Friday, 21 May 2010

Penal substitution: response to 20 questions

This is a response to 20 questions set by 'Nick' to my last blog. For the questions please refer to his comment of 13th May.

1. If 'wrathful Father punishing an innocent Son' were biblical, I would have no problem with it. But it is an inaccurate way of describing the atonement(for example, the Father's love is the source of the atonement, which is a Triune work, and the Son is also angry against sin , and wholly willing to be made a substitute) so the phrase is best avoided. It is the kind of phrase used by people who accuse penal substitution (PS) of being 'cosmic child abuse' etc.

2. (i) It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when blood is shed in a sacrificial context, it is punishment. The penalty for sin is death. The sacrifice is a substitute for the offeror, dying instead of him.
(ii) No single type (such as the sacrifice of an animal) can tell the whole story of the atonement, so the priest is of course involved to apply the blood to the mercy-seat - that is, Godwards. This simply explains another part of the atoning work of Christ. The fact that it is applied to the mercy-seat / altar tells in favour of PS rather than, as you claim, representing 'the value of life'. If the value were in the life, why should it be applied to the mercy seat / altar? Indeed, why kill the animal at all?
(iii) The blood of Christ is of infinite value because of the infinite Person of Christ.

3. You do not dispute that the atonement is 'to avert God's wrath'. Then you make a distinction between wrath re-directed , and God being 'appeased through pleasing him through some alternative'. In another question you talk about wrath being 'turned away' but not 're-directed'. Let's remember that wrath is a personal reaction, the self-consistent hatred that a holy God expresses against sin. He has stated that the soul that sins shall die. This is not a mere decision of his will that can be changed for it is a reflection of his character which is unchangeing. The penalty for sin is death. There is no acceptable substitute for the penalty, though God in his mercy has ordained and accepted a substitute Person. His wrath is 're-directed' to that Person to whom sin is imputed by virtue of his federal union with the people for whom he dies. As a result of that death his wrath is turned away from them. 'Re-direction', if you want to use the word, is therefore in a sense a description of the atonement, 'turning away' is a result of it. 'Appeasing through some alternative' has no part in it. The justice and the wrath of God are satisfied at the cross. The arrow of judgement flies through history from Genesis 3 to calvary, picking up interpretative weight as it goes, all the types and teaching adding meaning to the sacrifice of Christ but ultimately explained and explicable only in him.

4. Exodus 11:7 certainly speaks of God making a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites. But if that were all there were to it, why did a lamb have to die at all - even to represent the application of blood to our souls in the Eucharist, as you claim? The fact is that the destroying angel would have slaughtered both Egyptian and Israelite had the blood of the lamb not been on the doorpost. A dead son in an Egyptian home and a dead lamb in an Israelite home - a clear picture of substitution. In NT terms, the elect need the blood of the lamb even though a distinction has been made between them and the lost in eternity.

5. I said that the agony in Gethsemane strongly suggests that the anguish of the cross was for Jesus far more than physical or emotional suffering. It was spiritual suffering consisting in the bearing of human sin and the punishment for it. As you say, he had the unique task of atoning for human sin. And of course he understood the damage sin caused in a way we cannot imagine. But that does not in itself account for the anguish of Christ before the cross. He knew the 'damage' of sin all through his life, but never did he experience such agony as he did in the garden - until calvary itself.

6. If it were God's anger against the wicked men who killed Jesus, why did it last only three hours and why is it tied in closely with Christ's cry of dereliction (Matt 27:47,48)? It seems much more reasonable to interpret it as symbolic of the wrath which Jesus bore. Why did it not get worse when Christ actually died, but in fact passed before he said 'It is finished'?

7. In 1 Corinthians Paul makes clear that believers will still die but their death is different because of Christ's death. In 1 Cor. 15:56 Paul says 'But the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law'. He is here saying that death is a terror because of sin ie it is a penalty for sin. It is the law that condemns sin . When the law is satisfied, there is no longer any condemnation, and people who are freed from that condemnation are therefore no longer to fear the sting of death. They will pass through it but it has no terror for them. It is a passage, a transition, but not a punishment. And that is so because of Christ's PS. He has been raised as the firstfruits, but when he comes all his people will be raised with him: 15:23.

8. Good!

9. Athanasius: 'Formerly the world, as guilty, was under judgment from the Law; but now the Word has taken on himself the judgment, and having suffered in the body for all, has bestowed salvation to all' ('Against the Arians', in 'Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers', ser II, vol 4, sect 60.)
'Now that the common Saviour of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfilment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end..;' ('On the Incarnation', sec 21).
Augustine: 'Christ, though guiltless, took our punishment, that he might cancel our guilt, and do away with our punishment' ('Against Faustus', sect 4.)
'But as Christ endured death as a man, and for man, so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in His own righteousness, but dying for our offences, submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death. And as he died in the flesh which he took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in his own righteousness, he was cursed for our offences, in the death which he suffered in bearing our punishment' (ibid, sect 6).

Anselm: his whole system is about Christ dying as a satisfaction to God, but certainly he speaks of satisfaction instead of punishment. A more biblical approach led to satisfaction and punishment being seen as one and the same thing.

Aquinas: 'As therefore Christ's passion provided adequate, and more than adequate satisfaction for man's sin and debt, his passion was as it were the price of punishment by which we are freed...' ('Summa Theologiae' quest 48. art 4).

For other texts from the 'Fathers' see 'Pierced for Our Transgressions' chapter 5).

10. 'Propitiation' means that God's wrath is somehow appeased or assuaged and he is 'made favourable' in the sense of his justice having been satisfied, enabling him to be just and the justifier of those who have faith; to say it means 'turned away' is fine, but not then to say that it is not 're-directed', as this is comparing different elements of the process (see above, qu. 3). In Romans Paul begins his summary of human spiritual history with the fact of God's wrath (1:18). What deals with it is the propitiation (3:25) of the cross. The best and natural explanation of propitiation is PS - that Christ bore the wrath and therefore took it from his people. To define propitiation as you do then say Paul rules out PS by speaking of propitiation, is a tad arbitrary!

11. (i) I believe the prophecy of Isa 53 can be interpreted on its own terms though it is seen most clearly in the light of the NT.

(ii) I would not argue for PS from Matt 8:16, 17 though I am right to say it does not deny it. Matthew is simply pointing out another aspect of the atonement - restoration of creation as foreshadowed in the miracles.

(iii) I am not sure which Calvin quote you are referring to. However, of course there is a distinction between retribution and chastisement. Whether this obviates the argument for PS in Isaiah 53 is another matter. Many commentators do not think so. After all, it is clear that the Servant is 'wounded for our transgressions' and 'crushed for our iniquities' and 'bore the sin of many'; the chastisement that brings us peace was upon him. However interpreted, chastisement is punishment of some form and he bore it and we benefit from it. Moreover, the Hebrew word for 'he bore' (our griefs, v 4; the sins of many, v 12) is often associated with the bearing not only of guilt but of punishment - Gen 4:13; Lev 5:17; 24:14-16; Num 5:31; 14:34; Lam 5:7). The presence of PS in Isaiah 53 is too strong to be dismissed.

(iv) As I have said, the context of 1 Peter is the example of Christ, but when Peter uses phrases like 'he bore our sins in his body on the tree (the 'cursed place') and 'By his wounds you have been healed' it seems clear that he is going beyond the exemplary element in Christ's work and pointing Christians to the basis of their hope - the atonement and in particular to PS. This is clearer if anything in 1 Peter 3:18 - he 'suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous'.

12. Good' certainly as number 4 speaks of God laying the sin of his people on the servant and punishing him.

13. The necessity of intercession if the atonement was 'finished' is a difficult issue and I have struggled with it. But it is biblical! It is interesting for example to see 1 John 1:2:1,2 speaking of Christ being our advocate and then speaking of his also being our propitiation. The fact is that the work of atonement and intercession are integral parts of the one work of the High Priest , as I said last time, and the work that is finished on earth is constantly present to God by the work in heaven. It is Christ who saves, not merely his work or any part of it. But the PS in Christ's death was an integral part of that work which without it would not have been complete. (Hugh Martin ,'The Atonement', is excellent on this).

The work of Christ is sometimes seen in firstly his work as representative and secondly as substitute. He was representative in all aspects of his work, including his presence glorified in heaven. He was substitute in respect of those things which were part of the Fall - sin, death and the curse - the penalty for sin. One should add, the dominion of Satan. He bore those as our substitute, but everything that God restores (typified by the resurrection) is borne by Christ as our representative; in other words we share in them (whereas we do not share in what he bore as substitute).

14. I can only refer to what I have said above. Gal 3:13 is all about the substitutionary curse bearing of Christ and I don't see the references to the 'tree' you mention as denting that interpretation at all.

The Mosaic law carries forward the penalty inflicted on Adam; redemption is a purchase at a price - which is the death of Christ.

15. The word for sin / sin offering may well mean different things in the references you give because the context demands it, but that is not persuasive when in 2 Corinthians 5 the word is clearly best translated the same way.

16. Romans screams out the need for righteousness and it is the righteousness of Christ, to the precept and penalty of the law that answers that need. In Rom 5:18,19 we are said to be made / constituted sinners / righteous by virtue of our federal union with Adam / Christ respectively. It is the one act of disobedience / obedience respectively that creates our status before God. We also receive a righteousness from God ( Phil 3:9). As well as 2 Cor 5:21. Nothing but the perfect righteousness of Christ satisfies God's law.

17. That is the issue - penal substitution or no gospel!

18. We cannot expect any single OT text or type to say all there is about the work of Christ. Certainly even PS does not say all there is to be said . Phinehas was a type of Christ as an intercessor. The plague was stopped when the guilty parties died. It is not a PS situation though it points to a more gracious intercession than that of Phinehas where the Lord died for the guilty ones.

19. 'Losing salvation' ( or not as the case may be) is not irrelevant to the question of PS ; indeed the security of salvation is an important consequence of it. But to go into all your texts would take me too far off the central theme of this debate - though I may do so another time!

20. I agree.

What was the death of Christ? Was it simply an extension of the incarnation into the experience of death? Or was it also an infliction, an imposition by God of something extra - something no-one else had to bear? That is, vengeance, wrath, punishment? Certainly his perfect obedience was an integral part of it but even that was not sufficient to appease God, certainly not as an alternative to the penalty of the law. Christ had to fulfil both aspects of the law, the sanction or penalty as well as the precepts or command. This entailed an infliction , brutally borne especially at the cross and expressed in the cry of dereliction most poignantly. Without Penal Substitution there is no salvation.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Penal Substitution: response to a (Catholic) comment

My late April blog on 'The Obedience of Christ' elicited a response from Nick of Nick's Catholic Blog, referring me to his article at 'Negative' that article certainly is, as far as penal substitution is concerned, though carefully written and with a host of biblical references. Printed, it amounts to 12 pages. It raises matters I never intended to tackle in my brief blog on the vocabulary we use to allude to Christ's obedience, but since I have read it I feel I should respond and set out a (relatively short) positive case for penal substitution, referring also in passing to the imputation of Christ's righteousness to which Nick's blog also refers and which he also denies.

For those who may never read Nick's article, reading this may be like listening to one half of a 'phone conversation, but hopefully some of it will make sense.

1.'Penal Substitution is grounded on the Protestant notion that justification is a legal event' is how Nick's article begins. This is a bit like saying that the tail wags the dog. The two doctrines, of penal substitution as the heart of the atonement and of justification as a legal event, are most certainly inter-related, as one would expect from a coherent system of saving acts of God, but both are derived from Scripture, not from each other in a circular fashion.

2. The definition Nick gives of penal substitution is reasonably accurate: 'God imputed the guilt of the sins of the elect to Christ. In other words, the Wrath the elect deserved for their sins was instead poured out by the Father onto Jesus'. This incorporates 'particular redemption' as it refers only to the elect, which is correct though not all definitions of penal substitution would be so precise; but it also leans towards the 'wrathful Father punishing an innocent Son' idea which is a distortion of the doctrine; it should be insisted that God was substituting himself in his Son and it was the outworking of an intra-Trinitarian agreement. The question is: is the doctrine of God giving himself in his Son to suffer instead of his people the death, punishment and curse due to them as the penalty for sin, found in Scripture?

3. Nick asserts that 'the Mosaic sacrifices did not operate in a Penal Substitutionary framework. Nowhere does the Mosaic Law indicate the punishment for sin was transferred to an animal or God's wrath being poured out upon it'. His arguments are as follows:
a) Leviticus 5:5-13 allows an offering of flour if a poor man could not afford even two pigeons. But this is to ignore the big picture which is that the heart of the sacrificial system was the shedding of blood. A key verse is Lev 17:11: 'For the life of every creature is in the blood and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life'. It is not the life of the animal, as some have tried to argue, but the life violently taken in sacrifice, that is the atonement; the blood shed, not the blood flowing in the veins. As we read in the New Testament, '...without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins' (Heb 9:22).
The heart of the sacrificial system was the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) which begins with a reference to the day when Aaron's sons were killed for offering unauthorised fire ( Lev 16:1,2; and see Lev 10:1-3). A reference to the wrath of God could not be clearer. The implication is that the atonement is to avert God's wrath and that Aaron entered the presence of God at the risk of his life unless God accepted the sacrifice.
b) The scapegoat is indeed bearing the guilt and punishment of the people of Israel into the wilderness. It is a visible picture of what is typically achieved in the blood sacrifice of the goat that was slaughtered - sin is taken away by one party instead of being borne by another.
c) The Passover lamb (Exodus 12) averted the wrath of the destroying angel not by being eaten and its blood applied to the souls of the Israelites, as Nick suggests,foreshadowing the Eucharist, but by the blood being applied to the lintels of the doors; it was the angel's seeing the blood on the lintel that saved the Israelites (Exod 12:23).
d) The description of the sacrifices as a 'fragrant aroma' to the Lord is certainly because they pleased him as of course did the sacrifice of Christ ( Eph 5:1). This is a pointer to Christ's perfect obedience and certainly, too, Christians are urged to imitate his obedience. God requires perfect self-consecration. But only Christ could offer this. For his disciples' sake he consecrated himself (John 17:19), that is, he offered the perfect self-consecration so our imperfections would be forgiven. Far from denying penal substitution this is integral to it.

4. It is next asserted (after a number of quotes from Calvinist authors) that the gospels say nothing about Christ's spiritual suffering which these authors claim. Christ's cry 'My God My God why have you forsaken me?'(Matt 27:46) Nick takes to be God simply not providing relief from his attackers, as in Psalm 22, and it is 'blasphemous' to suggest God would inflict punishment on his Son. But what of the prayer of Christ in Gethsemane? Was this a fear of physical and emotional sufferings only? Did not Christ in that case show less courage than many human martyrs? And what of the context of the cross - the three hours of darkness? Is the presence of the wrath of God not powerfully symbolised there?

But this is where we have to look at the death of Christ in a much broader context. The atonement, however it may be interpreted, is to do with sin and God's response to sin. The penalty for sin is death. Death is not extinction or annihilation; it is, certainly, physical, the separation of soul and body and the return of the body to dust; but it is also, far more, a spiritual and eternal reality. Spiritually it is a different mode of continued existence in the presence of God. We are all dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:1). It is exclusion from fellowship with God in his love and grace; it is the experience of condemnation and the wrath of God begun now in this life with the certainty of eternal death - the 'second death' - in the hereafter. (John 3:36; 5:28,29; Matthew 25:46; Rev.20:14,15; Rom 1:18-3:26). The wrath of God is so woven into the text of Scripture (there are some 580 references in the Old Testament alone using over 20 different Hebrew words, and numerous references in the New Testament) that any idea of atonement has to deal with it and with the justice of God.

Moreover wrath is no impersonal mechanistic force but is God's personal, holy and consistent revulsion against sin so that even when it is seen in the natural processes of nature and history , which it surely is (see Romans 1:18f),it is still the work of God who works through those processes - it is a wrath 'revealed from heaven'; and further, though it works in history, it is still a wrath yet to come - a wrath 'to be revealed' on 'that day' for which impenitent sinners store up wrath for themselves.

To miss this framework when interpreting texts which describe the cross-work of Christ is truly to miss the wood while peering hard at the trees. It is not a desire simply to tie up a neat system of doctrines that leads Protestants to the idea of penal substitution, but the overwhelming evidence of Scripture itself - endorsed, it should also be said, in the doctrine of the early and medieval church where, though there was much variety of description of the atonement, the doctrine of penal substitution was not lacking, from Athanasius, through Augustine, via Anselm to Aquinas. It was certainly not a doctrine invented in the 16th Century though from this time it underwent much refinement.

Just to take Romans 3:21-26, for example, it is a good translator's decision to render hilasterion (v 25) as propitiation, that is, an atoning sacrifice that not only expiates sin but by satisfying God's justice removes God's wrath and renders God 'propitious', making peace by the blood of his cross. Does this mean it makes an angry God loving? Not at all; it is the love of God that provides the atonement in the first place; but in satisfying his justice, God is now reconciled to sinners, his wrath assuaged.

Unless there is propitiation in the work of the cross, there is nothing to deal with the main problem that Paul describes in Rom 1:18-3:20.

Inadequate theories of the atonement never deal satisfactorily with the wrath of God and the justice of God. They invariably stem from inadequate views of the seriousness of sin. This in turn leads to a dilution of the meaning of grace and love; for John tells us that the love of God is seen in this, 'that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins' (1 Jn 4:10).

This is why we say that Christ truly knew forsakenness by his Father as he experienced not just mental, physical and emotional pain, but the unique spiritual pain of bearing the Father's wrath against sin for people for whom he was the representative and substitute. No other interpretation does justice to the teaching of Scripture; nor to the work of Christ; nor to the needs of lost sinners.

5. In this light too we must interpret Isaiah 53. It is not essential to good interpretation to interpret this passage only according to the specific references and allusions in the New Testament but let us at least start there as Nick does.
a) Matt. 8:16,17 in no way denies penal substituion; it only suggests that healing , especially eschatological healing, was part of what Christ won on the cross.
b) It is doubtful if the difference between 'punishment' and 'chastisement' Nick seeks to draw in Isa 53 v 5b, will take the weight of his argument - that it is to do with correcting a wrong rather than eternal punishment and therefore does not mean penal substitution. Alec Motyer in The Prophecy of Isaiah at page 430 translates it as ' "our peace punishment", the punishment necessary to secure or restore our peace with God'. That seems to be a pretty good foundation for penal substitution. The point is - it is certainly substituted punishment, even if we make the verse say no more than that.
c) V 6,7,11, and 12 are referred to in 1 Peter 2:22-25. With 1 Peter 3:18 ('For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God...') it is clear that while the immediate context of 1 Peter 2:21f is to show forth the example of Christ's sufferings to the suffering Christians to whom Peter is writing, Peter's theology of atonement is substitutionary, and to read anything less into 2:24-25 is artificial.
d) Returning directly to Isa 53, what other meaning can there be in 'It was the Lord's will to crush him' than that the Lord was inflicting punishment on him (v 10)? Clearly, out of his sufferings, many are to benefit; 'he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors'.

The following points are set out by the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions (Jeffery, Ovey and Sach, IVP 2007) in summarising Isaiah 53's messsage (at pages 54f):
1. The Servant is explicitly said to suffer 'for' others: see the contrast in vv 4-6 between 'he', 'his' and 'him' on the one hand and 'we', 'us', 'we all' and 'us all' on the other.
2. The suffering of the Servant brings great benefits to those for whom he suffers: see especially v 5 and also the context of the following chapters, the blessings of which the beneficiaries of the Servant's sufferings enjoy.
3. The Servant suffered willngly and deliberately, not as a passive victim of the actions of others - vv 4,5.
4. It is God himself who acts to lay the people's sin upon the Servant and to punish him -vv 6,10.
5. The Servant himself is sinless and righteous - v 9.
6. He suffered not for his own sins but for the sins of others vv 11,12.
7. The word translated 'guilt offering' (see Lev 5:16,18; 7:7) in v 10 anticipates something that will become explicit in the New Testament: the animal sacrifices of Leviticus are fulfilled in the sacrificial death of a person.

This reminds us of the theology of the letter to the Hebrews where it is clear that the Lord's work of atonement was carried out in his role as the High Priest of his people - indeed the only priest his people need. His atoning work is of a piece with his continuing intercessory work. Both are the one work of priesthood, the one part completed on earth ('It is finished'), the other continuing in heaven. One does not exclude the other; both are necessary parts of the priest's one work.

6. Galatians 3:13 is, as Nick recognises, a crucial verse - Christ became a 'curse' for us. To say that it is 'blasphemous' to say that God spiritually curses his Son, is begging the question. Paul refers to Deut 21 and as Nick does elsewhere we can use the New Testament as a guide to how the Old is interpreted. Paul is clearly applying the cursedness of a humiliating death for criminals to what Christ suffered. But the fruit of Christ's 'becoming a curse' shows that it is penal substitution that is referred to - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, and so the blessing of Abraham comes to us.

7. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is also an important verse, as Nick rightly acknowledges, though more to do with the imputation of Christ's righteousness than penal substitution. The verses Nick stacks up do not, however, convincingly make a case for translating hamartia in two different ways in the same verse - first as 'sin' then as 'sin-offering'. That may work where the context demands; but here it does not; it is far more reasonable to translate it as 'sin' both times. And then it makes sense. Christ was made sin for us, we are made the righteousness of God in him. Attempts have been multiplied to get around the doctrine of imputed righteousness but few things are clearer than that it is taught here.

The issue of the imputation of righteousness deserves much more comment. Nick argues in a comment on my blog that Rom 3:21-26, Gal 2:21 and 2 Cor 5:21, major 'justification' texts, only refer to the death of Christ. It is debatable if we are ever to look at his death separated from his life, but, in addition, look at the emphasis on Christ's 'one act of obedience' (hardly an appropriate phrase if it refers only to his death, as all of Christ's life was an act of righteousness) in Romans 5:18,19; and on the righteousness received from God that comes from God through faith in Philippians 3:9.

The whole context of Romans indeed is about man's need for righteousness which he cannot provide, which meets God's claims and which Christ provides. The inevitable tendency of denials of the 'active' righteousness of Christ is to allow a righteousness of our human works to slip in the back door to fulfil the law which in reality only Christ's work can do.

8. Nick moves on to state the Catholic (that is, Roman Catholic) position, "popularly called 'satisfation' in Catholic documents (or even 'satisfactory punishment' in older works)". This Catholic position is apparently that it 'consists in appeasing God's wrath by good works rather than directing it onto someone else to endure'. Here, in a phrase, is a denial of grace, of God's love, of the gospel and of Christ's work. What a cruel sham the cross was if we ourselves are to appease God! Or if a death was not necessary! Why did Christ die?

To support his case Nick looks at various cases of Old Testament intercession; Phinehas for example in Numbers 25:1-13. But what stopped the plague was that Phinehas slew the sinning Israelite and his Midianite woman. There was a death, albeit not of Phinehas. Let us go back to basics. What is the penalty for sin? Death. What will stop the wrath of God and satisfy his justice? A death. Other examples of intercession involve death ( eg Exod 32:28-35; Numbers 16:42-49) or a sacrifice(Job 42:7-9). It just does not work to say that bloodless intercession is a principle that excludes penal substitution. Remember : without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

9. Nick goes on to say that one of the most devastating criticisms of penal substitution is that salvation can be lost, according to the teaching of Scripture. I am grateful that someone recognises the connection between a true understanding of the atonement and the concept of eternal security, or 'perseverance of the saints'. The only problem is, that the Bible does not teach that salvation can be lost, but rather that God's elect will never be lost. Nick lists 18 texts allegedly supporting his case but none in reality do. The clear teaching of Scripture is on the side of the promise that those who trust in the Lord will never perish and that the Son and Father will never lose any who come to him: John 6:37,39,40,44; 10:27-29; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Heb 13:5 etc.

One reason for this is - what? The doctrine of penal substitution, and in particular the doctrine of particular redemption. Nick sees the connection here more clearly than many Protestant evangelicals who try to keep penal substitution in tandem with a potential or hypothetical universalism and even with the concept of the loss of salvation. But Father, Son and Holy Spirit work in perfect harmony so that those whom the Father elected, the Son purchased and the Spirit renews, so that a people is saved for eternity. None for whom such a Triune work is completed can be lost. It is unthinkable.

10. Nick throws in some really big issues at the end.
a) That it is unjust for someone to die for others. But this reckons without the doctrine of covenantal or federal union with Christ by which what is his is reckoned to us and what is ours is reckoned to him. This is not unjust nor is it a fiction; it is a real union created by God which makes the 'great exchange' quite just.

b) That God should be able to forgive without punishing someone. After all, does he not expect that of us? But (i) God's justice is the 'bottom line' in the universe. Without his justice holding firm there would be no justice at all; and most of us feel the need for some justice after this life to right the wrongs done on earth. (ii) God 's justice is an expression of his character, and cannot be set aside without implying mutability in his character. God's justice is not simply his arbitrary will which can be changed 'at will'. To sin is to 'spit at God' and that cannot be simply 'set aside' or there is no basis for right and wrong. (iii) God claims vengeance for himself; we are not to seek revenge, not because it is wrong in itself, but because it is wrong for us. We do it sinfully, ignorantly and disproportionately; God does it perfectly and so we leave justice to him. But to avenge himself on evildoers is not wrong for him. The amazing thing is that believers are also evildoers - and for them, Christ died and took the vengeance on the cross.

c)If we are eternally forgiven why do we need to repent regularly? Because repentance is not what gains forgiveness - it is only the instrument or mechanism which, as the 'flipside' of faith, enables us to receive and enjoy forgiveness. Christ alone wins forgiveness. We need to repent daily because our sins, even when forgiven, cloud the relationship with God. Repentance and faith are gifts of God, themselves aspects of salvation, and although acts whereby we instrumentally receive salvation, they are not, properly speaking, conditions of it to be performed by us. We need to be able to receive his forgiveness in our experience; but only the shed blood of Christ obtains it.

I am grateful to Nick for making me think through some aspects of the doctrine of penal substitution again but his arguments far from convince me. It is not so much the detail of some of his exegesis but the bigger issues of sin, justice, wrath and grace which he does not adequately take into account and which provide the framework in which the texts need to be interpreted.