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§ 4. Satisfaction rendered to Justice.
The second point involved in the Scriptural doctrine concerning he satisfaction of Christ is, that it was a satisfaction to the justice of God. This is asserted in all the Confessions above cited. And by justice is not meant simply general rectitude or rightness of character and action; nor simply rectoral justice, which consists in a due regard to the rights and interests of subjects in relation to rulers; much less does it mean commutative justice or honesty. It is admitted that the Hebrew word צַדִּיק, the Greek δίκαιος, the Latin justus, the English just or righteous, and their cognates, are used in all these senses both in Scripture and in ordinary life. But they are also used to express the idea of distributive or retributive justice; that form of moral excellence which demands the righteous distribution of rewards and punishments which renders it certain, under the government of God, that obedience will be rewarded and sin punished. This is also properly called, especially in its relation to sin, vindicatory justice, because it vindicates and maintains the right. Vindicatory and vindictive, in the ordinary sense of this latter term, are not synonymous. It is a common mistake or misrepresentation to confound these two words, and to represent those who ascribe to God the attribute of vindicatory justice as regarding Him as a vindictive being, thirsting for revenge. There is as much difference between the words and the ideas they express as there is between a righteous judge and a malicious murderer. The question then is, Does the attribute of vindicatory justice belong to God? Does his infinite moral excellence require that sin should be punished on account of its own inherent demerit, irrespective of the good effects which may flow from such punishment? Or is justice what Leibnitz defines it to be, “Benevolence guided by wisdom.” It is admitted that the work of Christ was in some 490sense a satisfaction; that it satisfied in some way the exigencies of the case, or the conditions necessary to the salvation of man. It is further, at least generally, admitted that it was in some sense a satisfaction of justice. This being the case, everything depends on what is meant by justice. If justice is “benevolence guided by wisdom,” or a benevolent disposition on the part of a ruler to sustain his authority as a means of promoting the happiness of his. kingdom, then the work of Christ is one thing. It may be simply a means of reformation, or of moral impression. But if justice is that perfection of the divine nature which renders it necessary that. the righteous be rewarded and the wicked punished, then the work of Christ must be a satisfaction of justice in that sense of the term. The question, therefore, concerning “the nature of the atonement” depends on the question whether there is in God such an attribute as distributive or vindicatory justice. This question has already been discussed when treating of the attributes of God. All that is necessary here is a brief recapitulation of the arguments there presented, —
1. We ascribe intelligence, knowledge, power, holiness, goodness, and truth to God, (a.) Because these are perfections which belong to our own nature, and must of necessity belong to Him in whose image we were created. (b.) Because these attributes are all manifested in his works. (c.) Because they are all revealed in his Word. On the same grounds we ascribe to God justice; that. is, the moral excellence which determines Him to punish sin and reward righteousness. The argument in this case is not only of the same kind, but of the same cogency. We are just as conscious of a sense of justice as we are of intelligence or of power. This consciousness belongs to man as man, to all men in all ages and under all circumstances. It must, therefore, belong to the original constitution of their nature. Consequently it is as certain that God is just, in the ordinary sense of that word, as that He is intelligent or holy.
2. The Spirit of God in convincing a man of sin convinces him of guilt as well as of pollution. That is, He convinces him of his desert of punishment. But a sense of a desert of punishment is a conviction that we ought to be punished; and this is of necessity attended with the persuasion that, under the righteous government of God, the punishment of sin is inevitable and necessary. They who sin, the Apostle says, know the righteous judgment of God, that they are worthy of death.
3. The justice of God is revealed in his works, (a.) In the constitution 491of our nature. The connection between sin and misery is so intimate that many have gone to the extreme of teaching that there is no other punishment of sin but its natural effects. This is contrary to fact as well as to Scripture. Nevertheless it is true that to be “carnally minded is death,” that is, damnation. There is no help for it. It is vain to say that God will not punish sin when He has made sin and its punishment inseparable. The absence of light is darkness; the absence of life is death; (b.) It is, however, not only in the constitution of our nature, but also in all his works of providence, that God has revealed his purpose to punish sin. The deluge; the destruction of the cities of the plain; the overthrow of Jerusalem and the dispersion and long-continued degradation of the Jewish people; the ruins of Nineveh, of Babylon, of Tyre and Sidon, and of Egypt; and the present condition of many of the nations of the earth, as well as the general administration of the divine government, are proof enough that God is an avenger, that He will in no wise spare the guilty.
4. The Scriptures so constantly and so variously teach that God is just, that it is impossible to present adequately their testimony on the subject. (a.) We have the direct assertions of Scripture. Almost the first words which God spoke to Adam were, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” The angels who sinned are reserved in chains unto the judgment of the great lay. Death is declared to be the wages, i.e., the proper recompense of sin, which justice demands that it should receive. God is declared to be a consuming fire. Men can no more secure themselves from the punishment of their sins, by their own devices, than they can save themselves from a raging conflagration by a covering of chaff. The penalty of the law is as much a revelation of the nature of God as its precept is. As He cannot, consistently with his perfections, exonerate men from the obligation of obedience, so He cannot allow them to sin with impunity. It is, therefore, declared that He will reward every man according to his works. (b.) All the divinely ordained institutions of religion, whether Patriarchal, Mosaic, or Christian, were founded on the assumption of the justice of God, and were designed to impress that great truth in the minds of men. They take for granted that men are sinners; and that, being sinners, they need expiation for their guilt as well as moral purification, in order to salvation. Sacrifices, therefore, were instituted from the beginning to teach the necessity of expiation and to serve as prophetic types of the only effectual expiation which, in the fulness of time, was to be offered for the sins of men. 492Without the shedding of blood (i.e., without vicarious punishment) there is no remission. This is recorded, not merely as a fact under the Mosaic dispensation, but as embodying a principle valid under all dispensations. It is not, therefore, this or that declaration of Scripture, or this or that institution which must be explained away if the justice of God be denied, but the whole form and structure of the religion of the Bible. That religion as the religion for sinners rests on the assumption of the necessity of expiation. This is its corner-stone, and the whole fabric falls into ruin if that stone be removed. That God cannot pardon sin without a satisfaction to justice, and that He cannot have fellowship with the unholy, are the two great truths which are revealed in the constitution of our nature as well as in the Scriptures, and which are recognized in all forms of religion, human or divine. It is because the demands of justice are met by the work of Christ, that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that it is so unspeakably precious to those whom the Spirit of God has convinced of sin. (c.) We accordingly find that the plan of salvation as unfolded in the New Testament is founded on the assumption that God is just. The argument of the sacred writers is this: The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. That is, God is determined to punish sin. All men, whether Gentiles or Jews, are sinners. Therefore the whole world is guilty before God. Hence no man can be justified by works. It is a contradiction to say that those who are under condemnation for their character and conduct can be justified on the ground of anything they are or can do. There is no force in this argument unless there is a necessity for the punishment of sin. Human sovereigns pardon criminals; earthly parents forgive their children. If the penalty of the law could be as easily remitted in the divine government then it would not follow from the fact that all men are sinners that they cannot be forgiven on the ground of their repentance and reformation. The Scriptures, however, assume that if a man sins he must die. On this assumption all their representations and arguments are founded. Hence the plan of salvation which the Bible reveals supposes that the justice of God which renders the punishment of sin necessary has been satisfied. Men can be pardoned and restored to the favour of God, because Christ was set forth as an expiation for their sins, through faith in his blood because He was made a curse for us; because He died, the just for the unjust; because He bore our sins in his own body on the tree and because the penalty due to us was laid on Him. It is clear 493therefore, that the Scriptures recognize the truth that God is just, in the sense that He is determined by his moral excellence to punish all sin, and therefore that the satisfaction of Christ which secures the pardon of sinners is rendered to the justice of God. Its primary and principal design is neither to make a moral impression upon the offenders themselves, nor to operate didactically on other intelligent creatures, but to satisfy the demands of justice; so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly.
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