And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.
~ Psalm 50:6
He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
~ Psalm 72:2-4
Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.
~ Isaiah 32:1
In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.
~ Jeremiah 33:15
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
~ Revelation 5:9
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
~ Revelation 19:15-16
I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.
~ Isaiah 63:3
The Justice of God, by A.W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
It is scarcely surprising that far less has been written upon the justice of God—than upon some of the other Divine perfections. We are accustomed to turn our thoughts unto those objects and subjects which afford us the most pleasure, and to avoid those which render us uneasy. But no servant of the Lord should be guilty of pandering to this tendency. Rather must he endeavor with all his might to declare “all the counsel of God” and to portray the Divine character just as it is set forth in Holy Writ. He must not conceal a single feature thereof, no matter how awe-inspiring it is, or how repellent to the fallen creature. It is impossible for us to entertain right conceptions of God, unless we have before us a full-orbed sight of His varied excellencies. To view Him only as “Love”; to refuse to contemplate Him as “Light”—will necessarily result in our manufacturing a false god in our imaginations, a caricature of the true and living God.
God is a Being possessed of every excellence. Not one of them could be lacking without changing His character, and therefore if any one of them is either unintentionally or deliberately omitted, then the object of contemplation is not the true God—but a figment which is the outcome of our misconception. Yet while we are required to acknowledge all the Divine attributes, nevertheless they do not all produce the same effect in our heart and mind. Some are objects of pleasure—but others fill us with awe and fear. Divine wisdom delights us with the wonders of its production and the marvels of its contrivance. Divine goodness charms us with the richness and variety of its gifts. As we contemplate God as a gracious Benefactor, joy is awakened within us, and as we perceive Him ministering to our numerous needs we are filled with gratitude. But when we turn our thoughts unto the immaculate holiness of the Divine nature, and the inflexible justice of His moral government, a different order of sentiments is evoked.
When the human mind is focused upon the ineffable purity of God and His unchanging righteousness, it appears to fallen creatures that He no longer smiles—but frowns upon his works. That easy, peaceable disposition—so pleasing to our hearts, so soothing when we feel the stirrings of conscience—in which we contemplate God while considering His goodness alone, gives place to far sterner aspects, and we are made to tremble when He is also seen as an offended Ruler and Judge. Guilty sinners have no desire to cultivate a closer acquaintance with One who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13), and whose wrath is “revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Such a view is terrifying, and they would readily flee to the most distant place, if they could escape His solemn presence. In the sight of holy angels, JUSTICE gives a firmness and consistency to the Divine character—but the criminal dreads justice, and the Divine justice most of all, since it is far more formidable and inexorable than man’s.
But however distasteful Divine justice may be to the fallen creature, the interests of Truth, and not the pleasing of his hearers, must be the principal aim of the preacher. If he is regulated by the Scriptures and not by maudlin sentiment, he will be preserved from one-sided and misrepresenting conceptions of Deity, and he will not hesitate to declare that God is just, as well as wise, and good—that He is not only the Creator and Preserver of the world, but also its Governor. And that as power and wisdom are requisite to the guidance and maintenance of inanimate nature, so justice is equally indispensable for the government of intelligent and moral agents who are the proper subjects of law, and will therefore require to be rewarded or punished. As another has rightly pointed out, “To deny God’s justice is to wrest the scepter from His hand, and to expose His government to contempt and insult, by proclaiming impunity to its subjects.”
Above we have stated that the Divine justice is far more formidable than man’s—and that because of this it is so much dreaded by the guilty. The justice of God is the justice of One who is both omniscient and omnipotent, so that it is impossible we should conceal from Him our offenses, or escape from the execution of His sentence. God is possessed of both infinitely complete knowledge of every detail of our lives—and of the most absolute power to enforce His verdicts. Frightful as it is for a guilty creature to contemplate such justice—yet woe be unto the preacher who from the fear of man, or from coveting his praise, deliberately softens down the Divine justice so as to cause less alarm. Woe be to the preacher who attempts to show that God’s justice is not so formidable as some harsh and gloomy minds have declared—or that it will not mark our sins with extreme strictness—or not rigidly insist upon its demands —or that when it is displeased it may easily be pacified.
Never was there a greater need for the ministers of the Gospel to proclaim the inflexible justice of God, than in the evil days in which our lot has fallen. Not only is God Himself insulted and grossly dishonored, by the perversions of His character which have been so widely promulgated during the last few decades—but multitudes of people have been fatally deceived thereby, until a generation has now arisen to whom the Deity of Holy Writ is the “unknown God.” All around us are those who have so erroneous an idea of the Divine clemency, that they suppose God is as easy-going as the modern parent, and as lax as many of our judges. They suppose that only in the most extreme and exceptional cases (if indeed then) will He punish the crimes of any with everlasting fire. By such ungrounded assumptions do they stifle any occasional convictions of conscience, and steal their hearts against any apprehensions of danger, which may visit them, persuading themselves that God is so full of mercy, that His justice is virtually inoperative.
But if the consideration of God’s justice fills the unbeliever with dislike and dismay—it is far otherwise with those in Christ. In very early times Abraham consoled himself with the fact that “The judge of all the earth” would assuredly “do right” (Gen. 18:25). In his wondrous song Moses declared, “I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He. ” (Deut. 32:3, 4). David extolled his God as, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psalm 145:17).
Most remarkable is that word in Jeremiah where the Lord is designated “the Habitation of justice” (50:7) so that His people might take hope from and shelter in His righteousness. So, too, His Prophets found comfort therein in the dark days of Israel’s declension: “the just Lord is in the midst thereof, He will do no iniquity” (Zeph. 3:5). While from Revelation 15:3 we learn that the inhabitants of Heaven exclaim, “great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Your ways, O King of saints.”
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; faithful love and truth go before You” (Psalm 89:14). This is perhaps the most helpful passage of all in the casting of light upon the most- important, awe-inspiring, and yet glorious subject we are now seeking to study. The great Jehovah is here exhibited to our view— under the idea of Sovereign and judge—being presented to our adoring regard as upon His throne. It is the Throne of universal empire and of absolute dominion. From that throne, the Lord exercises His authority and executes His laws with omnipotent but impartial hand. Righteousness and justice are magnified as being the “foundation” of Jehovah’s throne. There seems to be an allusion unto the bases or supports of an ancient monarch’s throne.
1. The Nature of God’s Justice.
In seeking to arrive at a true conception thereof, we need to be very much on our guard against carnalizing the same, degrading the Divine majesty by drawing analogies from that which appertains to the human realm. In human affairs, justice is simply the giving to everyone his due. But such a rule cannot possibly be applied to the Most High God, for the simple reason that He owes His creatures nothing. It cannot be too strongly insisted upon in this day of fleshly arrogance and spiritual ignorance, that there is a vast difference between God’s government over His rational creatures and that of an earthly prince over his subjects—and that consequently our notion of justice with regard to the latter cannot be lawfully applied to the former. It is failure at this very point which has resulted in the most wild and irreverent postulates in connection with the justice of God, whereby He has been brought down to the level of His creatures.
A secular ruler is set up for the good of his subjects, this being the principal end of his constitution. The people are not formed for him —but he for them, therefore the administration of justice is a common and public right, whereby he is entrusted with the supreme rule for them. The bare statement of this obvious fact is at once sufficient to show the infinite distance which separates between the King of kings and His administration —and any secular ruler and his government. God does not exist for the well-being of His creatures—but is independent and self-sufficient: for His pleasure they are and were created (Rev. 4:11). Consequently He owes them nothing, nor can they profit Him anything. Therefore it necessarily follows that He could not be said to wrong His creatures, had it so pleased Him to ordain an economy in which no provision was made for the infliction of punishment upon offenders according to their demerits: that was something which must be determined solely by His own sovereign pleasure.
Absolutely considered, God’s justice is the universal rectitude of His nature, for antecedent to all the acts of His will respecting the government of His creatures the glorious and incomprehensible God was essentially and intrinsically righteous in Himself. Divine justice may also be considered relatively, that is, with regard to its exercise in the superintendence and government of rational creatures. It is with the latter the Scriptures are chiefly concerned, that is, with how God acts under the economy which He has instituted. Yet here and there the Sacred Pages give us a glimpse of what God was in Himself prior to His work of creation and taking upon Himself the office of Ruler and Judge. Those glimpses enable us to gain some idea of what Deity is in Himself, considered apart from all His works and workings. Here, too, yes, here particularly, we need to be doubly on our guard, lest we be guilty of “limiting the Holy One” by circumscribing His actions beyond that which Holy Writ warrants.
It is one thing to say that God cannot act contrary to His own perfections—it is quite another thing to affirm that God must exercise those perfections. We need to use the greatest possible caution in saying what God cannot do. God cannot give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8), for to do so would be to admit a rival. God cannot look with approbation upon evil (Hab. 1:12) for to do so would sully His holiness. God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:6), for then He would be unfaithful. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), for He is without variableness or shadow of turning. But to declare that His justice obliges God to inflict punishment on sinners, and that He cannot pardon without an atonement, is to daringly assert that which Scripture nowhere teaches. That He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exo. 34: 7) warrants no man in saying that He “can by no means clear the guilty.”
It should be pointed out, that a thing may be just in a twofold sense: negatively, as that which justice does not disapprove of; and positively, as that which justice does require. And it is a question of vast importance if we are to have right conceptions of the absolute independence of God—to consider whether His will to punish sinners antecedently to His purpose to introduce the economy in which such now obtains—was just in the former sense only or also in the latter. Whose rights had God violated—had He willed otherwise than He did? Certainly not the creature’s, for He owed them nothing. Nor His own, had He been pleased to forego them. God rules now according to the constitution which He has made—yet none can show—for Scripture contains not the slightest hint thereon—that this constitution was the necessary effect and was obliged by His justice.
God was pleased to place His creatures under law—law which was accompanied and enforced by sanctions, promising the reward of life to the obedient and denouncing the penalty of death upon the disobedient—and as the Administrator of that law He is morally obligated to execute its terms. But to insist that a regime wherein sin must be punished, or that He was limited to the appointing of a Substitute unto Death if the guilty were to go free—strikes this writer as little (if any) short of blasphemy. Against this it has often been objected that the words of the Redeemer, “If it be possible let this cup pass from Me,” prove that there was no other way in which His people could be saved except by His drinking that cup. We answer, the reason why it was impossible that the Savior should be spared that awful cup—was not because the hands of Omniscience were fettered—but because the veracity of God must fulfill His own declarations to that very end.
It would be just as unwarrantable and wrong for us to say that the great God could not create this world any other way than He has. Or that His nature obligated Him to make it just as He did, is to insist that no alternative was left to Him—than to place it under the system of government which He has instituted, wherein virtue is rewarded, sin is punished, His grace illustriously displayed, His holiness and justice magnified by means of the satisfaction rendered to Him by His incarnate Son. God’s wisdom is no more limited than is His power, and to argue that any one of the Divine perfections—be it holiness or justice—placed a restriction upon the contrivances of God’s wisdom, is presumption of the worst kind. The Divine omniscience is as truly regulated by God’s sovereign will —as is His omnipotence. All we are justified in saying, is that the economy which God has appointed is the one which He deemed best and most glorifying unto Himself.
Under the economy which God has instituted, He has determined the manner and the extent in which His perfections shall be exercised and displayed. For example, He has determined the several offices which each Person in the Godhead shall respectively hold, and this He did freely of His own sovereign pleasure. He has determined the number of creatures He shall bring into existence, the length of their earthly life, and what shall be their eternal destiny; and in this, too, He acted without any restraint. He determined to give us a written revelation from Himself, concerning which He alone decided how much or how little of His everlasting counsels should be revealed, and in which He has made certain promises that He has pledged Himself to fulfill. Certainly He was under no obligation to make any promises at all—but having made them—His veracity and His faithfulness require Him to make them good. Thus, the only limitations which the Almighty has placed upon Himself in His dealings with His creatures—are those which His own imperial will saw fit to impose.
Now under the constitution or economy which it has pleased God to institute in the superintendence or government of His rational creatures, His justice is known among men by different names according to the different objects which it is immediately conversant. Does the Most High, for instance, enact laws for His creatures? then His moral rectitude appears in these laws as equity. They are not cruel—but “holy, just and good” (Romans 7:12), framed for our well-being. How thankful we should be for such a law. Has God condescended to express Himself in promises? then His rectitude therein is seen as fidelity, for He is immutably faithful in making good every one of them. Has He denounced punishment upon all disobedience? then in the execution of His threats, God’s rectitude appears in His absolute veracity. Does He administer those laws both with respect to reward and punishment, with strict impartiality, so that He is no respecter of persons? then His rectitude appears as glorious righteousness.
It will thus be seen that His absolute justice expresses what God is in Himself, the moral rectitude of His nature; whereas His relative justice considers Him as standing in relation to His creatures. The one pertains to Him in His private character, the other in His public character. It is in His assumption and discharge of His office of Ruler and Judge the latter is exercised. As the Sovereign of the universe He maintains the rights of His throne and order among His subjects. Because of the moral rectitude of His nature, when He enacts laws—they are equitable, when He makes declarations—they are true, when He expresses Himself in promises—they are faithful, and when He declares threats against disobedience—they are righteous and inexorable. As the “foundation of justice” God is to be revered: as the King of kings He is to be submitted unto. He cannot be injured by us, nor does He suffer by our disobedience—but He will assuredly avenge it and vindicate His name.