THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
THE PLYMOUTH VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT
The basis of the doctrine of imputed holiness is that theory of the atonement which represents that Christ Jesus, the sinless Son of God, in whom He was well pleased, was literally identified with sin so as to be "wholly chargeable therewith, that we might be identified and wholly charged with righteousness." This quotation is from Dr. George S. Bishop, who proceeds to say, "The atonement which we preach is one of absolute exchange, that Christ took our place literally--that God regarded and treated Christ as a sinner, and that He regards and treats the believing sinner as Christ. From the moment we believe, God looks upon us as if we were Christ .... We then are saved, straight through eternity, by what the Son of God has done in our place .... Other considerations have nothing to do with it. It matters nothing what we have been, what we are, or what we shall be. From the moment we believe on Christ, we are forever, in God's sight, AS CHRIST. Of course it is involved in this that men are saved, not by preparing first, that is, by repenting, and praying, and reading the Bible, and then trusting Christ; nor the converse of this, that is, by trusting Christ first, and then preparing something -- repentance, reformation, good works -- which God will accept; but that sinners are saved irrespective of what they are -- how they feel -- what they have done -- what they hope to do -- by trusting on Christ only, that the instant Christ is seen and rested in, the soul's eternity, by God's free promise, and regardless of all character and works, is fixed."
We would call attention to the following points in the above quotation; - -
1. Repentance is not necessary to saving faith.
2. Good works, as the fruit of saving faith. and proof of its genuineness, have no place in this scheme of salvation, and are distinctly repudiated; and well they may be, since by the first act of faith, as a bare, intellectual, impenitent apprehension that God punished His Son for our past, present, and future sins, "the soul's eternal salvation, regardless of conduct and character, Is FIXED." "What we shall be matters nothing" since we have a through ticket for Heaven. St. James is an impertinence in this scheme of salvation, and his epistle may well be called "strawy."
3. That "God regarded and treated Christ as a sinner"; in other words, that He actually punished His Son because he was guilty of our sins. There was a time in the life of Martin Luther when he sowed the seeds of this error, which produced a sad harvest of antinomianism. He used words which seem not blasphemous, merely because the intention was wanting. "The prophets did foresee in Spirit that Christ would become the greatest transgressor, murderer, thief, rebel and blasphemer that ever was or can be." "Whatsoever sins I, thou, and we shall have done, or shall do hereafter, they are Christ's own sins, as verily as if He had done them Himself."
We once heard a layman, an ex-president of the Boston Y. M. C. A., assert in a public evangelistic service that "Jesus Christ on the cross was the greatest sinner in the universe!" Such statements are usually attended by the portrayal with terrific distinctness, of the Almighty Father in the act of hurling His thunderbolts, in blasting shocks, down upon the defenceless head of His shrinking and suffering Son.
We indignantly repudiate the monstrous idea that Jesus on the cross was a sinner overwhelmed with the bolts of the Father's personal wrath. What we do affirm is that his sufferings and death were in no sense a punishment, but a substitute for punishment, answering the same end, the conservation of God's moral government and the vindication of His holy character while He pardons penitent believers.
The chief proof-text of the doctrine that Christ on the cross was a gigantic sinner, is 2 Cor. v. 21. "For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." This is styled "the sublime equation." Jesus becomes guilty of our sins and suffers their punishment, and His righteousness is henceforth forever reckoned as ours. The exchange of our sin for Christ's righteousness is "absolute."
The common sense exegesis of this text is, that Jesus became of His own free will a sin offering for us, and that this is the meaning of sin in the first clause. This is the interpretation of Augustine, Ambrosiaster, Erasmus, cumenius, Vatablus, Cornelius a Lapidis, Piscator, Ritsche, Wolf, Hammond, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Ewald, Raymond, and others.
It is a remarkable fact that the Hebrew word, chattath, is used in the Old Testament by actual count one hundred and sixty times for sin, and one hundred and twelve times for sin-offering. It is very natural that such a mind as Paul's, saturated with the Hebrew Scriptures, should sometimes use the Greek term for sin, hamartia, in the sense of sin-offering. So obvious is this usage in Paul's Epistles, that the Revision has twice, at least, translated this term by "sin offering" -- Rom. viii. 3; Heb. xiii. 11. We contend that it should be thus rendered in 2 Cor. v. 21.
4. We have insuperable philosophical and ethical difficulties in the way of receiving the statement that the guilt of the race was transferred to Christ. Character is personal, and cannot be transferred. Sin is not an entity, a substance which can be separated from the sinner and be transferred to another and be made an attribute of his character by such a transfer. Sin is the act or state of a sinner, as thought is the act or state of the thinker. Neither can have an essential existence separate from their personal subject, any more than any attribute can exist separate from its substance.
5. If sin cannot exist in the abstract, it can not be punished in the abstract. If it cannot be transferred to another, it cannot be punished in another, though one man may voluntarily suffer to save another from punishment.
Hence we repudiate in the interest of sound ethical philosophy and clearness of thought, the following proposition of Dr. Bishop: --
"If the sin of the believing sinner is taken from his shoulders and laid upon the Son of God, then justice, still following after sin, must strike through sin and the person of the Son of God beneath it."
It is a moral axiom that only the guilty can be rightfully punished. If Christ was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, to punish Him would be, not only contrary to all human law, but it would outrage all those God-given moral sentiments on which human law rests. It is in vain that Dr. Bishop seeks for analogies to sustain the monstrous injustice of punishing innocence. He says, "When a father commits a crime, his whole family sink in the social scale, though innocent." Here he confounds the natural consequences of sin with the punishment of sin. Dr. Bishop should show that society universally hangs the innocent family on the same gibbet with the guilty husband and father. Then the case would be analagous.
Many persons use the expression "Christ in the stead of the sinner suffered the punishment of his sin," without subjecting this proposition to that rigid analysis which theological accuracy requires. While it is true that Jesus is our substitute, He is our substitute truly and strictly only in suffering, not in punishment. Sin cannot be punished and pardoned also. This would be a moral contradiction. Sin is conditionally pardoned because Jesus has suffered and died. There is no punishment of sin except in the person of the sinner who neglects so great a Saviour. Sin was not punished on the Cross. Calvary was the scene of wondrous mercy and love, not of wrath and penalty.
Says Dr. Whedon, "Punishment in the strict sense implies the guilt of the sufferer as its correlative. Whenever the sinner and the sufferer are not the same, it is only by an allowable inaccuracy that the suffering can be called punishment. It follows that it is not strictly accurate to say that Christ was punished, or that he truly suffered the punishment of sin."
But this inaccuracy is no longer "allowable" when it is made the basis of the doctrine of imputed holiness, which tramples the holy law of God under foot, and flings its obligations to the winds on the plea of an inalienable standing in Christ, in whom, despite my wallowing in fleshly lusts, I am seen to be as holy as He is holy.
6. But the ethical difficulties thicken as we continue our examination of this view of the atonement.
A LIMITED ATONEMENT
Is the inevitable outcome of the doctrine that sin was punished on the cross. Whose sin? If it be answered, that of the whole human race, then universalism emerges, for God cannot in justice punish sin twice. It must be, then, that the sins of the elect only were punished. Hence at the bottom, this system of doctrine rests upon the tenet of a particular, in distinction from a universal atonement. The fact that this basis is not avowed, and that the terminology of hyper-predestinarianism, such as "the elect," "the reprobates," "special call," "irresistible grace," "perseverance of the saints," and salvation by "Divine Sovereignty," is studiously avoided, makes this system of doctrine still more dangerous, because these offensive features are concealed with Jesuitical cunning. We cannot resist the suspicion that this is designed, so as to make it palatable to those educated in the Arminian faith, in order to catch them with guile. Some unreflective Arminians are thus unawares entrapped into the reception of that unmitigated scheme of doctrine which Christendom is almost universally shaking off.
In our first interview with Mr. Darby, we asked what was his view of election founded on[;] the foreseen, free, acceptance of the conditions of salvation, repentance toward God, and faith in Jesus Christ. His reply was that "an election, grounded upon reasons, would destroy the sovereignty of God, and that no act of the creature, no foreseen faith in Christ, conditioned election."
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