Another item in the atonement debate, plus...
Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.
The following excerpt is from "The True Tabernacle, and Its Glory of Grace and Peace," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, September 27th, 1885.
Notice that Spurgeon emphatically affirms several aspects of the believer's relationship with Christ. He stresses that Christ is both our substitute and our representativeand also that we are spiritually in union with Christ. Several dimensions of all those truths are expressly affirmed and celebrated.
Spurgeon thereby illustrates why (contrary to some ideas that are popular today) there is no need to think in terms of "stress[ing] union with Christ rather than" substitution, representation, imputation, or any of the other aspects of what it means to have Christ as our Savior. Spurgeon accentuates them all and makes it clear that they complement each other perfectly.
Substitution, Representation, Union
How we benefit from Christ's death and Resurrection
When it came to His death, which was the pouring out of His soul, then His fullness of grace was seen. He was full of grace indeed, forasmuch as He emptied Himself to save men. He was Himself not only man's Saviour, but his salvation. He gave Himself for us (Titus 2:14; Galatians 1:4; 2:20).
He was indeed full of grace when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. His was love at its height, since He died on the cross, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
Pronounce the word substitution, and you cannot help feeling that the Substitute for guilty man was full of grace; or use that other word, representative, and remember that whatever Jesus did, He did as the covenant Head of His people. If He died, they died in Him; if He rose again, they rose in Him; if He ascended up on high, they ascended in Him; and if He sits at the right hand of God, they also sit in the heavenly places in Him. When He shall come a second time it shall be to claim the kingdom for His chosen as well as for Himself; and all the glory of the future ages is for them, and not for Himself alone.
He saith, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Oh, the richness of the grace and truth that dwell in our Lord as the representative of His people! He will enjoy nothing unless His people enjoy it with Him. "Where I am, there also shall my servant be." "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in Thy throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
There is yet another word higher than substitution, higher than representation, and that is union.
We are one with Christ, joined to Him by a union that never can be broken. Not only does He do what He does representing us, but we are joined unto Him in one spirit, members of His body, and partakers of His glory. Is it not a miracle of love that worms of earth should ever be one with incarnate Deity, and so one that they never can be separated throughout the ages?
What does this have to do with the atonement debate?
A similar principle holds true with regard to all the various truths that are germane to the atonement. We affirm the truth of Christus victor (Christ's triumph over the forces of hell); we recognize that a ransom was paid; we acknowledge that there is a moral example to be followed in Christ's death; we agree that Christ's death satisfied public justice and the moral government of God; we say amen to the truth that the cross was a satisfaction of God's offended honor and glory.
There are important elements of truth in all those "theories" of the atonement.
But we also insist that Christ "was wounded for our transgressions"; that "it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief"; that His death represented the suffering of "the just for the unjust"; that He was made "sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him"and at least a dozen or more other biblical statements that expressly declare that His dying was punishment for our sins in our place: penal substitution.
All those pieces (and undoubtedly more) are necessary to give us a full picture of what Christ's atonement accomplished.
But the penal and substitutionary aspects of what happened at the cross are so essential to the message of Christ that if you deny this aspect of the atonement, you have gutted the gospel. You remove so many pieces that the picture will be practically unrecognizable.
Once more: that's not a denial that there are other legitimate (and vitally important) aspects of the atonement that may be unrelated to the idea of penal substitution. It may well be that some of them are even essential. (For example, if someone denied that the cross represents Christ's victory over all the powers of evil, depending on why and what that person meant, such a denial might very well constitute a de facto denial Christianity itself.)
The thing is, no one is aggressively denying the other aspects of the atonement while demanding recognition as an evangelical. On the contrary, it seems that just about everyone who wants to tamper with the historic Protestant understanding of the cross is making penal substitution the target.
Those who defend that doctrine are not "reductionists." Such a label actually fits better on critics who suggest that the cross would be more appealing if we could only eliminate the unpleasantries of punishment, justice, and divine wrath.