Author: Ron Graham
God a Righteous Judge
—Justice in his decrees
In this lesson, you will consider two ideas that seem to contradict.
Firstly, there's the belief clearly taught in scripture, that God is a just and righteous Judge who will punish sinners.
Secondly, there's the belief taught in certain creeds, that sinners are what they are by God’s decree, and cannot change themselves.
The creeds seem to contradict the scriptures. How can God be a just and righteous judge, yet condemn and punish people for being as he unchangeably made them?
1 God Judges Justly
The scriptures clearly represent God as a righteous judge who is always just and fair.
- "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne" (Psalms 89:14).
- Jesus claims, "My judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30). Jesus clearly regards his Father's will as upholding justice.
- God is "One who impartially judges" (1Peter 1:17).
The creeds agree entirely with this. Notice how the Westminster Confession, like the Bible, attributes justice and mercy to God...
"There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty." [WCF 2.1]
2 God Condemns Evildoers
The scriptures are very plain that God will punish all who do not obey him.
- "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord" (2Thessalonians 1:7-9).
- The wrath of God is part of his righteous judgment. He gives eternal life to those "who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality". Whereas with "wrath and indignation" he punishes "those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness" (Romans 2:5-11).
Again, the creeds agree with the scriptures on this point...
"The end of God's appointing this day [wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness] is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." [WCF 33.2, insertion 33.1]
3 God’s Reason is Clear
When certain creeds give a reason for God's condemnation of sinners, they appear to completely contradict the very principle of divine justice that they have asserted.
Before we look at what the creeds say, let's see what reason is given in the Bible as to why God condemns people...
- The people whom God will punish are described as people who were aware of God and truth, but chose unrighteousness instead (Romans 1:18-32).
- Jesus pronounced woe on the scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem because they were "unwilling" to do what he wanted them to do (Matthew 23:32-37). Note that Jesus does not suggest they were unable, but rather they were unwilling.
- Luke clearly states that man can choose to reject God's will: "The pharisees and lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John" (Luke 7:29-30).
These examples show that it was God's purpose that people obey him, and they were able to do so, but they neglected or rejected God's counsel, making themselves deserving of punishment. That is a plain and simple reason for God's wrath.
Now I'd like you to note carefully how, in contrast, the creeds make God's reason obscure and unsearchable...
"The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or witholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice." [WCF 3.7]
Note that God passes by many people, witholding mercy from them, and ordains them to wrath. These cannot be saved. The creed further says that even if people want to be saved, and try to be, they cannot be saved...
"Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved" [WCF 10.4]
The creeds admit that it is not even the fault of the damned that they are in this hopless state. They were born this way and cannot help themselves...
"[Adam and Eve] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions." [WCF 6.3-4]
In fact the creeds hold God himself responsible for the condition of the damned, because God himself unconditionally decreed it.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace." [WCF 3.3-5]
So we have a God, supposed to be just, who unchangeably decrees that many should be sinners, and then punishes them eternally for being so. The lovely final invitation of the Bible (Revelation 22:17) would be meaningless if this creed were true.
Be confident that God made you good, not evil, and made you able to choose between good and evil. If you have disobeyed God, you can be forgiven by accepting his invitation in belief, repentance, and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-39). Jesus is able to take away the sins of "the whole world" (1John 2:1-2). This certainly includes you.
[Creed quoted: THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH - 1646.]