I read a sermon yesterday by Spurgeon based on Matthew 26:67: “Then they spit in his face…” Spurgeon applied this passage, in part, to our theology of the cross. Specifically:
There are many, in those days, who seem as if they cannot be happy unless they are tearing the gospel to pieces. Especially is that divine mystery of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ the mark for the arrows of the wise men, I mean those who are wise according to the wisdom of this world. We delight to know that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the room and place and stead of his people…
Yet I have read some horrible things which have been written against that blessed doctrine, and as I read them I could only say to myself, “Then did they spit in his face.” If there is anything that is beyond all else the glory of Christ, it is his atoning sacrifice; and if ever you thrust your finger into the very apple of his eye, and touch his honor in the tenderest possible point, it is when you have aught to say against his offering of himself a sacrifice unto God, without blemish and without spot, that he might put away the iniquities of his people. Wherefore judge yourselves in this matter, and if ye have…ever assailed his atoning sacrifice, it might truly have been said of you, “Then did they spit in his face.”
Just a few reflections:
Some of the theological debates we’re seeing have been going on a long time. There’s nothing new going on here.
There really are different and complimentary perspectives on the atonement, but all have substitution at the core. I don’t think Spurgeon is saying you have to affirm penal substitution and deny all other models or perspectives on the atonement. As Tim Keller writes:
My prof at Gordon-Conwell, Roger Nicole, used to say that there were many perspectives on the atonement, but the one theme that ran through them all was substitution. Christus Victor, for example, means Jesus fought for us, in our place, we didn’t do it, he did it. And so ‘penal’ substitution is the perspective of the law court, and ‘ransom’ substitution is the perspective of the marketplace, and ‘Christus Victor’ substitution is the perspective of the battlefield, and ‘sacrificial’ substitution is the perspective of the temple/tabernacle. They all get at it differently, but the one commonality is substitution. God came and substituted himself for us–so we could be saved from sin. Nicole wrote this up in a little afterword to his festschrift The Glory of the Atonement.
I think Spurgeon is right in seeing this as a crucial part of the gospel. I realize that his language is strong – but if the atonement is as central to the gospel as he argues, I think his conclusions follow.
Interesting in light of some of the discussions going on these days. Thoughts?