Archive for the ‘The Distinction Between Equivalency and Identity’ Category


This brings us directly to the subject of this section, which is to inquire what it was about the sacrifice of Christ which rendered it an adequate cause to produce the effect of human salvation; that is to say, what it is that constitutes the moral worth or value of Christ’s atonement.

The value of Christ’s atonement we conceive to arise, not from the nature, or intensity, or continuance of his sufferings. The work of Jesus was not a mere commercial affair of debt and payment. We have no conception that, had the number of those for whom he suffered been greater than it was, or had their sins been more numerous or more aggravated than they were, his sufferings must have been proportionably increased. Neither can we subscribe to the notion that one pang or pain of all that he endured was itself sufficient to effect atonement. We conceive, on the contrary, that he suffered nothing but what was necessary, that if less could have sufficed less would have been required; while, on the other hand, the intrinsic worth of what he actually endured was such as to render it sufficient for the salvation of many more than shall be ultimately saved, had God only seen meet to extend to them his mercy in Christ Jesus. The sufferings of Christ we regard as a moral satisfaction to the law and government of God, which would have been necessary had there been only one to be saved, and which would have been found sufficient had the whole human race, without exception, been to rank, among the redeemed. Just as the arrangement which exists for the outward illumination of our globe, would have been required had there been but one inhabitant to reap the benefit presently enjoyed, and would have been sufficient had there been many more millions in existence than actually inhabit the earth. The worth or value of Christ’s atoning sacrifice we conceive to have arisen, not from one circumstance alone, but from several circumstances combined, none of which can be dispensed with in forming a proper estimate on the subject. These circumstances we shall now attempt to unfold.

I. The first is the dignity of the Savior person. He who, in making atonement, is at once the priest and the sacrifice, is divine. He is the Son of God, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. He is God himself, co-equal with the Father, Jehovah’s fellow. Titles which involve essential dignity are unhesitatingly ascribed to him. He is spoken of as possessing all the necessary attributes of Deity. Works which belong only to God, are said to be performed by him. And the highest forms of divine worship are used by all moral creatures, in doing him homage. The truth of these assertions we must be permitted to take for granted, as to exhibit even an outline of their evidence would lead us into an improper digression. The doctrine of Christ’s dignity is prominently set forth in the volume of revealed truth. It is the glory of Christianity. It sparkles, like a radiant gem, in every part of the sacred field. It invests the whole Christian system with heavenly beauty. It imparts a peculiar grandeur and sublimity to the doctrines of the cross.

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It is objected again, that God does freely remit and pardon sin, therefore, he wills not that Christ should make satisfaction: because free remission will not stand with satisfaction. And most sure it is, that God is favorable to our iniquities, Jer. 31:34, but God has set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. Rom. 3:25, Acts 10:43, Luke 1:68-70.

There is a twofold payment of debt: one of the thing altogether the same, which is in the obligation, and this ipso facto frees from punishment, whether it be paid by the debtor himself, or by the surety. Another of a thing not altogether the same, which is in the obligation, so that some act of the creditor or governor must come unto it, which is called remission: in which case deliverance does not follow ipso facto upon the satisfaction. And of this kind is the satisfaction of Christ: for in the rigor of the law, the delinquent himself is in person to suffer the penalty denounced, “Every man shall bear his own burden,” Gal. 6:5. “In the day that thou eat of thereof, thou shall die the death” [Gen. 2:17].1 So that the law in the rigor thereof, does not admit any commutation, or substitution of one for another. And, therefore, that another person suffering made procure a discharge to the person guilty, and be valid to free him, the will, consent and mercy of him to whom the infliction of punishment belongs, must concur, which in respect of the debtor is remission; and this overruling power must dispense, though not with the substance of the law’s demands, yet with the manner of execution, which in respect of the law is called relaxation. Remission, therefore, is not repugnant to the antecedent satisfaction: but only to that payment of the thing due, which ipso facto does deliver and set free.

It may be added that of grace, Christ was ordained to be our surety, that at the commandment of grace he made satisfaction, and that his mind and will in satisfying was, that grace might justly glorify herself in pardoning offenses, and not that pardon should be given of justice. And so the satisfaction of Christ is full and perfect, and our pardon every way free and gracious. And seeing every one may impose a law to act depending upon his own free will and pleasure, he that pays2 for another, and he that admits the payment of one thing for another, and he that admits the payment of one thing for another, may covenant, that remission shall presently, or after a certain time, purely or upon condition. And this was the will and pleasure of Christ making satisfaction, and of God admitting satisfaction, and this the Covenant, that God should pardon sin, not presently in the very time of Christ’s passion, but when a man is turned unto God by true faith in Christ, humbly entreating pardon. To forgive sin, is no opposite to the accepting of that satisfaction which is freely admitted, when it might be refused, and to which he upon whom the benefit undue is conferred, does confer nothing.

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Obj. 2. There must be a proportion between the satisfaction and the crime. But there is no proper proportion, between the sufferings of one man, and the sins of an infinite number of men. How, therefore, can the ransom which Christ alone paid, correspond with the sins of a vast number of men? Ans. It can, for these two causes: First, on account of the dignity of his person; and secondly, on account of the greatness of the punishment which he endured ; for he suffered that which we were bound to suffer to all eternity. His passion, therefore, is equivalent to everlasting punishment, yea it exceeds it; because, that God should suffer, is more than that all creatures should perish. This was the greatest miracle, that the Son of God should cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., G.W. Willard (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994), 214.

[Note: the idea Christ sustaining a qualitative equivalency relative to the sins of the world is clearly a pre-Grotian idea and cannot be attributed to him, or have been originated by him, or that it is a form of Grotianism or Governmentalism.]

[Credit to Lynch for the find.]

R.L. Dabney:

For the Southern Presbyterian

Dr Dabney on the Plan of Union.


5. But the most serious objection of all seems to be made to § 3. Of art. 1, touching the atonement which offends in many points. Great exception is taken again and again, to the sentence which repudiates the opinion that “the atonement was so limited only, that if God had designed to redeem more Christ must have suffered more, or differently.” The fault here, says the Southern Presbyterian, is not that the error thus repudiated is not an error; but that it was needless to notice it, because he never heard of anybody who held it. “There are real errors enough in the world: Let us not fight shadows.” And again:

Dr Waddell intimates that the committees know of somebody, somewhere, who holds the absurd error condemned in the report, in regard to the amount of our Lord’s sufferings. Of course we are open to better information on that point, and would recommend that the party holding such an error be exhibited as a curiosity. But it seems curious that whole monstrous and dangerous errors on the great doctrine of the atonement abound on all sides of us, the report should pass them by, and select for condemnation an absurd and obscure dogma, which can be held by at most very few, and they people can do no harm.

We will venture to give a little of the information asked for about them. One of those absurd, harmless, and almost un-heard-of people, was Fautus Socinus, (former of a sect with flattered itself it had made some noise in the world ever since), who in his work De Servatore, argues at length that if we hold to particular redemption, and proper vicarious satisfaction for guilt, our Surety would have to suffer so much the more for every additional number redeemed. And there was an orthodox theologians, who used to be read a long while ago, who thought this an objection ingenious enough, to give it a labored answer, both on his treatise in theology, and in his controversial tracts. His name was Francis Turretin. When the New England theology was fashioned, in the earlier part of our own generation [1] this error was revived and charged on Calvinists, as a necessary consequence of their premises; and so successfully, that some of the Old School actually accepted it as a just and necessary consequence. This class Dr. Baxter usually characterized as the Gethsemane school. For instance, this was the view of a man who used to be heard occasionally in his day. Dr. Ezra Styles Ely. But to come nearer; there was a man named Nathan S. Beman, a little notorious in his prime, as a leader of the New School party on the floor of our Assembly, with whom we believe “the men of 1837" had some trouble. A few years ago, he wrote a book on the atonement, in which he has such statements as these. The Old School are represented as teaching that “the Son of God endured the exact amount of suffering due on legal principles, to sinners” (page 100). Again: “The amount of Christ’s suffering must consequently be the same as the aggregate sufferings included in the eternal condemnation of all those who are saved by his Merit,” (page 107). “If one soul were saved by the atonement, Christ must sustain an amount of suffering equal to that involved in the eternal condemnation of that one soul; and if a thousand were to be saved, a thousand times that amount and in the same proportion for any greater number who are to be rescued from perdition and exalted to glory,” (page 146). And this book was written by a leader of the New School, and was judged of importance enough to be answered at length by one Charles Hodge, who, a very few years ago, was a little known, as the man who did the thinking for the Old School. He takes a good deal of pains to disclaim and refute this doctrine of the book, among others. Such are a few instances of these “curiosities.” [2]

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2. Principal Theories of the Sacrifice of Christ.

In the sketch I have given of the history of opinion on the subject of the atonement, I have endeavored to indicate the different views which have been advanced on this head, and their position relatively to each other. The two great antagonist theories are, on the one hand, that which regards the work of Christ as being designed to effect reconciliation between God and man by the offering of a legal satisfaction for man’s transgression; and, on the other, that which resolves the effect of Christ’s work into its moral power in moving man to seek reconciliation with God. Of these, various modifications have been advanced by different writers and accepted by theological schools of greater or less importance.

To examine all these in detail would require more time than we have at our disposal, and therefore I shall content myself with stating the leading opinions on both sides, and offering such remarks as may serve to indicate the worth of each. After noticing some of the more recent speculations which have been advanced on the subject in this country and America, I shall endeavour to lay down those principles which seem to me to be essential to our reaching a just view on this subject, and which seem to conduct to the view I am prepared to advocate.

Beginning with those who look upon the atonement of Christ in the light of a legal satisfaction or judicial expiation, I remark that all agree in thinking that the work of Christ derives its worth from the union of the divine and the human natures in His person, and all admit that worth to be not only supreme, but infinite. There is a difference, however, between certain schools or classes of them as to the nature of the compensation rendered to the divine government and law on our behalf by Christ, His special purpose and intention in offering it, and the consequent extent to which His work was designed to be sufficient. Of these varying shades of opinion we notice the following:–

(1.) That of the Hyper-Calvinists,–a name which has been given, not because those to whom it is attached are regarded as having gone beyond Calvin in their doctrine, but because they carry the views of Calvin on this head to their utmost extent, and hold them with unbending rigidity.

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