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His eternal nature, that nature, as holy before it creates, must be regarded the ultimate ground. (6) In like view, in His preceptive administration, the moral law, given to men through revelation, comes in its immediate relation as a direct expression of His will, while ultimately grounded in the divine nature itself. (c) The ethically right or holy can never be thought of as changeable at mere divine volition, or as resting on Will alone. Since with God the right exists in His nature, as the prius of His willing, embodied in the absolute ground of all things, all mutation by God of the standard of the good becomes impossible. To think otherwise would be a denial of the divine holiness itself, for it would not be a holy choice if God did not choose the good as good, and because it is good. In God the ethical order is eternally conceived and eternally realized." (d) There is a sphere or relation, however, in which God can impose or withdraw duty, establish or repeal obligation at or by His will alone—in the sphere of things otherwise morally indifferent. In this sphere the simple command of God makes or changes human duty. It is thus we have positive statutes, ordinances, requirements for local or temporary use, as in the ritual rules and rites of the Old Testament, and Baptism and the Lord's Supper in the New.
2. JUSTICE, or RIGHTEOUSNESS is that attribute by which God, according to His innermost nature, establishes right relations among His creatures and treats them in equity, dealing with them according to their deserts. Though this attribute is grounded in the immanent life of God, it is to be conceived as having specially a creatureward look and administrational
· W. S. Lilly, “On Right and Wrong,” p. 115.
activity. In its immanent reality it appears scarcely distinguishable from holiness, and so it is sometimes represented as simply expressing the transitive side of holiness. But because of the fundamental relation of holiness, we are not entitled to view them as identical. If we discriminate, as we may, between “justice” and "righteousness,” the latter applies to the divine ordering of right relations and requirements, giving holy laws with proper sanctions; the former to the rewarding of conduct with the recompense or punishment due to it. No more than holiness can this attribute be regarded as proceeding in an arbitrary way in either of these ranges of its manifestation. Punitive visitation cannot be in excess of real demerit, and the manifestation of grace or mercy can take place only as the principle of righteousness or justice can be satisfied and preserved. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. xviii. 25). “All His ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He” (Deut. xxxii. 4). “Who will render to every man according to his deeds
(Rom. ii. 6). “To declare at this time His righteousness; that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. iii. 26).
The reason for punitive justice, or why God punishes sin, comes into view in the light of these truths of the divine holiness and righteousness. A correct understanding of it is vital for a true conception of the divine government and the Christian doctrine of the atonement. It is important, too, for a just appreciation of the true relations of human government in the use of penalties. Four leading views have been presented.1
1 H. B. Smith, “System of Theology," pp. 46-47.
One makes the end of punishment to reform the wrongdoer. This means that it is simply an act of benevolence -denying its punitive character altogether. It is only reformatory correction. Doubtless punishment may have this effect. But this, as has been shown, cannot be the whole explanation of it. For (a) it drops out of view the intrinsic ill-desert of sin. If sin is not intrinsically wrong the disciplinary pain inflicted on it would itself be wrong. (6) It is contradicted by the moral convictions of the offender himself, who knows his punishment to be deserved, irrespective of the question of his reformation. (c) If reformation be the end, it fails largely to effect it. Few are reformed. Witness the result of the natural and civic punishments which come on prevalent vices or offenses with which our criminal courts are perpetually occupied. (d) Unless felt to be due for deeper reason, punishment can have no virtue for reformation. The theory is essentially shallow, assuming that nothing else is to be considered but the person who has forfeited his rights.
A second view holds that the end is to deter others. But the deterrent effect is only incidental. For (a) unless the deed in itself deserves the punishment, our whole moral sense would revolt against punishing a man for the sake of others or the good of society. (6) It is only the actual justice of it that ever renders the effect salutary. Therefore, here also, unless there be some deeper reason for punitive action, the effect itself must be nullified.
A third theory makes the object to be the maintenance of the supremacy of law and government. This is closely allied to the second, but is special in that it looks to the law in itself, irrespective of the divine neces
sity of the law. Grotius' represents God's law as simply the product of His Will, that Will in its absolute sovereignty making right or wrong, or determining what shall pass for such. The divine law is made to rest on a contingent action of the divine Will, and punitive action is for the sake of the given law. This is untenable, because (a) It makes the distinction between right and wrong purely arbitrary, whereas, according not only to just moral conceptions, but the necessary Biblical view of the divine holiness as immanent in the divine nature and God's choice of the ethically good as such, this distinction is absolute and independent of all mere volition, human or divine. (6) It removes all absolute necessity for punishment, since, if the law depends only on the divine volition in that sense, the penalty also depends only on it, and can be remitted merely at such will. (c) The thing in exercise in such case would not be essential justice, but simply governmental authority, or, rather, power, which would be tyranny if there were not a deeper reason back of it.
The fourth view—which is unquestionably the true one—is that the eternal holy nature of God immutably determines Him against sin as deserving of penal repression. It is only in this view that the half-truths of the preceding theories get their right place and significance. The explanation has two parts, and both must be kept in mind. The first part is God's own eternal and essential justice, and means (a) That the ethical law is not a product of the divine will, simply as will, but a transcript of the immutable divine nature. All fundamental principles must have changeless ground in God's own being. (6) That the reason for punishing sin arises from the absolute holiness of His nature. As it is said, “He cannot lie,” and “cannot deny Himself,” so He cannot but hate sin and all unrighteousness. The second part is the intrinsic ill-desert of sin. Evidence of this is found, (a) In the primary affirmations of universal con. science. They assert sin's demerit and desert of punishment. This is so as to our own sins when we awake to the fact of them: “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Ps. li. 4). Often the sense of ill-desert takes the intensity of remorse. As to the sins of others, the moral sense gives the same judgment—justifying the punishment of wrong-doers, and awakening to indignation when the guilty go free. (6) Revelation sustains this: “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (2 Thes. i. 6). “Knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. i. 32). In the light of this Biblical view, all aspects of allied or cognate truths find their special place and value. When it is seen that the divine holiness is necessarily self-determining against sin as something that deserves repressive penalty, there is clear adaptation to incidental reformatory effect, deterrent service, and the consequent good order of society through the well-maintained sanctity of the law. The law carrying God's own holiness is just and good. It is proper to observe, too, how holiness and love may unite in the use of penalties. Holiness punishes as the necessary vindication of righteousness; goodness requires it for the sake of the welfare and happiness which are possible only through the moral order which holiness maintains.
1" Defensio Fidei Catholicæ de Satisfactione Christi."