BLTC Press Titles

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Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

The brazen serpent; or, Life coming through death

by Thomas Erskine


This view of the atonement, which is generally known by the name oithe doctrine of Christ's substitution, has, I know, been held by many living members of his body; and yet I believe that, with some truth in it, it contains much dangerous error. In the first place, I may observe that it would not be considered justice in an earthly judge were he to accept the offered sufferings of an innocent person as a satisfaction for the lawful punishment of a guilty person. And as the work of Christ was wrought to declare and make manifest the righteousness of God, not only to powers and principalities in heavenly places, but to men, to the minds and consciences of men, it is not credible that that work should contain a manifestation really opposed to their minds and consciences. Let me here entreat of my reader to be patient and not to misunderstand me, nor to suppose that, by using this language, I do at all mean to deny or bring into doubt the blessed truth, that Christ tasted death for every man; for verily and indeed I believe that Christ did taste death for every man, and that, too, in a far deeper and truer sense than is taught by the doctrine of substitution in its ordinary acceptation. The humanly devised doctrine of substitution has come in place of, and has cast out, the true doctrine of the headship of Christ, which is the large, and glorious, and

true explanation of those passages of Scripture which are commonly interpreted as teaching substitution. Christ died for every man, as the head of every man, not by any fiction of law, not in a conventional way, but in reality as the head of the whole mass of the human nature, which, although composed of many members, is one thingone body—in every part of which the head is truly present.

If my right hand had committed murder, and my left hand had committed theft, and my feet had been swift to shed blood; were I to suffer beheading for these offences, no one would say that my head had been the substitute for my hands and my feet. And although, in this case, it be true that the planning head is the real offender, and therefore is the proper sufferer, yet the force of the comparison is not thereby destroyed, for even if these members were capable of independent action, they would be punished in the punishment of the head, because they are all really contained in the head, in virtue of its being the root of that system of nerves which, by pervading them all, does in fact sustain them all. Now remember this word of Christ, "The earth and its inhabitants are dissolved, I bear up the pillars of it;" and recognise him as the sustaining head, to the power of whose pervading presence through all the members of the human nature the actual existence of every individual of the race is alone to be attributed. He was indeed the head of every man, and therefore when he died, he died for every man. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin, not only on account of their comparative worthlessness, but also because they were substitutes; their blood was not the blood of the offender, and therefore it could not fulfil the condemnation; for thus it is written, "And the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it" (Numb. xxxv. 33). But when Christ offered his blood as an atonement, he offered the blood of the offender, for God " hath made of one blood all nations that dwell on all the face of the earth " (Acts xvii. 26); and Christ offered that one blood, and here was the mighty marvel, although it was the blood of the offender, yet it was blood untainted by sin. It was in virtue of his taking part of the one condemned flesh and blood that he could meet and fulfil the condemnation, and could by death overcome him that had the power of death, even the devil.1 The whole nature is as one colossal man, of which Christ continues the head during the whole accepted time and day of salvation;2 and according to this head is the whole at present dealt with. The doctrine of the human nature of Jesus Christ is not merely that he is of the same nature, of the same flesh and blood with every man; but that he has part of that one nature, that one flesh and blood, of which, as a great whole, all are partakers. Unless the first Adam had been truly the root and the head of the nature, his fall could not have involved and embraced all the rest; he could not have fallen for every man. Thus, if Cain 1 Heb. ii. 14. 2 1 Cor. xi. 3 ; Rom. v. ; John xv.

only had fallen, his fall could only have involved his own posterity. And unless Christ had been truly the head and the root of the nature, he could not have tasted death for every man, and his resurrection could not necessarily have involved that of every other man. But he was truly the head of the offending nature, and in his suffering the offending nature suffered the righteous sentence of God. It was no fiction of law. He suffered as the condemned head, he rose as the righteous head.

And secondly, he did not suffer the punishment of sin, as the doctrine of substitution supposes, to dispense with our suffering it, but to change the character of our suffering, from an unsanctified and unsanctifying suffering, into a sanctified and sanctifying suffering. And thus, when our Lord himself speaks to the disciples about his cross and sufferings, he uniformly calls upon them to take up their cross and follow him by the same road of suffering. This connection is marked through all the evangelists, and must therefore be a designed connection.—See Matt. xvi. 21-25; Mark viii. 31-35; Luke ix. 22-24; John xii. 23-26. And Paul desires fellowship in Christ's sufferings, and conformity with his death. The substance of all these passages proves that the substitution of Christ did not consist in this, that he did or suffered something instead of men, so as to save them from doing or suffering it for themselves. And this agrees with the obvious fact that Christ's death does not save the believer from dying a natural death, nor does his sorrow save the believer from sorrowing. On the contrary, the believer dies; and moreover, dies daily, in consequence of and in proportion to his faith. What Christ did for us, was done for us in a sense and with a view very different from that of saving us from doing it ourselves. He fulfilled the law, for instance, certainly not with the view of saving us from fulfilling it, but, on the contrary, with the very view of enabling us to fulfil it. For the salvation of Christ consists mainly in "writing the law upon our hearts," and he made himself a sin-offering, "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit."

When, therefore, it is said that Christ did or does things for us, it is not meant that he did or does them as our substitute, but as our head. He does them for us as a root does things for the branches, or as a head or heart does things for the body. He is given as a Leader as well as a Commander to the people; he leads them the way, he does not call on them to do things which he does not himself do; nor does he himself do things which he does not call on them to do. He is the "Forerunner who is for us entered," not to dispense with our entering, but to open the way for us, and keep it open. Suppose a man dead and buried, and life coming again to him into his head, that living head might force a way for the body up from the grave, but it would not do this to dispense with the rising of the body, but as the leader and commander of the body. So also is the work of Christ.

But further, the common doctrine of substitution is inconsistent with the true nature of the punishment of sin. For it supposes that punishment is an arbitrary or conventional thing, appointed merely to maintain the dignity of the Lawgiver, but which may be dispensed with, without the sinner's suffering thereby any loss, if that dignity is otherwise secured. But the punishment of sin is the manifestation of the holy God in relation to a creature that has left the Fountain of life; it is a manifestation of God just suited to the creature in these circumstances, and surely the creature that loses it, loses a blessing, for it loses so much of God. All the Bible is full of proof that punishment in this present dispensation is sent as a blessing: "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of thy law, tliat thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity."1 "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life."2 "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth;" "if ye be without chastisement, then are ye bastards and not sons."3 And it is the Father of the spirits of all flesh, in speaking of his own dealings with his children, who says, "He that spareth the rod hateth the child."

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