Substitution in Suffering

John Miley

The Atonement in Christ, 1879

Dr. Miley (1813-1895) was Professor of Systematic Theology in Drew Theological Seminary, Madison, N. J. He was a Methodist.

1. A Substitutional Atonement.-- The sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin by substitution, in the sense that they were intentionally endured for sinners under judicial condemnation, and for the sake of their forgiveness. They are atonement for sin in the sense that they render its forgiveness consistent with the divine justice. They provide for such consistency, in the sense that justice none the less fulfills its rectoral office in the interest of moral government. Such office of justice is so fulfilled in the sense that, in granting forgiveness only on the ground of such a substitution in atonement, the honor and authority of the divine Ruler, together with the rights and interests of his subjects, are equally maintained as by the infli ction of merited penalty upon sin. Such facts, here merely stated, will have their unfolding in the progress of discussion.

2. Conditional Substitution.-- The forgiveness of sin has a real conditionality. The fact is given in the clearest utterances of Scripture. It is given in the fact of demerit for refusing the overtures of redemptive grace. It is also given as the only explanation of the fact that, with a real atonement for all, some perish. Atonement for all by absolute substitution would inevitably achieve the salvation of all. The logic of the case gives us this consequence. Satisfactionists freely give it. Their soteriology requires it. It must be so. Therefore a universal atonement, with the fact of a limited actual salvation, is conclusive of a real conditionality in its saving grace. It follows, inevitably, that such an atonement is conditional or provisory, not immediately and necessarily, saving. The substitution of Christ in atonement for sin must be of a nature consistent with these facts. in such a substitution as would make his vicarious suffering the merited punishment of sin, all for whom he so suffers must be discharged from guilt; must be, even on the ground of justice. This we have shown before. We should thus have an absolute substitution in penalty, together with a provisory atonement and a conditional forgiveness. But such facts have no scientific accordance, and it is impossible to combine them in a doctrine of atonement.

3. Substitution to Suffering.-- The substitution of Christ must be of a nature agreeing with the provisory character of the atonement. It could not, therefore, be a substitution in penalty as the merited punishment of sin, for such an atonement is absolute. The substitution, therefore, is in suffering, without the penal element. This agrees with the nature of the atonement as a moral support of justice in its rectoral office, rendering forgiveness consistent with the interest of moral government.

Nor could the sufferings of Christ have been, in any strict or proper sense, a punishment. Demerit, the only ground of punishment, is personal to the actual sinner, and without possible transference ( Dr. Whedon: "Bibliotheca Sacra," vol. xix, p. 252; also, "Commentary," 2 Cor. 5: 21). We have seen the futility of attempting the transference of guilt without sin. The result of such a fact would leave the sinful guiltless and make the sinless guilty. On such a possibility guilt has no necessary connection with sin: there is no such possibility. And the substitution of Christ in suffering will satisfy all the requirements of the redemptive economy.

Nor have the vicarious sufferings of Christ, without the penal element, less value for any legitimate purpose or attainable end of substitutional atonement. Such an atonement has great ends in the manifestation of the divine holiness, justice, and love; of the evil of sin; and the certainty of penalty, except as forgiveness may be obtained in the grace of redemption. But for all such ends the theory of vicarious punishment has no advantage above that of vicarious suffering.

If the high assertion be true, that God is under obligation to punish sin as it deserves, and solely on the ground of its demerit, then there is a requirement of justice not fulfilled by vicarious suffering in atonement. But no more is it in the alleged mode of substitutional punishment; and for reasons previously given (Chap. vii, V, 10). Imputation carried over no sin to Christ, hence no sin was punished when he suffered.

The punishment of sin does manifest the divine holiness and justice. But this fact gives no advantage to the scheme of substitutional punishment; and for the reason that sin is not punished in Christ. If He is punished, it is in absolute freedom from all demerit of sin. And the recoil of so many minds from such a fact, as one of injustice, is not without reason.

Punishment does declare the evil of sin and the certainty of penalty; but only on the condition that the penal infliction fall upon the demerit of sin. But here, again, the scheme of Satisfaction is denied all advantage, because, according to its own admissions, such is not the fact. And the substitution of Christ in suffering, as the only and necessary ground of forgiveness, will answer for these great ends as fully as such alleged substitution in punishment.

A ground of forgiveness provided in a divine sacrifice infinitely great is a marvelous manifestation of the divine love; but that sacrifice, in every admissible or possible element, is as great in the mode of vicarious suffering as in that of vicarious punishment. The gift of the Father is the same. Nor are the sufferings of the Son less, or other, in any possible element. In neither ease could there be any remorse or sense of personal demerit. He could have no sense of the divine wrath against himself. Nor could there be such a divine wrath. The scheme of Satisfaction will so deny. It would repel any accusation that even by implication it attributes to the Father any wrathful bearing toward the Son. "Christ was at no time the object of his Father's personal displeasure, but suffered only the signs--the effect, not the affection--of divine anger." (Prof. Bruce: "The Humiliation of Christ," p. 381). The incarnation, the self-divestment of a rightful glory in equality with the Father, the assumption, instead, of the form of a servant in the likeness of men, are all the same on the one theory as on the other. There is the same infinite depth of condescension. Equal sorrow and agony force the earnest prayer and bloody sweat in Gethsemane, and the bitter outcry on Calvary.

Any question, therefore, between these two theories respecting the sufferings of Christ, concerns their nature, and not either their measure or redemptive office. And in these facts--in the divine compassion which embraced a perishing world, in the infinite sacrifice of that compassion, in the gracious purpose and provision of that sacrifice--is the manifestation of the divine love. "Herein is love." "God so loved the world." And to call his sufferings penal--or had they been so in fact--would add nothing either to the measure or manifestation of the divine love in human redemption.

Yet, without the penal element in the sufferings of Christ, we may attribute to them a peculiar depth and tone arising out of their relation to sin in their redemptive office, and find the explanation in the facts of psychology. It is no presumption so to apply such facts. The human nature was present as a constituent element in the person of Christ. And there is no more reason to deny its influence upon his consciousness than to deny such influence to his divine nature. So far, therefore, as his consciousness shared in experiences through the human nature, they would be kindred to our own.

We have our own experiences in the clear apprehension of justice, and sin, and penalty. The feelings hence arising would be far deeper on hearing a verdict of guilt and judgment pronounced upon the criminal. The higher and purer our spiritual nature, still the deeper would these feelings be. And could one with the highest attainable moral perfection redeem a criminal simply by vicarious suffering, his inevitable con tact with sin, in the realizations of a most vivid apprehension of its demerit and punishment, would give a peculiar cast and depth to his sufferings.

So was it in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, but in an infinitely deeper sense. In such redemption he must have bad in clearest view the divine holiness, and justice, and wrath; the turpitude and demerit of sin; and the terribleness of its merited penalty. Only in such a view could He comprehend his own work or sacrifice in atonement for sin. And, remembering the moral perfection of his nature, and that his contact was with the sins of all men in the full apprehension of their demerit, of the divine wrath against them, of the terribleness of their just doom, and that his own blood and life, in the conscious purpose of their offering, were a sacrifice in atonement for all, we have reason enough for their peculiar tone and awful depth.

It is urged that penal substitution is necessary, not only for the satisfaction of justice, but also "for satisfying the demands of a guilty conscience, which mere pardon never can appease." (Dr. Hodge: "Systematic Theology," vol. ii, p. 526. See also Dr. Shedd: "Theological Essays," pp. 298, 299). The connection holds the Rectoral atonement to be as powerless as the Moral scheme for the contentment of conscience. It cannot have rest, except with the merited punishment of sin. Therefore, in the case of forgiveness, such punishment must be endured by a substitute.

We fully accept the fact of a deep sense of punitive demerit on account of sin in a truly awakened conscience. This feeling may be so strong as to result in a desire for punishment. There may even be some relief of conscience from the penal endurance. But such a feeling has respect simply to personal demerit, and can be appeased only through personal punishment-if punishment be really necessary to the appeasement.

What is the law of pacification in substitutional punishment? We know not any. Nor can there be any, except such punishment he in relief of personal character. But this will not be claimed as possible. Further, it is claimed in behalf of atonement by penal substitution, that, more than any thing else, it deepens the 'sense of sin and personal demerit. But if its tendency is to the very state of mind involving the deepest unrest, it is impossible to see how it can be necessary to the pacification of the conscience. And if we can find rest only through merited punishment, personal or vicarious, we shall never find it either in this world or in the next.

All relief from the trouble and disquietude arising in the sense of sin and guilt, must come in the forgiveness of sin. And to be complete, the forgiveness must be so full and gracious as to draw the soul into a restful assurance of the loving favor of the forgiving Father. It is no discredit to infinite grace to say, that the sense of demerit for sins committed can never be eradicated, not even in heaven; though the remorse of sin may be taken away here and now. But even such a sense of demerit tends to a measure of unrest forever, and, apart from every other law, would so result. There is still a law of complete rest--such as we have just given. The true rest will come in a full forgiveness, in the assurances of the divine friendship and love, and in a grateful, joyous love answering to the infinite grace of salvation. And the atonement in vicarious suffering answers for such facts as fully as that in penal substitution.

Nor has the atonement in vicarious suffering any tendency or liability to Antinomianism. From its own nature it is a provisory or conditional ground, not a causal ground of forgiveness and salvation. From such an atonement no license to sin can be legitimately taken. Antinomianism is utterly outlawed. We know very well that Satisfactionists very generally discard this heresy. They will deny that it has any logical connection with their theory. Yet in the history of doctrines Antinomianism stands with the soteriology of Satisfaction. Nor does it seem remote from a logical sequence to such an atonement. There is substituted punishment, and also substituted righteousness. Whatever penalty we deserve Christ bears; whatever obedience we lack he fulfills. He takes our place under both penalty and precept. What he does and suffers in our stead answer for us in the require merits of justice and law as though personally our own. In view of such facts, Antinomianism is far worse in its doctrine than in its logic. But the atonement in Christ does not make void the law. Nor has the true doctrine any liability to such a perversion. The atonement in vicarious suffering has this advantage, and is thereby commended as the true one.

[Below is a Dr. Miner Raymond's summary statement of the atonement.]

On the theory of atonement we understand Dr. Raymond to be with Dr. Whedon. He gives the atonement thus: "The death of Christ is not a substituted penalty, but a substitute for a penalty. The necessity of an atonement is not found in the fact that the justice of God requires an invariable execution of deserved penalty, but in the fact that the honor and glory of God, and the welfare of his creatures, require that his essential and rectoral righteousness be adequately declared. The death of Christ is exponential of divine justice, and is a satisfaction in that sense, and not in the sense that it is, as of a debt, the full and complete payment of all its demands." (ref. p. 213) (Dr. Miner Raymond, Systematic Theology, © 1887, Vol. II pp. 257, 258)

Atonement in Christ, John Miley, Copyright 1879, New York: Phillips & Hunt, Pages 190-198, 213.


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October 9, 2003