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Andrew Fuller on Pecuniary and Penal Satisfaction and the Role of Metaphor

June 18, 2008

The reader, in applying this supposed case to the mediation of Christ, will do me the justice to remember, that I do not pretend to have perfectly represented it. Probably there is no similitude fully adequate to the purpose. The distinction between the Father and the Son, is not the same as that which subsists between a father and a son among men : the latter are two separate beings; but to assert this of the former, would be inconsistent with the divine unity. Nor can any thing be found analogous to the doctrine of divine influence, by which the redemption of Christ is carried into effect. And with respect to the innocent voluntarily suffering for the guilty, in a few extraordinary instances this principle may be adopted; but the management and application of it generally require more wisdom and more power than mortals possess. We day by the help of a machine, collect a few sparks of the electrical fluid, and produce an effect somewhat resembling that of lightning : but we cannot cause it to blaze like the Almighty, nor thunder with a voice like Him.

Imperfect, however, as the foregoing similitude may appear in some respects, it is sufficient to show the fallacy of Mr. Paine’s reasoning. “The doctrine of Redemption,” says this writer, has for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice. If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me: but if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer Justice: but is indiscriminate revenge.” This objection, which is the same for substance as has been frequently urged by Socinians as well as Deists, is founded in misrepresentation.

It is not true that redemption has for its basis the idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice. That sin is called a debt, and the death of Christ a price, a ransom, &c., is true; but it is no unusual thing for moral obligations and deliverances, to be expressed in language borrowed from pecuniary transactions. The obligations of a son to a father, are commonly expressed by such terms as owing and paying: he owes a debt of obedience, and in yielding it he pays a debt of gratitude. The same may be said of an obligation to punishment. A murderer owes his life to the justice of his country; and when he suffers, he is said to pay the awful debt. So also if a great character by suffering death, could deliver his country, such deliverance would be spoken of as obtained by the price of blood. No one mistakes these things by understanding them of pecuniary transactions. In such connections, every one perceives that the terms are used not literally, but metaphorically; and it is thus that they are to be understood with reference to the death of Christ. As sin is not a pecuniary, but a moral debt; so the atonement for it is not a pecuniary, but a moral ransom.

There is doubtless a sufficient analogy between pecuniary and moral proceedings, to justify the use of such language, both in scripture and in common life; and it is easy to perceive the advantages which which arise from it; as besides conveying much important truth, it renders it peculiarly impressive to the mind. But it is not always safe to reason from the former to the latter; much less is it just to affirm, that the latter has for its basis every principle which pertains to the former. The deliverance effected by the prince, in the case before stated, might, with propriety, be called a redemption; and the recollection of it, under this idea, would be very impressive to the minds of those who were delivered. They would scarcely be able to see or think of their Commander in Chief, even though it might be years after the event, without being reminded of the price at which their pardon was obtained, and dropping a tear of ingenuous grief over their unworthy conduct on this account. Yet it would not be just to say, that this redemption had for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice.

It was moral justice which in this case was satisfied: not, however, in its ordinary form, but as exercised on an extraordinary occasion; not the letter, but the spirit of it.

Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel its Own Witness,” in The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (New Haven: W. Collier, 1824), 3:153-155.

Credit to Tony.

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