De Moor IV:47: Controversy among the Reformed over God's Vindicatory Righteousness, Part 2
They Object, 3. the Goodness of God, whether it come under the name of Mercy, or under the name of Patience. The Catechesis Racoviensis, chapter VIII, cited above, question 20: “If Mercy is in God by nature, God could not by any means punish any sin."
I Respond with our AUTHOR, that all Punishment is not taken away; but, either, α. is transferred to the Surety through Mercy, or, β. is deferred through Patience. What, γ. our AUTHOR has in addition concerning the Mitigation of Punishment through the Goodness of God, from this they argue: if God is able remit a degree of the merited Punishment, then He is able to remit the whole of the Punishment due. But it is able to be Answered, a. That some things exceed the capacity of our intellect, but what things God clearly delivers in His Word are not for that reason to be called into doubt. Although we undertake not rashly to determine whether God is able to mitigate merited Punishment with His Righteousness preserved, or not: it would not thence follow that it is likewise not possible to be determined in general that God is bound to punish Sins. The Degree of punishment differs from the Punishment itself, which, if God should remit the whole, He would be said to deny His Righteousness; but, remitting a Degree of it, a place is yet left for a demonstration of His Righteousness. b. At the same time, the Most Illustrious HONERT, de Gratia particulari, chapter I, § 66, page 230, “thinks that it is altogether false, that God is able to inflict a lesser Punishment, than the sin deserves, if it be considered without relation to a Satisfaction. But (says he), God is able and willing to free those in whose place there has been a satisfaction of divine Justice from the due Punishment of sin; yet in such a way that by degrees they ascend unto the highest peak of this liberty. Now, among these degrees is this also, that God pursues their faults, not with satisfactory punishments, but with paternal chastisements, that He might bring them again from their wandering path into the right way. Now, we freely admit that these chastisements are much milder than the desert of the sin: but this is to be derived, not from any remission of divine Justice, but from the Satisfaction furnished for those men. For this Satisfaction brings it to pass that all the desert of sin with respect to them is to be sought, not in those chastisements, but in the punishments that the Surety renders to the Judge. An eternal punishment suited to their sins awaits the others, of which punishment the various degrees will match the various sorts of sins.” On this Objection thoroughly compare ARNOLDI’S Refutationem Catecheseos Racovianæ, on the place just now cited, § VII-XV, pages 510-513; HENDRIK LUSSING’S de Noodzekelykheid van den Godtsdienst in ’t gemeen, en de Zekerheid van den Christelyken in ’t byzonder, veweert, part I, dissertation IV, chapter IV, § 500-509, pages 382-390.
They Object, 4. the Absolute Dominion of God, or the Absolute Power of God, since even men are able to remit by their own right: compare what things were cited about out of Episcopius, and which HONERT relates out of Socinus and Limborch, de Gratia particulari, chapter I, § 64, pages 220-227.
Responses: α. The exercise of God’s Dominion and Power ought to be agreeable to His divine Perfections: where those things that have already been observed concerning the Absolute Right of God over the Creature on the last Objection in the preceding §.
β. And Judges are not able lawfully to remit Punishment. That is, a distinction must be made between a Right Private and Public, Dominical and Judicial, one that only has regard to the good pleasure and advantage of a lord, and one that pertains to honesty and duty. The latter obtains here, where it is treated of δικαιώματι/righteousness, which is applies to God for punishing Sins; and concerning this Right no one is able to remit, in such a way as concerning the former. A distinction is also to be made between a private man and a man settled in public authority. It is to be observed that at this point God acts the part, not of a Free Lord, or of an offended party only; but also and especially of Judge, to whom it belongs to preserve the Majesty of the Law whole and entire. Neither is God able to resign this role of Judge, but in sustaining the same He is obliged to punish Sins, so that He might consult His own honor and that of His broken Law, unless He wishes to deny Himself and to remove the Moral Dependence of the actions of rational creatures. Compare HENDRIK LUSSING’S de Noodzekelykheid van den Godtsdienst in ’t gemeen, en de Zekerheid van den Christelyken in ’t byzonder, veweert, part I, dissertation IV, chapter IV, § 476-497, pages 364-380.
Neither do our sins have the relation of Debt in them, which God could remit without that Satisfaction: by the same right, moreover, from the language of debt and to be indebted, you could infer that God is able to remit to man the debt of obedience to the Law, comparing Romans 8:12; 13:8: but because they grant to God the Right of taking punitive action against us, comparing Matthew 18:34, 35. But at the same time also our Sins are rather crimes, through which we are obnoxious to divine anger and the condemnation of the Law, Romans 1:18; 3:19; Ephesians 2:3. But, as species of pecuniary and moral Debt differ, so also the appropriate mode of Remission concerning them varies: compare ARNOLDI’S Refutationem Catecheseos Racovianæ, § IX-XVII, pages 497-499.