A.W. Tozerâ€™s chapter in Knowledge of the Holy on the justice of God is so potent and powerful, yet so painfully brief! Yet here are a few observations.
First, he says that justice is not a standard that exists above God and which God is required to obey. This would be to imply that God is not the highest standard of justice but is subject to a higher standard of justice. No, God is Himself the standard of justice and he executes his justice perfectly. Yet, Tozer says that â€œthere is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy.â€ Godâ€™s justice is free and perfect, and there is never a time when he is unjust. As the Psalmist Asaph ponders the prosperity of the wicked, he is reassured with this knowledge:
â€œ 18Truly you set them [the wicked] in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.â€ (Psalm 73)
When he considers the justice of God with the mercy of God, he concludes first that â€œno attribute of God is in conflict with another.â€ Secondly, he says that â€œmercy does not become effective toward a man until justice has done its work.â€ Thatâ€™s the rub; thatâ€™s the cross. Heâ€™s referring to a theology of redemption that teaches the severity of Godâ€™s wrath, the depth of Godâ€™s love, mercy, and compassion, the absurdity of the cross, and how God is completely consistent with Himself in the whole matter. At no point is His justice compromised in His exercise of mercy. On the contrary, the very manner of his demonstration of mercy vindicates His justice, because mercy is accomplished via the cross.
It breaks down like this. God is always just. If one wonders if God is just towards the wicked, he need look to only two places: the cross, or to hell. Does God punish sin? Yes. The punishment for every sin will be meted out in either hell or on the cross. There is not one solitary sin in all existence that his escaped the scrutiny of Godâ€™s just eyes and His vengeful wrath poured out upon the sinner. For me, and all my sin, Godâ€™s vengeful wrath was poured out on Jesus Christ. And all the riches of the glory of Christ, his glorified body, his righteousness and favor with God, are all mine (not that they were taken away from Christ to be given to me, the resurrection proves that he can suffer punishment for sin and yet be raised again to live because God is himself the source of all life).
For those who do not know or love Christ, who do not repent of their sins and obey him, they will meet the justice of God in hell. When someone dies apart from Christ, they will get nothing more or less than they deserve. God will not punish them more than their sins require, nor less. His punishment for sin is just, and that justice is hell.
So then, Godâ€™s justice for sin is seen in two places: on the cross (for believers) and in hell (for non-believers).
That was the hope of Asaph in the Psalm, as well as the hope of Job, Jeremiah and others who wonder, â€œwhy do the wicked prosper? (Jeremiah 12:1).â€ The wicked prosper for only a season. God has his own purposes in not handing down judgment immediately, otherwise he would have destroyed Adam and Eve and this whole human experiment put to an end right then. No, God desired to redeem humanity, which required a temporary suspension in his justice. This suspension would have been unjust were it not for the fact that God knew he would redeem in the future. If God had no plans to redeem in the future, then why suspend judgment? Why not just send Adam and Eve to hell right then? Why allow them to procreate when there was never any hope of anyone ever living a righteous life who was their descendant? This is why it is appropriate to say that anyone who lived before the time of Christ â€œborrowedâ€ from the cross the mercy that they may someday hope for. Old Testament believers, such as David, Samuel, Enoch, and so on, lived in a time of suspended judgment under a system that could not permanently redeem them from their sin. â€œFor it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).â€ Godâ€™s mercy was extended during a time when mercy had not yet been purchased by the cross. They borrowed mercy from Christ not knowing from whom or by what means mercy would come.
This is the hope of the Christian. Godâ€™s justice for my sin was met in Christ on the cross. But death could not hold Christ down. Because he is God and is the source of all life, the resurrection secures for all who are â€œin Himâ€ all the things that are his. We will be like him, glorified in body, purified in heart and conscience, righteous before God in deed. Perfected. Godâ€™s justice also insists that those who are righteous before Him and are in Christ receive those things promised to Christ and belonging to Him, an eternal inheritance. Amen!