Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief, who is proved guilty and sentenced to a just imprisonment: have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch? I remain a man wronged. The thief, the man that did the wrong, is the only one who can set the wrong right. God may be able to move the man to right the wrong, but God himself cannot right it without the man. If my watch is found and returned to me, is the account settled between me and the thief? I may forgive him, but is the wrong removed? By no means. But suppose the thief to repent; suppose that it is out of his power to return the watch, but he comes to me and says he is sorry and begs me to accept what little he is able to give as a beginning of atonement. Should I not feel that he had done more to make up for the injury inflicted than the mere restoration of the watch, even by himself, could accomplish? Would there not lie, in his confession, submission, and initial restoration, an appeal to the divinest in me, a sufficing atonement as between man and man? Should I feel it necessary, for the sake of justice, to inflict some certain suffering as demanded by righteousness? The punishing of the wrong-doer makes no atonement for the wrong done. How could it make up to me for the stealing of my watch that the man was punished? The wrong would be there all the same. I am not saying the man ought not to be punished—far from it; only that the punishment nowise makes up to the man wronged. Punishment may do good to the man who does the wrong, but that is a thing as different as it is important.
Divine Fair Play
Across the heading of the sermon “Justice” I wrote a line from “Freedom” which in the beginning helped me greatly with my understanding; “Christ did not come to deliver us from injustice, much less from justice, but from being unjust.”
My spirit is always deeply moved within me when I view one of the televised crime programs and see the courtroom scene where the perpetrator of some horrific evildoing is sentenced, and the close family members are allowed to make their statements—there are those who rail at the guilty and curse him; they are not the ones who elicit more than pity from me—there are others who, in the midst of their unspeakable personal agony, tell the guilty man they forgive him; these are those whose words pierce down to the very bottom of my soul.
In this world the masses of humanity cry out for justice at any time they have, or adjudge they have, been treated unjustly. The natural response to injustice done, real or perceived, is to visit a return on injustice with yet more injustice, a balancing of accounts, an eye or an eye; they bomb us, an evil, and we respond by bombing them—we say it is only fair, and just; in the world it may be, but not with God. Such is retribution and, though it may be called justice by men, it is never justice in the mind of God. And we know that by studying the life of Christ. We all desire justice for ourselves, and that is because we are created in the image of a Just God; but by sin have all things good been deformed to one or another degree in us; and what we have come to accept and believe as the firm foundation for justice may, if we leave God out of it, be put sand.
If by justice we mean that somehow we can recoup, by reparation, for loss incurred through an injustice levied against us, that by this we can be re-payed, the repayment being an offset to the injustice, either in kind or if the compensation is of a sufficient quantity and quality, then if that is what we think, we can never receive true justice. I will abbreviate; the only true justice is to forgive those who trespass against us; and to forgive requires mercy. Apart from this there is no justice.
For, example, a man rapes and murders a young girl, is apprehended, tried, convicted and sentenced to death—shall his death be able to balance the account for her suffering and death? for her parents? His death can never restore her life to her or her parents, can never erase the terror of her last moments in this life. The malefactor's death, then, brings no true justice to the girl or her parents; it likewise renders no true justice to the man: Is his life of precise equal value in every way to that of his victim? We have no idea, though we suppose his life is less than hers for he is vile while she is chaste—but if that be the case, then by death is a lesser value exchanged for a greater one, and neither is there any true justice in that.
“Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief,who is proved guilty and sentenced to a just imprisonment: Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch? I remain a wronged man.”
The watch, let's say it is an heirloom passed down through generations and precious to the owner, his prized possession in all the world. It is lost to him; shall the imprisonment of the thief balance the account, compensate for the loss? What if the watch is somehow found and returned to him; that would be wonderful, but can having it again in any way erase from him his misery while it was gone? To regain his heirloom may put an end to the man's inner suffering; it cannot remove the suffering he has endured: It would be the same for the murdered girl; should she somehow come back to life nothing could remove her memory of the horror, nor that of her parents. Such things cannot be compensated; for them there can be no justice as men think of justice:
“The punishment of the wrong-doer makes no atonement for the wrong done. How could it make up to me for the stealing of my watch that the man was punished? The wrong would be there all the same. I am not saying the man ought not to be punished—far from it; only that the punishment nowise makes up to the man wronged. Punishment may do good to the man who does the wrong, but that is a thing as different as it is important.”
Our verse does not read “Also unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth justice,” but “mercy.” There are two important things which this brings to mind:
The first of these is that there can be no justice apart from mercy. By the mercy of God is the justice of God assumed. Were this not the case, then justice would be reduced to retribution; and in retribution there is only vengeance; there can be no mercy. If you would see the justice of God, then look to the cruciform Christ—that is God's mercy upon sinful humanity, and it is the only fair treatment He could render to them.
The second thing is, then, that justice is essentially fair play, the “ rendering” by God “to every man according to his work.” That rendering is the Divine wrath, directed not toward the sinner (upon whom God has lavished His mercy) but upon the sin of the sinner which he is committed fully and by Love bound to utterly destroy. His Justice is to to redeem fallen men by forgiving them; our only justice in the world is to receive His forgiveness and “render” to Him our unflagging devotion and service—but this means, as well, that if Christ forgave His enemies and all those who wronged Him, we must do likewise. That is fair play to them.
In conclusion, the wedding these two concepts into one, mercy and fairness, which union produces its child, the Justice of God, I see two further things. First is that both mercy and fairness themselves have antecedents; the Divine Mercy is a mirror of the Divine Love; the Divine Fairness is a mirror of God's character or, His essential Being. And, second, this family of Divine attributes, that of Mercy and Fairness and Love and Character, places a responsibility upon the shoulders of our Lord.
In 1st John 4:19 is written “We love Him because He first loved us.” In like manner we are responsible to Him because He is first responsible to us, demanding that no man should do what He is not eternally doing, but by demanding from Himself first then demanding from His creatures the same. If God is to bring into being creatures who are weak, He is to provide for them His strength; if they are subject to failings He is to supply victory for them; if death should be their lot He is to give to them His life. If, then, they are His children, and if He would have them good, He must first be good both for to them. For their every need He must, as responsible to them, be their provision; He sets no burden upon man, no duty, no responsibility, which He does not first set upon Himself. It is because of these things, the combining of all the good that is in the Godhead, that Jesus Christ is Righteous, in the most absolute and comprehensive sense, then, is the Righteous Judge.
Of a truth it is that unto You, O Lord, belongs Mercy; for You render in absolute fairness to every person according to his or her work—and that is to hold the children of the Father accountable, for their own good, to bring them to be as righteous as You are Righteous, and to point them in the direction of home, be it in this life or the next, by the gentle persuasion of Your Spirit or the harsher reality of Love which is the very heart-furnace of God, the Consuming Fire; in any manner, in every way, to continue the good thing which You've begun, to bring all those children to willingly and lovingly respond, and shoulder as You to them their responsibility to You and all others. And in so doing, You shall finally have Your sons and daughters pure and true.
Justice, Recompense, and Lovingkindess
by Dave Roney
I selected the NASB to frame the verse because I am sure “lovingkindess” comes closer to defining God's supreme motive for a “recompense based on works” than does the word “mercy” alone, as it is supplied by the KJV and by some other versions. And what is the just “recompense” of God except to bring a matter to fruitful conclusion, to make hale and whole and good, to bring into a state of peace, and to purge out the dross from our gold? It is but another way of saying “He brings life out of death; He makes the crooked things straight; all things are from, and through, and to Him—and He will, though it be as by fire, in the end have His children His own!”
Christ Jesus is our Ransom, the Ransom paid to reclaim and reconcile and redeem all things whatsoever which sin and death had wrecked and ruined; to whom this Ransom was paid I do not know, be it God or Satan (Scripture does not say), only that He is our Ransom and the Ransom is all sufficient, to be proven in time yet future to be all efficient as well, for things in Heaven and on Earth and even below the Earth. Even as God has suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, as the recompense because of our works, so also we must suffer recompense for our works, and between the Ransom for sins and the recompense of sinners, God shall, as surely as God Is, become “all and in all” through our Christ. For the Divine Justice to be served requires action on the parts of both God and men.
There was in the Mind and Heart of God no thought of recompense for Justice offended by the sending of His Son into the world; He did not say it, though the preachers have; for, God sent Jesus because He loves the world, and the Son came of the same love, and Spirit loves as well and to the same plumbless depth which is a mystery to us. God recompenses to every man according to his works; Jesus was provided as our Recompense because of our very works. In both cases, that of Christ and also men, the Recompense has the same end; restoration and salvation that the relationship of the created things to their Creator shall be regenerated in absolute, eternal, bliss. But to understand these things, especially the Redeeming Recompense of our great Ransom, one must bear in mind that the recompense of God is that of perfect yet often hardest Mercy; it is the Lovingkindness of the God Who Is Love. And when I describe Christ Jesus as the Recompense it is not understood as Him paying a penalty for our sins, but as our Redeemer-Ransom.
In our reading the following example is laid:
“Suppose my watch had been taken from my pocket; I lay hold on the thief, who is proved guilty and sentenced to a just imprisonment: Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch?”
The thief imprisoned; has he received true justice? In Eastern lands it might be thought he did not, for there his penalty would be to have his right hand cut off, the hand men eat with, thus shamed he could never sit at meat with his fellows again; the judgment against him, the justice administered, would follow him without remedy for as long as he might live: This is an example of the evil doctrine of sinful man's eternal separation from God. The man who owned the watch, has he received true justice? If his watch is returned to him, and he had it for a gift on a friend's special occasion, how could that ever be made up to him that he did not have it? If he had needed it to mark a moment in time which slipped past and was lost forever, how could that be repaid to him? Of his mental and emotional trauma at the loss of his precious heirloom, even though he recover his watch, what could ever be done to relieve his anxiety while the watch was still missing? And what if the thief had pawned the watch and it could never be returned; how could the man ever hope to receive true justice?
The thief sits in his prison, and he is yet a thief at heart; earthly justice may incarcerate his body, but it can never change him from a thief into an honest man, therefore is justice at best only partially served. I may forgive the man his theft, but the wrong he has done me remains as much as if I hated him and was unrelenting in that detestation. Forgiving may help me; it does nothing for the thief. And who is to say that the penalty ever exactly matches the crime? I here offer a quote which I find helpful:
“Primarily, God is not bound to punish sin; He is bound to destroy sin. The only vengeance worth having on sin it to make the sinner himself its executioner.”
This thought introduces what is the Divine Justice; it involves both the guiltless and the guilty, the wounded and the wounder alike; for both must share a part in this sublime form of Justice else it is not true Justice at all; “Human justice may be a poor distortion of justice, a mere shadow of it; but the justice of God must be perfect.” There is another quote which I would add:
“Christ did not come to deliver us from injustice, much less from justice, but from being unjust.”
—From the unspoken sermon” titled Freedom
The nature of the Divine Justice is this: He who has been harmed must forgive, and he who did the harm must repent it. If I do not forgive, I am also a thief; for I have robbed the man of that which is his, which I owe to him, my forgiveness. If he does not repent he is continuing to steal from me much more than my watch; he is steadily taking from me his fellowship and brotherhood, and without that I am not equipped to live well. I can suffer the loss of all things which he may have taken from me, but I must have him my brother. Then shall the slate be cleansed, the matter set right, and only then.
Last year I went on a mission trip to Havana, Cuba, and stayed with Juana, a dear sister in our Lord, and daily many brothers and sisters came and went from her home in fellowship, in love, in bringing foods, in every way showing Christ by their lives; having little, almost nothing, they gave out of their poverty one to another and to me as well. And I had a purse hidden in my luggage containing a considerable amount of money which had been given by friends from here in the States to help those poor people as I saw best; but on a certain day I returned from a ministry to discover that the purse was empty. It was the kiss of Judas, the betrayal by a friend. Those monies were my “watch” stolen from me.
In the moment I discovered the theft I prayed “Father, forgive him” (though it might well have been a woman, I do not know). And even so praying I knew the Father had eternally forgiven the man, and that I forgave because of the Divine within me, and harbored no ill will toward the thief. There was enough money in the purse to equal the annual pay for many of those people living in Havana; and it wounded me to know that for all which the money might bring the thief, he would never, ever, be able to escape his guilt. And I prayed for him that God would use that guilt to bring him to repentance, in which case, if I return and he meets me again, he will confess to me what he has done. But he does not know that long before he could ever ask my forgiveness it was already extended to him. And be it a watch or a purse, it matters not at all if I can have my brother as my own.
The prison in Havana is a dreadful place, and there are those who avoid even going past it if they can; if the thief should have been apprehended this place would be his lot, he would be punished. And does God punish? Indeed, for He will “recompense a man according to his work.” But whereas among men the justice is that of “an eye for an eye” with God true Justice is the ministration of the Divine Mercy, His Lovingkindness, as the means He would not use but must to bring His errant children to His bosom. He will have His children His own and, compelled by inexplicable Love can do no less for them.
The importunity of a widow pressured an unjust judge to grant her her petition (Luke 18:1-8), but there was no mercy in his decision and, in fact, he would have much rather preferred the woman lose heart and leave him alone; he showed mercy but without love. Not so our great God and Savior, for He has with singleness of will and purpose gone to the uttermost limit of excruciation to redeem and reconcile us; there can be no higher, greater, more profound witness to this fact than the cruciform Lord of Glory hanging beaten, spat upon, bleeding and dying to save us from ourselves and praying “Father, forgive them...” Therefore, when we are wronged we must forgive, and when we are in the wrong we must repent it, and in so doing we shall be restored first to our Lord and then to our neighbor.
The unjust judge, who respected neither God nor men, showed mercy without lovingkindess, and he is not a mere figure used by our Lord for illustration but is quite practical as an example; for we are in our old selves much akin to him; how often we show earth-bound mercy, without love, which is but a shadow of true mercy. One might ask “When did God forgive us?” and the answer is that God eternally forgives; it is not a matter of when He does it, but of when we appropriate what is already there for us. And to appropriate His eternal forgiveness, we ourselves must forgive even as we have been forgiven. His mercy is lost in the depths of His lovingkindess; it is by this Love that He forgives, it is the basis for His command to us to love our neighbors, even our enemies, and whereby we cannot be forgiven except we forgive. The only true Justice in the universe it to forgive and, in reciprocation, to have the sinner become the executioner of his sins through repentance. This is Justice served...