The justice of God

Watson WednesdaysWednesdays with Watson is a weekly reading taken from my favorite Puritan writer, Thomas Watson.  This week’s selection is taken from A Body of Divinity.

All God’s attributes are in unity, 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. “Just and righteous is he.” “His justice and great righteousness.” God is said to dwell in justice. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.” Psalm 89:14. In God, power and justice meet. Power holds the scepter, and justice holds the balance.

I. What is God’s justice?

“Justice is to give everyone his due.” God’s justice is the rectitude of his nature, whereby he is carried to the doing of that which is righteous and equal. “Shall not he render to every man according to his works?” God is an impartial judge. He judges the cause. Men often judge the person—but not the cause; which is not justice—but malice. “I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry which is come up unto me.” When the Lord is upon a punitive act, he weighs things in the balance; he does not punish rashly. Concerning God’s justice, I shall lay down these six positions:

[1] God cannot but be just. His holiness is the cause of his justice. Holiness will not allow 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, naturally. Justice flows from his nature. Men may act unjustly, because they are bribed or forced to. But 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. “You love righteousness.”

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

[5] God never did, nor can do, the least wrong to his creatures. God’s justice has been wronged—but his justice never did any wrong. God may not act according to the rigor of the law; he abates something of his severity. He might inflict heavier penalties than he does. “You have punished us less than our iniquities deserve.” 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. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.” Isa 28:17. It is below him to give an account to us, of his proceedings. Which of these two should prevail—God’s justice or man’s reason? “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it—Why did you make me like this?” Romans 9:20. The plumb line of our reason is too short—to fathom the depth of God’s justice. Rom 11:33. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!” We are to adore God’s justice, where we cannot see the reason of it.

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

[1] In rewarding the virtuous. “Truly there is a reward for the righteous.” The saints shall not serve him for nothing; though they may be losers for him, they shall not be losers by him. “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed to his name.” 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. (1.) Because he punishes sinners by a law. “Where there is no law, there is no transgression.” 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 man’s 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.

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