The Centrality of Substitutionary Atonement Completely Made Manifest from Scripture

Taken and adapted from, Christ Our Penal Substitute
Written by Robert L. Dabney


The Old Testament sacrifices were first instituted by God in the family of Adam, before the gate of the lost Eden.

They were continued by God’s authority under every dispensation until the resurrection of Christ. Moses gave perfect regularity and definiteness to the ordinances of bloody sacrifice in the Pentateuch, which he did by divine appointment. Ancient believers knew that “the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin” by any virtue of its own. What, then, did the sacrifices mean? They were emblems and types, teaching to men’s bodily senses this great theological truth, that “without shedding of blood is no remission,” and its consequence, that remission is provided for through a substitute of divine appointment; for fallen man is “a prisoner of hope,” not of despair. Next, the antitype to this ever-repeated emblem is Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 8:3; 9:11 — 14.) Now let us add the indisputable fact that these bloody sacrifices were intended by God to symbolize the substitution of an innocent victim in place of the guilty offerer; the transfer of his guilt to the substitute; satisfaction for it by the vicarious death, and the consequent forgiveness of the sinner. (Lev. 1:4; 14:21;17: 11, ed passim.) The very actions of the worshipper and the priest bespoke these truths as strongly as the words. The guilty worshipper laid his hands upon the head of the victim while he confessed his trespasses. Thereupon the knife of the priest descended upon its throat, the life-blood was sprinkled upon the altar and upon the body of the worshipper, and the most vital parts of the animal — representing its living body in those cases where it was not a holocaust — were committed to the pure flames, pungent emblem of divine justice. Now, when the types so clearly signified substitution and imputation, how can the great antitype mean less? Can it be possible that the shadow had more solidity than the substantial body which cast it before?

But the great truth is expressly taught in Scripture is: Christ died “For us,” “for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:6, 8; 1 Peter 3:18, huper adikon), and for our sins. Socinians say, “True, he died, in a general sense, for us, inasmuch as his death is a part of the agency for our rescue; he did die to do us good, not for himself only.” The answer is, that in nearly every case the context proves it a vicarious dying for our guilt. Romans 5:9: “We are justified by his blood.” 1 Peter 3:18: “The just for the unjust.” Then, also, he is said to be antilutron for many. This preposition (anti) properly signifies substitution, see Matt. 26:28, for instance. “Himself bore our sins;” “He bare the sins of many,” and other equivalent expressions are applied to him. (1 Pet. 2:24; Heb. 9:28; Isa. 53:6.) The verb used by Peter is bastadzein, whose idiomatic meaning is to bear or carry upon one’s person. And these words are abundantly defined in our sense by Old Testament usage. (Compare Num. 9:13.) An evasion is again attempted by pointing to Matthew 8:17, and saying that there this bearing of man’s sorrows was not an enduring of them in his person, but a bearing of them away, a removal of them. We reply that the evangelist refers to Isaiah 53:4, not to 53: 6. And Peter says: “He bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” The language is unique.

Another unmistakable class of texts is those in which he is said to be made sin for us, while we are made righteous in him. (See 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21.) A still more indisputable place is where he is said to be made a curse for us. (Gal. 3:13.) The orthodox meaning, considering the context, is unavoidable.

Again, he is said in many places to be our Redeemer, i. e., Ransomer, and his death, or his blood, is our ransom (antilutron). (Matt. 20:28; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Cor. 6: 20.) It is vain to reply that God is said to redeem his people in many places, when the only meaning is that he delivers them; and that Moses is called the redeemer of Israel out of Egypt, who certainly did not do this by a vicarious penalty. In these cases, either the word employed or the context proves that the deliverance was only a metaphysical redemption, not like Christ’s, a ransoming by actual price paid. Christ’s death is a proper ransom, because the very price is mentioned. In Bible times the person ransomed was either a criminal or a military captive, by the rules of ancient war legally bound to slavery. The ransom price was a sum of money or other valuables, paid to the master in satisfaction for his claim of service from the captive. This is the sense in which Christ’s righteousness is our ransom.

It has been shown in a previous chapter at what deadly price our opponents seek to escape the patent argument, that if Christ did not suffer for imputed guilt, since he was himself perfectly righteous, he must have been punished for no guilt at all. But this argument should be carried further. Even if we granted that the natural ills of life and bodily death are not necessarily penal, but come to all alike in the course of events, the peculiar features of Christ’s death would be unexplained. He suffers what no other good man sharing the regular course of nature ever experienced, the spiritual miseries of Divine desertion, of Satanic buffetings, let loose against him, and of all the horrors of apprehended wrath which could be felt without personal remorse. (Luke 22:53; Matt. 26:38, and 27:46.) See how manfully Christ approaches his martyrdom, and how sadly he sinks under it when it comes. Had he borne nothing more than natural evil, he would have been inferior to the merely human heroes; and instead of recognizing the exclamation of Rousseau as just, “Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ as a God,” we must give the palm of superior fortitude to the Grecian sage. Christ’s crushing agonies must be accounted for by his bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world.