THE Scriptures evidently teach that Christ died in the room and stead of sinners; and if he did thus die, they must be exempted. If A. enlist into the army, and B. offer to go in his room and is accepted, most certainly A. is exempted from service. So if Christ really tasted death for every man, and died in their room and stead, then must they be exempted.
It is granted that if Christ died in the room and stead of sinners, in the same sense in which B. is supposed to go into service, in the room and stead of A., then all those for whom he died must be exempted from death. It is very plain, however, that in this case their deliverance would not be of grace. There can be no grace in A.'s exemption from service, when it has been procured by an acceptable substitute. Nor would there be any grace in releasing a captive, When a full ransom had been paid. Therefore, since it is evident that the pardon and salvation of sinners is of mere grace, it must be equally evident that those passages of Scripture which speak of Christ as dying in the room of sinners, and as giving his life a ransom for them, are not to be understood literally. They are to be regarded as metaphorical expressions, designed to communicate this general idea, that as B.'s consenting to perform the services which A. stood engaged to perform is the ground on which A. is released; and as the payment of money, or some other equivalent, is the ground of the release of a captive; so the death of Christ is the ground on which believing sinners are pardoned and saved.
Indeed, the metaphor may be carried still further. A. is released on the principle that B.'s services will answer the same valuable purposes which would be answered by the services of A. The captive, too, is released on the principle that the money, or other consideration paid as a ransom, will answer as valuable purposes as might be expected from retaining the captive in servitude. So the believing sinner is released from punishment on the principle that the sufferings of Christ answer the same valuable purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered in honoring and supporting the law, displaying the character of God, and securing the highest interest of his kingdom. These important ends being as well answered by the death of Christ as they could have been by the execution of the penalty of the law, God has declared his righteousness for the remission of sins, and can be just to his law, to his kingdom, and to himself, and yet be the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. When the righteous penalty of a law is executed upon a transgressor, it is said to take away his guilt, or to remove his desert of punishment, If this principle be correct, which it is presumed none will deny, it must follow that if it were possible for sinners to suffer the full penalty of the divine law and still live, this would effectually remove their ill desert. If the guilt and ill desert of sinners could have been removed in this way, and this should be considered a valuable object which might have been secured by executing the penalty of the law on them, it must be acknowledged that this is an object which the death of Christ does not effect. Nor was it possible that it should effect this; because guilt or ill desert is a personal thing which cannot be removed either by the sufferings of a substitute, or by any thing else, except the suffering of the full penalty by the guilty person. Neither was it necessary that the sufferings of Christ should take away ill desert, in order to their being a sufficient atonement. It is enough if they remove the obstacles which stood in the way of the pardon of sinners which have already been considered. If ill desert had been removed, it would have precluded the necessity and even the possibility of pardon. When the full penalty of the law has been executed on a criminal for any offence, there can be no such thing as pardoning him for that crime. As the law has nothing more to exact, there is nothing to be forgiven. So if ill desert could be removed in any other way when it should be removed, as no evil could be justly inflicted, there could be nothing to forgive.
If, then, Christ had removed or taken away the ill desert of sinners, there could be no grace manifested in their salvation. In this sense, therefore, the death of Christ cannot be considered as being in the room and stead of sinners. Hence, whether the Scriptures do teach that Christ died in the room and stead of sinners, must depend entirely on the meaning which is affixed to these terms. If we understand by them that the sufferings of Christ have answered all the purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered and occasioned, provided it had been possible for sinners to survive this execution, both in respect to supporting the divine government and removing the ill desert of sinners, it is evident the Scriptures teach no such doctrine. But if nothing more be intended by Christ's dying in our room and stead than that he suffered, that it might clearly appear that God would support and honor his law, that the divine character might be clearly exhibited and vindicated, and the highest interest of the universe secured; in short, that. God might be just to his law, to his character, and to his kingdom, and yet the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus; then it is, unquestionably, a doctrine plainly taught in Scripture.
If, however, this he all that is intended by this form of speech, in our room and in our stead, it may not be unsuitable to, inquire whether other words and forms of expression might not be used, which would communicate the idea with much greater clearness. Notwithstanding the long practice even of the best writers has sanctioned the use of these terms, yet surely we should not, on that account, indulge such a fondness for them as to refuse to lay them aside, if continuing the use of them would endanger the salvation of one soul, who, through ignorance or willingness to be deluded, might infer from them that since Christ has died in our room and stead, we certainly cannot be liable to death. If, indeed, the terms were scriptural, these observations might with more appearance of justice be deemed sacrilegious; though even in that case they would, like many other Scripture phrases, need explanation. But the truth is, that though they have been so long and so often used that many, probably, are scarcely aware of the fact, yet they really have no place in the Bible.
Those passages of Scripture, which have usually been relied on as proof that in a strict and literal sense Christ died in our room and stead, by no means prove the doctrine. We read, indeed, that "Christ died for the ungodly;" that "Christ died for us;" and that Christ hath once suffered, the just for the unjust." But surely these expressions are far from proving that he died in our room and stead, in a strict and literal sense. An impartial reader would be quite as likely to understand them to mean that he died for our benefit, or on our account, as that he died in our room and stead. Nor is there any thing in the original terms, anti and uper, which restricts them to such a meaning. The word anti, indeed, in some situations may mean instead of; but in other situations, it certainly signifies nothing more than for the sake of, for the benefit of, &c. In Eph. 5:31, it merely signifies for. "For this cause;" anti touto. In Heb. 12:2, it signifies for the sake of. "Who, for the joy that was set before him;" anti tes, &c. In Matt. 17:27, it signifies for the benefit of. "That take, and give unto them, for me and thee;" anti emou cai sou, &c. The same may be shown of uper. It sometimes signifies in the stead of, and sometimes for, on account of, &c. Nothing can be determined, with certainty, merely from these prepositions, whether the phrase, died for the ungodly, should be understood instead of the ungodly, or for the benefit of the ungodly, We read concerning Christ that "he was made sin for us;" by which we understand that he was made a sin offering. But it cannot reasonably be supposed, that he was made a sin offering instead of us; that is, that we must have been made a sin offering, in the same sense in which he was, if he had not substituted himself for us.
Nor when we read that "he was sacrificed for us," are we to suppose that if he had not been made a sacrifice, we must have been sacrificed. "He died for our, sins;" but, most certainly, not instead of our sins. Such expressions as these are to be understood and explained, in agreement with the general tenor of Scripture on this subject. And being thus understood, they will afford no countenance to the notion that Christ died in the room and stead of sinners, in such a sense as to render them any less liable to punishment, merely on account of his death, than they would have been, if he had never died. If all mankind understood the doctrine of atonement by Jesus Christ, there would be less danger of conveying wrong ideas by using the terms, in our room and stead, than there is at present. Or, if these terms, as they are used, were universally understood in such a sense as to communicate the precise idea which the Scriptures inculcate concerning the substitution of Christ's sufferings for the execution of the penalty of the law, the use of them would certainly be unexceptionable. But that neither of these things is true, is evident from the melancholy fact, that many of the wicked are confidently expecting future blessedness, merely because, they believe that Christ had paid their debt, by suffering the penalty of the law in their room and stead. This belief, in all probability, has been induced, in a multitude of instances, by an improper use of these unscriptural terms.
Another thing which has probably contributed in no small degree to confirm men in this delusion, is calling the sufferings of Christ punitive justice, the punishment due to sinners, and the penalty of the law. For when the sinner is led to believe that Christ has suffered punitive justice, the very punishment due to him for his sins, and that, too, in his room and stead, the inference is too plain to his darkened understanding, and too pleasing to his depraved heart, to be easily relinquished. When the premises have been laid for him by teachers of divine truth, and he has arrived at the pleasing conclusion by a little process of his own mind, or by the aid of those who directly strengthen "the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life," it is no matter of wonder, that he should be unwilling to be driven from this "refuge of lies." While such is the dangerous tendency of such forms of expression, it is not only certain that they have no place in the Bible, but that they are manifestly incorrect.
The Scriptures do not teach us that the sufferings of Christ were punitive, the punishment due to sinners, or the penalty of the divine law. Nor is it necessary on any account that they should be so considered. It is sufficient that they answer the same valuable purposes, with respect to the law, the character, and the government of God, which inflicting the punishment due to sinners, or the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. That they do fully answer these purposes, is abundantly evident. Christ was set forth to be a propitiation, to declare God's righteousness for the remission of sins, that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus. And if the sufferings of Christ were designed to answer the same valuable purposes, with respect to the law, character, and government of God, which the punishment due to sinners, or the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered, then it is evident that they are different things. That one thing answers the purpose of another, certainly implies that it is a different thing from that, the purpose of which it answers; for we never speak of a thing as answering the purpose of itself. Christ has often been called a substitute for sinners. If there be any correctness in calling him a substitute for sinners, it must be because his sufferings were, in some way, designed as a substitute for their punishment. But if his sufferings are in any sense a substitute for their punishment, it must be evident they cannot be themselves that very punishment; for a thing cannot be a substitute for itself.
If we keep in view the obstacles which stood in the way of the pardon of sinners without an atonement, and what Christ has done tar remove those obstacles, it will be easy to perceive the precise object of, his substitution. If a correct account has been given of the necessity of an atonement, and of what Christ has done to meet that necessity; and if the penalty of the divine law, and the execution of that penalty, may be considered as distinct things; it will follow that the sufferings of Christ were a substitute for the execution of the penalty, rather than for the penalty itself. For it has been shown that God could not be just to his law, his character, or his kingdom, without executing the penalty of his law on transgressors, unless something else could be done, which, as an atonement, would answer the same purposes as well; that is, as well as the execution of the penalty. For it is evident that if the law were transgressed, the penalty itself, without being executed, could answer no valuable purpose. Hence it must be the execution of the penalty, for which the sufferings of Christ were substituted.
The execution of a penalty, and the punishment or sufferings of the guilty, on whom the penalty is executed, may be viewed as distinct things. They are, indeed, inseparably connected; but this connection does not imply that they are not different things, but the contrary. The just punishment of a guilty person, when suffered, constitutes part of his character. [It is to be remembered, that in personal character I include punishment endured, as well as actions performed. When a man has broken any law, and has afterwards suffered the penalty of that law, as he has by the transgression treated the law with contempt, so by suffering the penalty he has supported the authority of it; and the latter makes a part of his personal character, as he stands related to that law, as really as the former. - Edwards's Three Sermons on Atonement.]
It is on this ground that enduring a just punishment is supposed to remove ill desert. But the execution of the penalty affects only the character of him who enforces the law. Hence it is evident the execution of the penalty of a law and the suffering "of an offender, which is a consequence of such an execution, are distinct things, and exhibit different characters. One exhibits the character of him who enforces the law, and the other the character of him who suffers the penalty. Since these are different things, it must here be evident, also, that the sufferings of Christ must have been de. signed as a substitute for the execution of the penalty of the law, rather than for the punishment due to sinners. For it must be obvious, that the sufferings of Christ must have been designed to exhibit the character of God, honoring and supporting his law, showing his opposition to sin, and promoting the interest of his kingdom, rather than to make an exhibition of the character of sinners in endless misery, enduring the punishment due to them for sin, and thus removing their ill desert. It appears clearly that it was indispensably necessary that such an exhibition of the divine character should be made, in order that sinners might be consistently pardoned.
But if the ground on which an atonement was necessary has been correctly stated, it is equally manifest that there was no necessity for making a representation of the state of sinners in endless misery. Indeed, if such a representation could have been made, it would not have removed one of the obstacles which stood in the way of the salvation of sinners. Such a representation could have made no manifestation of God's opposition to sin, or his regard to the general good. If the object of the sufferings of Christ were merely to make a representation of what sinners deserve, which must be true if his sufferings were the punishment due to sinners, or merely a substitute for that punishment, it is inconceivable how God can, on account of those sufferings, "be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." For if the sufferings of Christ show that sinners deserve everlasting punishment, which, on this scheme, they were designed to show, this surely cannot be a sufficient reason why they should be saved from everlasting punishment, and raised to endless glory and felicity.
Should it be said that the sufferings of Christ, as a substitute for the punishment of sinners, were designed to answer the mm purposes which would have been answered by the sufferings of sinners, if they had been able to suffer, and actually had suffered the fall punishment which their sins deserved, it may be replied that the only purpose which would have been answered by the sufferings of sinners, if they had been able to suffer, and had actually suffered the full punishment which their sins deserve, would have been to remove their ill desert and restore their characters. It is true, that if sinners had suffered the punishment due, according to the supposition, the divine law would have been supported, the character of God displayed, and the good of the universe secured; but these important objects would not have been accomplished by the sufferings of sinners. It would have been the execution of the penalty which would have secured these. Suffering the punishment would, in part, have constituted the character of those who suffered; while it would be the execution which supported the law and displayed the character of God. Hence, it is evident, that the sufferings of Christ are to be viewed as a substitute for the execution of the penalty of the law, and their efficacy as consisting in answering the same valuable purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. The sufferings of Christ, viewed in this light, constitute an ample atonement. "By atonement is here meant that which magnifies the broken law of God, and does it the same honor which would have been done by the execution of its penalty whenever it be incurred. [West on Atonement, p. 158. In p. 175, he says, "Unless punishments tend to deter from crimes unless they exhibit a character in the righteous Governor of the world which excites a fear of offending on one hand, and a confidence in his protection and defence of the innocent on the other; it must appear that they are useless, either as a manifestation of the glory of God, or a security of the peace and welfare of his kingdom. It is the visibility of the just displeasure of the holy God against offenders that renders punishments useful, and promotes the honor and security of the divine government. This righteous displeasure is expressed in words in the threatenings of the law of God; and in its effects in the destruction which will be inflicted on final impenitents. If this displeasure against the deserving object, in every instance of transgression, be expressed and become visible, the law is honored, its end answered, and its authority supported for, not the sufferings of the sinner do this, but the character, the just anger of God appearing in them. In whatever way this holy displeasure of God against the sinner becomes visible, the ends of government, for aught we can see, are answered."
If, according to the sentiment expressed in the foregoing quotation, it is "not the sufferings of the sinner," but the visibility of the character of God, as manifested in the infliction of those sufferings, that honors, answers the end, and supports the authority of the law, then it is plain, that the forementioned distinction between the sufferings of sinners, and the execution of the penalty is not only correct, but important. ]
Some have supposed that the sufferings of Christ must have been the very punishment due to sinners, bemuse the apostle speaks of his death as a "curse." "Christ hath redeemed: us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." It is argued that this curse is the curse of the law, which must be the punishment due to sinners.
To this it may be answered, that it does not appear that the curse of the law in this passage means the punishment due to sinners. It may, as probably, mean the penalty of the law. This, and the actual suffering of transgressors who have incurred it, are different things. If the sufferings of Christ may be considered as a substitute for the execution of the penalty of the law, the apostle's meaning will not appear to be very obscure, though we should not consider Christ's being made a curse as expressive of his suffering the very punishment which sinners deserve. It should be remembered, that it is not uncommon to meet with passages in the sacred writings which were never designed to be understood in a sense strictly literal. This, too, is obviously the cm with the passage now under consideration, even if we should allow that the curse which Christ was made was the very punishment due to sinners; for, surely, no one will suppose that the apostle meant to assert, that Christ was made punishment. The word curse, when used in Scripture in relation to God's law, properly signifies the just sentence of the law, condemning to everlasting death. But no one would understand the apostle to mean, that Christ redeemed us from such a sentence, by being made such a sentence himself. This passage, therefore, must be understood as in some degree figurative; as are many other passages which relate to Christ. He is made to his people "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." "By his stripes we are healed." "He is the end of the law for righteousness," &c.
It may not be improper to observe further, that there is something exceedingly unnatural, as well as unscriptural, in the idea that the sufferings of the Saviour were, in any strict sense, a punishment. For a punishment, strictly speaking, always implies guilt; or ill-desert. At least those by whom it is inflicted, would have it understood that the sufferer is deserving of evil. Where there is no guilt, punishment cannot be properly inflicted. Nor were the sufferings which were inflicted on Christ the same as those to which sinners are doomed, as a just punishment for their sins. It Is true, the infinite dignity of his person, and the greatness of the pain he endured, are sufficient to render his sufferings an infinite evil. Yet this infinite evil was not precisely the same which mankind must have endured, had the penalty of the law been inflicted on them.
Should it even be allowed that, all the evil which Christ: suffered was implied in the punishment to which sinners were liable, still, this would not prove that his sufferings were that punishment. But even this may be doubted. It is plain, indeed, that his bodily pain might have been implied in the death with which sinners were threatened; but that his mental sufferings could be implied in that threatening is not equally evident. It is probable that his mental sufferings consisted principally in the effect which a view of God's anger against sinners would necessarily produce in his benevolent heart. "The reason why the mind is affected in the view of objects, is not, originally, their relation to a private, separate interest; but their relation to an interest, to which the affections are united, be it either public or private. Therefore, in proportion to the concern which the man Jesus Christ felt for the salvation of his people, would his mind be affected, in view of that dreadful wrath there was against them. This is not only conceivable, but is a supposition altogether natural. Therefore, that the divine anger, which was exhibited to the view of Christ, was not against him personally, but against the church, is a consideration which gives us no reason to suppose that it might not affect him with very deep distress. Christ had no degree of selfishness. His and his church's interest were one. Therefore, his goodwill to the church would occasion the divine displeasure to be as sensibly felt, as if it had been against him; at least as far as he perceived it, and had a view of it communicated to him." [West on the Atonement]
If we suppose that, as our Lord approached his death, the Father made to him more clear and full manifestations of his anger against sinners, for whom his love was so strong, that he was about to lay down his life for them, this may account for that excessive sorrow and amazement which so overwhelmed him in the garden, and again on the cross. But this is a kind of distress which, it is presumed, no one will suppose constitutes any part of the punishment of the damned. In every view which can be taken of the subject, therefore, it appears manifestly incorrect to say, that the sufferings of Christ were the penalty of the law; or that he, in his death, suffered in the room and stead of sinners, the very punishment which they deserved.
It is said that the wife of Benevolus was guilty of a crime, by which, according to the law of the state she exposed herself to a punishment which she could not endure and survive. Benevolus approved of the law, and believed that if it were disregarded, and the penalty not inflicted, the consequences to the state would be dreadful. Therefore, though he loved his wife tenderly yet such was his regard for the good of the community, that he chose that she should be punished, rather than that the authority of the law should be destroyed, and that confusion introduced into the state which he believed would be the consequence.
But desiring that his wife might be spared, if it could be done in any way consistent with the public good, and supposing that his own constitution was sufficiently firm to enable him endure the evil with which she was threatened, and that his enduring it would support the authority of the law, as effectually as would the execution of its penalty on her, he offered to: take the evil upon himself. His offer was accepted, and he actually suffered.
On the foregoing statement it may be proper to remark, that the atonement which Benevolus is supposed to make for his wife, was not satisfactory, merely on account of his suffering precisely the same evil with which his wife was threatened. If he had suffered any other evil sufficiently great, it would have answered the desired purpose just as well. On this principle, fines are sometimes substituted for corporal punishments. It makes no difference whether the evil consist in one thing or another, provided it is great enough to convince the subjects of the kingdom that transgression must be followed by evil consequences, proportioned to the guilt incurred. Any thing which is calculate to produce this conviction, as fully and as clearly as would the literal execution of the penalty of the law, must constitute a satisfactory atonement; because, in this case, the authority of the law is not weakened, nor is any encouragement given to transgression. The atonement which Zaleucus made for his son was equally satisfactory with that of Benevolus, although the evil to which he submitted was not the very evil with which his son was threatened.
It may also be observed, that the sufferings of Benevolus did not answer all the purposes which would have been answered by the punishment of his wife. If she had suffered the punishment which she deserved, this punishment would so far have constituted her character, as to have removed her ill desert, and secured her from further sufferings, on amount of her offence, on principles of justice. In this case there could have been no grace in forbearing to inflict further punishment. But in the case which has been supposed, nothing of this appears. The sufferings of the husband constituted no part of her character, and removed no part of her ill desert. Nor was it. necessary, nor even possible, that they should. If the same ends could be answered by his suffer- ings which would have been answered by the execution of the penalty of the law, this was sufficient. If she had herself endured the deserved punishment, two objects would have been accomplished. One would have been accomplished by the execution of the penalty; the other, by enduring deserved punishment. The object accomplished by the execution of the penalty of the law would have been, the support of the authority of the law and the government. The object accomplished by enduring the deserved punishment would have been the removal of personal ill desert. One would have displayed the character of him who administered the government; the other would have gone to constitute the character of the person, from whom ill desert would have been removed, by suffering the deserved punishment. One would have been consistent with the free pardon of the criminal; the other, having done away ill desert, would have entitled to an exemption from further sufferings, on principles of justice.
On the whole, it is evident, that the sufferings of Benevolus were designed to support the authority of the law and government, rather than to remove the personal ill desert of his wife; that they were a substitute for the former, rather than the latter; and that the wife of Benevolus was as much indebted to grace for her release from punishment, as she could have been had she been released from punishment without the substitution of her husband's sufferings. So, if the atonement of Christ was necessary to answer the same purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered, namely, to exhibit the disposition of the divine mind; to show God's regard for his law, his determination to maintain its authority, his love of righteousness and hatred of sin; it must plainly follow, that the sufferings of Christ were designed as a substitute for the execution of the penalty of the law. If this view of the subject be correct, it must be exceedingly evident, that there was not that interchange of persons, with respect to rewards and punishments, between Christ and sinners, which some have supposed.
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