by Charles Hodge
We have thus seen that the Scriptures teach first that all men are naturally under the law as prescribing the terms of their acceptance with God and secondly, that no obedience which sinners can render is sufficient to satisfy the demands of that law. It follows then that unless we are freed from the law, not as a rule of duty, but as prescribing the conditions of acceptance with God, justification is for us impossible. It is, therefore, the third great point of Scriptural doctrine on this subject, that believers are free from the law in the sense just stated. Ye are not under the law, says the apostle, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). To illustrate this declaration he refers to the case of a woman who is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but when he is dead, she is free from her obligation to him, and is at liberty to marry another man. So we are delivered from the law as a rule of justification, and are at liberty to embrace a different method of obtaining acceptance with God (Rom. 7:1,6) Paul says of himself, that he died to the law (Gal. 2:19), i. e. become free from it. And the same is said of all believers (Rom. 7:6). He insists upon this freedom as essential not only to justification but to sanctification. For while under the law, the motions of sin, which were by the law, brought forth fruit unto death, but now we are delivered from the law that we may serve God in newness of spirit (Rom. 7:5-6).
Before faith came we were kept under the law, which he compares to a schoolmaster, but now we are no longer under a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24-25). He regards the desire to be subject to the law as the greatest infatuation. Tell me, he says, ye that desire to be under the law, Do ye not hear the law (Gal. 4:21) and then shows that those who are under the demands of a legal system, are in the condition of slaves and not of sons and heirs. Stand fast, therefore, he exhorts, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify to every one that is circumcised that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ has become of no effect to you; whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace (Gal. 5:1-4). This infatuation Paul considered madness, and exclaims, O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith (Gal. 3:1-2)? This apostasy was so fatal, the substitution of legal obedience for the work of Christ as the ground of justification, was so destructive, that Paul pronounces accursed any man or angel who should preach such a doctrine for the gospel of the grace of God.
It was to the law, as revealed in the books of Moses, that the fickle Galatians were disposed to look for justification. Their apostasy, however, consisted in going back to the law, no matter in what form revealed, to works, no matter of what kind, as the ground of justification. The apostle’s arguments and denunciations, therefore, are so framed as to apply to the adoption of any form of legal obedience, instead of the work of Christ, as the ground of our confidence towards God. To suppose that all he says relates exclusively to a relapse into Judaism, is to suppose that we Gentiles have no part in the redemption of Christ. If it was only from the bondage of the Jewish economy that he redeemed his people, then those who were never subject to that bondage have no interest in his work. And of course Paul was strangely infatuated in preaching Christ crucified to the Gentiles. We find, however, that what he taught in the Epistle to the Galatians, in special reference to the law of Moses, he teaches in the Epistle to the Romans in reference to that law which is holy, just and good, and which condemns the most secret sins of the heart.
The nature of the apostle’s doctrine is, if possible, even more clear from the manner in which he vindicates it, than from his direct assertions. What then! he asks, shall we continue in sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Had Paul taught that we are freed from the ceremonial, in order to be subject to the moral law, there could have been no room for such an objection. But if he taught that the moral law itself could not give life, that we must be freed from its demands as the condition of acceptance with God, then indeed, to the wise of this world, it might seem that he was loosing the bands of moral obligation, and opening the door to the greatest licentiousness. Hence the frequency and earnestness with which he repels the objection, and shows that so far from legal bondage being necessary to holiness, it must cease before holiness can exist; that it is not until the curse of the law is removed, and the soul reconciled to God, that holy affections rise in the heart, and the fruits of holiness appear in the life. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Rom. 3:31).
It is then clearly the doctrine of the Bible that believers are freed from the law as prescribing the conditions of their acceptance with God; it is no longer incumbent upon them, in order to justification, to fulfill its demand of perfect obedience, or to satisfy its penal exactions. But how is this deliverance effected? How is it that rational and accountable beings are exempted from the obligations of that holy and just law, which was originally imposed upon their race as the rule of justification? The answer to this question includes the fourth great truth respecting the way of salvation taught in the Scriptures. It is not by the abrogation of the law, either as to its precepts or penalty; it is not by lowering its demands, and accommodating them to the altered capacities or inclinations of men. We have seen how constantly the apostle teaches that the law still demands perfect obedience, and that they are debtors to do the whole law who seek justification at its hands. He no less clearly teaches that death is as much the wages of sin in our case, as it was in that of Adam. If it is neither by abrogation nor relaxation that we are freed from the demands of the law, how has this deliverance been effected?
By the mystery of vicarious obedience and suffering. This is the gospel of the grace of God. This is what was a scandal to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, but, to those that are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The Scriptures teach us that the Son of God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, became flesh, and subjected himself to the very law to which we were bound; that he perfectly obeyed that law, and suffered its penalty, and thus, by satisfying its demands, delivered us from its bondage and introduced us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. It is thus that the doctrine of redemption is presented in the Scriptures. God, says the apostle, sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem those that were under the law (Gal. 4:4-5). Being made under the law, we know that he obeyed it perfectly, and brought in everlasting righteousness, and is therefore declared to be the Lord our righteousness, since, by his obedience, many are constituted righteous (Rom. 5:19). He, therefore, is said to be made righteousness unto us (1 Cor. 1:30). And those who are in him are said to be righteous before God, not having their own righteousness, but that which is by the faith of Christ (Phil. 3:9).
That we are redeemed from the curse of the law by Christ’s enduring that curse in our place, is taught in every variety of form from the beginning to the end of the Bible. There was the more need that this point should be clearly and variously presented, because it is the one on which an enlightened conscience immediately fastens. The desert of death begets the fear of death. And this fear of death cannot be allayed, until it is seen how, in consistency with divine justice, we are freed from the righteous penalty of the law. How this is done the Scriptures teach in the most explicit manner. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Paul had just said, As many as are of the law are under the curse. But all men are naturally under the law, and therefore all are under the curse. How are we redeemed from it? By Christ’s being made a curse for us. Such is the simple and sufficient answer to this most important of all questions.
The doctrine so plainly taught is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by bearing it in our stead, is no less clearly presented in 2 Cor. 5:21. He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. This is represented as the only ground on which men are authorised to preach the gospel. We are ambassadors for Christ, says the apostle, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20) Then follows a statement of the ground upon which this offer of reconciliation is presented. God has made effectual provision for the pardon of sin, by making Christ, though holy, harmless, and separate from sinners, sin for us, that we might be made righteous in him. The iniquities of us all were laid on him; he was treated as a sinner in our place, in order that we might be treated as righteous in him.
The same great truth is taught in all those passages in which Christ is said to bear our sins. The expression to bear sin, is one which is clearly explained by its frequent occurrence in the sacred Scriptures. It means to bear the punishment due to sin. In Lev. 20:17, it is said, He that marries his sister, shall bear his iniquity. Again, Whosoever curseth his God, shall bear his sin. Of him that failed to keep the passover, it was said, that man shall bear his sin (Numbers 9:13). If a man sin he shall bear his iniquity. It is used in the same sense when one man is spoken of as bearing the sin of another. Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms (Numbers 14:33). Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities (Lam. 5:7). And when, in Ezekiel 18:20, it is said that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, it is obviously meant that the son shall not be punished for the sins of the father. The meaning of this expression being thus definite, of course there can be no doubt as to the manner in which it is to be understood when used in reference to the Redeemer. The prophet says, The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. My righteous servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. He was numbered with transgressors, and bore the sins of many (Isaiah 53:6,11-12). Language more explicit could not be used. This whole chapter is designed to teach one great truth, that our sins were to be laid on the Messiah, that we might be freed from the punishment which they deserved. It is therefore said, He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; for the transgression of my people was he smitten (Isaiah 53:8). In the New Testament, the same doctrine is taught in the same terms. Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). Christ was offered to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28). Ye know that he was manifested to take away (to bear) our sins (1 John 3:5). According to all these representations, Christ saves us from the punishment due to our sins, by bearing the curse of the law in our stead.
Intimately associated with the passages just referred to, are those which describe the Redeemer as a sacrifice, or propitiation. The essential idea of a sin-offering is propitiation by means of vicarious punishment. That this is the Scriptural idea of a sacrifice, is plain from the laws of their institution, from the effects ascribed to them, and from the illustrative declarations of the sacred writers. The law prescribed that the offender should bring the victim to the altar, lay his hands upon its head, make confession of his crime; and that the animal should then be slain, and its blood sprinkled upon the altar. Thus, it is said, He shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him (Lev. 1:4). And he brought the bullock for a sin-offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bullock of the sin-offering. The import of this imposition of hands, is clearly taught in the following passage: And Aaron shall lay his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited (Lev. 16:21-22). The imposition of hands, therefore, was designed to express symbolically the ideas of substitution and transfer of the liability to punishment. In the case just referred to, in order to convey more clearly the idea of the removal of the liability to punishment, the goat on whose head the sins of the people were imposed, was sent into the wilderness, but another goat was slain and consumed in its stead.
The nature of these offerings is further obvious from the effects attributed to them. They were commanded in order to make atonement, to propitiate, to make reconciliation, to secure the forgiveness of sins. And this effect they actually secured. In the case of every Jewish offender, some penalty connected with the theocratic constitution under which he lived, was removed by the presentation and acceptance of the appointed sacrifice. This was all the effect, in the way of securing pardon, that the blood of bulls and of goats could produce. Their efficacy was confined to the purifying of the flesh, and to securing, for those who offered them, the advantages of the external theocracy. Besides, however, this efficacy, which, by divine appointment, belonged to them considered in themselves, they were intended to prefigure and predict the true atoning sacrifice which was to be offered when the fullness of time should come. Nothing, however, can more clearly illustrate the Scriptural doctrine of sacrifices, than the expressions employed by the sacred writers to convey the same idea as that intended by the term sin-offering. Thus all that Isaiah taught by saying of the Messiah that the chastisement of our peace was upon him; that by his stripes we are healed; that he was smitten for the transgression of the people; that on him was laid the iniquity of us all, and that he bore the sins of many, he taught by saying, he made his soul an offering for sin. And in the epistle to the Hebrews it is said, He was offered (as a sacrifice) to bear the sins of many. The same idea, therefore, is expressed by saying, either he bore our sins, or he was made an offering for sin. But to bear the sins of any one, means to bear the punishment of those sins; and, therefore, to be a sin-offering conveys the same meaning.
Such being the idea of a sacrifice which pervades the whole Jewish Scriptures, it is obvious that the sacred writers could not teach more distinctly and intelligibly the manner in which Christ secures the pardon of sin, than by saying he was made an offering for sin. With this mode of pardon all the early readers of the Scriptures were familiar. They had been accustomed to it from their earliest years. No one of them could recall the time when the altar, the victim and the blood were unknown to him. His first lessons in religion contained the ideas of confession of sin, substitution and vicarious sufferings and death. When, therefore, the inspired penmen told men imbued with these idea that Christ was a propitiation for sin, that he was offered as a sacrifice to make reconciliation, they told them, in the plainest of all terms, that he secures the pardon of our sins by suffering in our stead. Jews could understand such language in no other way, and therefore, we may be sure it was intended to convey no other meaning. And in point of fact, it has been so understood by the Christian church from its first organization to the present day.
If it were merely in the way of casual allusion that Christ was declared to be a sacrifice, we should not be authorized to infer from it the method of redemption. But this is far from being the case. This doctrine is presented in the most didactic form. It is exhibited in every possible mode. It is asserted, illustrated, vindicated. It is made the central point of all divine institutions and instructions. It is urged as the foundation of hope, as the source of consolation, the motive to obedience. It is in fact the gospel. It would be vain to attempt a reference to all the passages in which this great doctrine is taught. We are told that God set forth Jesus Christ as a propitiation for our sins through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:25). Again he is declared to be a propitiation for our sins, and not for our’s only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). He is called the Lamb of God that taketh away (beareth) the sins of the world (John 1:29). Ye were not redeemed, says the apostle Peter, with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19). In the epistle to the Hebrews this doctrine is more fully exhibited than in any other portion of Scripture. Christ is not only repeatedly called a sacrifice, but an elaborate comparison is made between the offering which he presented and those which were offered under the old dispensation. If the blood of bulls and of goats, says the apostle, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit (possessing an eternal spirit) offered himself without spot unto God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:13-14). The ancient sacrifices in themselves could only remove ceremonial uncleanness. They could not purge the conscience or reconcile the soul to God. They were mere shadows of the true sacrifice for sins. Hence they were offered daily. Christ’s sacrifice being really efficacious, was offered but once. It was because the ancient sacrifices were ineffectual, that Christ said, when he came into the world, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast no pleasure, Then said I, Lo I come to do thy will, O God (Heb. 10:5-7). By the which will, adds the apostle, that is, by the accomplishing the purpose of God, we are sanctified (or atoned for) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; and by that one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified, and of all this, he adds, the Holy Ghost is witness (Heb. 10:5-15). The Scriptures, therefore, clearly teach that Jesus Christ delivers us from the punishment of our sins, by offering himself as a sacrifice in our behalf; that as under the old dispensation, the penalties attached to the violations of the theocratic covenant, were removed by the substitution and sacrifice of bulls and of goats, so under the spiritual theocracy, in the living temple of the living God, the punishment of sin is removed by the substitution and death of the Son of God. As no ancient Israelite, when by transgression he had forfeited his liberty of access to the earthly sanctuary, was ignorant of the mode of atonement and reconciliation; so now, no conscience-stricken sinner, who knows that he is unworthy to draw near to God need be ignorant of that new and living way which Christ hath consecrated for us, through his flesh, so that we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
In all the forms of expression hitherto mentioned, viz: Christ was made a curse for us; he was made sin for us; he bore our sins, he was made a sin offering, there is the idea of substitution. Christ took our place, he suffered in our stead, he acted as our representative. But as the act of a substitute is in effect the act of the principal, all that Christ did and suffered in that character, every believer is regarded as having done and suffered. The attentive and pious reader of the Bible will recognise this idea in some of the most common forms of Scriptural expression. Believers are those who are in Christ. This is their great distinction and most familiar designation. They are so united to him, that what he did in their behalf they are declared to have done. When he died, they died; when he rose, they rose; as he lives, they shall live also. The passages in which believers are said to have died in Christ are very numerous. If one died for all, says the apostle, then all died (not, were dead, 2 Cor. 5:14). He that died (with Christ) is justified from sin, i. e. freed from its condemnation and power ; and if we died with Christ, we believe, that we shall live with him (Rom. 6:7-8). As a woman is freed by death from her husband, so believers are freed from the law by the body (the death) of Christ, because his death is in effect their death (Rom. 7:4). And in the following verse, he says, having died, (in Christ) we are freed from the law. Every believer, therefore, may say with Paul, I was crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). In like manner the resurrection of Christ secures both the spiritual life and future resurrection of all his people. If we have been united to him in his death, we shall be in his resurrection. If we died with him, we shall live with him (Rom. 6:5-8) God, says the apostle, hath quickened us together with Christ; and hath raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:5-6). That is, God hath quickened, raised, and exalted us together ¹ with Christ.
It is on this ground also that Paul says that Christ rose as the first fruits of the dead; not merely the first in order, but the earnest and security of the resurrection of his people. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:20-22). As our union with Adam secures our death, union with Christ secures our resurrection. Adam is a type of him that was to come, that is Christ, inasmuch as the relation in which Adam stood to the whole race is analogous to that in which Christ stands to his own people. As Adam was our natural head, the poison of sin flows in all our veins. As Christ is our spiritual head, eternal life which is in him, descends to all his members. It is not they that live, but Christ that liveth in them (Gal. 2:20). This doctrine of the representative and vital union of Christ and believers, pervades the New Testament. It is the source of the humility, the joy, the confidence which the sacred writers so often express. In themselves they were nothing- and deserved nothing, but in Him they possessed all things. Hence they counted all things but loss that they might be found in Him. Hence they determined to know nothing, to preach nothing, to glory in nothing but in Christ and him crucified.
The great doctrine of the vicarious sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, is further taught in those numerous passages which refer our salvation to his blood, his death, or his cross. Viewed in connexion with the passages already mentioned, those now referred to not only teach the fact that the death of Christ secures the pardon of sin, but how it does it. To this class belong such declarations as the following. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). We have redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7). He has made peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). Being justified by his blood (Rom. 5:9). Ye are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). Ye are come to the blood of sprinkling (Heb. 12:24). Elect unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2). Unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood (Rev. 1:5). He hath redeemed us unto God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). This cup, said the Son of God himself, is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28). The sacrificial character of the death of Christ is taught in all these passages. Blood was the means of atonement, and without the shedding of blood, there was no remission; and, therefore, when our salvation is so often ascribed to the blood of the Saviour, it is declared that he died as a propitiation for our sins.
The same remark may be made in reference to those passages, which ascribe our redemption to the death, the cross, the flesh of Christ; for these terms are interchanged as being of the same import. We are reconciled unto God by the death of his Son (Rom. 5:10). We are reconciled by his cross (Eph. 2:16). We are reconciled by the body of his flesh through death (Col. 1:22). We are delivered from the law by the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4); he abolished the law in his flesh (Eph. 2:15); he took away the handwriting, which was against us, nailing it to his cross (Col. 2:14). The more general expressions respecting Christ’s dying for us, receive a definite meaning from their connexion with the more specific passages above mentioned. Every one, therefore, knows what is meant, when it is said that Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6); that he gave himself a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28); that he died the just for the unjust that he might bring us unto God (1 Peter 3:18). Not less plain is the meaning of the Holy Spirit when it is said, God spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all (Rom. 8:32); that he was delivered for our offences (Rom. 4:25); that he gave himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4).
Seeing then that we owe every thing to the expiatory sufferings of the blessed Saviour, we cease to wonder that the Cross is rendered so prominent in the exhibition of the plan of salvation. We are not surprised at Paul’s anxiety lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect; or that he should call the preaching of the gospel the preaching of the cross; or that he should preach Christ crucified, both to Jews and Greeks, as the wisdom of God and the power of God, or that he should determine to glory in nothing save in the Cross of Christ.
As there is no truth more necessary to be known, so there is none more variously or plainly taught than the method of escaping the wrath of God due to us for sin. Besides all the clear exhibitions of Christ as bearing our sins, as dying in our stead, as making his soul an offering for sin, as redeeming us by his blood, the Scriptures set him forth in the character of a Priest, in order that we might more fully understand how it is that he effects our salvation. It was predicted long before his advent that the Messiah was to be a priest. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck, was the declaration of the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David (Ps. 110:4). Zechariah predicted that he should sit as a priest upon his throne (Zech. 6:13). The apostle defines a priest to be a man ordained for men in things pertaining unto God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5:1). Jesus Christ is the only real priest in the universe. All others were either pretenders, or the shadow of the great High Priest of our profession. For this office he had every necessary qualification. He was a man. For inasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood he also took part of the same in order that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest; one who can be touched with a sense of our infirmities, seeing he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. He was sinless. For such a high priest became us who was holy, harmless and separate from sinners. He was the Son of God. The law made men having infirmity, priests. But God declared his Son to be a priest, who is consecrated for evermore (Heb. 7:28). The sense in which Christ is declared to be the Son of God, is explained in the first chapter of this epistle. It is there said, that he is the express image of God; that he upholds all things by the word of his power ; that all the angels are commanded to worship him; that his throne is an everlasting throne ; that in the beginning he laid the foundations of the earth; that he is from everlasting, and that his years fail not. It is from the dignity of his person, as possessing this divine nature, that the apostle deduces the efficacy of his sacrifice (Heb. 9:14), the perpetuity of his priesthood (Heb. 7:16), and his ability to save to the uttermost all who come unto God through him (Heb. 7:25), He was duly constituted a priest. He glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that said to him, Thou art my Son, said also, Thou art a priest for ever. He is the only real priest and, therefore, his advent superseded all others, and put an immediate end to all their lawful ministrations, by abolishing the typical dispensation with which they were connected. For the priesthood being changed, there was of necessity a change of the law. There was a disannulling of the former commandment for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof, and there was the introduction of a better hope (Heb. 7:12,19). He has an appropriate offering to present. As every high priest is appointed to offer sacrifices, it was necessary that this man should have somewhat to offer. This sacrifice was not the blood of goats or of calves, but his own blood; it was himself he offered unto God, to purge our conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:12-14). He has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, which was accomplished when he was once offered to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:26-28). He has passed into the heavens. As the high priest was required to enter into the most holy place with the blood of atonement, so Christ has entered not into the holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24), and where he ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
Seeing then we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, (let the reader remember what that means), who is set down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having by himself purged our sins and made reconciliation for the sins of the people, every humble believer who commits his soul into the hands of this High Priest, may come with boldness to the throne of grace, assured that he shall find mercy and grace to help in time of need.
Excerpt from: The Way of Life, Charles Hodge, 1841