Instead of giving their energy to do the will of God, men of power have given it to the construction of a system to explain why Christ must die, and the necessities and designs of God in permitting his death; and they have clung to the morally and spiritually vulgar idea of justice and satisfaction held by pagan Rome, buttressed by the Jewish notion of sacrifice. Their system is briefly this: God is bound to punish sin to the uttermost. But Christ takes man’s punishment upon himself, and God lets man go unpunished, upon a condition: he must say, “I have sinned, and deserve to be tortured to all eternity. But Christ has paid my debts by being punished instead of me. Therefore he is my Savior. I am now bound by gratitude to him to turn away from evil.”
Yet it would be the worst of all wrongs to the guilty to treat them as innocent. To the poorest idea of justice in punishment, it is essential that the sinner should receive the punishment. God is absolutely just, and there is no deliverance from his justice, which is one with his mercy. To believe in a vicarious sacrifice is to think to take refuge with the Son from the righteousness of the Father; with his work instead of with the Son himself; to shelter behind a false quirk of law instead of nestling in the eternal heart of the Father, who is merciful in that he renders to every man according to his work, and compels their obedience. God will never let a man off with any fault. He must have him clean. He will impute to him nothing that he has not, will lose sight of no smallest good that he has. He is God beyond all that heart hungriest for love and righteousness could to eternity desire.