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ON THE JUSTICE OF GOD, IN THE PUNISHMENT
ROMANS XII. 19.
-Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
says, "I considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun and, behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter." Such instances, which are still often to be seen, are apt to excite our compassion and indignation: But what can our indignation or our compassion avail? It is not often in the power of our hands to punish, or to rescue and protect. We can neither put down the mighty, when they are cruel and unrighteous; nor help the weak, when they suffer wrong. In cases of this nature, we have generally no other way to console ourselves, but by confiding in the justice and power of God. By believing that He is greater than all, and that His judgment is according to truth. That He will certainly right the injured, and recompence the way of evil doers upon their own heads. This consolation God gave to his people of old, in Deut. xxxii. 35, where, speaking of those cruel
enemies that were too powerful for them, he says, "To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things which shall come upon them make haste." To this the apostle in our text refers, for the comfort of persecuted christians, and to guard them against seeking retaliation, or meditating revenge. The whole verse is; "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
It is proposed to show, in the ensuing discourse,
I. How we are to understand, that vengeance is God's.
II. The reasons we have to believe that He will repay; and,
III. That all fears or hopes of the contrary, are utterly groundless.
How we are to understand that vengeance is the Lord's, in the first place, I shall endeavor to explain.
By vengeance, when ascribed to God, I would ob-. serve, is not to be understood the same, in all respects, as is generally meant by revenge. In common speech, it is true, these are often nearly synonymous expressions; and so they are sometimes used in scripture. Thus in Deut. xxxii. 41, 42, God says, "If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance, &c. from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy." And in Nahum it is said, "The Lord revengeth; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries.". But then, it ought to be understood, that revenge is very different in God, from what it is in wicked, or in
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 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, because he hath made them, and in him they live, and move, and have their being.
2. God's saying vengeance is mine, implies, that rendering 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, xiii. 4, "For he is the minister 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 punishments 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 formidable 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