Did Christ endure The Exact Penalty of The Law ?

‘The fair teachings of the Bible do not imply that he endured the penalty of the law.

If an attempt were made to show that he did endure the literal penalty of the law, reliance would be placed on such texts as the following:—Isa. liii: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 2 Cor. v. 21: “For he hath made him to be sin for us.” Gal. iii. 13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” 1 Peter ii. 24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Isa. liii. 12: “He bare the sin of many.”

These passages are so far similar that the same general remarks may be made in regard to them all. That they prove that Christ died for the sins of men; that he took the place of sinners; that his death was a sacrifice; that he made a true atonement for human guilt, are points fully established by them: at least, between those who hold the doctrine defended in this treatise, and those who maintain that Christ endured the literal penalty of the law, there will be, in these respects, no difference of opinion.

In respect, however, to the question whether they teach that he endured the literal penalty of the law, the following observations may be made.

(a) They are fairly susceptible of an interpretation in accordance with the belief that he did not endure the literal penalty of the law. It is incumbent on those who hold that he did endure the literal penalty of the law to show, not merely that these passagesmight be so construed as to teach that doctrine, but that they are susceptible of no other interpretation. If they taught that there was a transfer of moral character or of guilt in the proper sense of the term, or if that doctrine was fairly proved by any other passages of the Bible, then it would be necessary to admit that this would be the fair interpretation of these passages. The question is, whether they necessarily imply this. A few remarks on these passages will show that this interpretation is not required, but that they are susceptible of another explanation.

The passage in 2 Cor. v. 21—” he hath made him to be sin for us”—cannot be intended to be literally true. Even those who maintain that he endured the penalty of the law cannot hold, and do not profess to hold, that it was literally true that he was made to be sin. In no proper sense can it be true that he was made to be a sinner; for this would be contrary to the teaching of the passages just quoted, that he ‘knew no sin,’ that he was ‘holy, harmless, undefined, and separate from sinners,’ and that he ‘died the just for the unjust.’ We must therefore look for some other interpretation than the literal one; and that is found in the doctrine that the word here rendered sin, in accordance with Hebrew usage, is employed in the sense of sin-offering. Compare Hos. iv. 8; Ezek. xliii. 22, 25, xliv. 29,’xlv. 22, 23, 25; Lev. vi. 18, 23.

A similar passage occurs in Galatians iii. 13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” The word here used, and rendered curse,xaxdpa,—means properly, as with us, cursing, malediction, execration, a devoting or dooming to destruction. It occurs in the New Testament in the following places:—Col. iii. 10, 13, rendered curse; Heb. vi. 8, James iii. 10, rendered cursing; and 2 Peter ii. 14, rendered cursed. It conveys the idea of being given over to destruction, or left without those influences which would protect and save,—as a land that is given over to the curse of sterility or barrenness. Applied to a lost sinner, it would mean that all saving influences were withdrawn and that he was given over to the malediction of God. But what is its meaning as applied to the Redeemer in the passage now before us? (a.) It cannot mean that he was made a curse in the sense that his work and character were displeasing to God; for, as we have seen, just the contrary doctrine is everywhere taught in the New Testament. (b.) It cannot mean that he was the object of the Divine displeasure, and was therefore abandoned by him to deserved destruction, (c.) It cannot be employed as denoting that he was in any sense ill deserving or blameworthy; for this is equally contrary to the teachings of the Bible, (d.) It cannot mean that he was guilty in the usual and proper meaning of the word, and that therefore he was punished; for this would not be true, (e.) It cannot mean that he bore the literal penalty of the law; for, as we have seen, there are parts of that penalty—remorse of conscience, and eternity of suffering—which he did not, and could not, bear. (/.) It cannot mean that he was sinful, or a sinner, in any sense; for this is equally contrary to all the teachings of the Bible in regard to his character, (g.) There is but one other conceivable meaning that can be attached to the passage, and that is that, though innocent, he was treated in his death As If he had been guilty; that is, he was put to death As If he had personally deserved it. That this is the meaning is implied in the explanation which the apostle himself gives of his own language:—” being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” He was suspended on a cross, as if he had been a malefactor. He was numbered with malefactors; he was crucified between them; he was given up by God and man to death as if he had himself been such a malefactor. In other words, he was put to death in the same manner as he would have been if he had been personally guilty of the violation of the law. Had he been a thief or murderer, had he committed the grossest and blackest crimes, this would have been the punishment to which he would have been subjected. He consented to die in the same manner as the vilest malefactor, in order that by his substituted sorrows he might save those who were personally guilty. The idea which makes the atonement so wonderful—the idea which makes it an atonement at all—is, that innocence was treated as if it were guilt; that the most pure and holy and benevolent being on earth was treated As If he had been the most vile and ill deserving. As the ideas above referred to exhaust all the conceivable meanings of the passage before us, the demonstration seems to be complete that it cannot mean that the Redeemer was made a literal curse, or that he endured the literal penalty of the law.

(b.) Those passages are not only susceptible of another interpretation than that Christ endured the penalty of the law, but theymust have such an interpretation.

1. If this were not so, then it would be proper to speak of Christ, as Luther did, as a ‘sinner’ and as the ‘greatest of sinners.’ If the passages teach that he was made literally ‘sin,’ that he was made literally a ‘curse,’ that he literally bore the ‘iniquity’ of men, then the language of Luther was proper language, for the views which he expressed are but the fair application of such an interpretation. For if he was ‘sin,’ and a ‘curse,’ and ‘bore iniquity’ in a literal sense, then no reason can be given why the languagewhich properly denotes those who are sinners should not be applied to him as was done by Luther. In fact, Luther, from his boldness and consistency, did what others holding the same views are afraid to do. He shrank from nothing: nothing in danger; nothing in regard to his own reputation; nothing in the terms which he applied to others who differed from him; and nothing in the words to be employed in expressing what he believed to be the true teaching of the word of God. That men holding the views of a literal imputation of sin to the Redeemer, and the doctrine that he endured the literal penalty of the law, do not now use that language, is to be traced to the heart, and not to the head,—to their feelings, and not to their logic. Their piety revolts at the conclusions to which they would fairly be conducted by their premises. Luther’s did not.

2. It would follow, if these passages were not susceptible of such an interpretation as that above suggested, that there was a real transfer of sin to the Redeemer. If it was literally true that he was made ‘sin,’ that he was a ‘curse’ for us, that he bore ‘iniquity,’ then it would follow that there was a transfer of criminality to him,—that he became so identified with sinners for whom he died that he was properly and justly regarded as a sinner. It would follow that he was not treated as if he had been a sinner, but that to all intents and purposes he was regarded and treated As a sinner, or as deserving all that came upon him. It is not easy to see how this conclusion could be avoided, or how we could escape the absurdity of holding in words—what no man can really believe in fact—that a transfer of moral character actually took place.

3. It would follow, further, that those for whom he died could not themselves be held and regarded as guilty. If there has been atransfer of their guilt, it is no longer their own, and they cannot be responsible. Two persons cannot be held responsible for the same offence. If a debt has been paid by a friend, it cannot be demanded of him who originally contracted it. If one could be substituted in the place of another in a penitentiary, and serve out the term of punishment assigned to the original offender, the offender could not be again imprisoned for the crime. If a man who is ‘drafted’ for military service procures a substitute who is accepted, he cannot be made to serve if the substitute dies of disease or is killed in battle. And so, if Christ was literally made ‘sin’ and a ‘curse;’ if he took literally upon himself the sins of men and paid the penalty of the law; if there was a real transfer of the whole matter to him, then it would follow that those whose place he took could no longer be held to be guilty.

4. “With equal clearness it would follow that they could not be required to repent of the sin which they bad committed. If the whole matter is transferred and cancelled, then it is clear that there can be no reason why they should repent, or, indeed, why there should be any repentance in the ease. Repentance is not a thing required by law, for no law makes provision for it; and if all the penalty due to the sin has been borne, then there is no occasion for it and there would be no propriety in it. At all events, if there was a necessity for repentance in any view of the matter, the demand would be on the substitute, since he has undertaken to meet all the demands of justice in the case.

5. It would follow that he who became the substitute for the sins of men must be conscious of guilt himself and feel the remorsethat springs from crime. Remorse and consciousness of guilt go with guilt itself, and are indissolubly connected with it; and if there has been a transfer of guilt, then there must also be a transfer of the consciousness of guilt and of the feeling of remorse, for these are parts of the penalty of the law.

6. On the whole, therefore, according to this view, there would be utter confusion in all our notions of justice and of right. Every thing would be unsettled. All that has been regarded as fixed and determined in the minds of men in respect to the impossibility of transferring moral character; to the language properly applicable to guilt and innocence; to the connection between a personal offence and repentance; between guilt and the consciousness of guilt, and between guilt and remorse, would be utterly confounded. All the lines which God, in our very nature, has drawn between guilt and innocence, and which are so essential in the administration of justice, would be obliterated; and, if these principles were universally adopted, all government in a family, in a state, or in the universe at large, would come to an end; for a just government cannot be administered except it be an admitted principle that moral character cannot be transferred; that ill desert cannot be made over to another; that repentance can be properly required only of the offender himself; and that an appeal may be made to the consciousness of guilt and to the inflictions of remorse, in recovering offenders and inducing them to obey law.’

Source: Albert Barnes, The Atonement (1860), Chapter 8: Confirmation of These Views of the Nature of the Atonement from the Bible, p. 293-300.

Note by crosstheology: the Greek characters of this book have not been correctly digitized by anyone so far. If you can help me in doing that, please do.


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