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Book 2 - Chapter 7: Of the Efficacy of Christ’s Satisfaction - by Herman Witsius

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

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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 VII: Of the Efficacy of Christ’s Satisfaction

I. THE efficacy of Christ’s satisfaction is twofold. The first regards Christ himself; the other, the elect. Christ, by his satisfaction, obtained for himself, as Mediator, a right to all the elect, which the Father willingly and deservedly bestows upon him, Psa. 2:8, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” ‘This is Christ’s פעלה, work with his God, that he should not only be his servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; but that he should be given for a light to the Gentiles, that he might be God’s salvation unto the end of the earth,’ Is. 49:4, 6. It appears also, from that promise, Is. 53:10, “If his soul shall make itself an offering for sin, he shall see his seed.” And thus we become “his inheritance,” Eph. 1:11: “his peculiar treasure,” Psa. 135:4: “his peculiar people,” Tit. 2:14, and 1 Pet. 2:9.

II. Besides, it is not possible, but Christ should exercise that right, which he acquired at so dear a rate. For when, according to the determinate counsel of God, the time of the gracious visitation of every one of the elect is come, he actually delivers them, as his property, by an outstretched arm. And why should he not, seeing he can easily effect it by the power of his Spirit, turning and inclining their heart? Is it credible he should suffer those who are his lawful right to be and to remain the slaves of Satan? Is it worthy of Christ, that he should not be actually glorified in the sanctification and happiness of those, for whom he underwent so much infamy; or should suffer any of those to perish, whom he purchased for his own possession by his precious blood? Christ himself hath taught us thus to reason, John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice.” Because these sheep were of right his property, it therefore became him, actually to lay hold of them as his own, and bring them into his fold. Nor can the right of Christ be made ineffectual, or remain without actual possession; especially as he was not promised by the Father a bare right, but also a possession by right, upon his making satisfaction, as the places above quoted evince.

III. The Lord Jesus obtained for the elect, by his satisfaction, an immunity from all misery, and a right to eternal life, to be applied unto them in effectual calling, regeneration, sanctification, conservation, and glorification, as the Scripture declares. Thus Matt. 26:28, “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.” Gal. 1:4, “He gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” Tit. 2:14, “Gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Eph. 5:25, 26, 27, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify it, that he might present it to himself a glorious,” &c. In a word, “This is that faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Tim. 1:15. By these and many other passages to the same purpose, which it would be needless to mention here, it evidently appears, that the effect of Christ’s satisfaction was not a bare possibility of the remission of our sins, and of our reconciliation with God, but an actual remission and reconciliation, an abolition of the dominion of sin, and at length salvation itself: and it is not possible, the elect should have no share in this, unless Christ should be deemed to have satisfied for them to no purpose. It is certainly incumbent on us never to weaken the force of the words of the Holy Ghost; especially in those places and expressions of Scripture where the subject of our salvation is treated of, nor to detract in any thing from the value of the satisfaction of our Lord.

IV. This truth also appears from those places of Scripture in which the satisfaction of Christ is called απολύτρωσις a redemption, made by the payment of λυτρον, a ransom, or αντιλυτρον, a price of redemption. For the proximate effect of redemption, and of the payment of a ransom, is the setting the captive at liberty, and not a bare possibility of liberty. It is neither customary nor equitable that, after paying the price, it should still remain uncertain whether the captive is to be set free or not. A true redeemer procures the restitution of liberty to the miserable captive, wherever good faith and an agreement are of force. One may possibly be upon terms about the price, though uncertain of the event; but it is neither prudent nor just to make any payment, before what is stipulated be made sure and firm. The Scripture itself declares, that the proximate effect of redemption is the actual remission of sins, and restoration to liberty, Rom. 3:24, “Justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” and Col. 1:14, to the same purpose: in like manner, Heb. 9:12, “By his own blood obtained eternal redemption for us;” the fruit or effect which is eternal liberty and salvation.

V. Of the like nature are those phrases, by which the elect are said to be bought with a price, purchased with blood, redeemed by Christ’s subjection to the law: as 1 Cor. 6:20, “Ye are bought with a price.” Acts 20:28, “To feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Gal. 4:4, 5, “Made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” But whoever makes a purchase of any thing has an unquestionable right to it; and it not only may, but actually does, become his property, in virtue of his purchase, upon paying down the price. And herein consists our liberty and salvation, that we are no longer our own, nor the property of sin, nor of Satan, but the property of Christ. Whence it appears, that the effect of Christ’s satisfaction is not a bare possibility of our salvation, but salvation itself.

VI. A right to all the benefits of the covenant of grace is purchased at once to all the elect by the death of Christ, so far as that, consistently with the truth and justice of God, and with the covenant he entered into with his Son, he cannot condemn any of the elect, or exclude them from partaking in his salvation; nay, on the contrary, he has declared, that satisfaction being now made by his Son, and accepted by himself, there is nothing for the elect either to suffer or do, in order to acquire either impunity or a right to life; but only that each of them, in their appointed order and time, enjoy the right purchased for them by Christ, and the inheritance arising from it. And this is what the apostle says, 2 Cor. 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” That is, seeing God accepted of the offering of his Son, when he gave himself up to death for his people, he received at the same time into favour, not only the preserved of Israel, but all nations, and all families of the earth, which, in other respects, lay in wickedness, and were liable to the wrath of God, declaring that satisfaction was now made to him for their sins, and that these could no longer be imputed to them for condemnation, nor for excluding from his saving grace.

VII. We have a further proof of this, Zech. 3:9, “For behold the stone, which I have laid before Joshua: upon one stone shall be seven eyes; behold I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” The stone here is, doubtless, the Lord Jesus Christ, as Dan. 2:34, Psa. 118:22, on which the church is built, on which it is founded, and by which it is supported. It is laid before Joshua, and his companions, the priests, as architects, to lay it for the foundation of faith, acknowledge it as the corner-stone, and build thereon both themselves and other believers. This stone is but one: “For other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” 1 Cor. 3:11. Upon this stone there are seven eyes, either of God the Father, viewing it with care and pleasure, or of the church universal, looking to it by faith. Its gravings, engraved by God, represent those very clear indications or characters, by which he may and ought to be distinguished, as one given by the Father to be a Saviour; among these characters were those sufferings by which he was to be made perfect. These things being done, to show that all the signs of the Messiah were in him, God declares that “he would remove the iniquity of all that land” (clearly signifying the whole world, according to the synecdoche just explained) “in one day,” at once, in the last day of Christ’s passion: and thus, by Christ’s satisfaction we are taught, that deliverance from sin, and all the happy effects of that immunity, were purchased at once for all the elect in general.

VIII. It is however certain, that true saving benefits are bestowed on none of the elect, before effectual calling, and actual union to Christ by a lively faith: nevertheless, Christ did, by his satisfaction, purchase for all the elect at once a right to those benefits, that they might have and enjoy them, in their appointed time. Nay, before actual conversion, and the possession of saving blessings, they are favoured with no contemptible privileges above the reprobate, in virtue of the right which Christ purchased for them. Such as, 1st, That they are in a state of reconciliation and justification* actively considered, Christ having made satisfaction for them, as we see from 2 Cor. 5:19. That is, that God considers them as persons for whom his Son has satisfied, and purchased a right to eternal life. 2dly, That God loves them with a peculiar love of benevolence, according to the decree of election; which love of benevolence will, at the appointed time, certainly issue in a love of complacency. For, as it was from a love of benevolence that Christ was given to be their Saviour; so, satisfaction being made, God, in consequence of the same love, will form them, so as he may deservedly acquiesce in them as fit objects of his love of complacency. May we not refer to this what God says, Jer. 31:3, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee?” 3rdly, To this also it is owing, that they have the means of salvation, the preaching of the Gospel, &c. with some internal illumination, and some incitement to good, though not yet saving: and yet for this end, that, in their appointed time, they may be effectually converted by those means. 4thly, From all this it likewise follows, that God preserves them, while living under the means of salvation, from the sin against the Holy Ghost; from which there is no conversion. 5thly and lastly, They have the Spirit, rendering those means effectual, to their actual and complete regeneration, and to unite them to Christ by working faith in them, that they may enjoy benefits truly saving.

IX. As matters stand thus, we may easily gather what judgment we are to form of the notions of Arminius and his followers, on this point. Arminius proposes his sentiments in Exam prædestin. Perkins, p. 75, 76, as follows: “Let us add to all these things, by way of conclusion, the proper and immediate effect of the death and passion of Christ. But it is not an actual removal of sin from this or that particular person, nor actual remission of sins, nor justification, nor the actual redemption of this or that person, which none can have without faith and the Spirit of Christ; but the reconciliation of God, the impetration of remission, justification, and redemption from God: hence God now may, notwithstanding his justice, which is satisfied, forgive the sins of men, and bestow the Spirit of grace upon them; though he was really inclined before, from his own mercy (for from that he gave Christ to be the Saviour of the world), to confer these things on sinners, yet his justice prevented the actual communication of them. However, God still has a right to bestow those benefits on whom he pleases, and on what conditions he thinks proper to prescribe. But, on the contrary, if we agree to such a method of mediation, as you, Perkins, seem to approve of, namely, that the sins of all the elect were actually removed from them, and laid upon Christ, who, having suffered for them, did actually deliver them from punishment; and that obedience was required of him, who accordingly performed it, and thereby merited eternal life, not for himself, but for them; and that, just as if we ourselves had appointed this mediator in our room, and by him had paid our debts to God: nay, we must now likewise believe that, according to the very rigour of God’s justice and law, impunity and eternal life are due to the elect, and that they may demand those benefits from God, in right of payment and purchase made, and yet God have no manner of right to demand of them faith in Christ, and conversion to God. But all the absurdities of this opinion cannot easily be expressed. I will confute it only by one argument, but a very cogent one, and taken from the writings of the apostles. The righteousness wrought out by Christ is not ours, as wrought out, but as imputed to us by faith, so that faith itself is said to be “imputed to us for righteousness,” Rom. 4:5. Thus far Arminius, whose very words almost we have exhibited, omitting only those which are not to the purpose in hand. His followers have things of the like nature, in their Scripta Synodalia, adding, that the impetration is such, that “from the nature of the thing it may remain entire, and be every way perfect, though there were none to apply it to, or none to enjoy the benefit of it.”

X. There are many things in this discourse which are consistent neither with scholastic accuracy, or with the other tenets of the remonstrants, nor with theological truth; which we are now to show in order. 1st, Arminius does not speak accurately in saying, that the proper effect of the death and passion of Christ is not the actual remission of sins, nor justification, nor actual redemption of this or that person, &c.; but the impetration of remission, justification, and redemption from God. For the members of this distinction are not properly opposed: actual remission, and actual justification, are not opposed to the impetration of remission and of justification; but a possible remission, and a possible justification. And thus Arminius ought to have expressed himself, in order to speak accurately and fairly. 2dly, Nor is it an accurate way of speaking, to say, that the effect of the passion and death of Christ is impetration of remission and of justification. He ought to say, it is remission and justification itself, whatever that be. For so Arminius himself hath taught us to speak with accuracy, p. 72: “A distinction may be made between the act, by which reconciliation is obtained, and the effect of that act, which is reconciliation. The act impetrating reconciliation, is the offering which Christ made on the cross; the effect is the reconciliation itself.” And so he ought to hare said here: in the death and passion of Christ, the impetrating act is that voluntary susception of all kinds of sufferings, which he undertook both from his love to God and men; the effect is remission and justification. The impetrating act is the satisfaction of Christ; the effect is immunity from debt. In this manner Arminius spoke, before he had degenerated to worse opinions, Disput. privat. xxxv. §. 7. “The effects of the priestly office are reconciliation with God, impetration of eternal redemption, remission of sins, the Spirit of grace, and eternal life.” 3dly, Nor has that expression a just meaning, at least it is not accurate, that by the passion of Christ God can forgive sin; as if some new, some greater and more extensive power of God was the effect of the sufferings of Christ. The power of God is infinite, and altogether incapable of increase. And then what is impetrated from any one, ought previously to be in his power. The remonstrants have more accurately expressed their sentiments in their Synodalia, in these words: “The effect of reconciliation or propitiation is the impetration of divine grace, that is, restitution to such a state,” &c. So that a change in our state, and not an increase of God’s power, is the effect of the satisfaction of Christ.

XI. Besides, Arminius is in this discourse consistent, neither with himself, nor with his adherents. Not with himself: for his whole design is to show, that the proper and immediate effect of the death of Christ is only a possibility of remission of sin; and yet he asserts, that the proper effect of the death of Christ is the reconciliation of God, and the impetration of remission, justification, &c. But how do those things agree, seeing a possibility of remission of sins may consist with a perpetual enmity between God and man? What kind of reconciliation is that, when an eternal enmity may notwithstanding subsist? What sort of impetration of remission, if, nevertheless, it be possible that sins may never be pardoned? Nor does Arminius here better agree with the hypothesis of his followers, who expressly assert, that God cannot, on account of his vindictive justice, remit sins without a previous satisfaction. I now omit noticing the laboured disputation of Vorstius on this head against Sibrandus Lubbertus. Thus the remonstrants profess, in express terms, in their apology, p. 466, drawn up in the name of all, “that to suppose the vindictive justice of God to be so essential to him, that in virtue of it he is bound and necessitated to punish sins, is highly absurd and unworthy of God.”

XII. From this also we may by a very evident consequence infer, that the death and sufferings of Christ were in vain, and without any fruit or effect; which I thus demonstrate: if there is in God, even before and exclusive of the satisfaction of Christ, a power of remitting sins, notwithstanding his vindictive justice, Christ has therefore done nothing, by suffering and dying, in order to the existence of such a power in God. But the remonstrants strenuously declare and maintain, that God can, without satisfaction, and without the violation of his essential justice, let sins go unpunished, and that the contrary is highly absurd. Christ therefore procured nothing by his death; for what he is said to have obtained by it, did already exist without it. “God could have saved us without the satisfaction of Christ, but did not choose to do it,” says Corvinus, in his Censura Anatom. Molinæi, p. 436.

XIII. In a word, this assertion of Arminius is inconsistent with theological truth. For, 1st, The Scripture no where declares, that the fruit of Christ’s death is a possibility of the remission of sins: Nor does Arminius produce any passage of Scripture to that purpose. But to speak of the fruit of Christ’s death without Scripture is untheological. 2dly, Nay, the Scripture asserts the contrary, as we have at large shown, §. 3, 4, 5. 3dly, It is also contrary to all reason to say, that the proper effect of Christ’s most perfect satisfaction was, that God might let the captive go free, yet so that the captive might always remain in prison and be liable to pay the debt. How absurd!—that God should receive full satisfaction, by the death of his Son, for the sins of any particular person, and yet, notwithstanding this plenary satisfaction of Christ, that man is to be sent to eternal fire, there to satisfy, in his own person, for those very sins, which Christ had fully satisfied for already! 4thly, Such a bare possibility of remission, which from the nature of the thing may never become actual, overturns the unchangeable covenant between the Father and the Son; the sum of which Arminius himself has well expressed in his oration de Sacerdotio Christi, p. 14: “God required of Christ, that he should make his soul an offering for sin, give his flesh for the life of the world, pay the price of redemption for the sins and captivity of mankind; and promised, if he did so, that he should see his seed, and become an eternal priest. The priest accepted this condition,” &c. Christ, relying on this infallible promise, did willingly give himself up to death. But, from this assertion of Arminius and the remonstrants, it was possible that Christ, after having paid the ransom, should see no seed, be a king without any kingdom of grace, an everlasting Father without any children, a bridegroom without a bride, a head without a body! All which are most abominable.

XIV. Arminius, however, defends his opinion by three arguments. The first is this: “God has fully right to impart those benefits to whom he thinks proper, and on what conditions he is pleased to prescribe.” Whence it follows, that Christ has not merited the bestowing those benefits actually upon any one; for this is the tendency of these words of Arminius. I answer: 1st, We deny, that God may not impart those benefits which Christ has merited, to those for whom he died. God might, indeed, appoint the persons Christ was to die for, but this appointment being once settled, God is not at liberty to withhold that grace and glory which was purchased by the death of Christ from those for whom he died. 2dly, Arminius is further mistaken when he says, that God had a full right to impart those benefits on what conditions he pleased to prescribe, supposing that the performance of these conditions, namely, faith and repentance, or the grace necessary to the performance of them, was not among those blessings which Christ had merited for us by his passion. For it was agreed in that covenant between the Father and the Son, by which Christ gave himself up to death, that all adult persons should, in the way of faith and repentance, come to the saving enjoyment of the other blessings of it; nor can any other conditions be now settled by agreement. Besides, it was also fixed, that the Father should, from the consideration of Christ’s merit, grant the Spirit of grace for faith and repentance to those for whom Christ had died, as we have already seen Arminius himself orthodoxly reckoning the Spirit of grace among the effects of the sacerdotal office of Christ. For seeing God “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” Eph. 1:3, that is, through and for the merits of Christ, and the gift of faith is one of the most excellent of these blessings, Phil. 1:29, that likewise must certainly come to us on account of his merits. 3rdly, Nor is it agreeable to Scripture language to say, that faith and repentance are requisite conditions, before any effects of Christ’s death are communicated to a person. Certainly, they are not required previous to our regeneration and revivification from the death of sin, and our deliverance from this present evil world, which are reckoned among the effects of Christ’s death by Paul, Eph. 2:5, and Gal. 1:4. We may therefore say, if you will, that these are conditions requisite for applying to our consciences that consolation which is purchased by the death of Christ, yet in such a manner as it is from the merit of Christ that the grace, that is powerfully and abundantly effectual to perform those conditions, must flow.

XV. Arminius’s second argument is this: “If the actual remission of sins, &c., be the effect of Christ’s death, we must then allow, that, according to the very rigour of God’s justice and law, both an eternal life and an immunity from punishment are due to the elect, and that, therefore, they are entitled to ask those benefits of God in right of the payment and purchase made, without God’s having any right to require of them faith in Christ and conversion to God.” I answer: 1st, We are wholly of opinion, that one who is renewed may come boldly to the throne of grace, and ask for those blessings at God’s hand, in right of the payment and purchase made by Christ. For why should we not venture to ask of God, that he would perform for us what he was pleased to make himself a debtor to his Son and to his merits? This is the παῤῥησέα, or boldness of our faith, to expect the crown of righteousness from God, as a merciful and gracious Giver, in respect of our unworthiness; but as a just Judge, in respect to the merits of Christ, 2 Tim. 4:8. 2ndly, It is an invidious reflection of Arminius, to say, “without God’s having any right to require of us faith in Christ, and conversion to himself.” For it is impossible for any who approach to and ask those blessings from God, not to perform those duties; for how can any ask those benefits of God in the name of Christ, and without conversion to the Father and the Son? 3rdly, But to speak plainly. If we admit of Christ’s satisfaction, and of the ratification of the covenant of Grace, and New Testament, then God can, by no right, require faith and conversion from the elect, as conditions of the covenant of grace, in the sense of Arminius and the remonstrants: namely, 1st, To be performed by us, without grace working them in us supernaturally, effectually, and invincibly; 2ndly, As, by some gracious appointment of God, coming in the place of that perfect obedience to the law which the covenant of works required. For in this manner Arminius explains these things, that instead of perfect obedience, which the covenant of works required, the act of faith succeeds in the covenant of grace, to be, in God’s gracious account, imputed to us for righteousness; that is, to be our claim of right to ask eternal life. But the nature of the covenant of grace admits of no such conditions, however framed, on which to build a right to life eternal, either from the justice or the gracious estimation of God. And thus far Arminius concludes well, if the Mediator has so satisfied for us, as if we ourselves had by him paid our debts, no condition can by any right be required of us, which in any respect can be reckoned instead of payment. The whole glory of our right to eternal life must be purely ascribed to the alone merit of our Lord, and on no pretence be transferred to any one of our acts.

XVI. There is still one argument, which Arminius imagines to be very cogent. “The righteousness,” he says, “wrought out by Christ is not ours as wrought out, but as imputed to us by faith.” I answer: 1st, What does Arminius infer from this? Does he conclude, that, besides the satisfaction of Christ, faith is also necessary to salvation? And what then? Therefore Christ did not obtain for us the actual remission of sins? We deny the consequence. For faith is not considered as impetrating, but as applying the impetrated remission. And as the presupposed object of saving faith is remission, already impetrated for all the elect by Christ, it must certainly be the proper effect of the death of Christ. 2dly, This righteousness of Christ was really his, as it was wrought out by him; and it is ours, as it was wrought out for us: therefore, in a sound sense, even ours before faith, being the meritorious cause of that grace which is effectual to produce faith in us. It is ours, I say, in respect of right, because both in the decree of God the Father, and the purpose of the Son, it was wrought out for us, and in the appointed time to be certainly applied to us; though it was not yet ours by possession, as to our actual translation from a state of wrath to a state of grace, and our acknowledgment and sense of so great a benefit vouchsafed unto us. The distinction between active and passive justification is well known.* The former is that sentence of God, by which he declares his having received satisfaction from Christ, and pronounces, that all the elect are made free from guilt and obligation to punishment, even before their faith, so far as never to exact of them any payment. The latter is the acknowledgment and sense of that most sweet sentence, intimated to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, and fiducially apprehended by each of the elect. The one precedes faith, at least as to that general article which we just proposed; the other follows it. Thus we have defended the value and efficacy of Christ’s satisfaction against the cavils of Arminius.

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