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Book 1 - Chapter 5: Of the Penal Sanction - by Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius

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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.

This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.

Chapter V: Of the Penal Sanction

I. IT remains that we consider the Penal Sanction, expressed by God in these terms, Gen. 2:17, “For in the day that thou eatest thereof” (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) “thou shalt surely die.”

II. Several things are here to be distinctly noted: 1st. That all that God here threatens is the consequence and punishment of sin, to be only inflicted on the rebellious and disobedient; and therefore Socinus and his followers most absurdly make the death mentioned in the threatening a consequence, not so much of sin, as of nature: but God’s words are plain to any man’s conscience, that death flows from eating of the forbidden tree. 2dly. That the sin, here expressed, is a violation, not of the natural, but of the symbolical law, given to man for the trial of his most perfect obedience. But even from this, he might easily gather, that if the transgression of a precept, whose universal goodness depends only on the good pleasure of God, is thus to be punished, the transgression of that law, which is the transcript of the most holy nature of God, deserves much greater. 3dly. That it is altogether agreeable to God’s authority and most righteous will, that there be a certain connexion between the sin and the punishment denounced by these words. This also is indicated by the ingemination in the original, “dying thou shalt die,” that is, thou shalt most certainly die. So that it is not possible for the sinner to escape death, unless perhaps a proper sponser (of which this is not the place) should undergo it in his stead. 4thly. That the words of the threatening are general, and therefore, by the term death, we ought here to understand whatever the Scripture any where signifies by that name. For who will presume to have a right of limiting the extent of the divine threatening? Nay, the words are not only general, but ingeminated too, plainly teaching us, that they are to be taken in their full emphasis or signification. 5thly. That they are spoken to Adam in such a manner as also to relate to his posterity: a certain evidence that Adam was the representative of all. 6thly. That on the very day the sin should be committed, punishment should be inflicted on man; justice required this, and it has been verified by the event. For in the very moment when man sinned, he became obnoxious to death, and immediately, upon finishing his sin, felt the beginnings both of corporal and spiritual death. These things are here expressed with far greater simplicity than in the fictions of the Jewish doctors, according to Ben Jarchi, on Dan. 7:25; where he speaks thus: “A thousand years are as one time and one day in the sight of the holy and blessed God, according to Psa. 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday,’ and our doctors of blessed memory said, that Gen. 2:17, ‘For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,’ is to be understood of the day of the holy and blessed, that therefore the first man did not complete his day (not arrive at his thousandth year), that of that day he wanted seventy years.” But this is far fetched, and savours of rabbinical dotage.

III. It will be far more useful a little more accurately to examine, what is here meant by the word death. And first, it is most obvious, that by that term is denoted that bad disposition of the body now unfit for the soul’s constant residence, and by which the soul is constrained to a separation from it. By this separation the good things of the body, which are unhappily doted on, the fruits of sin, and the sinner’s ill-grounded hope, are snatched away at once. God intimates this, Gen. 3:19, “till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” That is, thy body, which was formed out of the earth, shall return to its principles, and be reduced to earth again, unto which by its nature it is resolvable, as being taken out of it. And the reason why it is actually to be resolved unto earth is, because it really is what God said, “thou art dust,” now corrupted with earthly desires, a slave to a body prone to sin, and taken from dust. In this sense Abraham confesses himself “to be dust and ashes,” Gen. 18:27, that is, a mortal sinner. And David says, Psa. 103:14, “he knoweth יצרנו our frame” (called, Gen. 8:21, יצר הרע, an evil frame, which passage Kimchi directs to be compared with this,) “he remembereth that we are dust,” attached to the ground, and viciously inclined to the good things of the earth. From this consideration the prophet amplifies the mercy of God in exercising it towards sinners, in whom he finds nothing to deserve his love. And by dust is clearly signified, Is. 65:25, the sinful body. Where it is said of the serpent, the devil, now overcome by the kingdom of the Messiah, dust shall be his food, he shall only have the pleasure to destroy the body, and men of carnal dispositions. Whereas then, after Adam sinned, God condemned him to the death of the body for his sin, it is not to be doubted but he also comprised this death in the commination. Unless we will venture to affirm, that God has inflicted greater punishment on the sinner than he threatened before the commission of sin.

IV. There is nothing so surprising but what may be devised by a luxuriant fancy. There is a certain learned man, who, in the words of Moses above explained, can find an extraordinary promise, and even clearer and more pregnant with consolation than the prophecy concerning the seed of the woman. He thinks here is pointed out the period and boundary of toils; that the meaning is, “till thou shalt return to this land,” Paradise, the state of happy souls, from which לקחת, “thou wast carried captive.” For thus Solomon, לקחים למות, “captivated to death,” and Jeremiah, לקתו, “thy children carried unto captivity.” And he thinks that the opinion of the Jews concerning the gathering of the souls of the pious into paradise, has no other passage or foundation to support it. But this is nothing but the sally of a wanton imagination. Whereas for our part we take pleasure only in what is sound and sober, and yields satisfaction to the conscience. But to return to our subject.

V. It is no ways strange, that the Socinians, whose practice it is to wrest the Scriptures, should contradict this truth, and deny that the death of the body is the punishment of sin. Their other perverse hypotheses make this necessary. For, by denying this, they imagine they can more easily answer our arguments for original sin taken from the death of infants, and for the satisfaction of the Lord Christ, from his death. And as they impiously deny the true godhead of Christ, they allege as the most excellent sign of his fictitious divinity, that he was the first preacher, author, and bestower of immortality; but their blasphemies have been largely and solidly refuted by others. But I am sorry that any learned person of our own should deny, that by the death denounced, Gen. 2:17, the death of the body ought to be understood; and who thinks he grants a great deal when he writes as follows:—”From which place, if any insist they can prove a manifold kind of death, eternal, spiritual, and corporal, and other afflictions, I can easily bear their fighting with these weapons against the enemies, so they can extort from them what they want.” These are none of the best expressions. Why, without necessity, grant so much to our adversaries? Is it at all commendable for us to weaken those arguments which have been happily made use of in defence of the truth? This learned person owns that death is the punishment of sin, and that it may be evidently proved from the sentence pronounced upon Adam, Gen. 3:19. What reason is there then not to believe, that the same death was proposed to man in the preceding threatening? Are not the words general, and ingeminated to give them the greater emphasis? Is not the death of the body expressly set forth by the very same phrase? 1 Kings 2:37; where Solomon tells Shimei מות תמות, “thou shalt die the death.” Is not the very sound of the words such as a man cannot but have this death of the body come into his mind; unless a prejudiced person should refuse to understand here by death what every one else does when death is spoken of? Is it not also highly becoming the divine goodness and justice, to inflict nothing by a condemnatory sentence on man, which was not previously threatened against sin; lest man should plead an excuse, he did not know that God would so highly resent and so severely punish sin? And seeing this learned person would have death eternal here meant, does not that include the death of the body? Is the former ever inflicted on man but after the latter, by raising him from that death, that the whole man, soul and body, may be eternally miserable? Why are thus suspicions entertained, of which, alas! we have but too many? I could wish we all spoke with caution, “with fear and trembling!” This learned person will, it is hoped, not take amiss, if I here suggest to him the very prudent advice of Cocceius, which in a like case he inculcates on Gen. 3 §. 190. “Those of our party,” says he, “wish that we should employ stronger arguments against the Jews. And certainly, that admonition is good; namely, when we have to do with infidels we are to make use of cogent arguments, lest we become the derision of infidels, and confirm them in error. But as to the inculcating that rule, it is neither safe nor prudent readily and frequently to oppose it on the arguments of other Christians. For, if thereby we refute them, N. B. we then go over to the party of the adversaries, and we arm them and teach them to cavil. But if we do not refute them, but only inculcate that admonition, an injury is certainly done both to the disputant and the bearer, and we seem to give our own opinion as an argument. Let every one therefore argue with the utmost solidity; and if any manifestly abuses Scripture, let him be corrected in a brotherly manner, upon pointing out his fault. As for the rest, let the arguments of believers be thoroughly tried, and not hissed off the stage.”

VI. Secondly, by death is here understood, all that lasting and hard labour, that great sorrow, all the tedious miseries of this life, by which life ceases to be life, and which are the sad harbingers of certain death. To these things man is condemned, Gen. 3:16–19. The whole of that sentence is founded on the antecedent threatening; such miseries Pharaoh himself called by the name death, Ex. 10:17; and David, Psa. 116:3, calls his pain and anguish, חבלי מות, “the bands (sorrows) of death;” by these death binds and fastens men, that he may thrust them into and confine them in his dungeon. Thus also Paul, 2 Cor. 11:23, “In deaths often,” and 2 Cor. 4:11, “Are always delivered unto death;” ibid. 12, “Death worketh in us.” As life is not barely to live, but to be happy, so death is not to depart this life in a moment, but rather to languish in a long expectation, dread, and foresight of certain death, without knowing the time which God has foreordained. Correctly to this purpose says Picus Mirandula, in his treatise de Ente et uno: “For we begin, should you haply not know it, to die then, when we first begin to live; and death runs parallel with life; and we then first cease to die when set free from this mortal body by the death of the flesh.

VII. Thirdly, death signifies spiritual death, or the separation of the soul from God. Elegantly has Isidorus, Pelusiota iii. 232, defined it: “The death of the immortal soul is the departure of the Holy Spirit from it.” This is what the apostle calls, Eph. 4:18, “being alienated from the life of God, which illuminates, sanctifies, and exhilarates the soul. For the life of the soul consists in wisdom, in pure love, and the rejoicing of a good conscience. The death of the soul consists in folly, and through concupiscence in a separation from God, and the tormenting rackings of an evil conscience. Hence the apostle says, Eph. 2:1, “We are dead in trespasses and sins.”

VIII. But I would more fully explain the nature of this death, not indeed in my own, but in the words of another, because I despaired to find any more emphatical. Both living and dead bodies have motion. But a living body moves by vegetation while it is nourished, has the use of its senses, is delighted, and acts with pleasure; whereas the dead body moves by putrefaction to a state of dissolution, and to the production of loathsome animals. And so in the soul, spiritually alive, there is motion, while it is fed, repasted, and fattened with divine delights, while it takes pleasure in God and true wisdom, while, by the strength of its love, it is carried to and fixed on that which can sustain the soul and give it a sweet repose. But a dead soul has no feeling; that is, it neither understands truth nor loves righteousness, wallows, and is spent and tired out in the sink of concupiscence, breeds and brings forth the worms of impure and abominable thoughts, reasonings, and affections. Men, therefore, alienated from that spiritual life, which consists in the light of wisdom and the activity of love, who delight in their own present happiness, are no better than living carcases, 1 Tim. 5:6, “dead whilst living;” and hence in Scripture are said to be spiritually dead.

IX. The word נבל, ἂφρων, which the Scripture applies to such, is both emphatical and of a very fertile signification. For it denotes, 1st. A fool, corrupt in all the faculties of the soul, void of that spiritual wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord. “Nabal is his name, and folly is with him,” is Abigail’s character of her husband, 1 Sam. 25:25. This נבל is opposed to חכם, wise, Deut. 32:6, “O foolish people and unwise.” 2dly. It also denotes a wicked person, Psa. 74:18, “the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.” 3dly and lastly, It signifies one in a dead and withered state; the root נבל denoting to wither and die away, Is. 40:7: “The flower fadeth.” נבלה is a dead body, Isa. 26:19: “Thy dead men shall live.” All which conjointly denote a man devoid of the wisdom of God, overwhelmed with sin, and destitute of the life of God; in a word, faded and breeding worms, like a dead body: in all which spiritual death consists.

X. This spiritual death is both sin, and the natural consequence of the first sin, being at the same time threatened as the punishment of sin. For, as it renders man vile, and entirely incapable to perform those works which alone are worthy of him, as it makes him like the brute creatures, nay, and even like the devil himself, and unlike God, the only blessed being, and, consequently, renders him highly miserable, so it must be an exceeding great punishment of sin.

XI. Fourthly, and lastly, Eternal death is also here intended. The preludes of which, in this life, are the terrors and anguish of an evil conscience, the abandoning of the soul, deprived of all divine consolation, and the sense of the divine wrath, under which it is miserably pressed down. There will ensue upon this the translation of the soul to a place of torments, Luke 16:23–25, where shall be the hiding of God’s face, the want of his glorious presence, and a most intense feeling of the wrath of God, for ever and ever, together with horrible despair, Rev. 14:11. At last will succeed, after the end of the world, the resurrection of the body to eternal punishment, Acts 24:15.

XII. And here again, the Socinian divinity, adopted by the remonstrants, thwarts the truth; maintaining, App. p. 57, that by these words, “thou shalt surely die,” or by any others elsewhere, “Adam was not threatened with eternal death, in the sense of the Evangelists (or Protestants); so as to comprise the eternal death of body and soul, together with the punishment of sense; but directly corporal death only, or a separation of soul and body; which, all the evils disposing to death, do precede; and upon which, at length, the eternal punishment of loss, that is, the privation of the vision of God, or of grace and glory, will ensue.” Another of that class, who examined in French the doctrine of Amyraldus and Testard, violently contends, that in the law there is no mention of the sense of infernal pains, but that it is peculiar to the Gospel, and threatened at last, against the profane despisers thereof, p. 59 and 114, though elsewhere he adds, those “who stifle the light of reason, or hold the truth in unrighteousness, the more freely to fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” As to others, he thinks, “a middle state is to be assigned them, into which they may be received, different from the kingdom of heaven, and the damnation of hell-fire: such as, perhaps, that they are for ever to remain in the dust, to which they are to be reduced, and from thence never to arise.” Curcellæus dissert. de necess. Cognit. Christian. §. 5.

XIII. But this is the rankest poison. For, either they would insinuate, that the soul of a sinner is to be cut off, destroyed, and annihilated; like some of the Jews; and Maimonides himself, as quoted by Abarbanel on Mal. 4 who place eternal death in this, “that the soul shall be cut off, shall perish, and not survive; from which leaven of the Epicureans and Sadducees, the Socinians profess themselves not averse; or else they assert, what is the most absurd, repugnant, and tends to weaken the authority and meaning of the whole Scripture. For, it is impossible to conceive the soul of man, in a state of existence, excluded from the beatific vision of God, deprived of the sense of his grace and glory, and not be most grievously tortured with the loss of this chief good; especially as conscience shall incessantly upbraid the soul which, through its own folly, was the cause of all this misery, and torment it with the most dire despair of ever obtaining any happiness. And seeing God does not exclude man from the vision of his face, where is fulness of joy, without the justest displeasure, a holy indignation, and an ardent zeal against sin and the sinner; the privation of this supreme happiness arising from the wrath of God, cannot but be joined with a sense of the divine displeasure and malediction. These things flow from the very nature of the soul, and deserve a fuller illustration.

XIV. The soul of man was formed for the contemplation of God as the supreme truth, truth itself; and to seek after him with all its affection as the supreme good, goodness itself: and it may be said truly to live, when it delights in the contemplation of that truth, and in the fruition of that goodness. But when, by the just sentence of a despised Deity, it is excluded that most pleasant contemplation of truth, and most delightful fruition of goodness, then it must certainly own itself to be dead. And as it is so delightful to enjoy a good most desirable and desired, so it must be afflicting and painful to be disappointed of it. But since the soul, which is a spiritual substance, endued with understanding and will, cannot be without the active exercise of these faculties, especially when let loose from the fetters of the body; it must necessarily perceive itself miserable, by being deprived of the chief good; and, being conscious of its misery, must bitterly lament the want of that good, which it was formed to seek after. To suppose a soul that has neither understanding nor will, is to suppose it not to be a soul: just as if one supposed a body without quantity and extension. Again, to suppose a soul sensible of its misery, and not grieved because of it, is contrary to the nature, both of the soul, and of misery. It is certainly, therefore, an absurd and contradictory fiction, to suppose the human soul to be under the punishment of loss, without the punishment of sense at the same time.

XV. Further, as the soul cannot be ignorant that God is infinitely good, and that it is the nature of goodness to be communicative; it thence certainly gathers, that something exceedingly contrary to God must be found in itself, which he has the most perfect detestation of, and on account of which he, who is infinitely good, can have no communion with his creature; and that, therefore, this non-communion is the most evident sign and sad effect of the divine displeasure, depriving the man of the fruition of that good, by which alone he could be happy. And thus, in this punishment of loss, there is an exquisite sense of the wrath of God, with which no torments of the body by material fire can be compared.

XVI. Besides, the soul, being conscious to itself of having by its sins been the cause of this misery, becomes enraged against itself, accuses, abhors, tears itself, acts the tormentor against itself, and under this lash more severely smarts, than any criminal under the hands of the most unrelenting executioner. Add that, all hope of a happy restitution failing, and being racked with horrid despair, it is appointed to eternal misery. All these things are so closely connected, as to make themselves manifest to every conscience, upon the least attention.

XVII. The same things the Scriptures expressly teach, when they speak of “eternal punishment,” Matt. 25:46, “and torments,” Luke 16:23, 28, of “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched,” Mark 9:44, and the like; expressions too strong to be understood of the punishment of loss only, without that of sense.

XVIII. And it is absurd to say, that this punishment is threatened only against the contemners of the Gospel, seeing Paul testifies that Christ is to come “in flaming fire, taking vengeance, not only on them that obey not the Gospel, but on them that know not God,” 2 Thess. 1:8; compare 1 Thess. 4:5, “the Gentiles which know not God.” Such, namely, who would not know God even from the works of creation, and “did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” Rom. 1:28. The very power of truth obliged Curcellæus to say, in the place above cited, “these are altogether inexcusable before God, and therefore it is not to be wondered, if, hereafter, they be consigned to the punishment of eternal fire.” And our adversaries will not say, that the Gospel was preached to those of Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities. And yet, concerning them, Jude writes, ver. 7, that “they are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Words not to be restricted to that fire wherewith those cities were burnt, but to be extended to the flames of hell, with which the lewd inhabitants of those cities are, at this very day, tormented. These things are to be distinguished, which the nature of the things teaches to be distinct. Thus, we are to understand, “giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, of the inhabitants and not of the towns.” But it is true of both, that they were burnt with fire; which, with respect to the towns, may in some measure, be said to be eternal; they being so consumed, as that they never shall or can be restored. But it is truly eternal with respect to the inhabitants, who, by the vengeance of God, were not annihilated; but at the time when the apostle was writing, having been cast headlong into everlasting pain and torment, they suffered the punishment of that fire, of which “whoremongers shall have their part in the lake, which burneth with fire and brimstone,” Rev. 21:8. So, these cities are an emblem or type of eternal fire; but their wicked inhabitants “suffer the vengeance of eternal fire,” and so both are for an example (Peter says, 2 Epist. 2:6, an ensample), by which we are reminded what whoremongers are to expect.

XIX. Christ also expressly declares to the same purpose, Matt. 25:41, that all who shall be placed on his left hand, and not declared heirs of eternal life, shall, by a righteous sentence, be condemned to “everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels;” which fire, ver. 46, is explained to be κόλασιν αιώνιον, “everlasting punishment.” We cannot approve what Curcellæus, in the said Dissertation, § 6, has written, that in “Matthew is not described a judgment in every respect universal, of all who ever had existed; but only of those who made a profession of the Christian religion, some of whom behaved becoming the Gospel, others not.” These are expressions not of the best stamp. For, shall not that judgment be universal, which our Lord extends to “all nations,” Matt. 25:32? To “all the tribes of the earth,” Matt. 24:30? In which “every eye shall see Christ the judge,” Rev. 1:7? In which, according to Paul, Acts 17:31, “he will judge the world?” In which, both “sea, and death, and hell will deliver up their dead to be judged,” Rev. 20:13? In which shall be accomplished the prediction which God solemnly confirmed by oath, saying, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God,” Rom. 14:11? In which even “the men of Nineveh, and the queen of the South, shall rise to condemn the wicked Jews,” Matt. 12:41, 42; and their portion of torment be assigned to those of Tyre, and Sidon, and Sodom, Matt. 11:22, 24? In which shall be inflicted on that “servant who knew not his master’s will, and did commit things worthy of stripes,” his due measure of stripes, Luke 12:48? In which, in fine, “they who have sinned without law, shall perish without law,” Rom. 2:12? To restrict all this to those to whom the Gospel has been preached, is to make sport with Scripture; but God will not be sported with.

XX. But should Curcellæus perhaps reply, that he denies not an universal judgment to come, but that it is not described either in Matt. 25, or in those passages in which the men to be judged are divided into two classes; as John 5:28, 29; 2 Thess. 1:6, &c.; I answer: 1st, That the Scripture makes mention but of one judgment, to be held on the last day; and nowhere teacheth us, that a different tribunal is to be erected for those to whom the Gospel was not preached, and for those to whom it was. Paul was preaching, Acts 24:25, of the judgment to come, in the singular number; in like manner, Heb. 6:2, of eternal judgment. 2ndly, The passages alleged have the marks of universality affixed to them. For, John 5:28, it is said, “All that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the son of man:” and ver. 29, this universality is not be divided into those who either by faith received the Gospel preached to them, or perversely rejected it; but into those who have done good or evil, without mentioning the Gospel in the least. And 2 Thess. 1:6, &c., the punishment of eternal destruction will be inflicted by the sentence of the Judge, not only on those who were disobedient to the Gospel, but also on those who knew not God, viz. “God the Creator, to the knowledge and worship of whom nature alone might have led men, unless they had extinguished its light through their wickedness,” as Curcellæus himself explains it. 3rdly, Nor is it any thing singular, to distribute the persons to be judged into two classes, but common in every judgment concerning all mankind; of which there are but two dissimilar bodies, either of those to be acquitted, or those to be condemned. An intermediate state the Scripture knows nothing of.

XXI. The only thing specious adduced by Curcellæus, is this: that Christ cannot upbraid those, who knew nothing of his will; with these words, I was an hungry, &c. But we answer: 1st, That Christ, in what he here speaks, takes not in the whole process of the judgment, but only mentions this by way of example. For who can doubt that more things are to be considered in this judgment, even with respect to those to whom the Gospel was preached, than barely those effects of charity towards the godly when afflicted? 2ndly, The Scripture declares, that all the actions of all persons shall be tried in this judgment, Eccl. 12:14, 2 Cor. 5:10, Rom. 2:5, 6, &c.; even words, Matt. 12:37, both the idle, and hard, Jude 15; nay, even the secrets of the heart, Rom. 2:15, 16, 1 Cor. 4:5. 3rdly, It is not our business to determine with what the Judge may justly upbraid the damned. It is plain, he will upbraid them with those things at least which they shall hear with the most dreadful amazement. And seeing all the damned have discovered many evidences of an unrelenting, unmerciful, and unbeneficent disposition; who of us shall dare to censure Christ for interpreting this their conduct, as if they would have shown himself no kind of compassion, had he come among them in person? 4thly and lastly, Granting that Christ may not upbraid all the wicked with this, yet it does not follow, that they are not to come to judgment; because there are many other things that shall be tried in this judgment, and for which they shall be condemned, which the Scripture elsewhere declares, though, in this summary, Christ makes no mention of them. There is nothing to constrain us to believe, that every thing relative to this judgment is to be learned from this passage alone: other testimonies of Scripture are to be consulted, which treat on the same subject.

XXII. It remains that we inquire, whence this penal sanction is to be derived; whether from the mere good pleasure of the divine will only, or rather from the natural and immutable justice of God, to which it would be unbecoming to have ordered otherwise? I shall not now repeat what the antagonists of the Socinians have fully and happily illustrated, concerning vindictive justice as an essential property of God, and the necessity of its exercise in case of sin. First, I shall only propose some arguments, by which this general proposition may, I think, be most evidently demonstrated, that it is agreeable to God’s very nature and immutable right, not to let sin go unpunished; and then more especially inquire into the eternity of punishment.

XXIII. And first, let us duly consider the infinite majesty of God, and his supreme authority over all things; which is so illustrious, that it obliges rational creatures, capable of knowing it, to obey and serve him, as we proved, chap. II., § VIII. As often, then, as they in the least deprive him of this obedience, they directly incur the guilt of high treason against the divine majesty, and consequently are bound over to a punishment adequate to this crime, for neglect of obedience. For “the sinner,” as Thomas [Aquinas] justly said, “as much as in him lies, destroys God and his attributes,” slighting that majesty of God, to which it is necessary that all things be subject, from the consideration both of God and the creatures. But it is altogether impossible that God should not love, in the tenderest manner, both himself, his majesty and his glory. Now, he cannot but resent an injury done to what he thus loves; and, therefore, he calls himself אל קכא a jealous God, and declares that this is his name, Exod. 34:14. But קכאח denotes resentment for the dearest thing; and hence jealousy and great fury are joined together, Zech. 8:1. But above all things, he is jealous for his name, that is, that it be made known to men, as it is, Ez. 39:25, “and will be jealous for my holy name.” In which name even this is contained, “and will by no means clear the guilty,” Exod. 34:7.

XXIV. We may likewise argue from the majesty of God in this manner. It is altogether “impossible, that God should deny himself,” 2 Tim. 2:13. That is, that he should conceal his own perfections, or do any thing to make him appear to be, what he is not, or that he is not possessed of properties truly divine; and that because he is himself the archetype and exemplar of the intelligent creature, to whom he is to discover in his works his nature, dignity, prerogative, and excellence. He would therefore deny himself did he conceal his majesty, much more did he suffer man to slight it, which is done by every sin. For the sinner behaves so in his presence, as if there was no God to whom he owed obedience: nay, as if himself was God, who had a right to dispose of himself, his faculties, and other things with which he sins, at his own pleasure and without any control, saying, “Who is lord over me?” Psa. 12:5. This is indeed to usurp the majesty of the Supreme Being. But, how can God suffer this to go unpunished; unless we can suppose, he can bear any to be equal to him, which would have been an open denial of his supremacy, majesty, and excellency? But he then appears glorious in the eyes of sinners, when he inflicts punishment on those who throw contempt upon his majesty. Thus, Numb. 14:20, he swears, “that all the earth shall be filled with the glory of God;” namely, by destroying in the wilderness those who did not believe, though they had seen the glory of God and his signs. The glory of God, in this passage, signifies the manifestation of his jealousy against those who despised him, for he will not suffer himself to be mocked. And, therefore, as he cannot but seek his own glory, so he cannot suffer any to profane his majesty and go unpunished.

XXV. Secondly, There are also several ways by which this may, as evidently, be made appear from the holiness of God.

XXVI. 1st, God’s holiness is such, that he cannot admit a sinner to union and communion with himself, without satisfaction first made to his justice. For, “τις γαρ μετοχη, what fellowship (participation), hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” 2 Cor. 6:14. Whoever touches what is unclean, can have no communion with God, ver. 17. Every one whom God unites to himself, he causeth to cleave to himself as a girdle, that he may be unto him for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory, Jer. 13:11. But were he thus to unite the sinner to himself, without a previous satisfaction made for removing the guilt of sin, holiness itself would, in that case, be united to, clothed, and attended with sin; which is a plain contradiction. It is indeed true, that God had set all these things before sinful Israel; but that was done by virtue of the covenant of grace, which supposes a due satisfaction. Nor are we to imagine, that this union, which God describes in such magnificent language, was the lot of any others in its full emphasis and spiritual import, but of those who were internally in covenant: compare Deut. 16:19. Should any object, that though it is really unbecoming the holiness of God to favour the sinner with a communion of friendship, while he continues such; yet he may certainly, out of his goodness, take away sin, and so admit to his fellowship him who was before a sinner:—I answer, that without satisfaction, it is not consistent with the holiness of God even to sanctify the sinner, and thereby prevent him with that greatest effect of his love. For, if the beginning of such a communion of God with the sinner be not unbecoming his holiness, why do all allow it as to the progress thereof? It is plain, it is not suitable to the holiness of God to cultivate a friendship with the sinner, so long as he continues such. But before sanctification he is nothing but a sinner, nay, he is sin itself. Nor can a greater instance of friendship be given to man than that by which he is sanctified; and, therefore, it is not consistent with the holiness of God, without any satisfaction, to grant so great a favour to the sinner who is most worthy of his wrath. If it be still urged, that though God cannot consistently with his holiness love the sinner with a love of complacency, yet nothing hinders him from loving him with a love of benevolence, which may so transform him as to render him a fit object of the love of complacency. I answer, that this is spoken a random; for those effects of the love of benevolence by which we are regenerated, are proposed to us in Scripture as consequences of the engagement and satisfaction of Christ, and of our reconciliation with God, Tit. 3:4, 5; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pet. 1:3. Faith, without which it is impossible to please God, is freely bestowed on the elect, “through the righteousness of God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” 2 Pet. 1:1. Whatsoever way you interpret this, it at least appears that the gift of faith is founded on Christ and his satisfaction. If, therefore, the satisfaction of Christ was previously requisite to the sinner’s being blessed with those effects of the love of benevolence, it is rashly asserted, that it was becoming the holiness of God to bestow them on the sinner without satisfaction. Besides, God must needs punish those to whom he cannot grant union with himself, for the greatest punishment consists in the want of this union. This is that death with which the law threatens the sinner, as we have already made appear.

XXVII. 2nd, The holiness of God is so unspotted, that “he cannot behold evil, and look on iniquity,” Hab. 1:13, that is, bear it in his sight. He cannot, therefore, “lift up the light of his countenance upon him,” Psa. 4:7, in which the salvation of men consists; but the privation of this is the highest punishment. As long as David refused to admit his son Absalom into his presence, though almost reconciled to him, this appeared to Absalom more intolerable than any death, 2 Sam. 14:32. So that in a nature conscious of its unhappiness, a punishment of sense cannot but accompany a punishment of loss.

XXVIII. 3rd, From the holiness of God flows a mortal and implacable hatred of sin. It is as much the nature of holiness to “hate iniquity, as to love righteousness,” Psa. 45:8. “Sin is an abomination to his soul,” Prov. 6:16, that is, to his very essence and essential holiness; and neither sin only, but also the sinner, is the object of his hatred. “For, all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord thy God,” Deut. 25:16. He therefore separates from himself, and from his chosen people, all whom he cannot make partakers of his favour; and so he cannot but inflict upon them that punishment which is the effect of his hatred. According to Solomon’s reasoning, Prov. 16:5, “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” And the consequence is, “He shall not be unpunished.” In the same manner David reasons, Psa. 5:4, 5, 6, “Thou art not a God that hast pleasure in wickedness.” Thou hatest sin, and the sinner too, because of it: “Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity.” And surely the fruit of this must be exceeding bitter: “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” And thus, from the holiness of God arises a hatred of sin and the sinner; from hatred, punishment.

XXIX. 4th, It is doubtless diametrically opposite to the holiness of God, that he should become like unto the sinner. For as his image consists in a holiness every way perfect, it is a contradiction that it should consist in sin; but if God was unwilling to punish sin, he would then become like unto the sinner. This is what we may learn from himself, Psa. 50:21. When he would tell the sinner, Thou thoughtest that I would not punish thy sin, he thus expresses it: Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself. But, says he, I will show the contrary. And how? I will reprove thee, or punish thee. And by that I will in effect show, that I am not like unto thee. Whence I conclude, that not to punish sin would very much resemble the sinner; on the contrary, to punish sin in its proper time, is to show himself most unlike to the sinner. Unless then God reproves the sinner, he will be like unto him and deny himself; for, since God is a pattern to man, and man was made in order that God may be glorified in him; and every thing that God hath made has a tendency to this, namely, that man may from them know what a God he is: if God should by no method show, that sin deprives man of communion with him and of his kingdom, nay, should he make the sinner eternally happy, while it is the highest degree of punishment to be accounted unworthy of it, God would certainly, in that case, testify himself not worthy to be loved, desired, and glorified, and that sin is not an object unworthy of man’s delight. As it is then impossible that God should be altogether like unto the sinner, it is likewise so that he should let sin go unpunished.

XXX. 5th, Hence God says, “he is sanctified when he punishes,” Lev. 10:3. On which place, Crellius himself, de Vera Relig. lib. i. c. 28, makes this annotation: “Which some learned men explain,” (and himself agrees with them,) “I shall appear holy, that is, shall inflict punishment on them.” The same thing he owns in the same Chapter, “that neither the holiness nor the majesty of God can in any respect bear to have his commands violated with impunity.” Such is the power of truth, that even the most obstinate are constrained to confess it! And the sense of this word is very evident, Ezek. 38:16, where the punishment of Gog is foretold in these words: “That the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee,” viz., by thy punishment, “before their eyes.” More clearly still, Is. 5:16, “God that is holy, shall be sanctified in righteousness,” by inflicting on sinners the punishments threatened in the foregoing verses, and by not pardoning the elect, but only on account of the righteousness of Christ, in whose sufferings and death he displayed his most unspotted holiness and his hatred of sin before the whole world, nay, even before hell itself. It is therefore as necessary that God should punish sin as that he should be holy, lest he should seem to give up with his holiness. I shall conclude in the words of Joshua, 24:19: “For he is an holy God.” What then? “He is a jealous God.” And what does he infer hence? “He will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins.” And thus from his holiness flows his jealousy, and from his jealousy his vengeance.

XXXI. Thirdly, This may also be inferred from that attribute of God which is usually called vindictive justice. That it is the property of this to punish sin, the Scriptures tell us in a thousand places; and heretics impudently cavil, when they assert it to be the work, not so much of divine justice, as of wrath and passion. They unadvisedly disjoin what the apostle has conjoined, who speaks of “the day of wrath, and of the righteous judgment of God,” Rom. 2:5. And is God’s wrath any other, than that ready disposition of the divine mind to do that which his hatred of sin, justice towards the sinner, and his character as the supreme Judge do require? I omit a thousand other considerations, which occur every where. I shall rather show where the stress of the whole lies. First, that this perfection is as natural to God as infinity, holiness, omnipotence. Secondly, that in virtue of it, God cannot suffer sin to go unpunished.

XXXII. The former of these I thus prove. That perfection must belong to the nature and essence of God, and cannot be referred to the good pleasure of his will, if what is opposite to it cannot be conceived without a contradiction. But it is contradictory to conceive of God under any character opposite to that of just, or, as unjust, Job 34:10. But it is not contradictory, if I conceive of God even contrary to those things, which depend on the mere good pleasure of his will. For instance, it was from the free will and pleasure of God, that he chose Israel for his peculiar people; if therefore, I conceive of God as having never been the God of Israel, I shall doubtless have formed a false conception, but nothing that by an evident contradiction destroys the nature of God; for he might have been God, and yet not the God of Israel, but, if he had so pleased, the God of the Egyptians or Chaldeans. But whoever says that God is, and asserts that he is unjust, speaks contradictory things; for the first conception of the Deity is, to be perfectly and infinitely good. But justice, in giving to every one his due by a suitable compensation, belongs to this goodness; especially when we consider, that as he is the Lord of rational creatures, so he cannot be their Judge. Whoever therefore says that any is unjust, or not just, denies such to be God, of whom he thus speaks.

XXXIII. The latter I make out thus: the justice of God requires, that whatever is his righteous judgment be done, for it is necessary that God do himself justice; who, properly speaking, owes nothing to any one but to himself. As that is “the judgment (righteousness) of the law,” Rom. 8:4, which the law demands, and which, without injustice, cannot be denied the law; what God requires is, the judgment of God, and cannot be denied him, unless he would be unjust to himself. But it is “the (judgment) of God, that they which do evil are worthy of death,” Rom. 1:32; and therefore, there is a connexion between sin and worthiness of death, not only in virtue of the will, but of the justice of God. Moreover, as “the judgment of God is always according to truth,” Rom. 2:2, he must pronounce the person unworthy of life, and worthy of death, who is worthy of it, consequently condemn him, unless a satisfaction intervene. To act otherwise would be unworthy the just God. The apostle intimates this, Rom. 3:25, 26, declaring, that “God set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” By which words he shows, if God should justify the wicked and admit them to happiness without the atonement of the blood of Christ, he would not be just, at least his justice would not be displayed.

XXXIV. Jeremiah has a most memorable passage, in which God says, chap. 9:9, “Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord, and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” The meaning is, shall I be Jehovah, nay, shall I not deny myself, if I bear with those things in my people? It is impossible I should do this, and that in virtue of my soul, that is, of my very essential holiness and Deity. Should I have a divine soul, that is, a divine nature, and just, and not be avenged of sin? For the soul of God denotes the most holy nature of God, or, which is the same, the essential holiness of God. As appears from comparing Amos 4:2 with Amos 6:8. In the former it is said, “The Lord hath sworn by his holiness;” in the latter, “The Lord hath sworn בנפשו by (his soul) himself.”

XXXV. Crellius, therefore, trifles, de Vera Relig. lib. i. 28, when he ridiculously said, that to punish is God’s foreign and strange work; as if to show mercy was God’s proper work, but to punish his strange work. To that end wresting, Is. 28:21, “that he may do his work,” which he thus translates: “his strange work; that he may do his work, foreign (or strange) is his work to him.” We freely own, that by that foreign and strange work we ought to understand his vengeance against the rebellious Jews. But it is said to be strange and foreign in a quite different sense from what this perverter of Scripture would have it. It was strange and foreign, because altogether uncommon and extraordinary. For it was “a great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to that time,” Matt. 24:21. Likewise, because any would think it strange that God should deal thus with his own covenant people, on whom he had multiplied so many favours, and make examples of them in a manner he had not done to his enemies, who were strangers to his covenant. What he had done in Mount Perazim against the Philistines, 2 Sam. 5:21, and in the valley of Gibeon, could scarcely be compared to this. It is likewise so called, because such an extraordinary punishment from God, as strange and unusual things very commonly do, would fill any with such astonishment as they would be obliged to take notice of the hand of God in it. Thus the miseries of the Jews struck Titus himself with horror; and on viewing the walls and towers of Jerusalem, he confessed that, without God, such a city could never be taken. It is very remarkable what Philostratus relates in the life of Apollonius Tyanæus, lib. v. 14. When the neighbouring nations came, according to custom, to adorn Titus with crowns for his conquest of the Jews: he said, “that he deserved no such honour; that he did not achieve those things, but only was the instrument of God, who was then displaying his wrath.” In like manner also, because it was strange and foreign to the Israelites, who, that the Romans might not come and destroy their city, brought upon themselves the guilt of that wickedness against the Lord Jesus, which was the cause of so great a destruction. It was, therefore, strange and foreign, not to God (for the text says no such thing), but in itself and to men. Or if we would say that it was altogether strange and foreign to God, it must be meant, because God delights not either in destruction, or in the destruction of his creatures as such, but (to speak after the manner of men) is rather inclined to acts of goodness and mercy. But this is so far from being of service to the heretic, that, on the contrary, it furnishes us with a new and solid argument. Thus,

XXXVI. Fourthly, It is certain that penal evil, as such, is not in itself desirable even to God, because it is connected with the destruction of his own work. “Is it good unto thee that thou shouldst oppress; that thou shouldst despise the work of thine hands?” Job 10:3. Nay, God confirms by an inviolable oath, that “he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” Ezek. 33:11. It must, then, be something else which renders it desirable that God declares that he exults in it, and derives great consolation from it, as being that alone which can, as it were, be sufficient to mitigate his grief, and appease his indignation occasioned by sin. Nothing can be imagined stronger than the Scripture phrases on this subject, some of which I shall exhibit: Hos. 10:10, “It is in my desire that I should chastise them;” Amos 5:9, “That refreshes himself by desolation (strengtheneth the spoiled) against the strong;” Deut. 28:36, “The Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you;” Isa. 1:24, “I will ease me of my adversaries, and avenge me of my enemies.” God, you see, desires to punish sinners. Whenever he pours out desolation upon them, he refreshes (strengtheneth) himself: nor slightly only, but he both rejoices and exults; and that with such a joy as may be capable of mitigating the pain caused by sin, and consequently, of yielding consolation to God. What can it be which makes that evil of the creature so desirable to the Creator? What other, but that by inflicting punishment he preserves inviolable the glory of his supremacy, holiness, and justice, which sin would wholly obscure? For all the usefulness of punishment, as Crellius himself speaks, must needs regard God. But we can conceive here no advantage redounding to God, unless his rejoicing in the declaration of his glory, shining forth in that judgment, the justice of which the holy angels acknowledge with applause, Rev. 11:17, and Rev. 16:5, 6, and even the damned themselves, though unwilling and gnashing their teeth, are constrained to confess. It is, indeed, impossible that God should set light by this his most excellent glory, of which he is so jealous. As it is then necessary that God should prefer the destruction of his wicked creature to that of his own glory, so it is necessary that he should punish the wicked. God, indeed, loves his creatures; but he does, as he ought, much more himself. He would act inconsistently with that love, were he not to recover his glory which his sinful creature has, by horrible sacrilege, robbed him of, by inflicting punishment upon it.

XXXVII. Fifthly and lastly, We shall use arguments ad hominem. Socinus owns, de Servato, p. i. l, “that not to pardon the impenitent is certainly right and agreeable to the divine nature, and consequently to rectitude and equity.” Crellius, in like manner, de Vera Relig., lib. i. 23, says, “that it is unworthy of God to suffer the crimes of the obstinate to escape unpunished. Let us here a little examine these concessions. They say, it is “unworthy of God not to punish the obstinate;” nay, it is due to the nature of God not to pardon them. Why, pray? Is it because they are stubborn and obstinate? But obstinacy is not punished on its own account, because there is a good and laudable obstinacy or constancy. It is, therefore, only punished because of the evil that is in it; it is then necessary that sin be punished on its own account, and obstinacy only because of the sinfulness of it. And if it be necessary to punish sin on its own account, therefore, wherever it is to be met with, it must necessarily be punished. Besides, all men, after having once sinned, obstinately persevere in sin, unless they are brought to repentance by the preventing grace of God. But how can they obtain this without a previous satisfaction, if it be a debt which the divine nature owes to itself not to grant them pardon?

XXXVIII. We likewise readily admit what Crellius advances in the very same Chapter: “By the same claim of right that we owe obedience to God, by the same also we become liable to punishment for neglect of obedience and service; for punishment succeeds, as it were, in the place of the duty omitted, and if possible, ought to atone for it.” But doubtless, by a claim of natural right, obedience is due to God; and it would be repugnant to the divine perfections not to require it of a rational nature. I speak without reserve; he is not God who cannot demand obedience from his rational creature. And the very same thing, according to Crellius’s very just hypothesis, is to be affirmed of punishment. I am well aware that Crellius founds both claims, as well to obedience as to punishment, on the dominion of God as Lord; though this ought rather to be founded on the essential majesty and supremacy of God, which is the foundation of his sovereign dominion. But he is forced to confess that this sovereign dominion is so natural to God, that he cannot renounce it; nay, indeed, that “without it, it is scarce intelligible how he can be God; since it is on account of that very authority, and the power from which it flows, he is said to be God.” It therefore stands firm, that the penal sanction of the covenant is founded in the supereminent, most holy and just nature of God, and not in the mere good pleasure of the divine will only.

XXXIX. We might here further inquire, whether the eternity of punishment is to be derived from this natural right of God; or, which is the same thing, whether a punishment, justly equivalent to each sin, ought necessarily to be eternal, according to God’s natural right; so that, to maintain the contrary, would be unworthy of God, and consequently impossible. A difficult question this, because to determine concerning this absolute right of God in special cases seems to be above human reach. “God is greater than man, he giveth not an account of his matters,” Job 33:12, 13. Let us, however, try whether, from the consideration of the divine perfections, we may not gather what may in this case be worthy of God.

XL: I now pre-suppose there is in sin, committed against the infinite majesty of God, a malignity in its measure infinite, and therefore a demerit of punishment in its measure infinite also. I say there is in sin a malignity, only in its measure infinite; for it cannot be called infinite in an absolute sense: if we consider the entity of the act in itself, an act infinitely intense cannot be produced by a finite creature: if the irregularity and the privation of moral good adhering to the act, it is a privation of a finite rectitude, which is all that can be found in a creature; if, in fine, we consider the whole complex, namely, sin in the concrete, as they speak, neither in that case will its malignity be absolutely infinite. For neither are all acts of sin equally vicious, there being a great difference among them, which could not be if they were infinite. However, the malignity of sin is in its measure infinite: 1st, Objectively, because committed against an infinite good. 2dly, Extensively, in respect of duration, because the blot or stain of sin endures for ever, unless purged away by the blood of Christ. There is not, therefore, in sin a desert of punishment absolutely infinite, as to intenseness of torments. 1. Because such a punishment is absolutely impossible; for a finite creature is not capable of infinite torments. 2. Because it would follow that God could never satisfy his justice by inflicting condign punishment on the wicked, because they are incapable of this punishment. It is then absurd to say, that any punishment is of right due to sin, which God could never inflict. 3. Because it would follow an equal punishment was due to all sins, or that all in fact were to be punished alike, which is an absurdity, and against Matt. 11:22–54. The reason of this consequence is, because there neither is nor can be any disparity between infinites. Nevertheless, there is in sin a desert of punishment, in its measure infinite; namely, in the same manner that the malignity of it is infinite. That is, 1st. Objectively, so as to deprive man of the enjoyment of the infinite good, which is God. 2dly, Extensively, so that the punishment shall last for ever. And thus I consider this desert of eternal punishment so far only as to conclude, that God does nothing contrary to equity and justice when he punishes the sins of men with eternal torments both of soul and body; which the event shows, as I have made appear, § XVII.

XLI: But I know not if it can be determined, whether this eternity ought necessarily to consist in the punishment of sense, or whether the justice of God may be satisfied by the eternal punishment of loss, in the annihilation of the sinful creature. This, I apprehend, may be said with sufficient probability and sobriety: if God shall be pleased to continue for ever in existence the sinner, it is necessary (without a satisfaction) that he for ever inflict punishment on him, not only the punishment of loss, but likewise that of sense. The reason is, because not only the guilt of sin always remains, but also the stain with which sin, once committed, infects the soul, and which can never be purged out but by the blood of Christ. But it is impossible, as we proved §. 22, 23, 24, that God should admit man, stained with sin, to communion with himself; and it cannot be, that a rational creature, excluded the enjoyment of the divine favour, should not feel this indignation of God with the deepest anguish. Conscience most severely lashes the wretches for having deprived themselves of the chief good; which with no small care we have also shown, §. 13, and the following sections.

XLII. But whether it is necessary that God should continue for ever the sinful creature in a state of existence, I own I am ignorant. May it not, in its measure, be reckoned an infinite punishment, should God please to doom man, who was by nature a candidate for eternity, to total annihilation, from whence he should never be suffered to return to life? I know God has now determined otherwise, and that with the highest justice. But it is queried, whether, agreeably to his justice, he might not have settled it in this manner: If thou, O man, sinnest, I will frustrate thy desire of eternal happiness, and of a blessed eternity, and, on the contrary, give thee up to eternal annihilation. Here at least let us hesitate, and suspend our judgment.

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind