"Christ has also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." –1 Pet. 3:18
"The Lord redeemed us with His own blood, and gave His life for our life, and so effected our salvation." –Irenaeus, 169.
"To the sinner, doomed to eternal punishment, and unable to redeem himself, God the Father says, 'I take My only begotten Son and give Him for you.' The Son says, 'Take Me and be redeemed.'"
"Holy Father, look down from the height of Your sanctuary, and behold this mighty sacrifice which our great High Priest, Your Holy Child Jesus, offers for the sins of His brethren, and have mercy on the multitude of our transgressions." –Anselm, 1093.
"By His passion which He suffered, He merited, that as many as believe in Him, shall be as well justified by Him, as though they had never done any sin, and as though they had fulfilled the law to the uttermost. He changes places with us. He takes our sins and wickedness from us; and gives unto us His holiness, righteousness, justice, fulfilling of the law, and so consequently everlasting life." –Latimer, 1549.
"My debt is very great, and I am not able to pay anything thereof. But I trust in the riches and bounty of my Surety. Let Him free me who became Surety for me, who has taken my debt upon Himself." –John Gerard, 1606.
Mysterious, but most precious Cleft in the Rock of Ages--the VICARIOUS work of Christ as our Substitute and Surety!
It seems incumbent on us, thus early, in the consideration of our great theme, to contemplate the Divine expiatory Offering taken "outside the camp, bearing His reproach"; placing upon His own head the crown of thorns, that He might place upon ours a crown of glory; having, in the might of His glorious Person overcome the sharpness of death, that He might open the kingdom of heaven to us and to all believers.
We concede, at the outset, that such a method of atonement is quite beyond the suggestion of mere reason. Tried by the boasted "verifying faculty," or "principle of congruity" of some modern theological thinkers, it would at once be rejected as unsatisfactory and untenable. Natural law dictates, as the ordinary and equitable course of justice, that for personal guilt there must be personal retribution--"The soul that sins, it shall die." Fatal and destructive, however, would it be to the reception of all revealed truth, were the inquirer to demand summary rejection of every doctrine, at variance with preconceived idea or natural law. What God has unfolded and recorded, it is for us meekly, and with unquestioning docility, to receive. And if there be one truth more vividly and expressly dwelt upon in Scripture than another, it is that of a Surety-Savior, suffering in our room and stead. If there be one utterance more frequently proclaimed than another, from Genesis to Revelation--from Abel's first sacrifice, to the last song of the ransomed, as they gather round the slain Lamb in heaven--it is this, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin!"
Socinianism, and its modified rationalistic theories, in exalting the goodness and boundless beneficence of God, overlook or discard two great cardinal truths, which, despite their attempted rejection, everywhere assert themselves in the pages of Revelation--that is, that SIN is an infinite evil, entailing and demanding an infinite penalty; and that GOD, the Almighty One to whom we are responsible, is a moral Governor, requiring the vindication of His violated law. While "mercy and truth go before His face," "justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne." Not that there is any implied conflict or antagonism between the divine Holiness and Love--these two attributes of the Supreme Being must ever act in strictest harmony. But regarding Him as infinitely just and righteous, as well as beneficent and merciful, it would be to impeach His moral character, and to subvert the immutable principles on which His government rests, were He to grant indemnity to the guilty without any expression of His hatred at sin, or of His obligation to visit it with just, proper, and suitable punishment.
As "God absolute," indeed, it may be affirmed, and with truth, that He can do anything. As God absolute, He has the sovereign power to confer on His rebellious subjects a free, unlimited pardon--a universal amnesty. At His omnipotent mandate, every rebel-chain could be broken, and this revolted race again placed within the sphere of His regards.
But what He could do as the Almighty Sovereign (with reverence we say it), He could not do as the Righteous Lawgiver. As such, He is under a moral necessity, arising out of His own holy nature, to dispense His laws with equity. "It became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." The whole teaching of Scripture represents Christ the Son of God, as identified in law with those He came to redeem. As Adam (to use the theological term of our old divines) stood the representative or federal head of the first covenant; so Jesus, the second Adam, the Lord from Heaven, stands as the vicar of His Church, in the room and stead of each of its members. Having voluntarily taken upon Him their responsibilities, He must endure in His person the penalty annexed to their transgressions.
We have already seen, in the former chapter (in speaking of His assumed humanity), that He was Himself "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." He had no personal complicity in our guilt--and we must therefore beware of the unwarrantable phraseology of those who speak of Him in connection with His vicarious work, as "becoming a sinner." We only, however, use the words of Scripture when we say "He became Sin." He was reckoned and dealt with, in the eye of the divine law, as guilty; as if the condensed transgressions of the millions He came to save ("His unknown agonies," as it is significantly expressed in the Greek Liturgy), were poured into His mysterious cup. All the bitter experiences of His passion, the mocking, the scourging, the jeers and taunts, the thorn-crowning, the God-desertion--were His due, not personally, but by imputation. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."
Different indeed, in kind, was the penalty endured by this Almighty Substitute, from what sinners themselves would have suffered, had they been left to undergo the full measure of punishment due to their transgressions. It belonged, however, to the Great Creditor to accept some satisfactory method, by which the infinite debt might admit of being discharged, without infringing the rights of justice, or lowering and violating the sanctity of His law. And, owing to the dignity of the Sufferer's Person, this Atonement rendered by Christ was of surpassing value. It was THE SUBSTITUTION OF INCARNATE DEITY. The altar of His Divine nature sanctified the gift, and imparted a priceless worth to the divine oblation. As "God manifest in the flesh," He was free from the law, and the obligations of creatureship. Had He been less than divine, He could not possibly have obeyed for another. As a creature, He could not have transferred to another the merit of His obedience. Moreover, on the supposition, for a moment, of the admissibility of substitution in the case of an angelic being; one creature-substitute could only at the utmost discharge a single debt. It would be creature for creature, life for life. But owing to Christ's peerless dignity as the eternal Son of God, not only was He above the obligation of all natural law--"a law unto Himself," having "power over His own life;" but the sacrifice of the Divine Victim was of that infinite value, that the One offering was deemed sufficient to effect the ransom of "a multitude which no man can number."
On this account, His whole work has received in theological language the appellation of a "satisfaction." It was, in the eye of God's righteous law, a glorious and all-sufficient equivalent. It met all the requirements of Sovereign Justice, Righteousness and Truth. Remitting the myriad liabilities of an insolvent world, the Great Creditor signs a full discharge. The holiness of His name and nature, and the righteous principles of His moral government, remain intact and inviolate.
But let us proceed to examine the assertions of Scripture, and observe how this great truth of Christ's substitution runs throughout the Revealed Word like a golden thread. It would require a volume to do justice to the subject--little more can be overtaken here, than to glance at a few of the more prominent Typical, Prophetical, and Apostolic testimonies.
I. The TYPICAL testimonies of Christ's vicarious atonement. The idea of substitution is interlaced and interwoven with the whole Mosaic ritual. The voice of "the blood of sprinkling" spoke in wordless eloquence on the altars of Israel, as they ran daily with the blood of slain victims. Not a few of these were fellowship, or thank offerings--but the vast bulk of them were penal and expiatory. Not only so, but what we wish especially to note at present is, the remarkable testimony they afford to the principle of vicarious suffering--that the blood of the animal was shed in the place or stead of another. Every offering was a ransom for the sin, or for the life, of the human offender. It was life for life, blood for blood. The victims were subjected to the penalty incurred by the transgressor--there was a symbolic imputation of his guilt to them; and thus, typically, these sacrifices "were ordained to take away sin."
We see this vicarious, or substitutionary element, in Israel's INDIVIDUAL sacrifices, offerings made to expiate the sin of individual offenders. The offerer brought his victim, laid his hand upon its head, and made confession of his crime. "He shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him."
Again, as regards the guilt of THE WHOLE CONGREGATION, the command was given, "They shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the Lord, and the bullock shall be killed before the Lord. And the priest shall make an ATONEMENT for them, and it shall be forgiven them."
Or, once more, as perhaps the most expressive of all types of the Great Substitution; on the solemn anniversary of THE DAY OF ATONEMENT, the High Priest, clad in his linen garments, appeared as the Representative of Israel. Two goats (constituting one offering) were brought to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. The people stood round in speechless solemnity. The one was immolated (that is--sacrificed); its blood was carried within the veil, and sprinkled on the mercy-seat. Laying his hands on the head of the other living animal, he made confession over it of all the sins of the people; and then, with this load of imputed guilt, it was led away into the depths of the wilderness never more to be seen. Hear the significant appointment of God Himself--"When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and the altar, he must bring the living goat forward. He is to lay both of his hands on the goat's head and confess over it all the sins and rebellion of the Israelites. In this way, he will lay the people's sins on the head of the goat; then he will send it out into the wilderness, led by a man chosen for this task. After the man sets it free in the wilderness, the goat will carry all the people's sins upon itself into a desolate land." Leviticus 16:20-22
What type could possibly be more significant than this?--the imposition of hands, accompanied with confession of sin--the sins of "all Israel"--typically transferred to the innocent substitute. The countless iniquities of Christ's people are surely seen meeting on the head of the great Antitypical Scapegoat--the atoning Sacrifice of Calvary, who has borne them forever away into a land of oblivion. If all this substitutionary ceremonial ritual had no reference to the Divine Antitype--then we ask, What was its design?
Standing by itself, without this New Testament 'anti-type', it is not only a meaningless appointment, but (again, with all reverence we say it), it would have been an appointment unworthy of God. There is no natural connection whatever (there is rather an inherent unfitness and incongruity), between the slaying of a mere animal, or the laying the hands on its head, and the expiation of human guilt. "It was impossible that the blood of bulls and of goats" (even heaps on heaps of slain irrational beasts, which are so far beneath in dignity the nature of the transgressor) "could take away sin." There was an utter inefficacy and inadequacy in such to expiate moral guilt. The very conscience of the offerer repudiated such a thought. They were powerless to pacify the soul under a sense of its sin, and to remove the Divine displeasure--"For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them." But the whole of this strange, bloody ritual receives at once a wondrous significance, when we connect it with more precious blood, and a more precious Life--with the imputation of our guilt to the Lamb of God--"Christ our Passover sacrificed FOR US."
II. Let us pass from the typical, to the PROPHETICAL testimonies of the vicarious sufferings of the Redeemer. Two among several other passages may suffice.
The first, is the 53d chapter of Isaiah; that wonderful Old Testament picture of the Savior's humiliation. Again and again is the truth we are now unfolding there brought prominently before us--that the Lord Jesus took our sins actually upon Him--that He suffered in our room and stead.
Ver. 4, "Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."
Ver. 5, "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed."
Ver. 6, "The Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all."
Ver. 8, "For the transgression of My people was He stricken." "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities."
Ver. 12, "And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many."
What could be more explicit than these varied statements?--that He who rose up before the Prophet's vision as "the Man of Sorrows," was really the Substitute of the guilty; enduring the stripes that were due to us--carrying the load of sin we should have borne. Though sinless Himself, yet, as the Vicar of His people--enrolled--"numbered, among transgressors."
The other prophetical passage we may cite in confirmation of the doctrine, is from the Book of Daniel. That Prophet, speaking in the most explicit and indubitable language of "Messiah the Prince," who was "to finish (the) transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in an everlasting righteousness," adds, "And after threescore and two weeks (of years) shall Messiah be cut off" (by death), "but not for Himself." He was to suffer, but it was for no sin of His own, for no personal demerit. He was to finish the transgression of His people, to discharge their debt, by the offering of Himself--and the Prophet immediately adds, that having thus completed His atoning work, "In the midst of the week, He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." The substance having been revealed, the shadows melt away. The Divine Antitype having come--the great Antitypical Sacrifice being offered, the ceremonial ritual is abrogated; all other sacrifices and oblations are abolished.
III. We proceed now to advert to the APOSTOLIC testimonies in support of this same cardinal truth--Christ's substitutionary atonement. In doing so, we shall attempt little more than simply quote a few appropriate verses, in themselves so clear and explicit as to require no comment. Observe, however, the force of the preposition "for," as denoting substitution, which occurs in most of them. "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died FOR the ungodly." "He was made sin FOR us, who knew no sin." "Made a curse FOR US." "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up FOR us all." "He was delivered FOR our offences." "Christ was once offered to bear the sin of many." "Who gave Himself FOR us." "He gave Himself FOR us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor." "Christ has also once suffered for sins, the just FOR the unjust, that He might bring us to God." "Who loved us, and gave Himself FOR us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity." "Now once in the end of the world has He appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree. By His stripes we are healed."
And if we ascend from the testimony of the Church on earth, to that of the Church glorified in Heaven, it is the same. "You have redeemed us to God by Your blood." "To Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood."
If language has any meaning, these and other passages are surely conclusive. We repeat, the preposition "for," so often employed in these verses, undoubtedly supposes and implies substitution--one put in the place or room of another. "Christ died FOR us"--not as the Socinians say, that He died for our good, for our advantage; not that He became incarnate merely to be the Revealer of the Father's love, a spotless Example, the Ideal of perfect humanity (though this, as we shall subsequently show, was included as a subordinate object in the divine mission); neither that His sufferings are merely to be regarded in the light of "afflictions" or "calamities," similar to what His people are often called upon to undergo in this life; but, He came as the law-fulfiller--the sin-bearer. Sin and guilt were not only in a figurative, but in a literal sense laid upon Him.
Take away this feature in the doing and dying of Jesus, and the Incarnation is shorn of its glory; and the whole 'typical economy' becomes an enigma. It resolves itself into a mysterious, incomprehensible, wasteful expenditure of blood and animal suffering; and the Apostolic writings become a mass of distorted reasoning. But, accept the view of Christ as a vicarious Sacrifice, a real Substitute for human guilt, dying in the stead of transgressors, then the whole mystery is solved. Then there is a tongue put in every bleeding wound of every expiring victim--a halo encircles the fire and smoke ascending from every altar. These proclaim in dreadful, but significant symbolism, what He to whom they pointed expressed in His own simple utterance, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
We may conclude, by refuting one false and erroneous deduction with which some have ventured to charge this doctrine, that is, that it is derogatory to the benevolence and beneficence of God; that it represents Him in the unamiable and unloving light of a rigorous Exactor, who requires His wrath to be appeased by the blood of an innocent Sufferer--no, further, that as the natural consequence of entertaining such a dogma, our affections are necessarily transferred from the exacting inexorable Lawgiver, to Him who, by His voluntary anguish and death, has effected the reconciliation. Such repulsive views of the Divine Being, however, are false and empty assumptions, containing an utter perversion of Catholic teaching and Scripture language.
What is the true Bible representation? God is there brought before us, as we have already seen, infinitely Holy--immaculately Righteous--inviolably Faithful and Just--His law uncompromising in its demands, rigidly exacting in its penalties. This Almighty Being is represented, moreover, as requiring an adequate sacrifice and satisfaction--no, in a bold figure, as summoning the sword of Justice to "awake against the Man who is His fellow." But, if we draw aside the veil, and look still farther into the secrets of the Divine counsels, we shall see that the motive-principle of all was the Father's divine compassion and mercy. It was not the substitution of the Great Sacrifice that was the cause of God's love to our world. That love not only existed antecedently in the Divine mind, but it was that infinite Love which prompted and devised the amazing plan of redemption. "God so loved the world"--"GOD commends His love." GOD "spared not His own Son." It was His originating love which provided the Lamb for the burnt-offering. The true method, therefore, of viewing the Atonement of Calvary is to regard it, from first to last, as a stupendous plan of Divine Sovereign Grace and Mercy exercised in consistence with Justice and Truth--a rainbow, indeed, seen with a dark background of suffering and wrath, but in whose blended tints and colors "mercy rejoices over judgment."
Reader, are you able fully to accept--no, to rejoice in this stupendous doctrine, and by faith to appropriate its sublime verities? to view it, not as a beautiful figure, a typical fiction, but as a sober reality, denoting and asserting a veritable transference of your guilt to the Lamb of God--a glorious crevice in the Rock of Ages, in which you may fold your wings and sink to rest as you sing, "He loved me, and gave Himself FOR me?"
Rejoice, also, that that transference has taken place; the negotiation is completed, the Substitute has been provided, the ransom has been paid. It is not a matter which now remains in suspense and unaccomplished. Many on earth have noble and lofty intentions which have never been fulfilled. Many a high enteprise has been devised; but the enthusiasm wears past, the opportunity is lost, or the resolve is strangled at the birth. Not so with this great salvation. What Christ undertook He has performed. He does not utter the unavailing soliloquy and lament in His heavenly palace, over an apostate world, which David did on the occasion of the death of his ruined child, "Would God I had died for you." He has died; He has fulfilled His covenant-pledge as our Surety. Our lost inheritance has been recovered. The prophetic words have become now the utterance of an historic fact--He HAS seen of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied!
Well do we know that the doctrine we have now been considering, is in these modern times disliked by many; by not a few rejected. We do not hear it enunciated in our systems of theology, nor proclaimed in our pulpits, as its importance demands. Many prefer coming with Cain's bloodless offerings of thanksgiving (the deist sacrifice) rather than, like Abel, bringing the bleating victim from his fold. They are willing to behold Christ the Son, but not Christ "the Lamb of God." They build the temple, but they disown the altar. Believer, be it yours ever to look to the lintels and door-posts sprinkled with blood. Clasp this glorious truth to your heart of hearts--Christ your Substitute. All He did, reckon as having been done by you. When He was prostrated on the cold earth in His soul-struggle in Gethsemane, or when He trod the blood-stained path along the dolorous way, or when He uttered the Eloi-cry on the cross--think, it was your sins that were draining these drops of anguish, and extracting these strong cryings, and pleadings, and tears.
Blood is death; and if by faith you be sprinkled with the sacred token, you are reckoned to have died in the Surety. When He gave His precious, peerless life, it was equivalent to your giving yours. Be assured that this is the only view of the death of Jesus that will stand the test and scrutiny of Scripture; or that, as a strong and all-sufficient rock-cleft, will be able to ensure solid and satisfying peace in believing. It is not the philosophic divinity which consists in the deification of mere virtue--it is not eliminating these peculiar doctrines of the cross, and substituting cold negations, that will pacify conscience.
"Jesus, Your blood and righteousness,
"When from the dust of death I rise,
Let what will form your alone stable and satisfying trust then, be the ground of your hope and confidence now. Accept Him, unhesitatingly, as your Surety- Savior, "the end of the law for righteousness." See how He has "blotted out the handwriting that was against you, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to His cross." See how God, the injured Creditor, has cancelled your obligations. Never again, in point of law, can your legion-sins appear; they are obliterated forever. Let the mightiest angel in heaven be delegated to go in quest of these sins! Let him roam creation! Let him search every corner of the earth, and every cavern of old ocean. He will come back from the mission with the tidings--"The iniquity of Israel is sought for, and there is none; and the sins of Judah, and they are not found." "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."