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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stanford Burney on Penal Substitution

Stanford Guthrie Burney (1814-1893) was the Professor of Theology at Cumberland University, the official institution of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He is the author of Atonement Soteriology: The Sacrificial, in contrast with the Penal, Substitutionary, and Merely Moral or Exemplary Theories of Propitiation published in 1888. He presents three problems for the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the Atonement.

1. If God's justice cannot be upheld unless sin be punished, and if Christ did not suffer the precise punishment which man's sin deserves, then God's justice is still not satisfied.

He writes:
Some hold that Christ suffered in degree, but not in kind what all for whom he died would have suffered in time and eternity. This is not substitution in any proper sense. If I am required by law to do a particular thing, and engage another man to do it in my place, and he, instead of doing it, does an equal amount of other work, he does not act the part of a substitute; nor will the law release me. If, however, the governor choose to accept what is actually done, in lieu of what I am required to do, then this is a matter of sovereign prerogative, and not of law or justice. Hence, it is manifest that if the elect world is required by justice to do one thing, and Christ does another thing, and God accepts what he does in lieu of what they are required to do, then the atonement is not a matter of justice, but of sovereign prerogative. But atonement by sovereign prerogative is " the holy horror" of the less inconsistent substitutionists (pp. 94-95).

Furthermore, he argues:

God fixed the kind and amount of penalty proper to the sins of the elect. This kind and amount of penalty were in exact accord with justice. But when God accepted Christ as the substitute "of his people," he changed the penalty materially both as to kind and amount. If the penalty as fixed for sinners was just, then of necessity the penalty as fixed for their substitute was unjust. If the latter was just, then the former was unjust. Dr. Hodge's theory, take it as we will, makes God unjust, if the atonement was made primarily to satisfy justice (p. 104).

2. Punishment presupposes a crime. You cannot have one without the other.

Certainly there is an appreciable distinction between criminality and penalty, between moral corruption and punishment, and we may indicate this difference by the technical forms, "reatus culpae" [ fault]  and "reatus poena" [punishment]; if we choose. But it must be remembered that though they are logically distinct they are both logically and chronologically inseparable. Criminality involves liability to punishment, and punishment presupposes criminality. Of course there is no objection to the distinction itself, but grave objection to the order and manner of relationship between criminality and penality as held by substitutionists.

As to the order of relation between crime and penalty, it seems superfluous to say that they are related as cause and effect, or as antecedent and consequence, and that crime is the antecedent and punishment the consequence. Hence, no crime, no punishment. To take away the criminality is to take away, or rather to prevent, the punishment. To remove the disease is to relieve the pain which it produces
(pp. 112-13).

3. If Christ paid the penalty for sin  (reatus poena) without taking on the demerit or corruption of the sin (reatus culpae), as adherents of the PST maintain, then man is still left in a corrupt or guilty state.

But substitutionists reverse this natural order of the relation between crime and punishment, making the removal of the "reatus poena" antecedent to the removal of the "reatus culpae"—that is, exemption from punishment is the antecedent of deliverance from criminality.

Hence, the sinner is pardoned, released from all liability to penal suffering, when Christ became his substitute, but is left in his criminal and polluted state; morally corrupt, but not liable to-the divinely ordained consequence of his corruption! At enmity against God, yet not liable to the consequences of that state of enmity. Such a state of things, it is self-evident, is impossible in the sphere of either physical or moral law. It would be possible only in the sphere of human law, and possible here only because of the inherent weakness of human law. Thus, a man commits a malicious murder, is indicted and tried by the proper court; but, by the bribery or death of witnesses, or by corrupting the court, he procures a verdict of acquittal, and is set free. This verdict operates as a barrier against subsequent prosecution and punishment. This is exactly the state in which substitutionary satisfaction puts all for whom Christ died. His death absolutely delivers from "reatus poena," but leaves them in the meshes of "reatus culpae," from which, however, they are at some indefinite time to be wholly or in part relieved
(pp. 113-14).
It seems that there is just no way to make the PST work. It is fatally inconsistent and incoherent.

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