Part two of this series is here.
14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?
None, for first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man committed;1 and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin 2 and redeem others from it.
1 Heb 2:14-18. 2 Ps 130:3.
So far we’ve seen that the efficacy of divine institution of typological animal sacrifices, prior to the incarnation of God the Son, was dependent upon the coming fulfillment of those sacrifices in Christ.
The point of working through the meaning of the sacrificial system is to deal with the problem presented by the fact that it was not lambs and goats who sinned against God. It was human beings, image bearers, who violated the covenant of works (or life or nature). The consequence of sin was death, but it was not humans who were slaughtered in the Jewish temple. So what was happening in the Jewish cultus? God was anticipating the final, once-for-all sacrifice made by God the Son incarnate and the culmination of the once-for-all punishment of sin.
God was not obligated to save any. De potentia absoluta (regarding the absolute divine power) he might passed by or reprobated all humans fallen in Adam and he would have been just in doing so. Nevertheless, God in his mercy (not giving the punishment due) and grace (showing favor that is not due) willed to redeem a people for himself. Having willed to redeem a people for himself and because it was humans, and not lambs and goats, who sinned, the divine justice requires that the same class of beings who committed the sin should make payment for that sin.
Though it was humans who sinned and it is they who owe payment and positive righteousness they do have something in common with lambs and goats: they are all mere creatures. There is an ontological, categorical difference between the being which humans have and the being which God has. To begin, God is. That cannot be said of humans. God was, is, and shall be. His being is not contingent. He is simple, immutable, impassible, eternal, infinite, and immense. None of those attributes are true of any creature. No purely finite, temporal, passible, mutable, complex, and local creature could satisfy the divine wrath and, after the fall, accomplish positive righteousness.
All this is to begin to answer the great question posed by Anselm of Canterbury: Cur Deus Homo? (What the God-Man?) The short answer is that, having willed to redeem his elect, he could do so only in a way that is consonant with his justice. We know something about God’s justice from revelation. There are rough but true analogies to divine justice in nature and clearer indications of it in the typological revelation, e.g. “eye for an eye.” It is common to hear people mock the “eye for an eye.” Ghandi is famous for having said, “An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind,” and while that may be true on one level, that if we each go about seeking absolute justice for every wrong in this world we will destroy it, it’s a poor account of God’s justice. In fact God wills that his justice be satisfied. There’s every indication in the typological revelation that God is completely intolerant of disobedience. The liberals can mock the “slaughterhouse theology” of the OT and of the historic Christian, substitutionary doctrine of the atonement but we may, in turn, call them Marcionites and Gnostics. They may like to think of themselves as having advanced beyond bloodshed and atonement but God has not and there will come a time when they shall wish with all they are that they had not been more clever than God.
I enjoyed this post because I am preaching on Hebrews 10:11-18 this morning. I have a question about the “subjective” aspect of the significance of the sacrifices. Hebrews 10:1-4 seems to point to some kind of subjective experience on the part of the Jew because the sacrifices served to remind people of their sin. Do you think this is something which flows out from the main purposes of the sacrifices which you laid out or could it have been one of the actual reasons for having sacrifices in the first place?
I’m thinking of Heb 9. Just re-read it last night (Bill Godfrey appealed to it during his sermon last night) and I was once more impressed with the way it refers all the efficacy of the sacrifices to Christ’s finished work.
The point in downplaying the subjective element is not to deny that there was any subjective affect upon the worshiper, but to deny that the efficacy of the sacrifice was fundamentally subjective as the liberals and pietists would have it.