The Literal Transfer of Sin & Righteousness
“Holding the mystery of the Faith in a pure conscience” I Timothy 3:9,
“One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” Ephesians 4:5
It is a favourite assertion of those who deny the doctrine of a definite, and maintain a general atonement, who tell us that Christ did not die for the elect alone, but for all men, in the sense of laying a foundation for their salvation, that sin and righteousness are untransferable in themselves, and transferable only in their effects; that when it is said, “he (Christ) bare our sins,” the meaning is that he ” bare only their effects,” and that the “gift of his righteousness” is but “the gift of its effects.”‘ It is also stated by these parties, that “Christ did not die for the sins of some, or of all men, but that he died for sin;” and they vaunt with considerable triumph, that these notions subvert entirely, what they please to call the unscriptural notion, but what we call the scriptural truth, viz. that Christ died only for the sins of the elect.
Concurrently with these notions, if not, indeed, as their foundation, their advocates also maintain, that sins are not debts in reality, but only figuratively or analogically, consequently that while debts maybe transferred, sins cannot; and that though a third person may cancel the former, he can only destroy the effects of the latter, as the desert of the criminal remains. I wish to be permitted to make a remark or two upon these, as I consider, delusive, and unscriptural notions.
Without staying to prove what it were easy to prove, viz. that sin is a debt literally, and not metaphorically only, we proceed to affirm, that by a competent surety, sin is as capable of being cancelled and destroyed, as debt can be; and it will not be pretended that Christ was not a competent surety. Now, how does a third party cancel and destroy the pecuniary debt of him for whom he is surety! Simply, by undertaking, and paying the amount of it, to his creditor. When this is done, the debt is discharged. Now, this is just what Christ did for his elect; and if it can be proved, we retort, that it subverts all general reasonings. Well, then, did not Christ undertake the sins of his people, and “bare them in his own body on the tree!” This is the language of scripture, and imports, that those sins stand now, no longer, either against him, or his people; they are discharged; the claim of justice is satisfied, and asks no more. The law has no more curse for him, or them, for evermore.
Well, but actually are they not sinners? Yes, but it was for them as such that he died, and atoned, and put away sin, i. e. their sin, for ever. As the pecuniary debt when discharged by a third party is utterly cancelled, so is the sin of God’s people. Aye, but their desert remains. If by the term desert or guilt you mean only that they committed sin, we admit it, but then, the debtor contracted the debt. If you mean to affirm more than this by the term, we deny the allegation. ‘For, since Christ has made an atonement for sin, all that now remains in the term guilt, as applied to that sin, is precisely what remains in the term chargeability, as applied to a debt which has been discharged by a third party, viz. contraction. What is guilt, but the state of being justly charged with the commission of crime! The chargeability of crime, lies in its commission; of debt, in its contraction. A third person can no more cancel the fact, that the pecuniary debt which he satisfied, was contracted by another, than that the crime for which he suffered was not committed by him, but by the man for whom he was surety. The bare fact of chargeability, in which only lies guilt, or desert, in either case, is not affected by satisfaction: it remains upon him by whom it is incurred; while the pecuniary debt, and the crime, when discharged by a surety, have legally, in substance, and consequence, no farther existence.
The dogma, that the effects of sin only are cancelled by the atonement, is, altogether, a human invention, not a scriptural truth. The scriptures every where represent, that it not only cancels the effects, but in reference to the elect, destroys the existence of sin. The Saviour has not cancelled the effects merely, and left the cause in vigourous, and deadly rankness, untouched and flourishing; but has rooted up, and destroyed it also. Hence he is said, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;” to have “purged our sins;” that he “was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil;” that the saints are “made free from sin,” and “free from the law of sin and death.” From these, and passages of a kindred character, we conclude that not only “the effects of sin,” but that sin itself was, legally, borne by the Saviour, and destroyed. Hence, in consequence, the saints are delivered, and made free, not from the effects merely, but what is far better, from the cause also, which produces them. In a gospel sense, free from it now, “for Christ hath redeemed us from the curse;” and absolutely, and forever, ultimately, “for (in heaven) there shall be no more curse.”
It is admitted that the Saviour stood in the place of the sinner. We enquire, was he less able, legally, to sustain and destroy the sin of his people, than to sustain and destroy its effects! If the consequences are transferable, why not the thing? The fact is, their legal deserts, i. e. their sins, were transferred to him, in their substantive character, on his own undertaking. Thus were they his, not by an act of personal transgression, but of voluntary and gracious arrangement. His desert was that only of his own stipulation, to bear the sins of others. His faithfulness secured the accomplishment of that stipulation. He was not the party incurring, but representing; such representation being, of the deserts of the former. He agreed to stand in law in the place of the elect, as their legal, personal representative, so that what they deserved of their own act of sin, the Saviour deserved as their surety. The desert was no less transferred, than the exposure and legal obnoxiousness of punishment. On the principle of the arrangement, the first was necessary to the last. Legally, therefore, he took, bore, and discharged the deserts of his people, and who now shall bring them back! In this the suretyship of the pecuniary debtor, and sinner agree; the debt and the sin are transferred, in their substantive character, to the Surety, whose desert is not in-of a personal default, but of the personal undertaking of the default, another.
When a third party undertakes to pay the pecuniary debt of another, the latter is free from the burden; it is now no more his than if it had no existence. It belongs to the surety alone; though to charge him with contracting it, were absurd. So with the great Surety of the elect—he undertook their guilt; and from that moment, they were free from it, and its consequences, legally, both these belonged to, and were discharged by their Surely. In the one [case?] as in the other, it is the thing itself which is transferred, viz. the debt and the guilt, not the contraction of either; of necessity, the consequences follow the transfer. The Saviour, therefore, bore the consequences, for he bore the guilt itself, though he did not contract it. Let these writers learn to distinguish between guilt, or sin, and the act which produces it, and at once they will perceive the futility of urging objections to the doctrine of the actual transfer of the sin of his people to Christ, and of the actual transfer of his righteousness to them.
Yes, his righteousness, not its effects, merely, is transferred to his people. By a divine constitution they are one with him, federally, vitally, actually, eternally. Hence they are said to be righteous, even as he is righteous. Here it is not merely stated that it is the blessed effects of his righteousness which they enjoy, though this is included, but that they are righteous. How righteous? In themselves? Surely not. How then, by imputation? Yes, but not by imputation alone, but by eternal and indissoluble union. They are one with him, and he is one with them. What he is, they are also. His righteousness is theirs, not its effects merely, though these follow, but its substance also. His people are the righteous nation, for they partake of his righteousness. They are said to be made partakers of the divine nature, which stands not for an effect, but for a cause, which leads to it. It is by this oneness, that their sins, not their effects alone, are his; and his righteousness, not its effects alone, is theirs. He was made sin for them, that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. It is said that the words “made sin” may be rendered ” a sin offering,” i. e. that Christ was made a sin offering. We admit that he was made a sin offering; but that interpretation, is not exhaustive of the apostle’s meaning. He was made sin that he might be made a sin offering. It was absolutely necessary, that not only the sins of his people should be imputed to him, but that he should bear them. He must have taken the sin on himself, as a surety for a debt, or the consequences of sin he could not have borne, nor does this make him a sinner; but only what he was, and could not otherwise have been, viz. a surety; just as the undertaking of a third party, of a pecuniary debt, makes him not the debtor, but surety of him who is.
But, says the apostle, we are “made the righteousness of God in him,” i. e. he was made sin, we are made righteous; this is not making his people a righteous offering, nor investing them, merely, with the effects of righteousness; it is making them righteous, actually, absolutely, eternally righteous. This is not the transference of an effect, but of a thing, viz. the glorious righteousness of God. They are not merely to enjoy the effects of the righteousness of Christ, but are themselves made righteous, so as to be without spot. He is made to them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, i. e. they are not simply accounted, and considered righteous, nor merely treated so; but they are actually made so, viz. by the transfer and enjoyment of a divine righteousness, the righteousness of God in Christ, by actual and eternal union with him. He justifies the ungodly.
When the soul is brought to realize its interest in these great blessings, then is it delightfully conscious of its dignity and security. Security, inasmuch as its sins were transferred to and borne by its great surety; and, therefore, legally atoned for and destroyed. Thus they are felt to be removed from him as far as to legal condemnation, as the east is from the west, and cannot lift up their abhorred heads in judgment against him. Dignity, in a sweet apprehension of the righteousness with which he is clothed as with a pure and spotless robe—in having his affections set on things above—in the witness of the Spirit, sealing him to the day of redemption, as an heir of glory — in a sweet elevation of heart above the world and earthly things— and in looking up to heaven as his final and happy home—in a heavenly persuasion that Christ has loved him and gave himself for him— in rejoicing, yet wondering and trembling at the sovereign, the amazing grace, which embraced him a vile and worthless worm, with eternal love, before the world began—in the secret, sweet, yet power, ful and enrapturing whisper, arresting instantaneously, and mysteriously, to which no other man is privy, nor can created power prevent, producing the joy unspeakable and full of glory—a state of mind on earth nearest allied to that of heaven, and breaking up the springs of eternal life’s deep fountain in the soul. ” I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” ” All that the Father hath given me, shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” But these rich seasons of enjoyment, we believe, except with highly favoured souls, are not of very frequent, or long continuance. Some of the heavenly family, no doubt, enjoy more of them than others do, but it is the lot of some for the most part to walk a dark and gloomy path. Others are favoured with the light at near, or distant, or for longer, or shorter periods; but with every one that has “tasted that the Lord is gracious,” the Spirit still abides, though he may not always recognize his presence—to preserve him as an heir of glory, and save him from the devil’s snares. God will not lose the saint he loves, though for wise and sovereign reasons he may hide his face. But it is a blessed thing in life to have him near, and in us, and to feel that he is so ; this is indeed to have a foretaste of the bliss of heaven on earth. Oh that we his tried and trembling children, may not only be his much-loved sons, but have the Spirit of his Son within our hearts, crying, continually, Abba, Father.