By terrible things in righteousness will you answer us, O God of our salvation; who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth…
Now, it is here we are to ponder such things, and to seek a solution of these mysteries. We have all had to do with them at one time or another. Holy men of old have known them (Isaiah 26:8-11; Psalm 45:4; Isaiah 64:1, 3, 4).
I. GOD HAS HERE AND NOW HIS TERRIBLE THINGS, BUT THEY ARE ALSO RIGHTEOUS THINGS (Psalm 97:8; Proverbs 16:4). If God has terrible things, as the exhibition of His righteousness and His power, so also men become sometimes terrible things, objects of terror, and I knew of nothing so terrible as a hard, and impenitent, and proud heart. But God is love! I feel that, but few arguments have convinced me of it; it is in my own consciousness, it is affirmed to me; but nature is so cruel I know not how to hang much consolation upon the compensations and kindnesses of natural theology, and Paley's celebrated assurance that "it is a happy world, after all!" But, alas, the world is one great calamity, and the contradictions to the assurance that God is love meet us in every age. It is thus I am often compelled to say, how perfect things are, how perplexing and cruel events are. What do you see? In one age a city ablaze beneath the calm and beautiful mountains and skies. I remember, years since, visiting, one bright mocking day, a village on the coast, near the scene of the horrible tragedy of Hartley; you come to it as you walk along that fine coast from Tynemouth; a quiet little village, called Cullercoats. I forget how many boats had been lost in the wild tempest, a night or two since; there was a sob of agony in every house. I did not think of Paley's selfish aphorism, "It's a happy world, after all!" just then, although the sea was bright, and birds were sailing pensively overhead: rather should I have said, "By terrible things dost Thou answer us, O God." Natural theology has little to say in reply to such scenes as these.
II. THE TERRIBLE THINGS OF GOD ARE NOT ONLY RIGHTEOUS THINGS, BUT NOT LESS THAN THESE, MAY BE AN ANSWER TO PRAYER. "I believe you are a child of God, and I believe you will never now be prosperous in your outer life again," said an old patriarch to a new convert; and the prophecy was fulfilled. The old man spoke from some instinctive perception of spiritual means and ends; and, undoubtedly, shadowy and dark as the prophecy seems, it was far more prescient and wise than that which supposes that all pain, and adversity, and affliction, and disappointment retire from the circle in which the child of God moves. This is not invariable, but we must believe the plan and the order of our life require it. "By terrible things in righteousness wilt Thou answer us." And thus, at last, we learn that all the ends of God, in us and with us, have relation to our final coronation in the palace of His love. The terrible things, all of them, "work out for us," as Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:17). And the explanation is that —
III. GOD, IN THE MIDST OF HIS TERRIBLE THINGS, IS NOT THE LESS THE GOD OF SALVATION. "Salvation belongeth to our God." The Bible grapples with this practical difficulty of our existence and experience — this dark and perplexed state of human affairs; and by innumerable images it labours to reach the heart, and to teach the heart that life and time are a seething furnace through which souls are passing, and over which God watches till the trial is complete.
Parallel VersesKJV: By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: