SCRIPTURE AND SATISFACTION
We are busy discussing and describing the nature of the atonement in connection with the question whether or not the atonement is in its very nature limited. Dr. Daane, in treating the issues of the Dekker Case, denies that the atonement is limited in its very nature and, on the contrary, claims that the atonement is in its very nature unlimited.
However, although Dr. Daane wrote several articles on this subject, he failed to do what he most certainly should have done, that is, describe the nature of the atonement. Surely, if a theologian wishes to maintain the proposition that the atonement is in its very nature unlimited, then his very first duty is to describe thatnature of the atonement. How otherwise can one determine whether or not that atonement is unlimited? But this, as I said, Daane failed utterly to do.
According to our Reformed confessions and according to Scripture, the atonement is in its very nature limited. This is the proposition I am busy maintaining and proving in this series of editorials. And in order to do so I am trying to demonstrate step by step what the nature of the atonement is, so that I may finally demonstrate that the atonement cannot be, because of its very nature, anything but limited, that is, for the elect alone.
The most fundamental element in the atonement,—such is the burden of our present discussion,—is satisfaction. This is according to all our Reformed confessions, and I have shown this to be true by abundant reference to those confessions.
We now must face the question whether the Scriptures also teach this and whether, therefore, the teaching of our confessions is also the plain teaching of Holy Writ.
A very striking fact is that this term satisfaction which occurs so frequently in our confessions is not a Scriptural term as such. It does not occur in Scripture. It is a dogmatic term which is employed by our confessions and by Reformed theologians in order to explain and to give contents to the various Scriptural terms used for the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, one looks in vain for the termsatisfaction in the Bible.
This does not mean, however, that this term is not a good one, nor that as far as its meaning is concernedsatisfaction is not a Scriptural concept. The contrary is true. Every term which Scripture employs with respect to Christ’s atonement contains this idea of satisfaction.
Before we investigate the various Scriptural terms for the atonement, let us face the question: what is satisfaction?
In answer to this question I wish to quote at length from an exposition of this concept by my late father in his “The Triple Knowledge,” Volume II, pp. 13, ff.
Satisfaction is a term that expresses one of the main themes of Holy Scripture. The word denotes the same idea as the Dutch “voldoening,” or, better still, “genoegdoening.” It means “to do enough,” “to make sufficient,” to comply with a certain demand, particularly with respect to a debt accumulated or an offense committed; And the truth that God will have His justice satisfied is a theme that runs all through the Word of God from beginning to end. All through history God instructed His people in the truth of the necessity of satisfaction . . . . . . .
What is this satisfaction of God’s justice? In general, satisfaction implies that a person has certain obligations with respect to another, that he has failed to fulfill these obligations, that he is in arrears, that he owes a debt, .and that now he makes a. full payment of that debt, and so restores the proper relationship between himself and him to whom he was obligated. Applied to our relation to God, this means that we have an unchangeable obligation to love Him. The obligation is a moral, ethical one. It never changes, for God does not change. Always He says to us: “Love Me with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” Never may we do anything that is not motivated by the love of God. If we love Him we are the objects of His favor. The moment we fail in the payment of this love-debt, we are no longer in His favor, but become the objects of His just wrath. This cannot be emphasized too strongly and repeated too often. Nothing can take the place of this love of God to make us the objects of His favor. Nothing else than this love of God with all our being is righteousness. All our imaginary piety, our Phariseeism, our work righteousness, our willingness “to do something for God,” our humanitarianism, is of no avail to take the place of this one obligation to love God. To love God with our whole heart, to love. Him in all that we do, in the very thought of our mind, in every deed we perform, with every step we take on life’s pathway, in every relationship of life,—that is our sacred and unchangeable obligation before God. And nothing else can possibly take its place.
In that obligation we have failed and do fail continuously. Hence, we are in arrears, we are in debt with God! And let us not be deceived by this word debt so that, perhaps, we think of our relation to God in terms of a financial obligation. A man may owe a debt of money and think little of it. He is going to pay it sometime, at his convenience! And as long as his creditor does not trouble him too much, there is little for him to, worry about. But with our relation to God this is quite different. We owe a love-debt. And our creditor is not someone who lives far away from us, and occasionally knocks at our door to demand payment, but he is the living God, the, Lord of heaven and earth, in Whom we live and move and have our being! He is the Lord of life and of death. In His favor there is light and life and joy; in His displeasure there is darkness and death and everlasting desolation. And He is not far from us. He surrounds us. He encompasses our whole being. And the moment we fail to love Him, that moment He is terribly displeased, filled with holy and just wrath against us. He makes us feel His just wrath. He punishes us with death. He makes us unspeakably miserable. He does this, not in some future state only, but now, at once, the moment we are in debt and fail to love Him. His hand is heavy upon us, and by His wrath we pine and die. But let us not forget, that even so, even while He pursues us and encompasses us in His wrath, and inflicts the punishment of death upon us, He still demands: “love Me!” It is quite essential to understand this clearly, in order that we may comprehend somewhat the terrible reality of satisfaction. Our obligation is to love God Who is GOD! We must love Him as He is, because He is good! He is good when we love Him and He causes us to taste His blessed favor. But He is good, too, when we fail to love Him and He causes us to taste His goodness by inflicting upon us the punishment of death, by making us unspeakably miserable! Hence, we must still love Him, even while He lays His heavy hand upon us! To love God was our obligation in Paradise, where man was surrounded by the favor of God. To love God remained his obligation when God executed the death sentence upon him, and he was driven out of paradise and from the fellowship of God. To love God is man’s obligation even in the eternal desolation of hell. Even there God says to man: “Love Me as I reveal Myself to thee here in My righteousness and justice through the agonies which I cause thee to suffer in outer darkness!” The love-demand never ceases, never changes. The love-debt remains forever!
To understand the implication of satisfaction for sin we must bear in mind this unchangeableness of our love-debt to God. Not the mere bearing of the punishment for sin, even in hell, is satisfaction. Surely, the damned in hell fully suffer the punishment for sin in eternal death and desolation. Yet they never atone, they never make satisfaction for sin; their suffering never becomes a sacrifice that blots out sin and restores them to the favor of God. When capital punishment is inflicted upon a murderer, we may often read in our daily papers that the murderer atoned for his crime. But this is not correct. Justice satisfied itself by inflicting the punishment of death on the murderer, but the murderer did not atone for his crime. He did not offer his life. He did not willingly seek the punishment that he might atone. He probably sought the help of an attorney in order to escape the electric chair. But his life was taken away from him by force, against his will. His death is no satisfaction. So God will surely punish sin even with eternal desolation, and glorify Himself in the damnation of the wicked. But the suffering of hell is no satisfaction, for even there God’s demand remains unchanged: “Love Me!” And this demand they cannot fulfill. Hence, the act of satisfaction is the payment of the love-debt to God as He reveals Himself to the sinner in the depth and darkness and unspeakable misery of hell! If there were a sinner that could perform this act of love, that could pass through the woes of eternal desolation, through the darkness of the depth of hell, and be motivated by the love of God, that sinner would satisfy the justice of God with respect to sin. Or, to express this truth more vividly still, if there were a man that would be so motivated by the love of God that he would seek that punishment, that for God’s name’s sake and to fulfill His righteousness would desire to descend into deepest hell, and realize that desire,—that man would make full satisfaction for sin. Such is the sinner’s love-debt to God. He is obligated to say to God: “For thy righteousness’ sake let all the billows of Thy wrath pass over me, and even then I shall love Thee!” If he performs this act of love He makes full satisfaction. And in the way of this full satisfaction he will be the object of the favor of God! And this satisfaction is absolutely necessary. The Arminian, who, because of his denial of limited atonement, cannot and does not maintain the truth of satisfaction, may claim that God can accept something else instead of this perfect sacrifice of atonement, a tear, a prayer, a temporal affliction, an example,—but he misleads the sinner. The modernist may make light of this truth and speak of it mockingly as “blood-theology,” he only mocks at most dreadful realities. For God cannot deny Himself. He will have His justice satisfied. Satisfaction for sin is the indispensable condition to be restored to the favor of God.
Summing up, therefore, we may distinguish the following elements in the concept satisfaction:
1) Satisfaction implies an unchangeable obligation on the part of man to love God.
2) Satisfaction implies the rule of God’s justice, that He blesses and gives life to the righteous, that is, to those who love Him, who fulfill the unchangeable demand to love Him perfectly, while He for His own name’s sake curses and punishes with everlasting desolation those who fail to meet that demand.
3) Satisfaction implies debt, that is, that man has failed to live up to God’s unchangeable demand of love, has fallen in arrears with respect to that demand.
4) Satisfaction implies the payment of that debt according to the demand of God’s justice, that is, the free, voluntary bearing of the full punishment of sin in loving obedience and for the sake of the righteousness of God.
And it is this satisfaction that is basic to every term which Scripture employs to describe the atonement.