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THE ANTAGONISM BETWEEN JUSTICE AND MERCY.
CERTAIN points were stated, in the close of the last chapter, where the integrity of law and justice appears to be involved in necessary damage from the introduction of forgiveness, or a free justification. Under the various schemes of judical satisfaction, it is accordingly assumed, that Christ, by his suffering life and death, made the compensation necessary, and prepared, whether by this method, or by that, what is called the ground of justification. In this manner, God has two dispensations, one coming after, and the other going before, and related to each other as mercy to justice, forgiveness to punishment, justification to condemnation. Having begun to govern by mere law, enforced by rewards and penalties, and by that having failed to secure his proposed ends of character and eternal felicity, he brings in a second dispensation, by Christ, to rescue the guilty from the deserved penalties of justice; which it does, by means of his suffering offered as a satisfaction to justice. And so the law, it is conceived, maintains its integrity still, when otherwise it would be quite broken down, or even virtually given up.
Here then is the great contested matter of the Christian 267salvation, and the issue made up at this point, is now to be tried. I am obliged to disallow the necessity of any such penal satisfaction, or indeed No compensation to justice needed. of any compensation at all to God’s justice, for the release of transgression; that is, of any compensation beyond what is incidental to the vicarious sacrifice and the power it obtains by declaring the righteousness of God.
As regards this question, two kinds of answer may be given that are quite distinct and independent of each other; one that turns upon a due qualification Two modes of argument. of the antagonism between justice and mercy—which will occupy the present chapter; and another which considers specifically the several kinds of damage that are supposed to follow, when sins are forgiven without compensation—which will occupy the next three chapters. The present chapter is not necessary to my general argument, but is a kind of interpolation, and is introduced, not because it is required by my doctrine, but because a revision of our impressions concerning the supposed antagonism, appears to be due to the general subject, and even to the honors of divine justice itself.
Undertaking this revision, I put forward two points, where we seem to fall into misconceptions, that increase the antagonism between justice and mercy, and make it wider and more complete than it really is.
1. Having much to say about justice, as an exact doing upon wrong of what it deserves, we begin to imagine that justice goes by desert, both in its rules 268and measures, and thinks of nothing else. It follows, of course, that justice lets go being just, exactly as it Justice in the scale of desert misconceived. falls below the scale of desert in its executed penalties. We have many scriptures also to cite for authority; as when it is declared that God will “render to every man according to his deeds,” “reward every man according to his works;” or when it is declared that every man “shall receive the things done in the body,” having them as it were put back upon him for his punishment; or when the lex talionis itself is formally appealed to as the rule of God’s justice—“For with what measure ye meet it shall be measured to you again.” All these and other like Scripture expressions are taken to mean about the same thing, as giving back to wrong just what it gives, and we conceive it to be a matter a great deal more definite than it is, to say that justice is the making of a transgressor to suffer what he deserves.
In a certain popular sense, this language and all the scripture citations referred to are good—nothing could be more forcible or impressive—but, when we ask precisely what we mean by it, we shall be more at a loss than we expected. Is it any fit conception of God’s justice, that he will put evil upon a wrong-doer, just because he is bad and according to his badness, apart from all uses to the man himself, or to others, or to the government he violates? Is it the divine justice to fly at evil doing and make it feel just as much evil as it practices? Is there no counsel in God’s justice, no consideration of ends, or uses?269
We can hardly be satisfied, I think, with this. Indeed we could not approve ourselves in putting on a wrong doer the evil he deserves to suffer, without finding some reason for it besides his desert. And yet we could not be satisfied, in reducing God’s justice to a mere consideration of public ends, or reasons of beneficence. We feel that there is, and ought to be something more fiery and fateful in his justice than that. What then is the conception that meets our feeling, and what, exactly, do we mean, when we say that justice and desert are ideas that go thus fitly together?
We mean, first of all, that there is a deep wrath-principle in God, as in all moral natures, that puts him down upon wrong, and girds him in The wrath-principle of justice no law to God. avenging majesty for the infliction of suffering upon wrong. Just as we speak of our felt indignations, and tell how we are made to burn against the person, or even the life of the wrong doer, so God has his heavier indignations, and burns with his more consuming fire. But this combustion of right anger, this wrath-impulse so fearfully moved, is no law to God certainly, requiring him to execute just what will exhaust the passion. It is only that girding power of justice that puts him on the work of redress, and that armature of strength upon his feeling, that enables him to inflict pain without shrinking. And then, at just this point, comes in another function, equally necessary; viz., wisdom, counsel, administrative reason, which directs the aim, tempers the degree, and regulates the measures and times, of the 270pain. Thus it is that we ourselves dispense and graduate justice; and then, standing at the hither point of our vindicative passion, we say that we have done upon the wrong doer just what he deserves. Standing, farther off, at the point of counsel, and considering how we have graduated the measure of his punishment, we should say, that we have done upon him, only what the welfare of society, and the due sanctification of law requires.
There is, then, no such thing in God, or any other being, as a kind of justice which goes by the law of desert, and ceases to be justice when ill desert is not exactly matched by suffering. God’s ends, and objects, and public reasons, have as much to do with his justice as the wrath-principle has, which arms and impels his justice. It is no breach of justice therefore, and no real fault of proceeding, that God tempers justice by mercy, and mercy by justice, whenever he can most advance the solid interests of character and society by so doing. There is no principle which any human being can state, or even think, that obliges him, on pain of losing character, to do by the disobedient exactly as they deserve. The rule, taken as a measure, has no moral signification. God therefore need not give Himself up to wrath, in order to be just; he can have the right of counsel still. Perfect liberty is left him to do by the wrong doer better than he deserves, and yet without any fault of justice—better that is, considering his own condemning judgment of him, and the man’s condemning judgment of himself, than he might 271well do, or even ought to do, if the sublime interests of his government should require.
2. It is another misconception, just now stated in the introduction of this chapter, that we assume the essential priority of law and justice, as related Another misconception as respects the priority of justice. to mercy; as if it were another dispensation having a right, in its own precedence, to be undisturbed and qualified by no different kind of proceeding. Was not every thing put upon the footing of law, and since we have broken through the law, how can God bring us into justification without overturning the law Himself? Will He mock his law, because we have mocked it? and will he give it up, because we have turned away from it? What remains then for Him, but to do justice upon us? How can he justify, in this view, unless there be some satisfaction, or compensation of justice provided?
There does not after all appear to be any solid merit in this kind of argument. It matters not whether we say that we have two dispensations, or Justice and mercy co-ordinate and co-operative. one; in some sense we have two, viz., justice and mercy; but it does not appear that there is any priority of time in one as related to the other, or that both are not introduced to work together for one common result. Then, whether we understand the mythic tree, or test-tree of the garden, to be the law before government, or to be some instituted precept in which it is presented more specifically, the sin of the sin is, in either case, the casting off of 272the former; that which carries with it a revolution of character down to its deepest principle. And the “death” that followed was the moral dying that must come with such a revolution—no death of God’s infliction, but a declarative death, connected with the fall out of principle. Then follows what is called the promise, and what is called the curse-the promise first and the curse afterward—that as the new hope, this as the new state of wrath and penal discipline. And both together, having one and the same general aim, are inaugurated, as the right and left hand, so to speak, of God’s instituted government. They are to have a properly joint action; one to work by enforcement, and the other by attraction, or moral inspiration; both having it as their end or office, to restore and establish the everlasting, impersonal law. God never expected and never undertook, calling that his government, to bring his subjects on and consummate his purposes regarding them, by statutes and penalties of justice. It might as well be imagined that he undertook to govern his heavens by the centrifugal force, and added the centripetal afterward, to bring the flying bodies back.
There is a certain antagonism, it is true, in the modes of action observed by the law-power of God’s statutes and the justifying power of Christ; even as there is between the two great forces of nature just referred to. But the antagonism is formal, not real; partial, not absolute. They are to be co-factors in the operation of a government that undertakes, for its object, the reconciliation of fallen men to God—a state of beatific 273worship and complete society. And to this end one is set to enforce obligation, stir the conscience, intimidate and set back the impetuosity of sin, so to waken right conviction and prepare a felt necessity of the other; and then the sensibility taken hold of and impressed, softened and melted, in one word drawn by that other, is to win a choice, raise that choice into a love, in that love become a new revelation, so a salvation. And so much is there in this twofold action that without some such grip of law and justice on the soul, no grace-power of God could ever win it back; and without the grace-power felt in its blessed attractions, no mere law-and-justice power could beget any thing closer to God than a compelled obedience, or fear that hath torment. There was in fact an antecedent necessity of their conjoined working, that, in the due qualifying of each other, they may complement what would otherwise be a fault in each.
Thus by the retributive principle running through all our natural and Providential experience, the self-sacrificing, vicarious, love-principle is How the two co-operate in redemption itself. so tempered as to make our time of grace a thoroughly rugged and stern holiday; while by the love-principle, gently interfused, all the retributions of our experience are held back and qualified, to be only fomentations of thoughtfulness and holy conviction. Indeed we may go farther and have it as a fact discovered, that these partially contesting agencies only press us yet more effectively, because they seem to be in a race for us with each other. The 274retributive principle is propagating disorder, misrule, blindness, obduracy of feeling in our sin, closing up, as it were, the gates of receptivity; so that shortly nothing shall be left for love and sacrifice to work upon—at which point, as far as we can see, justice gets entire possession of us and has our everlasting future to itself. Or reversing the example, the mercy-principle in Christ’s sacrifice gets advantage of the retributive, winning the soul to itself and begetting it anew in God’s liberty—when of course the justice-claim falls off to be a claim gone by forever. In this manner they both work together, striving, as it were, to outstrip each other, and exert, in that way, only the more stringent motive pressure on the life and character. Let no one then imagine that they are in a state of real contrariety, because they are so far antagonistic in their action. The celestial analogies already referred to show that order and static equilibrium are, in fact, the resultant of contending forces. Were either one of these to stop its endeavor, the condition of wreck would be forthcoming speedily. And just so nature, all through, is packed with analogies that correspond. Heat and cold, light and darkness, land and sea, central fires and weights of rock above, are all doing battle round us in the same way, and the result is an accruing order and stability that represents eternal beneficence.
How far then is it conceived by God, in the appointments of justice and mercy, that they really infringe upon each other; how far that the rugged and rough power of justice is like to be injured and borne down 275by its tender competitor, enough to want some compensation for its injuries? The real fact is, that God’s instituted law really commands through love and sacrifice; for no created mind could possibly be thrust straight through into good, by penal enforcements and motivities. It never is in good, till it has cast out fear and gone forever clear of it, to love the right, or the holy, for its own sake. Law has nothing to do with such a result save initially. It even supposes a captivating power working with it, to bring out the result, and consummate the love in which the law’s intentions are fulfilled.
Or suppose that in the race of contestation just now described, it should happen, as one or the other gets exclusive and final dominion of the soul, that the excluded party suffers a real infringement. Then, by the supposition, justice may have taken away the chances and infringed the rights of mercy, as truly as mercy can have violated the rights of justice; when if compensations are to be made, the mercy-impulse of God’s feeling has as good a right to compensation from his justice, as that from his mercy. For his mercy is as old as his justice, and began as soon, and is a character certainly not less dear or sacred. Justice, too, may as fitly groan for the pacification of mercy, as mercy for the pacification of justice.
On this point of infringement and rightful compensation, I have looked intently for some declaration of Scripture, and am only surprised that I do not find what 276I should have expected to meet in many examples; for nothing is plainer than the distinctness of manner and How the Scriptures hold this antagonism. office, in what are called justice and mercy. One acts retributively, the other compassionately; one by laws of natural consequence, the other by supernatural intervention; one goes by desert, the other by self-sacrifice transcending desert; one condemns just where the other undertakes to even justify; so that, factors though they be in forwarding a common result, we should not be surprised to find them set against each other in Scripture terms, and described as reconcilable, only in the fact that one pays tribute to the other. Still I know not where it is done. God nowhere signifies that he has given up the world to the prior right of justice, and that mercy shall come in, only as she pays a gate-fee for the right of entrance.1818This complete silence of the Scripture, concerning a compensation, or necessary satisfaction paid to justice, has probably been noticed by many. I have only fallen upon a single instance, in the Lectures of Mr. Veysie. Admitting the commonly received Scripture ideas of reconciliation and propitiation, he considers all that is said of satisfaction, as their necessary ground, to be originated wholly by the speculations or constructive theories, of men; and he says—“Now the sacred writers nowhere, as far as I know, expressly assert any satisfaction at all as having been effected by the death of Christ.—Veysie’s Bampton Lectures.—I. A reference is frequently made to two passages of Scripture as implying one of them, and the other affirming, a repugnance between justice and mercy, which only God’s wisdom in his Son can sufficiently reconcile. Thus, when it is declared, 277in sovereign promise, that “mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other,”1919Ps. lxxxv. 10. the supposition is that by some wondrous compensative grace of God, as in Christ, these incompatibles are made to coalesce. Whereas nothing is meant, as will be seen by a reference to the Psalm itself, but that in the public restoration promised, goodness and fidelity, and right and concord, shall return as a benignant constellation of graces, to bless and adorn the new society. Again it is repeated, how often, that “mercy rejoiceth against judgment;”2020Jas. ii. 13. as if that were even the key principle of the gospel plan. It very well might be, only taking the two to be merely as distinct in their action, as was just now represented. But then it would be just as true, that judgment rejoiceth against mercy. The passage however has nothing to do with either of these two modes of contrariety. By the “mercy” it means simply the man who does mercy, and that he rejoiceth against judgment, or over it, in the sense that his heart is too strong, his confidence too immovable, to be shaken by any sort of condemnation—“he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy, and mercy [when it is faithfully done] rejoiceth against judgment.” “Boldness in the day of judgment” is a promise of the same thing.
It would be difficult, on the other hand, to represent all the figures of community and close conjunction held by these words in the Scripture. Sometimes it is conceived 278that God’s mercy has its opportunity in his justice, and not any obstacle at all. Even as the great Hebrew poet, conscious of no dereliction from orthodoxy, testifies, “Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for thou renderest to every man according to his work.”2121Ps. lxii. 12. Sometimes the two co-factors are strung together, as pearls that are alike, on the same string—“I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth;”2222Jer. ix. 24.. “The weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith;”2323Math. xxiii. 23. “Knowing therefore the goodness and severity of God.”2424Rom. xi. 22. They sometimes, even cross over into the province one of the other, and change offices; “the terror of the Lord persuades,”25252 Cor v. 11. even as “the cross lifted up draws;”2626John xii. 32. and “the law slays”2727Rom. vii. 11. even as Christ rejected “reproves of sin.”2828John xvi. 8. Again they both alike support the appeal of warning—“behold the judge standeth at the door!”2929Jas. v. 9. “behold the bridegroom cometh!”3030Math. xxv. 6. The rule of judgment is also declared to be the same in both, according to even the same chapter—“For as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;”3131Rom. ii. 12. “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”3232Rom. ii. 16. The judge, too, is to be at once the eternal Lawgiver and, in some equally true sense, to be Christ himself. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth 279do right?”3333Gen. xviii. 25. “Hath given him authority also to execute judgment because he is the Son of man.”3434John v. 27.
We shall find also, both in the old Testament and the New, declarations made of God and of his Son that represent both in the same general combination The old and new dispensations, how related. of attribute; asserting themselves, at once, both in all the rigors of justice, and all the tender concern of a forgiving sacrifice and sympathy. Thus we have from the Old—“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty, [that is the incorrigible.]3535Ex. xxxiv. 6-7. And again, answering exactly to this we have from the New—“Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, [continueth incorrigible in it] of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile. But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.”3636Rom. ii. 9. And what have we, in fact, but a complete summing up of all such combinations in these two words—“the wrath of the Lamb?”
Does any one ask what, in this view, becomes of the superior grace, or graciousness of the New Testament? I see no room for a superior grace, that requires a superior and better kind of God. The two dispensations are not two, in the sense of being opposite, but only in the sense of being one of them more full and complete than the other at once could be. The New Testament is only 280a new edition of the Old, greatly enlarged and improved—yet still accordant faithfully in its radical import. They both declare the same God, only in different stages of human thought or development; neither of them could be true, if they gave us different kinds of God, or of government. Still though God is just in both, and merciful in both, the former was likely to be taken more legally and felt more as a bondage, because it was a drill of outward rites and observances; and the latter to be taken even as a deliverance from that bondage, because of the incarnate person who could fitly represent to men’s feeling the dear charities of God, and show the rites fulfilling their idea in his own complete and all sufficient sacrifice. No one was obliged to stay fast in the legalities of the old religion; multitudes of the glorious fathers and prophet teachers and little ones of faith did not; they broke through into the faith-world, as God was helping them to do, even by means of their rites; but in general they stuck fast in the letter, and the letter was death. The new ministration therefore in the incarnate person was life in comparison, a ministration of righteousness that doth exceed in glory.
But while the offices of justice and mercy are so plainly in a close relationship, and are brought along God dispenses justice in a right of discretion. so cordially together in the Scripture, intertwining both as forces of good in the government and governmental character of God, I most freely admit the necessity that God’s justice should be maintained in the highest possible 281degree of emphasis. It is necessary to God’s administrative character. As regards that character, he can as well be perfect in a shortened benevolence, as in a restricted and diminished justice. Or if we look only at the defenses of law, and the motivities at work for the regaining of souls, it is a matter of the highest necessity, that there should be no appearance of slackness in God, and that his justice should be kept fast in the loftiest, most sovereign pitch of firmness possible. And what is this? Is it the truest firmness of justice that it is itself fast bound by the letter, having no liberty but to exact precisely the pound of flesh, suffering no reduction? Is the weight of God’s justice heaviest, when it is according to some formally exact standard of measurement conceived for it by theologic opinion—a standard it must meet, in order to be itself justified? Must He be a precisionist in order to be passed as just? On the contrary he seems to me to be most grandly just, when he holds his firmness in a certain way of liberty—most grandly merciful too, when he dispenses mercy, as one taking counsel of justice. He should seem, in his justice, to say that he will suffer no jot or tittle of the law to fail; and then to make the saying still more certainly good, he should, for the law’s sake, add such argument of love and mercy, as will restore both jot and tittle and, if possible, the whole broken body of the law. Nothing goes highest in God’s attributes, when it loses out the chance of liberty and discretionary counsel. Not even the righteousness of God will be fitly expressed, when 282his eternal liberty, in the principle, is hampered by the letter, in his penal enforcements.
We shall conceive this subject most worthily, I think, if we revert a moment to first principles in the Justice dispensed by natural law. universal order. Saying nothing here by of justice, as regarding its necessities, or ends, or the vindicatory character, or the vindicatory function it discharges in the matter of government, let us look directly at the single point of executive certainty and firmness, in the way of dispensing justice. And here we shall very soon convince ourselves, it appears to me, that God has not undertaken to dispense justice by direct infliction, but by a law of natural consequence. He has connected thus, with our moral and physical nature, a law of reaction, by which any wrong of thought, feeling, disposition, or act, provokes a retribution exactly fitted to it and, with qualifications already given, to the desert of it. And this law is just like every law of natural order inviolable, not subject to suspension, or discontinuance, even by miracle itself. And justice is, in this view, a fixed principle of order, as truly as the laws of the heavenly bodies.
This, too, seems to be the prevailing representation of the Scriptures; as when they testify that “the wages of sin is death;” “that whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;” that the rust of gold and silver, cankered in the hoards of covetousness, “shall eat the flesh as it were fire;” that by the law of the judgment itself, we “shall receive the things done in the body”—having them come back as tormentors; that talents 283improved shall be doubled, and talents misimproved “taken away;” that wickedness shall “go to its own place;” “go away;” “depart;” passing off henceforth to be with itself, and be “filled with its own devices.” A good many declarations of Scripture appear to speak of something more nearly inflictive; but it is better to conceive, in such cases, that the language is declarative only of what is coming to pass, by the fixed laws and causes of natural retribution,—which laws and causes have a self-propagating action without limit; for no disorder can issue itself in order.
And yet, as we have been saying, these same ordinances of justice are to go along with mercy and in some possible way of conjunction are to The natural law of justice never infringed by mercy. work out, with her, even redemption itself. But how is this? where is the possibility of this, without even a subverting, by mercy, of the retributive laws just described? Do I then subvert the law of gravity, when I lift a weight from the ground? or by kindling a fire, cause the smoke to ascend in spite of gravity? Or, when I forbid the simples of gunpowder to unite in the touch of fire, by throwing a water-bath on them, do I therefore overthrow, because I so decisively dominate in, the chemical affinities concerned? Were not all these laws and affinities intended to be just so far submitted to my will? If then, by my will, acting in among them, they are brought to act in serviceable ways, as they otherwise would not, or not to act at all, is their nature therefore violated, or their law discontinued?3737Vide, Nature and the Supernatural, p. 58, §§.284
No more are the ordinances of justice overturned, when mercy comes to them and blends her action with Mercy only interacts supernaturally with justice. theirs. The executive laws of justice are natural; the person of Christ, his character, all the moral power he obtains in human feeling by his action, his beautiful life, his death of sacrifice, is supernatural. This kind of power too, working in men’s hearts and dispositions, any one can see does not stop the causative forces of retribution working in the same. It only works in with them, as a qualifying agency. The same of course will be true, when the Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ—the same things—and, showing them inwardly, brings them into such highest power as they may exercise. Accordingly, when the mercy of the sacrifice, working in thus with and among the retributive causes of justice, issues a result which neither she nor they could issue alone, it no more follows that the order of justice is violated, than that nature’s law of gravity, or chemical affinity is violated, in the examples just given. Still the justice-law goes on, doing exactly what was given it to do, only so far co-working or working in with mercy, as it was originally meant to do. Even as Christ came to nature in miracle, as a higher first term, doing all his mighty works without stopping, or suspending any law,3838Nature and the Supernatural, Chapter IX. so, much more easily may it be true, that his new creating and delivering work of mercy, operating only as by moral power, falls in conjunctively among the retributive causes of nature, and without 285any discontinuance turns them to a serviceable office, in accomplishing its own great designs. Still they work on, subject to the fixed law of justice, which is neither subverted nor suspended, and never will be. It even assists the conversion of men, by acting strictly in character, as a condemning and slaying power.
Let us turn our thoughts then, for a moment, upon the relative working of these two forces, so generally considered to be wholly contrary and In their relative working they magnify each other. mutually destructive of each other, and see how they both get honor and sublimity together, when God has his liberty in them and wields them as in counsel; for he does it in a way to confirm and magnify both, never to diminish or weaken either. Thus, when we go out into life, the retributive causes of nature roll out their heavy caisson with us, and drag it down the road, making no stop, and turning never aside more than do the stars; and mercy comes out also in her soft gait and tender look of sorrow to go with us, in like faithful company. She looks upon the dread machine, goes before it, goes behind it, blesses nature’s inflexible order in it; only putting on the soul itself her secret, supernatural touch, and the soft inward baptism of her feeling—even that which she has unfolded so powerfully in the facts of the cross—and dewing it thus with her tender mitigations, keeps it in the possibility of good; while the retributive causes go their way, and do their work, not arrested in their action, but only qualified resultantly, by 286the different kind of action blended with them. Finally the subject, quailing often, as in guilty dread, under the condemning justice, and drawn by the softening ministrations of mercy, comes to that final crisis, where he is either born, or never to be born of God.
If it be the first, then, as he is born of God—partly by the quickening power of mercy, and partly by the Conversion by their joint action. slaying power of justice—the retributive causes begin to have a kind of action qualified by the now sovereign action of mercy. Instead of bearing every thing along in their own way, they consent, as it were, to roll under, giving now their much needed help to the dear co-factor whose triumph they have helped already, by continuing on, to do as in discipline, what before they were doing as in penal enforcement, and thundering as sublimely still below the horizon, as then they did above. The new born disciple is imperfect, and they now fall in to have a chastening agency, for the correcting of such imperfections. And how dreadful, in severity sometimes, are these after-storms of discipline, that cross the track of the justified. It is even as if some mighty Nimrod, hunting in the shepherd’s field, were setting his fierce dogs upon the straying ones, to chase them back to his fold.
Another stage arrives. Made ready for the change, they die and so at last go clear both of penalty and Salvation glorifies justice. discipline together; only with such a sense, made fast in them, of the eminent majesty and immovable worth and truth of God’s justice, that they would even feel it less profoundly, under 287the distracting smart of its eternal pains themselves. They go home thus to God, to hide as lovingly in the bosom of his justice, as is any other of His tenderest attributes. And then how much forever does it mean, to chant the honors of justice—“even so, Lord God Almighty, just and true are thy judgments.”
Go back now to the point of crisis and conceive it to be turned the other way,—that the transgressor growing penally hardened under the retributive Judgment vindicates mercy. causes of his nature, pushes finally bye his day of rescue. Still the mercy clings to him, whispering still its “come,” to mitigate the natural hardness and bitterness of his now incorrigible transgression. In due time comes the last change also here. Christ, who was the Saviour, is now the Judge, and he makes not the law simply, but the very principle of his cross and sacrifice too the standard of his judgment sentence. Every thing is included in this—“Ye did it not to me;” did it not, that is, in doing acts of mercy to “the least of these” little ones of their Master. And so the justice, working in God’s causes, becomes itself the lictor and everlasting vindicator of mercy—not of legal statutes only, but of all Christly possibility and example; piling on additions of penalty, as much more severe, as the ill desert of wrong is now become more aggravated and appalling. Not that justice now has forever extirpated mercy by its judicial ascendancy. Rather is it become the body guard of mercy forever—fencing not away any soul from it that will come to it for life, but maintaining the inviolable order of that pure society it 288has undertaken to gather. Mercy will never be dead though it may be finally displaced; for mercy is a part of God, and God will never be thought as having let the cup dry up in his bosom, to indulge himself only in the wrathful severities of justice. Still God is love—always to be love—only the. retributions of justice will be now so branded in, that no one turns himself to the love; holding still fast the “congenial horrors” that are so firmly fastened upon him, by his everlastingly persistent choices.
Now if any one imagines that God’s eternal justice will be more effectually magnified, by running its career of penalty straight through, punishing the jot and tittle of wrong, by the jot and tittle of penalty, and even exacting the jot and tittle of satisfaction, before it can suffer forgiveness itself to forgive; I confess it does not so appear to me. I see no honor accruing to God’s justice when it mortgages his whole nature beside; rather is it greatest, when he maintains it in a certain liberty, counseling for it and working his great ends of counsel by it. Nay it will be greatest, when it is closest in companionship with mercy, thundering strong help in the wars of her subduing ministry, and then avenging her rejected goodness at the close.
In just the same way it might be shown, going over the ground again, that mercy never bears so grand a Both most honorable when working together. look, or moves so majestically, as when she takes counsel of justice. No man is ever so magnificently just as he that can be even tenderly merciful, no man so truly merciful 289as one that can hold steadily exact the balance of truth and justice. Our highest impressions of God’s justice are obtained, when we conceive it as the partly discretionary dispensation of a mind in the tenderness and loving patience of the cross; our highest impressions of his mercy, when we conceive it as the wonderful sacrifice to which even his justice allows him to bend. Little honor then does any one pay to God’s judicial majesty, in a scheme of satisfaction that takes away his right of discretion, and requires him to stand for his exact equivalent of pain, according to the count of arithmetic.
In this exposition of the antagonism between justice, and mercy, I have said nothing of what may even be taken as being, in a certain view, their They even coalesce at the root. radical union. It is a little remarkable how near many writers will come to this conclusion, when treating of the harmony of God’s attributes, who will yet, when treating of atonement, represent God’s justice and mercy in a thoroughly grim aspect of collision. Take the following very respectable example:—“Wherefore we must so conceive of them as that, in all respects, they may be consistent and harmonious; as that his wisdom may not clash with his goodness, nor his goodness with his wisdom; as that his mercy may not jostle with his justice, nor his justice with his mercy; that is we must conceive of him to be as wise as he can be with infinite goodness, as good as he can be with infinite wisdom, as just as he can be with infinite mercy, as merciful as he can be with infinite 290justice. For to be wise beyond what is good, is craft; to be good beyond what is wise, is dotage; to be just beyond what is merciful, is rigor; to be merciful beyond what is just, is easiness; that is, they are all imperfection, so far as they are beyond what is perfect. Wherefore we ought to be very careful not to represent these his moral perfections as running a tilt at one another; but to conceive them altogether as one entire perfection; which, though it exerts itself in different ways, and actions, and operates diversely, according to the diversities of its objects, and accordingly admits of different names, such as wisdom, goodness, justice, and mercy, yet is in itself but one simple and indivisible principle of action.”3939Scott’s Works, Vol. II., p. 204. The assumption appears to be that all God’s attributes, being at one in his righteousness, may so far condition each other as to maintain a measurely and helpful working with each other. Where then shall we put the case of one totally blocking another, and refusing to allow a step of movement till it has gotten its complete satisfaction? And if justice may block the way of mercy, why may not mercy as properly block the way of justice? To say, in such a case, that both “are one simple and indivisible principle of action” does not appear to be very significant. What we call love does itself require justice to be done, in a certain contingency, because it is necessary to the fit maintenance of law, and the order and safety of God’s kingdom. What we call mercy is agreed by all to be the natural behest of love. Justice and mercy therefore, 291both alike, are so far forms of love. Again the same is true of righteousness, or right-this requires both justice and mercy; for no being can ever think himself righteous, who does not exercise mercy where mercy is possible—“faithful and just” [righteous,] says an apostle “to forgive us our sins.”40401 John i. 9. God will be just, retributively, because he is righteous. He will also be merciful and forgiving, because he is righteous.
In our own human judgments, we strike into this conception readily, however difficult it may be to find how the two are compatible. A distinguished A fact for illustration. English preacher, traveling in the country, is stopped by a highwayman demanding his purse. He descends composedly from his horse, and falling on his knees, offers a prayer for the guilty man, that he may be regained to a better mode of life. Rising he says—“Now go home with me and take the place I will give you in my family, never to be exposed, always to be cared for, there to win a character and be known from this time forth, God helping you, as a Christian man.” The offer is accepted, the promise fulfilled, and the man is known from that time forth, as an example of fidelity and true piety towards God; only giving the story himself many years after, on the death of his benefactor. Has it ever occurred to any one that, in such benefaction, he was not a righteous man? Had he ever a scruple himself that he was not? Was he not also a man who, in a different case, where no such opportunity of mercy was left, would stand 292firmly by the laws, and the rigid execution of justice? Did he ever even think to accuse himself, as being in the fault of laxity concerning justice? And yet he appears, when judged by the judicial analogies, to have become accessory after the fact, by concealing the crime committed; or if not accessory, to have been guilty of compounding a felony. What then shall we say of him, but that, being a simply righteous man, he thought of something juster than political justice; viz., to forgive, recover, and save?
Practically then, however we may speculate on the subject, we have no difficulty in allowing the compatibility Analogy in the correlation of forces. of justice and mercy, and regarding them rather as complementary than contrary, one to the other. May we not even suspect that it is with them, much as it is in what is now called “the correlation of forces?” They seem indeed to be, and in fact really are, very different one from the other—what can be more unlike in one view, than the severities of God’s justice, and the benignities of his mercy?—and yet, as we are shown that motion is heat or convertible into it, and heat into motion, and both into light, and all into chemical affinity, and as all these forces, externally viewed so very unlike, are even radically one and the same, it should not be difficult to allow that the antagonism of these coordinate factors in religion, so greatly magnified hitherto, is after all a case of identity rather—not of identity in the experience, but of identity in the root and causative force in which they spring. Is there not as good reason 293to imagine that motion is hurrying away from light, and light pitching into chemical affinity, and this using up the heat of the planet so that by and by the stability and habitable order of it will be gone? and should we not set ourselves, in the same way, to find how the Creator is going to make compensations to the forces, for the losses they suffer from each other? And yet behold no single pennyweight is lost, for all the forces are one!
On the whole this matter of a contrived compensation to justice, which so many take for a gospel, appears to me to contain about the worst reflection Compensation theories issued in mock truths. upon God’s justice that could be stated, without some great offense against reverence; for in whatever manner the compensation, or judical satisfaction, is conceived to be made, in the suffering of Christ, we shall find every thing pushed off the basis of truth. The justice satisfied is satisfied with injustice! the forgiveness prepared is forgiveness on the score of pay! the judgment-day award disclaims the fact of forgiveness after payment made, and even refuses to be satisfied, taking payment again! What meantime has become of the penalties threatened, and where is the truth of the law? The penalties threatened, as against wrong doers, are not to be executed on them, because they have been executed on a right doer! viz., Christ. And it is only in some logically formal, or theologically fictitious, sense, that they are executed even on him. Many of the best teachers, it is true, have maintained that God’s threatenings do 294not amount to a pledge of his veracity;4141Discourses and Treatises by Dr. Park. Introductory Essay, p. 16. and it is very true that no one will complain of any lack of veracity, in the fact that they are not executed against him, as he might where a promise of good is not fulfilled in his favor. Still there is obviously something due to God’s dignity in the matter. Allowing that, in some given case, he might safely do better by a transgressor than to execute the threatened penalty, it is very plain that an attempt to rule in the general, by a mere vaporing of penalty, or by penalties always to be remitted, would indicate a want of system and magistrative firmness, too closely resembled to a want of truth, to allow any solid title to respect.
If it should be objected that as much defect of truth is implied in the mitigations of law and justice, under the plan I have sketched, it is enough to answer that no mitigations are made which were not implicitly understood in the verbal threatenings themselves. These threatenings only declared in general what the grand causalities of justice were bringing to pass, acting by themselves; and the specific variations to be issued by the interactions of mercy show no abandonment of justice, and support no charge of discrepancy, as long as the retributive causalities continue under their naturally immutable laws. First there is a natural order of justice, then there is a supernatural order of mercy interacting with it. And the working of the two is so difficult to be traced, so complex in its modes and issues, that no judicial sanction could be verbally stated, that 295is more exact or closer to the truth of justice, than that which is in fact asserted in the penalties denounced. Why then should any fault of truth be felt, when there is no vaporing in terrorem, or shuffling in contraries, but only a regular going on of justice and mercy—the natural order and the supernatural—moving with locked hands, sometimes issuing a deliverance, and sometimes a finality of retribution; neither, at all, violating the other as an everlasting and fixed ordinance, and both even helping each other into a range of dignity and power otherwise unattainable. The forgivenesses promised are not emptied of sound reality as such, by the fact that they are legally paid for. The perils of justice are the real perils of real justice, not of justice satisfied. What mercy can do, and what justice will, is clear as the nature of both; for both stand fast together, as they have eternally, in God’s unchangeable righteousness.296
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