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The JUSTICE of God

The next attribute is God's justice. 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.

Use one: See here another flower of God's crown—he is just and righteous. He is the exemplar and pattern of justice.

How can it be consistent with God's justice, that the wicked should prosper in the world? "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do the treacherous live at ease?" Jeremiah 12:1. Such as are highest in sin--are often highest in prosperity. This has led many to question God's justice. Diogenes seeing a thief live on affluently, said, "Surely God has cast off the government of the world, and does not care how things go on here below."

(1.) The wicked may be sometimes instruments to do God's work. Though they do not design his glory—yet they may promote it. Cyrus was instrumental in the building of God's 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 nothing?"

(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." 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 you might be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge."

(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 judgment which he executes;" 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 sharpening. Though God may forbear with 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!

God's justice may be as a sleeping lion—but the lion will awake at last, and roar upon the sinner! Do not Nero, and Julian, and Cain, now meet with God's justice?

But God's own people often suffer great afflictions ; they are injured and persecuted. "This is what the wicked are like—always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. For I am afflicted all day long, and punished every morning." Psalm 73:12-14. How can this be consistent with God's justice?

(I,) That is a true rule of Austin, "God's ways of judgment are sometimes secret —but never unjust !" The Lord never afflicts his people without a cause; he cannot be unjust towards them. There is some good in the godly, therefore the wicked afflict them; there is some evil in them, therefore God afflicts them. God's own children have their blemishes. "But aren't you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God?" 2 Chronicles 28:10. These spiritual diamonds—have they no flaws ? Do we not read of the spots of God's children? Are not they guilty of much pride, censoriousness, passion, worldliness? Though, by their profession, they should resemble the birds of paradise, to fly above, and feed upon the dew of heaven; yet, as the serpent, they lick the dust. These sins of God's people, do more provoke God than the sins of others. "The Lord saw this and was filled with loathing. He was provoked to anger by his own sons and daughters." Deut 32:19. The sins of others pierce Christ's side; the sins of His people wound his heart. Therefore is not God just in all the afflictions which befall them? "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins." 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 Zion. 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? What more proclaims God's faithfulness, than to take such a course with them as may make them better? "In faithfulness you have afflicted me."

(3.) What injustice is it in God to inflict a less punishment; in order to prevent a greater punishment? 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 favorably 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 God's 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." "Does the Almighty pervert justice?"

(1.) God is not bound to give an account of his actions to his creatures. If none may question a king, much less God. It is sufficient that 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 honor, and another to dishonor?" God has liberty in his own bosom, 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 are 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 saves 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, you have destroyed yourself." God offers grace— and the sinner refuses it. Is God bound to give grace? If a surgeon comes to heal a man's wound, and he will not be healed—is the surgeon bound to heal him? "I have called—and you refused." "Israel would not submit to me." Psalm 81:11. God is not bound to force his mercies upon men. If they willfully 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.

(1.) They are unjust in their courts of law—they pervert justice. "They decree unrighteous decrees." 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.

(2.) Men are unjust in their dealings. This is, [1] In using false weights. "The balances of deceit are in his hand." It is sad to have the Bible in one hand, and false weights in the other. Or, [2] In adulterating commodities. "Your wine is mixed with water," or when bad grain is mixed with good, and sold for pure grain. I can never believe he is good in the first table of the law—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 as he is.

Use three: Imitate God in justice. Let Christ's golden maxim be observed, "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." Matt 7:12. You would not have them wrong you—neither must you wrong them; rather suffer wrong—than do wrong. "Why do you not rather be wronged?" Oh be exemplary for justice! Let justice be your ornament. "I put on righteousness (namely, justice) as a robe and a diadem." A robe for its graceful beauty; and I put it on, [and I was clothed in righteousness]. A judge puts on his robe, and takes it off again at night ; but Job did so put on justice, as he did not take it off until death . We must not lay off this robe of justice until we lay down our bodies in the grave. 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. Heathen 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 is just, there will be a day of judgement. Now things are out of course; sin is rampant, saints are wronged, they are often defeated 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 in which he will judge the world" If God is 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, God's sword shall be drawn out against offenders; then his justice shall be revealed before all the world. "God will judge the world in righteousness." "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The wicked shall drink a sea of wrath—but not sip one drop of injustice! At that day shall all mouths be stopped, and God's justice shall be fully vindicated from all the cavils and clamors of unjust men.

Use five: Comfort to the true penitent. As God is a just God, he will pardon him. If man acknowledges his sin—God spares him. "If we confess our sins (that is confess and forsake), he is just to forgive us our sins." God is not only merciful, but just . Why just? Because he has promised to forgive such. "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Proverbs 28:13. If your heart has been broken for and from sin—you may not only plead God's mercy —but his justice for the pardoning of your sin. Show him his promise, and he cannot deny himself.

The MERCY of God.