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Chapter XIII.

Twisse’s first argument — Its answer — A trifling view of the divine attributes — Whether God could, by his absolute power, forgive sins without a satisfaction — To let sins pass unpunished implies a contradiction; and that twofold — What these contradictions are — Whether God may do what man may do — Whether every man may renounce his right — Whether God cannot forgive sins because of his justice — The second argument — Its answer — Distinctions of necessity — God doth no work without himself from absolute necessity — Conditional necessity — Natural necessity twofold — God doth not punish to the extent of his power, but to the extent of his justice — God always acts with a concomitant liberty — An argument of the illustrious Vossius considered — God “a consuming fire,” but an intellectual one — An exception of Twisse’s — Whether, independent of the divine appointment, sin would merit punishment — In punishment, what things are to be considered — The relation of obedience to reward and disobedience to punishment not the same — The comparison between mercy and justice by Vossius improperly instituted.

The first argument of this great man is this: “If God cannot forgive sins without a satisfaction, it is either because he cannot on account of his justice, or because he cannot by his power; but neither of these can be affirmed.”

Ans. That enumeration of the divine attributes, as to the present cause, is mere trifling: for what God cannot do in respect of one attribute, he can do in respect of none; or, in other words, that which 587cannot be done because of any one essential property, cannot be done because of them all. As, for instance, if there be any thing which God cannot do in respect of truth, he cannot do that in any manner or in any respect. In the acts of the divine will, purely free, the case is otherwise; for, in a divided sense, God may do any thing (that is, he may create new worlds), which if a decree of creating this and no other be supposed, he could not do. But the objects presented to any attribute of the divine nature admit not of various respects, but are in their own kind absolutely necessary; therefore, we deny the minor. Neither in respect of justice nor in respect of power can this be done.

But our learned antagonist leads the proof of it through its parts; and, first, after a marginal animadversion on a certain oversight of Piscator, he affirms “That it cannot be maintained that God cannot forgive sins by his power, without a satisfaction.”

“For,” says he, “if God by his might or absolute power cannot pardon sin, then it is absolutely impossible for sin to be pardoned, or not to be punished; therefore, not to pardon sin consists of contradictory terms. The contradiction, then, ought to be shown, as none appears from the formal terms. And, on the other hand, it is evident that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies when they transgress against him.”

Ans. The non-punishment of sin implies a contradiction, — not, indeed, formally and in the terms, but virtually and eminently in respect of the thing itself: for, in the first place, it implies that God is the Lord of mankind by a natural and indispensable right, but that mankind are not subject to him, neither as to obedience nor as to punishment, which would be the direct case if sin should pass with impunity; for that natural and necessary dependence being cut off (which, also, in another respect is moral) which accords to a rational creature in respect of its Creator and supreme Lord, which really comes to pass by means of sin, it cannot be renewed or made amends for but by punishment. In the second place, to hate sin, that is, to will to punish it, and not to hate sin, to will to let it pass unpunished, are manifestly contradictory.

If you say that God hath it in his power not to hate sin, you say that he hath the contrary in his power, — that is, that he can love sin; for if he hate sin of his free will, he may will the contrary, for “the divine will is not so determinately inclined towards any secondary object by any thing in itself that can justly oppose its inclination to its opposite.” This Scotus maintains, and Twisse agrees with him. But to will good and to love justice are not less natural to God than to be himself. Here is, then, a double contradiction in that assertion of this very learned man, namely, “That God can forgive sin absolutely, without any satisfaction received.”

588“But it is manifest,” says he, “that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies; and, therefore, this does not imply a contradiction.”

Ans. The supposition is denied, that God may do what man may do. That learned man raises this objection himself, that man may sin, which God cannot do, and at great length, and with much erudition, explains away this example. But as this instance of Twisse’s is not quite satisfactory to us, we think proper to proceed in a different manner.

I say, then, in the first place, that divine and human forgiveness are plainly of a different kind. The forgiveness of man only respects the hurt; the forgiveness of God respects the guilt. Man pardons sins so far as any particular injury hath been done himself; God pardons sin as the good of the universe is injured. Secondly, Neither is it in the power of every man to let sins pass unpunished, yea, of none absolutely to whom the right of punishing is competent; for although a private person may recede from his right, which for the most part is of charity, yet it is by no means allowed to a public person to renounce his right, which is a right of government, especially if that renunciation should in any way turn out to the hurt of the public. In the third place, then, I say that that instance is nothing to the purpose; for although a private person may, at certain times, renounce his right and dominion in certain cases, and ought to do so, it doth not follow from that that God, whose right and dominion is natural and indispensable, and which he cannot renounce unless he deny himself, can do the same. In the fourth place, the non-punishment of sin is an injury to the universe; for the glory of divine justice would be affronted with impunity.

Our celebrated antagonist proceeds to the consideration of divine justice. “But neither,” says he, “can it be consistently said that God cannot do this because of his justice, if it be supposed that he can do it by his power. But Scotus reasons with more judgment and accuracy on this point. ‘The divine will is not so inclined towards any secondary object by any thing in itself,’ says he, ‘that can oppose its being justly inclined towards its opposite in the same manner, as without contradiction it may will its opposite; otherwise, it may will absolutely and not justly, which is inconsistent with divine perfection.’ ”

Ans. We maintain that God from his nature cannot do this, and, therefore, that he cannot either by his power or his justice; and as our learned antagonist produces no argument to prove that God can do it without resistance from his justice, but what flows from this false supposition, that he can do it by his power, it is not necessary to give ourselves any trouble on this head. But to Scotus we answer: The divine will may incline to things opposite, in respect of the egresses of all those divine attributes which constitute and create 589objects to themselves, but not in respect of those attributes which have no egress towards their objects but upon a condition supposed. As, for instance: God may justly speak or not speak with man; but it being supposed that he wills to speak, the divine will cannot be indifferent whether he speak truth or not. So much for his first principal argument.

The second is this: “If God cannot let sin pass unpunished, then he must punish it from an absolute necessity; but this no one can maintain consistently with reason.”

This consequence the learned doctor supposes, without any argument to support it; but we deny the consequence, nor will he ever be able to prove that there is no other kind of necessity but an absolute necessity. There is also a necessity arising from a supposed condition, and which deprives not the agent of a concomitant liberty. God could not but create the world; but God did not create the world from an absolute necessity, although it was necessary upon a supposition that it should be created. It is necessary that God should speak truly, but he doth not speak from an absolute necessity; but it being supposed that he wills to speak, it is impossible that he should not speak truly. We say, therefore, that God cannot but punish sin, or that he necessarily punishes sin; not, however, from an absolute necessity of nature, as the Father begets the Son, but upon the suppositions167167    Namely, That he willed to create a rational being, and to permit it to transgress the law of its creation. — Tr. before mentioned, — by a necessity which excludes an antecedent indifference but not a concomitant liberty in the agent, for in punishing sins he acts by volition and with understanding.

“But that necessity,” you will say, “of what kind soever it be, flows from the nature of God, not his will or decree; but all necessity of nature seems to be absolute.” I acknowledge, indeed, that all necessity of nature, considered in the first act and thing signified,168168    “Actu primo et signato,” — “In its first and manifested act, its first act and manifestation.” — Ed. is absolute in its kind; but in the second act, and in its exercise, it is not so. The reader will easily perceive now that our very learned antagonist had no reason for freely supposing that consequence; which I reckon the very lowest of all the devices he has fallen upon. “If, then,” says he, “God must punish sin from a natural necessity, he must necessarily punish it to the extent of his power;” but this, with great accuracy, he shows to be absurd, by a variety of arguments.

Ans. Maccovius hath, some time ago, very clearly answered this reasoning. We reject his consequence, as built upon a false supposition; for that necessity from which God punisheth sin does not require that he should punish it to the extent of his power, but so far as is just. We do not conceive God to be a senseless, inanimate 590agent, as if he acted from principles of nature, after a natural manner, without a concomitant liberty; for he doth all things freely, with understanding and by volition, even those things which by supposition he doth necessarily, according to what his most holy nature requires.

The argument which the celebrated Vossius uses against our opinion is of no greater weight.169169    At the end of the “Defensio Fidei Catholicæ de Satisfactione Christi,” by Grotius, there is appended “G. J. Vossii Responsio ad Herm. Ravenspergeri Judicium de eodem.” It is in this “Responsio” that the sentiments refuted by Owen occur. — Ed. “Every agent,” says that very learned man, “that acts naturally, acts upon an object naturally receptive of its action: wherefore, if to punish were natural, namely, in that acceptation which necessity carries with it, such action could not pass from the person of a sinner to another person.”

But this learned man is mistaken when he imagines that we affirm God to be such a natural agent as must, without sense and immediately, operate upon the object that is receptive of it, in a manner altogether natural, and without any concomitant liberty, — that is, without any free act of understanding or volition; for although God be “a consuming fire,” he is an intellectual one. Nor is a sinner alone an object properly receptive of the exercise of God’s vindicatory justice, as he hath committed the transgressions in his own person; for antecedent to every act of that justice, properly so called, in respect of the elect, God appointed a surety, and this surety being appointed, and all the sins of the elect laid upon him, he in their room and stead is the proper object of this vindicatory justice, so far as relates to their sins. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor. v. 21.

But Twisse thus replies, “If God punish as far as he can with justice, — that is, as far as sin deserves, — then it must be either as far as sin deserves according to the free constitution of God, or without any regard to the divine constitution. If according to the divine constitution, this is nothing else but to assert that God punishes not so far as he can, but so far as he wills. If without any regard to the divine constitution, then without the divine constitution sin so deserves punishment that God ought to punish sin because of his justice. But I conclude this to be false in this manner: If disobedience deserve punishment in this manner, — that is, without the divine constitution, — therefore obedience will also, in like manner, deserve a reward without the divine constitution; for no reason can be shown that any one should maintain that even angels have merited, by their obedience, that God should reward them with celestial glory.”

But although these arguments are specious, yet, strictly considered, they have no greater weight than those already discussed; for in the 591punishment of sin two things are to be considered:— 1. The punishment itself, so far as it is in its own nature something grievous and troublesome to the creature, and proper to recover the violated right of God. In this respect we say that sin merits punishment antecedently to every free act of the divine will, or to the divine constitution; or, if you would rather have it thus expressed, that it is just that God should inflict punishment, considered as such, on the transgressor, without regard to any free constitution: for if, without regard to such a constitution, sin be sin, and evil, evil, — and unless it be so, to hate the greatest and best of Beings may be the highest virtue, and to love him the greatest vice, — why may not punishment be due to it without regard to such a consideration? 2. In punishment, the mode, time, and degree are especially to be considered. In respect of these God punishes sin according to the divine constitution; for the justice of God only demanding punishment in general, as including in it the nature of punishment, nothing hinders but that God should freely appoint the mode and degree of it. He punishes them because it is just that he should do so, and consequently indispensably necessary. He punishes in one mode or in another, in one degree or in another, because, according to his wisdom, he hath determined freely so to do. What we understand by modes and degrees of punishment shall be afterward explained.

“But,” says our celebrated antagonist, “if disobedience thus deserve punishment, why should not obedience in like manner deserve a reward, for no reason to the contrary can be assigned?” I wish this learned man had not so expressed himself, for he will never be able to prove that the relation of obedience to reward and disobedience to punishment is the same; for between obedience and the reward there intervenes no natural obligation. God is brought under an obligation to no one for any kind of obedience; for “after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants.” But God’s right that rational creatures should be subject to him, either by obedience or a vicarious punishment, is indispensable. In a word, obedience is due to God in such a manner, that from the nature of the thing he can be debtor to none in conferring rewards; but disobedience would destroy all dependence of the creature upon God, unless a recompense be made by punishment.

The celebrated Vossius, again, reasons improperly, in the passage before quoted, from a comparison made between justice and mercy. “The question is not,” says he, “whether it be just that a satisfaction be received? but whether it be unjust that it should not be received? for it doth not follow that if God be merciful in doing one thing or another, that he would be unmerciful in not doing it.” I acknowledge that it does not follow: for although mercy be natural to God as to the habit, yet because there is no natural obligation 592between it and its proper object, it is as to all its acts entirely free; for the nature of the thing about which it is employed is not indispensable, as we have shown before to be the case with regard to justice. So much for the learned Twisse’s second argument, with the consideration of it.

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