The Oxford English Dictionary defines substitution as ‘the putting of one person or thing in the place of another’. One oddity of contemporary Christian talk is that many who affirm that Jesus’ death was vicarious and representative deny that it was substitutionary; for the Dictionary defines both words in substitutionary terms! Representation is said to mean ‘the fact of standing for, or in place of, some other thing or person, esp. with a right or authority to act on their account; substitution of one thing or person for another.’ And vicarious is defined as ‘that takes or supplies the place of another thing or person; substituted instead of the proper thing or person.’ So here, it seems, is a distinction without a difference. Substitution is, in fact, a broad idea that applies whenever one person acts to supply another’s need, or to discharge his obligation, so that the other no longer has to carry the load himself. … In this broad sense, nobody who wishes to say with Paul that there is a true sense in which ‘Christ died for us’ (huper, on our behalf, for our benefit), and ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (huper again) (Rom. 5:8; Gal. 3:13), and who accepts Christ’s assurance that he came ‘to give his life a ransom for many’ (anti, which means precisely ‘in place of’, ‘in exchange for’), should hesitate to say that Christ’s death was substitutionary. Indeed, if he describes Christ’s death as vicarious he is actually saying it.J. I. Packer, What Did the Cross Achieve?
Oh! if we did but verily believe that the promise of this glory is the word of God, and that God doth truly mean as he speaks, and is fully resolved to make it good; if we did verily believe that there is, indeed, such blessedness prepared for believers as the Scripture mentioneth, surely we should be as impatient of living as we are now fearful of dying, and should think every day a year till our last day should come. [footnote citing Cyprian: “Let him fear to die, who being not born again… Let him fear to die, who is not judged to be Christ’s in his cross and passion…”] …
Is it possible that we can truly believe that death will remove us from misery to such glory, and yet be loath to die? If it were the doubts of our interest which made us afraid, yet a true belief of the certainty and excellency of this rest would make us restless till our interest be cleared.
If a man that is desperately sick today, did believe he should arise sound the next morning; or a man today, in despicable poverty, had assurance that he should tomorrow arise a prince; would they be afraid to go to bed, or rather think it the longest day of their lives, till that desired night and morning came? The truth is, though there is much faith and Christianity in our mouths, yet there is much infidelity and paganism in our hearts, which is the main cause that we are so loath to die.
The face of death, and nearness of eternity, did much convince me what books to read, what studies to prefer and prosecute, what company and conversation to choose. It drove me early into the vineyard of the Lord, and taught me to preach as a dying man to dying men.
The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, 18:409.
The death of Christ was a death like no other
The death of Christ was not a casual thing, a fortuitous event; it was agreed unto, and settled in the counsel of God.
It was spoken of by the prophets of the Old Testament. It was typified by the sacrifices of the law, and other things. It was foretold by Christ himself, and was the end of his coming into this world, wherein the great love, both of him and of his Father, is expressed; and is the main article of the Christian faith; so that this came to pass according to the decrees of God, the counsel, and covenant of peace, the will of Christ, and his predictions, and as the accomplishment of the law, and prophets: it was not a natural, but violent death which Christ died; and yet it was both voluntary and necessary; it was but once, and is of an eternal efficacy, and is a sacrifice acceptable to God; it was not for himself, or any sin of his, who knew none, nor for the angels, and their redemption, whose nature he did not assume; but for men, and for their sins. Christ died not merely as an example to them, or only to confirm his doctrines; but as a substitute, in the room and stead of his people; to atone for their sins, and satisfy divine justice; to procure the pardon of them in a way of justice; to take them away, and utterly abolish them; to bring in an everlasting righteousness; to obtain eternal redemption, and bring such nigh to God who were afar off, and that men might live through him now, and have eternal life by him hereafter:
Adapted from Exposition of the Entire Bible (William W. Woodward, 1811).