The Satisfaction of Christ

by A. A. Hodge

The word Atonement is too limited in its signification for the purpose assigned to it. It does not express all that Scripture declares that Christ did in order to satisfy all the demands of God's law. It properly signifies the expiation of sin, and nothing more. It represents only that satisfaction which Christ rendered to the justice of God in vicariously bearing the penalty due to our sins, but it does not include that satisfaction which Christ rendered in his vicarious obedience to the law as a covenant of everlasting well-being. The word Satisfaction naturally includes both of these, while the use of the word Atonement to express the whole of Christ's work has naturally led to confused and defective views as to the nature of that work.

The word SATISFACTION is neither ambiguous nor defective. The Reformed Churches mean by its use (1) that Christ fully satisfied all that the justice and law of God required, on the part of mankind, as the condition of their being admitted to divine favour and eternal happiness. (2.) As the demands of the law upon sinful men are both preceptive and penal—the condition of life being 'do this and live,' while the penalty denounced upon disobedience is, 'the soul that sinneth it shall die'—it follows that any work which shall fully satisfy the demands of the divine law in behalf of men must include (1) that obedience which the law demands as the condition of life, and (2) that suffering which it demands as the penalty of sin.*

II. The Difference between a penal and a pecuniary satisfaction. These differ precisely as do crime and debt, things and persons, and therefore the distinction is both obvious and important. Many, who either are incapable of understanding the question, are ignorant of its history, or who are unscrupulous as to the manner in which they conduct controversy, are continually charging our doctrine with the folly of representing the sacrifice of Christ as a purely commercial transaction, in which so much was given for so much, and in which God was in such a sense recompensed for his favours to us that however much gratitude we may owe to Christ, we owe on this behalf none to God. Long ago the doctrine of the Reformed Churches was unanswerably vindicated from such puerile charges by all its most authoritative expounders. 'Here the twofold solution, concerning which jurists treat, should be accurately distinguished. The one, which ipso facto liberates the debtor or criminal because that very thing which was owed is paid, whether it was done by the debtor or by another in his name. The other, which ipso facto does not liberate, since not at all the very thing which was owed, but an equivalent, is paid, which, although it does not thoroughly and ipso facto discharge the obligation, yet having been accepted—since it might be refused—is regarded as a satisfaction. This distinction holds between a pecuniary and a penal indebtedness. For in a pecuniary debt the payment of the thing owed ipso facto liberates the debtor from all obligations whatsoever, because here the point is not who pays, but what is paid. Hence the creditor, the payment being accepted, is never said to extend toward the debtor any indulgence or remission, because he has received all that was owed him. But the case is different with respect to a penal debt, because in this case the obligation respects the person as well as the thing; the demand is upon the person who pays as well as the thing paid; i. e., that the penalty should be suffered by the person sinning; for as the law demands personal and proper obedience, so it exacts personal enduring of the penalty. Therefore, in order that a criminal should be absolved—a vicarious satisfaction being rendered by another hand—it is necessary that there should intervene a sovereign act of the supreme law-giver, which, with respect to the law, is called relaxation, and with respect to the debtor is called remission, because the personal endurance of the penalty is remitted, and a vicarious endurance of it is accepted in its stead. Hence it clearly appears that in this work (of Redemption) remission and satisfaction are perfectly consistent with each other, because there is satisfaction in the endurance of the punishment which Christ bore, and there is remission in the acceptance of a vicarious victim. The satisfaction respects Christ, from whom God demanded the very same punishment, as to kind of punishment, though not as to the degree nor as to the nature of the sufferings which the law denounced upon us. The remission respects believers, to whom God remits the personal, while he admits the vicarious, punishment. And thus appears the admirable reconciliation of justice and mercy—justice which executes itself upon the sin, and mercy which is exercised towards the sinner. Satisfaction is rendered to the justice of God by the Sponsor, and remission is granted to us by God.'*

Hence pecuniary satisfaction differs from penal thus: (a.) In debt, the demand terminates upon the thing due. In crime, the legal demand for punishment is upon the person of the criminal. (b.) In debt, the demand is for the precise thing due—the exact quid pro quo, and nothing else. In crime, the demand is for that kind, degree and duration of suffering which the law—i. e., absolute and omniscient justice—demands in each specific case, the person suffering and the sin to be expiated both being considered. (c.) In debt, the payment of the thing due, by whomsoever it may be made, ipso facto liberates the debtor, and instantly extinguishes all the claims of the creditor, and his release of the debtor is no matter of grace. In crime, a vicarious suffering of the penalty is admissible only at the absolute discretion of the sovereign; remission is a matter of grace; the rights acquired by the vicarious endurance of penalty all accrue to the sponsor; and the claims of law upon the sinner are not ipso facto dissolved by such a satisfaction, but remission accrues to the designed beneficiaries only at such times and on such conditions as have been determined by the will of the sovereign, or agreed upon between the sovereign and the sponsor.


From The Atonement by A. A. Hodge

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