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Question 40. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even unto death?

Answer. Because with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise than by the death of the Son of God.



Under this question we are to consider:

  1. How Christ is said to have been dead:

  2. Whether it was necessary that Christ should die:

  3. For whom he has died.



The exposition of this question is necessary on account of heretics who have corrupted the sense of this article. Marcion denied that Christ did truly die, and affirmed also that the whole dispensation of the word in the flesh, and all those things which Christ endured for us were imaginary, and that he had only the appearance of a man, but was not such in reality.  Nestorius separated the natures in Christ, and would not admit that the Son of God was crucified, and died ; but said that this was true only of the man Christ. “ Do not exult and glory thou Jew, (said he) thou hast not crucified God, but man.” The Ubiquitarians believe that the human nature of Christ, from the moment of the incarnation, was so endowed with all the properties of Deity, that the only difference between this and the Godhead of Christ, is that the former has by accident what the latter has by and of itself. Hence it is, that they imagine that Christ in his death, yea, when he was concealed in the womb of the virgin, was not only as to his Deity, but also as to his body, in heaven, arid every where. And this is what they call the form of God, concerning which Paul speaks in Phil. 2: 6.

1.   But in opposition to all these we believe what is affirmed in the Creed, that Christ was truly dead, and that there was a real separation between his soul and body, and that of a real local character, so that his soul and body were not only not together everywhere, but they were not at the same time in one place ; the soul was not where the body was, and the body was not where the soul was. “ And Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice yielded up the ghost“ And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost.” “ Father into thy hands I commend my spirit ; and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” “And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.” (Matt. 27:50. Mark 15:37. Luke 23:46. John 19:30.)

Obj. But he gave up the ghost just as virtue, that is, his Divinity is said to have gone out of him. Ans. There is a difference here which we must observe; for the Divinity whilst united with the humanity did, nevertheless, operate beyond and without it, but the soul departed from the body. The reason of this difference is, that the Divinity is some thing uncreated, and therefore infinite, whilst the soul is created, and therefore finite.

2.   This is also to be added to what has been said, that although his soul was truly separated from his body, yet the Word did not desert the soul and body, but remained, notwithstanding personally united to each; so that, in this separation of soul and body, the two natures in Christ were not disjoined, or severed.


Obj. But if there was no such separation between the natures of Christ, why did he exclaim, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Ans. This cry was extorted from the suffering Son of God, not on account of any separation of the two natures, but on account of the delay of help and assistance : for the two natures in Christ ought not to be disjoined, because it is written. “God hath purchased the church with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28.) And it was necessary that he, who would die for our sins, should be the Son of God, that there might thus be a sufficient ransom. So it is also clearly manifest, that the union of the natures in Christ is no ubiquity: for his soul, being separated from his body, was not in the sepulchre with his body, and consequently not everywhere; because that which is everywhere can never be separated. And yet the union of the natures remained complete even in death, and in the grave.



It was necessary for Christ, in order that he might make satisfaction, not only to suffer, but also to die :

1.   On account of the justice of God. Sin is an evil of such magnitude, that, according to the order of justice, it merits, and demands, the destruction of the sinner; for the reason, that that which is an offence against the highest good, can only be expiated by the most severe punishment and extreme destruction of the sinner, which is by his death according as it is written, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23.) Christ now assumed our place, and took upon himself the person of those who had sinned, and deserved death not only eternal, but also temporal; for we had merited that destruction which consists in a dissolution between the soul and the body, which being once effected, the body itself is also dissolved, as a house is said to be destroyed when the parts are separated from each other. It was necessary, therefore, that the Son of God should die in order that a sufficient ransom might thus be made, which could not have been effected by a mere creature.

Obj. But we have merited eternal death ; therefore our souls ought not to be separated from our bodies, that they might suffer eternal condemnation. Ans. This is not a just conclusion, because nothing more can be properly inferred, than that it is necessary that our souls and bodies should be again united that they may suffer eternal death, which will also, at length, come to pass. Therefore it was necessary that Christ should die for us, and that his soul should be separated from his body.

2.   On account of the truth of God. For God had declared that he would punish sin with destruction, and the death of the transgressor: “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17.) It was necessary that this threatening of God should be fulfilled after sin was once committed.

Obj. But Adam did not immediately die. Ans. He did not, in deed, instantly suffer temporal death, yet he straightway became mortal, and by degrees died, whilst he already experienced the beginning of eternal death : “ I heard,” said he, “thy voice, and was afraid, because I was naked.” (Gen. 3:10.) There was a fear, and sense of the wrath of God, a struggling with death, and a loss of all the good gifts which God conferred upon man. And yet the lenity, and compassion of the gospel was not wanting; for God had not expressly declared that he should certainly die wholly, and immediately. If this had been wanting he would have perished for ever. The Son of God offered, and brought in a mitigation, and raised man to a new life, that, notwithstanding he remained subject to temporal death, this was no longer injurious or fatal to him.

3.   On account of the promises made to the fathers, by the prophets, such as that contained in Is. 53, 7 : “ He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is dumb before her shearers, so he opened not his mouth ;” and also on account of the types and sacrifices, by which God signified that Christ should die such a death as would be a sufficient ransom for the sins of the world. This, now, was the work of no creature ; but of the Son of God alone. Hence it became him to suffer such a painful death in our behalf.

4.   Lastly, Christ himself foretold that his death was necessary. “ For if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you.” “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” (John 16:7; 13:8; 12:32.) Three things, there fore, concur in this question: that it was necessary to make satisfaction to the justice and truth of God that this satisfaction could only be made by death and that by the death of the Son of God.

From what has now been said the following conclusions may be drawn :

1.   That sin should especially be avoided by us, inasmuch as it could not be expiated except by the intervention of the death of the Son of God.

2.   That we ought to be grateful to the Son of God for this great benefit which he has, out of his great goodness, conferred upon us. 3. That all our sins, however great, however many, and grievous they may be, are expiated by the death of Christ alone.



In answering this question we must make a distinction, so as to harmonize those passages of Scriptures which seem to teach contradictory doctrines. In some places Christ is said to have died for all, and for the whole world. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” “That he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” “We thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again.” “Who gave himself a ransom for all,” &c.  (John 2:2. Heb. 2:9. 2 Cor. 5:15. 1 Tim. 2:6.) The Scriptures, on the contrary, affirm in many places, that Christ died, prayed, offered himself, &c., only for many, for the elect, for his own people, for the Church, for his sheep, &c. "I pray for them; I pray not for the world ; but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine,” that is.  the elect alone. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “He shall save his people from their sins.” “ This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” “Christ was once offered, to bear the sins of many.” “ By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.” “Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.” (John 17:9. Matt. 20:28; 15:24; 1:21.  Heb. 9:28. Is. 53:11. Eph. 5:25.)

What shall we say in view of these seemingly opposite passages of Scripture? Does the word of God contradict itself? By no means. But this will be the case, unless these declarations, which in some places seem to teach that Christ died for all, and in others that he died for a part only, can be reconciled by a proper and satisfactory distinction, which distinction, or reconciliation, is two-fold.

There are some who interpret these general declarations of the whole number of the faithful, or of all that believe; because the promises of the gospel properly belong to all those that believe, and because the Scriptures do often restrict them to such as believe: “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish.” “The righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe.” “That through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” It is in this way that Ambrose interprets those passages which speak of the death of Christ as extending to all: “The people of God,” says he, “have their fullness, and although a large portion of men either neglect, or reject, the grace of the Saviour, yet there is a certain SPECIAL UNIVERSALITY of the elect, and fore-known, separated and discerned from the generality of all, that a whole world might seem to be saved out of a whole world; and all men might seem to be redeemed out of all men,” &c. In this way there is no repugnancy, or contradiction; for all those that believe are the many, the peculiar people, the Church, the sheep, the elect, &c., for whom Christ died, and gave himself.

Others reconcile these seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture by making a distinction between the sufficiency, and efficacy of the death of Christ. For there are certain contentious persons, who deny that these declarations which speak in a general way, are to be restricted to the faithful alone, that is, they deny that the letter itself, or the simple language of Scripture does thus limit them, and in proof thereof they bring forward those passages in which salvation seems to be attributed, not only to those that believe, but also to hypocrites and apostates, as it is said: “Denying the Lord which bought them.” And, also, where it is said that they “have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins.” (2 Pet. 2:1; 1:9.) But it is manifest that declarations of this kind are to be understood either concerning the mere external appearance, and vain glorying of redemption, or of sanctification; or else of the sufficiency, and greatness of the merit of Christ. That it may not, therefore, be necessary for us to contend much with these captious and fastidious persons concerning the restriction of those passages which speak so generally (although it is most manifest in itself) and that those places which speak of the redemption of hypocrites may the more easily be reconciled, some prefer (and not without reason according to my judgment) to interpret those declarations, which in appearance seem to be contradictory, partly of the sufficiency, and partly of the application and efficacy of the death of Christ.

They affirm, therefore, that Christ died for all, and that he did not die for all; but in different respects. He died for all, as touching the sufficiency of the ransom which he paid ; and not for all; but only for the elect, or those that believe, as touching the application and efficacy thereof. The reason of the former lies in this, that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for expiating all the sins of all men, or of the whole world, if only all men will make application thereof unto themselves by faith. For it cannot be said to be insufficient, unless we give countenance to that horrible blasphemy (which God forbid!) that some blame of the destruction of the ungodly results from a defect in the merit of the mediator. The reason of the latter is, because all the elect, or such as believe, and they alone, do apply unto themselves by faith the merit of Christ's death, together with the efficacy thereof, by which they obtain righteousness, and life according as it is said. “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath everlasting life.” (John 8:36.) The rest are excluded from this efficacy of Christ's death by their own unbelief, as it is again said, “He that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36.) Those, therefore, whom the Scriptures exclude from the efficacy of Christ's death, cannot be said to be included in the number of those for whom he died as it respects the efficacy of his death, but only as to its sufficiency; because the death of Christ is also sufficient for their salvation, if they will but believe; and the only reason of their exclusion arises from their unbelief.

It is in the same way, that is, by making the same distinction that we reply to those who ask concerning the purpose of Christ, Did he will to die for all? For just as he died, so also he willed to die. Therefore, as he died for all, in respect to the sufficiency of his ransom; and for the faithful alone in respect to the efficacy of the same, so also he willed to die for all in general, as touching the sufficiency of his merit, that is, he willed to merit by his death, grace, righteousness, and life in the most abundant manner for all; because he would not that any thing should be wanting as far as he and his merits are concerned, so that all the wicked who perish may be without excuse. But he willed to die for the elect alone as touching the efficacy of his death, that is, he would not only sufficiently merit grace and life for them alone, but also effectually confers these upon them, grants faith, and the holy Spirit, and brings it to pass that they apply to themselves, by faith, the benefits of his death, and so obtain for themselves the efficacy of his merits.

In this sense it is correctly said that Christ died in a different manner for believers and unbelievers. Neither is this declaration attended with any difficulty or inconvenience, inasmuch as it harmonizes not only with scripture, but also with experience; for both testify that the remedy of sin and death is most sufficiently and abundantly offered in the gospel to all; but that it is effectually applied, and profitable only to them that believe. The Scriptures, also, everywhere, restrict the efficacy of redemption to certain persons only, as to Christ's sheep, to the elect, and such as believe, whilst on the other hand it clearly excludes from the grace of Christ the reprobate and unbelieving as long as they remain in their unbelief. “What concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor. 6:15. See, also, Matt. 20:28; 1:6: 28. Is. 53:11.  John 10:15. Matt. 15:24.)

Christ moreover, prayed only for the elect, including those who were already his disciples, and also such as would afterwards believe on his name.  Hence he says, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” (John 17:9.) If, therefore, Christ would not pray for the world, by which we are to understand such as do not believe, much less would he die for them, as far as the efficacy of his death is concerned; for it is less to pray, than to die for any one. There are also two inseparable parts of the sacrifice of Christ intercession and death. And if he himself refuse to extend one part to the ungodly, who is he that will dare to give the other to them.

Lastly, the orthodox Fathers and Schoolmen, also distinguish and restrict the above passages of Scripture as we have done: especially Augustin Cyril and Prosper. Lombard writes as follows: “Christ offered himself to God, the Trinity for all men, as it respects the sufficiency of the price; but only for the elect as it regards the efficacy thereof, because he effected, and purchased salvation only for those who were predestinated.” Thomas writes: “The merit of Christ, as to its sufficiency, extends equally to all, but not as to its efficacy, which happens partly on account of free will, and partly on account of the election of God, through which the effects of the merits of Christ are mercifully bestowed upon some, and withheld from others according to the just judgment of God.” Other Schoolmen, also, speak in the same manner, from which it is evident that Christ died for all in such a way, that the benefits of his death, nevertheless, pertain properly to such as believe, to whom alone they are also profitable and available.

Obj. 1. The promises of the gospel are universal, as appears from such declarations as invite all men to come to Christ, that they may have life.  Hence it does not merely extend to such as believe. Ans. The promise is indeed universal in respect to such as repent and believe; but to extend it to the reprobate, would be blasphemy. “There is,” saith Ambrose, as just quoted, “a certain special universality of the elect, and foreknown, discerned and distinguished from the entire generality.” This restriction of the promises to such as believe, is proven from the plain and explicit form in which they are expressed. “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” “The righteousness of God, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe.” “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” “ Whosever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey him.” And from the words of Christ: “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye pearls before swine,” &c. (John 3:16. Rom. 3:22. Matt. 11:28. Acts 2:21. Heb. 5:9.  Matt. 7:6.)

Obj. 2. Christ died for all. Therefore his death does not merely extend to such as believe. Ans. Christ died for all as it regards the merit and efficacy of the ransom which he paid; but only for those that believe as it respects the application and efficacy of his death; for seeing that the death of Christ is applied to such alone, and is profitable to them, it is correctly said to belong properly to them alone, as has been already shown.

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