Penal Substition and God’s Love

“Furthermore, if the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear, then it may fairly be claimed that the penal substitutionary model of atonement embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at his Father’s will going lower than any other view ventures to suggest. That death on the cross was a criminal’s death, physically as painful as, if not more painful than, any mode of judicial execution that the world has seen; and that Jesus endured it in full consciousness of being innocent before God and man, and ye of being despised and rejected, whether in malicious conceit or in sheer fecklessness, by persons he had loved and tried to save–this is ground common to all views and tells us already that the love of Jesus, which took him to the cross, brought him appallingly low. But the penal substitution model adds to all this a further dimension of truly unimaginable distress, compared with which everything mentioned so far pales into insignificance. This is the dimension indicated by Denney–‘that in that dark house He had to realise to the full the divine reaction against sin in the race.’ Owen stated this formally, abstractly, and non-psychologically. Christ, he said , satisfied God’s justice ‘for all the sins of those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them, they were bound to undergo. When I say the same I mean essentially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of duration and the like.’ Jonathan Edwards expressed the thought with tender and noble empathy:

God dealt with him as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he ad been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, who he infinitely loved, and whose infinite love he had had eternal experience of. Besides, it was an effect of God’s wrath that he forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out… ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ This was infinitely terrible to Christ, Christ’s knowledge of the glory of the Father, and his love to the Father, and the sense and experience he had had of the worth of his Father’s love to him, made the withholding the pleasant ideas and manifestations of his Father’s love as terrible to him, as the sense and knowledge of God’s excellency, no love to him, nor any experience of the infinite sweetness of his love.

And the legendary ‘Rabbi’ Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: ‘D’ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?’ Then, with tears on his face–‘It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.’ It is precisely this love that, in the last analysis, penal substitution is all about, and that explains its power in the lives of those who acknowledge it.”

J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” in J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), pp. 94-96.

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2 Responses to Penal Substition and God’s Love

  1. Jason Button says:

    This is a powerful quotation. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. allenmickle says:

    Jason,

    I totally agree. This is a fantastic little book. If I had unlimited funds I would have it sent to every Christian leader!

    Blessings brother!

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