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THE WRATH OF MAN BOUNDED BY THE POWER OF GOD.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou
restrain.-PSAL. LXXVI. 10.
The seventy interpreters call this psalm a song upon the Assyrians ; which makes many good interpreters to think that it was penned upon the occasion of the defeat of Sennacherib's army by an angel, when they came up and besieged Jerusalem, in the days of Hezekiah. Others think, that it was penned upon the occasion of the victory in the days of Jehoshaphat, recorded 2 Chron. xx. 28. It is not very material which of the two; and therefore I shall not stand to decide the controversy. We find the church here making a threefold improvement of this glorious appearance of God in his providence on her behalf. (1.) She improves it to the honour of Israel's God, ascribing the whole praise and glory of it to him, ver. 3,7–9: “He brake the arrows of the bow," &c. (2.) To the perpetual disgrace of Israel's enemies, ver. 5, 6. (3.) To the consolation of the true Israel of God in all ages, in the words read, Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, &c.
In which words we have a twofold assertion, and confirmation of the truth of both.
1. The first assertion is, that the wrath of man shall praise God. Wrath is anger accented to the highest pitch, or blown up into a flame. The wrath of man (in the original
, it is, the . wrath of Adam, or the wrath of clay, weak impotent man) shall praise thee; that is, it shall turn to the praise and glory of God, through his over-ruling providence, though quite otherwise intended. God will bring honour to himself, and serve his own holy and wise ends and designs out of it. What way God brings glory to himself out of the wrath and
of man against him, his interest and people, may be declared more fully afterward. The second assertion in the words is, The remainder of his wrath shalt thou restrain. The remainder of his wrath; that is, what is left behind of the wrath of man, when God has glorified himself thereby. Even after God has defeated the purposes of wicked men, and made them contribute to his glory, yet there is abundance of wrath remaining; for wrath, in the latter part of the text, is in the plural number wraths; that is, great wrath, or abundance of wrath remaining. But what becomes of that wrath that is left; God shall restrain it. The word signifies, to gird up. However God may see fit to slacken the bridle of his providence, and suffer wicked men to vent their wrath and enmity, as far as it shall contribute to his glory; yet the surplus and remainder of his wrath, that is not for his glory, and his people's profit, God will gird it up, that they shall not get it vented. But then,
* Preached at Stirling, upon the occasion of the violent ejection of the four brethren from ministerial communion with the established church.
2. We have in the words the ratification, or confirmation of the truth of these two assertions, in that word surely; as if he had said,--However the weak faith, of God's people may shake and stagger; however their hearts may be moved like the trees of the wood, when the wind and rage of man's wrath is blowing: and though unbelief may suggest, that the rage of man shall turn to the dishonour of God, the hurt of his people, the ruin of his interest; yet surely it shall be quite otherwise, for God, who cannot lie, has said it ; and therefore there is not the least peradventure respecting the security of it, that the wrath of man shall praise him.
From the words, thus opened, we may,
OBSERVE 1. That the wicked and ungodly world are filled with great wrath against the children and people of God. Such a wrath had Cain against Abel, and Haman against Mordecai.
Obs. 2. That the wruth of man shall certainly turn to the praise and glory of God. Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee
Obs. 3. That the wrath of man, however outrageous, is bounded by God. As he sets bounds to the raging sea, saying, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed;" so he girds up the remainder of man's wrath, that it shall not go one inch beyond the bounds that he has appointed to it.
I do not design to confine myself at present to any of these propositions, but shall endeavour to discourse upon the words of the text in the following order and method :
I. I would speak a little of the wrath of man.
II. How it is that the wrath of man praises God, and why God will hare it so.
III. Prove, that God restrains the remainder of man's wrath, and how he does it.
IV. Make some improvement of the whole.
I. The first thing is, to speak a little of the wrath of man. And here I shall endeavour to do two things: 1. Show what the wrath of man imports. 2. Why man has such wrath against God and his people. First, What the wrath of man imports?
Answ. 1. It imports the wickedness of man's nature, and its enmity against God; for wrath against God, against his laws, against his interest or people, is just the fruit and product of depraved nature. Hence it is, that the “ Heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing: they break his bands and cast away his cords from them,” saying with Pharaoh,“ Who is the Lord, that we should obey him ?"
2. This expression, the wrath of man, imports the weakness and impotence of it: it is but the wrath of Adam, or of red clay, as I noticed in the explication. How contemptibly does the Spirit of God speak of man, and of the power of man, in scripture? “ Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of ?” The wrath of man, when it is lengthened out to its utmost boundaries, can only go the length of killing the body, or of breaking the sheath of clay in which the soul lodges, and then it can do no more.
3. It imports the rashness and precipitancy of it; for a man in wrath is just hurried with pride and passion, without regard either to the principles of reason or religion. Hence it is, that men in wrath or rage, are hurried into such acts and inconveniences, as causes smart and torment when they come to cool blood.
4. It implies the fierceness of it. With what eagerness of spirit do men in wrath prosecute their designs? How furious was Esau in persecuting his brother Jacob? With what fury did Nebuchadnezzar pursue his resentment against the three children, who refused to bow down to his idol-god!
5. It implies the illegality and arbitrariness of it.” A man in wrath has no regard either to the laws of God or man, being fully under the law of his own lusts; such as, malice, revenge, pride, and the like corruption.
Secondly, I come to inquire, whence is it that wicked men have so great wrath against God, his people, and interest?
Answ. 1. This flows from the power of Satan in and over them; for he rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience: Rev. xii. 12: “ Wo to the inhabitants of the earth, and of the sea; for the devil is come down unto you in great VOL. II.
wrath, because he knoweth that his time is short." The devil is filled with rage against the church of Christ, compared there to a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.” And how is it that the devil vents his rage against the church, but by setting wicked men under his government at work to persecute and oppress her? Hence, when the wicked casts God's people into prison, it is said to be done by the devil: Rev. ï. : “ The devil shall cast some of you into prison; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” And they cannot but run fast whom the devil drives.
2. This flows from the power of natural enmity against God and his interest, which is nothing else but the poison and venom of the devil's malice infused into the souls of wicked men ; and when the devil has any ill turn to do in the world, . he has no more ado, but to say to this, or the other lust of the heart, Go, and it goes; and to another, Come, and it cometh. The wheel of corrupt nature just rolls as the devil would have it.
3. They are filled with wrath against the people of God, because their own works are evil, and the works of the other good. This was the reason why Cain slew his brother Abel, 1 John iii. 12.
4. Because God's people seek the good of the church of Christ upon earth, but the wicked seek to destroy it. The one prays for the peace of Jerusalem, and takes pleasure in her stones and rubbish; whereas the wicked seek to ruin it; they cry, "Rase, rase Jerusalem to the foundation :" and therefore they cannot but be filled with rage against those that cross their measures. This much for the first thing in the method.
II. The second thing was, to inquire how it is that the wrath of man praises God?
I premise, that God is praised among men two ways, either in an active, or in a passive way. 1. Actively, by saints and angels in the church militant and triumphant, where praise waiteth for him continually, Psal. Ixv. 1. 2. Passively, and thus every thing that hath a being praises God. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fishes of the sea, the sun, moon, and stars, heaven and earth, and every creature, praises its glorious Creator, Psal. xix.: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork," &c.
Quest. How is it that the wrath of man praises God?
Answ. God levies a tribute of praise out of the wrath of man,
1. By making it to redound to the glory of his name, and
the illustration of the perfections of his nature. He glorifies his power by ruling and over-ruling all the motions of their corrupt minds and actions; for “wherein they deal proudly, he is above them;" they are all under the check and control of his all-governing hand, for “ he rules in the midst of his enemies." He glorifies his wisdom many times in frustrating their designs against his church and people, and by taking them in their own gins, Job v. 12, 13. He disappoints the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprises; he taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is turned headlong. He turns the wrath of man to the praise of his own justice and severity; for all the time that the wicked are raging against God and his interest, they are "treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath ;” and God's righteous judgment, when it is actually revealed against them, becomes hereby the more conspicuous and apparent to the world. He turns the wrath of man to the praise of his adorable sovereignty. Never have the Lord's people had such awful impressions of the sovereignty of God, as when they have been in the furnace of man's wrath, then they become dumb with silence. When the Chaldean and Sabean robbers are let loose to plunder, and spoil the substance of Job, he is made to view adorable sovereignty in it, saying, “ The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It is in such a case as this, that God says to his own people, “ Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen.” Thus the Lord levies praise, from the wrath of man.
2. The wrath of man shall praise God, by making it subservient to the advancement of his own work in and about his church. The wrath of man would seem to ruin the church; but God makes use of it to help up the building, though such a thing does not enter into their hearts.
Quest. What work of God about the church is advanced by the wrath of men.
Answ. In these few particulars, which I do not insist upon, because I had occasion to speak to them, when upon another text.
1st, His discovering work; for by the wind of man's wrath, he separates between the precious and the vile, betwixt the chaff and the wheat. In the day of the church's prosperity and quiet, hypocrites and true believers are mingled together, like the chaff and wheat on the barn-floor; but the Lord, like the husbandman, opens the door of his barn, and puțs the wind of man's wrath through it, that the world may know which is which. O sirs, much chaff is cast up alrea- .