Our Father, we love Thee for Thy justice. We acknowledge that Thy judgments are
true and righteous altogether. Thy justice upholds the order of the universe and
guarantees the safety of all who put their trust in Thee. We live because Thou
art just - and merciful. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, righteous in all
Thy ways and holy in all Thy works. Amen.
In the inspired Scriptures justice and righteousness are scarcely to be
distinguished from each other. The same word in the original becomes in English
justice or righteousness, almost, one would suspect, at the whim of the
The Old Testament asserts God’s justice in language clear and full, and as
beautiful as may be found anywhere in the literature of mankind. When the
destruction of Sodom was announced, Abraham interceded for the righteous within
the city, reminding God that he knew He would act like Himself in the human
emergency. ”That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous
with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far
from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The concept of God held by the psalmists and prophets of Israel was that of an
all-powerful ruler, high and lifted up, reigning in equity. ”Clouds and darkness
are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his
throne.” Of the long-awaited Messiah it was prophesied that when He came He
should judge the people with righteousness and the poor with judgment.
Holy men of tender compassion, outraged by the inequity of the world’s rulers,
prayed, ”O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; a God, to whom vengeance
belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the earth: render a
reward to the proud. Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked
triumph?” And this is to be understood not as a plea for personal vengeance but
as a longing to see moral equity prevail in human society.
Such men as David and Daniel acknowledged their own un-righteousness in contrast
to the righteousness of God, and as result their penitential prayers gained
great power and effectiveness. ”O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but
unto us confusion of faces.” And when the long-withheld judgment of God begins
to fall upon the world, John sees the victorious saints standing upon a sea of
glass mingled with fire. In their hands they hold harps of God; the song they
sing is the song of Moses and the Lamb, and the theme of their song is the
”Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy
ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy
name? for thou alone art holy: for all nations I shall come and worship before
thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.”
Justice embodies the idea of moral equity, and iniquity is the exact opposite;
it is in-equity, the absence of equality from human thoughts and acts. Judgment
is the application of equity to moral situations and may be favorable or
unfavorable according to whether the one under examination has been equitable or
in-equitable in heart and conduct.
It is sometimes said, ”Justice requires God to do this,” referring to some act
we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking,
for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act
in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would
be superior to God, for only a superior power can compel obedience.
The truth is that there is not and can never be anything outside of f the nature
of God which can move Him in the least degree. All God’s reasons come from
within His uncreated being. Nothing has entered the being of God from eternity,
nothing has been removed, and nothing has been changed.
Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more;
and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent
criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation. As gold is an
element in itself and can never change nor compromise but is gold wherever it is
found, so God is God, always, only, fully God, and can never be other than He
is. Everything in the universe is good to the degree it conforms to the nature
of God and evil as it fails to do so. God is His own self-existent principle of
moral equity, and when He sentences evil men or rewards the righteous, He simply
acts like Himself from within, uninfluenced by anything that is not Himself.
All this seems, but only seems, to destroy the hope of justification for the
returning sinner. The Christian philosopher and saint, Anselm, Archbishop of
Canterbury, sought a solution to the apparent contradiction between the justice
and the mercy of God. ”How dost Thou spare the wicked,” he inquired of God, ”if
Thou art all just and supremely just?” Then he looked straight at God for the
answer, for he knew that it lies in what God is.
Anselm’s findings may be paraphrased this way: God’s being is unitary; it is not
composed of a number of parts working harmoniously, but simply one. There is
nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy. To think of God
as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law
sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner
wholly unworthy of the true God. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No
attribute of God is in conflict with another.
God’s compassion flows out of His goodness, and goodness without justice is not
goodness. God spares us because He is good, but He could not be good if He were
not just. When God punishes the wicked, Anselm concludes, it is just because it
is consistent with their deserts; and when He spares the wicked it is just
because it is compatible with His goodness; so God does what becomes Him as the
supremely good God. This is reason seeking to understand, not that it may
believe but because it already believes.
A simpler and more familiar solution for the problem of how God can be just and
still justify the unjust is found in the Christian doctrine of redemption. It is
that, through the work of Christ in atonement, justice is not violated but
satisfied when God spares a sinner. Redemptive theology teaches that mercy does
not become effective toward a man until justice has done its work. The just
penalty for sin was exacted when Christ our Substitute died for us on the cross.
However unpleasant this may sound to the ear of the natural man, it has ever
been sweet to the ear of faith. Millions have been morally and spiritually
transformed by this message, have lived lives of great moral power, and died at
last peacefully trusting in it.
This message of justice discharged and mercy operative is more than a pleasant
theological theory; it announces a fact made necessary by our deep human need.
Because of our sin we are all under sentence of death, a judgment which resulted
when justice confronted our moral situation. When infinite equity encountered
our chronic and willful in-equity, there was violent war between the two, a war
which God won and must always win. But when the penitent sinner casts himself
upon Christ for salvation, the moral situation is reversed. Justice confronts
the changed situation and pronounces the believing man just.
Thus justice actually goes over to the side of God’s trusting children. This is
the meaning of those daring words of the apostle John: ”If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness.” But God’s justice stands forever against the sinner in utter
severity. The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly
has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions. It hushes their
fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death
draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded. As responsible
moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Count N. L. von Zinzendorf