“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Charles Spurgeon loved the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary penal atonement. However, holding fast to this cherished conviction came at a cost. While Victorian culture “progressed” onward and onward Spurgeon was content to “stand by that unmoving cross” and “believe the old doctrines of grace.”
During Spurgeon’s lifetime, gospel doctrine after gospel doctrine came under attack from an increasingly secularizing culture. This shift was so pronounced that even by age twenty-six Spurgeon could write that “Little…did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in pulpits.” He was astonished that God’s “moral government” could so quickly be degraded into a “namby-pamby sentimentalism which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue.”
At that time prominent men were teaching that “God is a universal Father” and that any idea of “his dealing with the impenitent as a Judge” was deemed “antiquated error.” According to the leading men of the day sin was a “disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime.”
In the midst of this Downgrade came the abandonment of substitution, the “Vicarious Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.” While it was true that detractors still used the word atonement, it was clear that its meaning had been changed. The “ancient landmark” had been removed. Indeed, even such clear words as “sin” and “hell” were employed in a new “altered sense.”
Nonetheless, Spurgeon stood firm as he declared “It seems to me that until language can mean the very reverse of what it says, until by some strange logic, God’s Word can never be rooted out of the words which I have selected for my text.”
In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon addressed “The sinlessness of the substitute.” Here Spurgeon offered a sweet and simple summary of the gospel, saying “The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God’s law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people.”
Of course, for this divine plan to work “the substitute must himself be free from sin.” Furthermore, not only must the substitute be sinless, he must also “keep the law in our stead.” And this is precisely what Christ did. Indeed, Spurgeon urged his hearers to “believe beyond a doubt, that our Lord Jesus was without sin.”
Jesus was a stranger to sin. He knew what it was, but he had no personal acquaintance with it. Spurgeon declared “His eye never flashed with unhallowed anger; his lip never uttered a treacherous or deceitful word; his heart never harboured an evil imagination. Never did he wander after lust; no covetousness ever so much glanced into his soul.” He was sinless and perfectly righteous, every thing that we could never be.
In the second section of his sermon, Spurgeon considered “The actual substitution of Christ, and the real imputation of sin to him.” Here Spurgeon was careful to note that “God the Father” was the one who “laid on Jesus the iniquities.” This was a crucial point as “Man could not transfer his guilt to another.” Furthermore, he noted that “The Redeemer’s vicarious position is warranted, nay ordained by divine authority.”
Indeed, “Not only hath [the Father] made [Christ] to be the substitute for sin, but to be sin. God looked on Christ as if Christ had been sin,” and accordingly “sin must be punished” and so “Christ is punished.” And as a result of this substitution Spurgeon rejoiced that “To-day we are secure, because of that finished sacrifice.” Even though believers still fight against sin Spurgeon asked “who can lay anything to the charge of the man whose guilt is gone, lifted bodily from off him, and put upon Christ?”
In the third, and final, section of his sermon Spurgeon stressed the point of this substitution, “That we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Because of Christ, when God looks at Christians he sees the “lovely,” “glorious,” “God-honouring,” “God-delighting,” righteousness of his Son. In Christ, “God sees no sin in any one of his people….In themselves he sees nothing but filth and abomination, in Christ nothing but purity and righteousness.”
In light of these things, Spurgeon urged his congregation to “stand out against these attacks on truth.” While he warned against bigotry, he warned “Do not give countenance to any of this trash and error….Be not turned away from your stedfastness by any pretence of intellectuality.”
Why you should take up and read:
Charles Spurgeon loved the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary penal atonement. While his own culture passed him by Spurgeon stood “by that unmoving cross.” He could never accept the “namby-pamby sentimentalism which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue.” For those wanting to savour the substitution of the Son please take up and read.
Here is the link to the Sermon of the Week:https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/christ-our-substitute#flipbook/
Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.