How Many Natures are Needed to Make One Atonement?

Taken and adapted from, The Atonement   
Written by Francis Turretin, 


For our purposes, the person who makes the atonement is here to be considered…

As sin is to be viewed in the threefold light of;

1. debt,
2. enmity,
3. crime;

Therefore God must be seen in the threefold light of;

1. creditor,
2. party offended,
3. judge;

Also Christ must put on a threefold relation corresponding to all these.

1. He must sustain the character of a Surety, for the payment of the debt.
2. He must be a Mediator, a peace-maker, to take away the enmity of the parties and reconcile us to God.
3. He must be a Priest and victim, to substitute himself in our room, and make atonement, by enduring the penal sanction of the law.

Again: that such an atonement may be made, two things are requisite: 

1. That the same nature which sins shall make restitution.
2. That the consideration given must possess infinite value, in order to the removal of the infinite demerit of sin.

In Christ, two natures were necessary for the making of an atonement:

1. a human nature, to suffer,
2. a divine nature, to give the requisite value to his sufferings.

Moreover, we must demonstrate how it is possible, in consistency with justice, to substitute an innocent person, as Christ was. in our room; because such a substitution, at first view, appears to be not only unusual, but also unjust. Though a substitution, which is common in a pecuniary debt, rarely occurs in penal transactions — nay, is sometimes prohibited, as was the case among the Romans, because no one is master of his own life, and because the commonwealth would suffer loss in such cases — yet it was not ‘unknown among the heathen. We have an example of it in Damon and Pythias; two intimate friends, one of whom voluntarily entered himself bail for the other to Dionysius in a capital cause. Curtius, Codrus, and Brutus devoted themselves for their country. The right of punishing hostages, when princes fail in their promises, has been recognized by all nations. Hence hostages are called anti-psukoi substitutes. To this Paul alludes, when he says, (Rom. 5:7) “For a good man some would even dare to die.” The Holy Scriptures often give it support, not only from the imputation of sin, by which one bears the punishment due to another, but from the public use of sacrifices, in which the victim was substituted in the place of the sinner and suffered death in his stead. Hence the imposition of hands, and the confession of sins over the head of the victims.

But, that such a substitution may be made without the slightest appearance of injustice, various conditions are requisite in the substitute or surety, all which are found in Christ.

1. A common nature, that sin may be punished in the same nature which is guilty, (Heb. 2:14).
2. The consent of the will, that he should voluntarily take the burden upon himself, (Heb. 10:9) — “Lo, I come to do thy will.”
3. Power over his own life, so that he may rightfully determine respecting it, (John, 10:18) — “No one taketh away my life, but I lay it down of myself, for I have power to lay it down, and take it up again.”
4. The power of bearing the punishment due to us, and of freeing both himself and us from the power of death; because, if he himself could be holden of death, he could free no one from its dominion. That Christ possesses this power, no one doubts.
5. Holiness and immaculate purity, that, being polluted by no sin, he might not have to offer sacrifice for himself, but for us only, (Heb. 7:26-27.)

Under these conditions, it was not unjust for Christ to substitute himself in our room, while lie is righteous and we unrighteous. By this act no injury is done to any one. Not to Christ, for he voluntarily took the punishment upon himself, and had the right to decide concerning his own life and death, and also power to raise himself from the dead. Not to God the judge, for he willed and commanded it; nor to his natural justice, for the Surety satisfied this by suffering the punishment which demanded it. Not to the empire of the universe, by depriving an innocent person of life, for Christ, freed from death, lives for evermore; or by the life of the surviving sinner injuring the kingdom of God, for he is converted and made holy by Christ. Not to the divine law, for its honour has been maintained by the perfect fulfillment of all its demands, through the righteousness of the Mediator; and, by our legal and mystical union, he becomes one with us, and we one with him. Hence he may justly take upon him our sin and sorrows, and impart to us his righteousness and blessings. So there is no abrogation of the law, no derogation from its claims; as what we owed is transferred to the account of Christ, to be paid by him.

These preliminary remarks we have thought necessary, in order to the lucid discussion of the question concerning the necessity of the atonement. We now proceed to inquire whether it was necessary that Christ should satisfy for us, as well absolutely, in relation to the divine justice, as hypothetically, on the ground of a divine decree: whether it was absolutely necessary, in order to our salvation, that an atonement should be made, God not having the power to pardon our sins without a satisfaction, or whether it was rendered necessary only by the divine decree? The Socinians, indeed, admit no kind of necessity. Some of the old divines, and some members of the Reformed Church, contend for a hypothetical necessity only. They think it sufficient for the refutation of the heretic.

But we, with the great body of the orthodox, contend for both. We do not urge a necessity simply natural, such as that of fire to burn, which is in-voluntary, and admits of no modification in its exercise. It is a moral and rational necessity for which we plead; one which, as it flows from the holiness and justice of God, and cannot be exercised any other way than freely and voluntarily, admits of various modifications, provided there is no infringement of the natural rights of Deity. That there is such a necessity, is evinced by many arguments.