The Righteousness of God (cont.)

In our preceding article we called attention to various passages from the Word of God which teach us that the Lord is righteous in Himself. Attention was called, briefly, to the following portions of Holy Writ: Deut. 32:4, Nehemiah 9:8, Psalm 145:7, Jeremiah 12:1. And we concluded our article with the statement: “What this righteousness of the Lord implies we shall see, the Lord willing, in our following article.” We understand, I am sure, that this truth of the righteousness of the Lord is corroborated by many more passages of the Word of God.

What This Divine Righteousness Implies.

We have already remarked that the word “righteousness” signifies literally: to be right, straight, as a straight line; to be in harmony with a certain standard, norm. The righteousness of God implies, in the first place, that the Lord is the absolute good. The Lord is not merely good or goodness. To be sure, God is a light, and there is no darkness in Him. His entire being is goodness, perfection. Were we able to gaze into the infinite depths of His being, we would see nothing but goodness. The goodness of the Lord certainly implies, therefore, that nothing but goodness and perfection characterizes the living God. But God is absolute goodness. He is the absolute good. He alone is goodness. And He is this not merely in the sense that all other goodness is of Him. He is not merely the sun in whose light we see light, the fountain whose waters we drink. But the Lord is absolute, an inaccessible light, the only, absolute good, so that all other good is but a creaturely reflection of Jehovah, made by Him, infinitely distinguished from the Lord. It is true that, according to the apostle, Peter, in the first chapter of his second epistle, we become partakers of the Lord’s divine nature, but this, we understand, must be understood in the creaturely sense of the word—the Lord enables us to live, as creatures and in the measure of the creature, the life which He eternally lives as God. Hence, inasmuch as He is the absolute good, the alone and only living God, the wholly incomparable one, who alone is God and besides whom there is no other, He is therefore the only, absolute standard or norm. He alone determines what is good or evil. All good and evil is determined by its relation to Him, the alone living God. The question whether an act is good or evil cannot be determined, therefore, before a court of human justice, cannot be decided by a standard of human, worldly, civic righteousness or justice. Man’s opinion of us is not the determining factor, does not determine the issue. God, and God alone, is the standard or norm of all good and evil; the all-important question is: What is our relation to Him, the incomparable one?

The righteousness of God, to quote the definition of the Rev. H. Hoeksema (whose definitions, we readily admit, we frequently quote), is that virtue of the Lord, according to which all His willing and acting are in perfect harmony with His holiness and the infinite perfection of His being, and that according to His own eternal and infinitely perfect judgment of Himself. The Lord knows Himself perfectly. And He is the God of infinite perfection. Our being is deeper than our consciousness. We are told that that part of an iceberg which is underneath the surface of the water is seven times larger than the part above the surface. This, relatively speaking, also applies to the life of the human being. Our subconsciousness is surely greater than our consciousness. But the Lord is infinite in perfection, knows Himself perfectly. There is in God no subconsciousness. All God’s being is known unto the Lord.

Moreover, as that infinitely good and perfect God the Lord knows and wills Himself. We will as we are and according to what we are. Even as the nature of a particular tree determines its fruit and as a fountain determines whether its water shall be bitter or sweet, so also we will as we are. Out of a good heart proceed good thoughts, and out of an evil heart proceed evil thoughts. Our being determines our willing. We are not as we will to be (although it is ever true that the sinner is in complete harmony with himself as a sinner), but we will as our heart is. God, however, is as He wills to be. He eternally wills Himself. There is in the Lord no discord, no disharmony between Himself and anything of or in His being. The Lord wills Himself exactly as He is and is in perfect harmony with Himself.

Finally, in connection with this righteousness of God, the Lord is righteousness. He is not merely righteous, does not merely possess righteousness. Righteousness is not something which simply cleaves unto the Lord, a virtue which He can exercise or lay aside, a perfection which can be divorced from His being. Righteousness is the Lord’s being. He is righteousness. Every vibration of His eternal being is righteousness; were the Lord to cease being righteous He would cease to be God. The righteousness of the Lord is therefore the infinite and spontaneous activity of His holy and eternal Self, never to be divorced from Him in all His eternal and infinite existence.

Hence, as that righteousness God the Lord always reveals Himself in all His dealing with the children of men.

This Righteousness of God Taught Throughout Scripture.

The Lord is Judge of all the earth and He will reward the righteous and the wicked, according to Gen. 18:23-25: “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 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?” And, although it is true that God’s righteousness toward the wicked is not mentioned in Scripture as often as His righteousness with respect to the godly (often, however, the Word of God speaks of His wrath, indignation, etc., toward the wicked), yet, it is surely taught in the Word of God. He does not hold the guilty innocent, Ex. 20:5, 7: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me …. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord wilt not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain”; Nahum 1:3: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet—He does not excuse the wicked, Ezekiel 7:4, 27: “And Mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. . . . The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people of the land shall be troubled: I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord”; see also Ezek. 7:9, 8:18, 9:10—He does not accept a gift and with Him is no respect of persons, Deut. 10:17: “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, Which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward”—He judges impartially, Job 13:6-12: “Hear now my reasoning, and hearken to the pleadings of my lips. Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for Him? Will ye accept His person? will ye contend for God? Is it good that He should search you out? or as one man mocketh another, do ye mock Him? He will surely reprove you, if ye do secretly accept persons. Shall not His excellency make you afraid? and His dread fall upon you? Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay.”; see also Job 22:2-4, 34:10-12, 35:6, 7—He is righteous and all His judgments are upright, Psalm 119:137: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments,” and Psalm 129:4: “The Lord is righteous: He hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.”—Also, the punishment of the wicked is repeatedly mentioned with His righteousness, II Thess. 1:5-10: “Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”; see also Ex. 6:5, 7:4Ps. 7:12, 9:5-9, 28:4, 62:13Ps. 73, 96:10, 13II Chron. 12:5-7Neh. 9:33Lam. 1:18Is. 5:16, 10:22Dan. 9:14Rom. 2:5.

Moreover, the Scriptures also teach us that the Lord rewards the righteous. Repeatedly the Psalms speak of this righteousness of the Lord toward the wicked.—“My defense is of God, Which saveth the upright in heart. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day,” Ps. 7:10-11: “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in Thy righteousness. Bow down Thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be Thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me”, Ps. 31:1-2; “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil: He preserveth the souls of His saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.” Especially in the prophecy of Isaiah does the Word of the Lord speak of the salvation of God’s people in connection with the righteousness of God.—“And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His arm brought salvation unto him; and His righteousness it sustained him. For He put oh righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head; and He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke. . . . The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified”, Is. 59:16-17, 61:1-3. And also in the New Testament this righteousness of the Lord, which constitutes the ground of bur salvation, is repeatedly taught. We read in John 17:25: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me.” And in II Tim. 4:8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” And in I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And we are surely acquainted with the fact that the righteousness of the Lord is indeed the keynote of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, as expressed, e.g., in Romans 1:15-17: “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

God is Constantly Righteous in all His Dealings With the Children of Men.

Hence, God’s righteousness toward the creature is the manifestation of the infinitely and perfectly righteous God as He always maintains Himself in all His dealings with the children of men. Because He is righteous He blesses His people and rewards them with eternal life for the sake of Christ Jesus and because of His perfect satisfaction of the divine justice. And because He is righteous He always assumes an attitude of condemnation toward the wicked, whom He sees and has eternally willed as wicked and ungodly, and punishes them, temporally and eternally. This is clearly and undeniably taught us in Lord’s Day 4 and 5 of our Heidelberg Catechism. In Lord’s Day 4 the question is asked: “Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?” And the answer reads: “By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in His just judgment temporally and eternally, as He hath declared, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Then, in Lord’s Day 5 this question appears: “Since then by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?” To this question the Catechism answers: “God will have His justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.” The teaching of “Common Grace” is that the Lord is also favorably inclined to the reprobate wicked in this temporal, earthly life but will reveal Himself exclusively in His wrath in the eternal hereafter. And the teaching of Arminianism is that the Lord would save all men, that His gospel is a divine invitation to all men, and that therefore God would save all men regardless of the payment of their sin and guilt. However in Lord’s Day 5 we are told that the satisfying of God’s justice is the only possible way whereby we can once more be received into divine favor. The salvation of the sinner is, therefore, impossible without the full payment of his guilt. And in, Lord’s Day 4 we are told that the Lord punishes temporally and eternally, i.e., always. And this receives added emphasis in the question, whether the Lord will ever suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished. Never, therefore, does the Lord assume an attitude of favor toward the sinner whose sin and guilt is not covered and blotted out by the blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Always the Lord is condemning the reprobate ungodly, visiting His wrath upon him, and causing all things to work together unto his eternal desolation.

That the Lord is always, continually punishing the wicked is clearly taught in Psalm 145:17 ff., where we read: “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them. The Lord preserveth all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy.” Verse 9 of this psalm, we will recall, is quoted in support of a general favor of God to all men. We should notice, in this passage of verses 17-20, that the verses 18-20 are an explanation of verse 17. In verses 18-20 we are told that the Lord is nigh unto all men that love Him, call upon Him in truth, that He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him, will hear their cry, and save them, that He preserveth all them that love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy. That the Lord will thus be nigh unto them that call upon Him in truth, etc., and will destroy all the wicked, is because He is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. Hence, that He will destroy the wicked does not merely apply to the hereafter. This the “Common Grace” theorists would have us believe. They teach that, in this life, the Lord is also graciously inclined to them but that in the hereafter He will reveal Himself unto them exclusively in His wrath. Ps. 145, however, teaches us differently. The Lord, we read in verse 17, is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. Hence, the Lord always is nigh unto all them that call upon him, etc., but He is also always destroying the wicked. Also with respect to the wicked He is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works. Throughout the ages the Lord has condemned the world and His every act toward that world is an act of judgment, of condemnation, causing all things to work together for their condemnation, so that in all that they do they are gathering for themselves treasures of wrath in the Day of Judgment. God is righteousness. That He is, righteous and always maintains Himself as such is a rock upon which the theory of “Common Grace” must necessarily suffer shipwreck.

God’s Justice.

Intimately connected with the virtue of God’s righteousness is His justice. The Lord’s righteousness and justice are one. This is not necessarily true among men. Among men the one may be present without the other. Righteousness in distinction from justice, we would define as the objective right, that which is conformable to the law and should be done. Justice, in distinction from righteousness, is the enforcement of that right. A just judge is a judge who not only knows what is right but also fearlessly enforces the right. We now understand that, among men, righteousness and justice do not necessarily include each other. Many judges know the right but willfully pervert justice and ignore their high calling. This is particularly true in their treatment of the right as distinguished from the poor and also in the many industrial troubles and problems of our present day. Many judges do not proceed from the question, What is right?, but from the consideration of personal interest and self-aggrandizement. They are not interested in the right but in themselves. God’s justice and righteousness, however, cannot be separated. They are always one. This is due to the fact that the Lord is His attributes, that He is righteousness, that He is therefore righteous in all His life, His thinking and willing, in all His being. He is always in complete and perfect harmony with Himself. Consequently, the Lord is always just. God’s justice, in distinction from His righteousness (never separated from it), is that virtue of the Lord whereby He always manifests Himself as the righteous Jehovah, as the God who always wills Himself and reveals Himself as such. Continually He maintains Himself. Hence, He is ever the God of salvation toward His people in Christ Jesus and for the sake of Christ Jesus, but He is also always the God of righteous indignation and wrath toward them who do not fear Him and whom He has not known in Jesus Christ, our Lord.