Secondly, we proceed to notice the nature of that satisfaction which was rendered to God as the moral Governor of the world. As we proceed, it will be found that the various parts of this great subject illustrate each other. The statements concerning the necessity of the atonement, for instance, partially explain its nature; an exhibition of its nature proves, on the other hand, its necessity. In like manner, the nature of that satisfaction which it is now proposed to investigate, must have received some elucidation from the account just given of the displeasure, on the part of God, which rendered the satisfaction necessary. The correctness of this statement will more fully appear in the course of the following remarks.

The previous definition of the atonement exhibits it in the light of a moral satisfaction. It was stated to be a satisfaction for sin, rendered to God as the moral Governor of the world. Now a moral satisfaction is one entirely sui generis. We must be especially cautious not to identify it in our conceptions with a pecuniary satisfaction. The common and popular phraseology on this subject exposes us to the danger of doing this. Sin is frequently described as a debt, and the atonement as the payment of this debt; and, if we were careful to recollect that these are symbolical or figurative terms, we should not be misled by the phraseology. But the misfortune is, that words which are really figurative, and which are employed for the sole purpose of illustration, have been under. stood and explained literally. Sin has been represented as a real debt, and the atonement as a real payment of that debt; and the unhappy result is, that darkness of the densest kind has been made to envelop the whole subject. There are individuals who imagine that Christ rescues his people from the claims of Divine justice in precisely the same way in which a generous friend delivers a debtor from captivity, by advancing the necessary sum on his behalf. Now I would not affirm that it is impossible for such persons to be saved by an humble hope in the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ; but I can have no hesitation in expressing the opinion, that they do not understand the atonement. A pecuniary satisfaction, and a moral satisfaction, differ essentially in their nature, and pro. ceed on radically different principles. Perhaps no man has set this difference in a clearer light than the late Mr. Fuller, whose words I quote :–“I apprehend,” says this excellent writer,

that very important mistakes have arisen from considering the interposition of Christ under the notion of paying a debt. The blood of Christ is, indeed, the price of our redemption, or that for the sake of which we are delivered from the curse of the law; but this metaphorical language, as well as that of head and members, may be carried too far, and may lead us into many errors. In cases of debt and credit among men, when a surety undertakes to represent the debtor, from the moment his undertaking is accepted, the debtor is free, and may obtain his liberty, not as a matter of favour, at least on the part of the creditor, but of strict justice.

But who in his sober senses will imagine this to be analogous to the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ? Sin is a debt only in a metaphorical sense; properly speaking, it is a crime, and satisfaction for it requires to be made, not on pecuniary, but on moral principles. If Philemon had accepted of that part of Paul’s offer which respected property, and had placed so much of it to his account as he considered Onesimus to have owed him, he could not have been said to have remitted his debt, nor would Onesimus have had to thank him for remitting it. But it is supposed of Onesimus, that he might not only be in debt to his master, but have wronged him. Perhaps he had embezzled his goods, corrupted his children, or injured his character. Now for Philemon to accept that part of the offer were very different from the other. In the one case, he would have accepted of a pecuniary representative; in the other, of a moral one; i.e., of a mediator. The satisfaction, in the one case, would annihilate the very idea of remission; but not in the other. Whatever satisfaction Paul might give to Philemon respecting the wound inflicted upon his character and honor, as the head of a family, it would not supersede the necessity of pardon being sought by the offender, and freely bestowed by the offended.

The reason of this difference is easily perceived. Debts are transferable, but crimes are not. A third person may cancel the one, but be can only obliterate the effects of the other; the desert of the criminal remains. The debtor is accountable to his creditor as a private individual, who has power to accept of a surety; or, if he please, to remit the whole without any satisfaction. In the one case, he would be just; in the other, merciful; but no place is afforded by either of them for the combination of justice and mercy in the same proceeding. The criminal, on the other hand, is amenable to the magistrate, or to the head of a family, as a public person; and who, especially if the offence be capital, cannot remit the punishment without invading law and justice; nor, in the ordinary discharge of his office, admit of a third person to stand in his place. In extraordinary cases, however, extraordinary expedients are resorted to. A satisfaction may be made to law and justice, as to the spirit of them, while the letter is dispensed with. The well-known story of Zaleuchus, the Grecian lawgiver, who consented to lose one of his own eyes, to save one of his son’s eyes-who, by transgressing the law, had subjected himself to the loss of both-is an example. Here, as far as it went, justice and mercy were combined in the same act; and had the satisfaction been much fuller than it was-so full that the authority of the law, instead of being weakened, should have been abundantly magnified and honored, still it had been perfectly consistent with hee forgiveness. Finally, in the case of the debtor, satisfaction being once accepted, justice requires his complete discharge; but, in that of the criminal, where satisfaction is made to the wounded honor of the law and the authority of the lawgiver, justice, though it admits of his discharge, yet no otherwise requires it, than as it may have been matter of promise to the substitute.1

The preceding statements prove that a broad line of distinction exists between a moral and a pecuniary satisfaction. They exhibit very clearly the nature of the latter kind of satisfaction, and show that the satisfaction of Christ cannot have been of this description. The amount of the statements may be thus shortly given. A pecuniary representative cannot be refused–a pecuniary satisfaction is made to an individual in! his private characterit precludes the possibility of forgiveness–and, consequently, gives the individual represented a right to demand his discharge. What sober-minded man, to adopt Mr. Fuller’s language, will venture to say that any of these notions accord with the Scripture representations of the substitution and satisfaction of Christ? The passing remark of this writer, that if sin were literally a debt, it might have been remitted by God without any satisfaction, is especially worthy of attention. Such a representation of sin does most certainly destroy the necessity of atonement altogether! For what is there to forbid the most honorable and upright judge in the world to remit any personal debts which an individual may have contracted with him? In no degree would his character, as a lover of integrity and moral virtue in general, be compromised thereby; because a man may always forego his own private rights, if he chooses so to do: or, if he be restrained on the ground that his family and friends would suffer were he to forego them, he ceases to act as an individual. The rights which he. struggles ,to retain are no longer his own personal, rights. He acts as a public character; and his conduct is governed by the principles which regulate moral government in general.

George Payne, Lectures on Divine Sovereignty, Election, the Atonement, Justification, and Regeneration (London: James Dinnis, 62, Paternoster Row, 1838), 142-145. [Some reformatting; footnote values modernized; some spelling modernized; and underlining mine.]


1Fuller’s Works, vol. iv., pp. 101-4.

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