« PreviousContinue »
the language of St. Peter, on the supposition of Simon's continued impenitence, is open to precisely the same class of difficulties which have been deemed insuperable in the case of the Psalter, except by the denial of their accordance with the Gospel standard of morality.
(2.) The two following expressions—the one used by St. Paul with reference to the high-priest Ananias, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall," (Acts xxiii. 3,) and the other, employed by the same Apostle with reference to Alexander, “The Lord reward him according to his works,” (2 Tim. iv. 14,) -are of precisely the same character, and involve the same difficulties with those which we have been considering in the Psalms.
(3.) The command addressed to the Corinthian Church, to deliver over the incestuous person unto Satan “for the destruction of the flesh" (1 Cor. v. 5), presents, in some respects, a close parallel to some of the imprecatory Psalms, although, as in the case of Simon Magus, not only is the possibility of repentance contemplated, but further the remedial character of the dispensation is clearly expressed.
But (4) the closest parallels to the Psalms in question are probably found in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, in which, as it appears to us, all the elements of difficulty which exist in the Psalms are found either separately, or in combination. As a parallel to the prayers for vengeance which we find in the Psalms, we read in this book a similar prayer, proceeding, not from the lips of saints on earth, encompassed by human weakness and infirmity, but as the utterance of the spirits of the just made perfect, yea, of those who had not only continued faithful to the end, but who had sealed their testimony with their blood,-"How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth.” (Rev. vi. 10.)
As a parallel to those passages in the Psalms in which emotions of satisfaction are expressed in the prospect of the overthrow of the Psalmist's adversaries, we may refer to the prophetic summons to joy and exultation, addressed alike to the inhabitants of heaven and of earth, on occasion of the destruction of apostate Babylon,-“Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye, holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her,”* (Rev. xviii. 20); whilst one of the most striking of the denunciations of the later Psalms, having reference to the same enemy of God and man, in prospect of whose destruction we read, -" Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us” (Ps. cxxxvii. 8), finds its more than complete justifi
cation, not in any similar ontburst of what might be regarded as natural resentment in recollection of past wrongs, but as the direct utterance of a voice from heaven, “ Reward her even as she rewarded you, and deal unto her double according to her works; in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double." (Rev. xviii. 6.) And, once more, there is probably no passage throughout the whole of the books of the older covenant in which the awful tones of the 69th Psalm, to which we have already referred, find so complete and striking an echo, as in those words proceeding from the lips of the faithful and true Witness, which we find recorded by the pen of the apostle of love, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.” (Rev. xxii. 11.)
The true solution of the difficulties with which we have been dealing, so far as it may be permitted to us to anticipate that solution in a state in which we see and know so imperfectly, seems to be irresistibly forced on our acceptance by the careful consideration of the passages which we have now adduced. That coming of Christ, for which the whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain, -that blessed Advent of the long. promised Deliverer, for which each true believer is waiting, and which, by his prayers and bis efforts, it is alike his duty and bis happiness to hasten—that Advent, we say, must be ushered in, and accompanied by the signal outpouring of the vials of wrath on the world of the ungodly. Earnestly and continuously as the prayer proceeds from the lips of the waiting and watching servant for the speedy coining of his Lord, he knows that that coming must be the coming, “in faming fire,” of One who shall “ take vengeance on them that know not God." Whilst abhorring, then, as the dictate of unsanctified human nature, and as becoming those only who “know not what manner of spirit they are of,''* every outburst of carnal animosity against our brethren, every desire to have recourse to weapons of man's forging, and to a fire which is not kindled at God's altar, for the discomfiture or the destruction of those who gather not with us, or even of those whom we may rightly regard as the enemies of God and of the truth, we not only may, but as Christians we ought, to desire the speedy coming of that day when a final separation shall be made between the tares and the wheat, and when the angels -not men-shall receive the summons to gather the tares together, and to “ bind them in bundles to burn them.” (Matt. xiii. 30.)
• Our Lord's reproof of His disciples for their desire to call down fire from hoaven on the village of the Samaritang, the inhabitants of which had refused to receive Him, has been, not unfrequently, adduced in proof of the difference between the Old and the Now Testament dispensations. The difference between the circumstances of Elijah and that of the Apostles has boon "commonly overlooked. If, as must be presumed, the conduct of Elijah was approved of God, we must believe that in calling down fire from hoavon to consume the captains and their companies, so far from acting on the impulse of a bloodthirsty or re
vengeful spirit, Elijah was following that same guidance under which he prayed that rain might be withheld from the land of Israel, and that fire might descend upon the sacrifice which he offered upon the heights of Carmel. The Apostles, on the other hand, were manifestly acting, whatever the immediate motive, on their own natural impulse, and not only without, but in opposition to, Divine direction; for it appears that they had just received instructions what to do in the very case of the rejection of the gospel message which here occurred; viz., to shake off the dust from their feet, and to go on to another village.
In what manner the future satisfaction of the righteous in the destruction of the wicked is to be reconciled with their present earnest prayers, and anxious solicitude, and untiring efforts for their salvation, we are probably as unable to understand as we are to comprehend how it was that our Blessed Lord, when He had just spoken the awful words recorded in the 27th verse of the 19th chapter of St. Luke, “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me,” forthwith proceeded to approach the doomed city and to pour forth over it, with tears, His compassionate lament, because the things which belonged to their peace were for ever hidden from the eyes of its inhabitants. It is sufficient for us to know that the utmost solicitude for the salvation of our brethren, the most fervent prayers, and the most unceasing labours for the promotion of their present and eternal welfare, are not only consistent with the entire acquiescence of the whole soul in the execution of God's purposes of vengeance, but have been exhibited in the most perfect form by One who has been revealed to us, not only as an atoning Saviour, but also as a righteous Judge. In exact proportion, then, as our wills become conformed to the Divine will; in exact proportion as we learn to yield the undivided homage of our whole souls to that reve. lation of the Divine will and purposes which is given to us alike in the writings of the Old and of the New Testament; in that same proportion we shall learn to believe that the claims of justice and holiness are in perfect accordance with the fullest manifestations of mercy and of love; and in that same proportion also, shall we become prepared, whilst yet on earth, to join in the new song which is alike the song of Moses, the lawgiver, and of the Lamb, the Redeemer; and in sight of those great and terrible judgments which are about to be poured out upon the world, of which the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea was but a faint type and distant foreshadowing, to mingle our voices with those who, having learned the song on earth, shall hereafter attune it to "the harps of God," saying, “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.” (Rev. xv. 3.)
THE TWO MINISTRATIONS. No trait in St. Paul's character is more remarkable than his candour and impartiality. He always gives others credit for excellence as far as he can, and finds oftentimes a vantageground in this absence of mere partisanship. What he may have been by nature, we have less opportunity of judging, though it would not be difficult to sketch to ourselves his portrait; but grace certainly made him eminently candid and impartial. His sermon at Athens, his defence before Agrippa, his pleadings with his own countrymen, all bring out this characteristic; but perhaps nowhere is it more prominent than in the passage where he contrasts the two “ministrations," (2 Cor. iii. 9,) and seeks to reclaim the Corinthians from the bewildering influence of the Judaizing teachers, who had corrupted and perverted his simple message. He fully concedes that there was a glory in the Mosaic code and ceremonial; as though he would tell them, It is no wonder that you should have been drawn aside by what is so attractive; and then says to them in effect, I only wish to lead you to something higher, truer, and better.
Such a comparison between the two dispensations is as apposite now as then; and we venture to devote a few pages to the elucidation of three or four points of the remarkable parallel, or rather contrast, which he institutes between the economy of Moses and of Christ. He calls the one “the ministration of condemnation"_"the ministration of death written and engraven on stones”-“the letter"_"the Old Testament (or Covenant).” He calls the other “the ministration of righteousness”—"the ministration of the Spirit”-“the Spirit (which we understand, with Bengel, as the Holy Ghost) —"the New Testament (or Covenant).” Many thoughts are suggested by this åvrlotoxía, a method so favourite with St. Paul.
There was a glory in "the ministration of Condemnation." The solemn utterance which spoke from Sinai, and not only pronounced the Law, but awarded death as the penalty of its violation, was surely a voice that spoke of God. It told of the inflexible truth, holiness, and justice of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, « who looketh on the moon and it shineth not, and in whose sight the stars are not pure." All must feel that there is Divine Majesty in the announcement, “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” All hearts own that it is God who speaks in the sentence, “ The soul that sinneth it shall die.” Even when the voice of the Lord breaketh
the cedars of Libanus, the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice. “But that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” The curses of the Law, which spoke death and ruin to man, forfeited as is his life, merited as is his condemnation, give by themselves a partial, nay, when viewed alone, even an erroneous, view of the Divine Being. They tell nothing of His Love; and is not Love His very Name? Here, first and chiefly, is the superior glory of the Gospel. It is “the ministration of Righteousness. It tells how, whilst the law remains in all its sanctity, unimpeached and inviolate, man, the sinner, may be acquitted at its tribunal. Hercin indeed is Love; but herein is glory too. It is à revelation of God's character, which wakes the praise of angels. Will God only pardon through the substitution of the innocent for the guilty, and must this innocent substitute be none other than His Well-beloved Son? Then, though the Law shows something of God's justice--and it is all that it does show-in the Gospel even that justice is declared still more solemnly. Add only that it is for rebels dead in law that this rescue is provided, and how ineffable the manifestation of the Divine Love! Here is the full-orbed glory of God's harmonized attributes : “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
But another contrast is intimated. The “ministration of death” was “ written and engraven on stones ;” and this had a glory of its own, too bright for the steadfast gaze of the Israelites. The “ epistle of Christ” was written “not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God; not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart.” In other words, one was a material, the other a moral, glory; one appealed to the senses, the other to the soul; one was outward and visible, the other inward and unseen. The elder Covenant had a grandeur of its own. It was given through the intervention (dlatayas) of Angels. There were the fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the trumpet sounding long, and waxing louder and louder. The face of Moses,‘most divinely fair' (àoteios To OeQ), as we are told he was before, shone anew with the light of heaven, when he came down from the mount; and he brought with him a heavendirected design for the structure and details of the Tabernacle
—the curtains of fine twined linen, and blue and purple and scarlet, with cherubim of cunning work, the perfume of galbanum and stacte and onycha and frankincense, the high priest's ephod and broidered robe and girdle and breast-plate of judgment with its Urim and Thummim, “made,” it is expressly said, “ for glory and for beauty.” And 500 years afterwards, this pomp of outward circumstance reached its zenith in the still more gorgeous splendour of Solomon's Temple, when not only were