The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

The Work and Sufferings of Christ.
His Active and Passive Obedience.


Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered, died and rose again for his people. He came down to earth葉hat they might go up to heaven. He suffered葉hat they might reign. He became a servant葉hat they might become kings and priests unto God. He died that葉hey might live. He bore the cross葉hat their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated. He loved them葉hat they might love God. He was rich and became poor葉hat they, who were poor, might be made rich. He descended into the grave葉hat they might sit in heavenly places. He emptied himself葉hat they might be filled with all the fullness of God. He took upon him human nature葉hat they might be partakers of the divine nature. He made flesh his dwelling place葉hat they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit. He made himself of no reputation葉hat they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency. He became a worm, and no man葉hat they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels. He bore the curse of a broken covenant葉hat they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people葉hat they, who were justly condemned, might obtain an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and which fades not away. His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savor to God葉hat we, who were an offence to God, might become his sons and daughters. He was made sin for his people葉hat they might be made the righteousness of God in him. Though Lord of all he took the form of a servant葉hat they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God. He, who had made swaddling-bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes揺at they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of saints. He had no where to lay his head葉hat they who otherwise must have lain down in eternal sorrow, might reach the mansions in his Father's house. He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan葉hat his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels. He drank the cup of God's indignation葉hat they might forever drink of the river of his pleasures. He hungered葉hat they might eat the bread of life. He thirsted葉hat they might drink the water of life. He was numbered with the transgressors葉hat they might stand among the justified, and be counted among his jewels. He made his grave with the wicked葉hat they might sleep in Jesus. Though he existed from everlasting, from the beginning, before ever the earth was, yet he became a helpless infant葉hat creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live forever. He wore a crown of thorns葉hat all who love his appearing, might wear a crown of life. He wept tears of anguish葉hat his elect might weep tears of godly repentance. He bore the yoke of obedience unto death葉hat they might find his yoke easy and his burden light. He poured out his soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God葉hat they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of his resurrection. He exhausted the penalty of the law葉hat his redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord. He passed from humiliation to humiliation, until he reached the sepulcher of Joseph葉hat his people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord. He was matchless in grace葉hat they might be matchless in gratitude. Though a Son, he became a voluntary exile葉hat they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought near by his blood. He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities葉hat he might perfect his strength in their weakness. His visage was so marred more than any man葉hat his ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing. For a time he was forsaken of his Father葉hat they, whom he bought with his blood, might behold the light of God's countenance forever. He came and dwelt with them葉hat they might be forever with the Lord. He was hung up naked before his insulting foes葉hat all who believe on his name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though he was dead揺e is the first-born among many brethren. Through his sorrow揺is people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away. Though he endured the worst things葉hey do and shall forever enjoy the best things. Wonderful mystery! God was manifest in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction預nd yet a mystery which baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic knowledge. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of truth, of grace, of wisdom, of condescension, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.

If it be allowed to take these statements in a general and vague sense, most people, who are willing to be called evangelical, will at least assent to them. But let us consider more particularly the work and the sufferings of our Lord, what he did, and what he endured, his obedience to law, and his submission to pain. It is true these things were not separated in him; but it is true that they can be distinguished. Some ignorant people have seemed to suppose that orthodox Christians held that Christ obeyed one day or hour and suffered another. But Christ was from his birth to his death a sufferer. He was also a servant to do the will of God. He obeyed in suffering. He suffered in obeying. His obedience to the precept and his endurance of the penalty of the law ran parallel to each other. Sound divines have therefore commonly spoken of Christ's active and passive obedience as comprehending the whole of his work on earth.

His ACTIVE obedience was rendered to the moral law as a rule of life. His PASSIVE obedience was his voluntary submission to the penal sufferings provided by the law for the transgressors of its holy commandments. Although a few good men have not favored this formal distinction, yet the great body of sound writers have approved it. Nor is there any objection to it, if correctly understood. And until a better mode of explaining the mediatorial work of Christ on earth shall be suggested, let the friends of truth hold fast to the established language of sound divinity. It is remarkable that modern writers, who oppose the use of these phrases almost without exception are very erroneous on other points. If a man denies that Christ obeyed the precept of the law for us, it is almost certain that he will deny that he bore the curse or penalty of the law in our stead. Nor is it known that any sound writer has ever rejected the doctrine, which sober divines have always understood to be involved in the active and passive obedience of Christ.

Owen says: "There is no other way whereby the original, immutable law of God may be established, and fulfilled with respect unto us, but by the imputation of the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness unto all that do believe." Indeed he enters into a formal argument in defense of "the imputation of the active obedience or righteousness of Christ unto us, as an essential part of that righteousness whereon we are justified before God. If it were necessary that the Lord Christ, as our surety should undergo the penalty of the law for us, or in our stead, because we all have sinned; then it was necessary also, that as our surety he should yield obedience unto the preceptive part of the law for us also: and if the imputation of the former be needful for us unto our justification before God, then is the imputation of the latter also necessary unto the same end and purpose." "And as we are no more able of ourselves to fulfill the law, in a way of obedience, than to undergo the penalty of it, so as that we may be justified thereby; so no reason can be given, why God is not as much concerned in honor and glory, that the preceptive power and part of the law be complied withal, by perfect obedience, as that the sanction of it be established by undergoing the penalty of it."

That Charnock held the same doctrine is very clear; for in extolling the work of the Mediator, he thus dwells on "His obedience to his Father. It is a signal testimony given him, that he was obedient even to the death of the cross. Phil. 2:8. The sharper then his circumstances were upon the cross, the more illustrious his obedience was. The luster of obedience is seen in engaging upon command with the most affrighting difficulties." He subsequently dwells at length on the sufferings of Christ. Leighton speaking on 1 Cor. 1:30, "he is made of God unto us righteousness," says: "This doubtless is meant of the righteousness by which we are justified before God; and as he is made this to us, applied by faith, his righteousness becomes ours. That exchange made, our sins are laid over on him, and his obedience put upon us."

Thomas Boston says that Christ's obedience to the law for his people included "these three following things:

1. That he, as the second ADAM, should obey the whole law, in the name of those he represented. This was a debt owing by them all, and was required of them, by the law, as a condition of life." "It was provided, that Christ, as their representative, should give obedience to the whole law for them; that both tables of the law, and each command of each table, should have the due obedience from him; that the law being laid before him, in its spirituality and full extent, he should fully answer it, in internal and external obedience, in his mind, will and affections, in thought, word and deed: that he should conform himself to the whole natural law, and to all divine institutions, ceremonial or political, so as to be circumcised, keep the Passover, to be baptized, to be a servant or subject to rulers, pay tribute to whom it was due, and the like. [In fact the very reason Christ gave for being baptized was that "thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness."]

2. "That every part of that obedience should be carried to the highest pitch and degree. This the law required of them, as a condition of life.

3. Lastly, that all this should be continued to the end, without the least failure in parts, or degrees of obedience. This also was a condition of life."

It was agreed that the second ADAM should, in the name of those he represented, 'continue in all things, written in the book of the law to do them' even to the end. All which he did accordingly fulfill, being 'obedient unto death.' Phil. 2:8.

Ridgley says: "Satisfaction must bear some similitude, or resemblance, as to the matter of it, to that debt which was due from those for whom it was to be given. Here we must consider what was the debt due from us, for which a demand of satisfaction was made; this was twofold:

1st. A debt of perfect and sinless obedience, whereby the glory of God's sovereignty might be secured, and the honor of his law maintained. This debt it was morally impossible for man to pay, after his fall; for it implies a contradiction to say that a fallen creature can yield a sinless obedience; nevertheless it was demanded of us, though fallen; for the obligation could not be disannulled by our disability to perform it.

2ndly. There was a debt of punishment, which we were liable to, in proportion to the demerit of sin, as the result of the condemning sentence of the law, which threatened death for every transgression and disobedience. Now, to be satisfaction to the justice of God, it must have these ingredients in it."

Dr. A. Alexander says: "By the righteousness of Christ, we mean all that he did and suffered to satisfy the broken law of God, for those whose salvation he undertook to secure. It has been shown that the law has a double demand upon us, both of which must be satisfied before a sentence of justification can righteously be pronounced." The "double demand" here spoken of is explained to be obedience to the precept, and endurance of the penalty of the law. Indeed so precious is the doctrine of the full and perfect obedience of Christ, both in doing and suffering, in meeting the demands of both the precept and the penalty of the law, that in experience no enlightened mind can rest satisfied until it is assured of the truth of the positions here maintained.

Some indeed object and say Christ's obedience to the precept of the law was due from him for himself, his human nature being under natural and indissoluble obligations to holiness. It is indeed true that Christ's human nature was bound for itself after being in existence to obey the law. And so was Adam, in the garden of Eden. Yet if he had stood faithful to the end of his probation, his obedience would have been counted not only for himself but for us also. So the obedience of Christ not only caused the Father to say "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," but also for his sake to promise eternal life to as many as are found in him, clothed with his righteousness.

Besides the person of the Mediator was constituted of a divine and a human nature. In his divine nature he was the lawgiver, the Lord of the Sabbath day, and the King universal. This gave to his obedience both to the precept and penalty of the law, a value transcending all our conceptions of merit as obtained even by angels who never sinned. This is the very doctrine of the Scriptures. The reader has already had the interpretation of Charnock and Boston of the phrase "obedient unto death." Phil. 2:8. Ridgley interprets the phrase the same way, namely, to signify Christ's active obedience, even in dying. That this is the correct mode of interpreting the text has long been held by the Church of God. The same doctrine is clearly taught by Paul in Romans 5:12-19. There our justification is clearly stated to be 'by the obedience of one,' by the righteousness of one."

If Christ's "obedience," in Romans 5 has any meaning, it is the opposite of Adam's "disobedience." Christ's "righteousness" is the opposite of Adam's "offence." If Christ's obedience means simply his death, then Adam's disobedience means simply his life. If Christ's righteousness includes nothing but his suffering on the cross, Adam's offence must be that he did not suffer for us. In fine, no more unwarrantable liberties are taken with God's word than by the enemies of the doctrine of Christ's active obedience. In Gal. 4:4, 5, Paul says: "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law."

A law consists of two parts:
1. a precept, a rule to be followed;
2. a penalty for the transgressor.

Now, was Jesus Christ made under the precept only, or the penalty only? One errorist will perhaps say one thing, and another a different thing. Some very bold heretics will deny that he was placed either under the precept or the penalty for us; but from the days of Paul to the present the Church of God has held that Christ was made under both the precept and the penalty of the law for us. Indeed it is well worthy of notice that as error never stops of its own accord, as its nature is to sink lower and lower耀o it is very common, yes, almost universal to find those, who object to Christ's active obedience soon subverting all his righteousness, and even denying that he bore the penalty of the law for us, and contending that even his death was but a show of what God could do when he chose to express his indignation against his well beloved Son. But of Christ's death, and the atonement thereby made the next chapter will treat.