The Penalty Paid, Sins Forgiven, and the Debt Cancelled

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Dear Mr. Editor,
Your readers must determine whether your correspondent's strictures on my paper are scriptural or not; for myself I see no reason to depart from what I have advanced. As to responsibilities he says, “If but one which belongs to the old creation remained, it could not be true that all things are become new,” and almost immediately after, “The obligation and responsibility of obedience to God attaches to every creature.” I ask, Did not that belong to the old creation, and does it not equally obtain in the new, “constantly due, constantly to be paid"? Have I ceased, or shall I ever cease, to be a creature? And if not, how can my creature responsibilities have ceased? Shall I be told that God has forfeited or foregone His creatorial rights?
Brethren must judge for themselves, but for my own part I say once for all, as I have no intention of pursuing controversy, that I refuse such teaching as forms the staple of this critique. My moral sense revolts when I am told that my responsibilities to God as His creature are at an end. Your correspondent says he turns to scripture, but scripture nowhere teaches that “when God forgave us, all our creature debts were canceled.” It as much traverses scripture “thought” as scripture language.
Does not my obligation of obedience to God and dependence upon Him, which my paper specifically referred to, attaching to me from my birth, continuo forever, yea, without a moment's interruption or suspension? To say that after my conversion it is an element of the now creation while before it was of the old, is to import a line of truth which would have only obscured my subject, and equally so would have been the effect of introducing death to sin, the law, and the world, true as it all is, simply because it in no wise alters the fact that I (the entity, the creature) owe this to God, saved or unsaved, whether in the new creation or the old. Adam innocent or Adam fallen, or man in Christ (our present standing) or man in glory by and by, is equally and always under each obligations, though upon wonderfully dissimilar grounds. I might further ask as to the moral duties, natural relationships and their claims, honesty, uprightness, speaking truth with one's neighbor, subjection to authority and the like, whether these also were canceled at the cross, see Rom. 13, Eph. 6., &c. Surely they are the same obligations as I was always under, although set up anew upon grounds as much higher as more imperative. It is a serious and pernicious misuse of 2 Cor. 5:14-1714For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 16Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. 17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:14‑17), to argue from it that because we are in the new creation all the claims upon us of the old are abrogated. So much as is really scriptural in your correspondent's remarks on the new creation, my paper leaves ample room for in the words, “grace, so far from invalidating this, has only established it upon the higher and eternal basis of what we more emphatically and fully owe to Him as being sons to the Father.” The character of a son's obedience is incomparably higher than that of a servant's, but the principle of obedience is there in either case, as is evident. B. remarks, “a debtor is a man alive in the world; how can we be debtors if we have died with Christ?” As to the first part of this, I demur to his definition of a debtor; one “alive in the world” is certainly a debtor, but a debtor is not necessarily “alive in the world,” and as to the latter part, is it not enough that scripture says, “Brethren, we are debtors"? (Rom. 8:1212Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans 8:12).) But again, in this epistle the Christian is looked at as alive in the world, and am I debarred from that line of truth, or that scriptural standpoint, when in character with my subject? He says (which I fully accept, nor have I written anything to the contrary), “there is a new obedience, a new obligation, a new debt;” then I suppose there is still a debtor, and notwithstanding death with Christ. There is much more that I might challenge, especially (what I am most concerned about) the general drift of his remarks, but I spare your readers. Any further difference between us, so far as it is relevant, resolves itself into this, that he speaks of what is “new,” while I have spoken of what is as old as creation and as enduring as the creature's relations to his Creator, and this because I was treating in an abstract way of the ever-existing obligations of a created being, whether those of an angel, an innocent or fallen man, or a man in Christ.
B. says, “strictly, the debt is forgiven, the debt is canceled.” I answer that it is traveling entirely beyond the record to affirm that the debt is canceled. On the contrary, the righteous penalty of its default has been borne by the divine Substitute, establishing thus the validity of the debt, but clearing the defaulting debtor. Not, however, clearing him of what he owes as a creature by terminating his obligations to God, but of the penal consequences attaching to him as a defaulter.
I submit, then, that your correspondent has not shown that the believers' debts to God (which I termed “our obligations to Him") are either canceled or forgiven; indeed he acknowledges that we do not wish them canceled, and should lose a great part of our joy if they were: as to the unbeliever, I should have thought it evident that his sins and debts alike are neither one nor the other. I repeat that debts regarded as current obligations are not forgiven, for they do not necessarily involve guilt, neither are they canceled, for as B. says, “the original claim of the Creator is not relaxed, could not be, and ought not"; defaulted they become sins and are blotted out only by the blood of Christ, in other words, by endurance of penalty in the person of our divine Substitute. May I also suggest that the all-sufficiency, &c., of Christ's work and the full deliverance flowing from it, to which B. refers, does not consist in, nor is it founded upon, or secured by, any cancellation whatever, but is by substitution under judicial penalty, in a word “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” in atonement? And the sure way to cloud these things (which, however, I am persuaded your correspondent does not wish to do) is to put them upon some other ground.
In conclusion, I frankly admit that “accounted guilty” is not scripture; is “accounted holy” scripture either? He was holy, as your correspondent says; “accounted” signifies He was not.
Affectionately yours in Christ,
P.S.—B. says, “debts-speaking accurately—cease with death” (speaking accurately they cease with life, that is, at death), and he argues that inasmuch as we have died with Christ we are exempt from all the creature responsibilities. Very plausible, but stop a moment; have I died as a creature? This fallacy is at the bottom of all his reasoning. It is true that in the reckoning of faith I have died as a man in the flesh, but I deny in toto that I have died as a creature, either as a matter of fact or as a matter of faith. Faith says, I am not in the flesh; faith never says, I am not a creature. Otherwise how could it be said, “Doth not even nature itself teach you?” And I have not died to creature responsibilities unless I have also died to nature. It is a reductio ad absurdum to use new-creation truth for denying as though obsolete what God has indisputably connected with nature and the creature. What I hold on new creation is found in your columns of June last. May I courteously suggest to your correspondent that he should peruse an article in “A Voice to the Faithful” for December last, entitled “Is Nature Dead?”
Dear Mr. Editor,
Having in my former paper clearly stated what I believe to be the truth, there is no need to go over that ground again, save just so far as R.'s reply necessitates. I stated (1) that man as a creature owes obedience to God; (2), that man having failed had incurred the additional debt or penalty of debt; (3), that man in this condition lies under the pressure of two debts, of obedience which he cannot pay, which the Creator never relaxes, and of death, the penalty of disobedience, or debt of sin; (4) that scripture calls this state of man the “old things;” (5) that Christ met both these debts upon the cross. In paying the penalty He shed His blood, in meeting our creature (or old creation) responsibility He died for us, and we died with Him. I referred particularly to one scripture; there are many, but one is amply sufficient. First, let me say, I would not willingly grieve, nor say one unbrotherly word to R., remembering we are members of Christ, and partakers of the one loaf.
We both agree as to the responsibility of the creature. Responsibility supposes relationship, and relationship implies duties. The question is, are these duties, relationships and responsibilities the same in the new creation as in the old? I affirm they are not. And 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) declares it. R. asks, “Have I ceased or shall I ever cease to be a creature.” But is this the question? Is it not rather—Have I ceased to be of the old creation? Why such a question from R.? as if I had said that the believer ceased to be a creature. Nothing in my paper implies such a thought. Again, “And if not how can my creature responsibilities have ceased?” and after a few more words he says he is “not prepared to receive such teaching as forms the staple of this critique.” But as there is no such teaching in what I wrote, let it pass. He insists “that I (the man, the creature) owe this to God, saved or unsaved,” he. Who denies it? The old creation and the new owe obedience, but is it the same? It is altogether a new kind of obedience and obligation: the old is gone forever. Take only one point, the obedience demanded of the old creation was to obtain life. “This do and thou shalt live.” The obedience rendered by the new creation is because life is possessed, not sought for. Is not this an essential difference, completely changing the character and nature of the obedience, obligation, duty, or whatever other term we may use? And so for all else. The word says, “all things become new.”
“Adam innocent or Adam fallen, or man in Christ (our present standing) or man in glory by-and-by, is equally and always under such obligation; though upon wonderfully dissimilar grounds.” This is just what I contend for. So wonderfully dissimilar is it that scripture calls it a new creation—calls it death to sin, the law, and the world. Yet R. insists that the old debts continue! So then our having died with Christ makes no difference, and has not delivered us from the old indebtedness: consequently we are still under the curse of the law which says, that he who offends in one point is guilty of all! (James 2:1010For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10).) A little before R. asks, “Does not my obligation to God, and dependence upon Him, which my paper specifically referred to, continue?” &c., &c.” Certainly, obligation too, and dependence upon God not only continue, but are far greater. But when I turn to his former paper, I find the obligation, specifically referred to, is that, while sins are forgiven, “DEBTS NEVER ARE.” If there be any meaning in words, and if their meaning is determined by the context, then it is here asserted that the debts incurred by the sinner are never canceled when he is converted. It is not here, in the part referred to, an abstract question of the creature's indebtedness, but a positive assertion that the old debts incurred while in an unconverted state remain upon the believer after he is converted. Now it is this that I deny. The word of God asserts the contrary of what It. says. This may be called strong language. So it is. I rather like plain words. And though I love and respect R. as an unknown brother, not merely as “your correspondent,” yet the truth takes precedence.
He says that “it is a misuse of 2 Cor. 5:14, 1714For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: (2 Corinthians 5:14)
17Therefore 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)
, to argue from it that because we are in the new creation all the claims upon us of the old are abrogated.” A simple soul does not consider it a misuse to argue so, for the plain reason that God says, “old things are passed away” and “ALL things are become new.” But this comes immediately after the question whether moral duties and natural relationships were canceled at the cross. My paper never logically suggested that question. But I refer your readers to the “wonderfully dissimilar grounds,” and there they will find all the moral duties and natural relationships which belong to us, not canceled, but enforced with Christ as the motive power for their observance. I have said enough on this part.
The next paragraph begins with demurring to my definition of a debtor. It is not a definition, nor given as such, but a simple statement. I use “alive in the world” in the same sense as does Col. 2:2020Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Colossians 2:20), in contrast with having died with Christ. The debtor is in my paper one not dead with Christ. The value of quoting as refutation of what I said, “Brethren, we are debtors,” let “your readers judge. But it would seem not to be without effect upon R.'s mind, for after saying with me, “there is a new obedience, a new obligation, a new debt” which I insisted on in my former paper, and of which new debt it is that I say, we believers do not wish it canceled, he pertinently adds,. “then I suppose there is still a debtor, and all I would ask is, was this new indebtedness canceled at the cross?” And this is called the general drift of my remarks, of which more might be said, but hiving compassion on your readers he says, “your correspondent has not shown that the believer's debts to God... are either canceled or forgiven;” and this in face of my words plainly and unmistakably given, and quoted by himself “that we do not wish them canceled!” I appeal to every reader with a sound and unbiassed judgment, whether my paper attempted to show the believer's debts canceled. I said our debts were those of grace, and we boasted in them. Our brother has kindly commended to my notice an article in “A Voice to the Faithful.” I with equal kindness ask him to read my paper again.
There is not a sentence in this last paragraph, from “I submit then,” but is open to comment. Let two suffice: “neither ate they canceled; for God does not forego His claims.” No, God does not, cannot, forego His claims: therefore we died with Christ; but for this very reason the old debts are canceled, because (we having died With Christ) they cease to be current obligations. Who talks of current obligations with a dead man? Another remark I must notice, “that the all-sufficiency of Christ's work and the full deliverance Sowing from it.... does not consist in, nor is it founded upon, or secured by, any cancellation whatever,” &c. This needs analyzing. The “cancellation” is part of the full deliverance which is founded upon the all-sufficiency of Christ's work, not His work upon the “cancellation” as the sentence seems to mean, nor (stranger still) secured by it. No, the all-sufficiency of Christ's work is the foundation—and security of our full deliverance, and “cancellation” is part and parcel of that deliverance. As to the word “accounted,” I used it because R. did, but guarded it by saying, “He was holy.” But in truth the whole paragraph is beside the mark. And so is the postscript. No right-minded believer says he has died to nature; but as this is only postscript, I pass it by and “spare your readers.”
Sir, it has not been my sweetest occupation to go through R.'s reply, and I would fain have been spared. Only a few concluding observations let me make. In one part of his reply R. says that to have brought in death to sin, the law and the World, would have obscured his subject. Doubtless, for the continuance of old-creation debts, and death to sin and law, are incompatible. The obligation or the creature to the Creator may be spoken of in an abstract way (was it so in the former paper?). But when we speak of man's relation to God, of the wondrous redemption by Christ, does it convey a true, not to say Adequate, idea of the all-sufficiency of His work, to make no mention of the believer's death with Christ, and therefore as a necessary consequence death to sin and law, and this also for a further result, that having So died the believer is raised again, made alive, united to Christ, Married to another? Does not our death creation anew in Him occupy far more space in Paul's writings, than the fact of our sins forgiven? Not of course that it is more important, but harder to learn. But those results of the cross are so intimately connected that it is impossible for the instructed soul to hear of one without immediately thinking of the other. I repeat, the full deliverance which is founded upon the cross, not only consists of blotting out my sins and transgressions, but gives me to know that I am delivered from the body of this death, that my old man to which are attached all my old responsibilities is crucified with Christ. Therefore being told to put off the old man and all his belongings and so by faith having put him off, and put on the new, not only I, but every believer is now entitled to say, “The penalty is paid, sins are forgiven, and the whole debt canceled.”
Yours very truly in Christ,