Article 2: The Satisfaction Made by Christ
Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God's anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.
Under the second head of doctrine, the Canons move on to make the critical point in articles 2, 3, 4, that there is absolutely nothing which sinful men and women can do that can satisfy the wrath of God.
Since God’s wrath toward us results from our offence of his infinite majesty (both in Adam, and because of our actual sin), his justice demands that the satisfaction made be equal to the offence. Because the offence is against the Holy God, there is no way a mere creature could satisfy an offence against God’s infinite holiness. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in questions 16 and 17, the one who dies for our sins must be truly human because “God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned pay for its sin,” but goes on to remind us that one “sinner could never pay for others.” This is why, as the catechism notes, the one who offers the sacrifice must also be true God, “so that by the power of his divinity, he might bear the wight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.”
This is exactly what Isaiah prophesied of the suffering servant in the Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. 53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.Similarly, Paul speaks of this satisfaction in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he states that “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Or we can put it another way, as do the Canons—“God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.”
The law of God demands perfect obedience of us in thought, word, and deed, during every moment of our lives. To break even a single stipulation of God’s perfect law, as James says (James 2:10), is to be guilty of breaking every single commandment. To break the law the law at but one point is to come under its entire curse, for as Paul puts it in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
God’s passing mark is perfect obedience. He is not going to grade the final for eternal life on a curve! And the curse, of course, is death and eternal punishment. The bad news is very, very bad, but the good news is very, very good!
As Paul says in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” When Jesus Christ died upon the cross, he was bearing in his own body God’s wrath and anger toward our sins, our personal infractions of God’s law. Jesus became a curse for us, and bore God’s curse for us, so that we who are guilty, may live and be set free from the guilt of sin and the effects of the curse.
This is where we see God’s justice and mercy visibly and wonderfully displayed. God was under no obligation to save even a single one of those who fell in Adam, but in his grace and mercy he sent his son to satisfy his justice so that we might be delivered from that wrath to come and be given the free gift of eternal life.
Thus God acts in the person of his son to do what is necessary for us to be saved. A decree to elect sinners to salvation necessarily leads to Christ’s death upon the cross. And this is why even election must be seen to center in the work of the mediator of the covenant of grace, made with God’s elect, the chosen seed of Abraham.