by Richard Sibbes
(Surety: "One who acts in the place of another")
Extracted from the sermon "Christ's Sufferings for Man's Sin" from The Works of Richard Sibbes, Banner of Truth Trust. Dr. Sibbes was a great Puritan preacher of Cambridge from 1626 to his death.
But how could Christ be forsaken of God, especially so forsaken as to suffer the anger of his father, being an innocent person?
- I answer, first, the Paschal lamb was an innocent creature, yet if the Paschal lamb be once made a sacrifice, it must be killed. Though Christ were never so unblameable, yet, if he will stoop to the office of a surety, he must pay our debt, and do that which we should have done. If a prince's son become a surety, though his father love him and pity him never so much, yet he will say, Now you have taken this upon you, you must discharge it.
- Secondly, as in natural things the head is punished for the fault of the body, so Christ, by communicating his blessed nature with ours, made up one mystical body, and suffered for us.
But upon what ground should Christ become our surety?
- Because he was able to discharge our debt to the uttermost. He was more eminent than all mankind, having two natures in one, the manhood knit to the Godhead.
- Christ most willing gave himself a sacrifice for us.
- He was designed and predestined to this office, yea, he was anointed, set out, and sealed for this business by God himself; and is not this sufficient ground why he should become our surety? especially if we consider,
- That Christ took the communion of our nature upon him for this very end, that he might be a full surety, that his righteousness being derived to us, and our guilt to him, God's wrath might be satisfied in the self-same nature that offended. You see in societies and cities, if some people offend, the whole city is oftentimes punished. Though perhaps many are guiltless in it, yet by reason of the communion, all are punished. So likewise a traitor's son, that never had any hand in his father's sin, but behaved himself as an honest subject should do, yet, having communion with the person of his father, being indeed a piece of him, is thereupon justly disinherited by all law.
But how could Christ take our sins upon him and not be defiled therewith?
He took not the stain of our sins, but the guilt of them. Now in guilt there is two things.
- A worthiness and desert of punishment.
- An obligation and binding over thereunto.
Christ took not the desert of punishment upon him, from any fault in himself; he took whatsoever was penal upon him, but not culpable. As he was our surety, so he everyway discharged our debt, being bound over to all judgments and punishments for us.
Now we owe unto God a double debt.
- A debt of obedience; and if that fail,
- A debt of punishment.
And both of these hath Christ freed us from; first, by obeying the will of his Father in everything; and, secondly, by suffering whatsoever was due to us for our transgressions.
Some heretics that would shake the foundation of our faith, will grant Christ to be a Mediator to intercede for us, and a Redeemer to set us at liberty from slavery, etc., but not to be a surety to pay our debt, by way of satisfaction to God for us.
Let us remember, that God's pleasure to redeem lost mankind, is not so much by way of power and strength, as by way of justice, and therefore it is said, Heb. 7:22, "Christ is become our surety;" and Paul, when he became a mediator to Philemon for Onesimus, a fugitive servant, did it by way of surety, "If he owe thee anything I will discharge it," Philemon 18; and Christ Jesus our Mediator blessed for ever, so intercedeth unto God for us, as that he fully satisfies his justice for our offences.
But why was Christ thus forsaken of his Father?
- To satisfy God for our forsaking of him. Christ's forsaking was satisfactory for all our forsakings of God. Beloved, we all forsook God in Adam, and indeed what do we else in every sin we commit, but forsake the Lord, and turn to the creature? What are all our sins of pleasure, profit, ambition, and the like, but a leaving of the fountain of living waters, to fetch contentment from "broken cisterns," Jer. 2:13.
- But Christ was chiefly forsaken, that he might bring us home again to God, that there might be no more a separation betwixt his blessed Majesty and us.
Some shallow heretics there are, that would have Christ to be an example of patience and holiness in his life and death, and do us good that way only.
Oh no, beloved, the main comfort we receive from Christ is by way of satisfaction. There must be first grace, and then peace in our agreement with God. Sweetly, saith Bernard, I desire indeed to follow Christ as an example of humility, patience, self-denial, etc., and to love him with the same affection that he hath loved me; but I must eat of the Passover-Lamb, that is, I must chiefly feed on Christ dying for my sins. So every true Christian soul desires to follow Christ's obedience, humility, patience, etc., and to be transformed into the likeness of his blessed Saviour.
Whom should I desire to be like more than him, that hath done so much for me? But yet the main comfort I receive from Christ, is by eating his body and drinking his blood; my soul feeds and feasts itself most of all upon the death of Christ, as satisfying for my sins. And what a comfort is it that Christ being our surety, hath made full satisfaction for all our sins. Surely we shall never be finally and wholly forsaken, because Christ was forsaken for us.
Now we may think of God without discomfort, and of sin without despair. Now we may think of the law of death, the curse and all, and never be terrified -- why? Christ our surety hath given full content of divine justice for wrath and law, sin and curse, etc. They are all links of one chain, and Christ hath dissolved them all. Now sin ceaseth, wrath ceaseth, the law hath nothing to lay to our charge; death's sting is pulled out. How comfortably, therefore, may we appear before God's tribunal!
Oh, beloved, when the soul is brought as low as hell almost, then this consideration will be sweet, that Christ was forsaken as a surety for me; Christ overcame sin, death, God's wrath, and all for me; in him I triumph over all these. What welcome news is this to a distressed sinner!
Whenever thy soul is truly humbled in the sense of sin, look not at sin in thy conscience (thy conscience is a bed for another to lodge in), but at Christ. If thou be a broken-hearted sinner, see thy sins in Christ thy Saviour taken away; see what he hath endured and suffered for them; see not the law in thy conscience, but see it discharged by Christ; see death disarmed through him, and made an entrance into a better life for thee.
Whatsover is ill, see it in Christ before thou seest it in thyself; and when thou beholdest it there, see not only the hurt thereof taken away, but all good made over to thee; for "all things work together for the best to them that love God," Rom. 8.28. The devil himself, death, sin, and wrath, all help the main; the poison and mischief of all is taken away by Christ, and all good conveyed to us in him.
We have grace answerable to his grace. He is the first seat of God's love, and it sweetens whatever mercy we enjoy, that it comes from the fountain, God the father, through Christ unto us. I beseech you embrace the comfort that the Holy Ghost affords us from these sweet considerations.