Substitution

Maurice J. Parker, Barnstaple

Part 10 of 11 of the series The Fundamentals

The effects of the death of christ are revealed to us in expressions with which we are familiar. Such terms as Ransom, Redemption and Reconciliation are, of course, only word-pictures, windows that allow the light of truth to enter our minds and hearts. But even when we feel that we have understood the ideas behind them, we have not advanced far into the mysteries surrounding the Cross. God's indescribable gift, 2 Cor. 9. 15, cannot be brought within the scope of human language. In our consideration of the death of Christ, we are therefore on safe ground when we keep close to the phraseology of Scripture; difficulties arise when we go beyond this.
This is particularly the case in the usage of this word 'sub-stitution'. Although the word has found a permanent place in the teaching of the Atonement, it is not a scriptural expression, but has been deduced from phraseology found there. It is there-fore quite reasonable to inquire into its accuracy. Substitution means 'the putting of one in the place of another'. With refer-ence to the death of Christ, have we sufficient authority for using such a term? Moreover, to whom is it applicable?
The Old Testament offers many illustrations. We at once recall the scene recorded in Genesis 22, where Abraham's faith is tested even to the offering of his only son as a burnt offering, and the climax when a ram is provided in his stead. This, without doubt, foreshadows Calvary, cf. Gen. 22. 14 R.v. margin; John 8. 56. In Exodus 13, the firstborn of an ass was redeemed with a lamb; it went free because another had died in its place. In the sin offering, we may say that the death of the offering was in the place of the one who had sinned, because he had identified himself with the victim.
This brings us to an important point in our usage of the term 'substitution'. It is possible that we shall be misunderstood if we present Christ to the unsaved as their Substitute, because this would at once cancel all individual decision and the response of faith. To claim Christ as our Substitute is to have identified ourselves with the Sacrifice, to have appro-priated by faith the saving value of His death. Care must therefore be taken in our application of the word 'substitution'.
The New Testament makes it clear that Christ died on behalf of all, making salvation available for all mankind. This, however, is different from saying that He died instead of all, which is substitution. The place substitution occupies in the New Testament in relation to other aspects of the death of Christ may be seen from the following references:
1. It was for sins, Heb. 10. 12; 1 Cor. 15. 3; Gal. 1. 4.
2. It was for all, 1 Tim. 2. 6; Heb. 2. 9; 2 Cor. 5. 15; John
6. 51.
3. It was for believers, Luke 22. 19-20; Gal. 2. 20.
In these passages, 'for' translates the preposition 'huper', and the general opinion is that huper has as its leading thought the sense of 'on behalf of rather than 'instead of. We may, of course, draw the sense of substitution from the context, in which case we are confined to the quotations where the believer is particularly in view.
There arc a few more explicit statements.
In 1 Timothy 2. 6 we read, 'Who gave himself a ransom (amilutron, "of a substitutionary character", W. E. Vine) for {huper, "on behalf of") all'. Here the substitutionary aspect of His death is introduced together with its scope for all mankind.
The words of the Lord Jesus 'To give his life a ransom for many' occur twice in the Gospel records, namely in Matthew 20. 28 and Mark 10. 45. In both of these cases, 'for' translates the preposition anti. Dr. Basil Atkinson has written, 'The meaning of the preposition, which is a very important word in the sentence, is "in exchange for", "as the equivalent of", "instead of". The sentence teaches the substitutionary doctrine of atonement, and I think it safe to say that no other view of its meaning can be safely entertained'. In these verses, the word 'many' stands in contrast to 'all' in 1 Tim. 2.6. Those only who accept Him as Saviour may claim Him as their Substitute.
In Isaiah 53 we see the Suffering Substitute, 'with his stripes we are healed', 'the chastisement of our peace was upon him', 'He bare the sin of many'. This chapter is apparently in Peter's thoughts in the closing verses of the second chapter of his first epistle. The thoughts 'as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb, yea, he opened not his mouth', Isa. 53. 7. R.v., prefigure Him as the One who 'committed his cause to him that judgeth righteously', 1 Pet. 2. 23 R.v. margin, and as the One who 'his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree'. It is here that the obligations of those who claim Him as Substitute are felt -'That we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness'. This is beautifully expressed for us in the words of Dr. James Denney:
'How this effect is mediated the apostle does not say. Once we understand what Christ's death means - once we receive the apostolic testimony that in that death He was taking all our responsibilities upon Him - no explanation may be needed .. . Whoever says "He bore our sins" says Substitution; and to say Substitution is to say something which involves an immeasurable obligation to Christ, and has therefore in it an incalculable motive power. This is the answer to some of the objections which are commonly made to the idea of Substitution on moral grounds. They fail to take account of the sinner's sense of debt to Christ for what He has done, a sense of debt which is not too much to designate as the most intimate, intense and uniform characteristic of the New Testament life. It is this which bars out all ideas of being saved from the consequences of sin, while living on in sin itself. It is so profound that the whole being of the Christian is changed by it.'