The question often arises in our mind and seems to be of great importance, how God can be just, and the justifier of sinners, since it is written, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to God?” – Prov. xvii. 15.Yet in the sufferings of our Redeemer, we see one who is holy, harmless, separate from sinners, as the just and holy one of Israel, who in his own most sacred person knew no sin, who was immaculately pure, made sin for us, bearing the sins of many, numbered with the transgressors, condemned to die the just for the unjust, and the wicked freely justified through the redemption that is in him. Is not this a mystery that the angels desire to look into? This mystery is not obviated by the contemplation of the sovereign right of God to do all his pleasure; for justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. He is a just God, and we are told that he “will by no means clear the guilty.” Yet we see the vicarious sufferings of the spotless Lamb of God, when “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment [or as in the margin, He was taken away by distress and judgment, but] and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.” – Isa. liii.5-10.
In all that we have thus far noticed of the divine testimony the sufferings of our dear Redeemer seem to have been vicarious, or substitutional. One who is just and holy suffering for others who were guilty and righteously condemned by the holy, righteous and just law of God; but unless we can find something more than substitution in the sufferings of our Lord, we shall fail to discover the justice of the just suffering for the transgression of the guilty.
Should a citizen of this world commit a crime against the laws of his country, no principle of common law or justice would allow an innocent person to bear the penalty in his room as a substitute. Such a substitution would be a gross violation of justice. Should a criminal convicted of murder, condemned to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, procure an innocent person to suffer death in his room and stead, it would not meet the demand of justice; and if such a substitute should be accepted and executed, it would be a clear case of murder, an outrage against law and justice, and would by no means make the transgressors any less guilty. Substitutions or vicarious suffering alone could never put away sin, meet the stern demands of the holy law of God, or answer the ends of justice. There must therefore be found a principle of relationship identifying the sin-bearing sufferer, before we can trace the justice of God in laying the iniquity of his chosen people on the sinless victim, who himself bare out sins in his own body on the cross. For this relationship let us search. An owner or shepherd of a flock of sheep may in strictest justice be held for the trespass of his flock. He alone has the right to redeem them because they are his own sheep, and were his before they went astray and committed the trespass for which they are held by law. He is the shepherd whose own the sheep are, and the law justly holds him responsible for expiation. So Jesus says, “I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” – John x. 11. And the dread command is sounded from the throne of God, “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the Shepherd.” &c. – Zech. xiii. 7. Here is justice and equity. The sheep have trespassed, and the unoffending Shepherd suffers. But, in the absence of this relationship where would be the justice? Had it been the sheep of some other owner, could justice have laid on him their iniquity? But now as we have seen, “All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Should a wife become indebted to the merchant, or to any other creditor, the relationship subsisting affords the only ground on which the husband is held responsible for the amount of the debt; but the law could not in justice substitute another woman's husband and make him responsible for the amount. In the absence of the relation of husband and wife neither law nor justice would allow the demand. Our Lord Jesus Christ claims his church as the bride, the Lamb's wife. He says he is married unto her, and in that relation holds himself responsible for her debts. And by his apostle he says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” But apart from this relationship is a husband bound to love, by substitution, and give himself for some other husband's wife, as for any but his own wife? Christ loved and gave himself for his own wife, the church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 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. v. 25-27.
Children may be involved in trouble, trespass, or debt, and the father is held responsible, because he is their father; not merely as a substitute for them, but by virtue of the relation which he bears to them he is held in law; if it were only by substitutions, he might be held as well for the debts or trespass of all other children, as for his own. All whom Christ has redeemed are his children. He is their everlasting Father, and was held responsible for them as such. A surety is also held in justice for the payment of the bankrupt debtors for whom he has indorsed. But for capital offenses, in which life is required, and for which death is the penalty, still nearer and more vital relation is required; neither the husband for the wife, the parent for the child, nor the surety for the debtor, can be accepted. Should a wife or son or daughter be convicted of murder, no innocent husband or parent can be accepted as a substitute for the offender. A vicarious sufferer would not meet the demand of law and justice. But while Jesus sustains all the relations to his church which we have named, and in them all his sufferings may be regarded as vicarious, there is a more vital connection in which he is identified and held to answer all the demands of the law and justice of God.
The church for which our Lord laid down his life, is his body, and he is her head, (Eph. i.23) and as her head he was numbered with the transgressors, and bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. – Isa. liii.12. The transgressors of the divine law for whom he was stricken were all the members of his body. The iniquity of them all was demanded at his hand. If the members of a body commit a crime involving life, it cannot be expiated by cutting off such members from the body. Suppose a man's hand has plunged a dagger into the heart of a person, that hand if it were cut off would not satisfy the demand of the law which requires the life of the murderer. The hand could not have committed the murder if it were not connected vitally with the body, nor could the body without a head commit the act; therefore the head is justly held for the whole body of which he is the head, the shepherd for the sheep, the husband for the wife, and the parent for the child. And thus we see the son of God, the brightness of his Father's glory, and express image of his person, in his mediatorial humiliation, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, made flesh and dwelling among his members, demanding of his disciples who were slow to believe all that the prophets have written, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” And responsive to that important interrogative, positively declaring “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” – Luke xxiv. 26, 46, 47.
The point to which we desire to call special attention is the necessity of a vital relationship between Christ who makes the sacrifice, and the church for whom the sacrifice was made, to make the sacrifice available to them. If all the holy angels of heaven had been offered for the transgressions of man, such a vicarious or substitutional offering could not have been accepted by the law of God, and must have utterly failed to redeem the transgressors from their sins. Boaz could not have redeemed the inheritance of Elimelech, if he had not been vitally related, as a near kinsman who by vital relationship had in himself the right of redemption. – Ruth ix. 1-9. If our neighbor's sheep have trespassed and are lawfully held for the damage which has been sustained, none but the owner of the sheep can, simply by paying the ransom demanded, make them his own sheep.
The spiritual, eternal life which was with the Father co-existent with his eternal being, was given to his children, in the Son, even that life which was, and is, and forever shall continue to be hid with Christ in God, and constitutes a vital relationship which secures to him the right to take on him the seed of Abraham, when that seed had in the flesh transgressed the law of God, and thus identify himself with them in their flesh, partake of the same flesh and blood of which they are partakers, assume a body made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, in which to suffer and bear their sins in his own body, be put to death in the flesh, that he might redeem them from the sins of their flesh, and bestow on them that eternal life which is the gift of God through him. In his begotten Sonship he is one with all who are begotten and born of God, even as in his supreme, unbegotten and self existent Deity he is One with the Father in the Godhead. In his begotten Sonship he is the Mediatorial Head of the church, and the “First born among many brethren.” Of these brethren, it is written, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children [brethren of him that sanctifieth, and children which God hath given him, and whom he is not ashamed to BRETHREN] are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself like [or in like manner] took part of the same.” &c. Their partaking of flesh and blood no more made them the children of God whom he gave to Christ, than Christ's incarnation made him the Son of God. Christ in his Mediatorial Sonship existed with the Father from everlasting, but was made flesh and dwelt among his children in the flesh when the fullness of the time for his incarnation had come; then, as he himself has declared, “I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.” – John viii. 42. “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” – John xvi. 28. Also, John xvii. 6-8, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee: for I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”
This record of the Son of God, as proceeding from, and subject to the will and control of the Godhead, we understand to relate to his Mediatorial, or begotten Sonship, and by no means in disparagement of his unbegotten, independent, eternal Godhead; for he is not only the Word which in the beginning was WITH God, but he is also the Word which in the beginning WAS GOD, and that in the most unlimited sense of the words. In his begotten Sonship we understand that he is the Elder Brother of all who are born of God, and the First Born among many brethren. In his Godhead undivided and indivisible, there being but One God. The head of Christ is God, even as the head of the body or church is Christ. Therefore as the atoning sacrifice for his people we regard him as being infinitely superior to a mere substitute. The atoning sacrifice was made by Christ for his own body, the church, therefore he, in treading the wine press, says, “And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation UNTO ME; and my fury, it upheld me.” – Isa. lxiii.5. Whatsoever is done to any, even to the least of his members is done unto him.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 13
July 1, 1881