Mondays with MacDonald (on penal substitution’s pagan affinities)

They say first, God must punish the sinner, for justice requires it; then they say he does not punish the sinner, but punishes a perfectly righteous man instead, attributes his righteousness to the sinner, and so continues just. Was there ever such a confusion, such an inversion of right and wrong! Justice could not treat a righteous man as an unrighteous; neither, if justice required the punishment of sin, could justice let the sinner go unpunished. To lay the pain upon the righteous in the name of justice is simply monstrous. No wonder unbelief is rampant. Believe in Moloch if you will, but call him Moloch, not Justice. Be sure that the thing that God gives, the righteousness that is of God, is a real thing, and not a contemptible legalism. Pray God I have no righteousness imputed to me. Let me be regarded as the sinner I am; for nothing will serve my need but to be made a righteous man, one that will no more sin.

George MacDonald
from Unspoken Sermons, vol. 3, “Righteousness”

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  • Excellent!

  • Anonymous

    “Let me be regarded as the sinner I am; for nothing will serve my need but to be made a righteous man, one that will no more sin.” The preceding sentences seem reasonable enough to me. Is McDonald implying Wesleyan Perfectionism or Complete Sanctification here? Thanks!

    • Hi Richard,

      MacDonald wasn’t talking about either, strictly speaking. He would
      have thought it somewhat dangerous to expect sinlessness in this life for
      the same reason he thought it dangerous to do away with the need for
      sinlessness in this life (thus his critique of imputation).

    • (Woops, didn’t mean to finish that reply!) I was also going to say that
      MacDonald believed in sanctification that would endure to its completion
      even beyond the grave.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Steve. Would you say that MacDonald was coming from a fairly Reformed perspective then? You mentioned in an earlier post that Calvinism and Universalism are more in parallel than Arminianism, for instance. So MacDonald believed in a “Perseverence of the Saints” in a manner of speaking.

        • MacDonald came from a Reformed background, but rejected most of the characteristic Reformed doctrines. The view of God as sovereign who would not and could not fail in the end is still quite consonant with Reformed (but not just Reformed) theology. I really doubt that he would strictly hold to “perseverance of the saints” as understood by the Reformed. His overriding view was God as Father: if a finite, impotent, imperfectly loving human father wanted the best for his children, then an infinite, omnipotent, perfectly loving Father must finally succeed in bringing His children to Himself, even if the process was not completed during their lifetimes. He believed that God wanted sin removed because it contradicts His own nature but also because it disrupts fellowship. I don’t know that he ever weighed in on “sinless perfection”, but I think he believed that the most important thing was cultivating a healthy Father/child relationship and that this was done through the child’s commitment to obey and follow Christ. Does this answer your question at all?

  • Tom

    Great quote, thanks.

  • Wow. I love reading your Macdonald quotes.

  • Cliff

    Thanks Steve. Another MacDonald gem!

  • Paul D.

    “No wonder unbelief is rampant. ”

    Indeed, atheists who know a thing or two about Christianity tend to find penal substitution repugnant — and rightfully so.

  • If God can’t forgive anyone anything unless Jesus is first murdered, then doesn’t that make Judas a saint? What if Jesus had merely died of old age while lying on a divan?