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Featured Is God Intrinsically Just?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Martin Marprelate, Nov 15, 2023.

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  1. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    Is God Intrinsically Just?

    Psalms 99:4. ‘The King’s strength also loves justice; You have established equity;
    You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.’


    The question is: justice is clearly an attribute of God, but does He have to be just? Is it intrinsic to His nature?

    The question weighed on the minds of theologians down the centuries. For many, the issue bore on the freedom of God. Psalms 115:3. ‘But our God is in heaven. He does whatever He pleases.’ Athanasius, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas all took the view that while God is undoubtedly righteous, He is so purely because He chooses to be. Even after the Reformation, Calvin wrote in his commentary on John 15:13, ‘God could have redeemed us with a word or a wish, save that another way seemed best for our sakes: That by not sparing His own and only-begotten Son, He might testify in His person how much He cares for our salvation. And those hearts must be harder than iron or stone which are not softened by the incomparable sweetness of the divine love.’

    The Westminster Confession, whilst it does speak of God as being, ‘infinite in being and perfection’ and of His ‘most righteous will’ (WCF 2:1), does not address God’s intrinsic justice. Indeed, some members of the Westminster Assembly, such as Twisse and Rutherford, opposed the idea. The 1689 Confession adds to the WCF that God’s ‘Essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself.’

    In 1647, in his first major work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, John Owen agreed with Calvin, ‘The foundation of this whole assertion seems to me to be false and erroneous, namely, that God could not have mercy on mankind unless satisfaction were made by His Son … to assert positively that absolutely and antecedently to His constitution He could not have done it, is to me an unwritten tradition, the Scripture affirming no such thing, neither can it be gathered from thence by any good consequence.’ He went on to argue that for God, the cross was ‘suitable but unnecessary.’

    There seem to be two main reasons that brought the young Owen to this conclusion: firstly, the issue of God’s freedom; a Pelagian view based on Psalms 115:3, quoted above, and secondly, the view that we can know God’s legislative and distributive justice, but not His intrinsic character or ‘existential justice.’

    However, it did not take long for Owen to change his mind. In 1652, he wrote his Dissertation on Divine Justice, in which he wrote, ‘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.’ He went on to argue that while God has no constraint as God to save anyone, and has freedom in the mode, timing and degree of punishment, without satisfaction He cannot pardon sin consistently with His nature, justice and truth. Hence the cross.

    The evidence that Owen gave for his change of mind were fivefold: firstly, God’s ‘great detestation and immortal hatred of sin'Habakkuk 1:13; Psalms 5:4-5; secondly, that God is portrayed as the righteous Judge – Genesis 18:23-25; Psalms 7:11; Romans 3:5-6; Acts 17:31; thirdly, that God’s punishment of sin flows from His nature – Revelation 6:15-17; fourthly, conscience and providence, as portrayed in Scripture and human experience, and fifthly, and most importantly, the revelation of the cross – ‘There are some attributes of His nature the knowledge of which could not reach the ears of sinners but by Christ; such as His love to His peculiar people, His sparing mercy, His free and saving grace, even the others, which He hath made known to us in some measure by the ways and means above mentioned, we could have no clear or saving knowledge of unless in and through this same Christ’ (c.f. Luke 23:41-44).

    The first of these reasons – God’s detestation of Sin - is a theme pursued by other Puritans, notably Ralph Venning in his book, Sin, Plague of Plagues, and by John Bunyan who wrote, ‘Sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, the contempt of His love ….. It is the fist that strikes the face of Christ (c.f. Luke 22:63-65).

    So why did Owen change his mind? Partly it came from his defense of Penal Substitution against the Socinians who denied it. But also it was his further engagement with Scripture that gave him the confidence that God can be known, a theme which he pursued for the rest of his life. In teaching that God cannot simply forgive sins without a satisfaction, we are not limiting His freedom; we are simply acknowledging His nature. He is the yardstick of justice. All His attributes are essential rather than accidental; that is, His love, His wisdom, His justice, His wrath are all part of His nature. His love is just and wise; His wisdom is just and loving; His wrath is just and wise, and indeed, loving towards His people, so that He is, one the one hand, ‘…… By no means clearing the guilty’ (Exodus 34:7), yet at the same time, He ‘Devises means so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him’ (2 Samuel 14:14). These means are Penal Substitution. “Learn ye, my friends, to look upon God as being as severe in His justice as if He were not loving, and yet as loving as if He were not severe. His love does not diminish His justice nor does His justice, in the least degree, make warfare upon His love. The two are sweetly linked together in the atonement of Christ” (C.H. Spurgeon).

    [Based on notes taken at a Seminar at a Christian Leaders' Conference]
     
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  2. Van

    Van Well-Known Member
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    Reading the question, my mind popped upon the chicken or the egg question. God does as he pleases, so if it pleased God to be unjust, he has the capacity to do it. However, His characteristics are immutable, thus He will not change from being just.

    The second issue is our perception of what is just. God created our harsh environment to facilitate the lost seeking God as a refuge. So if a tornado strikes our family but misses those evil neighbors, we might see that as unjust. Whereas God, with the right of the potter and so cannot be held accountable by the clay. No matter what He does to the clay, it would be just in His eyes.

    At the end of the day, we should focus on being better servants, as we have received not justice but mercy...

    PSA is and always has been a fiction, as Christ died for all mankind, those to be saved and those never to be saved.
     
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  3. Earth Wind and Fire

    Earth Wind and Fire Well-Known Member
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    How do you see him Martin (Stephen)?

    Personally I balance Him Between His Justice and His Mercy… and being human am grateful for His exceeding mercy. If I had to reference the English Puritan Owen, I would ask him to explain Cromwell, his exploits in Scotland & Ireland plus his execution of a king. Would Owen way in on the side of Justice or Mercy… noting Cromwell would have something to say about it. Still Owen was his spiritual advisor.

    Noting Calvin, his pronouncements on the existence of Servitus (spelling?) displays his mercy stance.

    Now Rutherford the Presbyterian is harder for me to pin down. I like him and I’m still studying his history. His ancestors in America married into the Dutch Stuyvesant family and established themselves in New York and New Jersey… an interesting blend of Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican and finally RC via Lucy Mercer. I can visit their graves right down the road… an interesting lot.
     
  4. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    According to you, NO, God is NOT intrinsically just. Christ commits suicide on the cross and God brings the wrath to the uttermost down on the Jews for His murder.

    According to you God ALONE sold Joseph into slavery yet punishes the Hebrews unto the fourth generation for the crime.
     
    #4 kyredneck, Nov 15, 2023
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  5. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who says, "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I received from My Father." I suggest that your problem is not with me but with God, Father and Son.
    As for Joseph, just read your Bible; in this case, Genesis 45:8 & Genesis 50:19-21. Where exactly you get the idea that God punished the Hebrews for that, I am not quite sure.
    But I really don't want this to turn into another tedious thread where we repeat ourselves over and over again. If you must reply, please do so on one of the other threads.
     
  6. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    Plenty of non-Calvinists have believed in PSA, notably the Wesleys.
     
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  7. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    11 Jesus answered him, Thou wouldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath greater sin. Jn 19

    <scroll>

    [add] Did those seeking to kill Jesus, doing the desires of the Devil, put Jesus to death by godless men? | Baptist Christian Forums (baptistboard.com)
     
    #7 kyredneck, Nov 15, 2023
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  8. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    You're the one that keeps repeating the same inane concept over and over again, that Christ committed suicide.

    I'm done now.
     
    #8 kyredneck, Nov 15, 2023
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2023
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  9. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    I agree with @Van .

    For one, God is the Standard of what is just. It is His nature.

    But we also have to be careful not to bind God. God remains omnipotent. It is impossible for God to lie, for example, not because God lacks the ability but because of His nature. A better way to put that would be it is impossible that God lie.

    Based on God's nature Scripture tells us that God will not do things. God will not lie.

    God will not clear the guilty or punish the righteous. The former is the basis for the saints asking "how much longer" will God wait before judging the wicked. The latter is the basis of the Servant's assurance in Psalm 22.
     
  10. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    God is not 50% just and 50% merciful; He is 100% of each. Hence the cross (cf. Psalms 85:10).
    My understanding is that Cromwell's behaviour at Drogheda has been falsified by generations of Irish folklore. His actions were basically more merciful than the custom of the times, and certainly more so than the Irish during their revolt in 1641-2. There are various on-line histories that cover the business. On Charles I, I won't say he didn't deserve what he got, but it would have been better if his life had been spared. As someone or other wrote: 'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
     
  11. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    The issue here is a false dilemma (fallacy).

    The assumption is that the Cross was necessary in a particular way for God to be just and by no means clear the guilty.

    But all Christian views hold that God will not clear the wicked (not all believe God will not clear the guilty, Penal Substitution Theory, Substitution Theory, and Satisfaction Theory all hold that God actually clears some of the guilty).

    Since we all agree that God is just, and that God will in fact punish the wicked, we probably need to look at the other side of God's justice nature.

    A good summary is that God not only clear the guilty but He will also not condemn the righteous.

    The other side of Divine justice is God not punishing the innocent.

    So how does God forgive sinners without clearing the guilty and without punishing the righteous?

    Some say God transfers the sins of the guilty to the righteous and punished those sins on the righteous. Obviously this is problematic. Transferring sins, if possible, does not nullify guilt. And punishing sins on another is in fact punishing that other person (sins are not material things, men are punished for sins).

    Others believe that God clears the willing guilty by punishing a willing innocent with a type of satisfactory punishment creating merit that can be bestowed on the guilty. The problem here is the same. God is punishing the innocent and clearing the guilty.

    Others believe that God recreates the guilty, that the guilty must die to their guilty nature and be remade into a new creation. Those who are not recreated (born again or born from above) remain guilty and will be punished at a specific time of judgment. This means that God does not clear the guilty, but God also retains His justice nature as He does not punish the righteous. Although God does not clear the guilty or punish the righteous He still forgives sinners.
     
  12. atpollard

    atpollard Well-Known Member

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    Just for the record, some Calvinists (like me) do not believe that the Father ever felt WRATH towards the Son.

    [fortunately, that is not a question that salvation hinges on … human opinions do not change God’s facts.]
     
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  13. atpollard

    atpollard Well-Known Member

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    Just for the sake of discussion, where is God clearly “Just”? By what definition of “Justice” is God “Just”?

    From a human perspective, God seems frequently capricious in His inequality of treatment. Ask the Cananites or the residents of Jericho or Esau.

    As for me, I sinned … which deserved DEATH … and received mercy while others who sinned far less that me died in their sins and are likely damned. I am not complaining, but “JUST” is not the word that immediately comes to mind.
     
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  14. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    Another thing that comes to mind about justice is "clearing the guilty"

    Transferring ones sins (if possible) does not change the fact that the person who committed the act is still guilty.

    Punishing the sins of the guilty laid on an innocent is clearing the guilty. Not only that, it is punishing the innocent.
     
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  15. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    I quite agree with you. God never felt wrath against the Lord Jesus Christ. His wrath is against sin, and Christ became our sin-bearer (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24).
    God is the definition of justice (eg. Deuteronomy 32:3-4). His justice is seen in that God sent the Lord Jesus to pay the penalty for your sins so that He might be 'Just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus' (Romans 3:26), and also that He might be just as well as faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
     
  16. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    First of all, it seems clear that God does not share your concerns. In 1 Peter 2:23-24, Peter declares first, that God 'judges justly' and then goes on to declare that Christ bore our sins and the curse attached to them, and in Romans 3:25-26, Paul asserts that the setting forth of Christ as a propitiation for our sins, far from being a denial of His justice, was in fact a declaration of it.
    Secondly, Christ is not an unrelated third party to His people. He is united to us (e.g. Hebrews 2:11); He in us and we in Him (John 17:21-23). That is how our sins are imputed to Him and His perfect righteousness imputed to us.
    This, of course, begs the question of why the Lord Jesus had to die at all. Moreover, it is somewhat like a murderer being sentenced to go on an anger management course. Even if it works, where is the justice?
     
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  17. atpollard

    atpollard Well-Known Member

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    Another discussion for another topic on another day.

    [Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NKJV] 3 For I proclaim the name of the LORD: Ascribe greatness to our God. 4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.
    • מִשְׁפָּט mishpâṭ, mish-pawt'; from H8199; properly, a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or (participant's) divine law, individual or collective), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty; abstractly, justice, including a participant's right or privilege (statutory or customary), or even a style
    • So, it is "JUSTICE" because all He does is GOD'S verdict and there is no higher authority to appeal to.
    • If you read the rest of Moses' Song (Deuteronomy 32:1-43), there are several observations to this "justice":
      • God chose those that had no 'god' to care for them as His possession and God cared for them.
      • God became angry and punished them when they worshiped demons instead of God. He did this to bring them back to Himself.
      • God's ultimate anger and punishment is reserved for those that steadfastly reject Him. Their destiny is destruction.

    (sorry, blame Paul but it is all ONE SENTENCE)
    [Romans 3:21-26 NKJV] 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
    • δίκαιος díkaios, dik'-ah-yos; from G1349; equitable (in character or act); by implication, innocent, holy (absolutely or relatively)
    • So, this "JUST" carries the connotation of "applied equitably to all".
    • Reading the rest of the SENTENCE (Thanks Paul, would a few more periods have killed you ;)), the equitable justice is "there is no difference" (Greek or Jew), "all have sinned", one "propitiation" for all, and "forbearance" to all to "pass over sins previously committed" (God did not kill you the moment you sinned). All of these demonstrate His righteousness "at the present time" (just like it says).

    [1 John 1:9 NKJV] 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    • δίκαιος díkaios, dik'-ah-yos; from G1349; equitable (in character or act); by implication, innocent, holy (absolutely or relatively)
    • Again, this "JUST" carries the connotation of "applied equitably to all".

    An observation.
    The "JUSTICE" of Deuteronomy (Hebrew) is based on God showing love for His people and anger towards His enemies. That LOVE includes punishing His Children when they do wrong to bring them back to right.
    The "JUST" of Romans and 1 John (Greek) is based on God showing impartiality in His love for His Children. It is not really talking about God's enemies (one way or the other).

    Not making too much about the differences between the OT and the NT (I am not one of those advocates), but I was merely making a semantic observation on the proof texts given and the Justice of God.
     
  18. Van

    Van Well-Known Member
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    PSA is and always has been a fiction, as Christ died for all mankind, those to be saved and those never to be saved.

    Plenty of professing Christians hold some mistaken views. Christ died as a ransom for all, those to be saved and those never to be saved.
     
  19. Van

    Van Well-Known Member
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    From an internet article
     
  20. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    :Rolleyes Writing in big letters is often a mark of childishness. It certainly does not make the argument any stronger.
    But you are correct on one thing: plenty of professing Christians hold some mistaken views.
     
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