The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 7 - SUBSTITUTION

Chapter Seven - SUBSTITUTION.

IN the days so lately passed away, when debt was treated as a crime, we can imagine how a dishonest and vindictive creditor may have received satisfaction of his claim without his debtor's knowledge, and have kept him still in prison for the debt. If in some strange combination of circumstances such an event occurred, great must have been the indignation of all good men against him who traded upon his debtor's ignorance to hold him still liable for a debt which was in fact discharged.

And thousands there are of earnest people in. whose minds the story of redemption seems to put God in the place of the dishonest creditor, If that death on Calvary be indeed the payment of His people's debt, how can forgiveness now be preached as being of grace ? Is it not a matter of the strictest justice, that they whose discharge was nailed to the cross of Christ nineteen centuries ago, should, at the earliest moment possible, be set free ? How can it be honest, or true, or right, to urge men to flee from the wrath to come, seeing that for some all wrath has been already borne, and the infliction of it now would be an outrage upon justice, and that for the rest there is no refuge open? Is not the proclamation of the gospel like holding forth to the sinner the account of God's outstanding claims against him, with the assurance that the hand of the great Creditor is ready to sign his discharge for ever, the moment he repents? And does not every principle of truth and right forbid that the elect should be scared into repentance by concealment of the fact that the ink upon their discharge was dry long centuries ago, and that others should be tantalised with deceptive promises of blessings they can never know, enforced by threats of judgment from which, for them, there is no escape?

For those who either ignore the great truth of divine righteousness in connection with our salvation, or fritter away the revelation of divine love to a lost world, such questions as these will only provoke a supercilious smile. But with such as have in any measure grasped the great twin truths which characterise Christianity, a juster estimate will be formed of these perplexities, and a worthier value set upon any honest effort toward the solution of them. It will therefore be here my aim to show that all such difficulties spring, not from the gospel itself, nor from the teaching of Holy Writ, but solely from forms of expression, and modes of thought, about the death of Christ, which are unwarranted by Scripture. And this end will perhaps be best attained by offering first a positive statement of the truth upon this subject, as it is unfolded in the types of the Old Testament and in the doctrinal teaching of the New.

Redemption is presented to us in the Scriptures in a twofold aspect, as connected both with power and with blood. Israel was redeemed out of Egypt - redeemed "with an outstretched arm." In another sense Israel was redeemed in Egypt by the blood of the paschal Lamb. But it is essential to remember that the redemption of the people was complete ere ever they commenced their wilderness journey. It depended, therefore, not upon the offerings of the law, but upon the passover in Egypt. The rites enjoined in Leviticus were for a redeemed and holy people ; it was by the sacrifices recorded in Exodus that Israel attained that privileged position. It is specially to Exodus, therefore, that we must turn to learn the truth of the death of Christ in its aspect toward the unsaved.

I say this without wishing in the least to pander to the tendency that prevails to map out the Scriptures by hard-and-fast lines like the squares of a chess-board. The Word of God is a two-edged sword, with a side both for saved and unsaved; but the secret of attaining clear and scriptural thoughts is to seek first the primary application of every truth or text, and then, without danger of error or confusion, we can apply it in the widest sense. Israel's title to the benefits of the sin offerings depended on the passover. Let us then mark the difference between the two. In the case of the sin-offerings, the offerer came to the door of the tabernacle to give his life as the penalty for his sin, and there, having identified the victim with himself by laying his hand upon its head, the death of the sacrifice was accepted instead of his own. And this is what we understand by substitution; the sinner laid his sin upon the animal, and the victim died instead of him. And here the death was everything. Whatever ceremonial followed was the care of the priest, and not of the offerer; that is, of God, and not of the sinner. But, as we have seen, this was a provision for a people already redeemed. Israel's right to the services of the priest depended on redemption accomplished.

But with the great redemption sacrifice of the passover it was wholly different. The dread death-sentence had gone out against all the land of Egypt. None were excepted from it. It embraced alike king and captive, Hebrew and Egyptian. But for Israel that sentence was fulfilled in the blood of the paschal lamb. But how? There was no laying of the hand upon the head of the victim, as with the sin-offerings. The death of the lamb, though doubtless the foundation of every blessing, would in itself have brought no deliverance. Beyond the threshold of the blood-stained door, the Israelite would have shared in Egypt's doom; beneath the shelter of that blood, the Egyptian would have shared in Israel's redemption. The death upon which their deliverance depended was accomplished; but their participation in the benefits of that death depended entirely upon the sprinkling of the victim's blood. There was no question of substitution, in the sense of the sin-offering. The benefits of the sin-offering were secured to him whose hand had rested on the victim's head, and they could neither be extended nor transferred. And so. also with the great day of atonement; it was only for Israel.

It was the same great sacrifice, doubtless, which all these types prefigured for Israel and illustrate for us, but in different aspects of it. And the way to follow aright the teaching of the types is to regard their historical sequence as marking their moral order. We thus learn the different aspects of the death of Christ, and the divine order of the truth concerning it. I have contrasted the types of Exodus with the offerings of the law ; but there is one rite of Leviticus which presents all this truth at a single view, marking the moral order above distinguished. I allude to the cleansing of the leper. The leper's birds are the correlative of no offering of the law, but of the Exodus sacrifices. Then followed the trespass-offering, the sin-offering, and the burnt-offering with its meat-offering. I will here speak only of the birds and the sin-offering. According to the analogy of the great day of atonement, the twofold aspect of the same offering is presented by two victims, the one being killed, the other sent out of sight. But mark here the same distinction as that already noticed between the sin-offering and the passover. The leper's identification with the victim's death depended on his being sprinkled with its blood; but when he came to offer his sin-offering he identified the victim with himself beforehand. In respect of both, the death accomplished was for the leper, but in senses wholly different. The one blood-shedding was, as with the passover, a means by which deliverance might be gained, but until that blood was sprinkled the sinner had no part in it. The other was a substitutional sacrifice, and the result to the offerer depended immediately, and only, upon the victim's death. In both cases the death was for the unclean person; but in the latter it was instead of him.

These different aspects of the death of Christ, though carefully distinguished in Scripture, are hopelessly confounded in theology; and that confusion has given rise to the difficulties now under consideration, and others of a kindred nature. "Bearing sin !this is a figurative expression, and the figure is derived from the sin-offering; substitution is essentially characteristic of it. But Scripture never speaks of the death of Christ in its relation to the unbeliever - the unsaved - in language borrowed from the sin-offering. Contrast the words of i Peter ii. 24 with Paul's sermons to the idolaters of Athens, and to the Jews of Pisidian Antioch, and my meaning will be plainly seen.

The sermons were addressed to the unsaved; the Epistle is for those who "have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls." Just as. with the leper's sparrow the death of the victim - was typically the righteous ground on which God could pronounce him clean, but that death was nothing to him until he had been sprinkled with the blood, and then, and not till then, he was entitled to bring the sin-offering; so the death of Christ is the righteous ground on. which God can clean the guiltiest and vilest, and proclaim forgiveness far and near, but until the gospel is received - for faith answers to the blood sprinkling of the type - that death, though none the less precious to God, brings no pardon to the sinner. When thus identified with the sacrifice of Calvary, but only then, the sinner may adop language, of the. sin-offering, and say "He self bare my sins in His own body on the tree" As the utterance of faith, such words as these are absolutely and unequivocally true but as doctrinal assertion upon the lips of the unconverted, they are utterly false, and the falsehood is all the more, dangerous because of the perverted truth it seems to embrace. The work of Christ has a great and real aspect to the world, but this assert this truth of substitution of the unconverted is to pander to the false peace which is ensnaring tens of thousands around us, and at the same time to sap the foundations of the Christian's faith If the 53rd chapter of Isaiah be true of one who may yet be lost, the ground of the believer's confidence is gone; what seemed a rock beneath his feet is no better than shifting sand.

But some, perhaps, will struggle to escape from this inevitable conclusion by the strange and subtle subterfuge that, though the gospel is to be proclaimed to all, it is true only for the believer. This error is not more wicked than it is silly. If it be true only for the believer, it is false for all the rest; and does a good and righteous God hold men guilty for refusing what is false? The thought is sheer blasphemy. "The gospel of the glory of the blessed God" is wholly and absolutely true to all, and for all, whether they believe it or reject it - a proclamation and an appeal from sovereign grace, now free in virtue of Calvary to bless without distinction or restriction, and leaving, if unheeded or despised, the certainty of judgment. The word comes forth from an open heaven, and if, even as he turns away from Christ, the sinner could look right up to the very throne and heart of God, he would see a throne of grace, and the heart that gave the Only-begotten Son. When Jerusalem rejected the glad tidings, they who were behind the scenes could testify that there was neither reserve nor artifice in the proclamation; and if that guilty people could have witnessed what these were privileged to behold, they would have seen a mighty Saviour pouring forth His heart in tears because their unbelief had paralysed the hand stretched forth for their deliverance.

But, it will be urged, if Christ did not die as our substitute, salvation is impossible; and if He did so die for us, this fact must date from Calvary, and not from our conversion. This assumes that the death of Christ was instead of some, in such a sense as to make their salvation forensically a necessity, and that the salvation of any besides is a moral impossibility. Such difficulties only prove the danger of departing from the strict accuracy of scriptural expressions in dealing with these truths. To speak of Christ's dying instead of us, or as our substitute, is to adopt the language of theology, not of Scripture, and we must take care lest we use the words in a sense or a connection inconsistent with the truth. The teaching of Scripture is that He died for sinners (there is no emphasis on the preposition), and that, on believing, they become identified with Him in that death.
The language of ancient Greece is far richer than our own in prepositions, and "instead of" has its unequiwcal correhitive; but this word, though freely used by the LXX. and found in the New Testament (Matt. 11. 22), is never employed in such passages as Rom. v. 6, 7, 8. The statement of Matt. xx. 28, repeated in Mark x. 45, will not be considered an exception to this by any one who marks the form and purpose of the text. The word no doubt may bave the same force, just as "for" in English. But in either case such a meaning is exceptional and forced; and in our own language we should in that case pronounce the word with emphasis, and print it in italics. A full and careful consideration of every passage where the word occurs will satisfy the student that it is never so used in the New Testament. The only text in which our translators have thus rendered it (2 Cor. v. 20) is a signal proof of this. An ambassador speaks on behal/ of, not in the stead of, the court which accredits him. I need not say that substitution is an extra-scriptural expression.
Let the reader turn, for example, to Peter's sermon to the household of Cornelius, and mark the character of the testimony given, ending with these words:-"To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him. shall receive remission of sins." Christ was presented, not in identification with the sinner, but objectively to faith; and the word was added, "Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." The hearers believed the testimony, and then and there they were baptized with the Holy Ghost. Then and not till then, the doctrine of the 6th chapter of Romans became true of them:-"We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" If Christ died as our substitute, then we ourselves are deemed to have died to sin. Of whom is this true? The next verse gives the answer in unmistakable terms: "Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" And so on. through the passage, which claims careful study throughout, ending thus at the ioth and iith verses :-" For the death which He died He died unto sin once for all, but the life which He liveth He liveth unto God. Thus do ye also account yourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." Words could not be plainer; all that Christ accomplished for us we, as believers, are to reckon actually true of ourselves. In the face of this chapter, to maintain that substitution is a truth for the unsaved is either playing upon words or trifling with truth.

But it will be asked, are not the closing verses of 2 Cor .v. addressed to the unconverted, and do not they teach substitution? To this question I give an emphatic negative. In common with all the rest of the Epistle, these verses were written to "the Church of God at Corinth with all the saints in all Achaia." In the last two verses of chapter v. and the 1st verse of chapter vi. the apostle states the character and purpose of his ministry. But the "Received Text," by interpolating "for" at the beginning of verse 5, and separating it from what follows, destroys the connection ot the passage; and the English version, by introducing pronouns and altering the emphasis of the words, has utterly disguised its purpose. "On Christ's behalf, then, we are ambassadors: though God were exhorting by us, we beseech on Christ's behalf, Be reconciled to God. Him who knew not sin He made to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And as fellow-workers (with God) we also exhort that you receive not the grace of God to no purpose." Our entreaty to the world is, 'Be reconciled'; to you who have received this grace our exhortation is, 'Receive it not in vain.' In our ministry to the world we are ambassadors; in our ministry to you we are His fellow-workers." The 20th verse is in immediate connection with the 18th and 19th verses, and the last verse is introductory to the opening words of the 6th chapter, all being bracketed together as descriptive of the apostle's ministry. And the prominent thought in the passage is not the identification of the sinner with Christ, but the purpose of God to usward in making Him to be sin: it was "in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." It is not that He took this place instead of us (which, indeed, would have no meaning), and that we thereby stood free, but that He became what we were in order that we might become what He is.

Here then is the key to the difficulties stated in the opening paragraphs of the chapter. Theology with its subtleties has given rise to questions from which the simplicity of Scripture is entirely free. When the sinner believes in Christ he becomes so thoroughly identified with Him in all His vicarious work, that he can speak of Calvary as though the crucifixion were but yesterday, and he had there and then been justified thereby. But to speak of the death of Christ as having this substitutional relationship to the sinner, apart from the change which takes place on his believing; and thus to make his pardon appear to be an act of justice in such a sense that it ceases to be an act of grace, is wholly unwarranted and false. If there be those on earth whose case is beyond the scope of the work of Christ, it is not in the power of God to save them; and thus redemption has failed of its first and highest aim, which is not the saving of the sinner, merely, but the restoring to God His sovereignty compromised by sin. But if the death of Christ be substitutionally instead of the unbeliever, his conversion may alter his condition spiritually and morally, but it can in no wise affect his judicial state: he is saved in fact and of right, whether he believes or not. In either case, grace is in chains, and not enthroned.
Any who will, dismissing prejudice, compare the language of Scripture with words and phrases popular among us, will be surprised to find how much there is which is unwarranted, even in what God seems to sanction by His blessing. We must not forget, however, that grace marks all His dealings with us, and we ought therefore to be the more careful and earnest to test our words and thoughts about Christ by Holy Writ. To make apparent success the test of what is right is just as immoral in the things of God as in the affairs of men. 'If any should oppose what is here urged by argument or inference, it would be an easy task to silence them with their own weapons. The imputation of sin and righteousness as taught in Scripture is reasonable in the highest sense; but the doctrine here objected to might easily be shown to be not only false but absurd. This, however, is not the place to enter on a discussion of such a character.
There is absolutely no limit to the value of the death of Christ to Godward; and there is not between the poles a single child of Adam who may not know its power, and receive the reconciliation which it wrought. And on the ground of this accomplished reconciliation, forgiveness is proclaimed to all without reserve or equivocation. But it is only the "all that believe" who are justified; and if it be demanded, why, beneath the supremacy of boundless love and almighty power, the few, and not the many should be saved, we can but fall back upon divine sovereignty, and exclaim, "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!"

The distinctions here noticed between the different aspects of the work of Christ are clearly marked in the ritual of the Great Day of Atonement (Lev. xvi.)
There were two methods by which the Israelite became identified with his sacrifice, viz., either by laying his hand upon the victim's head before it was killed, as in the case of the ordinary sin-offerings (see pp. 89-op ante); or else by having the blood sprinkled upon him after the victim had been offered, as in the case of various special sacrifices. But in the ritual of the Day of Atonement there was no such identification with the goat "upon which the Lord's lot fell." The ceremonial was entirely to Godward. The blood was carried, not without, to where the people stood, but within, to the presence of God. And the efficacy of that blood to Godward was morally the foundation of the cerethonial respecting the scape-goat, which followed. Aaron, as the appointed representative of the people, laid his hands upon the head of the victim, and "confessed over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat," which,- as the typical sin-bearer, was then led away" to a land not inhabited." The efficacy to Godward of the atonement made through the blood of the first goat was absolute and complete, apart from aught that followed it; but its practical efficacy to the people depended on their becoming identified with the scape-goat.
And so it is with the antitype. The perfectness of the work of Christ in no way depends upon the benefits which accrue therefrom to the sinner. Whether men receive it or reject it, reconciliation is accomplished, peace is made. But when the sinner believes in Christ, he enters into peace, he "receives the reconciliation" (Roms. v. 1, xi). Thus becoming identified with Christ, that identification reaches back to His death for sin on Calvary.

Substitution, then, is merely a theological statement of one aspect of this scriptural truth of the believer's oneness with Christ, and if it be taught apart from that truth, it may degenerate into error. The gospel, instead of being a divine revelation, may become a mere problem in metaphysics. Instead of the heart being reached by the stupendous fact that "Christ died for the ungodly," the intellect may seize upon the inference which obviously follows if a forced emphasis be put upon the "for." (See Note, p. 95 ante.) That the danger is real, witness how many there are in our day who seem to receive the Gospel without any exercise of either heart or conscience.