5. Christ has redeemed us
through his obedience, which he practiced throughout his life
When it is asked then how Christ, by abolishing
sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness
which made him favourable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that
he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience. This id proved by
the testimony of Paul, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,
so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom.
5:19). And indeed he elsewhere extends the ground of pardon which
exempts from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ, “When the
fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made
under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Gal.
4:4, 5). Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of
righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding obedience to the command of the
Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he
began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.
Scripture, however, the more certainly to define
the mode of salvation, ascribes it peculiarly and specially to the death of
Christ. He himself declares that he gave his life a ransom for many (Mt.
20:28). Paul teaches that he died for our sins (Rom.
4:25). John Baptist exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which
taketh away the sin of the world,” (John
1:29). Paul in another passage declares, “that we are justified
freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom
God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” (Rom.
3:25). “Again, being justified by his blood, we shall be saved
from wrath through him” (Rom.
5:9). Again “He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin;
that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2
Cor. 5:21). I will not search out all the passages, for the list
would be endless, and many are afterwards to be quoted in their order. In
the Confession of Faith, called the Apostles’ Creed, the transition is
admirably made from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, in
which the completion of a perfect salvation consists. Still there is no
exclusion of the other part of obedience which he performed in life. Thus
Paul comprehends, from the beginning even to the end, his having assumed the
form of a servant, humbled himself, and become obedient to death, even the
death of the cross (Phil.
2:7). And, indeed, the first step in obedience was his voluntary
subjection; for the sacrifice would have been unavailing to justification if
not offered spontaneously. Hence our Lord, after testifying, “I lay down my
life for the sheep,” distinctly adds, “No man taketh it from me,” (John
10:15, 18). In the same sense Isaiah says, “ Like a sheep before
her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth,” (Is.
53:7). The Gospel History relates that he came forth to meet the
soldiers; and in presence of Pilate, instead of defending himself, stood to
receive judgment. This, indeed, he did not without a struggle, for he had
assumed our infirmities also, and in this way it behoved him to prove that
he was yielding obedience to his Father. It was no ordinary example of
incomparable love towards us to struggle with dire terrors, and amid fearful
tortures to cast away all care of himself that he might provide for us. We
must bear in minds that Christ could not duly propitiate God without
renouncing his own feelings and subjecting himself entirely to his Father’s
will. To this effect the Apostle appositely quotes a passage from the
Psalms, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do
thy will, O God,” (Heb.
Ps. 40:7, 8). Thus, as trembling
consciences find no rest without sacrifice and ablution by which sins are
expiated, we are properly directed thither, the source of our life being
placed in the death of Christ.
condemnation through Pilate)
Moreover, as the curse consequent upon guilt
remained for the final judgment of God, one principal point in the narrative
is his condemnation before Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, to teach
us, that the punishment to which we were liable was inflicted on that Just
One. We could not escape the fearful judgment of God; and Christ, that he
might rescue us from it, submitted to be condemned by a mortal, nay, by a
wicked and profane man. For the name of Governor is mentioned not only to
support the credibility of the narrative, but to remind us of what Isaiah
says, that “the chastisement of our peace was upon him;” and that “with his
stripes we are healed,” (Is.
53:5). For, in order to remove our condemnation, it was not
sufficient to endure any kind of death. To satisfy our ransom, it was
necessary to select a mode of death in which he might deliver us, both by
giving himself up to condemnations and undertaking our expiation. Had he
been cut off by assassins, or slain in a seditious tumult, there could have
been no kind of satisfaction in such a death. But when he is placed as a
criminal at the bar, where witnesses are brought to give evidence against
him, and the mouth of the judge condemns him to die, we see him sustaining
the character of an offender and evil-doer. Here we must attend to two
points which had both been foretold by the prophets, and tend admirably to
comfort and confirm our faith. When we read that Christ was led away from
the judgment-seat to execution, and was crucified between thieves, we have a
fulfilment of the prophecy which is quoted by the Evangelist, “He was
numbered with the transgressors,” (Is.
Mark 15:28). Why was it so? That he
might bear the character of a sinner, not of a just or innocent person,
inasmuch as he met death on account not of innocence, but of sin. On the
other hand, when we read that he was acquitted by the same lips that
condemned him (for Pilate was forced once and again to bear public testimony
to his innocence), let us call to mind what is said by another prophet, “I
restored that which I took not away,” (Ps.
69:4). Thus we perceive Christ representing the character of a
sinner and a criminal, while, at the same time, his innocence shines forth,
and it becomes manifest that he suffers for another’s and not for his own
crime. He therefore suffered under Pontius Pilate, being thus, by the formal
sentence of the judge, ranked among criminals, and yet he is declared
innocent by the same judge, when he affirms that he finds no cause of death
in him. Our acquittal is in this that the guilt which made us liable to
punishment was transferred to the head of the Son of God (Is.
53:12). We must specially remember this substitution in order
that we may not be all our lives in trepidation and anxiety, as if the just
vengeance which the Son of God transferred to himself, were still impending
The very form of the death embodies a striking
truth. The cross was cursed not only in the opinion of men, but by the
enactment of the Divine Law. Hence Christ, while suspended on it, subjects
himself to the curse. And thus it behoved to be done, in order that the
whole curse, which on account of our iniquities awaited us, or rather lay
upon us, might be taken from us by being transferred to him. This was also
shadowed in the Law, since "Ashmoth," the word by which sin itself is
properly designated, was applied to the sacrifices and expiations offered
for sin. By this application of the term, the Spirit intended to intimate,
that they were a kind of kayarmatwn
(purifications), bearing, by substitutions the curse due to sin. But that
which was represented figuratively in the Mosaic sacrifices is exhibited in
Christ the archetype. Wherefore, in order to accomplish a full expiation, he
made his soul to Asham, i.e., a propitiatory victim for sin
(as the prophet says,
Is. 53:5, 10),
on which the guilt and penalty being in a manner laid, ceases to be imputed
to us. The Apostle declares this more plainly when he says, that “he made
him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the
righteousness of God in him,” (2
Cor. 5:21). For the Son of God, though
spotlessly pure, took upon him the disgrace and ignominy of our iniquities,
and in return clothed us with his purity. To the same thing he seems to
refer, when he says, that he “condemned sin in the flesh,” (Rom.
8:3), the Father having destroyed the power of sin when it was
transferred to the flesh of Christ. This term, therefore, indicates that
Christ, in his death, was offered to the Father as a propitiatory victim;
that, expiation being made by his sacrifice, we might cease to tremble at
the divine wrath. It is now clear what the prophet means when he says, that
“the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all,” (Is.
53:6); namely, that as he was to wash away the pollution of sins,
they were transferred to him by imputation. Of this the cross to which he
was nailed was a symbol, as the Apostle declares, “Christ has redeemed us
from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written,
Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham
might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ,” (Gal.
3:13, 14). In the same way Peter says, that he “bare our sins in
his own body on the tree,” (1
Peter 2:24), inasmuch as from the very symbol of the curse, we
perceive more clearly that the burden with which we were oppressed was laid
upon him. Nor are we to understand that by the curse which he endured he was
himself overwhelmed, but rather that by enduring it he repressed broke,
annihilated all its force. Accordingly, faith apprehends acquittal in the
condemnation of Christ, and blessing in his curse. Hence it is not without
cause that Paul magnificently celebrates the triumph which Christ obtained
upon the cross, as if the cross, the symbol of ignominy, had been converted
into a triumphal chariot. For he says, that he blotted out the handwriting
of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out
of the way, nailing it to his cross: that “having spoiled principalities and
powers he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” (Col.
2:14, 15). Nor is this to be wondered at; for, as another Apostle
declares, Christ, “through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot
to God,” (Heb.
9:14), and hence that transformation of the cross which were
otherwise against its nature. But that these things may take deep root and
have their seat in our inmost hearts, we must never lose sight of sacrifice
and ablution. For, were not Christ a victim, we could have no sure
conviction of his being apolutrwsin kia antilutron kai
ilasthrion, our substitute-ransom and propitiation. And hence
mention is always made of blood whenever scripture explains the mode of
redemption: although the shedding of Christ’s blood was available not only
for propitiation, but also acted as a laver to purge our defilements.
7. "Dead and buried"
The Creed next mentions that he “was dead and buried”. Here again it is
necessary to consider how he substituted himself in order to pay the price
of our redemption. Death held us under its yoke, but he in our place
delivered himself into its power, that he might exempt us from it. This the
Apostle means when he says, “that he tasted death for every man,” (Heb.
2:9). By dying he prevented us from dying; or (which is the same
thing) he by his death purchased life for us (see Calvin in Psychopann). But
in this he differed from us, that in permitting himself to be overcome of
death, it was not so as to be engulfed in its abyss but rather to annihilate
it, as it must otherwise have annihilated us; he did not allow himself to be
so subdued by it as to be crushed by its power; he rather laid it prostrate,
when it was impending over us, and exulting over us as already overcome. In
fine, his object was, “that through death he might destroy him that had the
power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of
death were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” (Heb.
2:14, 15). This is the first fruit which his death produced to
us. Another is, that by fellowship with him he mortifies our earthly members
that they may not afterwards exert themselves in action, and kill the old
man, that he may not hereafter be in vigour and bring forth fruit. An effect
of his burials moreover is that we as his fellows are buried to sin. For
when the Apostle says, that we are ingrafted into the likeness of Christ’s
deaths and that we are buried with him unto sin, that by his cross the world
is crucified unto us and we unto the world, and that we are dead with him,
he not only exhorts us to manifest an example of his death, but declares
that there is an efficacy in it which should appear in all Christians, if
they would not render his death unfruitful and useless. Accordingly in the
death and burial of Christ a twofold blessing is set before us—viz.
deliverance from death, to which we were enslaved, and the mortification of
our flesh (Rom.