Not Only Sovereignty—Justice Demanded the Death of Christ

John Owen, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, chapter 13 (book 10, 587) answers Twisse who wrote “it cannot be maintained that God cannot forgive sins by his power, without a satisfaction.”

“For,” says Twisse, “if God by his might or absolute power cannot pardon sin, then it is absolutely impossible for sin to be pardoned, or not…it is evident that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies when they transgress against him.”

Owen’s Answer: “The non-punishment of sin 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. 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. 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. ”

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

Owen’s Answer: The supposition is denied, that God may do what man may do. 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.

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. 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.

“But neither,” says Twisse, “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.”

Owen’s Answer: “We maintain that God from his nature cannot do this,
and, therefore, that he cannot either by his power or his justice. To Scotus we answer: The divine will may incline to things opposite, in respect of those attributes which constitute objects to themselves, but not in respect of those attributes which suppose a condition of God’s character.

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.

God could not but create the world; but God did not create the world from an absolute necessity. 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 necessarily punishes sin.

“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.” “If, then,” says Twisse, “God must punish sin from a natural necessity, he must necessarily punish it to the extent of his power”.

Owen’s Answer: “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
agent, as if he acted from principles of nature, after a natural
manner, without a concomitant liberty. For God does 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. T

“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 Cor5:21.

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. If disobedience deserve punishment in this manner, obedience will also, deserve a merited reward without the divine constitution.”

Owen’s answer: “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. 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 question is not,” writes Vossius, “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.” Although mercy be natural to God as to the habit, yet because there is no natural obligation between 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.”

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13 Comments on “Not Only Sovereignty—Justice Demanded the Death of Christ”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    Acts 13:38-39 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones—Luke speaks of Jesus increasing in chariti (from the Greek, charis). Does this mean “favor” as many English translations suggest? Or should we translate the Greek as “grace”? A number of translations render “charis” in Luke 2:40 as grace (e.g., NIV, NASB, KJV). We do not need to get too picky about which word is used, provided we understand that divine grace is not merely God’s goodness to the elect in the era of redemptive history. Nor is grace simply offered to those who have sinned.

    Divine grace is a perfection of God’s nature, and thus a characteristic of how he relates to finite creatures, even apart from sin. In the garden, the grace of God was upon Adam; in the “wilderness,” the grace of God is upon his Son, the second Adam. God’s graciousness may be summarized simply as what he is in and of himself.

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/04/can-humans-merit-before-god-2.php

    Lee Irons p 17—The covenant becomes a way, therefore, of circumventing strict justice, making possible the arbitrary acceptance as meritorious of that which is not actually meritorious….. Casting about for some way of bridging the awesome metaphysical gap between God and the creature, the voluntarist seizes on the notion of a condescension expressed by way of covenant… The voluntarist definition of merit must be qualified as a lesser merit that cannot even exist apart from God’s gracious acceptation.

    Lee Irons—But Kline searches for an entirely new definition of merit: “God’s justice must be defined and judged in terms of what he stipulates in his covenants”….Kline’s understanding of covenant is different. It is not a voluntary condescension of divine grace but a revelation of divine justice. …God’s freedom must be maintained, but not at the expense of the divine perfections (i.e., wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, truth, and rationality). God does not act arbitrarily, for all his actions are expressive of and delimited by his attributes.
    ….
    Lee Irons—-Note the fundamentally voluntarist reasoning of the Westminster Confession’s opening statement on the covenants: The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant (WCF VII.1). All the basic elements in this statement are derived directly from the Franciscan notion of covenantal or congruous merit.

    http://www.upper-register.com/papers/redefining_merit.pdf

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce Baughus-Calvin, however, develops a different line–one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,
    When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).
    Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out “of his mere good pleasure.”

    –Calvin goes so far as to argue that “Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God,” meaning that “the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)” (2.17.1).
    Curiously, Calvin’s argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas’s appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ’s work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ’s work–its infinite merit–is grounded in God’s counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.
    That, to be clear, is not Calvin’s argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ’s merit, Calvin argues that Christ’s work has infinite merit on the basis of God’s decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus’s argument from the divine will to accept Christ’s work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin’s view precludes such development

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/04/calvin-contra-thomas-and-most.php

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Anselm argued that Christ, as a rational being, owed obedience to God. But to make satisfaction on behalf of sinners, Christ had to go beyond a life of obedience – he had to die. As the God-man, Christ’s death was therefore supererogatory – a death above God’s requirement of him. His death is superabundant to make satisfaction for sins. Gataker and Vines, for example, used Anselm’s argument to reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Christ’s death was supererogatory and therefore his death merited eternal life. In other words, Gataker and Vines argued Anselm’s point that Christ’s obedience is required, but his death is not required; ergo: only the merits of Christ’s death are imputed to believers, http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/04/can-humans-merit-before-god-2.php

  5. markmcculley Says:

    the law promises life to me
    if my obedience perfect be
    but grace promises life on
    my Lord’s obedience alone

    the law says, do and live
    but grace says, live for all is done
    the law cannot ease my regret
    grace gives me me relief
    Ralph Erskine

    the law does not promise immortality
    but only life as long as we obey
    the gospel promise all who believe it
    the life of the age to come
    bodily resurrection, and immortality

    a Lutheran—-let us rely on the righteousness that is given and never on the righteousness that is required.

    mark–but grace satisfies law

    non-elect get law but not grace

    elect get grace that satisfies law

    the righteousness given is the righteousness required

    the righteousness required for all is given to the elect

    righteousness is Christ’s work, Christ’s death is Christ accomplished work, act of obedience

    but to say that, you would have to talk about definite atonement, and in order to do that, you would have to talk bout the extent and intent of the atonement, election and the sins of the elect imputed to Christ

    Romans 3: 20 For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law,

    mark–not by our works of the law, but Christ’s death is the work of the law

    because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed

    mark: Christ’s righteousness is not His enabling us to satisfy the requirement of the law, but neither is Christ’s righteousness apart from the law for Christ, because only Christ’s death can satisfy the law– apart from that death imputed, we can never be apart from the law or not under the law.

    —attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to as many as who believe, since there is no distinction.23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

    the non-elect are not in view in Romans 3:21-24, only the elect

    but even in this case, it’s necessary to talk about election in order to say that grace is NOT an alternative to the righteousness required

    Christ is the end of the law for righteousness

    the law requiring righteousness has its goal in Christ’s death

    the law does not die, but those who have died to the law cannot be required anything more from the law

    this Christ’s death imputed to the elect is the end of the law requiring them (see how I said that without saying “as covenant of works”)

  6. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.johnowen.org/media/trueman_owen_on_divine_justice.pdf

    God is not boxed in to only one time. God acted and imputed before the cross, and God acts and imputes after the cross. All the sins of all the elect were imputed by God some time before the cross (probably before the incarnation, certainly not after Christ died in that “three hours of soul trouble” that preachers like to talk about

    http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2014/whats-new/anything-blood-jesus-traditionalists-downplay-death-christ/

  7. markmcculley Says:

    For many calvinists, “sovereignty” means the elimination of justice–might makes right—–why worry about what’s right when we can carpet bomb? why worry about the precise perfect details about sins imputed, when we just say that God gets God’s way, even if God chooses to use the Arminian falsehood for his own glory to show how sovereign he is

    D.M. Lloyd-Jones from “The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors”:

    “At this point I would make a comment, and put it in the form of a question. Is there not a real danger of our becoming guilty of a very subtle form of Arminianism if we maintain that correct doctrine and understanding are essential to our being used by the Spirit of God? It is sheer Arminianism to insist upon a true and correct understanding as being essential.

    The case of the young Harris disproves this. For eighteen months he was used in this mighty manner while still not merely confused, but actually wrong in his doctrine. The same, of course, is true in the case of John Wesley. I remember speaking once in the Anniversary at the Central Hall, Westminster.

    I said that John Wesley was to me the greatest proof of Calvinism. Why? Because in spite of his faulty thinking he was greatly used of God to preach the gospel and to convert souls! That is the ultimate proof of Calvinism – predestination and election. It certainly comes out quite clearly in the case of the young Howell Harris.”

    “I would sum up this section like this. One of the greatest proofs of the truth of the doctrines emphasized by Calvin, what is known as ‘Calvinism’ – though I have already said I do not like these terms – is John Wesley. He was a man who was saved in spite of his muddled and erroneous thinking. The grace of God saved him in spite of himself. That is Calvinist! If you say, as a Calvinist, that a man is saved by his understanding of doctrine you are denying Calvinism. He is not. We are all saved in spite of what we are in every respect. Thus it comes to pass that men who can be so muddled, because they bring in their own human reason, as John Wesley and others did, are saved men and Christians, as all of us are, because it is ‘all of the grace of God’ and in spite of us.”

  8. markmcculley Says:

    en though only ungodly sinners are justified
    or need to be justified
    this does not mean that God justifies all ungodly sinners

    you can be a sinner without being justified
    you can know you are a sinner without being justified
    God never will justify all sinners

    Jesus rejects many sinners as His guilty clients, because Jesus was never the mediator for many guilty sinners

    God’s election comes first before Christ’s atonement
    Atonement to satisfy justice is a result of God’s love for the elect
    God’s love for the elect is not a result of Atonement for the elect

    This means that election is not the same thing as the atonement
    This means that election is not the same thing as justification.

    God loved the elect before God made justice for the elect.
    God has already made justice for the elect
    God has already not made justice for the non-elect
    God has already not loved the non-elect

    God loved the elect in Christ before Christ made atonement for the elect alone
    but God does not justify God’s elect apart from the Atonement

    I find it interesting that these very same preachers who are teaching “eternal election is eternal justification” are the very same people who also like to say that “non-election is not condemnation”.

    When they say this, logically they should change their soundbites so that “election is not salvation but only unto salvation”. They quote CD Cole—“Election is not the cause of anybody going to hell, for election is unto salvation (2 Thessalonians 2: 13). Neither is non-election responsible for the damnation of sinners. Sin is the thing that sends men to hell, and all men are sinners by nature and practice. Sinners are sinners altogether apart from election or non-election. It does not follow that because election is unto salvation that non-election is unto damnation. Sin is the damning element in human life. Election harms nobody.”

    Those who refuse to give explanations like to have their cake and also eat it. On the hand, they like to reduce salvation to God’s sovereignty and equate election with justification ( and don’t talk about justification or Christ obtaining righteousness by being imputed with guilt). But on the other hand, when it comes to explaining the non-salvation of the non-elect, these same preachers don’t want to talk about God’s sovereignty but only about God’s justice.

    But guilt is not enough for destruction, because you also have to be non-elect. The elect are also born guilty in sin, under the wrath of God, but all the elect will pass from guilt to justification. But these preachers deny that the elect are ever guilty, and they minimize any idea that Christ was imputed with the guilt of the elect, and in that way obtained justification for the elect. And these same preachers deny that non-election is any factor in some sinners not being saved.

    Romans 9: 11 For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good OR BAD, so that God’s purpose according to election would stand— 12 not from works but from the One who calls

    Romans 1: 16 does NOT read—For I am not ashamed of the gospel, For in the gospel God’s free and sovereign grace is revealed

    Romans 1: 16 does NOT READ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, For in the gospel God’s love is revealed

    Romans 1: 16 reads For I am not ashamed of the gospel,because it is God’s power for salvation to as many as who believe, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 17 For in the gospel God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed

    Romans 1 :17 it is written: The righteous will live by faith

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that the elect are already justified apart from faith in God’s revealed righteousness

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that election is God’s righteousness

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that Christ already obtained justice for the elect before the ages

    Romans 1;17 does NOT teach that God’s purpose in Christ to obtain justice for the elect is the very same as Christ having already obtained justice for the elect

    God loved the elect before God made justice for the elect.
    God has already made justice for the elect

    God does demand justice
    But the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not God’s demand for justice
    The Righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is Christ’s death for the Elect to Bring in Justice for the Elect
    God has not placed all the elect into Christ’s death
    God has not yet imputed this justice accomplished and obtained to all the Elect.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    I John 1:9 He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins

    Romans 3: God must be true, even if everyone is a liar, as it is written (Psalm 51:4)–in order that you be justified … when You judge.

    Romans 3: 25 God presented Him as a propitiation…. to demonstrate God’s righteousness, so that God would be just AND justify the one who has faith in Jesus

    Romans 4: 4 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But we do not work, but believe on Him who justifies the ungodly

    Romans 5:6 Christ died for the ungodly.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    for the non-elect, God’s mercy does not triumph over God’s justice for the elect, God’s justice never comes at the expense of God’s mercy

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Christ is not ONLY God’s reaction to sin. Sin alone did not necessitate the incarnation. God’s election of some sinners necessitates the incarnation. God does not love these sinners because of the incarnation. The incarnation happens because of God’s love for elect sinners. Christ’s death did not make God love the sinners for whom Christ died. God’s love for these sinners resulted in the incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Christ.

    Piper–Packer is wrong when he says, concerning Paul’s response in Rom. 9. “He does not attempt to demonstrate the propriety of God’s action” (p. 23). He does indeed! That is why he wrote Rom. 9:14-23. I also reject the sentiment of these words: “The Creator has told us that He is both sovereign Lord and a righteous Judge, and that should be enough for us” (p. 24). Why should that be enough for us? If that were enough for us Paul would have told the questioner at Rom. 9:14 to keep his mouth shut. But as a matter of fact the only time Paul ever tells people to keep their mouth shut is when they are boasting. if we ask questions, it may be worship.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-response-to-ji-packer-on-the-so-called-antinomy-between-the-sovereignty-of-god-and-human-responsibility

    I Peter 1: 18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 CHRIST WAS CHOSEN before the ages but was revealed at the end of the ages for you 21 who through Christ are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

    http://www.alliancenet.org/christward/does-god-the-father-love-you-because-of-jesus#.V6sBFZgrKM8

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Sproul—Because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself, but for His people.

    mark—Sproul is assuming the water of John the Baptist. Sproul is not thinking about Christ’s death itself being called a “baptism”.

    Sproul—If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf.

    mark: The Mosaic law did not command the water baptism done by John the Baptist, and not all of the elect were ever required to be water baptized by John the Baptist. There is a difference between commanding somebody to baptize with water, and commanding people to be water baptized. It’s important that Jesus became incarnate, that he was physically circumcised, that He had faith, and that He rose again. But that does not mean that all these acts that Jesus did vicariously are imputed to the elect.

    Sproul–Because the redemption that is brought by Christ is not restricted to His death on the cross. We’ve seen that in the work of redemption God didn’t send Jesus to earth on Good Friday and say, “Die for the sins of your people and that will take care of it.”

    mark: Sproul can’t be bothered to think that the gospel is about Jesus dying only for the sins of the elect imputed to Jesus. Because, whatever the people who buy his books and pay to attend his conferences think about election, Sproul does not think that the death of Jesus will take care of saving them. Sproul does not think the cross is enough without other things added to that.

    Sproul No.Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but He had to live for our righteousness. If all Jesus did was die for your sins, that would remove all of your guilt, and that would leave you sinless in the sight of God, but not righteous.

    mark–Sproul is not dealing with Romans 6 or any other text which teaches about being placed into Christ’s death and and thus no longer being under the law. Sproul is saying instead that Christ’s death is not Christ’s righteousness. When Sproul teaches that Christ’s death is not what God uses to declare the elect righteous, then Sproul is also teaching that legal identification with Christ’s death and resurrection would still leave us “under the law”. Since the law identifies acts of omission as also sin, Sproul is teaching that Christ’s death is not even enough to leave anybody sinless.

    http://www.ligonier.org/blog/jesus-and-his-active-obedience/

    • markmcculley Says:

      Sadly, many (including Joyce Meyer) who talk about “imputed righteousness” are not at all talking about the fact that a. only the sins of the elect were already imputed to Christ or b. that the death of Christ was only for the sins of the elect.

      Many use the language of “imputed righteousness” but do not define the righteousness as Christ’s death for a definite elect people. Some only refer to Christ’s infinite general fund of law-keeping, and others don’t relate “imputed righteousness” to God’s law in any way.

      Philippians 3: But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them —-in order that I gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness FROM GOD based on faith

      The FROM GOD righteousness EXCLUDES our works (after we are justified, our works enabled by the Holy Spirit). Amen. I wish that every preacher who teaches this truth would go on to define the righteousness from God. Is that righteousness from God EXCLUSIVELY the death of Christ or does that righteousness from God include his circumcision, his water baptism, his acts of obedience to the Mosaic law?


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