1) Accepted by the law and lawgiver. The primal source of law has no power to abolish penalty any more than to abolish law, but it has full power to substitute penalty. In case of a substitution, however, it must be a strict equivalent, and not a fictitious or nominal one. It would contravene the attribute of justice, instead of satisfying it, should God, for instance, by an arbitrary act of will, substitute the sacrifice of bulls and goats for the penalty due to man; or if he should offset any finite oblation against the infinite demerit of moral evil. The inquiry whether the satisfaction of justice by Christ’s atonement was a strict and literal one, has a practical and not merely theoretical importance. A guilt-smitten conscience is exceedingly timorous, and hence, if there be room for doubting the strict adequacy of the judicial provision that has been made for satisfying the claims of law, a perfect peace, the “peace of God,” is impossible. Hence the doctrine of a plenary satisfaction by an infinite substitute is the only one that ministers to evangelical repose. The dispute upon this point has sometimes, at least, resulted from a confusion of ideas and terms. Strict equivalency has been confounded with identity. The assertion that Christ’s death is a literal equivalent for the punishment due to mankind, has been supposed to be the same as the assertion, that it is identical with it; and a punishment identical with that due to man would involve remorse, and endless duration. But identity of punishment is ruled out by the principle of substitution or vicariousness, a principle that is conceded by all who hold the doctrine of atonement. The penalty endured by Christ, therefore, must be a substituted, and not an identical one. And the only question that remains is, whether that which is to be substituted shall be of a strictly equal value with that, the place of which it takes, or whether it may be of an inferior value, and it must be one or the other. When a loan of one hundred dollars in silver is repaid by one hundred dollars in gold, there is a substitution of one metal for another. It is not an identical payment; for this would require the return of the very identical hundred pieces of silver, the ipsissima pecunia, that had been loaned. But it is a strictly and literally equivalent payment. All claims arc cancelled by it. In like manner, when the suffering and death of God incarnate is substituted for that of the creature, the satisfaction rendered to law is strictly plenary, though not identical with that which is exacted from the transgressor. It contains the clement of infinitude, which is the clement of value in the case, with even greater precision than the satisfaction of the creature does; because it is the suffering of a strictly infinite Person in a finite time, while the latter is only the suffering of a finite person in an endless but not strictly infinite time. A strictly infinite duration would be without beginning, as well as without end. William G.T. Shedd, Discourses and Essays, (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1862), 307-308.  [Underlining mine.]

2) In saying that the suffering substituted for that of the actual criminal must be of equal value, it is not said that it must be identical suffering. A substituted penalty cannot be an identical penalty, because identical means the same in every respect. Identity is inconsistent with any exchange whatever. To speak of substituting an identical penalty is a contradiction in terms. The identical punishment required by the moral law is personal punishment, involving personal remorse; and remorse can be experienced only by the actual criminal. If, in commercial law, a substituted payment could be prevented, a pecuniary debtor would be compelled to make an identical payment. In this case, he must pay in person and wholly from his own resources. Furthermore, he could not pay silver for gold, but gold for gold; and not only this, but he must pay back exactly the same pieces of gold, the ipsissima pecunia, which he had received. Identical penalty implies sameness without a difference in any particular. Not only is the quantity the same, but the quality is the same. But substituted penalty implies sameness with a difference in some particular. And in the case before us, that of Christ’s satisfaction, the difference is in the quality: the quantity being unchanged. The vicarious suffering of Christ is of equal value with that of all mankind, but is not the same in kind.

Equivalency, not identity, is the characteristic, therefore, of vicarious penalty. The exchange, implied in the term substitution, is of quality not of quantity. One kind of judicial suffering; that is, suffering endured for the purpose of satisfying justice; is substituted for another kind. Christ’s sufferings were of a different nature or quality from those of a lost man. But there was no difference in quantity, or value. A less degree of suffering was not exchanged for a greater degree. The sufferings of the mediator were equal in amount and worth to those whose place they took. Vicarious penalty then is the substitution of an equal quantity, but a different quality of suffering. The mediator suffers differently from the lost world of sinners, but he suffers equally.

Equivalency satisfies justice as completely as identity. One hundred dollars in gold extinguishes a debt of one hundred dollars as completely as does one hundred dollars in silver. If the sufferings of the mediator between God and man are of equal value with those of the world of mankind, they are as complete a satisfaction of justice as the eternal death of mankind would be, although they do not, in their nature or quality, involve any of that sense of personal wickedness and remorse of conscience which enters into the punishment of a lost man. They get their value from the nature of the God-man, and it is the value of what is substituted which justice looks at.

The following extract from Samuel Hopkins (System of Doctrine, Works, I. 321) enforces this truth. “The mediator did not suffer precisely the same kind of pain, in all respects, which the sinner suffers when the curse is executed on him. He did not suffer that particular kind of pain which is the necessary attendant or natural consequence of being a sinner, and which none but the sinner can suffer. But this is only a circumstance of the punishment of sin, and not of the essence of it. The whole penalty of the law may be suffered, and the evil may be as much and as great, without suffering that particular sort of pain. Therefore, Christ, though without sin, might suffer the whole penalty; that is, as much and as great evil as the law denounces against transgression.” William G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1971),, 2:454-456. [Underlining mine.]

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 9:20 am and is filed under The Distinction Between Equivalency and Identity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed at this time.