De Moor on God's Essential Vindicatory Righteousness: Argument from Various Passages

Finally, Vindicatory Righteousness is expressly asserted to be Essential to God in passages that speak of God’s Hatred, Anger, Vengeance, out of which to this Righteousness belongs the title of Avenging and Vindicatory. But, as from the things said above it is clearly evident that in a Judicial matter, and so with respect punishments inflicted, Righteousness is also attributed to God, which from Psalm 119:137; Revelation 19:11; Daniel 9:7; Acts 17:31; Romans 3:25, etc., is able amply to be confirmed (so that Socinus is mistaken, when he, being about to proceed to denials, writes that this Righteousness, of which we treat, is Essential to God: Righteousness is indeed perpetual in God, but this is nothing other than rectitude and equity, Prælectionibus, chapter XVI, which description appears almost to square with that Universal Virtue of Aristotle, and thus to comprehend that Particular Righteousness under itself, as a genus does a species; so that rather the most proper domain for the language of Righteousness might be in the signification of that Virtue, which τὰ ὀφειλόμενα ἑκάστῳ ἀποδίδοται, renders to the other what is due,[1] whence it is elegantly defined by the Emperor, Institutes,[2] book I, title I, de Justitia et Jure: Righteousness is the constant and perpetual will to bestow to each his Right/Due: Therefore, as it relates to a Judge, it no doubt includes under itself the retribution of punishments according to the deserving of the sufferer: And so the heretic wrongly separates things that are subordinated in God, next adding: Now, that Righteousness of God, as we are wont to call it, which is conspicuous only in the punishment of sins, the divine books do not at all think worthy of that name, but sometimes call it God’s severity, at other times God’s vengeance, then God’s anger, fury, indignation, and other names of this sort: You will find worse things than these in part III de Servatore, chapter I, For, when God punishes sinners, so that we might call this His work by some fitting name; we say that He then works Righteousness: Away with Socinus and his blasphemous speech, who from what precedes is also convicted of falsehood with respect to the term Righteousness: But I return); so the same Righteousness is marked with the name of Hatred and Anger, such that these are not to be opposed to the Divine Righteousness in accordance with Socinus, but rather are to be conjoined with it. Indeed, Anger and Hatred denote only a perpetual aversion to evil and a constant intention of recompensing the impious according to their deserts; and thus these metaphorical terms, when they come to be explained, are able to go by no other name than Righteousness: for God exercises Hatred and Anger either justly or unjustly; I suppose that no one will say unjustly, and therefore justly; and so the exercise of those is only an effect of God’s Righteousness. It is agreeable to compare what things BASIL the GREAT in his Homily on Psalm 37, tome I, page 203, observed for the illustration of this matter, Πολλάκις δὲ εἴρηται, ὡς ὀργὴ καὶ θυμὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν ταῖς θεοπνεύστοις γραφαῖς, οὐ πάθη σημαίνει (παντὸς γὰρ πάθους ἀλλότριον τὸ θεῖον)· κατὰ μεταφορὰν δὲ τὰ τοιαῦτα εἴωθεν ὀνομάζειν ὁ τῆς γραφῆς λόγος, ὡς καὶ ὀφθαλμοὺς Θεοῦ, καὶ ὦτα, καὶ χεῖρας, καὶ δακτύλους, καὶ πόδας, καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ μέλη. —οὕτως οὖν καὶ τὰς ἐπαγομένας τιμωρίας τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι κατὰ Θεοῦ κρίσιν σκυθρωπὰς οὖσας καὶ ἀλγεινὰς τοῖς πάσχουσιν, ὡσανεὶ ἐξ ὀργῆς καὶ θυμοῦ ἐπαγομένας ὑποτυποῦται, It is often said, that God’s anger and wrath in the inspired books does not signify a passion (for the Divine Being is averse to all passion): but by a metaphor the language of the Scripture is wont to use such things, as also God’s eyes, ears, hands, fingers, feet, and the remaining limbs:… in this way then also the retributions brought upon sinners by the judgment of God, which retributions are of an angry appearance, and grievous to those suffering, as if the notion of it is formed from retributions brought on from anger and wrath. Thus far Basil. And indeed, concerning Hatred it was spoken above, § 7, in that illustrious description of this Righteousness; from which Anger hardly differs, except that the former properly includes a greater contrast between the sin and the Holiness of God, whence God is obliged to abominate, and consequently to punish, it; but this principally involves a just indignation arising from the abomination of sin, and then equally also Hatred, the intention to punish. And the Apostle teaches that this latter does indeed manifestly agree with the Avenging Righteousness of God, Romans 2:5 (which passage Basil also therefore cited after the words of confirmation just now adduced), conjoining ἡμέραν ὀργῆς καὶ δικαιοκρισίας τοῦ Θεοῦ, the day of wrath and of the righteous judgment of God. Ἵνα γὰρ μὴ, ἀκούσας ὀργὴν, νομίσῃς πάθος, ἐπήγαγε, δικαιοκρισίας τοῦ Θεοῦ, so that you, having heard of His anger, might not deem it a passion, he added, the righteous judgment of God, CHRYSOSTOM well advises, Homily V on the Epistle to the Romans. Likewise in Romans 3:5, 6. Paul ascribes Righteousness to the effects of this Anger, with rationale sought from the Judicial function over this World, which God undertakes: τί ἐροῦμεν; μὴ ἄδικος ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω); μὴ γένοιτο· ἐπεὶ πῶς κρινεῖ ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance (I speak as a man)? God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?: And this Anger of God is quite frequently commemorated, for example, in Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Kings 16:2, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:19, 26; Psalm 6:1; 78:33; Zephaniah 2:2; Romans 1:18; and elsewhere. But these Affections are not extrinsic additions to men, of which they are able to make use, or not, at will; but they pertain to human nature, and are not able to be completely suppressed when their proper object occurs, such that even if you should drive nature away with a prod, yet it would keep coming back: so also the names of Hatred and Anger attributed to God, with all imperfection removed, denote an essential Perfection in Him, which is not able not to exert itself according to desert towards a suitable object. And, as these things do improperly indeed express this Righteousness, as it resides in God; so its necessary exercise is signified to us by the language of Vengeance, whence the name of Avenger is ascribed to God Himself. Illustrious is the passage in Nahum 1:2, 3, in which, as in Psalm 94:1 God is called אֵל נְקָמוֹת, God of Vengeance,[3] so here three times He is called יְהוָה נֹקֵם, Jehovah Avenger, that is, most justly and severely punishing evil, and in addition בַעַל חֵמָה, the Lord of Fury,[4] who, although He is longsuffering, is nevertheless at the same time great in power, who is able to destroy the impious; and He wills the same, since נַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה, He will by no means clear the guilty, concerning which phrase above in § 6 on Exodus 34:7; nay more, He pursues him with frightful punishments, Nahum 1:6. And it comes to be observed that the Prophet here by no means predicts what the Lord is going to do, but proclaims the Nature of God and the manner of His acting in accordance with that, as the entire context proclaims. From which again this conclusion arises for us, that Vindicatory Righteousness and its effect in the retribution of sinners belong to God by nature antecedently to the Decree; which Jeremiah no less clearly indicates in Jeremiah 5:9, Shall I not visit for these things? saith Jehovah: and on a nation of this sort shall not my soul take vengeance, תִתְנַקֵּ֖ם נַפְשִֽׁי׃? Which same words are repeated in verse 29 and in Jeremiah 9:9, in which God denies it to be possible that He would not undertake the punishment of a people given to idolatry, fornications, and similar crimes; even indeed by the force of His Soul, that is, His Essential Holiness itself, or His perfectly Holy Nature; compare Amos 4:2 with 6:8. SCHMIDT wrote best on this passage, It is altogether true, what David Kimchi says, that the soul of God is not distinguished from Go Himself. But the expression has at the same time this emphasis, that it indicates that God on account of His inner and essential attributes is not able to abstain from vengeance.[5] And I am confident indeed that thus the rationale of our first Argument is established, and has been sufficiently demonstrated, that Sacred Scripture expressly attributes Vindicatory Righteousness to God, even in such a way that it pertains to His Essence, and by that He is not able to deny Himself; whence I conclude with the Most Illustrious President after the vindication of the passages surveyed above in his Compendio Theologiæ, that in these, no doubt, mention is made of Attributes most Essential, which God is not able to deny.

[1] Romans 13:7: “Render therefore to all their dues (ἀπόδοτε οὖν πᾶσι τὰς ὀφειλάς): tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”

[2] Corpus Iuris Civilis, a compendium of Roman law, compiled at the command of Justinian I (c. 530).

[3] Psalm 94:1: “O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth (אֵל־נְקָמ֥וֹת יְהוָ֑ה אֵ֖ל נְקָמ֣וֹת), shew thyself.”

[4] Nahum 1:2: “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversariesוְנֹקֵם֙ יְהוָ֔ה נֹקֵ֥ם) יְהוָ֖ה וּבַ֣עַל חֵמָ֑ה נֹקֵ֤ם יְהוָה֙ לְצָרָ֔יו), and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.”

[5] Commentarii Super Librum Prophetiarum Jeremiæ.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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