Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

John Miley vs. Charles Hodge on Penal Substitution

John Miley (1813-1895), was one of the leading Methodist theologians of the 19th century. He taught Theology for many years at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey (the same school from which Robert M. Price holds two Ph.D.'s). In the 19th century, the school was conservative theologically in the Wesleyan and Arminian traditions.

John Miley (pictured on the far right) was a staunch opponent of Calvinism and of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the Atonement. His own view on the atonement was a modified Grotian (Governmental) view, which I will discuss in a later post. In this post, I want to deal with his refutation of Charles Hodge's view of the PST.

Miley published a monograph entitled, The Atonement in Christ in 1881 and a more complete treatment of the subject in Vol. 2 of his Systematic Theology in 1894.

On page 145 in Vol. 2 of his Systematic Theology, Miley quotes the following passage from Charles Hodge:
By guilt, many insist on meaning personal criminality and ill desert; and by punishment, evil inflicted on the ground of such personal demerit. In these senses of the words the doctrine of satisfaction and vicarious punishment would, indeed, involve an impossibility. And if punishment means evil inflicted on the ground of personal demerit then it is a contradiction to say that the innocent can be punished. But if guilt expresses only the relation of sin to justice, and is the obligation under which the sinner is placed to satisfy its demands, then there is nothing which forbids the idea that this obligation may, on adequate grounds, be transferred from one to another or assumed by one in the place of others (Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 532).
Miley gathers the following points from Hodge's statement:
One is, that moral character is absolutely untransferable; another, that if punishment is a judicial infliction upon the ground of personal demerit, the satisfaction of justice by penal substitution is impossible. Hence the distinction of sin into personal demerit and guilt, and the assumption that the latter, as the legal amenability of sin, could be transferred to Christ, and punished in him in fulfillment of the punitive obligation of justice (p. 145).
Miley believes that Hodge's theory of the PST self-destructs because of the following points:

1. Only demerit (sin) deserves punishment.
All agree in the obligation of divine justice to punish sin according to its demerit, and on that ground. But it is denied that the turpitude and demerit of sin can be transferred to Christ. All that is claimed, or even admitted to be so transferred, is the guilt of sin; guilt as an amenability to the retribution of justice. Is such a substitution the merited punishment of sin? Nothing could be punished in Christ which was not transferred to him, and in some proper sense made his. This we regard as apodictic. Hence if, sin, with its demerit, could not, as now admitted, be put upon Christ by imputation, no punishment which he suffered, fell upon such demerit, or intrinsic evil of sin (p. 146)
2. Guilt is separated from demerit (sin) by Hodge.
Guilt, as distinctively treated in this theory, arises in the relation of sin to divine justice, and as an obligation of sin to suffer the merited penalty of justice. It is so defined and discriminated from the turpitude of sin in the carefully exact statement recently cited from Dr. Charles Hodge (p. 146).
3. Guilt loses its reality when it is separated from demerit (sin).
But guilt, considered as apart from sin, exists only in conception, not in objective reality. It may be said [by Hodge] that it becomes a concrete fact in Christ by imputation to him. Then the result is a guilty Christ. But guilty of what? Not of sin, for that is not transferred to him, nor in any proper sense made his. Guilty of guilt, we may suppose. For as guilt is the only thing imputed, and the imputation makes him guilty, we find not any better expression of the fact in the case. . . . at most Christ is guilty of only a conceptual guilt. But the original difficulty remains. Guilt, apart from sin, is still guilt in the abstract, and exists only in conception, as much so as roundness, concavity, redness. And how could such a conceptual guilt render Christ guilty, or constitute in him a just ground of punishment?

Guilt cannot exist apart from sin. It is impossible by the very definition of it as the obligation of sin to the retribution of justice. The necessary conjunction of facts is obvious. On the one side is justice, with its precept and penalty; on the other, sin; hence, guilt. There is guilt, because justice asserts a penal claim upon sin. The demerit of sin, the intrinsic evil of sin , is the only ground of such a claim. Nothing but sin can be guilty, or render any one guilty. And there can no more be guilt apart from sin, than there can be extension without either substance or space
(pp. 146-47).
4. If Jesus is punished for guilt not demerit (sin), then sin goes unpunished and no atonement is made.
[Guilt]is not in itself punishable, but simply the punitive amenability of sin to justice. It cannot, therefore, be so put upon Christ as to render him punishable, unless the very sin is put upon him. But this is conceded to be impossible. Indeed, sin itself is a punishable reality only as a personal fact. In the last analysis only a person, only a sinful person, is punishable. . . . So, not any impersonal sin, or sin in generalized conception, but only a sinful person, is answerable to justice in penalty. Sin has no real existence apart from the agent in the sinning. The guilt of sin lies upon him, and can no more be put upon a substitute as a punitive desert than his sinful act can cease to be his and be made the sinful act of such substitute.

But the principles of the satisfaction scheme still remain, with the necessity for the punishment of sin according to its demerit, and on that ground. So imperative is this obligation, that any omission of such punishment would be an injustice in God. With this the very masters in the theory fully agree. Indeed, there is no dissent. Is sin so punished in Christ? It is not, even if we admit the separability of guilt and its transference to Christ. Guilt is not sin. The scheme itself carefully discriminates the two. Such is its necessity, as it denies the transferableness of sin. For, otherwise, it has nothing which it may even claim to be transferred as the ground of merited punishment. By the alleged facts of the scheme, no penalty is inflicted upon sin(emphasis mine, pp. 147-48).
In my opinion, Miley has masterfully undercut the very foundations of the PST. As I have been arguing repeatedly in my posts, an innocent person cannot be punished in the place of the guilty without a miscarriage of justice taking place. To say, as Hodge does, that Jesus was guilty and deserving of punishment even though he was not a sinner, makes no sense either logically or morally.

Miley writes:
The guilt which answers to justice in penalty is the guilt of sin. If Christ so answered as a substitute for the elect, he must have been guilty of all their sins. Hence the theory under review should [not]. . . seek shelter under an utterly futile distinction between sin and guilt. On any consistent supposition it must hold Christ as guilty of all the sins which suffered their merited punishment in him. But he never could be so guilty : hence the doctrine of atonement which implies and requires such a fact cannot be the true doctrine (p. 149).
I have to agree with his conclusion in his 1881 book, The Atonement in Christ: No ingenuity in Scripture exegesis, nor any dialectic acumen, can make the punishment of a substitute the same, either in fact, justice, or law, as the punishment of the sinner himself. Hence, the PST is fatally flawed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post! You might be happy to know that I am in the process now of having John Miley's work on the atonement reprinted as a book, along with other classic writings on the governmental atonement view. Check it out at