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Propos. V.

Of the Application of Christ’s Merits to Sinners.

The saving fruits and benefits intended to sinners by the obedience and sufferings of Jesus Christ, they do no actually and of necessity become theirs, immediately upon the satisfaction thereby given, and the purchase made in their behalf: But before they can be admitted to any actual interest in, or reap any comfortable advantage from either, there is yet somewhat further on their part to be done and performed by them. The merits of Christ, in dying for sinners, do not necessarily save any, but only as God the Father, Son and Spirit shall think meet to communicate, and dispense with the issues of them to the vessels of mercy. For all that properly results from the satisfaction of Christ is only this, that the grand obstacle which stood in the way of mercy, and obstructed its communication to the guilty offender, that this being removed, God might now be at liberty to pardon and reaccept him into favor in what way, and upon what terms he pleased, such as he in wisdom should judge most for the honor of his own Being and perfections. Yea, but not that therefore God must of necessity pardon the sinner whatever come on’t,1 as one well expresses it. That is, whether he repented or believed or not, or still continued in his rebellion and impenitency.

Christ’s suffering they were not in a strict sense the idem, i.e. they very thing which the first covenant required at the hands of man, but the tantundem, or an equivalent compensation: Not properly solutio debiti, the payment of a debt, but an equitable satisfaction for a criminal offense. And accordingly God in this whole transaction is to be considered, not so much a Creditor, as an offended Magistrate or Governor of the world, that admits (as Seleucus did the putting out of one of his own eyes, for the redemption of his Sons), the suffering of one for another (though of somewhat a different kind and manner), for the maintaining of the honor of his laws and government. And therefore God could not be obliged thereby immediately to acquit and discharge the offender (since the satisfaction given in his behalf was refusable), but may in justice, and for the vindicating of his own holiness, and retaining the creature in his due subjection, bring him to terms and conditions, before he remit the offense, and become actually reconciled to him: Much less was God obliged to this by his own essential goodness: for though the issues and outgoings of his love be most natural and agreeable to his Being; upon which account he is styled in Scripture a Sun and Fountain; yet are they not like the ebullitions of water from their fountain, or emanations of light from the Sun, absolutely necessary and involuntary. No, they are still free, though most natural. Else how comes it to pass, that the apostate angels were not redeemed from their chains and darkness? and Spirits now in prison set at liberty, and freed from torments? And the inhabitants of the earth that still sit in darkness and under the shadows of death, have not the Sun of Righteousness arising upon them with healing in his wings, as well as we in these northern lands? Whatever acts by constraint and necessary impulse of nature, it is2 incapable of setting any bonds or limits to its own actions, but imparts itself and influences universally, at all times and alike to all. The same sun shines not to some parts only of the earth, but equally to both the hemispheres. And the same sea and fountains scatter their streams, not only to some few passengers, but indifferently to all that pass by without exception. And if such were the egress and communications of Divine love and goodness, then tell me where it is, that there is any difference between fallen angels and degenerate man? Betwixt Jew and Gentile? the Christian and Pagan world? Why is not the whole earth, India and America, as well as Europe, turned into a Goshen, a land of light, and made as Eden the garden of the Lord? Why is so great a part of it yet left to be das a darkened Egypt or barren wilderness? Does not all this sufficiency argue, that the bequeathments, and application of Christ’s satisfaction and purchase, with all the rich fruits that spring from both, are made not of necessity, but ad placitum, according to the mere good will and pleasure of God to sinners? as the Apostle speaks, Ephes. 1:5 and 9.

Abraham Clifford, Methodus Evangelica; Or the Gospel Method of Gods Saving Sinners by Jesus Christ: Practically explained by XII Propositions (London: Printed by J.M. for Brabazon Aylmer at the Three Pigeons in Cornhill, 1676), 17-20. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; footnotes and values mine; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) This small work contains a preface by Thomas Manton and Richard Baxter, suggesting that though some aspects of Clifford’s theology may be problematic, Thomas Manton saw it respectable enough to allow his name to be attached to it. 2) The first important point of this quotation is that it directly opposes John Owen’s theological characterization of God as Creditor. The creditor motif undergirding his doctrine of limited expiation and sin-bearing is the back-bone of his theology. Were one to purge his arguments of his reliance upon the construction of God as creditor, and the satisfaction as a pecuniary transaction, his theological edifice would begin to unravel. Unfortunately, while Owen’s reliance upon God as creditor has largely been forgotten by his modern followers, the arguments which rely on such assumptions have been retained. 3) The next important element here is that Clifford, contra Owen, affirms that Christ suffered only a just equivalent, the tantundem, and not the very idem of the law’s curse and punishment. Happily, since the days of Owen, his insistence that Christ suffered the very idem of the law has generally been rejected by all wings of the Reformed community. Owen was committed to the idea that Christ suffered the very idem, as it was the essential component of his concept of Christ enacting a pecuniary satisfaction whereby Christ made a payment to the Father which concretely purchased faith and all other graces from God, per the terms of the Covenant (contractual transaction) of Redemption. This also had the benefit, for Owen, of locating a limitation in the very nature of the expiation itself.]


1Original to the text.

2Original: ‘tis.

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