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The arguments of Socinus against punitory justice weighed — A false hypothesis of his — Sins, in what sense they are debts — The first argument of Socinus, in which he takes for granted what ought to have been proved — A trifling supposition substituted for a proof — Whether that excellence by virtue of which God punishes sins be called justice in the Scriptures — The severity of God, what — Our opponent’s second argument — It labours under the same deficiency as the first — It is not opposite to mercy to punish the guilty — The mercy of God, what — There is a distinction between acts and habits — Our opponent confounds them — The mercy of God infinite, so also his justice — A distinction of the divine attributes — In pardoning sins through Jesus Christ, God hath exercised infinite justice and infinite mercy — The conclusion of the contest with Socinus.
In the third part and first chapter of his treatise, being determined to contend to his utmost against the satisfaction of Christ, he maintains “That God, consistently with his right, could pardon our sins without any real satisfaction received for them;” and he endeavours to support the assertion chiefly by the following argument, — namely, “That God is our creditor, that our sins are debts which we have contracted with him, but that every one may yield up his right, and more especially God, who is the supreme Lord of all, and extolled in the Scriptures for his liberality and goodness.” Hence, then, it is evident that God can pardon sins without any satisfaction received; and that he is inclined to do so, he uses his best endeavours afterward to prove.
But because he foresaw that his first supposition, the foundation of his whole future reasoning, was too much exposed and obnoxious to the divine justice, he labours hard in the first chapter to remove that out of the way entirely. Let us attend, then, to his reasoning, and follow him step by step: for if he have not insuperably, and beyond all confutation, proved that God can forgive sins without a satisfaction, what he afterward argues concerning the will, liberality, 575and mercy of God will become of no weight or consideration; yea, the foundation being destroyed, the whole edifice or Babylonish tower must instantly tumble to the ground. He thus proceeds:—
“But you will say, ‘It is necessary that God should take care to satisfy his justice, which he cannot even himself renounce, unless he in a manner deny himself.’ ”
Ans. You are right, Socinus. We do affirm, agreeably to the holy Scriptures, that the justice of God is in such a manner natural to him, that if it be necessary that he should preserve the glory of his essential attributes undiminished, he cannot but indispensably exact the punishment of every sin and transgression of his law, and render a just recompense of reward to all sinners, or to their surety; and, therefore, we contend that without a satisfaction made no one could obtain the remission of sins and eternal salvation. Let us see, Socinus, what you have to oppose to this.
“All along, from the beginning of this answer,” says he, “I have sufficiently shown that that justice which you contend ought at all events to be satisfied is not inherent in God, but is the effect of his own will; for when God punishes sinners, that we may call this work of his by some worthy name, we say that he then exerciseth justice: wherefore, there is no need that God should either provide for the satisfaction of that justice or renounce it.”
Ans. We have already considered what Socinus says in the beginning of his treatise against the justice of God. If I mistake not, we have shown that the heretic has lost his labour, and that it is far beyond his power to dethrone the Deity; for “he sitteth in the throne judging righteously.”153153 Ps. ix. 4. But we, diminutive beings, have not first, or of our own accord, maintained that God is just, and that he exerciseth justice in the punishment of sinners, “that we might call his work by some worthy name.” But the Judge of all the earth himself, the God of truth, in almost innumerable places, gives this testimony of himself in the sacred records; and these ought always to be the only, as they are the infallible, guide of our judgments.
Distrusting, then, what he had formerly asserted (or it being manifestly of no weight), he attempts again by other sophisms to establish the reasoning which he had formerly begun. And he thus proceeds:—
“But besides the arguments which I have already used to prove that that justice is not inherent in God, it chiefly appears from this, that were it naturally resident in God, he could never pardon not even the least transgression to any one; for God never doth any thing, nor can do any thing, that is opposite to the qualities inherent in him. As, for instance, as wisdom and equity are naturally inherent in God, that justice never doth or can do any thing contrary to wisdom and equity, as we have seen above,” etc.
576The intelligent reader can easily perceive that Socinus proves nothing by this argument, but that he even absurdly adds heap upon heap to his own supposition; or that with a bold effrontery, he takes for granted the thing to be determined. It is indeed our opinion, that God cannot pass the smallest sin unpunished; and that he cannot, because he can do nothing that is opposite to the qualities inherent in him. But this our opponent brings forward as a great absurdity, that must bear against us in support of his own cause; but without even any appearance of a proof. But we have before demonstrated the state of the matter to be thus, — That God neither actually pardons any sin without a satisfaction made, nor can pardon it, without an infringement of his justice, by which he condemns sinners as worthy of death. So that as God never doth nor can do the things which are opposite to his equity and wisdom, so he neither doth nor can do those which are opposite to his justice. But to pardon the sins of believers on account of the satisfaction of Christ, “whom he hath set forth as a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness,” is not opposite to his justice. But these seem absurdities to Socinus. And why should they not? for “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” But “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”154154 1 Cor. i. 18, 23, 24.
Yea, in common equity, nothing could be mentioned more inequitable and unwise than this would be opposite to justice, — namely, not to pardon those sins for which that justice hath been amply satisfied. And must, then, this heretic, not only for nothing, substitute his own most absurd, yea, execrable opinion, namely, “That Jesus Christ hath not made satisfaction for our sins, nor borne their punishment,” — that is, that he was not “made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” — an opinion neither proved, nor that will ever be proved to all eternity; but also insinuate it as a proof of another error, which that alone, it is evident, first begot in his mind? Indeed, I cannot sufficiently wonder that some, by the sophisms of such disputants, are so easily “removed unto another gospel,” forsaking “him that called them into the grace of Christ.”
“But that justice,” says Socinus, “which, as we have seen before, in the sacred writings is not called ‘justice,’ but ‘severity’ or ‘vengeance,’ or by some such name, so far as it is opposed to mercy is nothing else but to punish sins; but to punish sins and to pardon sins are entirely opposite to one another.”
A fine painter’s show-board, but void of truth.
Ans. What the adversary so often yelps out is totally without foundation, — namely, that that justice is never called by its proper 577name in the Scriptures. It is not only called by its own name, but is also called “purity” and “holiness,” which are essential attributes of the Deity. It is called “severity,” “vengeance,” and “anger,” but only improperly and analogically, and in respect of the effects which it produceth. What he asserts, too, of this justice, namely, that it is nothing else but to punish sin, — very improperly confounding a habit, an act, and an effect, — is altogether without foundation, and most absurd. “The Lord is just, and his judgments are righteous. The Judge of all the earth doeth right.” And, in fine, it is false that this justice is opposed to mercy; for it is beyond any doubt that different operations and effects may, in different views, be ascribed to one and the same righteous principle. To punish sins and to pardon sins, unless spoken in the same point of view, are not opposed to one another. God, indeed, pardons to us those sins which he punished in our surety: which “foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
Our opponent thus proceeds:— “If that justice be inherent in God, — that is, if there be any property in God which is altogether inclined expressly to punish any sins of mankind whatsoever, whether penitent or impenitent, — he neither spares nor can spare any one; for as to what your teachers in the church have devised, that according to this justice he can punish sin, even though the sinner should not be punished, that is quite inconsistent with this and every other kind of justice.”
Our opponent again idly fancies that we are hard pressed by this conclusion. We grant, yea, we solemnly believe and declare, that because of his justice God can never spare any sinner, unless he expressly punish his sins in another. But he artfully and shrewdly endeavours to load our opinion with prejudice, insinuating “that God then could not even spare the penitent.” But we believe all repentance of sin to be founded in the satisfaction and blood of Christ; for “him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”155155 Acts v. 31. God, then, both can spare the penitent, and, according to the promises of the gospel, most certainly will spare them, — those, namely, for whose sins satisfaction hath been made through the blood of Christ, “who gave himself a ransom for them;” but that to punish sin, without the delinquents being punished, is neither contrary to this nor to any other kind of justice, absolutely considered, through divine help, shall be demonstrated in its proper place.
Hitherto our opponent hath discovered nothing but mere fancies, vain repetitions, absurd allegations, and a shameful ignorance of the argument. He thus proceeds: “But should you say, that by the same reasoning it may be proved that mercy is not inherent in God; for if it were, he could never inflict punishment on any, as mercy is 578nothing else but to pardon those who have offended; — I will answer, as I have slightly noticed before, that it is very true that mercy, so far as it is opposed to that justice, that is, to severity and vengeance, is not inherent in God, but is the effect of his will. When, then, the sacred Scriptures testify that God is merciful, they mean nothing more than that God very often and very easily pardoneth sin, if, at least, they speak of this mercy; for there is another kind of divine mercy, of which, according to the old translation, mention is frequently made in the sacred writings, which ought rather to be called goodness, and hath a more extensive signification, for it comprehends the whole divine beneficence, whether it be exercised in the pardon of sin or in communication of any other kind of benefit to mankind.”
It hath been shown already that it is not proved by such reasoning as this that justice is not inherent in God; nor from the force of such an argument will it easily appear that the divine mercy suffers any degradation. What he supposes, in the first place, is altogether without foundation, namely, “That the divine mercy is nothing else than to forgive offenders;” whereas in this an external effect of that mercy only is shown, which is itself an essential property of the divine nature, for he pardoneth sins because he is merciful. The supposition, also, is groundless, “That if mercy were inherent in God he could never inflict punishment on any;” for to inflict punishment on the impenitent, and those for whose sins the divine justice hath in no manner been satisfied, is not opposite to mercy. For mercy in God is not a sympathy or condolence with the miseries of others, with an inclination of assisting them, — a virtue which ofttimes borders near upon vice, — but is that supreme perfection of the divine nature whereby it is naturally disposed to assist the miserable, and which, the proper suppositions156156 That is, the existence and misery of a rational creature being supposed. — Tr. being made, and the glory of his other perfections preserved, he willingly exerciseth, and is inclined to exercise. But this is not “opposed to the justice of God;” neither is it an “effect of his free will” (which expression, concerning the exercise of justice, our opponent foolishly wrests to the virtue itself), but a natural attribute of the Deity. What he adds concerning a twofold mercy of God are idle fancies: for the sparing mercy of which we are discoursing by no means differs from that benignity, grace, or goodness of God, of which he makes mention; for that very benignity, with respect to the special egresses which it hath towards miserable sinners, from the free-will of God, is that very mercy itself. That assertion of his, too, must also be noticed by the way, — namely, “That God very easily pardoneth sin;” which as it is a very precious truth if a regard be had to the oblation and satisfaction of his Son, so, simply spoken of him who hath threatened death to every transgression, and whose right it is that sinners should be worthy of death, 579all, whosoever shall be cited before his tribunal, aliens and strangers to Christ, will find to be without foundation, and an absolute falsehood.
“But it is evident,” says he, “that neither the justice nor mercy of which we are treating is inherent in God, from what we read, namely, that he is ‘The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness;’157157 See Exod. xxxiv. 6; Numb. xiv. 18. which plainly shows that these two, — namely, his justice and mercy, — are the effects of his will, the one of which is surpassed in greatness by the other, and they cannot consist with one another, and they are limited; whereas those qualities which are truly inherent in God have no limit, and are all consistent with one another, and, in respect of their greatness, are all absolutely equal.”
Our opponent again very improperly applies a comparison made between external acts to the internal habits themselves. That anger and compassion, which are only attributed to God effectively, are free effects of the divine will, limited as to their object, and unequal, which cannot be exercised about the same person, in their highest degree, we acknowledge;158158 Omitted: “though it is plain from the holy Scriptures that God not unfrequently manifests some kind of anger, in his paternal chastisements, towards those who all the while are the objects of his supreme love and mercy.” — Ed.
But there is no reason that what is applicable to acts, or rather to effects, should also be applicable to the perfections whence these flow. But in that promulgation of the glory or name of God which we have in Exod. xxxiv. 6, he shows what and of what kind his disposition is towards those whom, namely, he hath purchased as his peculiar people through Jesus Christ, and what patience, long-suffering, and compassion, he is disposed to exercise towards them;159159 See 2 Pet. iii. 9, etc. but in respect of all other sinners, he concludes that he “will by no means clear the guilty,” or deliver them from the guilt of sin; which, indeed, strikes at the very root of Socinianism. But to conclude from this that the divine perfections are opposite one to another, unequal, or surpassing one another in greatness, is only the extreme folly of one ignorant of the righteousness or justice of God, and going about to establish a righteousness or justice of his own. He proceeds thus:—
“Hence it is manifest how grievously they err who affirm both this justice and mercy of God to be infinite; for as to justice, being deceived by the appearance of the word, they see not that they say no more than this, that the severity and anger of God are infinite, contrary to the most express testimonies of the sacred Scriptures, which, as we have just now said, declare God to be ‘slow to anger.’ That divine justice which hath no limit is not this of which we are discoursing, but that which alone, as we have seen before, is distinguished by this illustrious name in Scripture, and which, by another 580name, may be called rectitude and equity. This, indeed, is inherent in God, and is most conspicuous in all his works; and by virtue of this alone, as we shall see hereafter, even if we had no other proof, that human fiction of the satisfaction of Christ would be thoroughly detected, and vanish.”
Our opponent here serves up again nothing but his old dish, variously dressed, and repeatedly refused. We declare justice to be infinite, not deceived by the show of a word, but being so taught by the express testimonies of the sacred Scriptures, and by the most convincing and unanswerable arguments, — and we solemnly maintain it, not only with regard to that universal justice which may be called rectitude (though improperly), but also concerning that particular sin-avenging justice, which we deny to differ, either essentially or subjectively,160160 That is, as it relates to God, who is the subject of it. — Tr. from the former, — but that anger and severity, so far as they denote effects of divine justice, or punishment inflicted, are infinite only in duration: “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to take vengeance on them who know him not, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”161161 See 2 Thess. i. 6, 8, 9. But in respect of that divine excellence which they point out, we affirm them to be in every respect infinite.
But it would be altogether superfluous here again to repeat what we have before clearly settled concerning this justice, or again to recite the texts of Scripture formerly adduced. The sum is this: Sin-avenging justice differs not in reality from that universal justice which our opponent does not deny to be perpetually inherent in God and a natural attribute. It is only distinguished from it in respect of its egress to its own proper object; for the egresses of justice against sin flow from the most holy perfection of Deity itself. But anger and severity, so far as they may be reduced to that justice which is manifested in them, are also infinite; in respect of their effects, they have their limits assigned them by the wisdom and justice of God. These things, however, have been proved before.
But let the pious reader judge whether our opponent, who hath presumed to call the highest mystery of the gospel, the alone foundation of the salvation of sinners, the darling jewel of our religion, the greatest testimony of the divine love, our victory over the devil, death, and hell, “a human fiction,” had sufficient cause to annex so dreadful an omission to the conclusion of this so long continued debate. He adds, in the last place, —
“But as to mercy, that is, the pardon of sins, how dare they affirm that to be infinite, when it is evident from the whole of Scripture that God doth not always use it, but frequently exerciseth vengeance 581and severity? Why, but because they have so shockingly blundered, that they have not attended to this, that these are only different effects of the divine will, but are not any properties, and have persuaded themselves that both of them are inherent in God. But how could they ever entertain such a persuasion, when, as we have said, the one destroys the other? But this they deny, and maintain that God exercised both of them perfectly in the salvation procured for us by Christ; which will more clearly appear, from what follows, to be not only false but ridiculous. Meantime, let them tell us, pray, when God punishes the guilty, but especially when he doth not even grant them time to repent, what kind of mercy he exerciseth towards these? But if God do many things in which not even any trace of that mercy appears, although he be said to be ‘merciful and full of compassion’ in Scripture, must we not say that he doth many things in which that justice is by no means discernible, to which he is said to be exceeding slow? We must then conclude, according to our opinion, that there is no such justice in God as expressly dictates the necessary punishment of sin, and which he hath not a power to renounce. And since this is the case, it is abundantly evident that there is no reason why God cannot freely pardon the sins of whomsoever he may please, without any satisfaction received.”
Ans. On these heads a few observations shall suffice:— 1. It is affirmed, without any show of reason, that mercy in God is not infinite, because sometimes he exerciseth severity; that is, that God cannot be called merciful, if he punish any guilty and impenitent sinners. To prove mercy to be an essential property of God, it is sufficient that he exercises it towards any: for in this very matter, that ought to be set down as a natural perfection in God which is the proper and immediate source and ground of that operation: which attributes (mercy and justice) have no egress but towards objects placed in particular circumstances; nor have they any effects without some free act of the divine will intervening. See Rom. ix. 13. Nor does it any more follow that the effects of mercy ought to be infinite if it be itself infinite, than that the works of God ought to be immense because immensity is an essential property of his nature.
2. By what argument will our opponent prove that the relation between mercy and justice is in such a manner the same, that because God exerciseth no mercy towards some, — that is, so as to pardon their sins, — that therefore he should not account it necessary to exercise justice towards every sin? We have formerly mentioned in what view they are distinct, — namely, that God is bound to exercise mercy to none, but that he cannot but exercise his justice towards sinners (provided he be inclined to be just), if he would preserve his natural right and dominion over his creatures, and the holiness and purity of his nature uninjured and entire; for disobedience would 582take away all dependence of the creature on God, unless a compensation were made to him by a vicarious punishment. But, according to the sacred Scriptures, we maintain that God exercised both the one and the other, both justice and mercy, in justly punishing Christ, in mercifully pardoning sins, which he laid upon him, to us, who deserved everlasting punishment; which things, though they may be ridiculous to Socinus (for “the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness” to him), no divine truth, however, of any kind whatever, is more frequently, more plainly, or more clearly declared in the sacred writings: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus,” Rom. iii. 23–26. But setting the consideration of Christ altogether aside, there is no doubt but that Socinus would carry off the prize in this contest. But while it is reckoned worth while to have any regard to him, it is easy to perceive that this heretic uses nothing but continued false reasonings and false conclusions; for it is made evident to us in Christ the Son, how and by what means God, infinitely merciful and infinitely just, — acting on the principles of strict justice with some, and of mere grace with others, but in exercising both the one and the other, both justice and mercy, in and through the Mediator, the one, indeed, in his own proper person, and the other towards those for whom he was surety, — hath declared himself.
But while Socinus despised and set at nought him and his grace, is it to be wondered at if he “became vain in his imaginations,” and that his “foolish heart was darkened?”
For what need I say more? Doth not God exercise supreme and infinite mercy towards us, miserable and lost sinners, in pardoning our sins through Christ? Have we deserved any such thing, who, after doing all that we can do, even when roused and assisted by his grace, are still unprofitable servants? Did we appoint a sacrifice, that his anger might be averted, and that an atonement to his justice might be made from our own store-house, sheep-fold, or herd? Yea, when we were enemies to him, alienated from his life, without help and without strength, dead in trespasses and in sins, knowing of no such thing, wishing for or expecting no such thing, he himself “made Christ to be sin for us, who knew no sin,” that he might “save us from the wrath to come;” that, an expiation being made for our sins, we might be presented blameless before him, to the praise and glory of his grace. But whether he showed the strictest justice and severity towards our surety, over whom he exercised a most gracious care, 583both on his own account162162 “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.” — Isa. xlii. 1. — Tr. and for our sakes, and whom he did not spare, shall afterward be considered.
Whether, then, when our opponent, relying on these subtleties of his, concludes, “That there is no justice in God which dictates the necessity of punishing sin, and that therefore there is no reason why God cannot freely pardon the sins of whomsoever he may please, without any satisfaction received,” and then, as if he had accomplished a glorious achievement, triumphs over the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, be not acting the part of a most silly trifler and absurd heretic, let the reader determine. But, as all the arguments which he afterward uses against the satisfaction of Christ have their foundation in this most false supposition, which the Scriptures, as hath been shown, so often contradict, and on which he always depends in all his disputations, whether those have acted for the interest of the church of God who have voluntarily surrendered to him this impregnable tower of truth, which he hath in vain laid siege to, that he might with greater audacity carry on his attacks upon the gospel, is well known to God. We, as we hope, instructed by his word, entertain very different sentiments from theirs on this point.
But when our opponent has come to the conclusion of this dispute, he introduces many fictions about the mere good-will of God in pardoning sins, about his ceasing from his right without injury to any one, about the injustice of the substitution of a surety in the room of sinners; — all which arguments, as they depend on a false foundation, yea, on a most base error, it would be easy here to show how vain, false, inconclusive, and absurd they are, unless we had determined, with God’s will, to explain the doctrine of the satisfaction of Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure of the gospel, and to defend and vindicate it from the unjust calumnies of heretics, in the proper place and time.
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