The Rights of God
Dr. Barnhart says that he recognizes the essentiality of punishment, but that he doesn’t know what punishment should be given! This is indeed a great admission that the theory of Bentham is false because—according to Bentham’s theory—under these two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain, they will guide you and make you do things because of your natural constitution—what you ought to do and you shall do.
In my closing remarks I want to call your attention to the fact that the great God of heaven has certain rights in regard to man in the world.
According to Luke 13:69, which sets out the parable of the fig tree, there are certain things that we should learn.
First of all, we learn that God has the right of ownership. He is the God who created the world. The universe belongs to him. Every person belongs to him. Evil has never created a single blade of grass. So God has the right of ownership. We are his. I do not mean in the sense of spiritual sonship but all of us belong to God.
And secondly, there is a right of expectation. Just as a man planted a tree in his vineyard, and it was owned by him. He had a right to expect fruit from it. And so it is with man’s expectations from plants. You get the right kind of fruit from a plant that grows correctly. God’s expectation for man is manhood. And Jesus Christ is the perfect manhood. He is our perfect example. That is what God expects every one of us to be striving for, to be transformed from glory to glory to be more like him with every passing day, as Paul wrote in the second Corinthian letter. We must be sinless, and we can be so only by the blood of Christ. If we go into the judgment with sin against us, we will be lost. But we can go there without any sin against us only by the power of the saving blood of Christ. As Jesus made clear that where sin abounds, grace even more abounds. You cannot sin terribly enough that the blood of Christ cannot forgive you. So there is the right of God of expectation.
Third is the right of God of intercession. When God has expected of us that we live as Jesus—the perfect example—did, and we have failed to do so, as we all do, then God has the right of intercession. Just as the vine dresser said, “Let me dig about the tree because there is no fruit on it: let me work about it and fertilize it and let us see if it will bear fruit. And, then, if it will not, then we will cut it down.”
And so it is in the world of man. God had the right to intercede and he did. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that he whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). And, as Paul says (Titus 2:11), “The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men.” Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” That invitation is not mine; it is the invitation of Jesus Christ. It is his purpose. God interceded in the world to save us from our own wrongs.
Fourth, God has the right of condition. Dr. Barnhart does not have the right to philosophize and say, “Well, God should do so and so,” just as people said to Christ, “If you will come down from the cross, then we will believe on you.” Dr. Barnhart, God is not going to submit himself to you, but God has the right of demanding conditions, and therefore, all the authority belongs to him. All the authority was given unto Christ. Jesus said, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” That does not leave any for you, Joe, or for me. And the only alternative that we have is to recognize the authority of God through Christ, his apostles and prophets who gave us the New Testament.
And ﬁnally, God has the right of disposition. The owner of the tree in the vineyard has the right of cutting it down because it did not bear fruit. And if we do not bear the fruit of Jesus Christ—of the living of a Christian life—God has the right of disposition. And that disposition will be—if we live our lives in rebellion of God—as stated in Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into eternal punishment,” according to what they deserve. They will be punished according to their deeds, as it were. The wages of sin is death. But, on the other hand, those who faithfully stand and do not forsake the blood of Jesus Christ (who washed away their sins and made them clean from sin before God) will hear the words “well done, thou good and faithful servant” enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
The most practical ethics, the most practical way, the way of evaluating human behavior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, perfect in character, perfect in teaching, and perfect as our example. He left us an example that we should walk in his steps.
And it is my prayer for all of you and for all men everywhere that such will be the case with you.
Thomas B. Warren
Final Rejoinder of Dr. Warren, delivered during the Warren-Barnhart Debate held on November 3-6, 1980. (The Warren-Barnhart Debate on Christian Ethics versus Utilitarian Ethics - Jonesboro, Ark., 1981 - National Christian Press, 257-58). Copies of the book can be purchased by clicking on our Bookstore.