In the Cross, Both God’s Truth and Mercy Kiss: Philaret of Chernigov on Penal Substitution



Philaret of Chernigov

Dmitry Grigorievich Gumilevsky, Archbishop of Kharkov (1848-59) and Chernigov (1859-66), otherwise known simply as St. Philaret of Chernigov by the Eastern Orthodox churches, has a fascinating section in his book “On the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” which speaks directly to the truth of penal substitution. I quote: 

“On the other hand the Apostle does not promise us forgiveness of our sins because of our holy life ; but by the very fact that Christ died for us that we are bought at a dear price, he urges us to live in a holy way. The Apostle, speaking in one place about the great price paid for us, and in another demonstrating that Jesus Christ is the One who died for all, explains some of his words for us by using others. The words ‘Christ died for all’ mean that Christ died as a redemptive sacrifice for mankind. It means that His death is not merely a teaching on the patient endurance for undeserved misfortunes. No, this is the very death that guilty mankind deserved, and which Jesus underwent in place of all men….From our youth to the grace we are all sinners, we are all guilty before God. And how can we justify ourselves before God? Even if we sincerely repent of our sins, no manner of repentance can make a guilty man innocent — it only makes his guilt known. No manner of repentance can destroy the results…By His own will He took upon Himself the guilt of mankind and voluntarily resolved to endure the punishment for it. In what a wondrous light was the glory of the divinity made manifest on Golgotha! If people do not see it , one ought to pity them for the fact that they see poorly. The Son of God, having taken upon Himself the person of sinful man, suffered for the sinner. ..The heavenly Father accepted with love the labor of the Son’s limitless love. The limitless love of the Son offered itself in sacrifice upon the altar of the cross so as to proclaim to heaven and earth the inviolable laws of eternal righteousness.

What does it mean that the Cross of Christ proclaims the inviolable laws of eternal


On the Passion – Amazon

righteousness? Philaret answers since after “eternal righteousness”, he inserts a footnote, which says the following at the bottom of the page :

St. Cyril describes how both God’s truth and love were manifested in His work of redemption. Having recounted Christ’s crucifixion, St. Cyril says: ‘These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the blood of His cross, [for] things in earth, and in things in heaven (Col 1:20). For we were enemies of God through sin (cf. Rom 5:10), and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things: either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His own body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24)’ (Catechetical Lectures 23.33, NPNF 2, Vol. 7, p. 91)”

Therefore, the laws of righteousness are God’s will to be merciful and yet his commitment to truth and justice. On the one hand, God’s justice would demand the punishment and destruction of mankind, who are all sinners. On the other hand, God wants to be merciful, since “God is love” (1 John), and pardon man. How can the two be reconciled? The death of the Lord Jesus is the answer. In this sacrificial death, God’s commitment to destroy the guilt are upheld in the destruction of the body of Jesus Christ, and yet his commitment to pardon the guilty is upheld since, by that death, He can now open the door of acquittal to sinners.

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