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Chapter XVII.

Rutherford reviewed — An oversight of that learned man — His opinion of punitory justice — He contends that divine justice exists in God freely — The consideration of that assertion — This learned writer and Twisse disagree — His first argument — Its answer — The appointment of Christ to death twofold — The appointment of Christ to the mediatorial office an act of supreme dominion — The punishment of Christ an act of punitory justice — An argument of that learned man, easy to answer — The examination of the same — The learned writer proves things not denied — Passes over things to be denied — What kind of necessity we ascribe to God in punishing sins — A necessity upon a condition supposed — What the suppositions are upon which that necessity is founded — A difference between those things which are necessary by a decree and those which are so from the divine nature — The second argument of that learned man — His obscure manner of writing pointed out — Justice and mercy different in respect of their exercise — What it is to owe the good of punitory justice to the universe — This learned man’s third argument — The answer — Whether God could forbid sin, and not under the penalty of eternal death — Concerning the modification of punishment in human courts from the divine appointment — The manner of it — What this learned author understands by the “internal court” of God — This learned author’s fourth argument — All acts of grace have a respect to Christ — His fifth argument — The answer — A dissertation of the various degrees of punishment — For what reason God may act unequally with equals — Concerning the delay of punishment, and its various dispensations.

The consideration of the arguments advanced by Mr Samuel Rutherford189189    In his book on Providence, chapter xxii. page 345, assert. 6. 608against this truth which we are now maintaining shall conclude this dissertation. He maintains, as I have observed before, “That punitory justice exists not in God by necessity of nature, but freely;” and he has said that Twisse hath proved this by a variety of arguments, one of which, in preference to the others, he builds on, as unanswerable.

But, with this great man’s leave, I must tell him that Twisse hath never even said, much less proved, “That punitory justice exists freely in God, and not from a necessity of nature;” nor, indeed, can it be said by any one, with any show of reason, for punitory justice denotes the habit of justice, nor is it less justice because it is punitory. But be assured the accurate Twisse hath never maintained that any habit exists in God freely, and not from a necessity of nature. We have before accounted in what sense habits are ascribed to God. Even the more sagacious Socinians do not fall into such a blunder; but they deny such a habit to exist in God at all, and entirely divest him of this justice. Twisse, indeed, maintains that the exercise of that justice is free to God, but grants that justice itself is a natural attribute of God; the Socinians, that it is only a free act of the divine will. Which party this learned author favours appears not from his words. If by justice he mean the habit, he sides with the Socinians; if the act and exercise, he is of the same opinion with Twisse, although he expresses his sentiments rather unhappily. But let us consider this learned writer’s arguments:—

The first, which he acknowledges to be taken from Twisse (the same thing may be said of most of his others), and which he pronounces unanswerable, is this: “God gave up his most innocent Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to death, in consequence of his punitory justice, and it was certainly in his power not to have devoted him to death, for from no necessity of nature did God devote his Son to death; for if so, then God would not have been God, which is absurd, for of his free love he gave him up to death, John iii. 16; Rom. viii. 32.”

As there is no need of a sword to cut this “indissoluble knot,” as he calls it, let us try by words what we can do to untie it. I answer, then, The devoting of Christ to death is taken in a twofold sense:— 1. For the appointment of Christ to the office of surety, and to suffer the punishment of our sins in our room and stead. 2. For the infliction of punishment upon Christ, now appointed our surety, and our delivery through his death being now supposed.

The devoting of Christ to death, considered in the first sense, we deny to be an act of punitory justice, or to have arisen from that justice; for that act by which God destined his Son to the work of mediation, by which, in respect of their guilt, he transferred from us all our sins and laid them upon Christ, are acts of supreme dominion, 609and breathe love and grace rather than avenging justice. But the punishment of Christ, made sin for us, is an act of punitory justice; nor, upon the supposition that he was received in our room as our surety, could it be otherwise. And although, in drawing such consequences, I think we ought to refrain as to what might be possible, I am not, however, afraid to affirm that God could not have been God, — that is, just and true, — if he had not devoted to death his Son, when thus appointed our mediator.

What shall we say? — that even this learned man was aware of this twofold sense of the phrase, “The devoting of Christ to death?” He either had not thoroughly weighed that distinction, or else he is inconsistent with and shamefully contradicts himself; for in the beginning of the argument he asserts, that “the devoting of Christ to death had its rise from punitory justice,” but in the end he says it was from “free love.” But certainly punishing justice is not free love. He must, then, either acknowledge a twofold appointment of Christ to death, or he cannot be consistent with himself. But the passages of Scripture that he quotes evidently mean the appointment of Christ to death, as we have explained it in the first sense of the phrase.

What reason this learned man had for so much boasting of this argument as unanswerable, let the reader determine; to me it appears not only very easily answerable, but far beneath many others that one disputing on such a subject must encounter.

But he introduces some as making answers to his argument, who affirm “That Christ was not innocent, but a sinner by imputation, and made sin for us; and that it was necessary from the essential justice of God, and his authority, as enjoining that he should make atonement for sin in himself and in his own person.”190190    “Necessary from the essential justice of God that he should suffer the punishment due to sinners, either in his own proper person, or in that of a surety.” — Ed.

I applaud the prudence of this learned man, who, from no kind of necessity, but freely, frames answers to his own arguments. Here he has exhibited such a one as nobody but himself would have dreamed of; for although what your crazy disputants, or this learned divine, fighting with himself, say be true, he must, however, be a fool who can believe that it has any relation to the present subject. To those adversaries who urge that “God freely punishes sin because he punished his Son who knew no sin,” and who contend that “God may equally not punish the guilty as punish the innocent,” we answer, that Christ, though intrinsically and personally innocent, yet as he was by substitution, and consequently legally, guilty, is no instance of the punishment of an innocent person; for he was not punished as the most innocent Son of God. Passing over these things, then, — and indeed they are of no import to the present subject, — he endeavours to prove, by several arguments, that God laid our sins upon Christ 610by constituting him surety, and from no necessity of nature. But even this effort is of no service to his cause, for this we by no means deny; so that his labour is entirely superfluous. At length, however, in the progress of the dispute, this learned gentleman advances some arguments that seem suitable to his purpose.

“We readily grant,” says he, “upon supposition that Christ was made our surety by the decree of God, that he could not be but punished by God, and yet freely, as God created the world of mere free will, though necessarily, in respect of his immutability; for it cannot be that a free action should impose on God a natural or physical necessity of doing any thing.”

We have shown before what kind of a necessity we ascribe to God in punishing sins. It is not an inanimate or merely physical necessity, as if God acted from principles of nature, in a manner altogether natural, — that is, without any intervening act of understanding or will; for “he worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.” But it is such a necessity as leaves to God an entire concomitant liberty in acting, but which necessarily, by destroying all antecedent indifference, accomplishes its object, — namely, the punishment of sin, — the justice, holiness, and purity of God so requiring. But this necessity, though it hindereth not the divine liberty, any more than that which is incumbent on God of doing any thing in consequence of a decree, from the immutability of his nature, yet it arises not from a decree, but from things themselves particularly constituted, and not as the other kind of necessity, from a decree only. And, therefore, in those things which God does necessarily, merely from the supposition of a decree, the decree respects the thing to be done, and affects it antecedently to the consideration of any necessity incumbent on him; but in those whose necessity arises from the demand of the divine nature, a decree only supposes a certain condition of things, which being supposed, immediately, and without any consideration of any respect to a decree, it is necessary that one or another consequence should follow. As, for instance: after God decreed that he would create the world, it was impossible that he should not create it, because he is immutable, and the decree immediately respected that very thing, namely, the creation of it. But the necessity of punishing sin arises from the justice and holiness of God, it being supposed that, in consequence of a decree, a rational creature existed, and was permitted to transgress; but he punishes the transgression which he decreed to permit because he is just, and not only because he decreed to punish it. The necessity, then, of creating the world arises from a decree; the necessity of punishing sin, from justice.

“But it is impossible,” says Rutherford, “that a free action can impose a natural or physical necessity of doing any thing upon God.”

But by a “free action” it can be proved that certain things may be placed in such a condition that God could not but exercise certain 611acts towards them, on account of the strict demand of some attribute of his nature, though not from a physical and insensible necessity, which excludes all liberty of action; for it being supposed that in consequence of a free decree God willed to speak with man, it is necessary from the decree that he should speak, but that he should speak truth is necessary from the necessity of his nature. Supposing, then, a free action, in which he hath decreed to speak, a natural necessity of speaking truth is incumbent on God, nor can he do otherwise than speak truth. Supposing sin to exist, and that God willed to do any thing with regard to sin (although perhaps this is not in consequence of a decree), it is necessary, by necessity of nature, that he should do justice, — that is, that he should punish it; for the righteous judgment of God is, “That they which commit such things,” namely, who commit sin, “are worthy of death.” There are certain attributes of the Deity which have no egress but towards certain objects particularly modified, for they do not constitute or create objects to themselves, as other divine attributes do; but these objects being once constituted by a free act of the divine will, they must necessarily, — for such is their nature and manner, — be exercised.

What this learned writer farther adds in support of his argument is founded on a mistaken idea of the subject in question; for as the necessity of punishing sin arises from the right and justice of God, it is by no means necessary that he should punish it in one subject more than in another, but only that he should punish it, and that thereby his right may be restored and his justice satisfied.

The second argument of this learned writer is this: “As God freely has mercy on whom he will, — for he is under obligation to none, and yet mercy is essential to him, — so God does not by any necessity of nature owe punishment to a sinner. Although, then, man owe obedience to God, or a vicarious compensation by means of punishment, from the necessity of a decree, yet those who say that God, by necessity of nature, owes the good of punitory justice to the universe, which were he not to execute he would not be God, — those, I say, indirectly deny the existence of a God.”

Although any one may perceive that these assertions are unsubstantial, unfounded, and more obscure than even the books of the Sibyls, we shall, however, make a few observations upon them. In the first place, then, it must be abundantly clear, from what has been already said, that mercy and justice are different in respect of their exercise, nor need we now farther insist on that point. But how this learned man will prove that sparing mercy, — which, as not only the nature of the thing itself requires, but even the Socinians with the orthodox agree, ought to be viewed in the same light as punitory justice, — is essential to God, when he affirms punitory justice to exist in God freely, I cannot conjecture. But as there is no one 612who doubts but that God does all things for the glory and manifestation of his own essential attributes, why it should be more acceptable to him, in his administration respecting sin committed, to exercise an act of the will purely free, no excellence of his nature so requiring, than of an essential property,191191    Namely, mercy. — Tr. to do in all respects whatsoever he pleaseth, and to spread abroad its glory, it will be difficult to assign a reason. God, I say, has a proper regard for the glory of his attributes; and as mercy earnestly and warmly urges the free pardon of sins, if no attribute of the divine nature required that they should be punished, it is strange that God, by an act of his will entirely free, should have inclined to the contrary. But we have shown before that the Scriptures lay a more sure foundation for the death of Christ.

Secondly, God does not owe to the sinner punishment from a necessity of nature, but he owes the infliction of punishment on account of sin to his own right and justice, for thence the obligation of a sinner to punishment arises; nor is the debt of obedience in rational creatures resolvable into a decree in any other respect than as it is in consequence of a decree that they are rational creatures.

In the third place, the conclusion of this argument would require even the Delian swimmer’s abilities to surmount it. So very puzzling and harsh is the diction, that it is difficult to make any sense of it; for what means that sentence, “That God, by a necessity of nature, owes the good of punitory justice to the universe?” The good of the universe is the glory of God himself. To owe, then, “the good of punitory justice to the universe,” is to owe the good of an essential attribute to his own glory. But, again, what is “the good of punitory justice?” Justice itself, or the exercise of it? Neither can be so called with any propriety. But if the learned author mean this, that God ought to preserve his own right and dominion over the universe, and that this is just, his nature so requiring him, but that it cannot be done, supposing sin to exist, without the exercise of punitory justice, and then that those who affirm this indirectly deny the existence of God, — this is easy for any one to assert, but not so easy to prove.

This learned author’s third argument is taken from some absurd consequences, which he supposes to follow from our opinion; for he thus proceeds to reason: “Those who teach that sin merits punishment from a necessity of the divine nature, without any intervention of a free decree, teach, at the same time, that God cannot forbid sin to man without necessarily forbidding it under the penalty of eternal death. As if,” says he, “when God forbids adultery or theft, in a human court he forbids them with a modification of the punishment, — namely, that theft should not be punished with death, but by a quadruple restitution, — he could not forbid them without any sanction of a punishment; and as he commands these to be 613punished by men because they are sins, why cannot he for the same reason manage matters so in his own internal court,192192    “Et moderari et suspendere,” — “In his own internal court both mitigate and suspend,” etc. — Ed. and suspend all punishment, and nevertheless forbid the same transgressions?”

A fine show of reasoning; but there is no real solid truth in it, for all is false.

In what sense sin deserves punishment from the necessity of the divine nature, we have already shown at large. Neither, however, do we think ourselves bound to teach that God could not forbid sin but under the penalty of eternal death; for we hold that not one or another kind of punishment is necessary, but that punishment itself is necessary, and the punishment, according to the rule of God’s wisdom and justice, is death. Moreover, a rational creature, conscious of its proper subjection and obediential dependence, being created and existing, God did not account it at all necessary to forbid it to sin by a free act of his will, under one penalty or another; for both these follow from the very situation of the creature, and the order of dependence, — namely, that it should not transgress by withdrawing itself from the right and dominion of the Creator, and if it should transgress, that it should be obnoxious and exposed to coercion and punishment. But it being supposed that God should forbid sin by an external legislation, the appointment of punishment, even though there should be no mention made of it, must be coequal with the prohibition.

“But God,” says he, “in his human court forbids sin by a modification of the punishment annexed; as, for instance, theft, under the penalty of a quadruple restitution: why may he not do likewise in his own internal court, and consequently suspend all punishment?”

There is no need of much disputation to prove that there is nothing sound or substantial in these arguments. The modification of punishment respects either its appointment or infliction. Punishment itself is considered either in respect of its general end, which is the punishment of transgression, and has a regard to the condition of the creatures with respect to God; or in respect of some special end, and has a respect to the condition of the creatures among themselves. But whatever modification punishment may undergo, provided it attain its proper end, by accomplishing the object in view, the nature of punishment is preserved no less than if numberless degrees were added to it. As to the establishment of punishment, then, in a human court, as it has not primarily and properly a respect to the punishment of transgression, nor a regard to the condition of the creatures with respect to God, but with respect to one another, that degree of punishment is just which is fit and proper for accomplishing the proposed end.

The punishment, then, of theft by a quadruple restitution had in its appointment no such modification conjoined with it as could render it 614unfit and improper in respect of the end proposed, among that people to whom that law concerning retributions was given; but as the infliction of punishment, according to the sentence of the law, depended on the supreme Ruler of that people, it belonged to him to provide that no temporal dispensation with punishment exercised by him, in right of his dominion, should turn out to the injury of the commonwealth.

But hence this learned writer concludes, “That in his own internal court God may modify and suspend punishment.”

We can only conjecture what he means by the “internal court” of God. From the justice of God the appointment of punishment is derived; but that is improperly called a court. How far God is at liberty, by this justice, to exercise his power in pardoning sins the Scriptures show. The just right of God is, “that they who commit sin are worthy of death.” “But he may modify the punishment,” says our author. But not even in a human court can any such modification be admitted as would render the punishment useless in respect of its end; nor, in respect of God, do we think any degree or mode of punishment necessary, but such as may answer the end of the punishment, so far as respects the state of the creatures with respect to God. Nor is any argument from a human court applied to the divine justice, nor from the modification to the suspension for a limited time, nor from a suspension to the total punishment, all which this learned author supposes, of any force.

The sum of the whole is this, as we have laid it down, — That God must necessarily, from his right and justice, inflict punishment on sin, so far as this punishment tends to preserve the state of the creature’s dependence on its Creator and proper and natural Lord; so, whatever constitutions or inflictions of punishment, with any particular modification or dispensation, we have admitted, these do not, as the supreme judgment of all is reserved to the destined time, at all operate against our opinion.

The other reasons advanced by this learned author in support of this argument are not of sufficient weight to merit attention. It hath been clearly proved already that the supposition of the pardon of sin, without an intervening satisfaction, implies a contradiction, though not in the terms, in the very thing itself. Nor does it follow that God can without any punishment forgive sin, — to avoid which all rational creatures are indispensably bound from his natural right over them, — because any distinguished action among mankind, to the performance of which they are bound by no law, may be rewarded, there being no threatening of punishments for the neglect of it annexed, that has a respect to a privilege not due.193193    See Suarez de Legib. Priv. By such consequences, drawn from such arguments, the learned gentleman will neither establish his own opinion nor prejudice ours.

615He proceeds, in the fourth place: “God,” says he, “worketh nothing without himself from a necessity of nature.” This objection hath been already answered by a distinction of necessity into that which is absolute and that which is conditional, nor shall we now delay the reader by repeating what has been said elsewhere. “But to punish sin,” says he, “is not in any respect more agreeable to the divine nature than not to punish it; but this is an act of grace and liberty, — that is, an act which God freely exerciseth.”

But, according to Rutherford, “it is much more disagreeable,” to speak in his own words, “to the divine nature to punish sin than not to punish it; for not to punish it, or to forgive it, proceeds from that mercy which is essential, but to punish it from that justice which is a free act of the divine will. But such things as are natural and necessary have a previous and weightier influence with God than those which are free and may or may not take place.” Our learned author means, that setting aside the consideration of his free decree, God is indifferent to inflict punishment or not inflict it. But by what argument will he maintain this absurd position? Does it follow from this, that God is said in Scripture to restrain his anger, and not to cut off the wicked? But surely he is not ignorant that such declarations of divine grace have either a respect to Christ, by whom satisfaction for sin was made, or only denote a temporal suspension of punishment, till the day of public and general retribution.

In the fifth place, he maintains “That a natural necessity will admit of no dispensation, modification, or delay; which, however, it is evident that God either uses, or may use, in the punishment of sin.”

Ans. With respect to absolute necessity, which excludes all liberty, perhaps this is true; but with respect to that necessity which we maintain, which admits of a concomitant liberty in acting, it is altogether without foundation. Again: a dispensation with or delay of punishment regards either temporary punishment, with which we grant that God may freely dispense, when the immediate end of that punishment hath not a respect to the creatures in that state of subjection which they owe to God; or eternal punishment, and in respect of that, the time of inflicting it, etc., and freely to appoint it, belong entirely to God; — but that he should inflict the punishment itself is just and necessary.

Nor does that instance, brought from the various degrees of punishment, at all avail him, — namely, “That if God can add or take away one degree of punishment, then he may two, and so annihilate the whole punishment:” for we are speaking of punishment as it includes in it the nature of punishment, and is ordained to preserve God’s right and dominion over his creatures, and to avenge the purity 616and holiness of God; not of it as, in consequence of the divine wisdom and justice, being this or that kind of punishment, or consisting of degrees. For thus far extends that liberty which we ascribe to God in the exercise of his justice, that it belongs to him entirely to determine, according to the counsel of his will, with regard to the degrees, mode, and time to be observed in the infliction of punishment; and no doubt but a proportion of the punishment to the faults is observed, so that by how much one sin exceeds another in quality, by so much one punishment exceeds another punishment in degree; and in the infliction of punishment, God has a respect to the comparative demerit of sins among themselves. We acknowledge, indeed, that God acts differently with persons in the same situation, but not without a respect to Christ and his satisfaction. The satisfaction of Christ is not, indeed, the procatarctic cause of that decree by which he determined such a dispensation of things; but the mediation of Christ, who was made sin for those to whom their sins are not imputed, is the foundation for the actual administration of the whole of that decree, respecting that part of it which consists in the dispensation of free grace and sparing mercy. What this learned writer adds, namely, “That not to punish is sometimes an act of severe justice, and that therefore God does not punish from a necessity of nature,” is grossly sophistical: for not to punish denotes either the total removal of punishment altogether, as is the case with the elect, for whom Christ died, which, so far from being an act of severe justice, this learned man will not deny to proceed from the highest grace and mercy; or it denotes only a suspension of some temporal punishment, and for a short time, to the end that sinners may fill up the measure of their iniquity. But this is not, properly speaking, not to punish, but to punish in a different manner, and in a manner more severe, than that to which it succeeds.

What observations our learned author adds in the close of his arguments are either sophistical or very untheological. He says, namely, “That God, influenced by our prayers, averts even an eternal punishment after that we have deserved it.” But what! is it to be imputed to our prayers that God averts from us the wrath to come? What occasion is there, pray, then, for the satisfaction of Christ? We have hitherto been so dull and stupid as to believe that the turning away from us of punishment, which has a respect to our faith and prayers, consisted in the dispensation of grace, peace, and the remission of the sins for which Christ made satisfaction, and that God averted from us no deserved punishment but what was laid upon Christ, “who hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us.”

In his proofs of the sixth argument, which this learned author adds to his former from Twisse, he says, “There is neither reason nor 617any shadow of reason in it, that the delay of punishment, or a dispensation with it, as to time and manner, can be determined by the free good pleasure of God, either one way or other, if to punish, or punishment in itself and absolutely considered, be necessary.”

We have explained before what were our sentiments as to what relates to the distinction between punishment simply considered, and attended with particular circumstances in the manner of its infliction. We affirm that a punishment proportioned to sin, according to the rule of the divine justice, from God’s natural right, and from his essential justice and holiness, is necessarily inflicted, to vindicate his glory, establish his government, and preserve his perfections entire and undiminished: and God himself hath revealed to us that this just recompense of reward consists in death eternal; for “the righteous judgment of God is, that they who commit sin are worthy of death.” It is just, then, and consequently necessary, that that punishment of death, namely, eternal, should be inflicted. But as God, though a consuming fire, is a rational or intellectual fire, who, in exercising the excellencies or qualities of his nature, proceeds with reason and understanding, it is free to him to appoint the time, manner, and suchlike circumstances as must necessarily attend that punishment in general, so as shall be most for his own glory and the more illustrious display of his justice. But when Rutherford says, somewhat dogmatically, that “there is neither any reason nor shadow of reason in this,” let us see what solidity there is in the arguments by which he supports his assertion:—

“The determination of an infernal punishment, as to its manner and time, and consequently as to its eternal duration, will then depend on the mere good pleasure of God; therefore, God can determine the end and measure of infernal punishment; and therefore he is able not to punish, and to will not farther to punish, those condemned to eternal torments: therefore, it is not of absolute necessity that he punishes.” But here is nothing but dross, as the saying is, instead of a treasure. The time concerning which we speak is of the infliction of punishment, not of its duration. He who asserts that an end may be put to eternal punishments expressly contradicts himself. We say that God hath revealed to us that the punishment due to every sin, from his right and by the rule of his justice, is eternal; nor could the thing in itself be otherwise, for the punishment of a finite and sinful creature could not otherwise make any compensation for the guilt of its sin. But as it is certain that God, in the first threatening, and in the curse of the law, observed a strict impartiality, and appointed not any kind of punishment but what, according to the rule of his justice, sin deserved; and as the apostle testifies, that “the righteous judgment of God is, that they who commit sin are worthy of death;” and we acknowledge that death 618to be eternal, and that an injury done to God, infinite in respect of the object, could not be punished, in a subject in every respect finite, otherwise than by a punishment infinite in respect of duration; — that the continuation or suspension of this punishment, which it is just should be inflicted, does not undermine194194    “Dei libertati non subjacere,” — “is not subject to.” — Ed. the divine liberty, we are bold to affirm, for it is not free to God to act justly or not. But we have shown before how absurd it is to imagine that the divine omnipotence suffers any degradation, because upon this supposition he must necessarily preserve alive a sinful creature to all eternity, and be unable to annihilate it.

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