The Necessity of Christ’s Death

Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)

“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”—Luke 24:26

Let us here see the evil of sin. Nothing more fit to shew the baseness of sin, and the greatness of the misery by it, than the satisfaction due for it; as the greatness of a distemper is seen by the force of the medicine, and the value of the commodity by the greatness of the price it cost. The sufferings of Christ express the evil of sin, far above the severest judgments upon any creature, both in regard of the greatness of the person, and the bitterness of the suffering. The dying groans of Christ shew the horrible nature of sin in the eye of God; as He was greater than the world, so His sufferings declare sin to be the greatest evil in the world. How evil is that sin that must make God bleed to cure it! To see the Son of God haled to death for sin is the greatest piece of justice that ever God executed. The earth trembled under the weight of God’s wrath when He punished Christ, and the heavens were dark as though they were shut to Him, and He cries and groans, and no relief appears; nothing but sin was the procuring meritorious cause of this.

The Son of God was slain by the sin of the lapsed creature; had there been any other way to expiate so great an evil, had it stood with the honour of God, Who is inclined to pardon, to remit sin without a compensation by death, we cannot think He would have consented that His Son should undergo so great a suffering. Not all the powers in heaven and earth could bring us into favour again, without the death of some great sacrifice to preserve the honour of God’s veracity and justice; not the gracious interposition of Christ, without becoming mortal, and drinking in the vials of wrath, could allay divine justice; not His intercessions, without enduring the strokes due to us, could remove the misery of the fallen creature. All the holiness of Christ’s life, His innocence and good works, did not redeem us without death. It was by this He made an atonement for our sins, satisfied the revenging justice of his Father, and recovered us from a spiritual and inevitable death. How great were our crimes, that could not be wiped off by the works of a pure creature, or the holiness of Christ’s life, but required the effusion of the blood of the Son of God for the discharge of them! Christ in His dying was dealt with by God as a sinner, as One standing in our stead, otherwise He could not have been subject to death. For He had no sin of His own, and “death is the wages of sin” (Rom 6:23). It had not consisted with the goodness and righteousness of God as Creator, to afflict any creature without a cause, nor with His infinite love to His Son to bruise Him for nothing. Some moral evil must therefore be the cause; for no physical evil is inflicted without some moral evil preceding. Death, being a punishment, supposeth a fault. Christ, having no crime of His own, must then be a sufferer for ours: “Our sins were laid upon him” (Isa 53:6), or transferred upon Him. We see then how hateful sin is to God, and therefore it should be abominable to us. We should view sin in the sufferings of the Redeemer, and then think it amiable if we can. Shall we then nourish sin in our hearts? This is to make much of the nails that pierced His hands, and the thorns that pricked His head, and make His dying groans the matter of our pleasure. It is to pull down a Christ that hath suffered, to suffer again; a Christ that is raised, and ascended, sitting at the right hand of God, again to the earth; to lift Him upon another cross, and overwhelm Him in a second grave. Our hearts should break at the consideration of the necessity of His death. We should open the heart of our sins by repentance, as the heart of Christ was opened by the spear. This does an “Ought not Christ to die?” teach us.

Let us not set up our rest in anything in ourselves, not in anything below a dying Christ; not in repentance or reformation. Repentance is a condition of pardon, not a satisfaction of justice; it sometimes moves the divine goodness to turn away judgment, but it is no compensation to divine justice. There is not that good in repentance as there is wrong in the sin repented of, and satisfaction must have something of equality, both to the injury and the person injured; the satisfaction that is enough for a private person wronged is not enough for a justly offended prince; for the greatness of the wrong mounts by the dignity of the person. None can be greater than God, and therefore no offense can be so full of evil as offenses against God; and shall a few tears be sufficient in anyone’s thoughts to wipe them off? The wrong done to God by sin is of a higher degree than to be compensated by all the good works of creatures, though of the highest elevation. Is the repentance of any soul so perfect as to be able to answer the punishment the justice of God requires in the law? And what if the grace of God help us in our repentance? It cannot be concluded from thence that our pardon is formally procured by repentance, but that we are disposed by it to receive and value a pardon. It is not congruous to the wisdom and righteousness of God to bestow pardons upon obstinate rebels. Repentance is nowhere said to expiate sin; a broken heart is called a sacrifice (Psa 51:17), but not a propitiatory one. David’s sin was expiated before he penned that psalm (2Sa 12:13). Though a man could weep as many tears as there are drops of water contained in the ocean, send up as many volleys of prayers as there have been groans issuing from any creature since the foundation of the world; though he could bleed as many drops from his heart as have been poured out from the veins of sacrificed beasts, both in Judea and all other parts of the world; though he were able, and did actually bestow in charity all the metals in the mines of Peru: yet could not this absolve him from the least guilt, nor cleanse him from the least filth, nor procure the pardon of the least crime by any intrinsic value in the acts themselves; the very acts, as well as the persons, might fall under the censure of consuming justice. The death of Christ only procures us life. The blood of Christ only doth quench that just fire sin had kindled in the breast of God against us. To aim at any other way for the appeasing of God, than the death of Christ, is to make the cross of Christ of no effect. This we are to learn from an “Ought not Christ to die?”

Therefore, let us be sensible of the necessity of an interest in the Redeemer’s death. Let us not think to drink the waters of salvation out of our own cisterns, but out of Christ’s wounds. Not to draw life out of our own dead duties, but Christ’s dying groans. We have guilt. Can we expiate it ourselves? We are under justice. Can we appease it by any thing we can do? There is an enmity between God and us. Can we offer Him anything worthy to gain His friendship? Our natures are corrupted. Can we heal them? Our services are polluted. Can we cleanse them? There is as great a necessity for us to apply the death of Christ for all those, as there was for Him to undergo it. The leper was not cleansed and cured by the shedding the blood of the sacrifice for him, but the sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice upon him (Lev 14:7). As the death of Christ was foretold as the meritorious cause, so the sprinkling of His blood was foretold as the formal cause of our happiness (Isa 52:15). By His own blood He entered into heaven and glory, and by nothing but His blood can we have the boldness to expect it, or the confidence to attain it (Heb 10:19). The whole doctrine of the gospel is Christ crucified (1Co 1:23), and the whole confidence of a Christian should be Christ crucified. God would not have mercy exercised with a neglect of justice by man, though to a miserable client: “Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor in judgment” (Lev 19:15). Shall God Who is infinitely just neglect the rule Himself? No man is an object of mercy till he presents a satisfaction to justice. As there is a perfection in God which we call mercy, which exacts faith and repentance of His creature before He will bestow a pardon, so there is another perfection of vindictive justice that requires a satisfaction. If the creature thinks its own misery a motive to the displaying the perfection of mercy, it must consider that the honour of God requires also the content of His justice. The fallen angels, therefore, have no mercy granted to them, because none ever satisfied the justice of God for them. Let us not, therefore, coin new ways of procuring pardon, and false modes of appeasing the justice of God. What can we find besides this, able to contend against everlasting burnings? What refuge can there be besides this to shelter us from the fierceness of divine wrath? Can our tears and prayers be more prevalent than the cries and tears of Christ, Who could not, by all the strength of them, divert death from Himself, without our eternal loss? No way but faith in His blood. God in the gospel sends us to Christ, and Christ by the gospel brings us to God.

Let us value this Redeemer and redemption by His death. Since God was resolved to see His Son plunged into an estate of disgraceful emptiness, clothed with the form of a servant, and exposed to the sufferings of a painful cross, rather than leave sin unpunished, we should never think of it without thankful returns, both to the Judge and the Sacrifice. What was He afflicted for, but to procure our peace? bruised for, but to heal our wounds? brought before an earthly judge to be condemned, but that we might be brought before a heavenly Judge to be absolved? fell under the pains of death, but to knock off from us the shackles of hell? and became accursed in death, but that we might be blessed with eternal life? Without this our misery had been irreparable, our distance from God perpetual. What commerce could we have had with God, while we were separated from Him by crimes on our part, and justice on His? The wall must be broken down, death must be suffered, that justice might be silenced, and the goodness of God be again communicative to us. This was the wonder of divine love, to be pleased with the sufferings of His only Son, that He might be pleased with us upon the account of those sufferings. Our redemption in such a way, as by the death and blood of Christ, was not a bare grace. It had been so, had it been only redemption; but being a redemption by the blood of God, it deserves from the apostle no less a title than riches of grace (Eph 1:7). And it deserves and expects no less from us than such high acknowledgments. This we may learn from “Ought not Christ to die?”

From Christ our Passover.

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