Skip to content

On the Distinction between Pecuniary and Penal Satisfaction: In Relation to the Sufficiency of the Atonement

March 26, 2009

The following is a short essay on the sufficiency of the atonement while setting out the proper distinctions between pecuniary and penal categories:


We insert here the following Extract from a Draft of an Overture pared and published by a Committee of the Associate Reformed Synod, America, for the purpose of illustrating and defending the Doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Committee were, Rev. Dr John Mason, Messrs Robert Annan and John Smith. The writer appears to be Mr R. Annan, Philadelphia. 1787.

That there is a sufficiency in the atonement of Jesus Christ for all men, is undoubtedly a great and glorious truth. But the sufficiency of his death, and extent of it, must be considered in a twofold light; first, either with relation to the nature of sin; or, secondly, the number of sinners pardoned and saved. That the necessity of Christ’s infinite atonement does not arise from the number, but the nature of sin,–or that the very nature of sin itself requires an infinite atonement in order to its honorable remission, cannot be denied by men of sound understandings. Such an atonement is indispensably necessary to the pardon of one act of sin, and the salvation of one sinner, consistently with the glory of the Supreme Lawgiver, the obligation of his law, and sustentation of his government; and the end thereof may be completely gained in the salvation of one. Sin, though distinguished into various acts, is in itself one thing,–one corrupt principle–one vicious habit; it is enmity against God,–it is spiritual darkness, spiritual death, spiritual bondage. Therefore the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s death is necessary to the pardon of one sin, and the salvation of one sinner; and, indeed, if this were not the case, it would not be necessary to the pardon of any supposed number, because numbers do not vary nature, nor degrees alter species or kind.

The dispute about the extent of the death of Christ, therefore, can take place only on the second question, to wit, the number of sinners to be saved by it. That it is sufficient for the salivation of all men is not denied by any; and doubtless all men would be saved by it, if it were accepted by them. The sacred writings clearly teach this; and on this ground the revelation and offer of it to all men must rest.

When we speak of the sufficiency of the death a d satisfaction of Christ in this last sense, perhaps we err in regulating our ideas on this great subject by the idea of commutation or commercial justice among men. As a thousand pounds in specie, by whomsoever paid, whether by the surety or debtor, is sufficient to cancel a bond or discharge a debt of that amount. But it is manifest no such ideas, strictly taken, ought to be admitted here. Let us say it with reverence, God is not a merchant. Transferable property is out of the question. The rectoral justice of the Supreme Governor of the universe is the subject to which we must fix our attention. And the only proper idea we can form of the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ is this –Is it a sufficient display of the glory of the Divine character,–of his holiness, justice, hatred of sin, and goodness as a moral Governor? Is it sufficient to maintain the authority and obligation of his lav, sustain the moral system, and give energy to his government over rational and free agents, while he pardons sin and receives the rebel into favour? After forming this idea of it, which is certainly the true and just one, there arises another question: In the room of what creatures is it morally fit and proper to admit this atonement? In answer to the question, let it be observed, that as all men were comprehended in Adam, in a double sense, both as the natural root from which they all proceed, and as their representative in the. first covenant,–as they are all originally under one law or covenant, as sin is one and the same thing in them all, and as one and the same penalty is due to them all; and furthermore, as the Son of God assumed the common nature of them all–was made under the very same law which they had all broken, and not only fulfilled the obedience required by the precepts, but also endured the penalty of that very law which they had violated, and to which penalty they had by transgression exposed themselves,–there is doubtless a sufficiency in his death for them all, that is, it would comport with the glory of the Divine character, the sustentation of his government, the obligation and honor of his law, and the good of the rational and moral system, to save them all, provided they all accepted of Christ’s atonement, yielded submission to him, and returned to God by him. In the sense it may be said, ” Christ tasted death for every man–is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world  and God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And this lays a sufficient foundation for that injunction, “Go, preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. Go, speak to the people all the words of this life.” Every legal bar and obstruction in the way of the salvation of all men is removed; let them only accept and submit to Jesus Christ as their Prophet, Priest, and King. All things are ready, and all are made welcome to the marriage and the marriage supper.

But while we allow the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ for the salvation of all men, at the same time, it is absolutely certain, both from the testimony of God’s word, and from fact and experience, that many men reject it, and die rejecting it. Now, did God design to save, by the death of his Son, those who finally reject it? Is there a sufficiency in the death of Christ to save men, whether they receive or reject the benefit of it? Most certainly not. The gospel constitution assures us, that such, instead of being saved by it, will find this rejection infinitely to aggravate their guilt and condemnation. Christ will profit them nothing. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” Did Christ, then, die at an absolute uncertainty whether any should be saved by his death or not? Surely not. A number have been saved by it, and many more shall be so. “But known unto God are all his works from the beginning.” The Scriptures most f d y declare that a number were predestinated to life by Jesus Christ; a number were given to Christ, ” and all that the Father hath given to him shall come to him.” God determined such, not only the offer of Christ and salvation, but also grace to believe and accept. In respect of its sufficiency, then, the death of Christ bears a relation to all men. The door of hope has been opened to all to enter, or to believe and accept; and he that believeth shall be saved” But in respect of the intention of real and actual salvation, he died only for the chosen, or those who were given to him, and whom the Father will draw, by rich, free, and unmerited grace. In virtue of the atonement of Christ, it is consistent with the honor of God, yea, redounds much to his glory, to save all who believe and obey the gospel, and none else. But shall we suppose he did not know who should finally do so? How can that be possible, since, it is certain, whenever any does so, it is owing to the interposition of sovereign grace? “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” As for the others, he determined to leave them finally to their own free choice, except that he strives with them in the dispensation of his word and ordinances, and by the more ordinary operations of hi Spirit, still declaring that whosoever believeth on Christ shall not perish. They are thus inexcusable ; for the gospel is as rational an address to the rational powers of men, as ever was made to rational creatures; and the only reason why they are not saved, is became they will not. “Ye will not come to me,” says Christ, “that ye might have life.”

Andrew Robertson, History of the Atonement Controversy, in Connexion with The Secession Church, From its Origin to the Present Time (Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Sons, 1846), 365-368.  [Note: We have seen a few references to the proper distinctions between pecuniary and satisfactions coming out of pro-Marrow and early Secession literature. Clearly thinkers at this time had become senstive to the problematics of converting the penal categories into pecuniary ones.]

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: