Four Aspects of Divine Righteousness, Part 4 (Fred Zaspel)
Today we conclude our series (part 1, 2, and 3) on the various aspects of God’s righteousness. We saw last time that God’s redemptive righteousness is that aspect of his righteousness that graciously provides for his sinful creatures the righteousness he requires of them. This sets us up well to understand what is called God’s “remunerative” righteousness.
God’s remunerative righteousness is that aspect of His righteousness by which He rewards His creatures for the righteousness which they have done. It has to do with the distribution of rewards according to justice. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love” (Heb. 6:10). “Whatsoever good thing a man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord” (Eph. 6:8). This point is at issue also in several of our Lord’s parables.1 God rewards righteousness.
Strong seems to miss this point entirely. He contends that God’s bestowal of reward has not to do with His justice but His goodness.2 Now it is plainly evident that these rewards do stem from God’s goodness. But as just noted, God deems it an act of His righteousness also; it is something He must do.
Now this aspect of Divine righteousness is in some ways more startling than any. That God would be so gracious as to provide righteousness for the undeserving and that at His own expense is grace enough. Can there be more? What need is there to then reward us for the good we have done? Indeed, the good that we have done is but our duty (Lk. 17:10). We are what we are “by the grace of God” (1Cor. 4:7). Moreover, what good we do comes only as a result of His workings in us (Phil. 2:13). It is not necessary to God’s righteousness to reward anyone for anything. David recognized this when he said, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (1 Chron. 29:14).
But that is not the point. The point is not that God is obligated to us, but that He has obligated Himself by promise (cf. James 1:12). “It is part of his justice to make good his word; by promise God hath made himself a debtor. . . . It is just with God to pay what he oweth, and God oweth what he hath promised; and so it is a crown of righteousness which God the righteous Judge will give us at that day.”3 [T]hough no primary and original obligation rests upon the Creator, to reward a creature made from nothing, and continually upheld and helped in the service which he renders, yet he can constitute a secondary and relative obligation. He can promise to reward the creature’s service; and having bound himself to reward obedience, his own word establishes a species of claim. . . . In the words of Witsius (Covenants, I. i. iv.), ‘God by his promise, has made himself a debtor to men.’”4
Now think about this. Imagine looking back over your life and measuring up whatever degree of faithfulness there has been, and then marching into God’s presence and expecting repayment. The whole idea is so wrong! We know that we are deserving of only punishment and that the righteousness we possess is only by grace. But still, God has said it is a righteous thing for Him to do this. He has pledged Himself to it, and He will perform it.
Perhaps I can illustrate this better than I can explain it. Christmas at our house is a very happy time. We go all out. Gifts are exchanged in the extreme. One Christmas when my daughter was very young, we were opening our presents; and she just couldn’t wait for me to open her gift to me. I waited until I thought she might burst and then picked up the package and read, “To Daddy, From Gina.” Taking my time, I began to guess. “Is it a new car?” “No, Daddy!” “Is it a new motorcycle?” “”No!” “A new house?” “No, now Daddy open it!” “Okay.” So I unwrapped the gift slowly, and when finally it was open I found a nice new pair of gloves. “Do you like them, Daddy?” she asked. I took her up in my arms, assured her that I did, gave her a big hug and kiss, and thanked her many times over for what she had given me. And I told her, in terms she could understand, how good it was to have such a wonderful and generous daughter.
Now I have a question: who do you think paid for those gloves? Where did she get the money? Curious, isn’t it – there I was rewarding her for the things that my own money had purchased.
In a way much like that God has promised to reward us, His servants, for the very thing that He has purchased and freely provided. No wonder we find the twenty-four elders in heaven removing their crowns and throwing them back at Jesus’ feet and saying, “Thou art worthy!” (Rev. 4:10). And no wonder the prophet asks in searching challenge, “Who is a God like unto thee” (Mic. 7:18).
The truth of God’s righteousness is a frightening one for sinners. But when this righteousness is wedded to His grace (Ps. 85:10), it is a happy truth indeed.
(Originally published in Reformation & Revival Journal Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1997)
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.
1. E.g., Lk. 19:11-27.
2. Strong, op. cit., p.293.
3. Manton, op. cit., p.441.
4. Shedd, op.cit., p.368.