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Book 2 - Chapter 5: Of the Suretiship and Satisfaction of Christ - by Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.

This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.

Chapter V: Of the Suretiship and Satisfaction of Christ

I. HAVING thus spoken of the person of the surety, so far as the nature of our design requires, now is the time and place to treat a little more accurately of the satisfaction itself, which by his suretiship he undertook to give. For he is called the Surety of the Covenant or Testament, Heb. 7:22. Not only, nor principally, because he engaged to us in the name of God, to fulfil the promises contained in that testament, if we obeyed his commands, as Curcellæus, treading in the footsteps of his master, Socinus, artfully pretends; but because he engaged to God for us, to perform all those conditions in our stead, upon which we were to receive the testamentary inheritance. When Hezekiah desired the saving fruit of this suretiship, he prayed, Is. 38:14, “I am oppressed, ערבני undertake for me.” And God himself, when he gives to his Son all the glory of this suretiship, expresses himself thus: Jer. 30:21, “For who is this that ערב engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord.” That is, what mortal, nay, what creature, dares engage to perform all those things which are incumbent on the priest, who shall have a right to approach to me for himself and his people? Our surety, therefore, thus engaged to God for us. To what purpose is such a surety, who should only engage to us in the name of God? If Christ be a mere man, such as they represent him, could his engagement give us a greater assurance of the truth of the divine promises, than if we heard them immediately from the mouth of God himself? Was it not necessary that God, who cannot lie, should first of all engage to us that the man Christ would be true in all his sayings, before we could with sure confidence rely upon them? Is it not much better, and more safe, to rely upon the oath of the infallible God, by which he has abundantly “confirmed to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel,” Heb. 6:17, than on the declaration of a mere man, let him be ever so true and faithful? And what peculiar excellency would Christ have had above others in this case, to the honour of being the alone surety, had he only, by the publication of a saving doctrine, which he confirmed by his martyrdom, assured us of the certainty of the promises of grace; seeing the other prophets and apostles of Christ did the very same, not scrupling to undergo the most cruel death, in order to seal with their blood the truth of God’s promises, which they had declared? What can vilify Christ, or make void his suretiship, if this does not?

II. Christ therefore is called our surety, because he engaged to God to make satisfaction for us. Which satisfaction again is not to be understood in the Socinian sense, as if it only consisted in this—that Christ most perfectly fulfilled the will of God, and fully executed every thing God enjoined him, on account of our salvation, and so in the fullest manner satisfied God, and that for us, that is, on our account, for our highest and eternal good: as Crellius, when making the greatest concessions, would fain put us off with these fair words: but it consists in this—that Christ, in our room and stead, did, both by doing and suffering, satisfy divine justice, both the legislatory, the retributive, and the vindictive, in the most perfect manner, fulfilling all the righteousness of the law, which the law otherwise required of us, in order to impunity, and to our having a right to eternal life. If Christ did this, as we are immediately to show he did, nothing hinders why we may not affirm, he satisfied for us in the fullest sense of the word. For to what purpose is it superciliously to reject a term so commodious, because not to be met with on this subject in Scripture, if we can prove the thing signified by it?

III. We find his engaging to make this satisfaction, Psa. 40:6–8, expressed in these words by Christ: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required. Then said I, Lo! I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my (bowels or) heart.” Where observe: 1st, The covenant between the Lord Christ and the Father, by virtue of which Christ calls the Father his God. 2dly, That Christ freely, and of his own accord, entered into this covenant with the Father; since he compares himself to a servant, whose ears were bored, or digged through, in order voluntarily to serve his beloved Lord. 3dly, That by virtue of this covenant, Christ presented himself to do the acceptable רצון will of his God. 4thly, That that will was expressed by a law, which Christ has within his bowels, or heart, which he loves from his soul, and is to keep with all his heart. 5thly, That that law requires, not only perfect righteousness, in order to obtain a right to eternal life, but also deserved punishment to be inflicted on the sinner. For all this was signified by the sacrifices, gifts, burnt-offerings and sin-offerings of the law. For when the sinner offered to God beasts or corn, which were given to himself for food, and was careful to have them consumed by fire, as it were in his own room, he thereby confessed that, on account of his sin, he deserved the most dreadful destruction, and even the eternal flames of hell. 6thly, That these external ceremonies of sacrifices could never, without a respect to the thing signified, please God, nor “purge the conscience from dead works:” therefore Christ offered himself, in order to accomplish that will of God, by which we are sanctified, Heb. 10:10; both by fulfilling all the righteousness prescribed by the law, and by enduring the guilt of our sins, that he might atone for them as an expiatory sacrifice. All these things are contained in the suretiship of Christ described by David.

IV. Christ could, without any injury, undertake such a suretiship; 1st, Because he was the lord of his own life, which, on account of his power over it, he could engage to lay down for others; John 10:18, “I have power to lay it down. 2dly. Because, being God-man in one person, he was able to perform what he undertook, by enduring condign punishment, by fulfilling all righteousness, and, in both, performing an obedience of such value, as to be more than equivalent to the obedience of all the elect. 3dly, Because, by that means, he gave an instance of an extraordinary and incomprehensible degree of love, both to the glory of God, and the salvation of men. 4thly, Nor has his human nature any reason to complain, because a creature could have no greater glory than to be hypostatically united with a divine person, and be subservient to him for accomplishing the greatest work, which the whole choir of elect angels will, with astonishment, celebrate through eternity; especially, seeing it was assured, that after its sufferings, which were indeed the greatest that could be, yet of a short duration, that which was “made a little lower than the angels,” should obtain a name above every name.

V. It was also worthy of God the Father, both to procure and accept of this suretiship of his Son; because, in the execution of it, there is a manifestation of the truth of God, exactly fulfilling every thing he had promised in his law to his justice, and had threatened against sin; and of the goodness of God, reconciling to himself sinful and wretched man, on giving and admitting a proper mediator; and of the justice of God, not clearing the guilty without a sufficient satisfaction; nay, accepting a far more excellent satisfaction than could ever be given by man himself, because of the more excellent obedience of Christ, and his more meritorious sufferings, Rom. 3:25; and of the holiness of God, not admitting man unto a blessed communion with himself, unless justified by the blood, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ; in fine, of the all-sufficiency of God, who, as what seemed a thing almost incredible, is, by this means, become, without any diminution to his perfections, the God and salvation of the sinner. Hence it is, that the Lord Jesus, in the execution of his undertaking, professes he manifested the “name,” that is, the perfections of God, John 17:6; particularly those we have just now mentioned. Psa. 40:10: “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation.” As, then, nothing can be thought more worthy of God, than the manifesting, in the most illustrious manner, the glory of the divine perfections, and these perfections shine forth nowhere with greater luster than in the satisfaction of Christ, it was altogether worthy of God to procure and admit his undertaking such a satisfaction.

VI. Nor by the admission of such suretiship is there any abrogation of, or derogation to, the divine law; as little any contradiction of, or substitution of another, but only a favourable construction put upon it, because the law, as it stood, but only taken in a favourable sense, was most fully satisfied by the Redeemer, who was in the closest union with us, when he paid the due ransom. Whence the apostle said, Rom. 8:4, the righteousness of the law was fulfilled by Christ. We shall not improperly conceive of the whole in the following manner: The law declares, there is no admission for any to eternal life, but on the account of a most perfect and complete righteousness; also, that every sinner shall undergo the penalty of death, and be under its dominion for ever. However, it is a doubtful matter, not explained by the law, whether that perfect righteousness must necessarily be performed by the very person to be saved, or whether a surety may be admitted, who shall perform it in his room. Again, it is doubtful whether it was necessary the sinner should in his own person undergo the deserved punishment, or whether he could truly undergo it in the person of a sponsor. In fine, it is a matter of doubt whether he who was to undergo the penalty ought to do so to an infinite degree, with respect to duration, or whether that dominion of death could be abolished by the sufficient dignity and worth of the person who should undergo it, and so death be swallowed up in victory. Strict justice would, as the words seem to import, at first view, demand the former; but the favourable construction, which, according to Aristotle, Ethic. lib. v. c. 10, is “an amendment of the law, where it is deficient, on account of its universality,” admits of the latter, where it can be obtained; as really was and is the case with Christ and Christians. Thus, therefore, that in which the law seemed to be defective from its universality, comes to be corrected; not as to the intention of God the lawgiver, which is altogether invariable, and always most perfect; but as to the express form of the words: almost in the same manner, as if a father should be admitted to pay an equivalent fine for his son, and instead of silver, make payment in gold. This would be a favourable interpretation of the law.

VII. Nor was it unjust for Christ to be punished for us; seeing Socinus himself and Crellius own that the most grievous torments, nay, death itself, might be inflicted on Christ, though most innocent; which also appears from the event. For God, in right of his dominion, could lay all those afflictions on Christ, especially with the effectual consent of the Lord Jesus himself, who had power over his own life. The whole difficulty lies in the formality of the punishment. But as Christ most willingly took upon himself our transgressions, and the trespasses we had committed against the divine majesty, and offered himself as a surety for them; God, as the supreme governor, could justly exact punishment of Christ in our room, and actually did so. And thus “the chastisement of our peace”—that exemplary punishment inflicted on Christ, in which God, by the brightest example, showed his implacable hatred to sin, “was upon him” Is 53:5, who brought pardon and peace unto us. For מוסר, was upon him, here is that exemplary punishment, in which God’s wrath against sin is discovered, which is well adapted to deter others from it. Thus Jer. 30:14, “מריסר אכזרי the punishment of a cruel one,” and Prov. 7:22, “מיסר אויל the exemplary punishment of a fool,” and Ez. 5:15, “So it shall be a reproach, and a taunt, an instruction, מוסר (example), and an astonishment.”

VIII. But we certainly take too much upon us, when we presume to examine the equity of the divine government by the standard of our reason; when the fact is plain, we are always to vindicate God against the sophistry of our foolish reasonings. That man is certainly the author of a monstrous, horrible, and detestable heresy, and discovers a profane arrogance, who, like Socinus, is not ashamed to write as follows: “As for my part, indeed, though such a thing should be found, not once, but frequently in the sacred records, I would not on that account believe it to be so.” But modesty should teach us rather to say, “That truly for my part, though my reason, which I know is blind and foolish, and apt to be clamorous against God, should a thousand times gainsay it, I would not therefore presume to call in question what I find but once in the sacred records; or, by seeking some other interpretation, would I force on the words of Scripture any meaning more consonant to my reason.” When, therefore, we shall have proved from holy writ that the Lord Christ has made satisfaction to the justice of God, we may and ought to rest assured that there is no injustice in it: according to the maxim which nature itself dictates, that “all the ways of God are righteousness and truth.”

IX. No Christian questions that Christ fulfilled all righteousness. The multitude of the Jews, Mark 7:37, testified concerning him, “He hath done all things well.” And he declared this truly, as he did everything else concerning himself: “For I do those things that please him,” John 8:29. And hence he boldly appealed to his enemies, ver. 46, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” Nay, even to his Father himself, Psa. 69:5: “O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee:” for I suppose this Psalm contains a prayer of the Lord Christ, as appears from several parts of it being often quoted in the New Testament. And these words, I think, contain a protestation of the Lord Jesus to his Father, of his own innocence; of which Theodorus, in Catena, has given no improper paraphrase: “Whether I have been guilty of any fault against them, thou thyself knowest, and art my witness, I have done nothing. But I think the meaning may be more fully expressed, thus: It is true, my God, I have taken guilt upon me, and am made a curse; but thou knowest all my sins, even to the slightest offence, for which I suffer; that in all there is not the least fault of mine, by which I have violated thy law, so as to restore what I have taken. The truth of this protestation the Father attests, when, Is. 53:11, he calls Christ his “righteous servant,” and “justified him in the Spirit,” 1 Tim. 3:16, declaring that, as man, he was innocent of every crime falsely laid to his charge; on the contrary, he honoured his Father by his perfect obedience; and, as mediator, so diligently executed his office, that he was deficient in nothing.

X. It is also allowed, that the most holy obedience of Christ was for our good; because therein we have, 1st, A confirmation of his heavenly doctrine; the works of his most perfect holiness, no less than his miracles, being a demonstration that he was a preacher of divine truth sent down from heaven. 2dly, A living law and most perfect pattern of holiness, worthy of God and of the children of God, of which we had an exact delineation in the written law; but its shining forth in its lively image and native light in Christ and his actions, is fitted to stir up every man to love it, who beholds it with a spiritual eye. Mankind wanted this even to discern the unspotted image of the divine holiness in one of their brethren; which at length they obtained in Christ, who “left us an example, that we should follow his stePsa.” 1 Pet. 2:21. 3dly, A pointing out of the way to heaven: Christ teaching us not only by his words, but his actions, that “without holiness no one shall see the Lord,” Heb. 12:14.

XI. But we must proceed a step further, and affirm, that the obedience of Christ was accomplished by him, in our room, in order thereby to obtain for us a right to eternal life. The law, which God will have secured inviolable, admits none to glory but on condition of perfect obedience, which none was ever possessed of but Christ, who bestows it freely on his own people. This is what the apostle declares, Rom. 5:16: “But the free gift of Jesus Christ is of many offences unto justification:” that is, though we want those works, for which the reward may be due; nay, though for so many sins we may have deserved an eternal curse; nevertheless, there is something sufficient, not only for abolishing many offences, but likewise to be the meritorious cause of righteousness; namely, the obedience of one; and it becomes ours by gratuitous gift. More clearly still, ver. 19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made [constituted] sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made [constituted] righteous.” The former “one man” was Adam, the root and federal head of mankind. By his disobedience, all mankind, as belonging to him, were involved in the guilt of the curse: and as he sustained the person of all, what he did amiss is accounted as done by all. The other is the “one man” Christ, who neither sinned in and with Adam, nor had the dominion of sin and death passed upon him, and who is worthy to be both lord and head, a second Adam, and the origin and source of the inheritance to be devolved on his brethren. He is possessed of an obedience, even to the whole law of God, which enjoined him to have a perfect love for the glory of his Father, and for the salvation of his brethren. By that obedience, the collective body of those who belong to him are constituted righteous; that is, are judged to have a right to eternal life, no less than if every one had performed that obedience in his own person.

XII. Nor should it be thought strange that the obedience of Christ is sufficient to acquire to all a right to eternal life; even though it became him, as man, to yield obedience for himself. For we are here to consider the dignity of the person obeying; who being man in such a manner, as at the same time to be the eternal and infinite God, is much more excellent than all the elect, taken together; and therefore his obedience is deservedly esteemed of such value, as may be imputed to all, for obtaining a right to a blessed immortality. And although the divinity, in the abstract, did not obey; yet he who did is God; and thus the divinity of the person contributes very much to the dignity of the obedience. It is certain that, as man, he owed obedience for himself; but since he became man on our account, he also performed that obedience in our room. Moreover, as man, he was not necessarily under the law, as prescribing the condition of happiness; because, if we set aside the condition of the suretiship undertaken for us, he would have enjoyed all manner of happiness, from the first moment of his incarnation, on account of the union of the humanity with the Godhead; as we have more fully shown, chap. III. §. 13, 14.

XIII. It would likewise be false to infer from this, that “if Christ performed obedience for us, we ourselves are under no necessity of obeying, because no demand can be made on the principal debtor, for what the surety has performed in his room.” Our obedience may be considered, either as it is the duty of the rational creature, with respect to his sovereign Lord; or as it is a condition of acquiring a right to eternal life: in the latter respect Christ accomplished it for us; and therefore, under that relation, it neither is nor can be required of us, as if for want of perfect obedience we could be excluded from eternal life. But in the former respect, we by all means owe obedience, and the obligation to it is rather increased than diminished by this instance of Christ’s love. For what more proper, than by this to show our gratitude, and declare, not so much by words as actions, that we acknowledge him for our Lord, who has purchased us for himself? And in fine, that as adopted sons we decline no obedience to our heavenly Father, whom his natural Son, and of the same substance with himself, so cheerfully obeyed.

XIV. But besides, Christ satisfied the vindictive justice of God, not only for our good, but also in our room, by enduring those most dreadful sufferings, both in soul and body, which we had deserved, and from which he, by undergoing them, did so deliver us, that they could not, with the wrath and curse of God, as the proper punishment of our sin, be inflicted on us. If there is any point in our divinity accurately proved, and solidly defended against the exceptions of the Socinians, by illustrious persons in the church, it is certainly this: which I choose not to repeat, desiring the reader to fetch the arguments from a Grotius, a Junius, a Turretine, a Hornbeck, an Essenius, and the like renowned heroes, which will baffle all the efforts of the adversaries properly to answer.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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