Dr. Bonar On Christ’s Work


Dr. Bonar’s book was sent to me, I know not by whom, with some passages marked. I send you the notes I made in reading it, for this is all that which follows pretends to be, though reviewing the work. The importance of the doctrine in question will justify my taking it up.

“The altar is the only place of expiation, and it is death that is the wages of sin” (p. 37). “Justified by His blood is the apostolic declaration; and, as the result of this, saved from wrath through him. Here we rest… It is at and by the cross that God justifies the ungodly. By His stripes we are healed, and the symbol of the brazen serpent visibly declares this truth. It was the serpent when uplifted that healed the deadly bite” (p. 38). “Reconciled to God by the death of His Son, is another of the many testimonies to the value and efficacy of the cross… The peace was made by the blood of the cross… What can be more explicit than these three passages, which announce justification by the blood, reconciliation by the death, and peace by the blood of the cross?” (P. 39). “This sweet savour came from the brazen altar, or altar of burnt-offering. It was the sweet odour of that sacrifice that ascended to God and that encompassed the worshipper, so that he was covered all over with this sacrificial fragrance, presenting him perfect before God, and making his own conscience feel that he was accepted as such, and treated as such” (p. 40). “In so far, then, as substitution is concerned we have to do with the cross alone” (p. 41). “The justifying fact—the death of Him whose name is Jehovah our righteousness” (p. 79). Compare also page 219.

Thus speaks Dr. Bonar, and justly and well as far as it goes. But who would have thought that these are the statements of a book, one main object of which is to prove that it is not so, but that Christ was a sin-bearer all His life, and our presentation perfect before God depended upon His sin-bearing all His life, and that He only finished that work upon the cross? “They who own the doctrine of Christ suffering for sin, the just for the unjust, will listen to those bitter cries (those uttered during His life), as to the very voice of the Substitute, and learn from them the completeness of the work of satisfaction, for the accomplishment of which He took our flesh, and lived our life, and died our death upon the tree. But the completeness of the substitution comes out more fully at the cross… Then the work was done, ‘It is finished.’” (p. 36).

Now it is quite true that in the previous quotations, except the last and more important one from page 79, Dr. B. is resisting justification by resurrection (an idea I never heard of till I saw it in this book, and which has no sense if speaking of the value of the thing in itself). But in his zeal against this imaginary enemy, he has, I hope with his true and better feelings of faith, declared that, by the cross and blood and death of Christ only, we are justified and reconciled. The rest of his substitutory work is then only studied theology, not personal faith.

As to argument, Dr. B. so mixes up one truth with another, is guilty of such excessive carelessness, and exhibits such incapacity for seeing, not only what another says, but the force of what he says himself, and, I am afraid I must say, such ignorance of scripture on the subject, that it is difficult to deal with his reasonings. Christ’s bearing our sins and our dying with Christ are confounded together; law and Christ’s suffering life: accounting righteous or guilty is substitution; the actual transfer of guilt turns out to be only something available for everybody. But into these I will enter.

I regret to have to notice his book in such a way, for he pleads real and full atonement, and the need of it is as against rationalists, and assurance of salvation, if not in the clearest way, yet so honestly and fully that I should regret sincerely anything that might weaken his arguments as to this. But he has so lowered the gospel, so hidden God’s love in “courts of law,” though not denying it, so confounds propitiation and substitution, and so totally does away the real value of the latter by his missing altogether and falsifying its true character, that I feel it well to take it up and review his book. He has accepted, I see, the force of anenegke: so we may hope for acceptance of other truths; but he has not learned to be more careful in other statements. Let us see if a review of them may lead him on here too.

That Luther may have taken up imputing legal righteousness, as others did, may be all true. But, though he admits doubts and distress come from law, that he never knew real deliverance from it his famous treatise on Galatians clearly proves, as other parts of his life and his death. But Dr. B.’s “Luther’s Rock, the righteousness of God,” is an unhappy blunder. He carefully excluded the word from his translation of the New Testament. He always puts, “the righteousness available before God,” Die Gerechtigkeit die vor Gott gilt: an unwarrantable and mischievous change which destroys the whole nature and character of the scriptural statement. Luther was an eminent instrument of God in His work: we have all to be thankful for it. But the word of God is above all price.

Dr. B.’s style is full of effort, and tedious by repetition, and turgid, sometimes descending very low in the effort, as when he says, “Possessed of this preciousness (imputed, still ours), we go into the heavenly market and buy what we need without stint. We get everything upon the credit of His name… In His name we carry on all our transactions with God.” But my business is with doctrine, not with words. And it seems to me that the whole tone of the book falsifies, even where there is truth mixed up, the entire presentation of the gospel in scripture.

Besides making of substitution a false and inefficacious unreality, the bringing the questions into God’s courts of law is an idea wholly foreign to the scriptures. That law has been established by faith—that Christ has magnified it and made it honourable—is most true; but scripture does not describe the gospel as bringing men into courts of law. There is a solemn bringing in of unrepentant sinners into a court of judgment hereafter (yea, all shall give an account of themselves), and there is a reconciling of persons now: Dr. B. speaks of neither. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. This is the very opposite of bringing them into courts of law. As such He was rejected, and the full sinfulness of man brought out. But it was mercy, not law, brought it out, the rejection of One come not to judge but to save.

With Israel some such figure might be used. He was in the way with them as an adverse party; but then the result was in government on earth and judgment. The nation was set aside (as it will be till it has paid the last farthing—and even then its restoration is sovereign grace), that the apostolic embassy of the gospel might go forth, still beseeching to be reconciled to God, and grace reign through righteousness. He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. God is revealed as reconciling the world, or as beseeching men to be reconciled, Christ having been made sin for us, not bringing them into His courts of law.

The notion that He of whom it is said, “who knew no sin,” is God as such, and that He was made sin in incarnation, which is Dr. B.’s interpretation, is too monstrous and too offensive as well as absurd to need reply. God has made God, who as God did not know sin, to become sin by being a man: can any Christian taught of God receive such a thought? God does know sin perfectly: to apply it to His not knowing it in conscience is blasphemy; to affirm it of One who was in the likeness of sinful flesh is of vital importance. “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” In Him is no sin. Is God’s making God become sin (vicariously of course, I admit) any better? The Lord declares He comes to do God’s will and that His law is in His heart. It was the Lamb, the spotless Lamb, the victim that was made sin.

Nor does scripture speak of God or the Father making the Word become flesh. Jehovah prepared a body. Then He says, Lo, I come, in the same willing and blessed love. It is an interpretation which outrages all spiritual intelligence. I should call it blasphemous, but that I am sure Dr. B. has no such intention. He is blind to the force of what he says; but it falsifies the whole force of God’s coming into the world in grace, making Himself of no reputation (ekenosen eauton), when the Word made flesh dwelt among us full of grace and truth. This for Dr. B. is only Christ, the law, and we, when willing to go too, brought into courts of law to judge about the case! Besides, if this took place in the life of Christ, why have ambassadors? If it referred to Christ’s death and His then going away, it required others to announce it.

The whole force of the passage in every aspect is set aside by this ruinous idea. It is miserable doctrine; and Dr. B.’s mind does not rest on the reconciliation of the sinner (I may say not at all, even in result; for it is only available to him: he is not reconciled). “Law and love must be reconciled” (p. 4). “The reconciliation God has accomplished”; and, as man’s consent is required, the reconciliation God has accomplished must be effected before that. Man did not consent to this way of reconciliation when accomplished, save in rejecting and crucifying Christ. “God has done it all, and He has done it effectually and irreversibly,… He has done it by removing the whole case into His own courts of law… God comes into court bringing man and man’s whole case along with Him, that, upon righteous principles and in a legal way, the case may be settled at once in favour of man and in favour of God.” Now this not only gives a representation of this matter of which there is no trace in scripture, and falsifies the character of the gospel; but it is alike absurd and misleading. Who is judge of the court? Nor is this all. Man is brought into court; but, in reconciling law and love, no individual man at all is reconciled. It is the reconciliation, not of a sinner, but of law and love. Perhaps no man may accept it.

“The consent of parties to the acceptance of the basis is required in court “(p. 6). Now where was this reconciliation of law and love on the cross? Man was only accomplishing his sin there, yet there law and love were reconciled. When the whole thing is settled, man’s consent is asked—to what? To a reconciliation already accomplished? God, we were told in page 5, has done it all; and He has done it effectually and irreversibly. Done what? “Reconciled law and love” (p. 4). But here there is no substitution, or anyone reconciled: God has done it all before man has accepted anything. It is an accomplished thing, all done, finished, and yet no man reconciled; so that it is no reconciliation of persons at all. What was the principle of the work? “Transference of guilt, from one who could not bear the penalty without being eternally lost, to One who could bear it” (p. 17), and again the transference of the wrath from the sinner to the representative (p. 21); and so often. Now whose guilt was transferred? the wrath resting on what sinners was transferred to the representative?

Substitution is never spoken of in this vague way in scripture. All through, Dr. B. confounds propitiation and substitution. Substitution is one taking really the place of another; reconciling law and love has nothing to do with substitution. Was anything substituted for law or for love? Clearly not. They were both maintained and glorified. Were then everybody’s sins transferred to Christ? If so, all are saved, or His having borne the wrath due to them is ineffectual and reversible. The whole argument of the book shews Dr. B. has confounded substitution which does suppose transference of guilt and crime from the guilty to another, a substitution of one person for another, as when a debt is paid (the illustration Dr. B. gives); while propitiation is to Godward. But one passage will suffice to shew this confusion. “God has introduced the principle of substitution into His courts … presenting a divine surety as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are passed.” Here they are clearly treated as one and the same thing.

Now on the great day of atonement there was Jehovah’s lot and the people’s lot. The blood of Jehovah’s lot was put on the mercy-seat. God’s righteousness and love, and majesty and truth, all that He is, were perfectly glorified. Besides this, there was the scapegoat, both goats representing Christ in the same great sacrifice; but the high priest represented the people, and their sins were confessed on the head of the goat, and carried away, never to be found. Now here there was representation, transfer, substitution, and the work was effectual for those represented. In scripture all is simple and clear; and though in the mere shadow only for the year, yet it was effectual and irreversible. Substitution is simple and intelligible; the sins were confessed on the head of the goat, the people’s sins, and they were gone. But in Dr. B.’s substitution the man may not consent, many alas! (we know) do not. Were their sins transferred to the Substitute and the wrath borne effectually and irreversibly, and yet they reject Christ and die in their sins? Dr. B.’s substitution is no substitution at all, for nobody’s sins were really borne, and no people really represented. Christ is a propitiation for the whole world; but this is Jehovah’s lot, the blood, in which God has been perfectly glorified in all He is, presented to God and accepted of Him. Now, says the Lord, is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; and if God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him. And so it was and is.

Propitiation is presenting to a holy God what the righteousness and holiness of that God necessarily claim, while infinite love has provided, and infinite love has offered, the spotless sacrifice.

Substitution is for people whom the substitute represents; it is one man or person substituted for another, and taking actually the consequences of the conduct or position of him whom he represents. I speak merely of the meaning of substitution, not of the value of the Substitute, as Dr. B. says. The propitiation refers to the holy righteous nature and glory of God (and Dr. B. cannot too earnestly insist on its necessity); substitution, to those whose place Christ has taken. He was substituted for them and took the consequence in sovereign grace; and they are saved. He cannot charge as a judge the sins which He has Himself borne and expiated on those for whom He Himself has already borne them.

But not only does Dr. B. confound these two great scripture truths, but a third with them, namely, our dying with Christ, which scripture applies to quite another purpose. (See page 42.) Probably Dr. B. has never learned to make the difference between sin and sins (so clear in the Epistle to the Romans, on which indeed its whole structure depends): one referring to actual guilt, what we have done; the other to our lost estate, what we are.

But at any rate, “The transference of our guilt to the divine Substitute, and the transference of that Substitute’s righteousness or perfection to us, must stand or fall together” (p. 29). When then a man’s guilt has been transferred to Christ, he becomes the righteousness of God; yet the man may after all not consent and dies in his sins, though the righteousness of God is transferred to him! If it be said, man was represented in Christ, and He consented—consented to the transfer, then our consent is immaterial; and we are not brought into court, and saved all with no consent at all.

But now see the frail and inconsistent statement of Dr. B. “The one man’s offence rests upon all men to condemnation, so the one man’s righteousness, as the counteraction or removal of this condemnation, is available and efficacious unto justification of life.” Now he has changed the passage.122

“Rests upon” in the first clause is exactly the same expression in Greek as is “available “in the second. And why this? And still more, if transference of guilt involves transference of righteousness, how is it only “available”? If it be said, yes; but the substitution is not efficacious unless it be accepted; then there was no real transference of guilt. If it is transferred and gone and if He has suffered, it is irreversible. The truth is, it is a denial of real substitution, and substitution is confounded with propitiation. The whole teaching is confusion and darkness; for Dr. B. tells us that substitution is the transference of the penalty from him who had incurred it to one who had not. How is this available for any, if the penalty have not been transferred? If it have, why not effectual for all by a judicial process, a legal title?

But I will follow some of the details of Dr. B. on the subject, and we shall see the inconceivable carelessness as to scripture, and how little he seems to weigh anything he says. I can only account for it by excessive confidence in his own thoughts. Victory over our great enemy was not by substitution. The perfect work of Christ and His death gave Him a title to annul the power of Satan; but it was not as substituted for any one.

In all the other examples we shall find there is personal appropriation, not an available means in the air. Jehovah accepted Abel and his offering. The typical victim was set between a known person and God. It was ‘Abel’s substitute,’ but not something in the air available to some one who might accept it; in which case transference of penalty is an absurdity, as then the one to whom the penalty is due is relieved by its being transferred. Noah and Abraham are in the came case: only in Abraham’s we have an example of the carelessness I speak of. There was no “consumption of Abraham’s sacrifice by the divine fire,” but quite a different thing: a burning lamp and a smoking furnace passed between the pieces—a well-known form of covenant engagement in Israel, and the covenant was of the land to Israel. If Dr. B. would seek excuse from a confusion with the sacrifice of Isaac, it is in vain. There we read, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where,” etc. In the passover those in the house were preserved. Dr. B.’s account of the sacrifices I cannot go into in detail: it would carry me too far; but there is the same inaccuracy. Remark only that, as to the burnt-offering, all is confusion. It is the perfection of the substitute presented in the room of our imperfections. A substitute for whom? If it was penalty transferred, whose penalty?

But what is more important, blood was shed, atonement was made. It is not merely that He loved God instead of us. This is not atonement by blood. No doubt the Substitute was perfect, but it was where He was made sin, glorifying God there. Imperfection is a strange word. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God. But why the perfection of the substitute only when Christ’s blood-shedding is prefigured? For whom was He a substitute? In the meat-offering, save in the case of the extreme poor, there was no atonement. Nor is there a statement of God’s feeding on it; in the peace-offering there is; Lev. 3:2. The meat-offering is much more the perfection of the substitute: in the burnt-offering there was a victim with blood-shedding.

In the sin and trespass-offerings we are told that sin-offerings were for unconscious sins—sins of ignorance; trespass-offerings, for conscious and wilful sins. This is a mistake. All the trespass-offerings in chapter 5 are sins of ignorance unless verse 1. The only cases not of ignorance are wrongs done to a neighbour, when, besides the offering, he was to restore it and a fifth part more. All this shews how careless and superficial all the statements are.

As to the explanation of the drink-offering, I confess it is beyond me. Dr. B. connects it with the Lord’s blood being drink indeed: why, I know not; and my reader may remark how in all this the perfection of the substitute is put for substitution. For what was the drink-offering a substitution? or how was it transferred penalty?

And now note the effect in the presentation of the gospel. It is not that precious blood is on the mercy seat, that God hath set Him forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. It is this principle of substitution. “And as He [God] acts on it in receiving us; so does He invite us to act in coming to Him.” That is, the guilt of him who is invited has been transferred to the substitute, and so righteousness transferred to those guilty, so that it is not a sinner that is invited as such. Who can tell that to an unbelieving sinner, in order to his coming to God? I must tell it evidently to every sinner, and every sinner is certainly saved, and righteousness is transferred to him. Christ was raised, according to Dr. B., because that sinner had been justified by the cross; for so Dr. B. translates the passage. “It is this truth the gospel embodies, and it is this that we preach.” The belief of this gospel is eternal life; and yet it is only available. I repeat my question; was the guilt really transferred or not? Was Christ a substitute for every sinner to whom Dr. B. preaches, so that all his guilt was transferred to Christ? If so, he has already none; nay more, Christ’s righteousness is transferred to him before I invite him, and it is effectual and irreversible.

In speaking of chapter 3 I feel the need of care not to offend when the solemn, deeply solemn, subject of the sufferings of the blessed Lord is before us. It is unpleasant to speak of the folly and contradictions of man’s thoughts when what ought to move our inmost soul occupies us. But mischief and contradiction are there, the deep sense of wrath and of the curse is lost and trifled with, and man’s rejection turned into God’s forsaking and wrath. It is a medley which on such a subject offends—I am afraid I must say, disgusts. Sufferings in which we are called to follow Christ, and take a part, are confounded with that in which He was really a substitute, the perfection of Christ’s obedience confounded with the part of bearing sin, because the being made sin took place in that in which the perfection of His obedience was accomplished.

I have already noticed the contradictions which flow from Dr. B.’s reasoning against the dream of his own mind that some make the act of resurrection to have worth for justifying. Then he insists earnestly that the blood, the cross, death alone does, assuring us (p. 41) that “so far as substitution is concerned we have to do with the cross only”; and this in a chapter which is written to prove that He entered our world as the substitute, that “His vicarious life began in the manger … His sin-bearing had begun (pp. 26, 27), that He was circumcised and baptized as a substitute (pp. 29, 30); He was always the sinless One bearing our sins” (p. 32); that the Psalms in their confessions of sins are the distinctest proof of His work as the substitute, that is, during His life; that God’s wrath and anger were then upon Him (p. 34), yet that the completeness of the substitution comes out more fully at the cross. There the whole burden pressed upon Him, and the wrath of God took hold upon Him (p. 34); yet He does not speak of the cross when He says, I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted; or when He says, Thy fierce wrath goeth over me, Thy terrors have cut me off (p. 32).

I have discussed all these Psalms fully elsewhere, and only state Dr. B.’s self-contradictions here. But when a person says that Christ was a substitute and shed His blood when He was circumcised, it is difficult (when we think of the wrath of God against our sin, which made the blessed Saviour sweat great drops of blood in only thinking of it beforehand and then drinking the cup we had filled for Him with our sins) to hinder oneself from expressing one’s feelings at the cold and idle trifling. But we must speak of the general principle. Dr. B. makes His sufferings from man His being a substitute for us in bearing God’s wrath. “For what can this poverty mean, this rejection by man, this outcast condition, but that the sin-bearing had begun?” (p. 27). Now Christ’s outcast place we may partake of with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. His disciples were not of the world, as He was not of the world. “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

But what has all this to do with substitution? Was He born in a manger that we might be spared it? He was circumcised as the substitute, and this was “inexplicable “save on the supposition that even in infancy He was the vicarious One, not indeed bearing sin in the full sense and manner in which He bore it on the cross (for without death sin-bearing could not be consummated) but still bearing it in measure according to the condition of His years (p. 29)! Only think; it leads to doubt whether Dr. B. has any serious idea of what sin deserves, or what the wrath and the curse really is, and that the wages of sin is death. Bearing sin in measure according to the condition of His years! But His sufferings from man are always distinguished from His drinking the cup. See Psalms 20, 21. Those bring wrath on man (if not repented of and blotted out); this is atonement and brings salvation. In Psalm 22 He appeals from man’s violence and wrong to God, and there finds forsaking in the words He used, where He alone could express them; but then the result is all unmingled blessing because it was atonement, deeper at first but extending waves till it reached the whole earth, and the seed to be born there. We are called on to suffer with Him, we read of filling up what was behind of the sufferings of Christ. Was atonement to be made—filled up—by any other? Circumcision in particular is not, in the Christian application of it, substitution; on the contrary, it is the putting off the body of the flesh, being dead to sin by Christ, not His bearing sin for us.

But the whole principle of a sin-bearing life is false. It is sin-bearing to no purpose; for without shedding of blood is no remission. He came to give His life a ransom for many; His taking it was not the ransom. Dr. B. now admits that anenegke refers to the cross. Where is apenegke used as to sins in His lifetime? He through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God. But here we have the man, the spotless victim, offering Himself, not becoming it in incarnation: that was no offering Himself by the eternal Spirit. It is for blood-shedding to purify.

He offered Himself (Heb. 9:14), and so verse 28 where it is expressly said to be (apax) once. So 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ once (apax) suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh.” So Hebrews 10:10, “By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and so He perfected the sanctified by one offering (p. 14).

It is certain, that till after Gethsemane, the blessed Lord had not taken the cup to drink, for then He prays that if possible He might not drink it. The trouble of soul then so deeply felt, and in a measure in John 12, demonstrates not (as Dr. B. would allege) sin-bearing then, but exactly the contrary, anticipation of a coming hour of death, and being made a curse. In Gethsemane it is plain, but equally so in John 12. The coming up of the Greeks, bringing before His blessed mind the title of Son of man, brings into it at once the death needed in order that He should take it. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but, if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Is it not evident that it was a specific hour—the hour of His death which was before Him, when He must die that the corn of wheat might not remain alone?

Dr. B. tells us Christ bore our iniquities up to, and on, the cross; for the former, having given up anenegke, he quotes nothing. There is nothing to quote. His only proof is making the contradiction of sinners the same thing as the wrath of God, and the miserable contemptible use of circumcision and the like. He quotes Isaiah 53, giving a new translation of some expressions, which seem to me unfounded, whoever is their author. Thus, verse 11, “he shall look upon,” etc., seems to me quite unwarranted, and the sentence to be justly translated, He shall see of the travail of His soul—that is, of the fruit of it. The words amal and min are simply this. Nor do I believe that “answerable” is the sense in verse 7. The English translation is right in both. The latter is an effort to bring Christ as answerable for sin during His life, but an unjustifiable one. His bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows is applied to His healing—has nothing to do with righteousness. It shews He felt in His soul the burden of the sorrow He removed; and this is a most precious truth, as He groaned at the tomb of Lazarus when seeing the power of death on all around. But this is not bearing sin. Nor did He become sick to take away our sickness.

As I am on translations, I will add, that raised again “because of” our justification, is an evil mistake—evil as to doctrine, for it shuts out faith from justifying, and falsifies chapter 5:1. Men (why not all?) would be justified before believing at all, consequently not by faith. Further, it is not the force of the Greek. Had it been, because we were justified, it would most assuredly have been dia to dikaiothenai emas, which only comes in chapter 5:1. “Having been justified by faith,” when faith is there. Dikaiosis is the active doing of a thing, not the thing done, the noun derived from the second person of the passive perfect. The English translation is right. You may say “on account of our justifying.” Our justifying was the why of the act. Then faith coming in, it is realized, and we are justified. Scripture does not know justification without faith, which this false translation asserts. But the whole doctrine of a sin-bearing life, from His birth up, is as false as it is mischievous.

There was an hour, the drinking of a cup, from which the blessed Lord sought if possible to be free, to be saved, the thought of which He went through in the deepest agony because it was sin-bearing, being made sin. Did this apply to His whole life? There He came in the divine freeness of His love. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” But divine willingness, and human agony, are not the same thing. Did He pray if possible to be spared being a man? He did that which He suffered at the cross. It is false in every aspect and feature of it.

Dr. B. tells us He was born the Saviour. Of course He was. But this does not tell us that He was bearing sin all His life. He came to deliver His people from their sins: what He went through to that end, and when, is not touched by that. He manifested the Father, and God in love to man in His life, a perfect man amongst them. He stood as man made sin before God on the cross, though a divine Person, or He could not have done it. He may be said to be the substitute of His people personally at any time, but the substitute was when He bore their sins. He was God’s Lamb always, but not the victim slain till the cross. How was redemption wrought? We have redemption through His blood. How is He set forth to be a propitiation? Through faith in His blood. What purges the conscience? The blood of Christ, who, mark, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God. This was clearly when He was a man. The question is not, whether His obedience was perfect, even unto death, the last test of it; nor if we are made righteous by it; but whether He was bearing sin all His life, yet no wrath upon Him, no propitiation nor redemption nor remission obtained. All these are by blood-shedding. The testament had no force while the testator lived. The putting away of sin was by the sacrifice of Himself. He was once offered to bear the sins of many. What does this mean if He were the sin-bearer all His life? Indeed the whole of Hebrews 9 is to shew the place this blood-shedding and bearing of sin once for all holds in the counsels of God, and makes the doctrine of a sin-bearing life worse than absurd. There was a sacrifice for sins which gives us boldness to enter into the holiest. A sin-bearing where there is no sacrifice is a sin-bearing which brings no remission to man and no glory to God.

The truth is, Christ never says, “My God” before the cross (always My Father), not even in Gethsemane. On the cross, in the hour of drinking the cup, He says, “My God”; after it (because now as man He is going to glory in righteousness, and has brought us there with Him), “my God and my Father,” for He is re-entered into the full enjoyment of sonship again, and has brought us there: surely never so the object of God’s love as when drinking the cup, for He could say, “therefore doth my Father love me,” a word that belongs only to a divine Person, but in His own soul tasting all its bitterness undiminished by any consolation, or it would not have been absolute and complete, yet shewing His perfectness as to the state of His own heart in the words “my God.”

I have gone thus into the great general truth of where sin-bearing was. But I must shew the carelessness and vagueness which baffles all hope of getting any serious doctrine from Dr. B. His very theme in chapter 3 is “His vicariousness is co-extensive with the sins and wants of those whom He represents, and covers all the different periods, as well as the various circumstances, of their lives.” Now what is, I beseech my reader, vicariousness as to wants? Suffering, being tempted in all things, that He might be able to succour the tempted— that is blessedly true. But this is not transfer, that the other might escape. Supply for wants I can understand, but vicariousness as to wants is beyond me altogether; yet it is the real inlet into all the error. Substitution was said to be the transference of penalty, guilt, wrath, from one who could not bear the penalty to One who could. How does this apply to “wants”?

I will not dwell upon it; but John’s baptism was so far from being a symbol of Christ’s death that, so far as it would be received, Christ would not be put to death at all, but received by faith. Hence (Acts 19) those who had received it had to be baptized over again.

Resurrection does not justify us—assuredly not. No man is justified till he believes; and Christ’s blood-shedding, and death, and drinking the cup, is the sole meritorious cause. But we are accepted in the Beloved, our place and standing before God is in a risen Christ. If we are in Him at all, there is no other but a risen One; but we are in Him before God.

It is not the whole truth, that being justified by faith we have peace with God; but there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Probably Dr. B. has confounded this blessed truth, being ignorant of it, with being justified by resurrection. Of course some one may have said so, but it is the first time I ever heard of such a thought. Dr. B.’s interpretation of dia dikaiosin I have already spoken of, and do not hesitate to say it is unsound interpretation, and false doctrine leading to fatal errors. For we are then, clearly, justified without any faith at all.

There is another most mischievous statement (page 11), “Without law sin is nothing.” “Until the law,” says the apostle, “sin was in the world.” And again, “they that have sinned without law.” “Sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful”: which it could not do, if it were not there already. “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” I know men have (for this grave Presbyterian error, which contradicts all Paul’s teaching) the passage in the English translation, “Sin is the transgression of the law”; but this is merely a false translation, founded on a doctrinal theory. The word anomia is never so translated elsewhere, and transgression of law is parabasis nomou. Not only so, but the same word adverbially anomos is translated sinning “without law” (Rom. 2:12), in contrast with sinning under law.

I need not return to Isaiah 53 which is dwelt on in chapter 4. The sufferings referred to (page 47) we are clearly called on to undergo with Christ. If they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more they of His household! if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also. Paul was the off-scouring of all things. There was no transfer, but the same enmity. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. His whole statement is mere blindness and delusion. The “scenes before the cross were while He was on His way to it” and during what He calls “his hour,” which till then He declared was not yet come. Now it was. Before that He had disposed of every heart as Emmanuel; so that His disciples lacked nothing. Now all was changed: He was reckoned among the transgressors; Luke 23:35-37. But though then taking, so to speak, the cup into His hand, which His Father had given Him to drink, we are simply certain from His own lips that He was not yet drinking it, for He prays it might pass without His doing so. But this was their hour, and the power of darkness.

The statement in page 58 I hold to be highly objectionable; for after shewing from scripture that He sits down consequent on offering a sacrifice for sins, Dr. B. says, “the first note of that gospel was sounded in the manger, the last from the throne above. How much is contained between?” Thus the sacrifice in its proper importance and place is dropped, coming in as an incident among many things, shewing the system adopted, confounding God come in Christ to a world of sinners, and the man gone up on high in virtue of redemption accomplished.

I know not to whom Dr. Bonar alludes as having done with the cross. They are not Christians. It is the eternal centre, as to acts, of all moral glory. This is true, which from Dr. B.’s words he seems not to apprehend, that there is a difference between coming to the cross, as on this side of it, so to speak, and knowing it as meeting our wants, our sins, the way we must come; and looking at it when we have passed into God’s presence through the veil, and are at peace in the holiest, looking at it on God’s side, so to speak, and seeing how God is glorified in it. For this last we must have peace by it. Indeed neither has its real place with Dr. B. The first is merely a judicial decree in a court of law, the second is not in his system at all.

I turn to chapter 5. That grace reigns through righteousness is most sure, and that God is just in forgiving. But it is not righteousness that reigns; that will be in the age to come. Nor has Dr. Bonar any authority in scripture for the statements with which he begins. It is never said that God saves a sinner by righteousness. It falsifies the gospel, though God is righteous in saving him, and the believer is made the righteousness of God in Christ. The statements are unscriptural and mischievously so.

We have further the absurdity of the system in page 71: “The transference is complete and eternal from the moment that we receive the divine testimony to the righteousness of the Son of God; all the guilt that was on us passes over to Him, and all His righteousness passes over to us.” Was ever such utter nonsense? When I believe, my guilt passes over to Him—now in glory! It is astonishing that such a sentence did not awaken Dr. B. to the falseness of his whole system. My guilt transferred to Christ now in glory! One is led sometimes really to doubt whether he can know the truth at all. These are blunders which seem impossible for one who does, for whom this is the reality of faith. It shews what his substitution means. Further, the righteousness of the Son of God is language unknown to scripture, wholly foreign to it. That Christ is of God made unto us righteousness, I bless God for with my whole soul, and that we are made the righteousness of God in Him. But nothing of the statement of Dr. B. is in scripture, and the quotations of Deuteronomy and the Psalms have nothing to do with the matter. Let the reader consult them.

Dr. B. reads, Christ is the end (or fulfilling) of the law for righteousness, which is wholly unwarranted. Telos is the end rather as concluding, or the object, just as “end” in the English, but it is not fulfilling. Will Dr. B. give a passage in scripture where telos is so used? I notice these things because they belong to a great system of doctrine. Thus in this chapter we read, “Jehovah is satisfied, more than satisfied, with Christ’s fulfilling the law which man had broken “(p. 80). Why then need Christ die, if Jehovah is more than satisfied? Righteousness comes by the law, and Christ is dead in vain. And it is expressly said in the life of the God-man. And note that this was before the cross; it is transferred to me, so that I am partaker of, or identified with, this law-fulfilling—have perfectly fulfilled the law: all the law sentences against us are cancelled (p. 81). What then did Christ die for?

The statement in chapter 6 is a positive falsifying of scripture. This everlasting righteousness (law-fulfilling) comes to us by believing, the fruit of which is peace with God (p. 82). Now the antecedent to this in scripture is exclusively, “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” It is Dr. B.’s scheme, but not scripture.

As to 2 Peter 1:1, we obtain like precious faith by the righteousness of God, not righteousness by faith. Obtaining precious faith by righteousness is, as Paul says, “after that faith came.” That is, God has been faithful to His promises and given us Christ. At any rate, faith coming by righteousness has nothing to do with righteousness coming by faith. Dr. B.’s note is all a mistake. The Epistles of Peter are addressed to Jews—to the sojourners of the dispersion. The faith, like precious faith with Peter and those in Canaan, the dispersed believing Jews had received through the righteousness of God. It was not indeed Messiah Jewishly they had got, but precious faith. Still it was their God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

But in this chapter we come to a point on which we must rest a moment. “The scriptural meaning of imputing,” we are told, “is that the things that He did not do were laid to His charge, and He was treated as if He had done them all; so the things that He did are put to our account, and we are treated by God as if we had done them all.” Now, where the principle of substitution enters, this is an important truth; but “imputed” is never so used in scripture. And Dr. B.’s quotations are a new proof that he really has no capacity to seize a statement of others, or to know what he means by his own. Look what a vague account he gives of Genesis 15:6. It was imputed to him for righteousness, that is, his faith, as the apostle himself explains it. Now what is there here that another had done which was put to his account? The statement is that his own faith was imputed to him for righteousness.

Genesis 31:15. Are we not counted of Him as strangers? Nothing done by another is put to account. They were treated or reckoned as such, just the meaning of the word. We are reckoned righteous: whether by something put to our account is another question. In the cited passage it was certainly not so.

Leviticus 7:18. Not a word of transfer or putting another’s work to account. In a certain case he got no credit for his offering.

Numbers 18:27. Something reckoned or considered as having a certain value.

2 Samuel 19. It is holding him guilty for what he had done that he would deprecate, no transfer of anything.

Psalm 32:2. Nothing is put to account. The man is blessed whom Jehovah does not reckon guilty. It is not said why.

Romans 4:3, 5, we have had. The explanation of the construction put on the Greek is all nonsense. Counting him into righteousness (of “bringing him into” there is not a word) is worthy of all the rest. The English is quite right.

Romans 4:6. “Imputeth righteousness” is reckoning himself righteous.

Romans 4:8 is just a proof that it does not mean what Dr. B. says. The Lord does not impute the sin, that is, reckon the man guilty of it. It is his own doing which is not imputed, not somebody else’s doing which is.

It is useless to comment on the others. In none of them is there a hint of something done by another put to the account of him who did not do it. They are negatives; so that it is simply not reckoning to a man what he has done himself, or faith is reckoned as righteousness—the man’s faith. The whole statement is a mere delusion, as the citations prove. Will Dr. B. only give us a passage in which justifying is by a righteousness legally transferred? A man’s being righteous is his standing in the sight of God, not a quantum of righteousness transferred to his credit. Indeed the Greek word for this is different. It is ellogeitai, not logizetai.

But the legal system taints every thought and apprehension of Dr. B. The purpose of God before the foundation of the world, to conform us to the image of His Son, is lost. It is merely an infinite legal claim. God recognizes the claims of righteousness (p. 100). It is an exchange of judicial demands (p. 101). We can plead in our dealings with God the meritoriousness of an infinitely perfect life, the payment effected by an infinitely perfect death (p. 101). So, from Bunyan, “defending thee with the merits of His blood, and covering thee with His infinite righteousness from the wrath of God and the curse of the law” (p. 104). The assumption of all our legal responsibilities by a divine substitution is that which brings deliverance, etc. (p. 105). The second Man came as the righteous One to undo by His righteousness all that the first man as the unrighteous one had done by his unrighteousness … yet such is the power of sin that it took thirty-three years of righteousness to undo what one act of unrighteousness had done (p. 105). So God can accept Him, and the law recognize Him as entitled to blessing.

Can anything be more unlike scripture? The love of God, God commending His love to us, by Christ’s dying while we were yet sinners, God so loving the world, all the activity of God’s love, His seeking and saving what was lost, God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, the Father on the prodigal’s neck, when in his rags a great way off, with no best robe upon him: all is lost. I admit, as fully, as earnestly as any can, the need of propitiation and substitution; but all true gospel, the grace of God that brings salvation, is lost in this unscriptural, unchristian system. Law accepts where it is satisfied.

All Christ’s sympathy, suffering to succour the tempted as merciful and faithful High Priest, is lost. No such thought is found in Dr. B. It is the triumph of evil, or substitution. Righteousness did “retire from the scene” and is seen only now in Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God. (See pages 98, 99.)

There are four reasons given in Hebrews 2 for Christ’s taking our nature, and suffering: God’s glory (v. 10), the destruction of Satan’s power (v. 14), to make propitiation for the sins of the people (v. 17), to be able to succour them that are tempted. Not one enters into Dr. B.’s gospel. Christ comes to meet the claims of the law; and that is all.

Faith is nothing but our consenting to be saved by another, Dr. B. tells us (p. 109). This is utterly wrong. Faith is setting to our seal that God is true in His testimony, and practically the reception of Christ, by the word, through the power of the Holy Ghost. “When it pleased God,” says Paul, “to reveal his Son in me.” Page in shews that there is no real apprehension of what faith is. It is “human and cannot satisfy.” “God’s pardoning, and justifying, and accepting, must be connected with the cross alone” (pp. 118, 119). Yet, just now, it took thirty-three years to do it. Of an infused resurrection righteousness I know nothing, save as practical fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ our life; but of being accepted in the Beloved I do, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And this connects our acceptance with death to sin, and deliverance from it by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which Christ’s bearing our sins does not. This difference between the teaching of Romans to chapter 5:11, and from thence to the end of chapter 8, Dr. B. is wholly ignorant of.

What it is to be not in the flesh but in Christ, of the law’s having power over a man as long as he lives, but that we are delivered from it, having died with Christ, the difference between Christ’s dying for our sins, and our having died with Him, of His meeting our responsibilities by bearing our sins on the cross, and our being in Him and accepted in Him, now He is risen and glorified, inseparable from His being in us, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, sin in the flesh being condemned—of all this Dr. B. is wholly ignorant. Legal claims satisfied is all he knows; and of course he condemns and mistakes what he is ignorant of. It is striking to see (p. 121) how he speaks of Christ dying for us, and Christ being in us, but leaves out, as a thing totally unknown to him, our being in Him. And note again how, in all this part (pages 119-121), the whole of his statement of a sin-bearing life is utterly subverted, “All comes from the one work of the cross.” “It is death throughout.” This is not true of the meat-offering, but it sets aside all Dr. B.’s theory. Dr. B.’s anger against others has betrayed him into sad statements.

To deny that a risen Christ is our life may be fit for legalism, and a denial of all real spiritual hfe; but if there be a real gift of life, in whom and whence is it? This is terrible—our being in Christ left out, and Christ denied to be our life. And Dr. B. forgets the verse even as to justification, that, though justification is not by life in us, yet it characterizes justification, as it is written, “by one offence towards all to condemnation, so by one righteousness [or act of righteousness] towards all to justification of life.”

The truth is, the whole doctrine of acceptance in Christ forms no part of Dr. B.’s scheme. But that our whole position and partaking of life too depends on resurrection, though surely the whole foundation is Christ’s death (which is indeed what I must insist upon), is clear, and it is the real point in question. Dr. B., though inconsistently talking of its being solely death, bases it on Christ’s previous life, as meeting legal claims. Scripture declares that, unless the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, and that it is in Christ risen that we have our place before God, knowing by the Comforter that we are in Him (and therefore there is no possible condemnation for us), that He is gone to our Father as to His Father, to our God as to His God. So Paul would not know Christ after the flesh, though he had.

The cross made the great turning-point and separation. In the law God put up a barrier round the mount of fire— was hidden behind the veil; there was no entrance into the holiest, the way not made manifest. As I have sometimes said, God did not come out, and man could not go in. Now God has come out in grace to man, and man has gone in in righteousness to God, we are in Him there sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He is our life. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me— the risen Christ, or One not risen? Christ alive in the days of His flesh abode alone. “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,” where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “When Christ who is our life shall appear.” Here it is distinctively a risen Christ. Our life is Christ who is risen; we have been quickened together with Him, and raised up together.

Save in the vague words, “brother, and sister, and mother,” Christ never calls His disciples brethren until after His resurrection. Nor is being quickened by the Son the same thing as being raised with Him: for here He is looked at as a man, and we have part spiritually in resurrection with Him; whence it is said in Colossians 2, “having forgiven you all trespasses.” He bore our sins in coming down, and put them away, and then we are raised with Him. He has put us in the same place with Himself—His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Till redemption was accomplished, the corn of wheat abode alone. Dr. B.’s system is not Christianity in grace to the sinner, God in Christ seeking the lost, and on the sinner’s neck when the prodigal had not the best robe on; and the whole of Paul and John’s teaching as to our place and life and acceptance in Christ he is wholly ignorant of. God, for him, is a righteous judge, and if we come by a legal satisfaction into court. He is satisfied because the law is. The Lord keep me from such a gospel, and such a gospel from the world.

Even when he speaks, as he must in quoting scripture, of being in Christ, it is an exchange of persons. It is a judicial verdict or sentence given in our favour. God seeks for us, and when at last He discovers us in our hiding-place, it is not me He finds, but Christ. We are partakers in law of all the results and fruits of His work, no identity with Christ literal or physical (pages 79, 80). Jehovah is satisfied. Is this the gospel of the grace of God? God sought sinners. Is it not as if we found our way into Christ by our own consent, and then God found, discovered, us hidden there? And are we not really members of Christ, of His flesh, and of His bones? Are we not really living in Him, and He in us?

My conclusion is, that it is a deplorable heart-saddening book, almost leading one to doubt whether the author knows Christ and the gospel at all, and giving the certainty that the blessed gospel we have in scripture he certainly knows nothing about, at any rate not the gospel of the grace of God revealed in scripture. Such is my answer to whoever sent me the book.

121 “The Everlasting Righteousness, or, How shall man be just with God?” By Horatius Bonar, D.D. London: J. Nisbet & Co., 21, Berners Street. 1873.

122 The translation of the English Bible is quite faulty; but it does not affect the point I am on.