Archive for the ‘The Distinction Between Pecuniary and Penal Satisfaction’ Category


Knox Chamblin on Ransom as Deliverance: Not Payment

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism



Both before and during Paul’s time, both within and beyond the Bible, to redeem typically meant to secure a release from some bondage or penalty by the payment of a ransom-price.45 In accord with what was just said about righteousness, Paul declares that redemption occurs in Christ (Col. 1:14) and that Christ is the very embodiment of redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

As with other aspects of salvation considered thus far, it is preeminently in the cross that Christ does his redeeming work.46 His death is the ransom-price that secures the liberation of others. Here “the man Christ Jesus . . . gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6; cf. Titus 2:14).47 Christians “were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23)–Christ’s sacrificial death (1:18-31; 5:7; 11:23-26; 15:3). Sinners are “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement . . . in his blood (Rom. 3:24-25 NIV). The shedding of blood signals not just the gift of life but the loss of life.48 By the language of redemption, Paul does not imply that the ransom-price was paid to someone, whether to God or to the devil; his focus is on redemption’s costliness, both to God and to Christ. A principal reason for its costliness to Christ is that he “became sin” so that sinners might be justified (Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21). “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins . . .” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:14).49 As in any instance of genuine forgiveness, the offended part absorbs the wrong and thus prevents it from spreading and multiplying.50

In his death Christ the Redeemer liberates his people from bondage to Sin and its agencies, together with all the consequences of such bondage. God, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as a sin offering, condemned Sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3)–in the very “body of [Jesus’l flesh through death” (Col. 1:22). “God did not redeem flesh by an act of incarnation; he destroyed flesh by an act of condemnation.”51 Moreover, by nailing sinners’ certificate of indebtedness to the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities [and] made a public spectacle” of them (Col. 2:13-15).52

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The following is a short essay on the sufficiency of the atonement while setting out the proper distinctions between pecuniary and penal categories.



We insert here the following Extract from a Draft of an Overture pared and published by a Committee of the Associate Reformed Synod, America, for the purpose of illustrating and defending the Doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Committee were, Rev. Dr John Mason, Messrs Robert Annan and John Smith. The writer appears to be Mr R. Annan, Philadelphia. 1787.

That there is a sufficiency in the atonement of Jesus Christ for all men, is undoubtedly a great and glorious truth. But the sufficiency of his death, and extent of it, must be considered in a twofold light; first, either with relation to the nature of sin; or, secondly, the number of sinners pardoned and saved. That the necessity of Christ’s infinite atonement does not arise from the number, but the nature of sin,–or that the very nature of sin itself requires an infinite atonement in order to its honorable remission, cannot be denied by men of sound understandings. Such an atonement is indispensably necessary to the pardon of one act of sin, and the salvation of one sinner, consistently with the glory of the Supreme Lawgiver, the obligation of his law, and sustentation of his government; and the end thereof may be completely gained in the salvation of one. Sin, though distinguished into various acts, is in itself one thing,–one corrupt principle–one vicious habit; it is enmity against God,–it is spiritual darkness, spiritual death, spiritual bondage. Therefore the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s death is necessary to the pardon of one sin, and the salvation of one sinner; and, indeed, if this were not the case, it would not be necessary to the pardon of any supposed number, because numbers do not vary nature, nor degrees alter species or kind.

The dispute about the extent of the death of Christ, therefore, can take place only on the second question, to wit, the number of sinners to be saved by it. That it is sufficient for the salivation of all men is not denied by any; and doubtless all men would be saved by it, if it were accepted by them. The sacred writings clearly teach this; and on this ground the revelation and offer of it to all men must rest.

When we speak of the sufficiency of the death and satisfaction of Christ in this last sense, perhaps we err in regulating our ideas on this great subject by the idea of commutation or commercial justice among men. As a thousand pounds in specie, by whomsoever paid, whether by the surety or debtor, is sufficient to cancel a bond or discharge a debt of that amount. But it is manifest no such ideas, strictly taken, ought to be admitted here. Let us say it with reverence, God is not a merchant. Transferable property is out of the question. The rectoral justice of the Supreme Governor of the universe is the subject to which we must fix our attention. And the only proper idea we can form of the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ is this–Is it a sufficient display of the glory of the Divine character,–of his holiness, justice, hatred of sin, and goodness as a moral Governor? Is it sufficient to maintain the authority and obligation of his lav, sustain the moral system, and give energy to his government over rational and free agents, while he pardons sin and receives the rebel into favour? After forming this idea of it, which is certainly the true and just one, there arises another question: In the room of what creatures is it morally fit and proper to admit this atonement? In answer to the question, let it be observed, that as all men were comprehended in Adam, in a double sense, both as the natural root from which they all proceed, and as their representative in the. first covenant,–as they are all originally under one law or covenant, as sin is one and the same thing in them all, and as one and the same penalty is due to them all; and furthermore, as the Son of God assumed the common nature of them all–was made under the very same law which they had all broken, and not only fulfilled the obedience required by the precepts, but also endured the penalty of that very law which they had violated, and to which penalty they had by transgression exposed themselves,–there is doubtless a sufficiency in his death for them all, that is, it would comport with the glory of the Divine character, the sustentation of his government, the obligation and honor of his law, and the good of the rational and moral system, to save them all, provided they all accepted of Christ’s atonement, yielded submission to him, and returned to God by him. In the sense it may be said, ” Christ tasted death for every man–is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world  and God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And this lays a sufficient foundation for that injunction, “Go, preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. Go, speak to the people all the words of this life.” Every legal bar and obstruction in the way of the salvation of all men is removed; let them only accept and submit to Jesus Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King. All things are ready, and all are made welcome to the marriage and the marriage supper.

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Samuel Spear (1812-1891) on Pencuniary and Penal Satisfaction

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism

I am not in agreement with everything Spear says regarding the atonement, however, some of his comments here are insightful and instructive.

The Atonement and the Penalty of the Law1

Samuel T. Spear,

Thirdly, it is further admitted that the figure of paying a debt is a very inadequate and defective exhibition of the work of Christ. “At the same time, we shall be careful not to push this similitude (of debtor and creditor) to an unlawful extreme, nor to represent the satisfaction of Christ as tallying in all respects with that which is made in human transactions.” “But pecuniary transactions, we not only admit but insist, can furnish no perfect parallel to the mysterious transaction of saving sinners.” “This does not make redemption a commercial transaction, nor imply that there are not essential points of diversity between acquiring by money, and acquiring by blood. Hence our second remark is, that if Dr Beman will take up any elementary work on theology, he will find the distinction between pecuniary and penal satisfaction clearly pointed out, and the satisfaction of Christ shown to be of the latter, and not of the former kind.” Thus it appears that the figure of paying, a debt by a surety, is defective; and that a “penal satisfaction only is meant by it. The analogy between sin and a debt is very remote, and equally so that between a “penal satisfaction” and the payment of a debt. It is by unduly pressing this analogy, that errors have arisen in respect to the atonement. “The supposition of an exact and perfect resemblance between the atonement and the payment of a pecuniary debt, might lead us to deny the full extent of the provision made by the death of Christ for the salvation of mankind; or it might lead us to believe that all men will finally be saved; or what is a still more shocking error, to believe that sinners are under no obligation to obey the divine law, and cannot be justly required to endure its penalty.” Strictly speaking, the atonement pays no debt; neither is Christ a surety for a literal debtor…

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The reader, in applying this supposed case to the mediation of Christ, will do me the justice to remember, that I do not pretend to have perfectly represented it. Probably there is no similitude fully adequate to the purpose. The distinction between the Father and the Son, is not the same as that which subsists between a father and a son among men : the latter are two separate beings; but to assert this of the former, would be inconsistent with the divine unity. Nor can any thing be found analogous to the doctrine of divine influence, by which the redemption of Christ is carried into effect. And with respect to the innocent voluntarily suffering for the guilty, in a few extraordinary instances this principle may be adopted; but the management and application of it generally require more wisdom and more power than mortals possess. We day by the help of a machine, collect a few sparks of the electrical fluid, and produce an effect somewhat resembling that of lightning : but we cannot cause it to blaze like the Almighty, nor thunder with a voice like Him.

Imperfect, however, as the foregoing similitude may appear in some respects, it is sufficient to show the fallacy of Mr. Paine’s reasoning. “The doctrine of Redemption,” says this writer, has for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice. If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me: but if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer Justice: but is indiscriminate revenge.” This objection, which is the same for substance as has been frequently urged by Socinians as well as Deists, is founded in misrepresentation.

It is not true that redemption has for its basis the idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice. That sin is called a debt, and the death of Christ a price, a ransom, &c., is true; but it is no unusual thing for moral obligations and deliverances, to be expressed in language borrowed from pecuniary transactions. The obligations of a son to a father, are commonly expressed by such terms as owing and paying: he owes a debt of obedience, and in yielding it he pays a debt of gratitude. The same may be said of an obligation to punishment. A murderer owes his life to the justice of his country; and when he suffers, he is said to pay the awful debt. So also if a great character by suffering death, could deliver his country, such deliverance would be spoken of as obtained by the price of blood. No one mistakes these things by understanding them of pecuniary transactions. In such connections, every one perceives that the terms are used not literally, but metaphorically; and it is thus that they are to be understood with reference to the death of Christ. As sin is not a pecuniary, but a moral debt; so the atonement for it is not a pecuniary, but a moral ransom.

There is doubtless a sufficient analogy between pecuniary and moral proceedings, to justify the use of such language, both in scripture and in common life; and it is easy to perceive the advantages which which arise from it; as besides conveying much important truth, it renders it peculiarly impressive to the mind. But it is not always safe to reason from the former to the latter; much less is it just to affirm, that the latter has for its basis every principle which pertains to the former. The deliverance effected by the prince, in the case before stated, might, with propriety, be called a redemption; and the recollection of it, under this idea, would be very impressive to the minds of those who were delivered. They would scarcely be able to see or think of their Commander in Chief, even though it might be years after the event, without being reminded of the price at which their pardon was obtained, and dropping a tear of ingenuous grief over their unworthy conduct on this account. Yet it would not be just to say, that this redemption had for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice.

It was moral justice which in this case was satisfied: not, however, in its ordinary form, but as exercised on an extraordinary occasion; not the letter, but the spirit of it.

Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel its Own Witness,” in The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (New Haven: W. Collier, 1824), 3:153-155.

Credit to Tony.


Satisfaction not Commercial.

The Reformed divines are also accustomed to make a distinction between penal and moral satisfaction, on the one hand, and pecuniary payment, on the other. In a mere pecuniary debt, the claim is on the money owed, not on the person owing. The amount is numerically estimated. Hence, the surety, in making vicarious payment, must pay the exact number of coins due. And when he has done that, he has, ipso facto, satisfied the debt. His offer of such payment in full is a legal tender which leaves the creditor no discretion of assent or refusal. If he refuses, his claim is canceled for once and all. But the legal claim on us for obedience and penalty is personal. It regards not only the quid solvatur, but the quis solvat. The satisfaction of Christ is not idem facere; to do the identical thing required of the sinner, but satis facere; to do enough to be a just moral equivalent for what is due from the sinner. Hence, two consequences. Christ’s satisfaction cannot be forced on the divine Creditor as a legal tender; it does not free us ipso facto. And God, the Creditor, has an optional discretion to decline the proffer, if He chooses (before He is bound by His own covenant), or to accept it. Hence, the extent to which, and the terms on which Christ’s vicarious actions shall actually satisfy the law, depend simply on the stipulations made between Father and Son, in the covenant of redemption.

Yet Not per acceptilationem.

Yet, we shall by no means agree with the Scotists, and the early Remonstrants, that Christ did not make a real, and equivalent satisfaction for sinners debts. They say, that His sacrifice was not such, because He did not suffer really what sinners owed. He did not feel remorse, nor absolute despair, He did not suffer eternally; only His humanity suffered. But they suppose that the inadequate sufferings were taken as a ransom price, per account by a gracious waiver of God’s real claims of right. And they hold that any sacrifice, which God may please thus to receive, would be thereby made adequate. The difference between their view and the Reformed may be roughly, but fairly defined, by an illustration drawn from pecuniary obligations. A mechanic is justly indebted to a land owner in the sum of one hundred pounds and has no money wherewith to pay. Now, should a rich brother offer the landlord the full hundred pounds, in coin of the realm, this would be a legal tender. It would, ipso facto cancel the debt, even though the creditor captiously rejected it. Christ’s satisfaction is not ipso facto in this commercial sense. There is a second supposition, that the kind brother is not rich, but is himself an able mechanic, and seeing that the landlord is engaged in building, he proposes that he will work as a builder for him two hundred days, at ten shillings per diem (which is a fair price), to cancel his poor brother’s debt. This proposal, on the one hand, is not a “legal tender,” and does not compel the creditor. He may say that he has already enough mechanics, who are paid in advance, so that he cannot take the proposal. But, if he judges it convenient to accept it, although he does not get the coin, he gets an actual equivalent for his claim, and a fair one. This is satisfact . The debtor may thus get a valid release on the terms freely covenanted between the surety and creditor. But there is a third plan. The kind brother has some “script” of the capital stock of some company, which, “by its face” amounts nominally to one hundred pounds, but all know that it is worth but little. Yet he goes to the creditor saying, “My brother and I have a pride about bearing the name of full payment of our debt. We propose that you take this “script” as one hundred pounds (which is its nominal amount), and give us a discharge, which shall state that you have payment in full.” Now, if the creditor assents, this is payment per acceptilationem . Does Christ’s satisfaction amount to no more than this? We answer emphatically, it does amount to more. This disparaging conception is refuted by many scriptures, such as Isa. 13:21; 53:6. It is dishonorable to God, representing Him as conniving at a “legal fiction,” and surrendering all standard of truth and justice to confusion. On this low scheme, it is impossible to see how any real necessity for satisfaction could exist.

Christ Suffered the Very Penalty.

The Reformed assert then, that Christ made penal satisfaction by suffering the very penalty demanded by the law of sinners. In this sense, we say even idem fecit . The identity we assert is, of course, not a numerical one, but a generic one. If we are asked, how this could be, when Christ was not holder forever of death, and experienced none of the remorse, wicked despair, and subjective pollution, attending a lost sinner’s second death? We reply, the same penalty, when poured out on Him, could not work all the detailed results, because of His divine nature and immutable holiness. A stick of wood, and an ingot of gold are subjected to the same fire. The wood is permanently consumed, the gold is only melted, because it is a precious metal, incapable of natural oxidation, and it is gathered, undiminished, from the ashes of the furnace. But the fire was the same! And then, the infinite dignity of Christ’s person gives to His temporal sufferings a moral value equal to the weight of all the guilt of the world.

Dabney, Lectures, 503-505.