“1. Did not the law of God require of Christ, considered as a man, a perfect obedience on his own account? If it did, how can that obedience be imputed to sinners for their justification?
“2. How does it appear to be necessary that Christ should both obey the law in his people’s stead, and yet suffer punishment on the account of their transgressions; seeing obedience is all the law requires?”
To the former I should answer, The objection proceeds upon the supposition that a public head, or representative, whose obedience should be imputable to others, must possess it in a degree over and above what is required of him. But was it thus with the first public head of mankind? Had Adam kept the covenant of his God, his righteousness, it is supposed, would have been imputed to his posterity, in the same sense as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers; that is, God, to express his approbation of his conduct, would have rewarded it, by confirming him and his posterity in the enjoyment of everlasting life; yet he would have wrought no work of supererogation, nor have done any more than he was required to do on his own account.
But though, for argument’s sake, I have allowed that the human nature of Christ was under obligation to keep the law on his account; yet I question the propriety of that mode of stating things. In the person of Christ the Divinity and humanity were so intimately united, that perhaps we ought not to conceive of the latter as having any such distinct subsistence as to be an agent by itself, or as being obliged to obey or do any thing of itself, or on its own account; Christ, as man, possessed no being on his own account. He was always in union with the Son of God; a public person, whose very existence was for the sake of others. Hence his coming under the law is represented, not only as a part of his humiliation, to which he was naturally unobliged, but as a thing distinct from his assuming human nature; which one should think it could not be, if it were necessarily included in it. He was “made of a woman, made under the law;”—“made in the likeness of men, he took upon him the form of a servant;”*—“being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient unto death.”
As to the second question, Obedience is not all that the law requires of a guilty creature (and in the place of such creatures our Saviour stood): a guilty creature is not only obliged to be obedient for the future, but to make satisfaction for the past. The covenant made with Adam had two branches: “Obey, and live; sin, and die.” Now the obedience of Christ did honour to the preceptive part of the covenant, but not to the penal part of it. Mere obedience to the law would have made no atonement, would have afforded no expression of the Divine displeasure against sin; therefore, after a life spent in doing the will of God, he must lay down his life; nor was it “possible that this cup should pass from him.”
As obedience would have been insufficient without suffering, so it appears that suffering would have been insufficient without obedience; the latter was preparatory to the former. “Such an High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” And such a meetness could not have appeared, but by a life of obedience to God. As a Mediator between God and man, it was necessary that he should be, and appear to be, an enemy to sin, ere he should be admitted to plead for sinners. Such was our Redeemer to the last, and this it was that endeared him to the Father. “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Finally, the sufferings of Christ could go only to the removal of the curse; they could afford no title to eternal life, which being promised on condition of obedience, that condition must be fulfilled in order to insure the blessing. Hence it is by “the righteousness of one” that we partake of “justification of life.”
The great ends originally designed by the promise and the threatening were to express God’s love of righteousness and his abhorrence of unrighteousness; and these ends are answered by the obedience and sufferings of Christ, and that in a higher degree, owing to the dignity of his character, than if man had either kept the law or suffered the penalty for the breach of it. But if Christ had only obeyed the law, and had not suffered; or had only suffered, and not obeyed; one or other of these ends must, for aught we can perceive, have failed of being accomplished. But his obedience unto death, which includes both, gloriously answered every end of moral government, and opened a way by which God could honourably, not only pardon the sinner who should believe in Jesus, but bestow upon him eternal life. Pardon being granted with a view to Christ’s atonement would evince the resolution of Jehovah to punish sin; and eternal life being bestowed as a reward to his obedience would equally evince him the friend of righteousness.
Excerpt from “The Obedience and Suffering of Christ,” in Answers to Queries.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 785–786). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.