by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
VI. Its Justice
It is at this point that the loudest outcries are made against the truth we are here engaged with. To the natural man it appears there is such an enormous disparity between the offense and its retribution that he deems the Divine Judge to be guilty of unrighteousness—as if the guilty criminal is the one best qualified to determine the fairness or unfairness of his sentence. What, he asks, can a human being do within the short span of his earthly existence which calls for endless sufferings as its recompense?—as though the criminality of actions is to be measured by the length of time it takes to commit them! What proportion is there, he objects, between a whole lifetime of sinning, where that life is measured by a few brief years and eternal punishment? It has ever been thus. In the days of Ezekiel Israel complained, “The way of the Lord is not equal” (18:25). If, then, men have murmured at the equity of God's temporal judgments we need not be surprised at their challenging the justice of His eternal judgment.
So long as the heart of fallen man remains in love with sin, while there is within him an inveterate hatred of the Holy One, until his mind ceases to be blinded by Satan it is impossible for him to view sin and its punishment in their true perspective. Not until a miracle of grace has been wrought upon him, not until he is made a new creature in Christ Jesus, is he capable of perceiving the “due reward” of his iniquities. Only when his sin-blinded eyes are opened, when spiritual vision is vouchsafed him, in those moments when in God's light he is enabled to “see light” can he in any measure discern the righteousness of God's claims upon him and the infinite enormity of failing to meet those claims. Only then does he begin to apprehend the ineffable holiness of the One with whom he has to do, the immeasurable “sinfulness of sin” and the illimitable extent of its ill deserts.
Above we have said that only “in those moments” when the regenerated soul is permitted to “see light” in God's light is he enabled to perceive the “due reward” of his iniquities, for even the vision of the believer is blurred as soon as communion with God is severed, yea, at best he sees now “through a glass darkly”—in comparison with the vision which will be his in the glorified state. Much of the time even the Christian perceives not the exceeding sinfulness of sin (constituting as it does so large a part of himself) and in proportion to that failure he is incapable of discerning the equity of Divine retribution and is disposed to feel that God acts with undue severity both toward himself and with his fellows. It is useless to deny this, for it is a fact of which every renewed heart is conscious and is made to mourn because of its opposition to the Divine government. Let us illustrate what we have in mind by two examples taken from Holy Writ.
When the sacred ark was being brought home from the land of the Philistines, the oxen stumbled and the ark shook and Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it—when he at once fell to the ground a mangled corpse, smitten by the hand of God (2 Sam. 6:7). Was not Uzzah actuated by an excellent motive? He could not bear to see the sacred ark fall into the mire. And is not the reader stunned, staggered, as he learns of the terrible retribution which overtook such an apparently trivial offense? Take again the “man of God” who so fearlessly rebuked Jeroboam for his idolatry and so faithfully delivered the Divine message to him. The king was so moved that he invited him to go home with him and refresh himself but he refused because that was contrary to the orders of God. Later, he encountered an old Prophet in Bethel who assured him that the Lord had bidden him to eat and drink in his house. Deceived, the man of God did so and immediately after a lion met him by the way and slew him for his disobedience (1 Kings 13:24).
Though the Christian is fully assured that the Judge of all the earth can do no wrong, yet such incidents as the above are apt to perplex him, for unless he is able to view them in God's light he is at a loss to discover how the punishment fits the crime. Ah, my reader, that is because we fail to perceive that Jehovah sees not as man sees. God recognizes the evil to which we are blind. God never exaggerates our sins but looks upon them as they actually are, as the “abominable thing” which He hates (Jer. 44:4). Equally strange may it appear to us that the entire human race would be ruined by a single act of our first parents. If so, it is because we see not what a black, vile, abominable thing SIN is. The least sin of thought or imagination is so heinous that God would be perfectly just if He banished us to Hell the moment we gave place to the same. Sin is an immeasurable evil. If the mere act of touching the ark brought death upon Uzzah then what a desperate evil sin must be!
Had the entire human race been sent into hopeless perdition no slur had been cast upon the Divine character, no breach made in the integrity of the Divine government, no wrong inflicted upon the creature. The fact is that we are utterly incapable of measuring the contrariety and opposition there is in sin unto Divine holiness. God alone knows what is the real demerit and desert of sin. We seek not to convince the objector of these things but to establish the believer in them. First, then, let it be pointed out that God's will is the rule of all righteousness and therefore whatsoever He does is righteous. God is answerable to none, gives no account of His matters and is not to be measured by any human standard. Where reason fails us faith must hold fast to the Divine perfections.
Second, there is a principle of evil in the sinner which eternally tends to sin and therefore it is but just for God to punish the sinner eternally: the duration of the punishment corresponds with the disposition of the delinquent. If the sinner were permitted to live on this earth forever he would dishonour God forever, transgress His Law forever, despise Christ forever, do despite to the Spirit of Grace forever. How just, then, that God should punish the sinner forever. Sinners sin as long as they can and did not His grace put a stop to their lusts, their hearts would never put a stop to them. The sinner's will to sin is everlasting, how just then that his punishment should be so. The torments of Hell will produce in them no change for the better, and as their impenitency is endless so is their doom. Therefore does God say, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11).
Third, sin entails infinite guilt. God is infinitely worthy of love, honour and obedience and therefore our obligation to render the same unto Him is infinite. Since God is infinitely glorious our obligation to avoid the least sin against Him is infinitely great. Consequently it necessarily follows that the evil of sin is infinite and therefore it deserves infinite punishment and the very perfections of God require that it should have its due reward. Since there is in sin an infinite evil, it is meet that God should infinitely hate sin and be the infinite enemy of it and that the expression of that hatred should be suited to His character. Penalty is levied according to the dignity of the person wronged: to strike a common person is an offense—to strike the king is far more heinous—but to rise up in rebellion against the King of kings incurs infinite guilt and punishment. Since the creature cannot bear an infinite punishment intensively, he must bear it extensively: that is to say, by suffering it eternally.
Fourth, the wicked will only experience that which they personally chose. While they lived on earth the means of grace were available and those means set before them. Heaven and Hell, glory and misery, eternal life and eternal death as inevitable alternatives. If they chose the latter in preference to the former, they have only themselves to blame. If they preferred “the pleasures of sin for a season” rather than those “pleasures which are at God's right hand forever more,” they can only now curse themselves for their folly. An all-sufficient Saviour is set before them in the Gospel but they declared, “we will not have this Man to rule over us.” Having despised the riches of Divine grace it is but equitable they should suffer the severities of Divine justice. When the Lord expostulated with them they answered, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14). How equitable, then, that He should yet say to them, “Depart from Me ye cursed into everlasting fire.”
How just it is that the wicked should suffer in the same everlasting fire which God had prepared for the Devil and his angels. Every descendant of Adam does by his actions and his continuance in sin justify Satan in his rebellion against the Lord God. Therefore it is most equitable that those who die impenitent should be confined with him in the same prison and be tormented under the same expression of Divine wrath. Sin is a cursed work for it is nothing less than enmity against the Divine government and it is this which rendered Satan and which renders his subjects accursed. For the curse of God to seize such is most righteous, nor do the demons call this into question (Matt. 8:29). And how meet it is that the sinner should suffer physical torment as well as mental anguish. When his body is put into the grave he has not done with it forever: it shall be raised “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2), for as it was partner with the soul in sin, so it shall be sharer with the soul in punishment.
VII. Its Aggravation.
Man enters this world a sinner (Psa. 51:5), yea, a cursed sinner (Rom. 5:18), for we are all “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3); nevertheless he is born under a government of mercy and a way of escape is set before him in the Gospel. Christ is freely offered to men and if the very chief of sinners surrenders to His sceptre and trusts in His atoning blood there is deliverance for him: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). O the marvel of Divine grace: that God should make overtures of peace unto His enemies and send His own Son here to die for the ungodly! How much greater, then, must be the guilt of those who despise and reject Christ: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). As an added condemnation is incurred, so a severer punishment is ensured: “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto Heaven, shall be brought down to Hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee” (Matt. 11:23, 24).
A Shelter is provided against the coming storm, a Hiding-place better than of caves and rocks (Rev. 6:15), a City of Refuge where there is perfect shelter from the sword of the Avenger—but woe be unto those who scorn that provision of mercy. “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified an unholy thing?” (Heb. 10:28, 29). As there will be degrees of honour and bliss in Heaven—some vessels of mercy having a larger capacity than others—so there will be degrees of torment in Hell: “That servant, which knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall he beaten with few” (Luke 12:47, 48). Far worse shall it be for those in Christendom who die impenitent than for those in the darkness of heathendom. According to the talents bestowed, the opportunities afforded, the light vouchsafed, privileges enjoyed, so is our responsibility. And in proportion to our neglect of such blessings so is our criminality and the measure of our criminality will determine the degree of our torment.
From what has been before us we may perceive. 1. The pressing duty of the preacher. He is required to proclaim not only the blessings of the Law but its curses also and to set forth the inevitable alternatives attending our response to the Gospel—salvation to those who believe it—damnation to those who believe it not. It is his business to cry Fire! fire! escape for your lives! If to spare his own feelings or in order to be popular with his hearers he remains silent about eternal punishment, God will yet require their blood at his hands. “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke; then a great ransom cannot deliver thee” (Job 36:18): that summarizes his message to the unsaved. The forerunner of Christ warned his hearers to, “Flee from the wrath to come” (Luke 3:7). The Saviour Himself bade men, “fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matt. 10:28). His Apostles were actuated by this solemn motive: “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). If I see my neighbour's house smoking shall I not rush in and warn him? and shall not the watchmen of Zion sound the alarm as men go heedlessly unto the everlasting fire?!
2. The vileness of sin. This is something which the present generation has no conception of. Crime is committed without compunction and when detected is dealt with leniently. Lying, theft, drunkenness, immorality have become so common that they are no longer regarded with abhorrence. If wrong-doing between man and man is looked upon with such tolerance and penalized so lightly, then sin against God is scarcely thought of at all. God is not a solemn reality today: if He is believed in at all He is considered as a kind and indulgent Being who is far too loving and merciful to deal severely with His erring creatures. O what a rude awakening is in store in the Day to come! My reader, form not your estimate of sin from the common sentiments prevailing among your deluded fellows: measure it rather by the fearful threats of the Almighty: ponder it in the light of eternal punishment. The wrath of God is no vain scarecrow as you will yet discover unless you fly to Christ for refuge.
3. The state of the world. This world which lies in the Wicked One is a vast madhouse. Who but those who are bereft of their senses will sport on the edge of a precipice where but a single step divides them from a horrible and painful death? Yet that is precisely the case with the masses all around us: bent only on pleasure, with the Bottomless Pit waiting to receive them! Mental derangement is but a shadow of the spiritual insanity which possesses the souls of the unregenerate. What a solemn word is that of the prodigal in the far country: “When he came to himself” (Luke 15:17)—previously he was beside himself. See yon poor lunatic with a wreath of straw on his head and stick in his hand proclaiming himself a king: equally crazy are they who seek satisfaction in the honours and riches of earth. Mad, indeed, are they who live as those without a soul, who think not about eternity, who crave only to eat, drink and be merry—while the fires of Hell are being kindled for them!
4. The value of the Gospel. The darker the night the more welcome the stars. The more desperate the disease the more desirable a competent physician. The graver the danger the more appreciated a deliverer. It is upon the ink-black background of sin that the glories of Heaven's evangel shine forth. It heralds a Divine Redeemer who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), to deliver Hell-deserving and Hell-bound sinners. It assures those who submit to its terms, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). As water to the parched, as a lifeboat to drowning seamen, the Gospel makes known an all-sufficient Saviour to the vilest creature on earth if he will throw down the weapons of rebellion and be reconciled to a holy God. The blood of Christ can cleanse the foulest—put your trust in that Fountain which has been “opened for sin and for uncleanness” and you shall prove its saving efficacy.
5. The need of redeeming the time. Delay is the height of folly when nothing but the frail thread of life prevents your dropping into Hell. That thread may snap at any moment, and then you are lost forever. “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” O you who are so headstrong, whose will is so obstinate, whose passions so desperate, know you not that you are preparing to dwell eternally in that place where peace and happiness are total strangers? You who are determined to have your fill of pleasure are but filling up the measure of your iniquities and preparing with all diligence to be fit companions with Satan in everlasting woe. Those who are now burning in their lusts shall soon burn in the Lake of Fire unless they repent and seek God's pardoning grace. Then seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. The damned are now bewailing the opportunities they neglected!
6. The call to self-examination. The Puritan Thomas Brookes states that in his day, “Some devout people caused the words 'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?' (Isa. 33:14) to be written in letters of gold over their chimney pieces.” Well may each of us solemnly and seriously inquire, Shall I be among that Eternally doomed company? It is the part of wisdom to make sure of the foundation upon which our hope of deliverance rests. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (Prov. 30:12). Self-deception is perilously easy, for we are ever ready to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt. Something more than outward religion is needed. Have I renounced my own righteousness as filthy rags? Am I trusting in Christ? Do I hate sin? Is inward depravity my greatest grief and burden? Am I daily seeking grace to deny self, mortify my lust, and please God?
7. The praise due unto God from His people. If I am a brand which has been plucked from the burning, what thanksgiving is due unto the Lord! If my blind eyes have been opened, if my hard heart has been softened, if my stubborn will has been broken, how deeply indebted am I unto sovereign grace! If I have been brought out of nature's darkness into God's marvellous light, made to see and mourn my waywardness and sinfulness and had placed within me a new principle or nature which causes me to hunger and thirst after righteousness and pant for communion with and conformity to the Lord, how immeasurably am I indebted to His distinguishing mercy! In such case must not thanksgiving be expressed in thanksgiving! If my feet have been turned Heavenward then I must act as a stranger and pilgrim here. If Christ has “delivered me from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10) then my chief concern should be for a greater love and likeness to Him.—A.W.P.