« Prev Chapter I. Next »

Chapter I.

The introduction — The design of the work — Atheists — The prolepsis1414    This word commonly means a previous and concise view of a subject, or an anticipation of objections. In this treatise it means a natural or innate conception of divine justice. — Tr. [See note on page 517. — Ed.] of divine justice in general — The divisions of justice, according to Aristotle — The sentiments of the schoolmen respecting these — Another division — Justice considered absolutely; then in various respects.

In this treatise we are to discourse of God and of his justice, the most illustrious of all the divine perfections, but especially of his vindicatory justice;1515    The Word in the original means either to claim and assert a right, or to punish the violation of it. By “vindicatory justice,” then, we are to understand that perfection of the Deity which disposes him to vindicate his right by punishing its violators. It ought never to be translated vindictive, or understood as meaning revengeful. — Tr. [Though Dr Owen uses the expression, “My book of the Vindictive Justice of God,” see vol. xii., “Vindiciæ Evangelicæ,” chap. xxx., he explains his meaning in different parts of his works: see vol. xi., “Saints’ Perseverance,” chap. vii.; vol. xii., chap. xxiii.; and vol. ii., “On Communion with God,” chap. iii., digression ii., p. 84. — Ed.] of the certainty of which I most firmly believe that all mankind will, one time or other, be made fully sensible, either by faith in it here, as revealed in the word, or by feeling its effects, to their extreme misery, in the world hereafter, Rom. ii. 8, 9, 12; 2 Thess. i. 7–9. But as the human mind is blind to divine light, and as both our understandings and tongues are inadequate to conceive of God aright and to declare him (hence that common and just observation, that it is an arduous thing to speak of God aright), [and much darkness rests upon divine things],1616    Πολὺς ταραγμὸς ἔν τε τοῖς θεοῖς ἔνι. —Eurip. Iphig. in Taur. 572. that we may handle so important a subject with that reverence and perspicuity wherewith it becomes it to be treated, we must chiefly depend on His aid who was “made the righteousness1717    Or justice. — Tr. of God for us,” himself “God blessed for ever,” 1 Cor. i. 30; 2 Cor. v. 21; Rom. ix. 5. But whatever I have written, and whatever I have asserted, on this subject, whether I have written and asserted it with modesty, sobriety, judgment, and humility, must be left to the decision of such as are competent judges.

496We think proper to divide this dissertation into two parts. In the first part, which contains the body of our opinion, after having premised some general descriptions of divine justice, I maintain sin-punishing justice to be natural, and in its exercise necessary, to God. The truth of this assertion forms a very distinguished part of natural theology. The defence of it, to the best of my abilities, both against Socinians, who bitterly oppose it, as well as against certain of our own countrymen, who, in defiance of all truth, under a specious pretext, support the same pernicious scheme with them, shall be the subject of the latter part.

In almost all ages there have existed some who have denied the being of a God, although but very few, and these the most abandoned.1818    “Nullos unquam fuisse aut esse posse ἀθέους proprie dictos et speculative, seu plene persuasos, agnoscunt pene omnes.” — Vid. Voet. Disp. de Atheismo. Ps. xiv. 1. “Non est potestas Dei in terris.” — Chal. Par. “Eorum qui antiquitus horrendi criminis rei existimabantur vindicias instituerunt inulti.” — Vid. Vos. de Idol. li. cap. 1. Ὡς τοῦ πιεῖν γε, καὶ φαγεῖν του φ’ ἡμέραν, Ζεὺς οὖτος ἀνθρώποισι τοῖσι σώφροσι.Eurip. in Cyclop 335. And as mankind, for the most part, have submitted to the evidence of a divine existence, so there never has existed one who has ever preferred an indictment of injustice against God, or who hath not declared him to be infinitely just.1919    “Veritatis argumentum est omnibus aliquid videri tanquam deos esse, quod omnibus de diis opinio insita sit, neque ulla gens usquam est, adeo extra leges moresque posita ut non aliquos Deos credat.” —Seneca, Epist. iii. The despairing complaints of some in deep calamities, the unhallowed expostulations of others at the point of death, do not bespeak the real sentiments of the man, but the misery of his situation: as, for instance, that expostulation of Job, chap. x. 3, “Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress?” and among the Gentiles, that of Brutus, “O wretched virtue! how mere a nothing art thou, but a name!” and that furious exclamation of Titus when dying, related by Suetonius,2020    Sueton. in Vitâ Titi, cap. x.. “who, pulling aside his curtains, and looking up to the heavens, complained that his life was taken from him undeservedly and unjustly.” Of the same kind was that late dreadful epiphonema2121    A sudden, unconnected exclamation. — Tr. of a despairing Italian, related by Mersennus,2222    Mersen. ad Deistas Gall. who, speaking of God and the devil, in dread contempt of divine justice, exclaimed, “Let the strongest take me.”

But as “the judgments of God are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out,” Rom. xi. 33, those who have refused to submit to his absolute dominion and supreme jurisdiction (some monstrous human characters) have been hardy enough to assert that there is no God, rather than venture to call him unjust. Hence that common couplet:—

Marmoreo tumulo Licinus jacet, at Cato parvo,

Pompeius nullo; credimus esse deos?

“Licinus lies buried in a marble tomb, Cato in a mean one,

Pompey has none; — can we believe that there are gods?”

497And hence Ulysses is introduced by Euripides, expressing his horror of the gormandizing of the man-devouring Cyclops, in these verses:—2323    Eurip. in Cyclop., verse 350.

“O Jupiter, behold such violations of hospitality; for if thou regardest them not,

Thou art in vain accounted Jupiter, for thou canst be no god.”

Beyond any doubt, the audacity of those abandoned triflers, who would wish to seem to act the mad part with a show of reason, is more akin to the madness of atheism than to the folly of ascribing2424    A slight alteration seems needed to elicit the real meaning, — “than to folly, in ascribing,” etc. Owen is speaking of “the audacity of these triflers” “in ascribing” unworthy attributes to God. — Ed. to the God whom they worship and acknowledge such attributes as would not only be unworthy but disgraceful to him. Protagoras,2525    Diogen. Laert. in Protag., Ep. iii. 12. therefore, not comprehending the justice of God in respect of his government, hath written, “With regard to the gods, I do not know whether they exist or do not exist.” Yet, even among the Gentiles themselves, and those who were destitute of the true knowledge of the true God (for they, in some sense, were without God in the world), writers, of whom Seneca2626    “Cur bonis mala fiant, cum sit providentia.” — Sen. and Plutarch were the most distinguished, have not been wanting who have endeavoured, by serious and forcible arguments, to unravel the difficulty respecting the contrary lots of good and bad men in this life. Our first idea, therefore, of the Divine Being, and the natural conceptions of all men, demand and enforce the necessity of justice being ascribed to God.2727    “Illos qui nullum esse Deum dixerunt non modo philosophos, sed ne homines quidem esse dixerim, qui brutis simillimi solo corpere constiterunt, nihil omnino cernentes animo, sed ad sensum corporis cuncta referentes, qui nihil putabunt esse nisi quod oculis tuebuntur.” —Lactan. de plur., lib. i., etc. cap. 8. “Quia rationem mali non intellexerunt, et natura ejus abscondita fuit, duo principia bonum et malum finxit tota ethnicorum (ante natum Marcionem) antiquitas.” — Vid. Vos. de Idol., lib. i. cap. 5. To be eloquent, then, in so easy a cause, or to triumph with arguments on a matter so universally acknowledged, we have neither leisure nor inclination. What, and of what kind, the peculiar quality and nature of sin-punishing justice is, shall now be briefly explained. And that we may do this with the greater perspicuity and force of evidence, a few observations seem necessary to be premised concerning justice in general, and its more commonly received divisions.

The philosopher Aristotle, long ago, as is well known, hath divided justice into universal and particular. Concerning the former, he says that he might compare it to the celebrated saying, “In justice every virtue is summarily comprehended,” Ethic. ad Nicom., lib. v. cap. 1, 2; and he affirms that it in no wise differs from virtue in general, unless in respect of its relation to another being.

But he says that particular justice is a part thereof under the same 498name, which he again distinguishes into distributive and commutative.2828    That which relates to fair exchange. — Tr. The schoolmen,2929    Lombard., lib. iv. dist. 46; Thom. ii. 2, ti. 51; Pesant. in Thom., 2. a. ti. 58, ar. 4; Suarez. Relec. de Just. Div.; Hom. Iliad, ξ. 291. too, agreeing with him (which is rather surprising), divide the divine justice into universal and particular; for that excellence, say they, is spoken of God and man by way of analogy.3030    Analogy means a resemblance between things with regard to some qualities or circumstances, properties or effects, though not in all. — Tr. Nor is it like that bird mentioned by Homer, which goes by a double name, by one among mortals, by another among the immortals, —

“The gods call it Chalcis, but men Cumindis,”


but is understood as existing in God principally, as in the first analogised3131    That is, the first being whose perfections have been explained by analogy, or by tracing a resemblance between these perfections and something like them in ourselves, in kind or sort, though differing infinitely with respect to manner and degree. — Tr. being. Nor do later divines dissent from them; nay, all of them who have made the divine attributes the subject of their contemplations have, by their unanimous voice, approved of this distinction, and given their suffrages in its favour.3232    Zanch. de Nat. Dei., lib. i.; Ames. Cas. Consc. , lib. v. cap. 2; Armin. Disput., part iv. thes. 15; Voet. Dis. de Jure et Just.; Mares. Hyd. Socin., lib. i. c. 25, etc.

But, farther, they assert that particular justice, in respect of its exercise, consists either in what is said or in what is done. That which is displayed in things said, in commands, is equity; in declarations, truth; — both which the holy Scriptures3333    Rom. i. 17, iii. 21; Ezra ix. 15; Neh. ix. 8; Deut. iv. 8; Ps. cxix. 7; Heb. vi. 10; 2 Tim. iv. 8; 2 Thess. i. 5. do sometimes point out under the title of Divine Justice. But the justice which respects things done is either that of government, or jurisdiction or judgment; and this, again, they affirm to be either remunerative or corrective, but that corrective is either castigatory or vindicatory. With the last member of this last distinction I begin this work; and yet, indeed, although the most learned of our divines, in later ages, have assented to this distribution of divine justice into these various significations, it seems proper to me to proceed in a manner somewhat different, and more suited to our purpose.

I say, then, that the justice of God may be considered in a twofold manner:— First, Absolutely, and in itself. Secondly, In respect of its egress and exercise.

First, The justice of God, absolutely considered, is the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature; for such is the divine nature antecedent to all acts of his will and suppositions of objects towards which it might operate. This excellence is most universal; nor, from its own nature, as an excellence, can it belong3434    Or, have a respect to any other being. — Tr. to any other being.

Secondly, It is to be viewed with respect to its egress and exercise. And thus, in the order of nature, it is considered as consequent, 499or at least as concomitant, to some acts of the divine will, assigning or appointing to it a proper object. Hence, that rectitude, which in itself is an absolute property of the divine nature, is considered as a relative and hypothetical3535    Conditional. — Tr. attribute, and has a certain habitude to its proper objects.

That is to say, this rectitude, or universal justice, has certain egresses towards objects out of itself, in consequence of the divine will, and in a manner agreeable to the rule of his supreme right and wisdom, — namely, when some object of justice is supposed and appointed (which object must necessarily depend on the mere good pleasure of God, because it was possible it might never have existed at all, God, notwithstanding, continuing just and righteous to all eternity). And these egresses are twofold:—

1. They are absolute and perfectly free, — namely, in words.

2. They are necessary, — namely, in actions.

For the justice of God is neither altogether one of that kind of perfections which create and constitute an object to themselves, as power and wisdom do, nor of that kind which not only require an object for their exercise, but one peculiarly affected and circumstanced, as mercy, patience, and forbearance do; but may be considered in both points of view, as shall be more fully demonstrated hereafter.

1. For the first, it has absolute egresses in words (constituting, and, as it were, creating an object to itself); as, for instance, in words of legislation, and is then called equity; or in words of declaration and narration, and is then called truth. Both these3636    Namely, the egresses in words of legislation and in words of declaration and narration. — Tr. I suppose for the present to take place absolutely and freely. Whether God hath necessarily prescribed a law to his rational creatures, at least one accompanied with threats and promises, is another consideration.

2. There are respective egresses of this justice in deeds, and according to the distinctions above mentioned; — that is to say, it is exercised either in the government of all things according to what is due to them by the counsel and will of God, or in judgments rewarding or punishing, according to the rule of his right and wisdom; which also is the rule of equity in legislation, and of truth in the declarations annexed. In respect of these,3737    Namely, the egresses in the government of things according to what is due to them by the counsel of his will; or in judgments rewarding or punishing, according to the rule of his right and wisdom.. — Tr. I call the egresses of the divine justice necessary, and such that they could not possibly be otherwise; which, by divine help, I shall prove hereafter: and this is the same as saying that vindicatory justice is so natural to God, that, sin being supposed, he cannot, according to the rule of his right, wisdom, 500and truth, but punish it. But antecedent to this whole exercise of the divine justice, I suppose a natural right, which indispensably requires the dependence and moral subjection of the rational creature, in God, all the egresses of whose justice, in words, contain an arrest of judgment till farther trial, in respect of the object.

It now, then, appears that all these distinctions of divine justice respect it not as considered in itself, but its egresses and exercise only; to make which clear was the reason that I departed from the beaten track. Nay, perhaps it would be a difficult matter to assign any virtue to God but in the general, and not as having any specific ratio3838    That is, any distinguishing sort or quality. — Tr. of any virtue. But that which answers to the ratio of any particular virtue in God consists in the exercise of the same. For instance: mercy is properly attributed to God, so far as it denotes the highest perfection in the will of God, the particular ratio or quality of which, — namely, a disposition of assisting the miserable, with a compassion of their misery, — is found not altogether as to some, as to others altogether and only, in the exercise of the above-mentioned perfection;3939    In the general sparing mercy of God, the particular quality of mercy, — namely, a disposition of assisting the miserable, with a compassion of their misery, — is not wholly found, because there are many of mankind towards whom this disposition of assisting is never effectually exerted; but, in the pardoning mercy of God to his people, it is fully and gloriously displayed. — Tr. but it is called a proper attribute of God, because by means of it some operation is performed agreeable to the nature of God, which, in respect of his other attributes, his will would not produce. This kind, therefore, of the divine attributes, because they have proper and formal objects, thence only derive their formal and specific ratios. But all these observations upon justice must be briefly examined and explained, that we may arrive at the point intended.

« Prev Chapter I. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection