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The most important question, however, connected with this department of the subject, is not whether what Christ suffered was a punishment, or properly penal, but whether it was the penalty which the law had denounced against sin, and to which sinners, therefore, are justly exposed. Now, upon this point, there are three different modes of statement which have been adopted and defended by different classes of divines, who all concur in maintaining the doctrine of the atonement against the Socinians. Some contend that the only accurate and exact way of expressing and embodying the doctrine of Scripture upon the subject, is to say, that Christ suffered the very penalty the same thing viewed legally and judicially which the law had denounced against sin, and which we had incurred by transgression. Others think that the full import of the Scripture doctrine is expressed, and that the general scope and spirit of its statements upon this subject are more accurately conveyed, by maintaining that Christ did not suffer the very penalty, the same penalty which sinners had incurred, but that he suffered what was a full equivalent, or an adequate compensation for it, that His suffering was virtually as much as men deserved, though not the same. While others, again, object to both these statements, and think that the whole of what Scripture teaches upon this point is embodied in the position, that what Christ suffered was a substitute for the penalty which we had incurred.

Dr Owen zealously contends for the first of these positions, and attaches much importance to the distinction between Christ having suffered or paid the same penalty as we had incurred, and His having suffered or paid only an equivalent, or as much as we had deserved; or, as he expresses it, between His suffering or paying the idem and the tantundem. He lays down the doctrine which he maintained upon this point against Grotius and Baxter in this way: “That the punishment which our Savior underwent was the same that the law required of us; God relaxing His law as to the persons suffering, but not as to the penalty suffered.”1 There are, however, divines of the strictest orthodoxy, and of the highest eminence, who have not attached the same importance to the distinction between the idem and the tantundem, and who have thought that the true import of the Scripture doctrine upon the subject is most correctly brought out by saying, that what Christ suffered was a full equivalent, or an adequate compensation, for the penalty men had incurred. Mastricht, for instance, whose system of theology is eminently distinguished for its ability, clearness, and accuracy, formally argues against the death of Christ being solutio proprie sic dicta, qua id praieise prsestatur, quod est in obligatione”2 and contends that “reatus tollitur satisfactione, qua non idem precise, quod est in obligatione, creditori pnustatur; sed tantundem, seu equivalens.” And Turretine3 seems, upon the whole, to agree with him, or rather, to conjoin the two ideas together, as being both true, though in somewhat different respects, and as not essentially differing from each other. He has not, indeed, so far as I remember, formally discussed the precise question about the idem and the tantundem, on which Owen and Maastricht have taken opposite sides; but in discussing the Socinian argument, that Christ did not make a true and real satisfaction for our sins, because lie did not in fact pay what was due to God by us, and especially because lie suffered only temporal, while we had incurred eternal, death, he meets the major proposition by asserting that there might be a true and proper satisfaction, though the same thing was not paid which was due, provided it was a full equivalent in weight and value, “etsi non idem, modo tantundem habeatur, sufficit;” while lie meets also the minor proposition of the Socinian argument, by asserting that Christ did pay what was due by us; the same, not of course in its adjuncts and circumstances, but in its substance,–His suffering, though temporary in duration, being, because of the infinite dignity of His person, properly infinite in weight or value as a penal infliction, and thus substantially identical, in the eye of justice and law, with the eternal punishment which sinners had deserved.

The difference, then, between the idem and the tantundem in this matter does not seem to be quite so important as Dr Owen believed. The difference between the temporary suffering of one being and the eternal sufferings of millions of other beings, is so great, as to their outward aspects and adjuncts, or accompanying circumstances, as to make it not very unreasonable that men should hesitate about calling them the same thing. And the Scripture doctrine of the substitution and satisfaction of Christ seems to be fully brought out, if His death be represented as a full equivalent or an adequate compensation for the sins of men,–as being not only a penal infliction, but an infliction of such weight and value intrinsically, as to be a real and full compliance with the demands of the law denouncing death against sin; and thus to exhaust in substance the position which Scripture plainly teaches,–namely, that He bore our sins,–that is, that He suffered the punishment which we had deserved, and must otherwise have borne. The danger of admitting that Christ suffered the tantundem, and not the idem,–an equivalent or compensation, and not the same thing which we had deserved,–lies here, that men are very apt to dilute or explain away the idea of equivalency or compensation, and to reduce it to anything or nothing; and experience has fully illustrated this tendency. The sounder Arminians have usually admitted that Christ’s death was an equivalent or compensation for men’s sins; but they have generally scrupled, or refused to call it a full equivalent,–an adequate compensation. The reason of this is obvious enough: for this latter idea naturally suggests, that it must be certainly effectual for all its intended objects,–that it must be part of a great scheme, fitted and designed to accomplish certain definite results; whereas, under the more vague and general idea of mere equivalency or compensation, which may be understood in a very wide sense, they can, with some plausibility, retain their notions of its universality, its indefiniteness, and its unsettled and uncertain application. Accordingly, in modern times, they have usually rejected even the idea of equivalency in any proper sense, and adopted the third of the positions formerly mentioned,–namely, that Christ neither suffered the same penalty which we had deserved, nor what was an equivalent for it, but merely what was a substitute for the penalty. This idea leaves them abundant scope for diluting or attenuating, to any extent, the substitution and satisfaction which they still continue, in words, to ascribe to Christ. And, accordingly, it is usually adopted by most of those, in our own day, whether Arminians or professing Calvinists in other respects, who hold the doctrine of a universal or unlimited atonement.

The word equivalent, when honestly used, naturally suggested the idea, not indeed of precise identity, but still of substantial sameness, at least of adequacy or competency, when tried by some definite and understood standard, to serve the same purposes, or to effect the same objects; whereas a substitute for the penalty may be almost anything whatever. A substitute may, indeed, be an equivalent, even a full equivalent, or anything short of, or different from, what is precisely identical; but it may also and equally describe something of which nothing like equivalency or substantial identity can be predicated. And hence the danger, to which I formerly referred, as apprehended by Dr Owen and others, of departing from the idea and the phraseology of strict and precise identity. If it was not the same thing, it must have been a substitute for it; and as even a full equivalent, which implies substantial identity, may be classed under the general name of substitute, men’s ideas are thus gradually and imperceptibly lowered, until at length by the dexterous use of vague and in definite language, they are cheated out of very distinct and definite conceptions of the real nature of Christ’s death, in its relation to the law which they had broken, and which He magnified and made honorable by fulfilling all its demands, being made a curse, in our room, that He might redeem us from the curse of the law.

This idea of Christ having suffered, not the penalty we had deserved and incurred nor an equivalent for it, but merely a substitute for it,–that is, anything which God might choose to accept instead of it, without there being any standard by which its adequacy for its professed object could be tried or tested,–has been much dwelt upon, in the present day, by the advocates of a universal atonement, even among those who disclaim Arminianism in other respects. It is, however, an Arminian notion; nay, it is disclaimed by many of the sounder Arminians, and has been generally and justly regarded by Calvinists as amounting to what is practically little else than a denial of the atonement altogether. Limborch, in explaining the doctrine of the old Arminians upon this subject, which he represents as the golden mean between the Socinian and the Calvinistic views, makes the difference between them to consist chiefly in this, that Calvinists represented Christ as suffering the same penalty which men had deserved, or a full equivalent for it, which, of course, implies substantial sameness; while Arminians regarded Him as merely suffering something or other for them, which might serve as a substitute for the penalty, and might stand “vice pœnœ” as he says, in the room or stead of the penalty. He felt, however, that this might very probably be regarded as amounting to a virtual denial that Christ had suffered, or been punished, in our room, and thus as approximating to Socinianism; and, accordingly, he proposes this objection to his own doctrine, and answers it, “An non ergo nostro loco punitus est?” And his answer is this, “Eadem quam nos merit! eramus specie poenae non punitum esse jam ostendiuius,”–a statement plainly implying an admission of what indeed is manifestly undeniable,–namely, that the natural, obvious meaning of His suffering punishment in our room is, that He endured, either literally and precisely, or at least substantially and equivalently, the penalty which we had incurred; and that this must be held to be its meaning, unless it could be proved, as he professed it had been, to be false. And then he adds, “Potest tamen certo sensu pro nobis dici punitus, quatenus pocnam vicariam, pro beneplacito divino sibi imponendam, hoc est, afflictionem, qua? pœnœ vicem sustinuit, in se suscepit4. This sense of pœnæ vicaria,–as meaning, not a punishment endured in the room and stead of others who had deserved it, but merely suffering endured, vice pœncœ, in the room of punishment, or as a substitute for the penalty, is fully adopted by the modern defenders of universal atonement, Beman, Jenkyn, etc.5

We insist, of course, that the Scripture statements about the connection between our sin and our pardon on the one hand, and the death of Christ on the other, are not fully accounted for,–are not sufficiently explained and exhausted,–by the position that Christ suffered something, which might be called a substitute for the penalty, and which God might choose to accept instead of it; and that they are to be taken in what Limborch, by plain implication, admits, and no one can deny, to be their natural, ordinary meaning, as importing that He had inflicted upon Him, and actually endured, what may be fairly and honestly called the penalty we had deserved and incurred. Limborch rejects this interpretation, because he thinks he has proved that it is not accordant with the facts of the case; that is, that, in fact, Christ did not suffer the penalty which the law had denounced against us. His proofs are these: First, that Christ did not suffer eternal death, which was what we had merited by transgression; and, secondly, that if lie had suffered the penalty, or a full equivalent, in our room, there would be no grace or gratuitousness on God’s part in forgiving men’s sins. The last of these arguments we have already considered and refuted, when we mentioned that it was commonly adduced, not only by Socinians, against satisfaction in any sense, but also by the advocates of universal atonement, in opposition to those more strict and proper views of the nature of substitution and satisfaction, which are plainly inconsistent with their doctrine. And there is no more weight in the other argument, that Christ’s sufferings were only temporary, while those we had incurred by sin were eternal. This may be, as we have already intimated, a good reason for adopting the phraseology of full equivalency, instead of precise identity,–the tantundem instead of the idem. But it furnishes no disproof of substantial sameness, viewed with reference to the demands of law. The law denounced and demanded death, and Christ died for us. The law denounced eternal suffering against an innumerable multitude, who are, in fact, saved from ruin, and admitted to everlasting blessedness. But the temporary suffering and death, in human nature, of One who was at the same time a possessor of the divine nature, was, in point of weight and value, as a compliance with the provisions of the law, a satisfaction to its demands, a testimony to its infinite excellence and unchangeable obligation, a full equivalent for all.

I have dwelt the longer upon this point, because the views which, as we have seen, were held by the more Pelagian or Socinianizing portion of the Arminians,–as they are often called by the orthodox divines of the seventeenth century,–are the very same in substance as those which, in the present day, are advocated, more or less openly, even by the Calvinistic defenders of a universal atonement. They involve, I think, a most unwarrantable dilution or explaining away of the true meaning of the scriptural statements concerning the nature, causes, and objects of Christ’s death; and in place of occupying the golden mean between the Socinian and the true Calvinistic doctrines, make a decided approximation to the former. It may be proper to mention, before leaving this topic, that this Arminian notion of the sufferings and death of Christ being merely a substitute for the penalty which sinners had deserved,–as implying something less than an equivalent or compensation, or at least than a full equivalent, an adequate compensation,–as commonly discussed by orthodox divines, under the name of acceptilatio, a law term, which is employed to express a nominal, fictitious, or illusory payment.6

William Cunningham, Historical Theology, (Edinburgh: T. And T. Clark, 1864), 2:305-311. [Footnote values modernized; some spelling modernized; italics original (accept for extended Latin quotations and titles in footnotes); and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) To word this carefully, and at the risk of offending some readers, I should say that for the most part I do not find Cunningham helpful historically or theologically. His “historical” and “systematic” contributions, being too partisan, makes unhappy good historians, at the cost of pleasing ultra orthodox systematicians. His work suffers from neither being good historiography or good systematic theology. For, more often than not, he is verbose, understating similarities, while overstating differences, thereby caricaturing the positions of opposing parties; never more so when it comes to all things Calvinism. 2) I post him here today on account of his discussion of Owen’s commitment to Christ suffering the very idem of the law’s condemnation against sinners. Owen does this because Owen is committed to the satisfaction of Christ being a strict and literal payment, of a pecuniary nature, to God; a matter which Cunningham essentially misses and/or ignores. 3) A.C. Clifford is fairly right to criticize Cunningham’s own positive construction on this topic. 4) Cuningham’s closing paragraph for this section, while absurd, simply follows logically from his impossibility to conceive that evangelical Arminians and Lutherans, themselves, may actually hold to a true form of penal substitution. As much as Cunningham must deny them this possibility, he must deny all forms of penal substitution which do not entail limited expiation and sin-bearing.]


1Works (Russell’s edition), vol. v., p. 594.

2Mastricht, TheoreticoPractica Theologia, Lib. v., c. xviii., pp. 613, 614, 615, 616, 625.

3Turrettin. de Satisfaction, Pars ix., sec. iii.

4Limborch, Theol. Christ., Lib. iii., c. xxii., p. 271. Ed. 1686.

5See Dr Alexander’s Treatise on Justification, p. 28; Presbyterian Tracts, vol. ii.

6Turrettin. de Satisfact., Parsviii., gee. x.; De Moor, Commentarius in Marckii compendium, tom. iii., p. 1083.

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