Satisfaction for Sin

In an excellent work entitled Concerning the Necessity and Reasonableness of the Christian Doctrine of Satisfaction for Sin, Jonathan Edwards gives four main arguments establishing the necessity of sins being punished. They show that the death of Christ, which paid the penalty for the sins of those who would believe in Him, was necessary for God to forgive His elect. They also show that those who do not trust Christ for salvation will have to pay for their sins themselves. We will examine three of Edward's arguements.

The first argument is from our sense of justice. Sins must be punished because sin deserves punishment. Could we really respect God if He smiled down on Adolf Hitler and Charles Mansons and said "That's okay, guys. Do whatever you want, as long as you're having fun"? Our minds recoil at such a thought! And if there is no God at all, the situation is even worse: the terrible evils of Hitler and such people will never be recompensed. Justice would never be served. But it would be hypocritical to single out people like Hitler as deserving of punishment and ignore our own sins. We all know that we have each sinned, and therefore if we are going to believe that the terrible crimes of people like Hitler need to be recompensed, our sins need to be recompensed as well. This is where Edward's first argument comes in:

1. God's justice is His commitment to love and uphold the orderly connections which He has established in the universe.
2. There is a connection between sin and punishment such that sin deserves punishment.
3. Thus, if God did not judge sin He would be contradicting this connection and thus violating His justice. A God who did not judge sin would not be maintaining order in His kingdom.
4. Therefore, if God is to remain just, He must punish sin.
This, of course, raises a problem. Since everybody has sinned, how can anyone be forgiven? The only possible answer is that somebody else must take this punishment for us. This is what we saw earlier. Christ died in the place of those who would come to believe in Him, thus canceling their penalty. No other religion upholds justice in the solution it gives to the human problem of sin. All other religions either deny that sin is as serious as we all know it is, deny that sin is evil at all (which also goes against our common sense), or provide forgiveness to humans without proper compensation to justice. Christianity is the only religion that does justice to our sense of justice.

Edward's next argument is from the holiness of God.

1. God is holy.
2. Sin is unholy, and therefore God is the utter contradiction of sin.
3. This means that God is opposed to sin, since it contradicts His nature.
4. If God is opposed to sin by nature, He must express that opposition in the world, for otherwise creation would not answer the reality of God's nature.
5. Therefore, if God did not punish sin, He would be contradicting His holiness and thereby denying Himself.
Edward's third argument is from the infinite honor and worth of God.

1. God's glory is of infinite value and worth.
2. Therefore, God must maintain the value and honor of His glory in order to be righteous.
3. Sin is an attack on God's glory. It dishonors God's infinite worth.
4. Therefore, if sin is treated as inconsequential, God's glory is treated as inconsequential.
5. Thus, God must punish sin in order to uphold His honor. For if He did not, He would be denying His infinite worth and thus would be committing unrighteousness.
The fact of God's infinite value also allows us to answer the objection presented by theologians such as Clark Pinnock and John Stott, that "eternal punishment is disproportionate to a finite life of sinning" (Piper, p. 127). These theologians neglect the fact that "degrees of blameworthiness come not from how long you offend dignity, but from how high the dignity is that you offend" (Piper). As Edwards pointed out in his sermon, "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners," since God is of infinite value, and all sins are ultimately committed against God, all sins therefore deserve an infinite penalty. Thus, the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment is not only consistent with justice, but is required by justice.


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