God's Recognition of Substitution
bringing the question into the courts of law would have availed nothing, had
there not been provision made for so ordering their processes and judgments
that the sinner might be righteously acquitted; that God might be
'just and the justifier" (Rom 3:26), "a just God and a Saviour" (Isa 45:21);
that law might be brought to be upon the sinner's side; his absolver, and
not his condemner.
provision has been made by means of substitution, or transference of
the penalty from him who had incurred it to One who had not.
courts, no such provision can be allowed, save in regard to the payment of
debt. In that case there is no difficulty as to the exchange of person and
of property. If the creditor receives his money from a third party, he is
satisfied, and the law is satisfied, though the debtor himself has not paid
one farthing. To a certain extent, this is substitution; so that the idea of
such a thing is not unknown in common life, and the principle of it not
unacknowledged by human law.
this the law of man does not go. Substitution in any wider aspect is
something about which man has never attempted to legislate. Stripe for
stripe is human law; "by His stripes we are healed" is superhuman,
the result of a legislation as gracious as it is divine.
is not for man to deal with: its principle he but imperfectly understands;
its details he cannot reach. They are far too intricate, too far-reaching,
and too mysterious for him to grasp, or, having grasped, to found any system
of legislation upon them. In this, even though willing, he must ever be
has affirmed substitution as the principle on which He means to deal
with fallen man; and the arrangements of His holy tribunal, His righteous
governmental processes, are such as to bring this effectually and
continually into play. It is through substitution that His righteous
government displays its perfection in all its transactions with the sinner.
introduced the principle of substitution into His courts. There He sits as
judge, "just and justifying"; acting on the principle of transference or
representation; maintaining law, and yet manifesting grace: declaring that
"all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23); that "by
the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the
law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20); yet presenting a divine Surety, as
"a PROPITIATION through faith in His blood, to declare His RIGHTEOUSNESS for
the remission of sins that are past" (Rom 3:25).
by substitution was embodied in the first promise regarding the woman's seed
and His bruised heel. Victory over our great enemy, by His subjecting
Himself to the bruising of that enemy, is then and there proclaimed. The
clothing of our first parents with that which had passed through death, in
preference to the fig-leaves which had not so done, showed the element of
substitution as that on which God had begun to act in His treatment of
fallen man. Abel's sacrifice revealed the same truth, especially as
contrasted with Cain's. For that which made Abel's acceptable, and himself
accepted, was the death of the victim as substituted for his own; and that
which rendered Cain's hateful, and himself rejected, was the absence of that
death and blood. The slain firstling was accepted by God as, symbolically,
Abel's substitute, laid on the altar, till He should come, the "woman's
seed," "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under
the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal 4:4, 5).
beginning God recognized this principle in His dealings with man; the Just
dying for the unjust; the blessed One becoming a curse that the cursed might
be blessed. In all subsequent sacrifices it was the same. Noah's
burnt-offering was like Abel's; and Abraham's resembled Noah's. Transference
of guilt from one who could not bear the penalty without being eternally
lost, to One who could bear it, and yet come forth from under it, free and
glorious,-this was the deep truth into which God educated the patriarchs, as
that which lay at the foundation of His procedure with the sinner. The
consumption of Abraham's sacrifice by the divine fire told him that the
divine displeasure which should have rested on him for ever, had fallen upon
a substitute and been exhausted, so that there remained no more wrath, no
darkness, "no condemnation" for him; nothing but deliverance and favor and
But it was
the arrangements of the tabernacle that brought out most fully this
great principle of God's actings to the children of Adam.
passover-blood, the idea was chiefly that of protection from peril.
The lamb stood sentinel at the door of each family; the blood was their
"shield and buckler." There might be trembling hearts within, wondering
perhaps how a little blood could be so efficacious, and make their dwelling
so impregnable; disquieted, too, because they could not see the blood, but
were obliged to be content with knowing that God saw it (Exo. 12:13); yet no
amount of fearfulness could alter the potency of that sprinkled blood, and
no weakness of faith could make that God-given shield less efficacious
against "the enemy and the avenger." The blood,-the symbol of
substitution,-was on the lintel; and that was enough. They did not see it,
nor feel it; but they knew that it was there, and that sufficed. God
saw it, and that was better than their seeing it. They were safe; and they
knew that they were so. They could feast upon the lamb in peace, and eat
their bitter herbs with thankful joy. They could sing by anticipation the
Church's song, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
it was not in Egypt, but in the wilderness; not in their paschal chamber,
but in the sanctuary of their God, that they were to learn the full and
varied truth of pardon, and cleansing, and acceptance, and blessing through
burnt-offering of the patriarchs, on the footing of which these fathers had
in ages past drawn near to God, was split into many parts; and in the
details of these we see the fullness and variety of the substitution.
various sacrifices are well connected with the altar; and even that which
was "burnt without the camp" was connected with the altar. It was no doubt
carried forth without the camp, and burnt with fire (Lev 6:30, 16:27); but
"the blood was brought into the tabernacle of the congregation, to reconcile
withal in the holy place." "The blood of the bullock was brought in, to make
atonement in the holy place." Their connection with the altar is sufficient
of itself to show the truth of substitution contained in them, for the altar
was the place of transference. But in each of them we find something which
expresses this more directly and fully.
burnt-offering we see the perfection of the substitute presented in the
room of our imperfection, in not loving God with our whole heart.
meat-offering we have the perfection of the substitute, as that on
which, when laid upon the altar, God feeds, and on which He invites us to
peace-offering we find the perfection of the substitute laid on the same
altar as an atonement, reconciling us to God; removing the distance and the
enmity, and providing food for us out of that which had passed through
death; for "He is our peace."
sin-offering we see the perfection of the substitute, whose blood is
sprinkled on the altar, and whose body is burnt without, as securing pardon
for unconscious sins,-sins of ignorance.
trespass-offering there is the same perfection of the substitute, in His
atoning character, procuring forgiveness for conscious and willful sin.
drink-offering we have the perfection of the substitute poured out on
the altar, as that by which God is refreshed, and by which we are also
refreshed. "His blood is drink indeed."
incense we have the "sweet savor" of the substitute going up to God in
our behalf, the cloud of fragrance from His life and death with which God is
well pleased, enveloping us and making us fragrant with a fragrance not our
own; absorbing all in us that is displeasing or hateful, and replacing it
with a sweetness altogether perfect and divine.
fire we see the holy wrath of the Judge consuming the victim slain in
the sinner's room. In the ashes we have the proof that the wrath had spent
itself, that the penalty was paid, that the work was done. "It is finished,"
was the voice of the ashes on the altar.
this we see such things as the following: (1) God's displeasure against sin;
(2) that displeasure exhausted in a righteous way; (3) the substitute
presented and accepted; (4) the substitute slain and consumed; (5) the
transference of the wrath from the sinner to his representative; (6) God
resting in His love over the sinner, and viewing him in the perfection of
his substitute; (7) the sinner reconciled, accepted, complete, enjoying
God's favour, and feeding at His table on that on which God had fed; on that
which had come from the altar, and had passed through the fire.
acceptance of this principle, in His preparation of acceptable worshippers
for His sanctuary, shows the fitness and value of it, as well as the divine
intention that it should be available for the sinner in his drawing near to
God. In this way it is that God makes the sinner "perfect as pertaining to
the conscience" (Heb 9:9), gives him "no more conscience of sins" (Heb
10:2), and "purges his conscience from dead works to serve the living God"
(Heb 9:14). For that which satisfies the holiness of God cannot but satisfy
the conscience of the sinner. God, pointing to the altar, says, "That is
enough for me"; the sinner responds, and says, "It is enough for me."
As in the
Epistle to the Hebrews we have this principle of substitution applied to the
sanctuary, so in that to the Romans we find it applied to the courts of law.
In the former we see God making the sinner perfect as a worshipper;
in the latter, righteous as a servant and a son. In the one it is
priestly completeness; in the latter it is judicial righteousness. But in
both, the principle on which God acts is the same. And as He acts on it in
receiving us, so does He invite us to act in coming to Him.
It is this
truth that the gospel embodies; and it is this truth that we preach, when,
as ambassadors for Christ, we pray men in Christ's stead to be reconciled to
God. God's free love to the sinner is the first part of our message; and
God's righteous way of making that free love available for the sinner is the
second. What God is, and what Christ has done, make up one gospel. The
belief of that gospel is eternal life. "All that believe are justified from
all things" (Acts 13:39).
weak faith and a fearful heart many a sinner stands before the altar. But it
is not the strength of his faith, but the perfection of the sacrifice, that
saves; and no feebleness of faith, no dimness of eye, no trembling of hand,
can change the efficacy of our burnt-offering. The vigor of our faith can
add nothing to it, nor can the poverty of it take anything from it. Faith,
in all its degrees, still reads the inscription, "The blood of Jesus Christ
His Son cleanseth us from all sin"; and if at times the eye is so dim that
it cannot read these words, through blinding tears or bewildering mist,
faith rests itself on the certain knowledge of the fact that the inscription
is still there, or at least that the blood itself (of which these words
remind us) remains, in all its power and suitableness, upon the altar
unchanged and uneffaced. God says that the believing man is justified; who
are we, then, that we should say, "We believe, but we do not know whether we
are justified"? What God has joined together, let not man put
question as to the right way of believing is that which puzzles many, and
engrosses all their anxiety, to the exclusion of the far greater questions
as to the person and work of Him who is the object of their believing. Thus
their thoughts run in a self-righteous direction, and are occupied, not with
what Christ has done, but with what they have yet to do, to
get themselves connected with His work.
should we have said to the Israelite, who, on bringing his lamb to the
tabernacle, should puzzle himself with questions as to the right mode of
laying his hands on the head of the victim, and who should refuse to take
any comfort from the sacrifice, because he was not sure whether he had laid
them aright;-on the proper place, in the right direction, with adequate
pressure, or in the best attitude? Should we not have told him that his own
actings concerning the lamb were not the lamb, and yet that he was speaking
as if they were? Should we not have told him that the lamb was everything,
his touch nothing, as to virtue or merit or recommendation? Should we not
have told him to be of good cheer; not because he had laid his hands on the
victim in the most approved fashion, but because they had touched that
victim, however lightly and imperfectly, and thereby said, Let this lamb
stand for me, answer for me, die for me? The touching had no virtue in
itself, and therefore the excellency of the act was no question to come up
at all: it simply intimated the man's desire that this sacrifice should be
taken instead of himself, as God's appointed way of pardon; it was simply
the indication of his consent to God's way of saving him, by the
substitution of another. The point for him to settle was not, Was my touch
right or wrong, light or heavy? but, Was it the touch of the right lamb,-the
lamb appointed by God for the taking away of sin?
quality or quantity of faith is not the main question for the sinner. That
which he needs to know is that Jesus died and was buried, and rose again,
according to the Scriptures. This knowledge is life everlasting.
The Everlasting Righteousness
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