27 May 2006

The Justice of Calvary

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

I was doing some reading this week in connection with my ongoing series of posts on 2 Corinthians 5:21, and I decided to read C. H. Spurgeon's sermons on that text. (He preached five of them, and one was titled "The Heart of the Gospel"—same as Tuesday's post, but I didn't realize that when I titled the post).

Anyway, one of the sermons, "Christ—Our Substitute," begins with this anecdote that makes some vital points about justification, penal substitution, and how the love of God relates to His justice.

This sermon was preached in London at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on July 18th, 1886. But I am amazed at how well Spurgeon's message syncs with what we have been posting this week on the blog.

Here's something I've pointed out many times, but it's worth noticing again: The "modernism" Spurgeon opposed in Victorian times is in many respects indistinguishable from the post-modernized ideology of the "emerging church movement" today. Many of the issues are the same; the arguments are the same; there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Specifically, modernists, just like their postmodernist offspring, could not endure the truth that God demands a blood-atonement to satisfy His justice and propitiate His own wrath against sin. The concept of "penal substitution," or propitiation, entailed a view of God that modernists quite simply hated. They believed "love" is inconsistent with any demand for punishment or retribution. In their view, God's "love" ought to nullify all His demands for justice. They argued (just like Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, and lots of other postmodern pseudo-evangelicals do today) that the penal-substitution view of the atonement makes God seem too "harsh."

Here Spurgeon gives a simple response to those claims and shows clearly why that kind of thinking is folly.

On Punishment, Justice, and Atonement

SOMETIME AGO an excellent lady sought an interview with me, with the object as she said, of enlisting my sympathy upon the question of "Anti-Capital Punishment." I heard the excellent reasons she urged against hanging men who had committed murder, and though they did not convince me, I did not seek to answer them.

She proposed that when a man committed murder, he should be confined for life.

My remark was, that a great many men who had been confined half their lives were not a bit the better for it, and as for her belief that they would necessarily be brought to repentance, I was afraid it was but a dream.

"Ah," she said, good soul as she was, "that is because we have been all wrong about punishments. We punish people because we think they deserve to be punished. Now, we ought to show them," said she, "that we love them; that we only punish them to make them better."

"Indeed, madam," I said, "I have heard that theory a great many times, and I have seen much fine writing upon the matter, but I am no believer in it. The design of punishment should be amendment, but the ground of punishment lies in the positive guilt of the offender. I believe that when a man does wrong, he ought to be punished for it, and that there is a guilt in sin which justly merits punishment."

"Oh no; she could not see that. Sin was a very wrong thing, but punishment was not a proper idea. She thought that people were treated too cruelly in prison, and that they ought to be taught that we love them. If they were treated kindly in prison, and tenderly dealt with, they would grow so much better, she was sure."

With a view of interpreting her own theory, I said, "I suppose, then, you would give criminals all sorts of indulgences in prison. Some great vagabond who has committed burglary dozens of times—I suppose you would let him sit in an easy chair in the evening before a nice fire, and mix him a glass of spirits and water, and give him his pipe, and make him happy, to show him how much we love him."

"Well, no, she would not give him the spirits, but, still, all the rest would do him good.

I thought that was a delightful picture certainly. It seemed to me to be the most prolific method of cultivating rogues which ingenuity could invent. I imagine that you could grow any number of thieves in that way; for it would be a special means of propagating all manner of roguery and wickedness.

These very delightful theories to such a simple mind as mine, were the source of much amusement, the idea of fondling villains, and treating their crimes as if they were the tumbles and falls of children, made me laugh heartily. I fancied I saw the government resigning its functions to these excellent persons, and the grand results of their marvellously kind experiments. The sword of the magistrate transformed into a gruel-spoon, and the jail become a sweet retreat for injured reputations.

Little however, did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in pulpits; I had no idea that there would come out a divinity, which would bring down God's moral government from the solemn aspect in which Scripture reveals it, to a namby-pamby sentimentalism, which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue.

But we never know to-day what may occur to-morrow. We have lived to see a certain sort of men—thank God they are not Baptists—though I am sorry to say there are a great many Baptists who are beginning to follow in their trail—who seek to teach now-a-days, that God is a universal Father, and that our ideas of his dealing with the impenitent as a Judge, and not as a Father, are remnants of antiquated error.

Sin, according to these men, is a disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime. Love is the only attribute they can discern, and the full-orbed Deity they have not known. Some of these men push their way very far into the bogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream.

In fact, books now appear, which teach us that there is no such thing as the Vicarious Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. They use the word Atonement it is true, but in regard to its meaning, they have removed the ancient landmark. They acknowledge that the Father has shown his great love to poor sinful man by sending his Son, but not that God was inflexibly just in the exhibition of his mercy, not that he punished Christ on the behalf of his people, nor that indeed God ever will punish anybody in his wrath, or that there is such a thing as justice apart from discipline.

Even sin and hell are but old words employed henceforth in a new and altered sense. Those are old-fashioned notions, and we poor souls who go on talking about election and imputed righteousness, are behind our time.
C. H. Spurgeon

Re-reading that sermon today, parts of it looked familiar. Then I remembered that I quoted a different part of this same sermon in a post last October. That post, and the comment-thread that followed it, are still worth reading.

Phil's signature


Mathew Sims said...

It's interesting how in almost any generation, Christianity and its terms (i.e., hell, sin, death, etc.) have been called out dated, but they still persevere and are held dear by many people today.

You cannnot change God no matter how you try. He is faithful and when someone truly sees the beauty of Christ an acute appreciate for these "outdated terms" soon follows. I would not substitute the terms sin and grace for anything.

Mathew Sims~Soli Deo Gloria

donsands said...

Excellent complement to James. It is so good to study this most essential truth over and over.
I believe we need this truth to "sink deep down into our ears". Luke 9:44

Matt Gumm said...

One of my favorite Spurgeon sermons so far. Thanks, Phil.

Kay said...

We have this in a little paper-back collection of Spurgeons sermons that I have in the mountain of books on my bedside table.
This quote is one of the many that always have me agreeing out loud.

Momo said...

The liberal theology that denies hell and the concept of God as Judge under the guise of advocating some higher view of God's love actually down-grades God's love at the same time that it wickedly attacks both God's righteousness and God's holiness.

It is an insidious undermining of the gospel. Ironically, though in its conception it seeks to undergird the "dignity" of man it actually serves to add to man's damnation by its deception. If a Christian truly loved his neighbor as himself he would abandon this soul-daming lie in a heartbeat. Liberal theology lies about God, lies about man, and lies men right into hell.

Bewildered Berean said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Amazing.

Solameanie said...

The Emergents don't seem to understand the character of God. He is a God of love, certainly. However, his character also demands justice. That is the linchpin of what they don't understand or want to deny. I think that's why Steve Chalke and others give razzberries to the substitionary atonement, or "cosmic child abuse" as he calls it.

DJP said...

What an excellent excerpt; there are so many golden nuggets in it. What forward-looking prescience a man with a backward-looking commitment to timeless truth can exhibit.

Solameanie said...

"He being dead still speaks...."

The theological Jimmy Carters out there, who never met a rogue they didn't like, seem to even misunderstand the word "love." God's love makes His justice necessary.

I guess that's what becomes of hippy theologian types who spent too much time singing "Kum-Ba-Yah" around the campfire, collecting Peter Max posters to view in blacklight, and blowing the dust off of their old Jefferson Airplane records. Or was it The Youngbloods? You know, the type who believe to this day that the Soviet Union was a workers' paradise and that Joe Stalin was a nice old man.

Thanks for posting this gem. Truly wonderful.

Jim Crigler said...

So thoroughly have I become aculturated to the Internet, and so far did I grow up away from low-lying ground, that I misread one sentence as, "Some of these men push their way very far into the blogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream."

Great post, even when properly read ;). Practically and psychologically speaking, the hard part is to remember that the punishment Christ took was not for sin in the abstract, but for my sin and my sins.