The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

by John Owen


Book III

Chapter 7

Of the nature of the satisfaction of Christ, with arguments from thence.

Arg. XIII. A third way whereby the death of Christ for sinners is expressed is SATISFACTION, --namely, that by his death he made satisfaction to the justice of God for their sins for whom he died, that so they might go free. It is true, the word satisfaction is not found in the Latin or English Bible applied to the death of Christ. In the New Testament it is not at all, and in the Old but twice, Num. 35:31, 32; but the thing itself intended by that word is everywhere ascribed to the death of our Saviour, there being also other words in the original languages equivalent to that whereby we express the thing in hand. Now, that Christ did thus make satisfaction for all them, or rather for their sins, for whom he died, is (as far as I know) confessed by all that are but outwardly called after his name, the wretched Socinians excepted, with whom at this time we have not to do. Let us, then, first see what this satisfaction is; then how inconsistent it is with universal redemption.

Satisfaction is a term borrowed from the law, applied properly to things, thence translated and accommodated unto persons; and it is a full compensation of the creditor from the debtor. To whom any thing is due from any man, he is in that regard that man's creditor; and the other is his debtor, upon whom there is an obligation to pay or restore what is so due from him, until he be freed by a lawful breaking of that obligation, by making it null and void; which must be done by yielding satisfaction to what his creditor can require by virtue of that obligation: as, if I owe a man a hundred pounds, I am his debtor, by virtue of the bond wherein I am bound, until some such thing be done as recompenseth him, and moveth him to cancel the bond; which is called satisfaction. Hence, from things real, it was and is translated to things personal. Personal debts are injuries and faults; which when a man hath committed, he is liable to punishment. He that is to inflict that punishment or upon whom it lieth to see that it be done, is, or may be, the creditor; which he must do, unless satisfaction be made. Now, there may be a twofold satisfaction:--First, By a solution, or paying the very thing that is in the obligation, either by the party himself that is bound, or by some other in his stead: as, if I owe a man twenty pounds, and my friend goeth and payeth it, my creditor is fully satisfied. Secondly, By a solution, or paying of so much, although in another kind, not the same that is in the obligation, which, by the creditor's acceptation, stands in the lieu of it; upon which, also, freedom from the obligation followeth, not necessarily, but by virtue of an act of favour.

In the business in hand,--First, the debtor is man; he oweth the ten thousand talents, Matt. 28:24. Secondly, The debt is sin: "Forgive us our debts," Matt. 6:12. Thirdly, That which is required in lieu thereof to make satisfaction for it, is death: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," Gen. 2:17; "The wages of sin is death," Rom. 6:23. Fourthly, The obligation whereby the debtor is tied and bound is the law, "Cursed is every one," etc., Gal. 3:10; Deut. 27:26; the justice of God, Rom. 1:32; and the truth of God, Gen. 3:3. Fifthly, The creditor that requireth this of us is God, considered as the party offended, severe Judge, and supreme Lord of all things. Sixthly, That which interveneth to the destruction of the obligation is the ransom paid by Christ: Rom. 3:25, "God set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood."

I shall not enter upon any long discourse of the satisfaction made by Christ, but only so far clear it as is necessary to give light to the matter in hand. To this end two things must be cleared:--First, That Christ did make such satisfaction as whereof we treat; as also wherein it doth consist. Secondly, What is that act of God towards man, the debtor, which doth and ought to follow the satisfaction made. For the FIRST, I told you the word itself doth not occur in this business in the Scripture, but the thing signified by it (being a compensation made to God by Christ for our debts) most frequently. For to make satisfaction to God for our sins, it is required only that he undergo the punishment due to them; for that is the satisfaction required where sin is the debt. Now, this Christ has certainly effected; for "his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree," I Pet, 2:24; "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities," Isa. 53:11. The word (nasa), also, verse 12, arguing a taking of the punishment of sin from us and translating it to himself, signifieth as much, yea all that we do by the word satisfaction. So also doth that of ANAPHERO, used by Peter in the room thereof: for to bear iniquity, in the Scripture language, is to undergo the punishment due to it, Lev. 5:1; which we call to make satisfaction for it;--which is farther illustrated by a declaration how he bare our sins, even by being "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities," Isa 53:5; whereunto is added, in the close, that "the chastisement of our peace was upon him." Every chastisement is either, for instruction, or, for example, punishment and correction. The first can have no place in our Saviour; the Son of God had no need to be taught with such thorns and briers. It must, therefore, be for punishment and correction, and that for our sins then upon him; whereby our peace or freedom from punishment was procured.

Moreover, in the New Testament there be divers words and expressions concerning the death of our Saviour, holding out that thing which by satisfaction we do intend; as when, first, it is termed PROSPHORA; Eph. 5:2, gave up himself, an offering and a sacrifice, or sacrifice of expiation; as appeareth by that type of it with which it is compared, Heb. 9:13, 14. Of the same force also is the Hebrew word (ascham), Isa. 53:10; Lev. 7:2. "He made his soul an offering for sin,"--a piacular sacrifice for the removing of it away; which the apostle abundantly cleareth, in saying that he was made "sin" itself, 2 Cor. 5:21, sin being there put for the adjunct of it, or the punishment due unto it. So also is he termed "propitiation" I John 2:2. Whereunto answers the Hebrew chitte, used Gen. 31:39, "Ego illud expiabam," which is to undergo the debt, and to make compensation for it; which was the office of him who was to be Job's (ga=92al) "redeemer", chap. 19:25. All which and divers other words, which in part shall be afterward considered, do declare the very same thing which we intend by satisfaction; even a taking upon him the whole punishment due to sin, and in the offering of himself doing that which God, who was offended, was more delighted and pleased withal, than he was displeased and offended with all the sins of all those that he suffered and offered himself for. And there can be no more complete satisfaction made to any than by doing that which he is more contented with, than discontented and troubled with that for which he must be satisfied. God was more pleased with the obedience, offering and sacrifice of his Son, than displeased with the sins and rebellions of all the elect. As if a good king should have a company of his subjects stand out in rebellion against him, and he were thereby moved to destroy them, because they would not have him reign over them, and the only son of that king should put in for their pardon, making a tender to his father of some excellent conquest by him lately achieved, beseeching him to accept of it, and be pleased with his poor subjects, so as to receive them into favour again; or, which is nearer, should offer himself to undergo that punishment which his justice had allotted for the rebels, and should accordingly do it;--he should properly make satisfaction for their offence, and in strict justice they ought to be pardoned. This was Christ, as that one hircus, sent-away goat, that bare and carried away all the sins of the people of God, to fall himself under them, though with assurance to break all the bonds of death, and to live for ever. Now, whereas I said that there is a twofold satisfaction, whereby the debtor is freed from the obligation that is upon him,--the one being solutio ejusdem, payment of the same thing that was in the obligation; the other, solutio tantidem, of that which is not the same, nor equivalent unto it, but only in the gracious acceptation of the creditor,--it is worth our inquiry which of these it was that our Saviour did perform.

He (Grotius, distinguished in legal science, Owen makes reference to) who is esteemed by many to have handled this argument with most exactness, denieth that the payment made by Christ for us (by the payment of the debt of sin understand, by analogy, the undergoing of the punishment due unto it) was solutio ejusdem, or of the same thing directly which was in the obligation: for which he giveth some reasons; as,--First, Because such a solution, satisfaction, or payment, is attended with actual freedom from the obligation. Secondly, Because, where such a solution is made, there is no room for remission or pardon. "It is true," saith he, "deliverance followeth upon it; but this deliverance cannot be by way of gracious pardon, for there needeth not the interceding of any such act of grace. But now," saith he, "that satisfaction whereby some other thing is offered than that which was in the obligation may be admitted or refused, according as the creditor pleaseth; and being admitted for any, it is by an act of grace; and such was the satisfaction made by Christ." Now, truly, none of these reasons seem of so much weight to me as to draw me into that persuasion.

For the first reason rests upon that, for the confirmation of it, which cannot be granted,--namely, that actual freedom from the obligation doth not follow the satisfaction made by Christ; for by death he did deliver us from death, and that actually, so far as that the elect are said to die and rise with him. He did actually, or ipso facto, deliver us from the curse, by being made a curse for us; and the handwriting that was against us, even the whole obligation, was taken out of the way and nailed to his cross. It is true, all for whom he did this do not instantly actually apprehend and perceive it, which is impossible: but yet that hinders not but that they have all the fruits of his death in actual right, though not in actual possession, which last they cannot have until at least it be made known to them. As, if a man pay a ransom for a prisoner detained in a foreign country, the very day of the payment and acceptation of it the prisoner hath right to his liberty, although he cannot enjoy it until such time as tidings of it are brought unto him, and a warrant produced for his delivery. So that that reason is nothing but a begging.

Secondly, The satisfaction of Christ, by the payment of the same thing that was required in the obligation, is no way prejudicial to that free, gracious condonation of sin so often mentioned. God's gracious pardoning of sin compriseth the whole dispensation of grace towards us in Christ, whereof there are two parts:--First, The laying of our sin on Christ, or making him to be sin for us; which was merely and purely an act of free grace, which he did for his own sake. Secondly, The gracious imputation of the righteousness of Christ to us, or making us the righteousness of God in him; which is no less of grace and mercy, and that because the very merit of Christ himself hath its foundation in a free compact and covenant. However, that remission, grace, and pardon, which is in God for sinners, is not opposed to Christ's merits, but ours. He pardoneth all to us; but he spared not his only Son, he bated him not one farthing. The freedom, then, of pardon hath not its foundation in any defect of the merit or satisfaction of Christ, but in three other things:--First, The will of God freely appointing this satisfaction of Christ, John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9. Secondly, In a gracious acceptation of that decreed satisfaction in our steeds; for so many, no more. Thirdly, In a free application of the death of Christ unto us.

Remission, then, excludes not a full satisfaction by the solution of the very thing in the obligation, but only the solution or satisfaction by him to whom pardon and remission are granted. So that, notwithstanding, any thing said to the contrary, the death of Christ made satisfaction in the very thing, that was required in the obligation. He took away the curse, by "being made a curse," Gal. 3:13, He delivered us from sin, being "made sin," 2 Cor. 5:21. He underwent death that we might be delivered from death. All our debt was in the curse of the law, which he wholly underwent. Neither do we read of any relaxation of the punishment in the Scripture, but only a commutation of the person; which being done, "God condemned sin in the flesh of his Son," Rom. 8:3, Christ standing in our stead: and so reparation was made unto God, and satisfaction given for all the detriment that might accrue to him by the sin and rebellion of them for whom this satisfaction was made. His justice was violated, and he "sets forth Christ to be a propitiation" for our sins, "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus," Rom. 3:25, 26. And never, indeed, was his justice more clearly demonstrated than in causing "the iniquity of us all to meet upon him." His law was broken; therefore Christ comes to be "the end of the law for righteousness," Rom. 10:4. Our offence and disobedience was to him distasteful; in the obedience of Christ he took full pleasure, Rom. 5: 17; Matt. 3:16.

Now from all this, thus much (to clear up the nature of the satisfaction made by Christ) appeareth,--namely, It was a full, valuable compensation, made to the justice of God, for all the sins of all those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them, they themselves were bound to undergo. When I say the same, I mean essentially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of duration and the like; for it was impossible that he should be detained by death. Now, whether this will stand in the justice of God, that any of these should perish eternally for whom Jesus Christ made so full, perfect, and complete satisfaction, we shall presently inquire; and this is the first thing that we are to consider in this business.

SECONDLY, We must look what act of God it is that is exercised either towards us or our Saviour in this business. That God in the whole is the party offended by our sins is by all confessed. It is his law that is broken, his glory that is impaired, his honour that is abased by our sin: "If I be a father," saith he, "where is mine Honour?" Mal. 1 :6. Now, the law of nature and universal right requireth that the party offended be recompensed in whatsoever he is injured by the fault of another. Being thus offended, the Lord is to be considered under a twofold notion:--First, In respect of us, he is as a creditor, and all we miserable debtors; to him we owe the "ten thousand talents," Matt. 18:24. And our Saviour hath taught us to call our sins our "debts," Matt. 6:12; and the payment of this debt the Lord requireth and exacteth of us. Secondly, In respect of Christ,--on whom he was pleased to lay the punishment of us all, to make our iniquity to meet upon him, not sparing him, but requiring the debt at his hands to the utmost fartliing,--God is considered as the supreme Lord and Governor of all, the only Lawgiver, who alone had power so far to relax his own law as to have the name of a surety put into the obligation, which before was not there, and then to require the whole debt of that surety; for he alone hath power of life and death, James 4:12. Now, these two acts are eminent in God in this business:--First, An act of severe justice, as a creditor exacting the payment of the debt at the hands of the debtor; which, where sin is the debt, is punishment, as was before declared: the justice of God being repaired thereby in whatsoever it was before violated. Secondly, An act of sovereignty or supreme dominion, in translating the punishment from the principal debtor to the surety which of his free grace he himself had given and bestowed on the debtor: "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to death for us all." Hence, let these two things be observed:--

1. That God accepteth of the punishment of Christ as a creditor accepteth of his due debt, when he spares not the debtor, but requires the uttermost farthing. It is true of punishment, as punishment, there is no creditor properly; for, "Delicta puniri publice interest." But this punishment being considered also as a price, as it is, I Cor. 6:20, it must be paid to the hands of some creditor, as this was into the hands of God; whence Christ is said to come to do God's will, Heb. 10:9, and to satisfy him, as John 6:38. Neither, indeed, do the arguments that some have used to prove that God, as a creditor, cannot inflict punishment, nor yet by virtue of supreme dominion, seem to me of any great weight. Divers I find urged by him whose great skill in the law, and such terms as there, might well give him sanctuary from such weak examiners as myself; but he that hath so foully betrayed the truth of God in other things and corrupted his word, deserves not our assent in any thing but what by evidence of reason is extorted. Let us, then, see what there is of that in this which we have now in hand:--

First, then, he tells us that "The right of punishing in the rector or lawgiver can neither be a right of absolute dominion nor a right of a creditor; because these things belong to him, and are exercised for his own sake, who hath them, but the right of punishing is for the good of community."

Ans. Refer this reason unto God, which is the aim of it, and it will appear to be of no value; for we deny that there is any thing in him or done by him primarily for the good of any but himself. His AUTARKEIA, or self-sufficiency, will not allow that he should do any thing with an ultimate respect to any thing but himself. And whereas he saith that the right of punishing is for the good of community, we answer, that "bonum universi" the good of community, is the glory of God, and that only. So that these things in him cannot be distinguished.

Secondly, He addeth, "Punishment is not in and for itself desirable, but only for community's sake. Now, the right of dominion and the right of a creditor are things in themselves expetible and desirable, without the consideration of any public aim."

Ans. First, That the comparison ought not to be between punishment and the right of dominion, but between the right of punishment and the right of dominion; the fact of one is not to be compared with the right of the other.

Secondly, God desireth nothing, neither is there any thing desirable to him, but only for himself. To suppose a good desirable to God for its own sake is intolerable.

Thirdly, There be some acts of supreme dominion, in themselves and for their own sake, as little desirable as any act of punishment; as the annihilation of an innocent creature, which Grotius will not deny but that God may do.

Thirdly, He proceedeth, "Any one may, without any wrong, go off from the right of supreme dominion or creditorship; but the Lord cannot omit the act of punishment to some sins, as of the impenitent."

Ans. God may, by virtue of his supreme dominion, omit punishment without any wrong or prejudice to his justice. It is as great a thing to impute sin where it is not, and to inflict punishment upon that imputation, as not to impute sin where it is, and to remove or not to inflict punishment upon that non-imputation. Now, the first of these God did towards Christ; and, therefore, he may do the latter.

Secondly, The wrong or injustice of not punishing any sin or sins doth not arise from any natural obligation, but the consideration of an affirmative positive act of God's will, whereby he hath purposed that he will do it.

Fourthly, He adds, "None can be called just for using, his own right or lordship; but God is called just for punishing or not remitting sin," Rev. 16:5.

Ans. First, However it be in other causes, yet in this God may certainly be said to be just in exacting his debt or using, his dominion, because his own will is the only rule of justice.

Secondly, We do not say punishing, is an act of dominion, but an act of exacting a due debt; the requiring this of Christ in our stead supposing the intervention of an act of supreme dominion.

Fifthly, His last reason is, "Because that virtue whereby one goeth off from his dominion or remitteth his debt, is liberality; but that virtue whereby a man abstaineth from punishing is clemency: so that punishment can be no act of exacting a debt or acting a dominion."

Ans. The virtue whereby a man goeth off from the exacting, of that which is due, universally considered, is not always liberality; for, as Grotius himself confesseth, a debt may arise and accrue to any by the injury of his fame, credit, or name, by a lie, slander, or otherwise. Now, that virtue whereby a man is moved not to exact payment by way of reparation, is not in this case liberality, but either clemency, or that grace of the gospel for which moralists have no name; and so it is with every party offended, so often as he hath a right of requiring punishment from his offender, which yet he doth not. So that, notwithstanding these exceptions, this is eminently seen in this business of satisfaction,--that God, as a creditor, doth exactly require the payment of the debt by the way of punishment.

2. The second thing eminent in it is, an act of supreme sovereignty and dominion, requiring the punishment of Christ, for the full, complete answering of the obligation and fulfilling of the law, Rom. 8:3, 10:4.

Now, these things being thus at large unfolded, we may see, in brief, some natural consequences following and attending them as they are laid down; as,--First, That the full and due debt of all those for whom Jesus Christ was responsible was fully paid in to God, accordance to the utmost extent of the obligation. Secondly, That the Lord, who is a just creditor, ought in all equity to cancel the bond, to surcease all suits, actions, and molestations against the debtors, full payment being made unto him for the debt. Thirdly, That the debt thus paid was not this or that sin, but all the sins of all those for whom and in whose name this payment was made, I John 1:7, as was before demonstrated. Fourthly, That a second payment of a debt once paid, or a requiring of it, is not answerable to the justice which God demonstrated in setting forth Christ to be a propitiation for our sins, Rom. 3:25. Fifthly, That whereas to receive a discharge from farther trouble is equitably due to a debtor who hath been in obligation, his debt being paid, the Lord, having accepted of the payment from Christ in the stead of all them for whom he died, ought in justice, according to that obligation which, in free grace, he hath put upon himself, to grant them a discharge. Sixthly, That considering that relaxation of the law which, by the supreme power of the lawgiver, was effected, as to the persons suffering the punishment required, such actual satisfaction is made thereto, that it can lay no more to their charge for whom Christ died than if they had really fulfilled, in the way of obedience, whatsoever it did require, Rom. 8:32-34.

Now, how consistent these things (in themselves evident, and clearly following the doctrine of Christ's satisfaction, before declared) are with universal redemption is easily discernible; for,--First, If the full debt of all be paid to the utmost extent of the obligation, how comes it to pass that so many are shut up in prison to eternity, never freed from their debts? Secondly, If the Lord, as a just creditor, ought to cancel all obligations and surcease all suits against such as have their debts so paid, whence is it that his wrath smokes against some to all eternity? Let none tell me that it is because they walk not worthy of the benefit bestowed; for that not walking worthy is part of the debt which is fully paid, for (as it is in the third inference) the debt so paid is all our sins. Thirdly, Is it probable that God calls any to a second payment, and requires satisfaction of them for whom, by his own acknowledgment, Christ hath made that which is full and sufficient? Hath he an after-reckoning that he thought not of? for, for what was before him he spared him not, Rom. 8:32. Fourthly, How comes it that God never gives a discharge to innumerable souls, though their debts be paid? Fifthly, Whence, is it that any one soul lives and dies under the condemning power of the law, never released, if that be fully satisfied in his behalf, so as it had been all one as if he had done whatsoever it could require? Let them that can, reconcile these things I am no CEdipus for them. The poor beggarly distinctions whereby it is attempted. I have already discussed. And so much for satisfaction.

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