Penalty Paid, Sins Forgiven, and the Debt Cancelled

Dear Mr. Editor,
I have just read a paper in the Bible Treasury for this month, entitled “The penalty paid and sins forgiven,” and from it turn to God's word, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:1717Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17).)
There cannot be a more absolute statement of the difference between an unconverted sinner and a believer in Christ—a difference both as to position and condition. The believer is in Christ, a new position, and he is a new creation, old things are gone, all things are new. That is, both as to his person and to his circumstances, his condition is totally changed. With the old position are gone—else all the responsibilities belonging to it. If but one which belongs to the old creation still remained, it could not be true that all things are become new. Not that the believer in Christ, the new creation, has no responsibility, but that it is essentially and totally distinct from that of the old creation.
The obligation and responsibility of obedience to God attaches to every creature. In the paper before me I read, “Directly God prefers a demand we are constituted debtors to Him, since we owe unquestioning, unqualified obedience.” True, angels are debtors; Adam before he sinned was a debtor. Obedience is a debt which no payment liquidates. A debt never extinguished, constantly due, constantly to be paid. And one moment's omission constitutes sin and makes man a sinner. But if a sinner, another debt presses upon him: The debt of obedience is not canceled because he failed, but he has incurred the penalty of failure. So there are two distinct debts now resting upon the defaulter—that of obedience which remains in all its force, and the penalty or debt of disobedience. Adam while unfallen and innocent owed the former, but he owed it equally when he fell; he did not cease to owe obedience, because he makes himself incapable of paying it. His position, his condition, his whole moral being was changed from innocence to guilt, from wealth and happiness to toil and misery. But his liabilities remained. The original claim of the Creator is not relaxed, could not be, and ought not When to this debt of obedience which he cannot pay there is added the penalty of death for disobedience, then, indeed, man is irretrievably lost.
Grace has come into this frightful scene, and has appeared to all. Christ has been here. He has met both debts. He has paid the penalty of sin, He has Canceled our responsibilities as more creatures by taking us clean out of our old condition. We are in Him, and the responsibilities of “any man in Christ” can never be the same as of any man not in Christ. He, the blessed Lord, provided for both debts on the cross, and they are not the same. In paying the penalty He shed His blood for us in meeting our creature responsibility He died for us, and we died with Him. Therefore in virtue of that death we have died to sin, died to law. Law has now no claim upon us, we are outside its sphere, and beyond its reach—in Christ; if not, we are under its curse; either under the law's curse, or in Christ. Can there be any two positions more widely different? The debts we owe to God as being in Christ can never be identified with those which man owes as being out of. Christ. And scripture positively asserts it, for “old. things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Having died with Christ we are freed from sin. (Rom. 6) All our responsibilities to law, that is, as mere creatures to God, are gone; for we are married (or belong) to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, having died to that which formerly held us. (Rom. vii.) Debts are never forgiven, speaking accurately, but they cease with death.
There is one sentence in which I think an unscriptural word is used, and I am sure, inadvertently. Speaking of Christ, I read in this paper, “being accounted guilty for us.” He was made sin for us, and God dealt with Him as such; but God never accounted Him guilty. God made Him sin; but He was, and God accounted Him, holy, the Lamb without blemish. He was made a curse for us, but it is never said, guilty.
I have said that Adam's creature responsibility to God was the same, whether toiling for bread in the sweat of his face or amidst the delights of Eden. His sin and fall made no change in this respect. Whether inside or outside the gate of that garden, whether he had power or not, the obligations of obedience remain the same. But when a man believes in Christ, there is an immense, an infinite change. The whole debt is canceled, as well as the penalty of disobedience—death—paid. A debtor is a man alive in the world; how can we be debtors if we have died with Christ? How can old-creation debts subsist when we are a new creation in Christ? Rom. 6 and vii. are conclusive upon this point.
A little farther on I read, “that while sins are forgiven, DEBTS NEVER ARE, for God does not cancel our obligations to Him.” Here evidently the debts, as the sins, are those of the unconverted, and equally evident these old obligations are supposed to continue after we are in Christ. This I energetically deny. Else if “our” refers only to us as Christians, we reply, we do not wish them canceled, we pray to feel them more. We should lose great part of our joy if our obligation were canceled. To feel that we owe ourselves to Him, and that He deigns to accept us, is cause for boasting. But I say again, the obligations of believers are distinct from those of unbelievers, and to say that while our sins are forgiven, our debts are not forgiven, seems misleading, not to say mischievous. Certainly it is inaccurate (the paper says “not correct") to say debts are forgiven, but time thought is correct. That is, the right word may not be used, though no one can mistake the meaning. Strictly, the debtor is forgiven, the debt is canceled. And when God forgave us, all our creature debts were canceled; not liquidated, for that means payment, and we cannot pay. And this is what God has done by Christ's death and blood. The shed blood paid the penalty—His life for ours, and God righteously forgives. Christ not only gave His life for ours, but we have died with Him, and every obligation or responsibility that lay nylon us as creatures of the old creation is canceled, clean gone forever. We are created anew in Christ Jesus. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
So there is a, new obedience, a new obligation, a new debt. We are elect through sanctification of the Spirit to a Christ-like obedience. (1 Peter 1) The sprinkled blood creates the mew obligation and debt. And we by grace render obedience on a new ground, with new conditions, given to a new nature, from new and heavenly motives, and in a new sphere—in Christ.
Again I read, “Deliverance comes to us, then, not because God cancels the obligation, but because the penalty has been borne for us by the competent Substitute His own love had provided.” This, coming in immediate connection with “When they had nothing to pay,” seems to say that because man had nothing to pay—his debt is not canceled. I should rather have thought that for this very reason the debt must be canceled. But in truth the parable referred to is not apposite to the question before us. It is parabolic instruction regarding forgiveness to each other. God's forgiveness of us is the grand motive and pattern set before us, and the next paragraph in the paper confirms this meaning, “In like manner.” True, we have deliverance because God in His love provided a Substitute. But how we are delivered from law and its righteous claims, and our debts not canceled, I fail to see. And what is of far more importance, it obscures the all-sufficiency, the complete perfectness of Christ's work upon the cross.
My only thought in sending you these few remarks is that simple souls may know their full deliverance through Christ. He has paid for us the uttermost farthing.
Oh what a debt I owe,
To Him who shed His blood,
And cleansed my soul, and gave me power,
To stand before His God
Yours truly in Christ,