September 15, 2006

Edward Polhill (1622–1694) on the Proportion of Christ's Suffering

1. There was a proportion between the seats of suffering in Christ, and the seats of sin in us. Man sinned in his body, sin was organically and instrumentally there; proportionably Christ suffered in his body, no part of it but was racked upon a tormenting cross: because our corporeal parts had been weapons of iniquity, justice made his the subjects of misery. Man sinned in his soul, there was the prime and chief seat of sin; proportionably Christ suffered in his soul; nay, there was the prime and chief seat of suffering, because the main residence and venom of sin was in our souls, the greatest pressure and bitterness of wrath was upon his. He was exceeding sorrowful, even to death; he was sore amazed, and as it were fainted away; yea, for very anguish he sweat drops of blood, and upon the cross cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? All this befel him, who was fortitude and constancy itself. Under the law, justice had an eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound, stripe for stripe; in Jesus Christ it had a suffering body and soul, as a compensation for the sinning bodies and souls of men.

2. There was a proportion between the penal sufferings in Christ, and those in the threatening of the law. Christ suffered not the very idem, neither indeed could he do so; because there was a change of person, and in strictness, Si alius solvit, aliud solvitur : but his sufferings came as near to those in the law, as could possibly stand with a just decorum to his sacred person; as little was abated as might be. This will appear by the many steps of his humiliation. He, the Son of God, very God, assumed our frail nature. But might this infinite and wonderful condescension satisfy justice for the sin of the world? no, he must be under the law, and fulfil all righteousness. Well, that being done, might that obedience (wherein so high an honour was reflected upon the law, as that it was obeyed perfectly in all things, and that by its Maker) satisfy for sin? No, that alone was not enough; there must be shedding of blood, or no remission. But if there must be blood, might not a few drops of his blood, the same being of an infinite value, do the work? No, the law calls for death, without that he could not be an expiatory sacrifice for us. But if a death must be, might not a simple one, being of so great a person, serve the turn? No, the law pronounces a curse, and that he was made, the marks and tokens of wrath were upon him: and why all this, but that God would have his sufferings comply, and come as near the terms of the law as might be? It is true, he did not bear the accidentals of punishment, his sufferings were not eternal; but in the law punishment is eternal, only as it relates to a finite creature, which can never satisfy, but not as it relates to a mighty sponsor, who could pay down all at once, and swallow up death in victory. He suffered not the worm of conscience, or desperation. But the first of these is from sin, inherent, and putrifying in conscience; and the second, from the imbecility of the creature, sinking under its burden, neither of which could be in him. He bore not the accidentals of punishment; but as great a person as he was, the essentials could not be abated. There was in his sufferings, pæna sensus, when the fire of wrath melted him into a bloody sweat; and pæna damni, when the eclipse of favour made him cry out of forsaking. Though God in his sovereignty would relax the law, and introduce his own Son, as a sponsor to satisfy for us; yet his Son standing in that capacity, he would in justice have him suffer as near the penalty in the law as could be.

3. There was a proportion between the sufferings of Christ, and the sin of a world. Sin is an infinite evil; and his sufferings, to compensate it, were of an infinite value. Sufferings are not to be estimated as money, which, in whose hands soever it be, is one and the same, but according to the dignity of the person. Hence that of the people to David, Thou art worth ten thousand of us. (2 Sam. xviii. 3.) Hence, that Spanish proverb, used to Charles the Ninth, to move him to seize upon the chief protestants, One salmon's head is more worth than the heads of fifty frogs. In the Roman laws, punishments were varied according to the conditions of persons. Free men were not under the same punishments as servants. The lex porcia would not leave rods upon the back of a free man: the sufferings of a prince and a private man, are not to be valued at the same rate. At the death of Abner, David took special notice of it, and cried out, A prince, a great man is fallen this day in Israel. (2 Sam. iii. 38.) The sufferings of great men are very estimable; what then are the sufferings of a God, such as our Saviour? The Scripture is very emphatical in setting forth this to us: God purchased the church with his own blood. (Acts, xx. 28.) God laid down his life for us. (1 John iii. 16.) The Lord of glory was crucified. (1 Cor. ii. 8.) The man, God's fellow, was smitten. (Zach. xiii. 7.) He offered up himself through the eternal Spirit. (Heb. ix. 14.) The Prince of life was killed. (Acts iii. 15.) His Deity stamped an infinite value upon his sufferings, such as made them a full compensation for the sin of a world. That, therefore, of Socinus, that the sufferings of Christ have no more virtue in themselves, than if a mere man had suffered, is no less than horrible blasphemy, and for ever to be abhorred by us.

4. There was a proportion between the sufferings of Christ, and the sufferings of a world. "One died for all," saith the apostle. (2 Cor. v. 14.) But what an one was he? No less than very God: his Deity elevated his sufferings into a kind of infinity. Upon this account his sufferings, though but the sufferings of one, did equalize, nay, snperexceed the sufferings of a world. For as the French divines have observed; if you multiply one, you shall at last have the number of all men: but a collection of all men, however multiplied, will never equal the power, authority, dignity, wisdom, sanctity, and Deity of Christ. In the sufferings of a world, every sufferer would have been but a mere creature; but in his sufferings, the sufferer was no less than God himself. Here therefore, justice appears more signally, than if all the world had suffered and that for ever. His sufferings, though but temporary, did more than counterpoise the eternal sufferings of a world. Should we suppose, which is impossible, that all men had paid and passed through eternal sufferings, those would have delivered them from the curse of the law; the sufferings of Christ (which shews their equivalency, and more) produce the same effect, and over and above, merit life eternal. There is a double order in punishing; the order of justice would have a punishment infinite in magnitude; but because a finite creature cannot bear it, the order of wisdom will have it infinite in duration. But, as the French divines have observed, Christ being substituted in our room, the order of justice returns again. Our Saviour's sufferings were of an infinite value, the sum of sufferings was paid down all at once. In these, therefore, justice is more illustrious than it could have been in eternal ones; wherein mere finite creatures would have been ever paying a little, and a little, but could never have satisfied divine justice.
Edward Polhill, "A View of Some Divine Truths," in The Works of Edward Polhill 1622-1694 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998), 15–16.


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