Does Penal Satisfaction Mean that God’s Law Gets the Last Word?

From my experience in most Reformed churches, there is so little attention to election (especially when talking about covenant and baptism), they would have no problem with clergy assurances of “for you”. So I appreciate any sensitivity to “safeguard the particularity”. In many Reformed congregations, it seems that the only safeguarding is the exclusion of infants without one professing parent from the first “sacrament”.

So I won’t say that denial of penal satisfaction is “not Reformed”. Rather I will say it is not the gospel. If the gospel is about what the clergyman (and the Holy Spirit) do with it, there was no need for Christ to have died. You worry about law having the last word, but you need to see that the gospel is about Christ having satisfied the law. If you make Christ’s death anything other than that, Christ died to no purpose. (Galatians 2:21). If atonement were by means of preaching, justification is not by the bloody death of Christ. When the Bible denies that salvation is by the law, that denial is that salvation is by the Holy Spirit enabling us to keep the law. It is not being denied that the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ and that Christ died to satisfy the law.

No alliance with Lutherans should keep us silent about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do so many Reformed preachers talk about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?

The problem cannot be a “sectarian” sociology which thinks of the church as only those who profess to be justified. Reformed Confessions teach that “the covenant” community must by nature and should include some of the non-elect for whom Jesus did not die and who will not believe the gospel. We also know good and well that not every baptized member even of a “sectarian” community is one for whom Christ died. Of course Norman Shepherd insists that we not talk about election, because every baptized person in church is a Christian. But why is it that so many who oppose Shepherd, and who make a distinction between substance and administration, why is it that they don’t talk about election either?

Being “pastoral” does not give “special priests” the right to assure their hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Only the bloody death of Jesus Christ (not the sermon or the sacrament) has for the elect silenced the accusations of God’s law. Of course there is a distinction (in time and otherwise) between that death and the imputation of that death to the elect so that they are justified, but that imputation is not effected by sermon or sacrament.

Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ. It is not for sure that “you” who are in attendance will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone.

The law-gospel antithesis (not by our law-keeping) will do no good if we “flinch at this one point”. If we do not talk about particular atonement, then the people who hear will NOT look outside themselves for the righteous difference which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save (in the preaching event) a fraction of these people , then these people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved.

The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved EXCLUDES even their believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make their faith into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death! They must believe that their believing is not the righteousness that satisfies God’s law.

Do we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved? Or has that truth become too “rationalistic” for us? Or is it not our job to be that zealous for God’s glory in this manner?

Would this kind of preaching take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the sacrament and who say there is no salvation outside the church as they define it? The gospel itself is God’s power of salvation. No Holy Spirit, no efficacy. No gospel, no efficacy.

The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a victim of alliances or coalitions or hybrids which agree not to talk about the extent of the atonement. Because to do that is to also agree to disagree about the nature of the atonement, and that leaves room for a false gospel in which salvation becomes what God does in the sinner. And I don’t care if you say that’s Christ in the sinner, or grace in the sinner, it does not follow the rule of Galatians 6, which is to glory in the cross alone

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6 Comments on “Does Penal Satisfaction Mean that God’s Law Gets the Last Word?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    What does “For I through the law died to the law” mean? Galatians 2:19

    Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

    Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

    Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

    Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “

  2. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    p 507, “Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict”—Garry J Williams

    “My argument stands against an unspecified penal satisfaction narrowed only by its application. The sacrifice for sin in Scripture is itself specific…If the penal substitution of Christ has no relation to one person’s sin, then it is not in itself God’s actual answer to any sin, and therefore not penal at all…An unspecified “No” is not an answer to anything; it is without meaning….I cannot see how anyone who excludes the identification of Christ’s satisfaction itself with teh specific sins of specific individuals can avoid the logical outcome of denying its truly penal character.

    p 508 “The hypothetical universalists (Davenant) limit the death of Christ AS AN ACT OF PROCUREMENT to the elect only. Christ did not purchase the conditions of application for the lost, but only for those predestined to life.”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    If the two facts you present sinners are
    1. Christ died for all sinners, because all sinners killed Him
    and 2. nevertheless not all sinners will be justified

    then indeed you had better be looking to something else besides these two “facts” to find some assurance. You had better be saying-but I got the water. You had better be saying—but I am believing that Christ died for me but other people for whom Christ died are not believing that. You had better be saying—but when the clergy absolves me, I feel inside of me the presence of Christ and then I know that means that faith is present in me

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s “good death” as the complete satisfaction of God’s law. Christ after His resurrection is now no longer under law and therefore now no longer under death.

    The death of the justified elect is that VERY SAME legal death. The resurrection (present and future) of the justified elect in Romans 6 is the result of Christ’s justification from being under law and death. There is only one “good death”, and that was Christ’s death.

    https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/there-is-only-one-good-death-and-all-other-deaths-are-our-enemy/

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Chris p—-Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law makes Him the Lamb without spot or blemish, not the one keeping the law for me. He alone is worthy to be the propitiation, to die for the Father’s flock. His death satisfies the righteous requirement of both the law and the Lawgiver (our death) on behalf of elect, yet unrighteous sinners, as He is the perfect “law-keeper”, which testifies of His sinless perfection, not ours. The righteousness imputed to the saints is His death satisfying the law, not His perfect keeping of that law.

    Hebrews 10: 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…………….

    14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

    It is the same regarding sanctification, His death alone sanctifies the “sanctified ones”, i.e. the elect saints.
    It’s too late to keep a law that I have already violated. Too late to have it kept for me by Christ for the same reason. The command once violated demands only our death.

    Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

    Romans 6, as David Bishop pointed out, says we are united with Him in His death and resurrection, not His sinless perfection. We have died to sin in Christ, as we have died to the law in Christ, and are now alive to God in Christ.

    Galatians 2:
    19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
    20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
    21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

    Romans 7:
    4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
    5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
    6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.


  6. […] This doesn’t mean that Christ’s obedience to the law prior to His death is of no consequence. II Corinthians 5:21 explains that “he made him to be sin who knew no sin” . This assumes that Christ kept the law before His legally being put under the law for the sins of the elect imputed to Him. Even before His death, Christ “knew no sin”. So that’s not unimportant. But the penal satisfaction for the elect comes by Christ’s death which is what the law satisfies. https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/does-penal-satisfaction-mean-that-gods-law-gets-the-la… […]


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