew people. The judgments which fell upon Uzzah and the people of Beth-shemesh, (1 Samuel vi, 19, 20; 2 Samuel vi, 6–9;) and earlier still, upon the people at Sinai, (Exodus xxxii,) upon Korah and his company, (Numbers xvi,) upon the Israelites in the matter of Baal-peor, (Numbers xxv,) and in numerous other similar cases, were all intended to check the sensuousness, or the careless irreverence of the people, and impress them with correct ideas of the holiness of God. Their reverence for him was not to be founded so much upon the majesty of his natural perfections, as upon the ineffable purity and rectitude of his moral nature. This idea the Mosaic economy had in some sense originated and lodged in the minds of the people; and in this they were to be carefully educated. Their views of God gave character to their worship of him, and to the morality which they should practise between man and man. And these deep views of God, of human nature, of the nature and process of salvation, of Divine worship, of morality, of heaven and the future state, of the Divine judgments and the moral government, which the law of Moses taught, the sacred singers of Israel echoed in song, and their bards portrayed in the living lights and shadows of poetry.
SECTION IX.-VINDICTIVE PSALMS.
The attention of the reader of the Psalms is often arrested by expressions in the form of prayer or denunciation, in which, with various degrees of severity, the judgments of God are imprecated on the wicked. Sometimes these maledictory prayers appear to stand out in bold contrast and opposition to the well-known merciful designs of the Divine dispensations. The admission, however, that they are thus opposed, would be fatal to the Divine inspiration of the Psalms. It becomes, then, of the highest importance to ascertain the true import of these expressions. In our investigations of this subject no lenity or forbearance of criticism is either asked or needed; candor, justice, and a clear perception of moral truth, alone are required.
We may premise that these vindictive expressions are not to be accounted for on the supposition that the Old Testament is inferior in its morality to the New, nor that in the partial ignorance of many evangelical truths the Old Testament writers were indulged in moral dispositions and sentiments adverse to the genius of sound piety. We admit that the revelations of God are progressive, and that this applies to its doctrinal and preceptive parts. We admit the importance of this fact as a law of Biblical interpretation, so that each book of the sacred Scriptures must be viewed and interpreted in connexion with the age and dispensation in which it was written. But in saying this we mean only that the divine wisdom has withheld from one age what it has bestowed upon a subsequent one. But what the Holy Spirit actually commanded, or inspired the Old Testament writers to utter, on moral subjects, is, and must be, in harmony with absolute morality. It must be the same in these times as then. And if the imprecatory Psalms are inspired, they are in sympathy with divine purity and benevolence; if not inspired, the admission makes fatally against the inspired authority of the other portions of the Psalms. It is important, then, to view the subject with care and candour.
Nor are we to suppose the New Testament to present a contrast to these severe denunciations against the wicked. The preaching of John Baptist, and that of our Saviour and his apostles, furnish us with expressions and sentiments of equal severity against transgressors. Nay, the apostle argues that as light and privilege advance beyond the Old Testament measure, if rejected or "neglected,” the judgments of God will increase upon sinners with proportionate intensity. Hebrews ii, 2, 3; x, 26–29. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” “For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews x, 31; xii, 29. So our Lord rated the punishment of the Pharisees and Jews greater than that of the Sodomites. The numerous declarations of God's purpose to punish sin, inspired an unshaken confidence in the doctrine, and awakened the most vivid perceptions and expectations. Denunciation, even in the New Testament, not unfrequently seemed to take on the form of personal wish and feeling. “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall.” “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works.” “Thy money perish with thee.” Acts viii, 20; xxiii, 3; 2 Timothy iv, 14. “Hymenius and Alexander have I delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy i, 20. “Delivered unto Satan," is a phrase equal in signification to “Laid under an anathema, or curse." A remarkable passage occurs in Revelation vi, 9, 10: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth.” This prayer for vengeance was a prayer for justice, and it was not rebuked. The downfall of spiritual Babylon is described in Revelation xviii, in which the calamities, political, commercial, and personal, of the leading dignitaries and men of the earth are described in language which has no parallel; but in the very next chapter we read of a hallelujah chant in heaven, expressive of the highest joy on the occasion, because God had judged the great harlot, “and had avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.” Thus, also, when the third vial” of wrath was poured out upon the princes, potentates, and leading powers of the nations, and their blood was shed like rivers, the angel of the waters said, “Thou
art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy." Revelation xvi, 5, 6.
These references are made to show that the Psalms and the Old Testament are not peculiar in their expressions of acquiescence, and even of desire, in the overthrow of the wicked. The New Testament is equally explicit on this ground.
The truth is, prayer for the overthrow of the wicked is lawful, and may arise from the highest virtue; or it is sinful and worthy of the deepest reprehension; according to the desire and motive from whence it springs. The eternal principle of justice in the moral government of God has settled it, that the wicked must be punished, and their wicked devices brought to naught. If the righteous are ever vindicated, innocency ever protected, the highest happiness of the universe secured, or the authority of the moral government sustained, it must be so. The principle on which the judgment against the wicked will proceed is expressed in the words, “ according to their works ;"' “ with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Prayer for the overthrow of wicked men, and the defeat of their wicked devices, becomes sinful only when it proceeds from feelings of private ill-will and revenge, or from some selfish desire of gain or success by that means. But it is just, and in sympathy with all goodness and virtue, when it proceeds from a love of justice, a desire for the protection of the innocent, a regard for the peace and happiness of society, for the vindication of the righteous, the encouragement of faith and virtue, the diffusion of truth, the extension of righteousness, the honour of God, and the establishment of his kingdom in the earth. If our enemies are the enemies of God, our cause his cause, our success the success of truth and righteousness, the overthrow of our enemies necessary in order to remove the obstructions to the progress and triumph of truth and virtue, then prayer for their overthrow arises not from hatred to individual men, but from love for the honour of God and the well-being of society.
Again, it must be considered that the first thought of a benevolent mind, when rightly instructed in such a case, would be not to resort to punishment, but, if possible, to convert an enemy to the truth by moral and conciliatory means. When
the Samaritans rejected the Saviour, the disciples resented the indignity, and proposed to call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” Luke ix, 55. Their minds, upon meeting opposition and hostility from man, too readily, and from wrong motives, recurred to judgment. They should have first thought of mercy. They should have first sought for the conversion, the enlightenment, and salvation of their opposers. But on another occasion our Saviour himself teaches them, in the case of hardened and obstinate rejecters of his offer of life, in leaving their house, to “shake off the very dust of their feet for a testimony against them.” Luke ix, 5.
It should be further considered that in all prayers for the overthrow of the wicked, while they are solemnly execrated only as wicked men and not as our personal opponents, the time, manner, and measure of their punishment are to be wholly submitted to the wisdom and justice of God, against whom their chief offence lies. No effort, no desire to take judgment into one's own hand should be indulged; but a constant, patient, cheerful recognition should be made of the awful truth, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Romans xi, 19. Under these circumstances, with these feelings, not to pray for the downfall of the wicked and the defeat of their schemes is, not to deprecate the greatest calamities of the earth, and not to wish the highest well-being of society.
It remains, then, only to inquire, Are the vindictive or maledictory portions of the Psalms of this character? That they are will appear from the considerations following:
1. The contrary to this would have been in direct and open conflict with the express and oft-repeated teachings of the law and the prophets. That vengeance belonged only to God, that it was his peculiar and most awful prerogative, was clearly taught in the Old Testament, and constantly admitted by all the truly pious. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Leviticus xix, 18. “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee.” Proverbs xx, 22. Hence he is called the “God to whom vengeance belongeth," literally “the God of revenges.” Psalm