A French peasant standing over the body of the murdered Robespierre at the time of the Reign of Terror, exclaimed, looking down upon him, "Yes, Robespierre, there is a God!"
When the barbarians of Malta saw a viper hanging to Paul's arm as he brought up faggots for the fire which they had built to give warmth and cheer to those who had escaped from the shipwreck, they cried out to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live" (Acts 28:4). They were mistaken as to the character of Paul; but they were not mistaken in their great conviction that sin will be punished, not only in this world, but in the world to come.
Anne of Austria once said to Cardinal Mazarin: "My lord Cardinal, God does not pay at the end of every week; nevertheless he pays."
In Carlyle's Past and Present he tells of a proud and cruel prince, Henry of Essex, who profaned the shrine of St. Edmund, and shamefully used a certain Knight Gilbert, causing him to wear out his life in chains and imprisonment.
Years afterward this prince was in a deadly battle with a knight on an island in the Thames. Giving way for a little, he glanced to one side, and lo! at the rim of the horizon he saw marching toward him an armed knight whose stature was gigantic. It was the wronged Sir Gilbert, and at his side marched St. Edmund. With that, Henry's sword fell from his hand, and he was soon vanquished. "Thus does conscience project itself across whatsoever of knowledge or imagination, understanding or natural disposition, a man has in him, and like the light through colored glass, paint strange pictures on the rim of the horizon. Justice and reverence are the everlasting laws of this universe and to forget them is to have all the universe against you, God and one's self for enemies, and only the Devil and the Dragon for friends!"
One of the most powerful and moving scenes in all fiction is that in Romola where George Eliot describes the retribution that befell the pleasure-loving Greek, Tito Melema, who had wronged two women and publicly denied and repudiated as a man he had never seen before the foster father who had brought him up and given him the jewels with which to purchase himself out of slavery. Tito has escaped from the angry mob in Florence by leaping into the Arno from the parapet of the bridge. At length, exhausted and almost unconscious, he is flung by the tide of the river up amid the reeds on the bank, where the old foster father, his mind reeling under the shock of the denial by his son, is waiting and hoping for vengeance. The old man has reason enough left to recognize Tito and strength enough left to clutch him by the throat with infinite satisfaction. At the close of that powerful scene, George Eliot writes, "Who shall lay his finger upon justice and say it is here? It is not without us as a fact. It is within us as a great yearning."
When American troops entered the city of Cologne, they found the majestic seven-century-old cathedral still standing, structurally unhurt. But the spires of the cathedral looked down upon a vast desolation. The great Hohenzollern bridge over the Rhine, its back broken, lay half submerged in the river. In the city itself factories, mills, shops, banks, theaters, churches, art galleries, railroad stations, mansions of the rich, and homes of the poor lay reduced to ashes and rubble. It was an abomination of desolation whose description would require the pen of Isaiah when he wrote of the overthrow of Babylon, or the pen of Ezekiel when he described the doom of Tyre, or the apocalyptic pen of St. John when he pictured the desolation of the Babylon of this world.
All that remains to complete the desolation at Cologne is for St. John's mighty angel to take up a stone like a great millstone and cast it into the Rhine, saying, "Thus with violence shall that great city Cologne be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all" (Rev. 19:21).
If they could preach, those majestic spires of Cologne, of what would they preach? They would preach of divine retribution. They would speak of the horror and devastation which Germany brought down upon defenseless cities—Warsaw, Rotterdam, Belgrade, Athens, Coventry, Plymouth—and they would say, O Cologne! O Germany! "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Ps. 19:9).
Adoni-bezek was a prince who ruled in one of the strongholds of the Canaanites, a stronghold as yet untaken at the time of the death of Joshua. This monster amused himself with the savage mutilation of the princes whom he conquered in battle, cutting off their thumbs and their great toes, thus rendering them unfit for military service. To cruelty and mutilation he added insult and degradation by compelling them to grovel about his table in his palace, where he threw crusts of bread to them as if they were a pack of dogs. But at length his day came. Simeon and Judah and their men at war took his stronghold and put his people to death. But Adoni himself they reserved for a more poetic justice and grim retribution. They dealt with him just as he had dealt with the princes who were unfortunate enough to fall into his hands. They mutilated him just as he had mutilated his own victims. When he had suffered this mutilation, Adoni exclaimed, "As I have done, so God hath requited me" (Judg. 1:7).
The incident is a striking example of the judgments of God.
In his history of the French Revolution, Carlyle tells of a minister of the Crown, Foulon, who, when his finance scheme raised the question, "What will the people do?" exclaimed, "The people may eat grass!" When the people rose he was hanged from a post, "and his mouth after death was filled with grass, amid sounds as of Tophet from a grass-eating people. Surely, if revenge is kind of justice, it is a wild kind. They that would make grass to be eaten, do they now eat grass in this manner? After long, dumb, groaning generations, has the turn suddenly become theirs?"
There is an old legend of a clock tower which was erected ages ago in one of the kingdoms of Europe. It was the highest achievement of a world-famous architect. For the clock he designed an intricate mechanism for striking the hours on a great bell: a bronze figure was to glide up noiselessly and strike the hours on the bell. When the metal for the bell was being poured into the mold, one of the workmen made a mistake which might have ruined the bell; and in his anger the architect took a hammer and struck the workman dead. A piece of the man's skull flew into the metal and left a flaw there which the architect did not discover until the day the tower was to be dedicated.
On the appointed day and at the a pointed hour the king and his court and all the people were assembled on the plain beneath the tower waiting for the bell to strike the hour of one. As the time approached, the crowd became still. It counted the minutes and then the seconds. But when one o'clock came there was no sound—only a dull thud, and then silence. After waiting for a time the people went up the stairs of the tower and found the artist dead beside his bell. He had been working feverishly in an effort to repair the flaw which had been made in the bell by the fragment from the skull of the man whom he had slain, and which he had just now discovered. Intent on his work he had not noted the time; and sharply at one the bronze figure which he had designed with his genius came noiselessly forward and, lifting its heavy hammer, smote. But instead of striking the bell, it struck the head of the architect.
There is a law of retribution working in the universe. There is not only retribution but retribution in kind. Pharaoh has murdered the male children of the Hebrews by casting them into the river Nile. Now the angel of death flies across his own kingdom to smite through death the first-born of every Egyptian home. As Maxim Gorky puts it: "Life has its wisdom; its name is accident. Sometimes it rewards us, but more often it takes revenge on us. And just as the sun endows each object with a shadow, so the wisdom of life prepares retribution for man's every act. This is true, this is inevitable, and we must all know and remember it."