Daily Devotionals: (Jan. 31st) From John Stott, The Heart of the Cross: The Self-Substitution of God

by Charles Barrett

Voices from the Past: Meditations on the Person and Work of Christ 

John Robert Walmsley Stott was an evangelical Anglican minister, scholar, and author. He was born in 1921 into the home of a leading London physician, Sir Arnold Stott. Young John was sent to Rugby School, an independent boarding school founded in 1567, where he heard the gospel and came to Christ. He later said that this experience “changed the entire direction, course and quality of [his] life.” Stott had an unfortunate encounter with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966 when he publically rebuked Lloyd-Jones for Lloyd-Jones’s view that evangelicals should separate from denominations with liberal components. The event created long-lasting controversy. But in spite of his weak position on separation, Stott wrote some excellent books and in them he left a valuable legacy. Among them are Basic ChristianityBetween Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, and, the work regarded as a classic on the subject of Christ’s death, The Cross of Christ.  Stott died in July 2011 at the age of 90. 

Reading And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.1 John 2:2

We began by showing that God must ‘satisfy himself’, responding to the realities of human rebellion in a way that is perfectly consonant with his character. The internal necessity is our fixed starting-point. In consequence, it would be impossible for us sinners to remain eternally the sole objects of his holy love, since he cannot both punish and pardon us at the same time. Hence the second necessity, namely substitution. The only way for God’s holy love to be satisfied is for his holiness to be directed in judgment upon his appointed substitute, in order that his love may be directed towards us in forgiveness.

The substitute bears the penalty, that we sinners may receive the pardon. Who, then, is the substitute? Certainly not Christ, if he is seen as a third party. Any notion of penal substitution in which three independent actors play a role—the guilty party, the punitive judge and the innocent victim—is to be repudiated with utmost vehemence. It would not only be unjust in itself but would also reflect a defective Christology. For Christ is not an independent third person, but the eternal Son of the Father, who is one with the Father in his essential being.

What we see, then, in the drama of the cross is not three actors but two, ourselves on the one hand and God on the other. Not God as he is in himself (the Father), but God nevertheless, God-made-man-in-Christ (the Son). Hence the importance of those New Testament passages which speak of the death of Christ as the death of God’s Son: for example, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’…. For in giving his Son he was giving himself…. As Dale put it, ‘the mysterious unity of the Father and the Son rendered it possible for God at once to endure and to inflict penal suffering’. There is neither harsh injustice nor unprincipled love nor Christological heresy in that; there is only unfathomable mercy.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Edited by Charles Barrett for this blog. ©thinkgospel.com

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