Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  God’s Relation to Man

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

God’s Relation to Man

By John Norton (1606–1663)

[The Orthodox Evangelist. 1654.]

THE JUSTICE OF GOD is considered either in respect of himself, or in respect of the reasonable creature. In order to himself (whereby He is a necessary debtor to himself), it is called Essential Justice; in order to the reasonable creature (whereby He hath freely made himself a debtor unto them), it is called Relative Justice.

In the Essential Justice of God is contained that which is called the Justice of Condecency, or Comeliness; which necessitates not God to constitute any rule of Relative Justice between himself and the creature; only, in case He be pleased to constitute any, it necessitates him so to do it as becometh such an Agent, and as serveth best unto his end, and which (being done) continueth inviolable and infallible. The Essential Justice, Constancy, and Truth of God, permitteth not any defect or alteration concerning the execution of his decree after He had once decreed it; notwithstanding before the decree He was free to have decreed, or not to have decreed that decree.

Relative or Moral Justice is an external Work of God, whereby He proceeds with man according to the Law of Righteousness freely constituted between him and them; rendering to every one what is due unto them thereby, either by way of recompense, in case of obedience, or by way of punishment, in case of disobedience.

For our better understanding of this Moral Justice of God in respect to man, consider: 1. That nothing can be due from God to man as of himself. 2. That which is due from God to man, is from the free and mere good pleasure of God. 3. That this good pleasure or Will of God is the Rule of Righteousness. 4. That God proceeding to execution, according to this Rule of Righteousness constituted by his good pleasure, can do no wrong.

Nothing can be due from God to man as of himself; the creature of itself being a mere nothing, and God being all, He cannot become a debtor to the creature, either of good or evil, otherwise than He is pleased to make himself a debtor. Should God be looked at as a necessary debtor unto the creature, it must either be to the creature not yet in being, or to the creature in actual being. But He cannot be a debtor to the creature not yet in being; for to it nothing can be due but creation, and that should be due unto nothing. Thence it would follow that God were bound to create every creature that were possible to be created, and that also from Eternity.

Neither can He be a debtor to the creature in actual being, to which, if He can owe any thing, it must either be the continuation of it in its being, or annihilation. If God doth not owe unto the creature its creation, He cannot owe unto it its continuation; continuation being nothing else but the continuance of creation. He that is not bound to give a creature its being for one instant, which is done in creation, is much less bound to give unto a creature its being for many instants, which is included in continuation. Besides, were God bound to continue the creature in actual being for one year, by the same reason He were bound to continue them forever.

Neither can He owe unto the creature in actual being, annihilation; for then neither could the godly enjoy eternal life, nor the wicked be punished with eternal death. To owe annihilation is to owe nothing. The worth of the creature in order unto God is not intrinsical; “For who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?”

Whatsoever is due from God to man, is from the mere will and good pleasure of God. Moral Justice floweth from the good pleasure of God. The manifestation of the glory of God in a way of justice is the end, the permission of sin is the means; that this should be the means, and that should be the end, is wholly of the will of God. The creation of man is the effect of God’s good pleasure. That prohibition of Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit upon the transgression of which followed the death of mankind, was an interdict of God’s free will. The Moral Law itself is an effect of God’s good pleasure. What reasonable man but will yield that the being of the Moral Law hath no necessary connection with the Being of God? That this Moral Law should be a constant rule of manners, and that all man’s actions should fall within the compass of this rule, is from the mere will of God. That the actions of men not conformable to this Law should be sin; that death should be the punishment of sin; that this punishment should be suffered in our own persons, or in our surety, as should seem good unto the Law-giver—all these are the constitutions of God, proceeding from him, not by way of necessity of nature, but freely, as effects and products of his eternal good pleasure.