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§ 12. Justice.

A. Meaning of the Word.

The word justice, or righteousness, is used in Scripture sometimes in a wider and sometimes in a more restricted sense. In theology, it is often distinguished as justitia interna, or moral excellence, and justitia externa, or rectitude of conduct. In Hebrew צַדִּיק means, in a physical sense, straight; and in a moral sense, right, what is as it should be. And צְדָקָה means rightness, that which satisfies the demands of rectitude or law. The Greek word δίκαιος has the physical sense of equal; and the moral sense of, conformed to what is right; and δικαιοσύνη is either that which divides equally, i.e., equity in the moral sense, or that which satisfies the demands of right. The Latin justus and justitia are commonly used in the wide sense for what is right, or as it should be. Cicero448448De Finibus, v. 23, 65, edit. Leipzig, 1850, p. 1042. defines justitia as “animi affectio suum cuique tribuens.” This definition he elsewhere amplifies, saying: “Justitia erga Deos religio, erga parentas pietas, creditis in rebus fides, in moderatione animadvertendi lenitas, amicitia in benevolentia nominatur.449449Partitiones Oratoriæ, 22, 78, edit. ut sup. p. 194.

When we regard God as the author of our moral nature, we conceive of Him as holy; when we regard Him in his dealings with his rational creatures, we conceive of Him as righteous. He is a righteous ruler; all his laws are holy, just, and good. In his moral government He faithfully adheres to those laws. He is impartial and uniform in their execution. As a judge he renders unto every man according to his works. He neither condemns the innocent, nor clears the guilty; neither does He ever punish with undue severity. Hence the justice of God is distinguished as rectoral, or that which is concerned in the imposition of righteous laws and in their impartial execution; and distributive, or that which is manifested in the righteous distribution of rewards and punishment. The Bible constantly represents God as a righteous ruler and a just judge. These two aspects of his character, or of our relation to Him, are not carefully distinguished. We have the assurance which runs through the Scriptures, that “The judge of all the earth” must “do right.” (Gen. xviii. 25.) “God is a righteous judge.” (Ps. vii. 11, marginal reading.) “He shall judge the world with righteousness.” (Ps. xcvi. 13.) “Clouds 417and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” (Ps. xcvii. 2.) Notwithstanding all the apparent inequalities in the distribution of his favours; notwithstanding the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous, the conviction is everywhere expressed that God is just; that somehow and somewhere He will vindicate his dealings with men, and show that He is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works.

B. Justice in its Relation to Sin.

As the sense of guilt is universal among men, and as the manifestations of sin are so constant and pervading, it is mainly in its relation to sin that the justice of God is revealed. Hence many theologians define the justice of God as that attribute of his nature which is manifested in the punishment of sin. Goodness, it is said, is manifested in bestowing good, and justice in the infliction of punishment. Schleiermacher says, “Justice is that causality in God which connects suffering with actual sin.”450450Christlichen Glaube, § 84, Works, Berlin, 1843, vol. iv. p. 465. Schweizer says, “We know God as just only through the punishment of sin.” Hegel says, “The manifestation of the nothingness of the finite as power, is justice.” This is the philosophical, statement of the principle that “Might is Right,” a principle which underlies the morals and religion of the modern philosophy.

C. The Reformation of the Offender is not the Primary Object of Punishment.

As the justice of God is specially manifested in the punishment of sin, it is of primary importance to determine why sin is punished.

One prevalent theory on this subject is, that the only legitimate end of punishment is the reformation of the offender.

It is of course to be admitted, that the good of the offender is often the ground or reason why evil is inflicted. A father chastises a child in love, and for its good. And God, our heavenly Father, brings suffering upon his children for their edification. But evil inflicted for the benefit of the sufferer, is chastisement, and not punishment. Punishment, properly speaking, is evil inflicted in satisfaction of justice.

That the good of the sufferer is not the primary end of the infliction of punishment, is proved : —

1. Because the punishment of the wicked is always, in the Scriptures, referred to the anger of God, and the chastisement of 418his people to his love. The cases, therefore, are not analogous. This difference of representation is designed to teach us that the wicked and the good do not stand in the same relation to God, as objects of benevolence; but that the one He punishes to testify his disapprobation and satisfy his justice, and the other He chastises to bring them nearer to Himself.

2. In many cases the nature of the punishment precludes the possibility of the good of the offender being the ground of its infliction. The deluge, the destruction of the cities of the plain, and the overthrow of Jerusalem, were certainly not designed for the benefit of the men who suffered from those desolating inflictions. Much less can it be assumed that the punishment of the fallen angels, and of the finally impenitent, is intended to be reformatory.

3. Scripture and experience both teach that suffering, when of the nature of punishment, has no tendency to reform. When suffering is seen to come from a father’s hand, and to be a manifestation of love, it has a sanctifying power; but when it comes from the hand of God, as a judge and an avenger, and is the expression of displeasure and a proof of our alienation from God, its tendency is to harden and to exasperate. Hence the Apostle says, that so long as men are under condemnation, they bring forth fruit unto sin; and that, only when reconciled to God and assured of his love, do they bring forth fruit unto God. The great New Testament prophet, in his vision of the world of woe, represents the lost as gnawing their tongues with pain and blaspheming God. The denunciation of punishment is addressed to fear, but fear is not the principle of genuine obedience.

4. On this subject, appeal may be fairly made to the common consciousness of men. Such is our moral hebetude that it is only glaring offences which awaken our moral sensibilities, and reveal their true nature. When any great crime is committed, there is an instinctive and universal demand for the punishment of the criminal. No man can pretend that the desire for his reformation is the feeling which prompts that demand. That is not so much as thought of. It is the instinctive judgment of the mind that he ought to suffer. It is not benevolence towards him which calls for the infliction of punishment.

D. The Prevention of Crime is not the Primary End of Punishment.

The doctrine that the only legitimate end of punishment is the prevention of crime, has had great prevalence in the Church and 419the world. It is the common doctrine of jurists. It is, of course, to be conceded that the good of society and of the moral government of God, is one important end of punishment in all governments, human or divine. It is, however, rather an important collateral effect of the administration of justice, than its immediate design. The doctrine in question merges justice into benevolence. According to this way of thinking, it is only because God has a view to the happiness of his rational creatures, that He visits sin within punishment. This doctrine was adopted by some of the early fathers. In answer to the objection that the Bible represented God as a vindictive being, because it speaks of his anger and of his determination to punish, they said that He punished only out of benevolence. Thus Clemens Alexandrinus451451Pædagogus, I. viii; edit. Cologne, 1688, p. 114, c. and p. 115. says, “Men ask how God can be good and kind if He is angry and punishes? They should remember that punishment is for the good of the offender and for the prevention of evil.” And Tertullian452452Adversus Marcionem, II. 10; edit. Basel, 1562, p. 179, seu II. 13; edit. Leipzig, 1841, iii. p. 90. Bibliotheca, Gersdorf, vol. vi. says: “Omne hoc justitiæ opus procuratio bonitatis est.” Origen,453453De Principiis, II. v. 3; edit. Paris, 1733, vol. i. p. 88, a. also to the same effect, says: “Ex quibus omnibus constat, unum eundemque esse justum et bonum legis et evangeliorum Deum, et benefacere cum justitia et cum bonitate punire.

Many later theologians take the same view. Leibnitz defines justice to be benevolence guided by wisdom. Wolf, who modified the whole system of theology in accordance with the philosophy of Leibnitz, adopted the same view. So did Stapfer,454454Institutiones, i. 153; edit. Tiguri, 1743, p. 154. who says: “Quando Deus ejusmodi malum triste ex peccato necessario se quens creaturæ accidere sinit, . . . . dicitur peccatorem punire, et hoc sensu ipsi tribuitur justitia vindicativa. In justitia punitiva bonitas cum sapientia administratur.455455Ibid. i. p. 154. Notio justititæ resolvitur in notionem sapientiæ et bonitatis.” Grotius, the jurist, makes this idea of justice the fundamental principle of his great work, “De Satisfactione Christi.”

The Optimist Theory.

In this country the same view has been extensively adopted, and made, as it must of necessity be, the controlling principle of those systems of theology in which it is incorporated. It is assumed that happiness is the greatest good; and hence that the purpose 420and desire to promote happiness is the sum of all virtue. From this it follows, that this world, the work of a God of infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, must be the best possible world for the production of happiness; and, therefore, the permission of sin, and its punishment, must be referred to the benevolence of God. They are the necessary means for securing the greatest amount of happiness. If happiness be not the greatest good; if holiness be a higher end than happiness; if expediency be not the ground and measure of moral obligation, it is obvious that this whole structure collapses.

Proof of the Scriptural Doctrine.

It is admitted that happiness is promoted by justice, and therefore that it is contrary to a wise benevolence that men should be allowed to sin with impunity. But justice cannot properly be merged into benevolence. And that the promotion of happiness by the prevention of crime is not the primary end of the infliction of punishment, is evident, —

1. From the testimony of every man’s consciousness. Every man knows that benevolence and justice, as revealed in his own consciousness, are different sentiments. The one prompts to the promotion of happiness, the other involves the instinctive judgment, that a criminal ought to suffer for his crime. We do not stop to ask, or to think, what may be the collateral effect on others of the infliction of punishment. Anterior to such reflection, and independent of it, is the intuitive perception, that sin should be punished, for its own sake, or on account of its inherent ill-desert. These instinctive moral judgments are as clear and as trustworthy revelations of the nature of God as can possibly be made. They force conviction in spite of all speculative sophistries. Every man knows the righteous judgment of God, that those who sin are worthy of death. If justice and benevolence are distinct in us, they are distinct in God. If we, in obedience to the nature which He has given us, intuitively perceive or judge that sin ought to be punished for its own sake, and irrespective of the good effect punishment may have on others, then such also is the judgment of God. This is the principle which underlies and determines all our ideas of the Supreme Being. If moral perfection be not in Him what it is in us, then He is to us an unknown something, and we use words without meaning when we speak of Him as holy, just, and good.


Argument from the Religious Experience of Believers.

2. This sense of justice, which is indestructible in the nature of man, and which, in common with reason and conscience, has survived the Fall, is not only revealed in the ordinary experience of men, but still more distinctly in their religious consciousness. What is commonly called “conviction of sin,” is only a modification, and higher form, of those inward experiences which are common to all men. All men know that they are sinners. They all know that sin, as related to the justice of God, is guilt, that which ought to be punished; and that, as related to his holiness, it renders us polluted and offensive in his sight. They also know, intuitively, that God is just as well as holy; and, therefore, that his moral perfection calls for the punishment of sin, by the same necessity by which He disapproves of and hates it. Under the pressure of these convictions, and the consciousness of their utter inability either to satisfy divine justice, or to free themselves from the defilement and power of sin, men either tremble in the constant looking for of judgment, or they look out of themselves for help. When, under either the common or saving operations of the Spirit of God, these sentiments are deepened, then their nature is more clearly revealed. A man, when thus convinced of sin, sees that not only would it be right that he should be punished, but that the justice, or moral excellence of God, demands his punishment. It is not that he ought to suffer for the good of others, or to sustain the moral government of God, but that he, as a sinner and for his sins sought to suffer. Were he the only creature in the universe, this conviction would be the same, both in nature and degree. Such is the experience of men under the conviction of sin, as recorded in the Scriptures and in the history of the Church. In many cases criminals under the pressure of these feelings have delivered themselves to the officers of justice to be punished. More frequently they resort to self-inflicted tortures to satisfy the clamors of conscience. We have, therefore, an inward revelation, which can neither be suppressed nor perverted, that justice is not benevolence.

The Sense of Justice not due to Christian Culture.

3. That this sense of justice is not due to Christian culture, or to the influence of peculiar forms of doctrine, but belongs to the common consciousness of men, is plain. (a.) Because it is impressed upon all human languages as far as known or cultivated. All languages have different words for justice and benevolence. 422There could not be this difference in the words, if the sentiments themselves were not different. Every one knows that when we say a man is just, we mean one thing; and when we say he is benevolent, we mean another thing. (b.) All history as it records the workings of human nature, reveals this innate sense of justice. We everywhere hear men calling for the punishment of offenders, or denouncing those who allow them to escape with impunity. No mass of men ever witness a flagrant act of cruelty or wrong without an irrepressible manifestation of indignation. The voice of nature, which in such cases is the voice of God, demands the punishment of the wrong-doer. (c.) In all religions which reveal the inward convictions of men, there are expiatory rites. Every sacrifice for sin, the smoke from every altar, which has been going up through all ages and from every part of the world, are so many attestations to the truth of reason and of Scripture, that there is such an attribute as justice in God, distinct from his benevolence.

Argument from the Holiness of God.

4. The truth of this doctrine may also be inferred from the holiness of God. If He is infinitely pure, his nature must be opposed to all sin; and as his acts are determined by his nature, his disapprobation of sin must manifest itself in his acts. But the disfavour of God, the manifestation of his disapprobation, is death, as his favour is life. It cannot be that this essential opposition between holiness and sin should be dependent for its manifestation on the mere ab extra consideration that evil would result from sin being allowed to go unpunished. It might as well be said that we should feel no aversion to pain, unless aware that it weakened our constitution. We do not approve of holiness simply because it tends to produce happiness; neither do we disapprove of sin simply because it tends to produce misery. It is inevitable, therefore, that the perfection of the infinitely holy God should manifest its opposition to sin, without waiting to judge of the consequences of the expression of this divine repugnance.

5. The doctrine that the prevention of crime is the only legitimate end of punishment, or that there is no such attribute in God as justice, as distinguished from benevolence, rests on the assumption, before remarked upon, that all virtue consists in benevolence; which again rests on the assumption that happiness is the highest good; which makes expediency the ground of moral obligation, and the rule of moral conduct. It is indeed a solecism to use the word moral in such connections, for, on this theory, the word has no 423meaning. A thing may be wise or unwise, expedient or inexpedient, but in no other sense right or wrong. Wrong becomes right, and right becomes wrong, as the greater amount of happiness flows from the one or from the other. As this utilitarian theory of morals has been banished from the schools of philosophy, it should be banished from systems of theology.

Argument from the Connection between Sin and Misery.

6. The inseparable connection between sin and misery is a revelation of the justice of God. That holiness promotes happiness is a revelation of the relation in which God stands to holiness; and that sin produces misery is no less a revelation of the relation in which He stands to moral evil. This constitution of things depending on the nature and will of God, proves that sin is evil in its own nature, and is punished for its own sake. The law of God which includes a penalty as well as precepts, is in both a revelation of the nature of God. If the precepts manifest his holiness, the penalty as clearly manifests his justice. If the one is immutable, so also is the other. The wages of sin is death. Death is what is due to it in justice, and what without injustice cannot be withheld from it. If the prevention of crime were the primary end of punishment, then if the punishment of the innocent, the execution, for example, of the wife and children of a murderer, would have a greater restraining influence than the punishment of the guilty murderer, their execution would be just. But this would shock the mural sense of men.

Argument from the Scriptural Doctrines of Satisfaction and Justification.

7. The Scriptural doctrines of satisfaction and justification rest on the principle that God is immutably just, i.e., that his moral excellence, in the case of sin, demands punishment, or expiation. The Bible clearly teaches the necessity of satisfaction to justice in order to the forgiveness of sin. Christ was set forth as a propitiation, in order that God might be just in justifying the ungodly. This assumes that it would be unjust, i.e., contrary to moral rectitude, to pardon the guilty without such a propitiation. This necessity for a satisfaction is never referred to expediency or to governmental considerations. If sin could have been pardoned, without a satisfaction. the Apostle says, Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. ii. 21.) If there could have been a law which could have given life, salvation would have been by the law (Gal. iii. 21.)


Moreover, if there is no such attribute in God as justice, as distinguished from benevolence, then there can be no such thing as justification. There may be pardon, as the act of a sovereign remitting a penalty and restoring an offender to favour; but no such thing as justification, as an act of a judge proceeding according to law and pronouncing the demands of justice satisfied. The Scriptures, however, according to the almost unanimous judgment of the Church, pronounce that justification is more than an act of executive clemency. Conscience is not satisfied with mere forgiveness. It is essential to peace with God, that the soul should see that justice is satisfied. This is the reason why the death of Christ, why his blood, is so inexpressibly precious in the eyes of his people. All the experience of the saints is a protest against the principle that expiation is unnecessary, that sin can be pardoned without a satisfaction of justice.

Paul’s Argument.

The whole argument of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Romans is founded on the principle that justice is a divine attribute distinct from benevolence. His argument is: God is just. All men are sinners. All, therefore, are guilty, i.e., under condemnation. Therefore no man can be justified, i.e., pronounced not guilty, on the ground of his character or conduct. Sinners cannot satisfy justice. But what they could not do, Christ, the Eternal Son of God, clothed in our nature, has done for them. He has brought in everlasting righteousness, which meets all the demands of the law. All those who renounce their own righteousness, and trust to the righteousness of Christ, God justifies and saves. This is the gospel as preached by Paul. It all rests on the assumption that God is just.

The doctrine of the vindicatory justice, which has this clear evidence of its truth, in the moral nature of man, in the religious experience of believers, and in the teaching and doctrines of the Scriptures, has ever been considered as a turning point in theology.

E. Philosophical Views of the Nature of Justice.

The teachings of the Scriptures, and the faith of the Church, so far as the divine attributes are concerned, are founded on the assumption that God is a personal Being. It is involved in that assumption, not only that He possesses intelligence and moral character, but that he thinks, feels, wills, and acts. It is, moreover, involved in the idea of personality, that thinking, feeling, willing, and acting in God, are, in all that is essential, analogous to what 425those terms signify in us. The modern philosophy, however, teaches that, if God be an absolute Being, thinking, feeling, willing, and acting are inconsistent with his nature. Hence, —

1. Some teach that God is only the original ground of beings having in Himself no distinctive attributes. What we call the attributes of God are only the attributes of finite creatures having the ground of their being in God. That they are intelligent, moral, voluntary agents, is no proof that the same is true of God. That the sun produces the sensation of heat in us is no proof that it experiences the same sensation. The attributes of God, therefore, are only different aspects of the causality in Him which produces different effects. Justice, then, is not an attribute of God; it is only the causality to which the connection between sin and suffering is to be referred.

2. Others, while insisting that personality, and all that it involves, are incompatible with the idea of an absolute Being, still maintain that we are constrained, and bound, to believe in the personality of God, on the authority of the Bible and of our own moral nature. But the Bible reveals, it is said, not absolute, but only regulative truth; not what He is, but what it is expedient for us to think He is. Justice in God, then, is for us what generosity in a fairy is for nursery children.

3. Others again, while they admit personality in God, make it a personality which precludes all willing, and all acting, except in the form of law, or general, uniform efficiency. Justice in God, therefore, is only a name for one form, or one mode, of the manifestation of the power of God. As it is to be referred to his ordination, or to his nature, that fire burns and acids corrode, so it is to be referred to his general efficiency that sin produces misery. There is no special intervention of God, when fire burns; and there is no special decision, or judgment on his part, when a sinner is punished. Punishment is not the execution of a sentence pronounced by an intelligent being on the merits of the case, but the operation of a general law. Bruch (Professor of Theology in the Theological Seminary in Strasbourg) is a representative of this mode of thinking. He professes Theism, or faith in a personal God, but he teaches that the attributes of God are nothing else (als die Modalitäten seiner ewigen Wirksamkeit) “than the modes if his constant efficiency.” Since among men justice is exercised in a succession of special acts, it is erroneously inferred that there is a like succession of acts of the will of God by which He approves or condemns. The great difficulty, he says, arises from judging 426of God after the analogy of our own nature. He admits that the Bible does this; that it constantly speaks of God as a righteous judge, administering justice according to his will. In this case, however, he adds, it is important to separate the real truth from the imperfection of its Scriptural form. Penalties are not evils inflicted by a special act of the divine will, but the natural consequences of sin, which cannot fail to manifest themselves. There is an organic connection between sin and evil. All the activity or agency of God is in the form of laws having their foundation in his nature. Thus justice is simply that law, or uniform mode of divine operation, by which sin is made its own punishment.456456See the section on the “Gerechtigkeit Gottes” in Bruch’s Lehre von den Göttlichen Eigenschaften, pp. 275-296. Hence there is no distinction between natural and positive inflictions; the deluge was either no punishment, or it was the natural consequence of the sins of the antediluvians. Hence, there is no such thing as forgiveness. The only possible way to remove the suffering is to remove the sin. But how is the sin of theft or murder to be removed? We can understand how pride or envy may be subdued and the suffering they occasion be escaped: but how can a past act be removed? A man hardened in sin suffers little or nothing for a special offence; the morally refined suffer indescribably. Thus, according to this theory, the better a man is, the more severely he is punished for his sin. Strauss is consistent enough to carry the principle out, and discard altogether the ideas of reward and punishment, as belonging to a low form of thought. He quotes and adopts the dictum of Spinoza: “Beatitudo non est virtutis præmium, sed ipsa virtus.

4. Scarcely distinguished from the doctrine last mentioned, is that presented by Dr. John Young.457457Light and Life of Men. His doctrine is that there are certain eternal and immutable laws arising out of the nature of things, independeimt of the will or nature of God, to which He is as much subject as his creatures. One of these laws is, that virtue produces happiness, and vice misery. The one is, therefore, rewarded, and the other punished, by the necessary and immutable operation of that law, and not by the will of God. God, therefore, ceases to be the ruler of the world. He is Himself subordinate to eternal and necessary laws. That this doctrine is at variance with the whole tenor of the Bible cannot be doubted. It is no less opposed to the dictates of our own moral and religious nature. It is revealed in that nature that we are subject, not to necessary and 427self-acting laws, but to an intelligent, personal God, to whom we are accountable for our character and conduct, and who rewards and punishes his creatures according to their works.

As a philosophical theory, this doctrine is much below the standard of the German theologians. For they, as far as they are Theists, admit that these immutable laws are determined by the nature of God, and are the uniform modes of his operation. Indeed, as God and his creatures exhaust the whole category of being, the “nature of things,” apart from the nature of God and of his creatures, seems to be a phrase without meaning. It is tantamount to the “nature of nonentity.”

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