Jonathan Edwards made the following astonishing statement in “The Wisdom of God Displayed in the Way of Salvation”:
“The justice of God that required man’s damnation and seemed inconsistent with his salvation, now as much requires the salvation of those that believe in Christ, as ever before it required their damnation … For Christ has satisfied justice fully for his sin … the believer may demand eternal life, because it has been merited by Christ … that justice that seemed to require man’s destruction, now requires his salvation.”
It’s astonishing because Scripture teaches that God owes us nothing but judgment for our sin. Many embrace the idea that God must be merciful to men – and that he does not have to be just; or that because he is merciful he can simply lay aside his righteous judgment.
After all, doesn’t James 2:13 say, “Mercy triumphs over judgment?”
Mercy does triumph over judgment, but not by setting it aside. Rather, mercy triumphs over judgment because justice is fully satisfied at the cross.
The justice and mercy of God met together at Calvary (Ps. 85:10-11), securing God’s rich and everlasting mercy for hell-deserving sinners who repent and believe the Gospel. Mercy triumphs over judgment because mercy comes through a great act of judgment.
Israel’s redemption from Egypt is the clearest Old Testament example of this principle. God symbolically displayed his mercy in Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The servile bondage Israel endured under Pharaoh was a type of the bondage that all men experience at the hand of Satan.
The judgment God sent on Egypt represents the judgment of Christ on sin and Satan. Still, Israel had to undergo judgment in order to receive God’s mercy.
This judgment was realized in the death of the Passover Lamb. The first nine plagues did not touch Israel. God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt. We might be tempted to conclude that Israel did not deserve judgment. Instead, we find that in the 10th plague – the death of the firstborn – the distinction was removed. Israel, as all men, deserved the same judgment as Egypt.
Mercy is not getting what we deserve. In mercy, God provided a substitute for Israel. If the Israelites would act in faith and kill a spotless lamb – putting its blood on the doorposts of their homes – the Lord would pass over.
If they did not do so, the Lord would execute judgment on the firstborn of the home – both man and beast. The provision was clear: Judgment either fell on the firstborn or it fell on the substitute lamb.
Judgment fell on God’s firstborn Son at Calvary. In the death of Jesus, believers were judged. When Christ died, we died (Col. 3:3). When He rose, we rose (Col. 3:1).
What happened to him happened to those united to him. When he hung on the cross, the justice of God fell on Christ.
He was the perfect substitute. God’s wrath was poured out on Christ for the sins of his people. The judgment that God sent on Egypt was the means of Israel’s salvation; so, the judgment Christ endured at Calvary is the means of the salvation of all who believe.
The sacrifice of Christ is eternally acceptable to God. It would be unjust for him to cast away those for whom Christ died.
“If we confess our sins,” the apostle John wrote, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
If we have trusted Christ alone for salvation, we can now say with Edwards, “That justice that seemed to require man’s destruction now requires his salvation.”