Sanctions of moral law, natural and governmental.

We want to discuss this subject, showing the following:

  1. What constitutes the sanctions of law
  2. That there can be no real law without sanctions.
  3. In what light the sanctions of law are to be regarded.
  4. The end to be secured by law, and the execution of penal sanctions.
  5. The rule by which sanctions ought to be graduated.

What constitutes the sanctions of law?

  1. Sanctions to moral law are what motivate someone to obey; it is the natural and governmental consequence or result of obedience or disobedience?
  2. They are remunerative; they promise a reward for obedience.
  3. They are vindictive,  they threaten punishment for disobedience.
  4. They are natural, which means the following:
  • All moral law is that rule of action which is in exact accordance with the nature and relations of moral beings.
  • Happiness is in some ways naturally connected with, and the necessary consequence of obedience to moral law.
  • Misery is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from, disobedience to moral law, or from acting contrary to the nature and relations of moral beings.

Sanctions are governmental. What we mean is as follows:

  • The Government favors the obedient.
  • It means a positive reward bestowed upon the obedient.
  • The Government has displeasure toward the disobedient.
  • It means a punishment from the government upon the disobedient.
  • All happiness and misery which results from obedience or disobedience, whether it be natural or from the favor or frown of government, is to be regarded as what constitutes sanctions of law.

There can be no real law without sanctions.

  • As we have already said, precepts without sanctions are just counsel or advice and not law.
  • The only thing that constitutes moral law is a rule of action that is founded in the nature and relations of moral beings.  It would be absurd to think that there would be no natural sanctions for this rule of action.  In other words, it would be absurd to think that when we obey moral law it will not make us happy and when we disobey it will not cause us misery.  Moral law fits our constitutional make up.  It is what makes us feel most comfortable and conscience free.  Since it is completely natural it would be absurd to think that with our natural powers of being we would not be happy in keeping the moral law and it would also be absurd for the same reasons of our natural powers that we would not be in misery for non-conformity to the moral law.
  • For a precept to have the nature and force of law, it must have some reason for its existence.  It would be unreasonable to offer no motives to obedience since the law is founded and based upon our own nature as moral beings.
  • A precept could not be a law if it were unreasonable; and if there are no sanctions it is not law.  It won’t work without proper sanctions.  That is what makes law work.
  • Rightful government needs certain conditions or it is not rightful government. The necessities of the universe are what create just government and they cannot be met so that government is secured without motives or sanctions.  Thus, there is no government and no law if there are no sanctions.

In what light sanctions are to be regarded.

  • They are to be regarded as an expression of the benevolent regard of the lawgiver for his subjects; he gives them motives to induce them to a course of conduct that will secure their highest well-being.
  • Sanctions are to be regarded as an expression of God’s estimation of the justice, necessity and value of the precept to the subjects of his government.
  • Sanctions are to be regarded as an expression by God of the amount or strength of His desire to secure the happiness of his subjects.  In our generation we think too much of the happiness of the offender while the happiness of the general populous goes unnoticed.
  • Sanctions are to be regarded as God’s opinion in respect to the deserts of disobedience.
  • They are to be regarded as a demonstration of the justice, necessity, and perfection of the precept.

The end to be secured by law and the execution of penal sanctions.

  • The ultimate end of all government is blessedness to all.
  • This is also the end of the precept and of the sanction attached to it.
  • Blessedness can only be secured by preventing sin and by promoting holiness.
  • The most essential condition of all virtue is confidence in the moral government.
  • This confidence results from the revelation that the lawgiver has given to his subjects; confidence in God results from the revelation that God has given to his creation.
  • The moral law with its precepts and sanctions is a revelation from the lawgiver.
  • Execution of the penal sanctions of moral law is also a revelation of the mind, will, and of the character of the lawgiver.
  • The highest and best, the most influential sanctions of government are those motives that most fully reveal the true character of God, and the true end of His government.

What rule should be used in graduating sanctions?

  • We have discussed the fact that moral obligation is founded on the intrinsic value of the well-being of God, knowing God, and of the universe with the condition that moral beings perceive the value of the obligation.
  • Because of this, guilt is always measured by what the perceived value is for the end that moral beings choose.
  • Based upon these statements, sanctions should then be graduated according to the intrinsic merit and demit of holiness and of sin as related to the perceived value of the moral obligation as stated above.

We will discuss the following:

  1. God’s law has sanctions.
  2. That which constitutes the remunerative sanctions of the law of God.
  3. What is the perfection and duration of the remunerative sanctions of God’s law.
  4. What constitutes the vindictive sanctions of God’s law.
  5. What is their duration?

God’s law has sanctions.

  1. Sin is disobedience to the moral law; it results in misery as attested by conscience.
  2. Virtue is also known as holiness; it results in happiness as is also attested conscience.
  3. The fact that God’s law has natural sanctions, both remunerative and vindictive, is a matter of fact that all know in their conscience.
  4. There are also governmental sanctions which are added to these natural sanctions; if that were not true, then God has no government at all; only natural consequences.
  5. The Bible teaches in great detail how that God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous.

That which constitutes the remunerative sanctions of the law of God.

  1. Remunerative sanctions mean the happiness that is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from holiness or obedience.
  2. The favor, protection, and blessing of God that results from obedience.
  3. All of what constitutes the natural and governmental rewards of virtue.

What is the perfection and duration of the remunerative sanctions of God’s law?

  1. The degree of the reward is in proportion to the degree of the virtue.
  2. The duration or the reward is equal to the duration of obedience.
  3. Since man and virtue are immortal, then his happiness is also endless.
  4. The Bible agrees that both existence and virtue are immortal in the righteous and that their happiness will be endless.
  5. Government is designed so that the governmental rewards are as perfect and unending as virtue.

What constitutes the vindictive sanctions of God’s law?

  1. It is the misery that is naturally and necessarily connected with or resulting from disobedience to moral law.  Remember that moral law is only a rule of action that is in perfect keeping with the nature and relations of moral beings.  It is not something that they are unable to do.  Because of this the vindictive sanction of God is a misery; this results from a violation of man’s own nature.
  2. Vindictive sanctions means the displeasure of God so that the moral agent loses His protection and governmental favor;  it also means that the disobedient receive the punishment which it is God’s duty to inflict upon them.
  3. The rewards of holiness and the punishment of sin are described in the Bible in very figurative language.  The rewards of virtue-eternal life.  The punishment of vice-death.  This life is not only existence but a happiness that makes it most desirable; without this there can be no blessing.  Death is not annihilation but a misery that is so bad that to exist in that state is pure evil.  This is completely the opposite of a happy existence-eternal life-and as such it is called eternal death.

What is the duration of the penal sanctions of God?

In the light of natural theology

  1. What is the meaning of the term infinite?  It means not finite or limited, bound, but it means boundless.  Anything which is boundless in any direction is called infinite.
  2. Infinites may differ in regard to the amount.
  3. Infinites may differ indefinitely in amount.
  4.  In order to understand the subject we refer to Sir Isaac Newton, and of natural and mathematical science for the illustration of the infinite.
  5. Imagine a point around which lines extend endlessly in every direction.  Each line is one degree from the one before until the point is completely surrounded 360 degrees.  Now if you move out from the center in any direction, two of the lines form two sides of a triangle where the length of the third side is only limited by the distance from the hub of the other two lines.  Since there is no limit to how far from the hub one may go in any direction, there is thus a corresponding unlimited amount of space that may be given to the third side depending on how far from the hub the other two sides go. So it does not matter just how small the amount of space between the two lines is, one degree, because if you go far enough out, the actual distance between them will grow to an infinite number depending upon how far away from the hub one goes.  So, it may be said that it is finite in the sense that two sides limit the actual distance of the third size, but it is also infinite as long as one moves out to infinity in distance from the hub which also increases the distance between the two lines.  So the degree is finite, but the amount is infinite.  With God, happiness is not limited in either degree or in duration.  So we can easily say that no creature will ever have enjoyed infinite happiness or suffered infinite misery.  The reason is that at any point in the eternal calendar that one measures the happiness or misery, there is still infinitely more ahead to experience.  The only thing that is finite at that point is what has happened in the past.  The future still remains infinite in duration and in amount, infinite bliss or infinite misery.
  6. There is a rule by which degrees of guilt are to be estimated.

Moral obligation, as we have seen previously, is based upon the intrinsic value of those interests which moral agents are expected to choose as an end.
This obligation, moral obligation, is conditioned upon the amount of knowledge there is of the end to be chosen.
The degree of the obligation is in direct proportion to what the moral agent apprehends as the intrinsic value of the interests that he is expected to choose.
The amount of guilt related to this obligation, is in direct proportion to the refusal to will what the obligation indicated should be chosen as an end.
Because the mind of the spirit of a moral agent apprehends the value of the choice based upon the intrinsic value and the knowledge of the degree of that obligation, thus the degree of guilt is measured by the refusal of the degree of obligation that is comprehended and refused with full knowledge that it has been understood and then rejected.
From its very nature, all and every sin involves infinite guilt in the sense that it deserves infinite punishment.

  • The word sin implies moral obligation.
  • Moral obligation implies moral agency.
  • Moral agency implies that the moral agent has apprehended what end he ought to will because of the light shed on that end in his mind.
  • The moral agent knows that the end to be chosen is the highest well-being of God and the universe.  He knows that this end is to come to know God and then to grow in that knowledge more and more every day.  He knows that this end is of infinite value.  It has no limit.
  • The moral agent also understands that the end that he is to choose, the highest well being of God and of the universe, knowing God, must be infinite.  He knows that the goodness of God and of the universe is infinitely valuable.  This has not been fully developed as it will be in the future but he apprehends what he is capable of at the time.  Yet, he knows, according to the light that he has received, that this is infinitely valuable and should be chosen as the best end.  With this in mind, to refuse to choose this end and by doing so reject the best end of God, reject knowing God, and reject the best end of the universe, involves infinite guilt.  There is no limit to the value of knowing God, to the value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe.  This makes such a choice of an end unlimited, infinite.  Thus we can see that the guilt of a person who absolutely refuses the infinite value of knowing God, his highest well-being, and the highest well-being of the universe, is measured by the value that he has refused to consecrate himself to–promotion of those interests of God and of the universe.  He knows what he should do and he flat out refuses to do so.

While all sin deserves endless punishment, yet the guilt of different persons may vary indefinitely.  The punishment may, though endless in duration, vary in degree according to the degree of guilt of the offender.  Different persons, even Christians, may get more illumination of the eternal and its effect upon bliss and happiness.  It can be developed to the point that one can be overcome by the very thought of the punishment of the wicked or of the thought of the blessings of heaven.  The guilt of different persons may vary at different periods of life.  It all depends upon the amount of intellectual development a person has at his current age.  Because of that, the guilt varies according to the ability to apprehend what the obligation is.  The more knowledge a person gains, the more obligation they have based upon that knowledge.  Thus, the more obligation they have, the more guilt they have when they choose selfishness over virtue.

Penal inflictions under God’s government must be endless.  What kind of death is intended where God has said that the penalty for breaking His laws is death?

It could not merely be a natural death, because:

  • This would not really be a penalty.  It would be a reward for sin if all that happens to a person who has sinned is that he dies as a punishment and then he goes to heaven. Why not say that if you live in obedience to the moral law you must live in this world but if you sin, you will die as punishment and then go to heaven.  How absurd!  This would almost be a reward for sinning.
  • If physical death is the only punishment for God’s law being broken, then righteous people who have been forgiven should not die a natural death at all.
  • If natural death is the penalty for God’s moral law, then there is no forgiveness because all, righteous and sinners, endure the same penalty, natural death.
  • If natural death is the penalty of God, then infants who have never known sin are being punished when they die.
  • If natural death is the penalty, the only penalty, it does not match the degree of the guilt of sin.
  • If natural death is the penalty of God’s law then the importance of his precepts would have inadequate expression because the punishment would not match the degree of obligation.

The penalty of God’s law is not spiritual death.

  • Spiritual death is defined as a state of entire selfishness.
  • If spiritual death were the penalty, then the punishment would be the same as the breach of the precept.
  • If spiritual death were the penalty, then it would make God the author of sin because it would present him as compelling a sinner to commit one sin as the punishment for another sin;  it would be forcing him into a state of perpetual rebellion as a reward for his transgression.

The penal sanction which the law of God has described is that of endless death, a state of endless suffering as the result of sin and spiritual death. Some object to the idea or doctrine of endless punishment.  They state it three different ways all leveled against the justice of such a governmental infliction of punishment.

Some say that endless punishment is unjust because men do not live on this earth long enough to commit enough sins to actually deserve such endless punishment.  The answer is:

  1. This is founded on ignorance and a disregard of a universal principle of government, namely, that one breach of the precept always incurs the penalty of the law, no matter what the penalty is.
  2. The length of time it took to commit a sin has nothing to do with the guilt of committing the sin, but with the moral character of the action itself.
  3. This view sees the number of sins committed as what constitutes guilt not the intrinsic guilt of the sin.  However, it is the intrinsic guilt of sin that makes it deserving of endless punishment.

Another way to state this objection is that a finite creature could never commit an infinite sin and only infinite sins deserve endless punishment. Their reasoning is that endless punishments are unjust.

  1. This objection sees man as so lowly, so much less than his creator, God, that he could never deserve God’s endless frown.
  2. Which is the greater crime, for a child to insult another child or to insult his parent?  Which involves more guilt, smiting a neighbor or attacking God?
  3. As you can see, the higher the ruler is exalted above the subject in nature, character, and authority, the greater is the obligation to will his good and to obey him.  The guilt is also greater where the subject commits a transgression against the one highest in authority.  Thus, contrary to the argument, the higher God is and the lower man is below his Maker, the fact is that rather than making him less guilty, he is really more guilty because his rebellion is against a greater authority which means that the frown would be far more endless.

Another form of this objection is to say that since sin is not an infinite evil it should not deserve an endless punishment.  One could look at this argument in two ways:  1) Unrestrained sin would not produce infinite evil, or 2) Sin does not involve infinite guilt.  To respond to the first statement we say that misery must continue as long as sin does and if sin is not restrained it would produce endless evil.  That leads us to the second point that sin does not produce infinite guilt.  Let us ask, what is the intrinsic demerit or guilt of sin?  What does all sin deserve as far as its own nature?  If you deny the justice of endless punishment it means that you consider sin as a mere trifle.  However, those that maintain that endless punishment is just view sin as an evil of immeasurable magnitude which, because of its own nature, deserves endless punishment.  Let’s look at proof:

  • If someone refused to choose something that had no intrinsic value there would be no guilt since there is no obligation.  But if the person refuses to will the good of God and of his neighbor he violates an obligation and thus contracts guilt.  Guilt is only present when it is attached to an obligation where the person has violated this obligation thus making him blameworthy of the violation.
  • We have defined sin as selfishness where self-gratification is preferred to the interests of God and of the universe.  We have also seen that the obligation to choose the infinite interests of God and the universe is equal to the affirmed value of that good.  We have also seen that every moral agent knows in his spirit that God is infinite and that the endless happiness and well-being of God, or to say it another way-knowing God, and of the universe is of infinite value.  So it follows that if a person refuses this good then he has violated infinite or unlimited obligation which then would involve unlimited guilt.  If willing the good of God and of the universe, if knowing God is unlimited, then to refuse to do this obligation which is sin is just as unlimited.  We can say then that the guilt of any sin is unlimited.  No one could argue that the guilt of sin is limited unless the obligation to will good to God is also limited.  It would be just as easy to say that sin has no guilt whatsoever.  Since we know that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe based upon the knowledge of those interests which then gives a moral agent a value of those interests as being infinite, then we can say:

That moral law is unjust if its penal sanctions are not endless.  The law must be just in two areas;

  • The precept must fit the law of nature.
  • The penalty must be equal to the importance of the precept.  Without these two is unjust and not law.  Either God does not have a moral law or his penal sanctions are endless.
  1. His penal sanctions are endless or the penalty would not exhibit the high motives of God to restrain sin and promote virtue.  Who would fear the penalty if it were not endless?
  2. Natural justice demands that God exhibit high motives to secure obedience.
  3. The moral law that requires justice, holiness, and benevolence in God also demands that penal sanctions should be endless.  If not, then God is not just, holy and benevolent.
  4. Unless God’s penal sanctions are endless, then they are virtually no penalty at all.  If there were some limit on the penalty-one thousand, ten thousand, one million, ten million, or one billion years-and then he could go to heaven after a known period of time, he would not consider it much of a punishment since an eternity of blessedness awaits at the end no matter how long it took to get there.  You could not very well threaten someone with limited suffering followed by eternal bliss as a sanction of punishment because in the end it would be rewarding sin.
  5. Since death is eternal in its nature, the figure used to express future punishment of the wicked plainly infers that it is endless.
  6. The fact that sin has a tendency to perpetuate and aggravate itself, producing more self-indulgence, provides further strong inference that sinfulness and misery will be eternal for the wicked.
  7. The fact that no one who is being punished will suddenly develop thoughts of disinterested love toward the one who is doing the punishing also gives a strong presumption that future punishment will be eternal.
  8. The law of God makes no provision for termination of future punishment.  There is no statement regarding the state or disposition of those who have been punished for awhile and are then released from punishment.
  9. If sin deserves any punishment at all, it just as fully deserves eternal punishment since it cannot be forgiven which would make penal suffering endless.
  10. The principle that would deny the justice of eternal punishment could be used to deny any punishment at all, so unless punishment was to be abandoned, it must be eternal.
  11. The fact that should be considered most in this argument is that if you deny the justice of endless punishment then you virtually deny the fact of moral evil, which is to deny moral obligation.  Then you would be denying moral agency.  Now since we know that both moral obligation and moral agency do, in fact, exist, then we can come to no other conclusion but that moral evil deserves endless punishment.  Without it there is no moral law, no moral government, and no moral law giver that governs the affairs of men.  Perhaps that is the greatest reason so many are trying to legislate God out of their lives.  If they don’t accept the punishment, then they can’t accept the love, mercy, and all the other attributes of disinterested benevolence along with the death of Jesus for the sins of the world.  To deny the existence of God would completely rule out moral law and choice to a pure selfish mentality with all the evils that are associated with such a mentality.  Do we really want to live in a world with no moral governor or moral laws?

Let’s examine the question in the light of the revelation from God.  The Bible never represents the future punishment of the wicked as anything else besides eternal.  It expresses the duration of the punishment by the same forcibly direct terms as it expresses the duration of happiness for the righteous.  Place doubt on the eternal punishment of the wicked and you also place doubt on the eternal bliss of the righteous.  Let’s look at what the scriptures say:

“The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.”  (Proverbs 10:28)  “When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.”  (Proverbs 11:7)

“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:” (Matthew 25:41-42)

“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”  (Matthew 25:46)

“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  (Mark 9:43-44)

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.”  (Luke 3:17)

“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”  (Luke 16:26)

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  (John 3:36)

“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”  (Jude 1:7-13)

“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”(Revelation 14:9-11)

“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”  (Revelation 20:10-15)

We could go on with other passages but this should be adequate to indicate that the Bible teaches that the future punishment of the wicked is eternal.  There will be further discussion later in the book but we are only considering the penal sanctions under moral law in this section.  We will reserve polemic discussion of the question of endless punishment at a future occasion.