Divine Goodness In Severity -- By: Henry M. Tenney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:219 (Jul 1898)
Article: Divine Goodness In Severity
Author: Henry M. Tenney


Divine Goodness In Severity

Reverend Henry M. Tenney

Truth is spherical. To see both hemispheres at the same time, to give to each its relative value and to understand their relations to each other, is difficult. Regarding the one hemisphere we lose sight of the other. If the goodness of God is prominently before our minds we fail to recognize his severity. If the severity of God is manifest we forget his goodness and grace. This disposition leads us to put our own estimate upon different parts of the Bible. In the Old Testament there are abundant evidences of the divine goodness; but the law, with its stern “thou shalt not,” is prominent; and in its histories, judgments and retributions so appear that popularly the Old Testament seems to be the book of the severity of God; while, because of its revelation of saving grace in Jesus Christ, the New Testament seems to be the book of the divine goodness. We forget that it was foretold that Jesus would be for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel; that he himself declared that he came not to bring peace, but a sword; and that if at the beginning of his ministry we have the beatitudes, we have the woes and the judgment scenes and the “depart from me” at its close.

In the stern days of our Pilgrim and Puritan fathers, when they were face to face in a death-grapple with the forces of oppression and evil, it was an easy thing for them to recognize the divine severity. They believed in

it both as a fact and as a necessity. The imprecatory Psalms did not read to them just as they do to the ease-loving and pleasure-seeking and conscienceless of our time. They read differently now to those who are trying to live as Christians, and to make others Christians, in the heart of Turkey and Cuba, and to those who have to do with Turkey and with Spain. But to those who are living out of the conflict, in circumstances of ease, the divine goodness so fills the vision that severity seems incongruous and contradictory. It hardly seems possible to such that love can have a stern aspect and that it can deliver blows. We call the fathers Old Testament Christians, and in so doing we discount their religion; and in our own practical religious life we find very little place, it may be, for the Old Testament. We boast ourselves New Testament Christians, not realizing what New Testament Christianity in its fullness really is.

It cannot be amiss for us, therefore, to dwell upon these two characteristics of the ways of God with men, and to note the relation which the divine goodness and the divine severity sustain to each other.

But is God severe? Is the divine severity a fact? We shrink from asserting it; and yet, if...

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