The Satisfaction Rendered by Christ Proved to Embrace His Active as Well as Passive Obedience

by A. A. Hodge

I PROPOSE to prove, in conclusion, that our blessed Lord, having assumed our law-place, and, as our Substitute, become responsible for all our obligations to the law in its federal relation, has discharged them by his obedience as well as by his sufferings—having, by his sufferings, cancelled the claims of penal justice, and by his obedience merited the rewards of that original Covenant of Life under which all men were held.

In the third chapter I have stated the reasons why the word Atonement fails unambiguously and comprehensively to express the entire nature of the work wrought by our Lord for our redemption. (a.) While it properly, as the English equivalent for the Hebrew כפר, means to make expiation for sin by means of a vicarious infliction or endurance of the penalty, it is nevertheless used by many to express mere reconciliation, at-one-ment. (b.) Even when it is settled that the word 'to atone' is equivalent to the phrase 'to make expiation,' the difficulty still presses, that it is too narrow for the use to which it is put, and cannot properly cover all that Christ has done for the discharge of our legal obligations. The Scriptures teach us plainly that Christ's obedience was as truly vicarious as was his suffering, and that he reconciled us to the Father by the one as well as by the other. Now the word Atonement signalizes only the expiation of our guilt by Christ's vicarious sufferings, but expresses nothing concerning the relation which his obedience sustains to our salvation, as that meritorious condition upon which the divine favour and the promised reward have by covenant been suspended. On the other hand, the word Satisfaction exactly and exhaustively expresses all that Christ has done as our Substitute, in our stead, for our sakes, to the end of satisfying in our behalf the federal demands of the law, and of securing for us the rewards conditioned upon their fulfilment. His whole work was of the nature of a satisfaction. As far as it consisted of penal suffering, it satisfied the penalty of the law and the justice of the Law-giver; and as far as it consisted of obedience, it satisfied the conditions of the covenant upon which the divine favour towards his people was suspended.

The great defect of Symington's otherwise orthodox and excellent work on the Atonement is that, while he admits Christ's obedience to be vicarious, and to have merited for us the rewards of the Covenant of Life, he yet insists that the work of expiation, under the title of 'Atonement,' ought to be discussed separately, while his vicarious obedience, and its relation to the rewards of an impeccable moral character and eternal felicity, is left out of sight. On the contrary, I affirm—

1. In opposition to Symington—who, while admitting that Christ's obedience and sufferings were alike vicarious and alike essential in order to our salvation, yet unnaturally separates them—that since they are inseparable parts of one perfect work of satisfaction, which are never separated either in the mediatorial work of Christ or in their effect upon the covenant-standing of his people, therefore, they cannot be properly separated in any complete account of his work. The whole earthly life of Christ, including his birth itself, was one continued self-emptying even unto death. His birth and every moment of his life, in the form of a servant, was of the nature of holy suffering. Every experience of pain during the whole course of his life, and eminently in his death on the cross, was, on his part, a voluntary and meritorious act of obedience. He lived his whole life, from his birth to his death, as our representative, obeying and suffering in our stead and for our sakes; and during this whole course all his suffering was obedience and all his obedience was suffering. The righteousness which he wrought out for his people consisted precisely in this suffering obedience. The righteousness of Christ, which is imputed severally to each believer as the ground of his justification, consists precisely of this obedient suffering. His earthly life, as suffering, cancels the penalty, and, as obedience, fulfils the precept and secures the promised reward; but the suffering and the obedience were not separated in fact, and are inseparable in principle, and equally necessary to satisfy the law of the covenant and to secure the salvation of the elect.

2. In opposition to all those who deny that Christ's obedience was vicarious, or, strictly speaking, any part of his work of redemption, I propose to show, that his obedience is an inseparable element of that righteousness which he wrought in our stead, and which is imputed to us as the ground of our justification.

In the sixth chapter I distinguished the three distinct relations which men may sustain to the law—the natural, federal and penal. The natural relation is that into which each moral agent is introduced by the very fact of his creation, and under which he continues necessarily to exist as long as he has being. It is unchangeable and inalienable, incapable of relaxation, intermission, modification or transfer; and under it the same law continues perpetually the standard of moral character and obligation, alike to angels and devils, to men under probation, fallen and unregenerate, in perdition, regenerate and confirmed in glory. The federal relation is that temporary and special relation under which it has pleased God to introduce all of those orders of moral agents with which we are acquainted immediately after their creation. They are brought under it in the character of those created holy yet fallible, in a state of unstable moral equilibrium. The relation is special, because it has for its end the special design of affording those subject to it an opportunity of rendering obedience, while open to the full force of temptation and liable to seduction, as the condition of their being endowed by God with the supernatural grace of a confirmed and impeccable moral character, and the blessedness thence resulting for ever. This relation is temporary, because from its very nature it must, in every event, be terminated, ipso facto, either by the first sin which brings in the penalty, or by the granting of the promised reward when the conditions upon which it has been suspended have been accomplished. The penal relation comes in when the law has been broken, and the trial has ceased. It springs out of the essential nature of the law, and continues in force until that perfect righteousness of which the penalty is the outward expression is completely satisfied.

It is notorious that, as a matter of fact, men have sustained all of these relations to the law, and that by reason of sin they are condemned in each. They are under perpetual obligation to be conformed to the law as a standard of character and as a rule of action, but they are wholly unable to meet the obligation. Their hopes of eternal well-being were all suspended upon the conditions undertaken by the first Adam in the garden, but all this is already and for ever forfeited by past disobedience. They are justly subject to the penalty of eternal death. They must be restored to conformity to the law, in all these respects, by a power exterior to themselves, or they cannot be saved. As a matter of fact, believers are restored to conformity to the law, in its natural relation, as a standard of character and as a rule of life, by the Holy Ghost regenerating and sanctifying them. But their restoration to conformity to the law, in its penal and federal relations, is accomplished by Christ through his one work of obedient suffering even unto death. If he assumed our place, so as to suffer the penalty in our stead, he must, at the same time, have secured our title to the reward conditioned upon obedience by means of his perfect obedience, which was inseparably implicated with his sufferings, and which was rendered in the same covenant relation in our stead as well as in our behalf. All that Christ did on earth he did as Mediator. He was acting in our stead while he was obeying as well as while he was suffering. The active and passive righteousness of Christ were never, in fact, separated from each other, and therefore, except in their logical discrimination, we should never exhibit them as separated. They were wrought together by Christ as our Substitute as his one work of redemption. It was with reference to both of these conjointly that Jesus is called 'the Lord our righteousness.' So says John Wesley, as quoted by Richard Watson.* Therefore no view of the nature, relation and effects of the one which excludes all consideration of the other can be accurate, and much less can it be complete. They consequently should never be separated, but should be regarded as the inseparable parts of one organic whole, and signalized by a title capable of embracing both. Satisfaction is the genus including the two complementary species, obedience and penal sufferings.

The principle which lies at the bottom of this distinction was first discriminated by Thomas Aquinas, and by him denoted by the terms satisfactio and meritum. By satisfactio he meant the complete fulfilment of all the claims of law and justice with respect to the penalty. By meritum he meant that which secures, by virtue of the divine promise, the favour of God and everlasting well-being. Both the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches, recognizing the validity of this distinction, have maintained in their Confessions that Christ, as the second Adam, assumed all our covenant responsibilities precisely at that point in the process to which the first Adam had brought them when he fell. The penalty he exhaustively discharged, in strict rigour of justice, by means of all his life-long sufferings culminating in his death. And the condition of perfect obedience, on which the promised reward was suspended, by the unfailing obedience of his entire life. Through the whole of Christ's life there ran an element of infinite humiliation, especially in his death. Every act, therefore, was, in one aspect, an item of vicarious suffering, and in another aspect, an item of vicarious obedience to the will of his Father. Both elements were necessary, and they are as inseparable as color and surface, or as matter and form. Yet it is necessary to discriminate them as to both their essence and their effects. That is, the perfect and painful obedience of his life and death must be viewed (a) as a guilt-expiating endurance of the penalty of the law in the stead of his people, and (b) as that which by God's free promise has been made, to all those represented by Christ, the condition of divine favour and of eternal well-being. In the one aspect, the obedience is called passive, to signalize it as penal suffering. In another aspect, the same obedience is called active, to signalize it as the doing of that which is commanded. 'The question then returns, Whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ in our place is to be confined to his death, or to those sufferings which preceded and accompanied it; or whether it truly embraced all those things which Christ did and suffered for us from the beginning of his life even unto the end? Which last we affirm.'* The truth of this position is established by the following considerations.

I. The law, as a covenant of life, was accompanied by two sanctions: (a.) The promise of divine favour and eternal well-being, conditioned upon perfect obedience; and (b) the penalty of 'death' suspended on disobedience. Moses declared that the legal condition of salvation was, that 'the man that doeth these things shall live by them.' Lev. 18:5. Compare Rom. 10:5, and Gal. 3:12. Christ declared the principle of the law to the young ruler thus: 'If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.' Matt. 19:17. Eternal life, the adoption of sons, the eternal inheritance, are conditioned only on obedience. The gospel does not proceed upon the ruins of the law, but 'Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,' and the object for which he came in the flesh was 'that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.' All the conditions, therefore, must be met. If the whole work of Christ's satisfaction ended in his suffering in our stead the penalty due our sins, his people, as a consequence, would be replaced and left just where Adam was before he fell. There are then four, and only four, conceivable alternatives, one or other of which must be true. (1.) Either God must alter the conditions of human probation, and grant the rewards of the Covenant of Life to sinful men on very different and far lower conditions than those upon which they were offered to innocent Adam, or to the human race originally in him, or to any other order of creatures as far as revealed in their several probations. (2.) Or we must continue for ever destitute of any share in those rewards which were conditioned on obedience, that is, without confirmation in a holy character and without eternal blessedness. (3.) Or we shall be left to the necessity of fulfilling the conditions of the Covenant of Works in our own persons, rendering therefor perfect obedience of heart and life, and that, too, before we receive grace and as the condition of our reception of it. (4.) Or Christ must fulfil this part also of the requirements of the law as well as the penalty in our stead and behalf.

As to the first alternative, it is evident that if eternal blessedness is granted on any conditions short of perfect obedience, then the entire Covenant of Life, God's own ordinance for the human race, fails, and is dishonoured instead of honoured, is broken and supplanted instead of being fulfilled and magnified by the gospel. The essential principles of eternal justice would be violated if to mankind, as one of the consequences of their sin, confirmation in a permanent impeccable moral character, eternal life and the favour of God, were granted on conditions denied to newly-created angels and to Adam in innocency.

As to the second alternative, it is plain that we cannot endure to remain destitute of those rewards which the great original ordinance, which gives law to all that follow it, suspended upon the condition of perfect obedience. Moreover, the promises of the gospel and the experiences of Christians, inspired and uninspired, assure us that we are not required to remain destitute of the rewards so essential to life.

We are, therefore, shut up to the choice presented in the third and fourth alternatives above stated, the former representing the Arminian and the latter the Calvinistic theories as to the legal grounds upon which the positive justification of the believer in Christ proceeds. The Arminian holds that, in some way never defined, the sufferings of Christ make it consistent with the rectoral justice of God to remit the penalty of the law in the case of believers, and to offer them on the lowered conditions of faith and evangelical obedience the same blessings that were originally conditioned on perfect obedience. The Calvinist holds that Christ, acting as our Representative in a strictly legal sense, has suffered in our stead the penalty of the law, in order to free us from eternal bondage to the same, and obeyed the precept in order to secure for us the blessings so conditioned. There is no third plan that can be substituted in place of these. Every conceivable plan of justification that admits the facts of the gospel at all, can, in its last analysis, be reduced to one or other of these. All logical Arminians have uniformly chosen the former. The Romish theory of co-operative justification (Christ's merits and the merit of good works) amounts to the same thing. The Governmental Atonement men, whenever they condescend to a definite statement of the nature of the grounds of justification, must come to the same conclusion. Emmons,* for instance, maintains (a) that 'justification, in a gospel sense, signifies no more nor less than the pardon or remission of sin.' (b.) 'That forgiveness is the only favour which God bestows upon men on Christ's account.' (c.) 'The full and final justification of the believer, or their title to their eternal inheritance, is conditional. They must perform certain things, which he has specified as terms or conditions of their taking possession of their several legacies.' (d.) 'That God does promise eternal life to all who obey his commands or exercise those holy and benevolent affections which his commands require.' Good John Wesley and Richard Watson waver between the two views of justification stated, alike unable to acquiesce in either, or to find any stable position between them. The same must inevitably be the case with all those who, while holding the truth with respect to the nature of sin, of grace and of expiation, refuse to accept, in their plain biblical sense, the complementary truths with respect to the sovereignty of God, the extent of the Atonement, and the imputation of sin and of righteousness.

Now we maintain that the Calvinistic side of this alternative must be true, (1) because, as proved in the fourteenth chapter, Christ's righteousness is the ground of justification. (2.) Because faith, which includes trust as well as assent, from its essential nature, excludes the possibility of its being itself the ground upon which anything can rest, and renders it certain that its true office is to apprehend as an instrument the righteousness of Christ upon which the trust terminates; which righteousness, consequently, must be the real ground upon which the justification proceeds. (3.) The law of God, which cannot be relaxed, demanded at the beginning, and must continue to demand to the end, perfect obedience, which, obviously enough, transcends the best gracious ability of any saint. Faith and evangelical obedience can never take its place. (4.) Every Christian knows, in his inmost heart, that he deserves nothing, and that the adoption of sons and eternal life are given to him freely, and on identically the same terms as the remission of sins itself.

(5.) The Scriptures everywhere set forth the truth, that the adoption of sons, eternal life, &c., are given to the believer freely for Christ's sake, as elements of that purchased possession of which the Holy Spirit is the earnest or first instalment. 'In him also we have obtained an inheritance.' 'In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.' Eph. 1:11–13. The Spirit of the Son is called 'the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.' Rom. 8:15, 17. 'Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.' Gal. 1:4. 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law … that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.' Gal. 3:13, 14. 'Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.' Acts 2:33. We are said to be blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Eph. 1:3. 'He gave himself for the Church that he might sanctify and cleanse it, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.' Eph. 5:25–27. 'Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.' Titus 3:5, 6. 'God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that (ἵνα) he might redeem them that were under the law, that (ἵνα) we might receive the adoption of sons.' Gal. 4:4, 5. We are told to ask for everything we desire for Christ's sake alone. John 14:14, 15, and 15:16. And in heaven all the redeemed say continually, 'Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.' Rev. 1:5, 6, and 6:9, 10.

II. The Scriptures expressly declare that Christ saves by his obedience as well as by his sufferings. 'Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous.' This is an explicit affirmation of the principle for which we are contending. The phrase 'obedience' of Christ, is evidently to be interpreted in its natural sense, because it is directly set in contrast with the 'disobedience' of Adam. In the same sense in which the disobedience of the one is the ground of our condemnation, is the obedience of the other the ground of our justification.

III. Christ was a divine and eternal Person, and as such he was under no obligation to obey the law. He was himself, in the essential ground of his being, a law unto the whole moral universe, and therefore could not be, as concerns himself, conditioned by any law exterior to himself. The divine nature is the norm of all moral principle, and the divine will is the ground and measure of all those relations from which many of the obligations of his creatures result. Therefore, the divine Being cannot be himself subject to any law except the spontaneous law of his own being. And Christ, who, though embracing a human nature, was always a divine Person, of course always transcended the claims of law, because these claims necessarily terminate upon persons, and not upon mere natures as such. Yet, as our Representative, he bore in the unity of his divine personality our nature impersonally ('a true body and a reasonable soul'), in order that he might thus be made vicariously under the law, to the end that by his purely vicarious obedience he might 'redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.' Gal. 4:4, 5. This means necessarily (a) that Christ was made under the law, that he did not belong there naturally, but was transferred to that position by an act of divine sovereignty. (b.) That he was placed there, not for himself, but in our stead. (c.) That he was made under the law for the purpose of securing for us, not the mere remission of sins, but also the adoption of sons; whereby we became 'heirs of God through Christ' (διὰ Χριστοῦ), Gal. 4:7; all of which is conditioned, not upon suffering, but upon obedience. All that Christ did on earth he did as our Mediator, and all that he did as Mediator he did in the stead of those for whom he acted as Mediator. Therefore he said (Matt. 3:15), 'For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness (πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην),' that is, all that God requires of his people.

IV. The inability of the law to justify resulted from the fact that it necessarily demands perfect obedience, which the weakness of the flesh, because of sin, makes it impossible for the sinner to satisfy. Rom. 8:3, 4. God remedies the matter by sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, into our law-place, and executing the penalty upon him, and so condemning sin in the flesh, and also accepting his obedience instead of our obedience; that thus, through our Sponsor, the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULFILLED IN US. Rom. 8:3, 4.

The phrase δικαιοσύνη, or δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου, is used in the New Testament to express the totality of that which the law demands as the condition of favour. In Adam, before he fell, the righteousness of the law was perfect obedience. In the case of all his descendants, since the fall, the righteousness of the law is perfect obedience plus the suffering of the penalty. To justify is to pronounce a man to be just, righteous, δίκαιος. Righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, is the character of the δίκαιος, that in him which satisfies the law. It is that, therefore, upon which justification proceeds. Moses declares the righteousness which is of the law when he says, 'the man that doeth these things shall live by them.' Rom. 10:5. Since the law demands of us perfect obedience and the endurance of the penalty, it is perfectly impossible for us to achieve a legal righteousness by our own personal agency. Hence, in the Scriptures, the 'righteousness of the law' is unfavourably contrasted with the 'righteousness of faith.' Rom. 10:5, 6. That is, the attempted satisfaction of the demands of the law, made by the sinner in person, is contrasted with the vicarious satisfaction of the same by Christ, which faith apprehends and appropriates. To the same effect our own righteousness is contrasted with God's righteousness. Rom. 3:20–26, that is, our method of satisfying the law with God's method. 'To declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.' 'For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.' Rom. 10:3. The grand requirement of the law was perfect obedience as the condition of favour. Obedience, therefore, is of the essence of righteousness. But 'Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.' Rom. 10:4. By means of his work 'the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.' Rom. 8:4. We are said 'to be made the righteousness of God in him.' 2 Cor. 5:21. He is called 'the Lord our righteousness.' Jer. 23:6. He is said to be 'made unto us wisdom and righteousness.' 1 Cor. 1:30. Paul declares his desire to 'be found in him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.' Phil. 3:9.

V. Piscator and Richard Watson object that the Calvinistic view represents Christ as rendering two distinct satisfactions to the law in behalf of his people. They maintain that obedience and penalty are alternatives, the presence of one excluding the demand for the other. If Adam had rendered perfect obedience, he would not have been required also to satisfy, by suffering, the penalty. Therefore, they argue, if Christ has satisfied the law by suffering the penalty due the sins of his people, he cannot be also required to render it in their stead the additional satisfaction of obedience.

We hold this to evince a very confused view of the case. God surely did not give Adam the choice between obedience and death, as between two equally legitimate alternatives. The simple facts are (a), that God placed Adam at his creation (and federally the whole race in him) in a middle position, with a character holy, yet liable to fall. Such a position is a fair one. It has its advantages and also its terrible risks. (b.) God promised Adam an advancement far above the position into which he was created, on condition of perfect obedience rendered for a definite period. (c.) He threatened him with that penalty which is inseparable from all moral law, of death in case of disobedience. The endurance of the penalty, therefore, is required of Christ's people in order that their sin may be expiated. And perfect obedience is required for a definite period, in order that they may be righteously advanced to the grace which had, from the beginning, been offered only on that condition. The active and passive obedience of Christ, the suffering of the penalty for the remission of sin, and the obeying of the law for life, do not therefore constitute two satisfactions, but are one complete and perfect satisfaction of the whole law in all its relations.


From The Atonement by A. A. Hodge

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