A Body of Divinity


Thomas Watson

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The Justice of God

The next attribute is Godís justice. All Godís attributes are identical, and are the same with his essence. Though he has several attributes whereby he is made known to us, yet he has but one essence. A cedar tree may have several branches, yet it is but one cedar. So there are several attributes of God whereby we conceive of him, but only one entire essence. Well, then, concerning God's justice. Deut 32: 4. 'Just and right is he.' Job 37: 23. 'Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in plenty of justice.' God is said to dwell in justice. Psa 89: I4. 'Justice and judgement are the habitation of thy throne.í In God, power and justice meet. Power holds the sceptre, and justice holds the balance.

I. What is Godís justice?

'Justice is to give every one his due.' Godís justice is the rectitude of his nature, whereby he is carried to the doing of that which is righteous and equal. Prov 24: I2. 'Shall not he render to every man according to his works?' God is an impartial judge. He judgeth the cause. Men often judge the person, but not the cause; which is not justice, but malice. Gen 18: 2I. 'I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry which is come up unto me.í When the Lord is upon a punitive act, he weighs things in the balance, he does not punish rashly; he does not go in the way of a riot, but a circuit, against offenders. Concerning God's justice, I shall lay down these six positions: -

[I] God cannot but be just. His holiness is the cause of his justice. Holiness will not suffer him to do anything but what is righteous. He can no more be unjust than he can be unholy.

[2] God's will is the supreme rule of justice; it is the standard of equity. His will is wise and good. God wills nothing but what is just; and therefore it is just because he wills it.

[3] God does justice voluntarily. Justice flows from his nature. Men may act unjustly, because they are bribed or forced: God will not be bribed, because of his justice; he cannot be forced, because of his power. He does justice out of love to justice. Psa 45: 7. 'Thou lovest righteousness.í

[4] Justice is the perfection of the divine nature. Aristotle says, 'Justice comprehends in it all virtues.í To say God is just, is to say, he is all that is excellent: perfections meet in him, as lines in a centre. He is not only just, but justice itself.

[5] God never did nor can do the least wrong to his creatures. Godís justice has been wronged, but never did any wrong. God does not go according to the summum jus, or rigour of the law; he abates something of his severity. He might inflict heavier penalties than he does. 'Thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve.í Ezra 9: I3. Our mercies are more than we deserve, and our punishments less.

[6] God's justice is such that it is not fit for any man or angel to expostulate with him, or demand a reason of his actions. God has not only authority on his side, but equity. 'He lays judgement to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.í Isa 28: I7. It is below him to give an account to us of his proceedings. Which of these two is more fit to take place, God's justice or man's reason? Rom 9: 20. 'Who art thou, O man, that replies against God?í The plumb line of our reason is too short to fathom the depth of Godís justice. Rom 11: 33. 'How unsearchable are his judgements!í We are to adore Godís justice, where we cannot see a reason of it.

II. Godís justice runs in two channels. It is seen in two things, the distribution of rewards and punishments.

[I] In rewarding the virtuous. Psa 58: 2: 'Verily there is a reward for the righteous.í The saints shall not serve him for nought, he will reward praerces et lachrymas; though they may be losers for him, they shall not be losers by him. 'God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed to his name.' Heb 6: 10. He gives a reward, not because we have deserved it, but because he has promised it.

[2] He is just in punishing offenders. He is just. (I.) Because he punishes sinners by a law. 'Where there is no law, there is no transgression.í Rom 4: 15. But God has given men a law, and they break it, therefore he punishes them justly. (2.) God is just in punishing the wicked, because he never punished them but upon full proof and evidence. What greater evidence than for a manís own conscience to be witness against him! There is nothing God charges upon a sinner but conscience sets its seal to the truth of it.

Use one: See here another flower of Godís crown, he is just and righteous. He is the exemplar and pattern of justice.

But how does it seem to stand with Godís justice, that the wicked should prosper in the world? 'Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?í Jer 12: 1. This has been a great stumbling, and has led many to question Godís justice. Such as are highest in sin are highest in power. Diogenes seeing Harpalus a thief go on prosperously, said, 'Sure God has cast off the government of the world, and mindeth not how things go on here below.í

(I.) The wicked may be sometimes instruments to do Godís work. Though they do not design his glory, yet they may promote it. Cyrus (Ezra 1: 7) was instrumental in the building of Godís temple in Jerusalem. There is some kind of justice, that they should have a temporal reward. God lets those prosper under whose wing his people are sheltered. God will not be in any man's debt. 'Who has kindled a fire on my altar for nought?' Mal 1: 10.

(2.) God lets men go on in sin, and prosper, that he may leave them more inexcusable. 'I gave her space to repent of her fornication.' Rev 2: 2 1: God adjourns the sessions, spins out his mercies towards sinners; and if they repent not, his patience will be a witness against them, and his justice will be more cleared in their condemnation. 'That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judges".' Psa 51: 4.

(3.) God does not always let the wicked prosper in their sin. Some he punishes openly, that his justice may be taken notice of. 'The Lord is known by the judgement which he executeth:' Psa 9: I6: that is, his justice is seen by striking men dead in the very act of sin. Thus he struck Zimri and Cozbi in the act of uncleanness.

(4.) If God lets men prosper a while in their sin, his vial of wrath is all this while filling; his sword is all this time whetting: and though God may forbear men a while, yet long forbearance is no forgiveness. The longer God is in taking his blow, the heavier it will be at last. As long as there is eternity, God has time enough to reckon with his enemies.

Justice may be as a lion asleep, but at last the lion will awake, and roar upon the sinner. Do not Nero, and Julian, and Cain, now meet with Godís justice?

But Godís own people suffer great afflictions; they are injured and persecuted. 'All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.í Psa 74: I4. How does this stand with Godís justice?

(I,) That is a true rule of Austin, Judicia Dei possum esse occulta, non injusta; 'Godís ways of judgement are sometimes secret, but never unjust.í The Lord never afflicts his people without a cause; so that he cannot be unjust. There is some good in the godly, therefore the wicked afflict them; there is some evil in them, therefore God afflicts them. Godís own children have their blemishes. 'Are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord?í 2 Chron 28: 10. These spiritual diamonds, have they no flaws? Do we not read of the spots of Godís children? Deut 32: 5. Are not they guilty of much pride, censoriousness, passion, worldliness? Though, by their profession, they seem to resemble the birds of paradise, to fly above, and feed upon the dew of heaven; yet, as the serpent, they lick the dust. And these sins of Godís people do more provoke God than others. 'Because of the provoking of his sons and daughters.í Deut 32: I9. The sins of others pierce Christís side, these wound his heart. Therefore is not God just in all the evils that befall them? 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.' Amos 3: 2. I will punish you sooner, surer, sorer, than others.

(2.) The trials and sufferings of the godly are to refine and purify them. God's furnace is in Sion. Isa 31: 9. Is it any injustice in God to put his gold into the furnace to purify it? Is it any injustice in God, by afflicting his people, to make them partakers of his holiness? Heb 12: 10. What more proclaims God's faithfulness, than to take such a course with them as may make them better? 'In faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.' Psa 119: 75.

(3.) What injustice is it in God to inflict a less punishment; and prevent a greater? The best of God's children have that in them which is meritorious of hell. Does God do them any wrong, if he uses only the rod, where they have deserved the scorpion? Is the father unjust, if he only corrects his child, who has deserved to be disinherited? If God deals so favourably with his children, he only puts wormwood in their cup, whereas he might put fire and brimstone. They should rather admire his mercy than complain of his injustice.

How can it stand with Godís justice, that all men being equally guilty by nature, he does pass by one and save another? Why does he not deal with all alike?

'Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.í Rom 9: I4. 'Does the Almighty pervert justice?' Job 8: 3.

(I.) God is not bound to give an account of his actions to his creatures. If none may say to a king, 'What doest thou?' Eccles 8: 4, much less to God. It is sufficient, God is Lord paramount; he has a sovereign power over his creatures, therefore can do no injustice. 'Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour?' Rom 9: 2I. God has liberty in his own breast, to save one, and not another; and his justice is not at all impeached or blemished. If two men owe you money, you may, without any injustice, remit the debt to one, and exact it of the other. If two malefactors be condemned to die, the king may pardon the one and not the other: he is not unjust if he lets one suffer, because he offended the law; nor if he save the other, because he will make use of his prerogative as he is king.

(2.) Though some are saved and others perish, yet there is no unrighteousness in God; because, whoever perishes, his destruction is of himself. 'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.í Hos 13: 9. God offers grace, and the sinner refuses it. Is God bound to give grace? If a surgeon comes to heal a manís wound, and he will not be healed, is the surgeon bound to heal him? 'I have called, and ye refused.' Prov 1: 24. 'Israel would none of me.í Psa 81: 2: God is not bound to force his mercies upon men. If they wilfully oppose the offer of grace, their sin is to be regarded as the cause of their perishing, and not God's justice.

Use two: See the difference between God and a great part of the world. They are unjust. (I.) In their courts of judicature they pervert justice. 'They decree unrighteous decrees.' Isa 10: 1. The Hebrew word for a judge's robe signifies prevarication, deceit, or injustice, which is more often true of the judge than of the robe. What is a good law without a good judge? Injustice lies in two things, either not to punish where there is a fault, or, to punish where there is no fault. Again (2.) Men are unjust in their dealings. This is, [I] In using false weights. 'The balances of deceit are in his hand.í Hos 12: 7. It is sad to have the Bible in one hand, and false weights in the other. Or, [2] In adulterating commodities. 'Thy wine is mixed with water,' Isa 1: 22: when bad grain is mixed with good, and sold for pure grain. I can never believe he is good in the first table who is not good in the second. He cannot be godly who is not just. Though God does not bid you be as omnipotent as he is, yet he bids you be as just.

Use three: Imitate God in justice. Let Christ's golden maxim be observed, 'What you would have men to do to you, do ye even so to them.' Matt 7: I2. You would not have them wrong you, neither do you them; rather suffer wrong than do wrong. 'Why do ye not rather take wrong?' 1 Cor 6: 7. Oh be exemplary for justice! Let justice be your ornament. 'I put on righteousness (viz. justice) as a robe and a diadem.' Job 29: I4. A robe for its graceful beauty; and I put it on, et induebam justitiam [and I was clothed in righteousness]. A judge puts on his robe, and puts it off again at night; but Job did so put on justice, as he did not put it off till death; semper vestitus [forever clothed]. We must not lay off this robe of justice till we lay down our tabernacle. If you have anything of God in you, you will be like him. By every unjust action you deny yourselves to be Christians, you stain the glory of your profession. Heathens will rise up in judgement against you. The sun might sooner alter his course than God could be turned from doing justice.

Use four: If God be just, there will be a day of judgement. Now things are out of course; sin is rampant, saints are wronged, they are often cast in a righteous cause, they can meet with no justice here, justice is turned into wormwood; but there is a day coming, when God will set things right; he will do every man justice; he will crown the righteous and condemn the wicked. 'He has appointed a day,' &c. Acts 17: 31. If God be a just God, he will take vengeance. God has given men a law to live by, and they break it. There must be a day for the execution of offenders. A law not executed is but like a wooden dagger, for a show. At the last day, Godís sword shall be drawn out against offenders; then his justice shall be revealed before all the world. 'God will judge in righteousness.í Acts 17: 31: 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?í Gen 18: 25. The wicked shall drink a sea of wrath, but not sip one drop of injustice. At that day shall all mouths be stopped, and Godís justice shall be fully vindicated from all the cavils and clamours of unjust men.

Use five: Comfort to the true penitent. As God is a just God, he will pardon him. Homo agnoscit, Deus ignoscit [Man acknowledges his sin, God spares him]. 'If we confess our sins (i.e. confess and forsake), he is just to forgive us our sins.' I John 1: 9. Not only merciful but just. Why just? Because he has promised to forgive such. Prov 28: I3. If thy heart has been broken for and from sin, thou mayest not only plead Godís mercy, but his justice for the pardoning of thy sin. Show him his hand and seal, and he cannot deny himself.