The God of Justice and Love
July 18th, 1954
THE GOD OF JUSTICE AND LOVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-18-54 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The God of Justice and Love, or Christ the Sin Bearer of the World. It is a message that follows the one preached last Sunday night. In our ministry through the Word, we have come to the third chapter of the Book of Romans, and the passage is the Scripture lesson we just read, and the text is in the twenty-sixth verse of that third chapter, “That God might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth” [Romans 3:26].
Could I read just a context? Romans, third chapter, 23 through the text: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]; that was last Sunday night. All have sinned, there is no difference; all have sinned. Now the message of the morning:
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded.
Your problem, that Paul had to face, the problem that all of us have to face, is simply stated in Paul’s word, “How can God be just and justify a sinner?” [Romans 3:24-27]. Or, in the Revised Version, “How can God be righteous and declare a sinner righteous?” Or, if I were turning it in the modern language of our courts, “How can a judge do right and allow a felon to escape free? How can he?” There is no law without a penalty. There is no such thing as a law being a law without a penalty. If the legislature were to convene and pass laws with no penalty, they might be recommendations, they might be good wishes, they might be fine hoped-for things, but they wouldn’t be laws. For a law to be a law, it demands that, when it is broken, a penalty be paid. And God’s universe is like that: that’s where the state got its idea of justice. Justice lies in the character of God. God’s universe is moral; it is governed by law. And law to be law demands a penalty.
So, to man there is an alternative; to God there is a trilemma. The alternative to man is this: when we sin—”and we all have sinned” [Romans 3:23], and, “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. When we sin, we either pay that penalty ourselves, or somebody else pays it for us. That is the alternative to man. There is a trilemma, I say, that faces God if He is to be just and the justifier of the sinner [Romans 3:26]. The trilemma is this: God could be, if He chose so, God could be all justice, all the judge, and nothing else, without love, without compassion, and without mercy. God could be all justice; in which event all sinners pay the penalty of their sins, which means all of us would spend our everlasting and eternal perdition in hell. It would be hell with no promise, and no hope, and no heaven. God could do that; be all justice and consign all sinners to the payment and the reward of their iniquity.
Second: God could be all compassion and all mercy and all love, with no justice at all—in which event your universe, your world, your life would live in defiance of all law, and a premium placed therein upon crime, which is another word for anarchy. There is no conceivable way that the world as God has created it could continue in existence without law, without government, without decree, and without order. And if God were just mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, and no justice, your universe would disintegrate.
The third part of the trilemma is this: there is a way by which God can demonstrate, can exhibit His justice, can uphold His government, and at the same time can justify and forgive the sinner. And that is the way that Paul is presenting here in the Book of Romans. And he presents it under the nomenclature of a redemption, and a propitiation, or a substitution.
God’s justice demands that the sinner die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]: “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14]. And God’s love let Him die: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16]. In the trilemma, God can justify the sinner and at the same time remain just Himself, uphold His government, uphold His decrees, uphold His law, that the soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20], that the law that is broken demands a penalty. How does God do that? He does it through redemption and substitution: Somebody else dies for us; Somebody else pays our penalty [2 Corinthians 5:21].
Now I want to take those two words there in the twenty-fourth and the twenty-fifth verses of the third chapter of the Book of Romans, I want to take them as Paul applies them to the Lord Jesus. First, “redemption”: “Being justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” [Romans 3:24]. How God can forgive a sinner and let him go free and at the same time remain a righteous and just Judge; redemption; justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. In the [twenty-fifth] chapter of the Book of Leviticus, there are minute directions how a kinsman can redeem the lost possession of his brother. If a man because he is poor, and his neighbor waxes rich, if the poor man loses his inheritance, his little farm, to his rich neighbor, and the rich neighbor buys it, then in the law of God there was a plan made called “redemption,” by which a kinsman or somebody who loves this man would go and buy back the lost possession [Leviticus 25:25-28]. And that was called a redemptive price; it was redemptive money, and it was an exact equivalent, whatever the man had paid for the possession, however much it cost, a kinsman, a neighbor could buy it back and restore it to the man who had lost it.
In the same [twenty-fifth] chapter of the Book of Leviticus, if a man being poor, and having nothing at all to give, if he sold himself to his rich neighbor, he became debtor to his rich neighbor, and he couldn’t pay for himself, so he slaved in bondage under that debt; then a kinsman could come and redeem the man himself. And in the [twenty-fifth] chapter of Leviticus, you have the exact program, the way, the exact exchange whereby the man could be redeemed [Leviticus 25:47-55]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and in the third chapter of the Book of Numbers, God says that the firstborn, after the night of the Passover [Exodus 12:1-30], the firstborn of all Israel belongs to God, is forfeit to God [Exodus 13:1-2, 12-13]. And if by any means or way they are not dedicated to God, they must be redeemed. There’s that word again, “redeemed.” They must be bought back, they must be exchanged, there must be an exact equivalent, man for man, of the firstborn among Israel. So the Lord made the exchange through the Levite; and it is called the Levitical redemption. Every firstborn whose life was forfeit to God, the Lord took a Levite in exchange; man for man, an exact equivalent. And in those passages in the Old Testament, if there were not enough Levites, if there were not enough Levites to redeem every one of the firstborn of Israel, man for man, then they had a redemptive price that they had to pay to redeem each one of the men over and beyond the number of the Levites [Numbers 3:40-51]. Redemption, according to God’s Word, is an exchange; it is a just and an exact equivalent.
It might be that one captain could be exchanged for twenty private soldiers. It might be that one diamond could be exchanged for many dollars. It might be that one rich man could pay many, many debts. But redemption is an exact exchange between the worth of one and the worth of the other. The one might be worth many, many others; but to be redeemed, the exchange must be just, it must be equivalent, it must be equal. That is redemption.
Now when that word is applied to Christ, and it is done many times in the New Testament, when the word is applied to Christ, it means this: that on this side are all of the debts by which a man falls short of the expectation and the glory of God—we call it sin—on this side are all of the sins of mankind, all of them, all of them; and if we pay for those sins ourselves, it means eternal perdition and damnation. It means being shut out from God, it means suffering the eternal penalty of having broken the decrees of God, and all of us have broken them, “We all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. On this side there are the mounded, high above, infinite, debts we owe to God, our sins. And when that word redemption is applied to Christ, it means on this side, on this side there was an exact equivalent, there was an exchange between Christ, His worth, His merit, His value, His riches, His glory, His honor, there was an exchange between all that Christ was on this side and all that man’s sins are on this side.
Sometimes they use the word ransom, referring to that redemption. In Matthew 20:28, the Lord Jesus said, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” That is the life of Christ was given in exchange for the lives of all of the lost, who were condemned before God. His life was worth the lives of all of the sinners of the world. And He was given a ransom that these might go free.
Paul speaks of that same thing in 1 Timothy, the second chapter, the fifth and the sixth verses. Listen to it: “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus; who has given Himself a ransom for all” [1 Timothy 2:5-6]. The life of Christ was equal to the lives of all of the sinners in the world; and Jesus was given a ransom, that all of these might go free.
Sometimes Paul, in discussing that, will use the word “purchase” or “buying”—sold under sin, lost to iniquity, condemned by having broken the decrees of God, all of us in debt, sold in slavery, in bondage [Romans 7:13-14, 23]—then Paul will use the words “buying back,” purchasing. In Acts 20:28, he says to the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Take heed to yourselves, and to the church of God. . .which He hath purchased with His own blood.” All of us in debt, and sold out, and the Lord Jesus bought us back, purchased us with His own blood.
In 1 Corinthians, the sixth chapter and the twentieth verse, Paul says, “Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. We were sold to Satan. We were under the condemnation of the righteous Judge. We were in hell and undone and forever in bonds and in slavery. And the Lord Jesus bought us back with His own blood. We don’t belong to ourselves; we belong to Him. “You are not your own; ye are bought with a price” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. That same thing is the meaning of that unusual passage in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “Then if He died for all, then were all dead.” Well, isn’t that a funny thing? “If He died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all,” and the rest of that passage. When you read that passage it doesn’t mean anything in itself at all, just looking at it like that. “If He died for all, then were all dead.” But the thought back of it is this thought here: that the death of Christ was equal to the death of all of us, the sinners in the world. It was as if all of the sinners in the world died, and paid for their sins with an eternal and second death [Revelation 20:11-15]. The death of Christ was equal to that. That’s what Paul simply means and simply says in that passage [2 Corinthians 5:14]; when Christ died, it was as if all of us died [2 Corinthians 5:14]. His death was equal to the death of all the sinners in the world. And the merit and the value and the worth of Christ’s death is the same as the value and the merit and the worth of all of our deaths, in satisfying the decrees, the government, and the law of God [2 Corinthians 5:14].
Now that redemption was purchased in the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Hebrews 9:12, “Not by the blood of calves and of goats, but by His own precious blood He entered once into the Holy Place for us, having obtained for us an eternal redemption.” That is the blood of Christ was equal, exact, measured up to the debts of all of us in the world; and we’ve been redeemed, we’ve been bought back, we’ve been purchased by the merit and the worth of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Peter speaks of it like this: 1 Peter, the first chapter, the eighteenth and the nineteenth verses: “We are redeemed, bought back, purchased, belong to God, we are redeemed not by corruptible things, as silver and gold . . . but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. That is redemption; and that’s what Paul refers to here, “Justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” [Romans 3:24].
By the way, justify means to declare righteous; not that we are righteous, but that God treats us as though we are righteous, justified, free, let go, don’t bear the penalty; we are justified by the redemption in Christ Jesus, by the price, by the payment, by the equivalent value in the life merit worth of the blood of the Lord Jesus [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Now that’s one.
Now the other is the word “propitiation”: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” [Romans 3:25]. How can God be just and justify a sinner? How can you sin and not pay the penalty for that sin, which means hell and eternal damnation? How is it God can be just and justify you? [Romans 3:26]. How is it? One is in redemption: the price is paid for; Somebody paid for it, that’s redemption. Now how is that Somebody paying for it? He does it through—and I’d like to use the word “substitution”—substitution. Propitiation means making satisfaction, making atonement. I want to use the word “substitution.” Christ does that by substitution; that is, He takes our place [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:4-14]. He does it in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Romans 5:8]. He dies our death. He suffers our punishment. He bows His head to the storm of all of the penalties that you and I should have received in our souls and our lives; a Substitute.
Paul speaks of it in Galatians 2:20, which is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. Do you remember it? “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” and this is it, “who loved me, and gave Himself for me,” my Substitute: He did it, “who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Simon Peter speaks of it like this, in 1 Peter 2:24, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” All of the penalty He took, He assumed, and He died in our stead. He did it. John spake of it like this in 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” He gave the Lord to die, to suffer in our stead; and in His heart, in His soul our Savior took all of the penalty of our wrongdoing. That is substitution: Christ died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].
When you turn back to the Old Testament, those great passages that speak of the lamb of atonement, they’re all that looking forward to the grace, the forgiveness, the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Isaiah 53:5-6, that’s it: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace is upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. The Lord hath laid on Him,” our Substitute, “the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. The meaning of John 13:14, 15 and 16, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” if we are to be saved. If we are to be saved, Somebody must pay the penalty for our sins. If we are to be saved, “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him, looks to Him, should not perish, but have eternal life” [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15].
Now this morning, we’re going to quote those passages, we’re going to say them. They are the gospel. This is the preaching of the message of the Son of God. Isaiah 53:6:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…
All of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
There is none righteous, no, not one.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
And the passage through John 3:16—now we’re all going to say it together, one right after the other: Isaiah 53:6, then John 3:14, 15, 16. That is the whole gospel. Now let’s say it together, start in Isaiah, Isaiah 53:6, all right:
All of us like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one unto his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:6].
For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:14-16].
That’s it. That’s it. We were lost in our sins, we were undone in our iniquities [Ephesians 2:1], all of us in debt to God and never able to pay that debt; and the Lord paid it for us. That is redemption [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And the Lord suffered in our stead; the guiltless for the guilty [2 Corinthians 5:21]. That is substitution and propitiation.
Now, there are those, there are those who deny that such a thing as that is possible, that the guiltless could suffer for the guilty. Bob Ingersoll said, “They killed the wrong man. They should have killed us, and not the Lord Jesus.” And Thomas Paine, in his Age of Reason says, “Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty; even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer justice, it is indiscriminate revenge.” And he says further, Tom Paine, “To us an execution is an object for gratitude,” talking about the cross of Christ, “the preachers daub themselves with blood like a troupe of assassins, and pretend to admire the brilliancy of its color.” He is saying it is impossible for somebody to suffer for us. Justice is not justice, he says, if the innocent suffer for the guilty. Well, for just a moment, could I make this observation? Out of all of the marvelous traits in human life, of all of the nobilities that ever characterized the human soul, this is the grandest, and the noblest, and the purest, and the holiest, and the most godlike: when somebody voluntarily takes the burden and suffers for the helpless, or the sinful, or the poor, or the needy.
For example, in one of my pastorates, one of my deacons— a fine, well-to-do man, with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of black bottom land farms—and he and his wife had a boy. And however they might pray for that boy, and however I as their young pastor might talk to that boy, he still was incorrigible and prodigal. I was pastor there several years. And before I left that pastorate, I lived to see the day when that father and that mother had spent all that they had keeping that boy out of jail, out of the penitentiary, out of trouble, paying back for things that he’d stolen, paying back for things that he’d done to destroy and to hurt. And one day, staying in their home, talking to that father and mother in the living room, seated there between them, I said to him, and I said to her, “You know, I believe, if I were you, I’d let him go. I’d let him go. You’ve lost these vast lands, and you’ve lost everything that you have. You have spent it on that wayward boy. If I were you, I’d let him go. I’d let him go.”
Well, they said to me, “Pastor, we have thought of that many, many times. Let him go, let him go, let him stand before the judge and be sentenced, let him try to pay his own fine, let him be sentenced to the penitentiary; we have thought of that many, many times. But when the day comes for us to let him go, when the day comes, somehow we can never make that final decision. And if it costs us all that we have, and it has, and we give up all of our properties, and we have, we’re down there by the side of that boy, trying to keep him out of the penitentiary, trying to pay back what he’s stolen, trying and hoping that the boy will do right.”
I may not be able to understand that. I may not be able to understand that, but I give you my honest persuasion: as I look at the father and as I look at the mother, I marvel at such love; I marvel at it. I just wonder. I don’t sit there between that father and mother, but somehow I have a feeling in my heart that goes out to them. I say again, there’s a nobility, there’s a sanctity, there’s a holiness, there’s a godliness in that that’s beyond anything I know people do in this world.
Now may I say this about this passage? And when you preach in Romans, you’re just way in over your head, you just get lost.
O Lord, I don’t see; it’s hard, it’s difficult. Master, I don’t say that I understand this, I sure don’t. I don’t say I can explain this, I just can’t.
But I do say this: that I wonder and I marvel at the love of God in Christ Jesus. I just am amazed at it. Why should He take time and bear with you and with me? Why? Why? Why doesn’t the Lord let us go? Why doesn’t He? But He doesn’t. But He doesn’t. And He sends the Lord Jesus to pay the price of our iniquities [John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19], to redeem us back to Himself [1 John 4:10]. And He gives the Lord Jesus a substitute to die in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21].
And then there’s one part that Paul talks about that I can surely enter into: he closes it with saying, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded [Romans 3:27]. It is excluded. Where is boasting then?” When someday at the final day we stand before God, where is the man that shall stand up and say, “Lord, look at me, what I did. Look at me, what I did. Lord, I’m here because of my goodness, and my holiness, and my grace, and my rectitude, and my perfection of life. Lord, look at me,” and boast before God? Where is boasting then? “Where is boasting then? It is excluded” [Romans 3:27]. When we stand before God at the great and final hour, no man shall stand and say, “Lord, here I am by my merit and my worth.”
Well, what shall we say? This is what we shall say: “Lord, here I am, a debtor, a sinner, deserve to die. Here I am, Lord, a sinner. Here I am by the grace of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” [Galatians 2:20]. That is the gospel. That is the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you remember the song of the redeemed in the Book of Revelation? “Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us unto Thyself by Thy blood, out of every race, and nation, and tribe, and kindred [Revelation 5:9]. And they fell down and worshipped Him, the Lamb that is on the throne” [Revelation 5:13-14]. Our gratitude, our debt is to Christ.
Could I close with this sentence? When you open that Book, when you read that Testament, there is one all-pervading, tremendous emotion throughout the pages of that New Testament, and it is this: the sense of eternal debt and gratitude to the Son of God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20]. All through the pages, all through the sentence, all through the syllables by which God inspired men who wrote it [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21], is that emotion: debt, gratitude, to the Lord Jesus. “Master, if it had not been for You, we would have missed it. If it hadn’t been for You, we wouldn’t have made it. If it hadn’t been for You, Lord, I’d have been lost. All glory, worthy is the Lamb!” [Revelation 5:12]. That’s the gospel. That’s the preaching of Jesus.
We have to quit. We’re going to sing “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
[William Cowper, 1772]
And while we sing that song, while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. “Lord, that was for me; You died for me. And in love, in gratitude, in faith, here I come, Lord, and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. While we sing that song, would you make it now? “Here I come, pastor, I give you my hand; my heart I give to God.” To come into the church by letter, by baptism, as the Lord shall say and lead the way, would you make it now? In that topmost balcony, anywhere, into the aisle, down here to the front, and stand by me. Would you do it? Would you do it? Would you make it now? “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” While we stand and sing this hymn.