Who knows the power of your anger? even according to your fear, so is your wrath.
There is a slavish fear of God, and there is also a filial fear. The one belongs to the man who know God only as Creator — the other to him who through the Spirit of adoption has been led to know God as a Father. Which fear, then, is it which the psalmist gives as the measure of God's wrath: "Even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath"? We cannot decide between the two, for either will equally serve as a standard, and therefore both may be considered as intended by the Spirit. But the difficulties of interpretation are not done with, so soon as we have settled that the passage thus admits of double application. There are more senses than one in which God's wrath is according to His fear, whether that fear be the fear of a slave or the fear of a son; and we cannot, perhaps, better divide so intricate a subject, than by taking the two great classes of mankind, the lovers of the world and the lovers of God, and endeavouring to show in each case the applicability of the text.
I. We begin with those who as yet have turned no willing ear to the invitation, "Be ye reconciled to God," and we are to listen to this thrilling question circulating through their ranks, "Who knoweth the power of God's anger?" What then? If I view the whole family of man, exiled from happiness for the offence of their forefather, do I know nothing of the power of God's anger? If I look upon our globe, going down with its teeming tenantry into the sepulchre of waters — if I survey the cities of the plain, drenched with the fiery showers — if I behold Jerusalem, turned up by the ploughshare of the Roman, and her sons and her daughters scattered like the ashes of a furnace — if I see God exemplifying with an awful fidelity the word of the psalmist, "A fruitful land maketh He barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein" — know I nothing of the power of the anger of the Lord? No man knows the power of God's anger, because that power has never yet put itself forth to its full stretch. Is there, then, no measure of God's wrath no standard by which we may estimate its intenseness? There is no fixed measure or standard, but there is a variable one. The wicked man's fear of God is a measure of the wrath of God. There is such a fear and such a dread of that God into whose immediate presence he feels himself about to be ushered, that even they who love him best, and charm him most, shrink from the wildness of his gaze and the fearfulness of his speech. And we cannot tell the man, though he may be just delirious with apprehension, that his fear of God invests the wrath of God with a darker than its actual colouring. On the contrary, we know that "according to the fear so is the wrath." We may therefore pause, and beseech those amongst you who are still living at enmity with God seriously to lay to heart this simple, but solemn truth — that fear is no microscope, when turned towards the wrath of your Maker. It cannot give the true dimensions, but it is utterly impossible that it should give larger than the true. God's anger is altogether measureless: when once aroused we set no limits to its power; hence it is not possible that the fear should mount too high: wrath keeps pace with it in its most enormous strides. But God's anger may be arrested; and here again it is that according to the fear, so is the wrath. The fear which gave a measure of wrath, in itself gives also the measure and the degree wherein it should be executed. God willeth not the death of any sinner, but would rather that all men should repent, and turn unto Him and live. Let this fear produce submission, obedience; and the wrath which was just ready to strike is mitigated and softened away; according as men do more or less tremble at God's judgments, God does more or less execute them. Thus the power of the anger is not to be understood, because it is altogether inexplicable.
II. We turn to those men who have been admitted by adoption into the family of God, and we seek for senses in which, in reference to them, it holds good, that according to his fear, so is God's wrath. It would appear from a verse in the 130th psalm, that true fear of God arises from a sense of God's forgiving love — "But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." It is, you observe, distinctly affirmed that the fear of God is the result of being forgiven of God. Let us, for an instant, trace the connection, and then turn it to a further illustration of the text. We may admit that in transactions between man and man such a connection does not necessarily exist at all. The forgiveness may be accorded without change of heart, and is not necessarily productive of change of deportment; but the reverse of all this must be affirmed when the forgiving party is God: He pardons only those whom He hath Himself made penitent; He renews the man when He remits his offences, and thus there is at once an assurance that the man becoming an altered man on becoming forgiven, forgiveness will bind him to God's service by all those ties of gratitude and affection which an act of free grace seems most calculated to produce. And from this it clearly follows, that he who has most of the fear of God, will have the keenest sense of the wrath of God. It is the man who lives much upon Calvary, who frequently visits the scene of the Saviour's agony, and who marks with wonder, with contrition, and with thankfulness the pouring forth of the most precious blood for the sake of his own rescue from final perdition — this man it is who will fear God with the fear to which forgiveness is parent; and who, we may now ask, can know so much of the wrath of God as he who is thus conversant with the emptying of that wrath on the head of the Redeemer? on this one occasion, though it may be on no other, God set forth to the intelligent creation the power of His anger; and if it were not that our affections are quickly borne down by the mysteries of Christ's death, so that we can form to ourselves no conception of the intenseness of anguish, but are quickly bewildered and confounded at the very mention of the sweat of blood and the hidings of the Father's countenance; if we could estimate — but who can estimate? — eternity condensed into a moment, and driven into the soul; if we could estimate the wretchedness, if we could weigh the burden, if we could count the arrows, and thus bring within our compass the endurances of the Saviour, there might rise up some amongst us to reply affirmatively to the question — "Who knoweth the power of Thine anger?" But, nevertheless, though no one can affirm of his knowledge that it is coextensive with the power, yet must all perceive that he carries knowledge furthest who is most deeply studious of the sufferings of Christ. And if it be undeniable that he will fear God most who is most with Christ in the garden and on the mount, and if it be equally undeniable that he who most scrutinizes the anguish which thronged the work of expiation will discern most of the anger of the Lord, then it will follow at once that the wrath is in proportion to the fear.
(H. Melvill, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.