Psalm 90:11

Who knoweth, etc.?

I. SOME DO NOT KNOW IT AT ALL. They do not believe in God at all, or in a very faint way. Hence they turn at once to what they term "natural causes," when the judgments of God are abroad in the earth. "The fool hath said in his heart," etc.


1. From the Bible. The records of God's wrath are there writ large - the Fall; the Flood; the destruction of Egypt; the deaths in the wilderness, which were probably the occasion of this psalm.

2. From what they see. Vice and villainy come down with a crash from time to time, and men are forced to confess, "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth."

3. From sad experience in their own hearts and lives.

4. From the frenzied fears of many godless ones when death seizes them. Their last awful hours betray the knowledge of God's wrath.


1. They cannot, because of the limitation of human faculties.

2. But they will not know it as they might and should. The thought of it is a terror and torment to them.

3. But they must, if they are to be saved. If we see not our need of Christ, we shall never seek him. "Spirit of God's most holy fear," come to us, that we may come to thee! - S.C.

Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath.
I. When I consider THE DIFFICULTIES WHICH LIE IN THE WAY OF OUR MEASURING THE POWER OF ANGER THAT RESIDES IN THE BOSOM OF GOD, I conclude that it is chiefly His steady and orderly goodness which has thrust His displeasure out of sight. Only occasionally does nature suggest wrath. Her deliberate arrangements are all inspired by goodness. I have often had occasion to observe how quietly the earth sets herself to repair, by slow and helpful work, the mischief which had been wrought in an hour, and I have never been able to witness it without admiration. I well recollect a scene which seemed to set me in the midst of nature's fury. A fertile and populous Alpine valley had been turned to desolation by the storm of one winter's day, when fierce torrents from heaven had snatched the frost-loosened stones from the mountain's crest, and rolled them down its huge ribs with a rattle like thunder, to hurl them, an avalanche of barrenness, upon the peasants' farms below. At once the wrath of Heaven had undone the labour of generations of patient men, silted up their homesteads and mills, torn up by the roots their vines and mulberry-trees, and turned into a bed of stones the acres on which their corn had grown. Here, one thought, might be seen "the power of His anger." But long before I passed that way, the steadfast beneficence of God's earth, lending itself to toilsome and unrepining hands, as it is wont to do, had begun to correct the mischief of its sudden wrath; and years on years of prosperous husbandry may pass over these peasant families before another day of ruin shall come to fill their vale with lamentation. Thus the earth bears witness that the Lord is slow to anger but of great mercy; that "in a little wrath He hides His face from us for a moment," but it is "with everlasting kindness He hath mercy on us." The experience which we have had of God in our own lives is to the same effect. To most of us, the days on which disaster fell into our life to crush us may be the most memorable we have spent; but they are by far the fewest. Such bitter days we count upon our fingers; our happier ones by years. The healthful and gladdening influences of God's bounty, and human fellowship, and hope, and natural affection, are all about us continually. Judgment is God's strange work; but His tender mercies are over all His works.

II. Yet, although we cannot reach to the bottom of God's wrath, and need not regret that we cannot, THERE IS ONE WAY OPEN TO US BY WHICH WE MAY PARTLY ESTIMATE IT. The wrath of God is "according to His fear"; to His fearfulness, that is, or His fitness for inspiring in the bosoms of men an awful and sacred dread. Such attributes as infinity, immensity, unsearchableness, almightiness, and omnipresence, are very fit to overwhelm our feeble souls under a consciousness of helplessness which is near of kin to terror. When to these is added the moral magnificence of a justice which judges by an absolute standard, and of a perfection which makes no account of anything in comparison of mere rightness or goodness, then such frail and yielding creatures as we are, whose very virtues are compromises, in whom nothing is found of perfect temper, may most reasonably shrink in terror.

1. Susceptible souls are sometimes, under favourable conditions, wrought to fear by the mere vastness, or mystery, or loneliness of God's material works.

2. The mass of men are too unimaginative or too stupid to be much moved by the mere sublimity of God's everyday creation. They need occasional outbursts of unwonted violence to prick their hearts to fear Him. God does not always mean, when He lets loose disease or disaster among men, to "make a way to His anger," as He is said to have meant when He plagued old Egypt. For the most part He means mercy. He is still "turning His anger away and not stirring up all His wrath." But what He probably does design by exceptional explosions of the fatal forces which slumber in nature is to awaken a wholesome terror in dull hearts, and to suggest how dreadful His wrath may prove when the time for wrath shall have come, since now in the time of grace His providence can be so fearful.

3. All this, however if we take it by itself, does not mean a great deal. In order to estimate the capacity of wrath in the Almighty, I need to know more than His strength, more than His material terribleness. I must know whether there exists in His moral nature any severity which will dispose Him to be angry on just cause, which will steel Him against the infirmity of unrighteous pity, and will move Him to be rigorous where rigour is required. In other words, has God in Him any element of moral terribleness? Is He of such deadly earnestness in His displeasure against wrong that He can, in despite of pity, inflict the extreme of pain, of wrath, of bitter death? for, if so, He is beyond question a most fearful God. A Being who possesses such strength as His, and at the same time is not too tender to use it against sin, must be to every sinner unspeakably dreadful. I do not say whether God can inflict uttermost suffering for sin, judge ye of that; I say He can endure it. He bore what it would be fearful to see another bear. He pursued sin to His own death, and in His jealousy for justice satisfied justice in His own blood. I make bold to ask every one of you who is not sure that he has repented of his sins, whether he thinks the God who took flesh and died for sin at Jerusalem is a God with whom it is safe to trifle?

(J. O. Dykes, D.D.)

First see how anger can be ascribed to God: for an infinite and Divine nature cannot be degraded to those affections and weaknesses that attend ours. Anger is a passion, but God is impassible. Anger is always with some change in the person that has it, but God is unchangeable. Certainly, therefore, anger and the like affections can by no means be ascribed to the infinitely perfect God, in the proper and usual acceptation of the words, but only by an anthropopathy. God is said to be angry, when He does some things that bear a similitude to those effects that anger produces in men.


1. Every harsh and severe dispensation is not an effect of God's anger. The same effect, as to the matter of it, may proceed from very different causes. Love is sometimes put upon the rigour of those courses, which at the first aspect seem to carry in them the inscriptions of hostility.

2. There is a great difference between God's anger and His hatred; as great as there is between the transient expiring heat of a spark, and the lasting continual fires which supply a furnace. God was angry with Moses, David, Hezekiah, and with His peculiar people; but we do not read that He hated them. The effects of His anger differ as much from the effects of His hatred, as the smart of a present pain from the corrosions of an abiding poison.


1. It inflicts immediate blows and rebukes upon the conscience. When God wounds a man by the loss of an estate, of His health, of a relation, the smart is but commensurate to the thing which is lost, poor and finite. But when He Himself employs His whole omnipotence, and is both the archer, and Himself the arrow, there is as much difference between this and the former, as when a house lets fall a cobweb, and when it falls itself upon a man.

2. God's anger exerts itself by embittering of afflictions. Every affliction is of itself a grievance, and a breach made upon our happiness; but there is sometimes a secret energy, that so edges and quickens its afflictive operation, that a blow levelled at the body, shall enter into the very soul. As a bare arrow tears and rends the flesh before it, but if dipped in poison, as by its edge it pierces, so by its adherent venom it festers.

3. It shows and exerts itself by cursing of enjoyments. We may, like Solomon, have all that wit can invent, or heart desire, and yet at last, with the same Solomon, sum up all our accounts in "vanity and vexation of spirit." Alas! it is not the body and the mass of those things which we call plenty that can speak comfort, when the wrath of God shall blast and dispirit them with a curse. We may build our nest soft and convenient, but that can easily place a thorn in the midst of it, that shall check us in our repose.


1. It is fully commensurate to the very utmost of our fears, which is noted even in the words of the text: "According to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath."

2. It not only equals, but infinitely exceeds and transcends our fears. The misery of the wicked, and the happiness of the saints, run in an equal parallel; so that by one you may best measure the proportions of the other. And for the former of these, we have a lively description of it in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

3. Though we may attempt it in our thoughts, yet we cannot bring it within the comprehensions of our knowledge. And the reason is, because things which are the proper objects of feeling, are never perfectly known, but by being felt.

4. We may take a measure of the greatness of God's anger by comparing it with the anger of men. How dreadful is the wrath of a king! (Proverbs 19:12). But what can be said of the terrors of an almighty wrath, an infinite indignation?


1. The intolerable misery of such as labour under a lively sense of God's wrath for sin.

2. The ineffable vastness of Christ's love to mankind in His sufferings for them.

3. Terror to such as can be quiet and at peace within themselves, after the commission of great sins.

4. The most natural sequel and improvement of all that has been said of God's anger, is a warning against that cursed thing which provokes it. We see how dreadfully it burns; let us beware of the sin by which it is kindled.

(R. South, D.D.)

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.)

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