Christ's Suretyship: Part II

Robert Riccaltoun


But that which I would, in a particular manner, remark upon this state of matters between God and man, is, how impossible it was for these two parties to have any further dealings one with another, in a way of friendship, unless there was a mediator found, to stand between both, with whom both parties might, with honor and safety, transact, and by him with one another. That there could be no other transactions between God and man, upon this state of things, than such as is between a just judge and avenger, and an offending criminal, I presume, will not need much illustration to such, as have accustomed themselves to reflect upon the abominable nature of sin, and the unspotted purity and holiness of God; the infinite majesty and excellency of God, with the internal demerit of sin, and his exact, and every way perfect, justice, with the rigor of that law which he has laid as the measure and rule of it. God cannot look upon the sinner without detestation and abhorrence, and breaking out upon him as a consuming fire; neither can man approach God in this condition without, not to say the most dismal terrors and amazing horrors, but even imminent and most certain destruction: From which and such considerations, the necessity of a mediator between God and man, is held forth unto us with such evidence, that I know not how any man should have got himself so far divested of reason, as to be able to avoid the impressions these must have upon every thinking man. And indeed they are such, as have engaged even these, who are the most eagerly set against any satisfaction or sacrifice for sin, to own the necessity of one, to manage this covenant between God and man, and to carry the mind of one party to the other, in order to an accommodation, which is the very lowest sense can be affixed to the word mediator.

But, if we consider it, even in this, however low, notion of that name, and the office designed by it; this great truth will follow, that the covenant of grace is primarily and originally concerted and agreed between God and the mediator, before it come to be published and declared unto us, for our approbation or consent unto it; and which directs us accordingly unto two very different views of this covenant, as it stands between God and the mediator, and as it is proposed unto us, in the gospel, between God and us. As these different views are plainly pointed out to us in our Confession;(1) so the grounds of them will further appear, I hope, ere we have done; and the mistaking of these for two different covenants, I am apprehensive, have no small tendency toward perplexing of the doctrine of the covenant of grace. As the mediator then is the third party in this covenant, we must also, if we would come to a right view of this matter, know something of the character he bears there, and what it is he undertakes and performs, in order to the completing of this covenant, and the salvation of elect sinners therein.

And here, let us, for their sakes who would have it so, suppose for once, that Christ entered upon this office, merely, as a messenger between the two parties principally concerned; as the demands must, of necessity, have been too high on one side, for the other ever to come up to; such difficulties must have arisen upon it, as should have made the whole negotiation entirely fruitless. The law, tis evident, insists upon perfect obedience, and knows no other satisfaction, but that of bearing the penalty; all God's perfections concur with these, as the demands of perfect justice, and the only fit means for securing the honor and authority of the lawgiver. And this we find in fact was, what God stood so much upon, that notwithstanding these bowels of compassion, which, speaking to us in our own language, he tells us, rolled within him; and that unexpressible, yea, unconceivable love, which was so strong, as to engage him to give his own only begotten Son to them, and for them; yet not so much as one drop of it could fall upon them, until he had first made provision for his honor, by laying this foundation for communion and fellowship with them. This same law, with the consequences of it already mentioned, I mean, the rigorous connection of it, which is the only thing which binds man under sin, must be removed, before one sinner can be brought to life; and this must be one great part of the mediator's work.

This is so certain, and withal so obvious, that I find it agreed upon in a manner by all; but how this is done, there is a vast difference in men's opinions. I will not take any further notice of these, who think, this might be done without any satisfaction at all, as grossly injurious to the honor of God, and his righteous law; the great question, among sober men, is, whether the mediator, as an undertaking surety, entered upon, and fulfilled that same law, which man had broken, and which he lay bound under? Or, whether God was satisfied with this, that he should fulfill a particular law of his own, which, therefore, they who think so, call the law of the mediator? It is the same question with that, whether Christ satisfied the law, or only the lawgiver? And upon which depends the resolution of that other, whether he paid the
idem or tantundem? And which we know has made abundance of noise in the world. However small these questions may seem, yet upon these, and such as these, the weightiest of all take their decision; and it is here, if I mistake not, that the foundation and ground-work is laid, of all the different schemes of the gospel, which have hitherto made their appearance in the church.

That the Son of God was under no original obligation to undertake for the salvation of sinners, and therefore had nothing to do with their law, is so true, that I do not know, if ever it was called in question by any sober person: And therefore, whatever obligations of this kind he may be supposed to come under, do not arise upon any necessity of his nature, but his own voluntary undertaking in that eternal agreement between the Father and him, which indeed is no other, than the eternal divine decree, concerning the salvation of sinners; though represented, in a suitableness unto our imperfect conceptions, under the form of a covenant; and where, tis easy to apprehend, the plan and platform of man's salvation must be laid down, and adjusted with everything belonging unto it, and what was necessary thereunto; particularly, what was to be done by the Son, in order to the execution of what he had undertaken as their surety, and what he was to expect upon it. If anybody pleases to call this the law of the mediator, thus complexly taken, and in the gross, I should not be at pains to contend with him about it: However, it is certain, that here were many things lying upon him, so peculiar to the mediator, that man was never under any obligation, much less in a capacity of performing them. Such are his laying aside his glory, assuming man's nature, his threefold office, with the particulars peculiarly belonging unto these. It is certain also, that however, supposing him man, he must of necessity, so far come under the obligation of the moral law, yet there was none for his entering upon it, as the covenant of works; since the life, which that covenant promises only upon condition of perfect obedience, was his natural due and right, and what it was utterly impossible he could fall from; and that by virtue of the close union between the divine and human natures. But, after all, the question is not, Whether he was previously obliged to this before his undertaking? Or, whether he did not undertake other things besides this? But, whether he did not undertake this among others, to present himself surety for sinners, in order to the fulfilling of that law, which they had broken, and to bear that curse, which was thereby become their due?

I know no one truth the Spirit of God is more express in, than the affirmative of this question. I cannot stand to draw out these arguments at full length; to reflect upon what has been already hinted from man's natural state and condition, nor how unlike it is the divine nature, to relax his law without fulfillment; what else can be meant by all these strong expressions, where the mediator is said to be
made under the law, to take upon him the form of a servant, to be made sin, to be made a curse, etc.?

These are so strong and evident, that the most learned advocates for this notion, find themselves obliged to fly to another shift, that, viz. it is true, Christ did fulfill the law, and bear the curse; but it was in his own name as mediator, and not in the room or stead of any particular persons, elect or others, that he did so; and therefore, though he indeed satisfied the lawgiver, yet since the law required obedience in one's own person, he could not be said to satisfy that; neither is it, say they, the same obedience which the law enjoined, nor the same punishment which it threatened, but the equivalent of both. And thus they lay the foundation of their universal redemption, their new law, with the other notions that follow upon them.

Were no more designed by all this, than, that Christ and the elect are not the same physical persons; that it was he who obeyed and suffered, and not they; and that therefore it is he, and not they, who is judged by God to have done so, this would be indeed very true, and what, I believe, no man in his wits ever thought of refusing or denying; but, as the design is, plainly, to cut off any relation to the elect in this undertaking, I think nothing can be weaker than these distinctions, and the reasonings brought to support them.

Let us suppose then for once, that Christ fulfilled the law only in his own name; but after all, may one ask, What was this name? What was his character? Did he this merely, as the Son of God clothed with our nature? no, certainly; but as mediator between God and man. This is a general name, and which, as it takes in many things under it, may benefit a person of ordinary apprehension. Let us see then further, what is a mediator, in the case now before us? It is true, he is a middle person, and therefore, neither the one nor the other party; but this will not hinder him in his mediatorial offices to represent both, according as he has occasionally the one or the other to deal with. That he actually represents God in his dealings with us, so, as what he does, the Father is interpreted to do by him, is beyond question with all, who allow him any room at all in our communion with God, or understand anything of his prophetical and kingly offices, that in many instances he represents his people in the same manner, so as that they shall be constructed to do what he does in their name, is every whit as undeniable; and, what then should hinder him, in the case now before us, to act as a surety-undertaker for his elect, and to put himself into that very law-place which they held, without any prejudice to his character, as a middle person? Nay, is it not one main part of his mediatory office to do so? That what is done in his own name, being done as an undertaking surety, is therefore really done in theirs, for whom he undertakes.

But to come yet nearer, it is very certain, that our Lord came actually under the law, that he both fulfilled the precept, and bare the curse; and therefore, his obedience and sufferings must have been materially the same, with what the elect ought to have done and suffered. Now, what I would gladly learn is this, by virtue of what law he came into these circumstances? That it was the same law with that, which fallen man lay under, the apostle is as express as can be desired; and therefore, it must needs be this same law by which he is bound: Whatever then he undertook to do, or the Father required of him, being another law, especially, if it required another thing, cannot be that law which man was to be delivered from, he having never been under it. Now the question is, what he had to do with man's law, unless he condescended to come into their place, and thereby to stand in that very same relation to the law which they did? Which, if he really did, and that, by virtue of his office as mediator, it follows clearly, that then he must have done what he did, in that capacity, in their room and stead; and indeed the law acts to all intents and purposes, as, if the sinners themselves had been under it, except that it falls upon the surety, and therefore not upon them.

That this is really the case, might easily be made appear, with as much evidence as can be, from the expressions the Spirit of God makes use of to this purpose; the proper substitution that appears in the old law sacrifices, and even the very nature of the thing. Nor is it of any moment, what I see so much stood upon by some, that the law required obedience in one's own person, which would seem to exclude a surety; and which would indeed do so, were the law rigorously insisted on. But, as I reckon it needless to insist upon what has been so often cleared, the difference between dispensing with a law, and a favorable interpretation of it; since this last will answer all the difficulty, it is needless to run ourselves upon greater ones, by having recourse to the former. It was observed upon the constitution of that covenant, that there were several things there which were not founded upon any necessity of his nature, in adjusting and regulating of which, a favorable interpretation may take place, providing respect be still had unto the end and design of the law. And, if we look through that covenant, there are only two things, which seem to militate against admitting a surety, viz. the connection between obedience and life, and that between disobedience and death.

The first, it is evident, says no more than this,
If you obey perfectly in your own person, you shall have life; but not one word to exclude a surety. The penalty indeed in annexed to disobedience, and accordingly it takes place upon the sinner himself; but still there is nothing here to hinder the same power, which laid him under it to release him. Especially, if it be considered, how the end and design of that sanction was no other, than to secure the goodness and condescension of God from being trampled upon, and to maintain his honor in that case; whence it easily follows, that when he has fallen upon another method of securing that, this may, without any prejudice, be set aside. And thus, in this dispensation, the faithfulness of God is at once maintained, in inflicting the threatened punishment, and room made for showing forth the glory of his mercy, without any prejudice to any of his other perfections, or setting aside his righteous law.

I was saying before, that there were several other things besides this, which our Lord undertook, as mediator of the covenant; but withal, that the strength and abilities of all the supporters of sin, and even sin itself, depends so much upon this one, that I know not whether it will not be at least as proper, to reckon up his victory over all these, and the destruction of sin, Satan, and the world, as some of the consequences of this. And certain it is, that, in fulfilling the law, he gave these their death's wounds, depriving them thereby of the only right they had to retain man under bondage: And, it was upon the cross that he triumphed over principalities and powers, finished sin, and made an end of transgression.