6. Was the death of Christ a full equivalent for the punishment of sinners? and was it a legal substitute?

The exact meaning of equivalent is, equal in value or worth, of equal avail, or of equal influence. The question then is, whether the death of Christ is in a moral view of equal avail, or equal in value, with the punishment of sinners. To this we have already attended. Christ’s death answered the ends of punishment, so that the honor of the Lawgiver, the authority of the law and the welfare of the moral world are as well secured, as they could have been by the merited punishment of transgressors. And this is the same as to say, the death of Christ is, in a moral view, of equal value with their punishment, or is an equivalent for it. And it is a full equivalent, because it fully answers the ends of punishment, answers them as perfectly as they could have been answered by the infliction of punishment according to the threat of the law. It might be shown, that the death of Christ is more than an equivalent for the punishment of sinners, as it doubtless answers the ends of a just punishment in a higher degree than could have been answered by the punishment itself, besides accomplishing other objects of everlasting importance, which the punishment of sinners could never have accomplished; so that, in the final result, the vicarious death of Christ will be the cause of vast gain to the universe.

But is the death of Christ a legal substitute, and a legal equivalent? The answer to this must vary according to the sense we affix to the word legal. If by a legal substitute or equivalent, be meant that which is provided by law, or that which is exactly conformed to the letter of the law; then the death of Christ is not legal. For the law itself provides for nothing in case of transgression, but the punishment of transgressors. Its precepts and its sanctions, taken literally, relate only to those who are the proper subjects of law. But if by a legal substitute is meant a substitute which supports the principles and answers the ends of law; then the death of Christ is a legal substitute, and a legal equivalent. In its efficacy to accomplish the great purposes of a moral government, it is fully equal, not to say superior, to the direct execution of the penalty of the law.

Leonard Woods, “Lectures,” in The Works of Leonard Woods, (Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1851), 478-479.  [Italics original and underlining mine.]

This entry was posted on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 8:07 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.