Why Must He Be a True and Righteous Man? (HC 16 pt 1)

16. Why must he be a true and righteous man?

Because the justice of God requires 1 that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin, but one who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.2

1Rom 5:15. 2 Isaiah 53:3-5.

There are two very interesting words here, “justice,” and “nature.” These two words really quite foreign to late moderns. There is a great deal of talk about “justice,” but it is typically conceived in relativistic terms. Justice is reckoned to be a human convention. I suspect about the last time anyone talked about justice and meant it in the older sense of “reflecting the divine moral order” was perhaps Dr King, when he gave the “I Have a Dream” speech on the mall in Washington, DC. Since that time, through the turmoil of the 60s and the radically subjective turn of much philosophy and most of the culture, many of us no longer believe in such things as a divinely consistuted standard of right and wrong. We suspect that it’s a merely human convention foisted upon by some conspiracy or other. The idea of “nature” has suffered a similiar fate for similar reasons.

That late modern subjectivists or modernist skpetics (e.g. radical empiricists) reject the existence of such things as “justice” and “nature” should not surprise us. Unbelief is bound to swing between rationalism (the autonomy of the human intellect relative to all other authorities) and empiricism (the autonomy of human sense experience relative to all other authorities) with interludes of subjectivism (e.g. Romanticism in the 19th century and deconstructionism today).

Christians, however, are bound to believe in such things as “justice” and “nature” because we confess that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” For Scripture, and consequently for the Reformed faith, God simply is. He is not a convention. He is not a product of the intellect or a mere deduction from human sense experience. Yes, we may see from nature and conscience that he is and that he has issued a universal moral law, but God is not the result of human rationalism or empiricism or subjectivism. God is that he is (Ex 3). He will be what he will be. He has a nature. He has attributes of which justice is one.

Because God has a nature and because we are his image bearers, we also have a nature. There is such a thing as human nature. We don’t have to pick sides in the “nature v nurture” debate. We affirm that there is such a thing as human nature in which we all share but we also affirm that it has been profoundly marred and corrupted by the fall. It has not been utterly wiped out. The vestiges remain and they are renewed by grace alone, in Christ alone. God the Creator has assigned a “nature” to us. It is a given. It is a limit. It is a boundary. We cannot escape it and we are morally obligated to it. We have the same nature as Adam. He we related to him legally and naturally, organically. We were “in him” legally and naturally. When he fell, we fell. His actions had profound consequences for all of us.

We share this common humanity not only with Adam, but also with Christ. He has the same nature as we. He isn’t merely “like” us (though he is that). Rather he is one with us. His humanity shares the same finitude as ours. He was tempted as we are tempted (Heb 4:15). He tired. He wept. He ate. He was in the womb. He was “very man.” He took his humanity, by the wonderful operation of God the Spirit, “from the Virgin Mary.” He suffered. He died. These are all things that happen to real humans, with real, true, flesh and blood. This is the consistent message of Hebrews:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:14-18).

One of the great errors of the medieval church was that it lost sight of Christ’s true humanity and erected for herself a pantheon of intercessors in place of Christ via the cult of saints and of the BVM. As the Belgic Confession reminds us in Article 26:

So then, sheer unbelief has led to the practice of dishonoring the saints, instead of honoring them. That was something the saints never did nor asked for, but which in keeping with their duty, as appears from their writings, they consistently refused.

We should not plead here that we are unworthy–for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.

God the Son took on our humanity (not something like humanity as the gnostics and docetists continue to say) for a purpose: to satisfy the divine justice. Just as fixed as the divine nature is, so fixed is the divine justice, i.e. the divine standard of right and wrong. This is an immutible (unchangeable and unchanging) standard of righteousness. In the 1960s it was a common colloquialism to call something “righteous.” The colloquial use of the adjective this way helped to create the impression that “righteous” or “righteousness” was just a convention, i.e., something that some one or some ones made up and that, with a change of opinion, it could be changed. In the late modern period, when the “hermeneutic of suspicion” reigns, everything is thought to be a mere convention or agreement.

There are conventions. Everything we think is not an eternal verity. Stop signs could be green. That stop signs are red is a convention. Red stop signs are not rooted “in the nature of things.” The fact, however, that there are conventions doesn’t mean that everything is a convention. “You shall not commit murder” is not a mere convention. It’s not as if, should we all sit and think about it and talk it over, we might decide that canibalism is permissible.

Some things are contrary to the nature of things. If one jumps off a high point, one will fall. It’s in the nature of things as constituted by God. Could God have willed things to be different? Yes. He might not have instituted gravity, but since he himself has a nature, and because his moral laws have reflect that nature, we cannot say the same thing about justice and righteousness. These things have a fixity, grounded in the divine nature, which we know via his voluntary self-disclosure (revelation), that even “natural laws” might not have. Theoretically things could be other than they are, but not so God and not so his moral law.

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One comment

  1. Recently, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of being visited by our friendly local cultists (LDS and JW in one weekend!) doing their unreasonable service, and they both, it seems have a problem with justice. The JW couldn’t chat for long, so I’ll probe more deeply in a couple of weeks’ time; the Mormons, though, just couldn’t get their heads around the idea that sinners being condemned without a “chance to be saved” was just. Not, of course, that the error is restricted to the cults; Arminians have the same problem.

    What do we find so difficult about “giving to every man his due”? (Or is it simply the really obvious answer?)

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