“We must be just before we are generous” is a wholesome proverb. The reverse would upset everything. Think of a man acting in mere kindness at the expense of his creditors! He might acquire for a moment the name of a philanthropist, but shortly he would be committed to prison for dishonesty. Nor could the plea of a generous character annul the prior claims of law and equitable dealing.
Now if this be so amongst men, where dishonesty is so common, how much more is it true of His ways whose throne is established in righteousness. It is true that God is generous, most generous, as all His ways have proved. He knows no parsimony. His hand is lavish, and His heart is liberal. When Adam was placed in the garden, he was given title to every tree except one; and four rivers flowed from thence.
Further, God makes the rain to fall on the unjust as well as on the just; His sun to shine in like manner. In the Father’s house is bread enough and to spare; so that if creation fail of her ample furnishing, and supply not her quantum of food, it is only because of the sin of the creature: her diminished resources are a merciful correction to the pride of man. But, withal, God is generous; and if generous in mere creature needs, so too in the far deeper need of the soul. He loved us when we were dead in sins. Wonderful fact! But then His compassion toward us, and His desire to save, could not be exercised until justice were first satisfied. This withstood the acting of love. To save a guilty sinner on the ground of mercy alone, and therefore at the expense of justice, or of that element of government which demands retribution for disobedience, would clearly be to subvert all government, and to overturn the throne itself.
The first great question to be settled was the satisfaction of justice. God must be just; He could not be otherwise; and must act in full and perfect consistency with His character. The enquiry, “How can man be just with God?” and “how,” in this connection, “can God be just with Himself?” finds its answer in the same place.
It is necessary that God should find satisfaction for His throne, outraged as it has been by man, so that justice should have her due, sheathe her sword, and entitle mercy to act freely in the fullest blessing of the very people who had deserved the stroke. Justice satisfied is mercy liberated, so that both can move hand in hand in the deliverance of the guilty.
But how? The answer is given us in the earlier chapters of Romans. It is most noteworthy that in this epistle the love of God is never mentioned until chapter 5:5, and that all before is occupied by the Spirit of God in explaining His righteousness. Just as though we had in due order justice before generosity, and the holy maintenance therefore of the principle of true government.
Well, then, granted sin on our part, and holiness on God’s, how can I, a sinner, meet a holy God? How can an insolvent debtor meet a creditor? What is the result of such a meeting? Why, inability to meet my lawful debts implies punishment; that and nothing else in law. Justice is dead against such a one. His case is hopeless.
And so with the sinner. And remember that a sinner is inherently and intrinsically such; that though he may mend his life, and alter his ways, yet he is a sinner still, so that in one way or other it is as a sinner that be meets God. But what is the result? Again justice is against him. His case is absolutely hopeless. Nor could God extend mercy to him but at the expense of His justice, and the destruction of His throne. Oh, the question is solemn!
Thus not only does justice hinder the sinner, but it stands in the way of mercy. Where is the sword to cut this fearful knot? How can mercy be extricated so that she may indulge herself and have justice on her side?
The cross of Christ supplies the blessed answer. There the sinless One died under the full judgment of God, as the divinely-given Victim and Sacrifice, whose death exhausted that judgment, and brought glory to God, where sin and Satan had triumphed. Not one claim remained unsatisfied, not one demand unmet, not one sin that could not be cleansed by His blood. Justice asked no more. The glory of the Father raised Him from the dead. He sits enthroned as Victor, having made atonement, and having retrieved God’s honour, and established the righteousness of His throne. The sword is sheathed; mercy now moves to proclaim a blood-bought pardon; so that God is just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Yes, “God is just.” He has demonstrated the equitable way in which He acts in mercy and pardon. No enemy can lift a finger; all heaven is in harmony. A “dying thief” may enter in fullest confidence. We have boldness to do so by the blood of Jesus. The thing that righteously opposed us is now on our side. God would have been unjust in saving the sinner as such, He would now be unjust in not saving the believer. His character is involved. “It is God who justifieth.” What a foundation! What a gospel! None can enjoy peace apart from a knowledge of this side of it. It is, no doubt, happy to think of God’s generosity; but assurance must be based on something more. The creditor might declare his love for his debtor, but how could the debtor rest assured unless he were consciously clear of the debt? He must know not only the creditor’s generosity towards him, but that he has nothing against him. And God has nothing against the believer. There is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8). The discipline of the Father is very different from the judgment of God. If my ways as His child are faulty He will correct me; but that is widely distinct from His condemnation of the impenitent. This last is eternal; that is, of course, only temporal.
Yes, eternal condemnation is demanded by justice for the sinner who rejects the atonement of Christ, as much as eternal glory is secured for the believer by the same.
As a Saviour God is just; He is the same as Judge. It is happy to know that “God is Love.” It is the mark of the day to forget that He is “Light,” and these two qualities must balance each other in all His ways. Remember, dear reader, that whilst God is generous He is also just.