May 28, 2011

Sufferings according to the degree of their guilt - John Stevens

Mr. F.If the measure of Christ's sufferings were according to the number of those for whom he died, in such a manner as that if more had been saved, his sorrows must have been proportionally increased ; it might, for aught I know, be inconsistent with indefinite invitations."* iv Page 109.

Ans. 1. Whatever Christ suffered that had any saving merit in it, was endured by him as a public person, as the Head and Representative of his whole chosen body, for which body he suffered and died exclusively. He loved the church, and gave himself for it. The rest he never knew, and, therefore, certainly never suffered on THEIR account; so that they can have no invitation to the enjoyment of salvation on His account. Now, as it is clear, that Christ did suffer for some, and not for others, and as the scriptures call the atonement he made for some a ransom; and as the same persons are said to be bought with a price, and their debts forgiven by graciously providing them a Surety, and taking payment of him in their stead; we may, therefore, safely conclude, that the demands of impartial justice were greater than if only one sinner had been ordained to salvation; and that they must have been proportionable to the number of criminals appointed to obtain salvation thereby.

2. It is true, that not one sinner could have been saved had not Jesus laid down his life as a sacrifice; but, it is also true, that the expiatory sufferings of the Redeemer did not consist merely in giving up the ghost, but chiefly in what preceded that, for He endured the wrath of God, and paid the dreadful debt required, on account of his chosen people, so as to be able to say, before he expired and left his body, It is finished. Hence it appears that, though death must have been unavoidable, if only one sinner had been redeemed from the second death to endless life; yet, it by no means follows that our Lord's sufferings must have been equally great in dying. As a hint, merely illustrative, it may be remarked that while all men die, they by no means suffer alike in dying. Our Saviour's actual death, rather marks the termination of his sufferings, than the degree of them. Yet, if his sorrows were in proportion to the number of persons for whom he suffered, as they evidently were, Mr. F. has acknowledged indefinite invitations might be inconsistent for aught he knew.

3. It is said of the unjust sinner, that he shall eventually “receive according to the things done in his body, according to that he hath done." But, is there no greater measure of punishment justly due to a world of sinners, than there is to one? Then what is meant by the greater damnation and the more tolerable condition mentioned by our Lord? (*v.) If there are not different degrees of punishment, how can some have a more tolerable condition than others? But, if one lost sinner be to suffer as much as all lost sinners, as Mr. F.'s mode of reasoning supposes, then it must follow that one sinner does as much dishonor to the name of God as all mankind put together! It will next follow that man is not only accountable for his own faults, but for those of mankind. Where do the sacred writings hold out such sentiments for our reception? Paul says, The sinner shall receive according to that he bath done in his body; but, he has never said, that any one shall suffer according to what others have done in their bodies. Therefore if we suppose any one to stand in the place of one lost sinner, we are not, in so doing, to imagine, that such a substitute must, on that account, suffer as much as though he had represented all lost sinners. The greater the guilt, the greater the punishment: the greater the numbed *vi of sinners, the greater the measure of guilt. It must, therefore, follow that, “if more sinners had been saved, the sorrows of the Saviour must have been proportionably increased." But, Mr. F. admitted that if this were the case, then, for aught he knew, indefinite invitations might be inconsistent with particular redemption. (*v Matt. 10:15. and 23: 14).

(*vi ROM. 5: 15. Isaiah 53: 6, 12).

Now, as it is impossible that one sinner, in the few years of his embodied state on earth, should commit as much sin and do as much dishonor to God, as all mankind put together, or even as his chosen race, it is incredible that a just God can have punished Christ in the same degree, as though all the world had been to be saved by his death : or, that he would have suffered just the same as he did suffer, had only one sinner been ordained to salvation. Yet, this preposterous idea must be maintained, or Mr. F.'s system of indefinite invitations is without foundation in the death of Christ, by his own concession!

Mr. F. If the measure of his sufferings were according to the degree of their guilt, or if his sorrows must have been proportionably increased, if those who are saved had been more guilty ; it might, for aught I know, be inconsistent with indefinite invitations.": (* vii Page 109).

Ans. To be guilty, is to be chargeable with crimes that expose one to punishment. A man's being more guilty than his neighbor, supposes that he has sinned more heinously, and committed more crimes than his neighbor has. That the measure of Christ's sufferings was proportionable to the guiltiness of his members, whom he represented to God, and covenanted for, I conceive appears from the following considerations:—

1. Some are said to owe “five hundred pence, and others fifty;" which saying Jesus afterwards explained in the same connection, when he said (speaking of a certain woman) “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."* As all do not owe alike, I apprehend he who was Surety for the whole elect number of debtors was not required to suffer to the same degree for each one of them. Can it be thought that Christ suffered as much for every one of those infants that are saved, as he did for this woman? or, that God the Father shews as much grace in pardoning an infant, as he did in pardoning Saul of Tarsus, who styled himself the chief of sinners, because of his wicked deeds ?
(* Luke vii. 47).

2. The more grace the Father manifests in pardoning and justifying a sinner, the more heinous and numerous his crimes are thereby supposed to have been, and the more was required to be endured by Jesus, his Surety for him. For the sufferings of the Mediator, who agreed in covenant to hear the sins of a particular people, must have been according to the dishonor done to God, the sovereign Lawgiver, who is the party offended; otherwise the dignity and honor of the divine Law-giver would not have been restored.

3. Jesus Christ, in his work of mediation, was considered by his Father, as the Head and Surety of the chosen body, which contains many members. Now all these members are distinctly known, distinctly loved, distinctly brought into the world, distinctly preserved in Christ and called, and he is touched with the feeling of all their infirmities, in a distinct way and manner, and knows what every member bears: and why are we not to suppose that he suffered distinctly for the evil ways of all the members of his mystical body? In short, I question whether it were possible for Christ to suffer for his people, by bearing their sins in his own body on the tree, without suffering for them in a distinct way, according to the exact knowledge which he had of them.* (* Psalm 40: 12).

4. The Lord has frequently set forth the great sinfulness of Israel by the number of their sins; and I see no reason why we are to suppose that the Lord would deal with Israel according to the number of their sins, as in Numb. 14: 22. Jer. 5: 6. Lam. 1: 3. Hosea 9: 7, 9. Psalm 78: 40. and that so as to manifest an inflammation of wrath against the aggressors; and yet when he came to punish sin to the utmost in Christ, the public Head and Surety of the elect remnant, take no notice of the number of sins, so as to punish him accordingly.

5. Why do the scriptures so particularly set forth the sinfulness of those that
are saved, and also the merits of their Saviour, by the number of their sins, if it all stands for nothing? It. is said, “judgment was by one (offence) to condemnation; but the free gift is of many offences (*ix) unto justification, by the obedience of Christ." Now, how came the Apostle to speak so emphatically of many offences, if he considered the atonement of Christ in the same way as our author did? (*ix Rom. 5: 16).

6. The Holy Ghost convinces of sins, of many sins, and causes the chosen seed of the Lord to confess their sins as innumerable, and to feel grief at times on account of the number of them, and to ask for the forgiveness of them as being many, like the woman's of old; of whom Christ said her sins, which are many; are forgiven. Now, how is it that the saint, who is a member of Christ's body, and a partaker of his nature and spirit, should suffer under a sense of the number of his sins, and afterward praise God for the forgiveness of his many offences, if Christ his Head and ensample did not so suffer? Can it be thought the believer has a more distinct view of his criminality, and that with sorrow and pain, than what Christ had and felt in the great work of redemption? Surely not.

7. The omniscient and heart-searching God distinctly knows all the sins of his people; yea, he wisely permits them, and perfectly hates them; nor could he fail to punish them according to their desert. For this end they were laid, imputatively on Jesus, as their Head and Surety, who suffered for them distinctly, when he bore their sins, their numbered offences, in his own body on the tree. He, by the mouth of his servant David, said, “Innumerable evils have compassed me about, they are more than the hairs of my head." But why speak thus, unless the number of the sins referred to was the cause of his sufferings being the greater? Punishment is not inflicted in sovereignty, but in equity; and justice consists in assigning to every one his due; but, this implies that the measure of our Surety's sufferings was according to the degree of our guilt: if this be the case said Mr. F., indefinite invitations may, for aught I know, be inconsistent with peculiar redemption.

8. In the great day of judgment, all the deeds done in the body will come under notice, and the ungodly will receive punishment accordingly; from which it may reasonably be imagined that all the sins of the elect world were brought forward against their divine Surety, and distinctly and righteously punished in him, in the garden and on the cross. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. The preceding considerations have induced me to conclude, that our sins, as well as our persons, were viewed, numbered, and covenanted for distinctly, and so distinctly suffered for, that if one person, or one sin, had been lacking of the number atoned for, the load had been lighter on the person of Jesus our Surety and Redeemer: consequently indefinite invitations are inconsistent with the true doctrine of atonement.

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