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1) Yet not per

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 acccptilationem: 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 land-lord 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 satisfactio. 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, saving: ” 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. xlii : 21; liii : 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, 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 holden 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 in Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1972), 504-505. [Some spelling modernized; marginal headers cited inline; and underlining mine.]

2) But the member from New Orleans, Dr. Palmer, insists that the report is, to say the least, “not happily worded,” in that its phraseology leaves a loop-hole for the lubricity of the new theology. Well, Mr. Moderator, I presume that the committee would at any time have partly assented to this judgment; for you will bear us witness that our estimate of our labors has been modest. We did not claim that our phraseology was absolutely the best, but only that it would do. We admitted that language is an instrument so flexible that an indefinite improvement may be made in the verbal dress of any thoughts by continued care and criticism. But, sir, the course of this discussion inclines me to place a more self-applauding estimate upon our humble labors; and I must profess that I think our doctrinal statements are rather happily worded on this point. I have been convinced of this by the very objections of the critics.

One of these was that the phrase, Christ bore his sufferings “as the penalty” of guilt, was loose and incorrect, because it suggested, by the little word as, not only a substitution of one person for another–Christ for the sinner–but of one penalty for another; whereas, it was urged, we should have taught that Christ suffered the identical penalty due the sinner. Thus, they complained, the deceitful errorist was enabled to cheat us honest folk by talking about a penal satisfaction for sin, when, after all, he only meant a loose sort of quasi satisfaction. Now I have been made very happy to find that our much abused little “as” expresses so much truth and so accurately. For the substitution, not only of one person for another, but of one penalty for another, in the atoning transaction called by theologians satisfaction, is the very thing asserted by the standard authors. It is obvious that if one person is substituted for another, then the penalty substituted cannot be identical with that in the room of which it came, in the sense of a numerical identity, however absolutely conformed it might be in a generic identity. And this distinction the acute Whately points out, in the introduction to his Logic, if I remember aright, in connection with this very subject. But farther, these divines all assert most emphatically, that in a case of penal satisfaction there is not an absolute generic identity between the penalty due and the penalty substituted. Turrettin, Rill, Dr. John H. Rice, I find saying, with entire unanimity, that satisfaction is where something else, not exactly the debt due, but a moral equivalent, is accepted as sufficient by the injured party. According to those acute critics, the Southern Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian Review, little “as” suggested this idea. But this, say these great masters, is just the idea of Christ’s satisfaction. Is not this rather happy? R.L. Dabney, ‘Speech on the Fusion of the United Synod,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 2:308-309. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) Dabney is somewhat incorrect in his use of the Latin idem in this context, as it appears to me that his thinking fits closer with the Latin tantundem. 2) I suspect this small confusion stems from the fact that Dabney, rightly, wants to retain the idea that Christ suffered the very curse of the law due to a sinner, but in such a way that the suffering Christ sustained in his person is not identical to the suffering that would be inflicted upon that same sinner. 3) Dabney’s illustration of the two brothers in the second illustration is very suggestive and works to point us in the right direction. On the other hand, the first illustration exactly describes Owen’s position with its identity of payment and ipso facto release. 4) And so this leads us to understand that it is quite possible that Dabney was unaware of the diversity of opinion and early 17th century debates on this issue: hence his blending of authors and their opinions (in his opposition to his contemporary strict equivalentist opponents). 5) However, with the second illustration, we can see how it is that the ‘satisfaction’ of the other brother is refusable by the credit (contra Owen), and that there can be added or new conditions [c.f., C. Hodge], which also bind the original debtor. These new or added conditions, therefore, cannot be said to have been “purchased” by the satisfaction of the surety. And thus, the satisfaction cannot be said carry to ‘within itself, its own application’ as Smeaton so constantly drones about in his criticism of Amyraut and others [e.g., George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement as Taught by the Apostles (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870), 540-543] These distinctions are essential if we wish to have a correct understanding of penal substitution, as opposed to the blended and confused pecuniary satisfaction of Owen and others.]

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