9. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
This is expressly stated to teach us that Christ is furnished with power by which to reign even over those who are averse to his authority, and refuse to obey him. The language of David implies that all will not voluntarily receive his yoke, but that many will be stiff-necked and rebellious, whom notwithstanding he shall subdue by force, and compel to submit to him. It is true, the beauty and glory of the kingdom of which David speaks are more illustriously displayed when a willing people run to Christ in the day of his power, to show themselves his obedient subjects; but as the greater part of men rise up against him with a violence which spurns all restraint, it was necessary to add the truth, that this king would prove himself superior to all such opposition. Of this unconquerable power in war God exhibited a specimen, primarily in the person of David, who, as we know, vanquished and overthrew many enemies by force of arms. But the prediction is more fully verified in Christ, who, neither by sword nor spear, but by the breath of his mouth, smites the ungodly even to their utter destruction.
It may, however, seem wonderful that, while the prophets in other parts of Scripture celebrate the meekness, the mercy, and the gentleness of our Lord, he is here described as so rigorous, austere, and full of terror. But this severe and dreadful sovereignty is set before us for no other purpose than to strike alarm into his enemies; and it is not at all inconsistent with the kindness with which Christ tenderly and sweetly cherishes his own people. He who shows himself a loving shepherd to his gentle sheep, must treat the wild beasts with a degree of severity either to convert them from their cruelty, or effectually to restrain it. Accordingly in Psalm 110:5, after a commendation is pronounced upon the obedience of the godly Christ is immediately armed with power to destroy, in the day of his wrath, kings and their armies who are hostile to him. And certainly both these characters are with propriety ascribed to him: for he was sent by the Father to cheer the poor and the wretched with the tidings of salvation, to set the prisoners free, to heal the sick, to bring the sorrowful and afflicted out of the darkness of death into the light of life, (Isaiah 61:1) and as, on the other hand, many by their ingratitude, provoke his wrath against them, he assumes, as it were, a new character, to beat down their obduracy. It may be asked, what is that iron scepter which the Father hath put into the hand of Christ, wherewith to break in pieces his enemies? I answer, The breath of his mouth supplies to him the place of all other weapons, as I have just now shown from Isaiah. Although, therefore, Christ move not a finger, yet by his speaking he thunders awfully enough against his enemies, and destroys them by the rod of his mouth alone. They may fret and kick, and with the rage of a madman resist him never so much, but they shall at length be compelled to feel that he whom they refuse to honor as their king is their judge. In short, they are broken in pieces by various methods, till they become his footstool. In what respect the doctrine of the gospel is an iron rod, may be gathered from Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 10:4) where he teaches that the ministers of Christ are furnished with spiritual weapons to cast down every high thing which exalteth itself against Christ, etc. I allow that even the faithful themselves may be offered in sacrifice to God, that he may quicken them by his grace, for it is meet we should be humbled in the dust, before Christ stretch forth his hand to save us. But Christ trains his disciples to repentance in such a way as not to appear terrible to them; on the contrary, by showing them his shepherd's rod, he quickly turns their sorrow into joy; and so far is he from using his iron rod to break them in pieces, that he rather protects them under the healing shadow of his hand, and upholds them by his power. When David speaks, therefore, of breaking and bruising, this applies only to the rebellious and unbelieving who submit to Christ, not because they have been subdued by repentance, but because they are overwhelmed with despair. Christ does not, indeed, literally speak to all men; but as he denounces in his word whatever judgments he executes upon them, he may be truly said to slay the ungodly man with the breath of his mouth, (2 Thessalonians 2:8.) The Psalmist exposes to shame their foolish pride by a beautiful similitude; teaching us, that although their obstinacy is harder than the stones, they are yet more fragile than earthen vessels. Since, however, we do not see the enemies of the Redeemer immediately broken in pieces, but, on the contrary, the Church herself appears rather to be like the frail earthen vessel under their iron hammered the godly need to be admonished to regard the judgments which Christ daily executes as presages of the terrible ruin which remains for all the ungodly, and to wait patiently for the last day, when he will utterly consume them by the flaming fire in which he will come. In the meantime, let us rest satisfied that he "rules in the midst of his enemies.