The Romanist doctrine of satisfaction is bound up very closely with the unbiblical figment of purgatory and with the pretended power of the papal Church to grant indulgences when certain conditions prescribed by the Church are performed. The sale of indulgences was, of course, the immediate cause of the Reformation and, though Rome has since tried to mitigate the most shameful aspects of this trade in the souls of men (Rev 18:13), the actual teaching which lay behind the practice remains a cornerstone of Popish religion. We must ever bear in mind that Rome remains and will remain, until the time of her downfall, the great enemy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The notion that sinful men can satisfy God by works of righteousness according to the law is entrenched in our fallen nature, and it is owing to this that Rome’s false doctrines obtain their power over men’s souls. Teaching that sins committed after baptism must be forgiven by a priest, Romanism holds that the priest has power to prescribe certain temporal punishments, known as “penances”, upon those who confess their sins to him. He may prescribe such penances as prayer, fasting and almsgiving and these give satisfaction to God and procure merit for the person. That merit is then joined with the merit of Christ, Mary and the other saints, in a treasury which the Pope controls. If one performs more than is necessary, the overplus of merit (supererogation) may be transferred to another person. Here lies the basis of
the doctrine of indulgences, which, according to the Council of Trent, are the “heavenly treasures of the Church”. The Pope may authorise a relaxation of the temporal punishment due to sin – which otherwise would only be removed by a period in purgatory – if the person obtaining the indulgence has performed some duty or made some payment (E Stillingfleet, The Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, edited by William Cunningham, Edinburgh, 1845, pp 145-58).
All this soul-destroying falsehood is rooted in man’s self-righteousness and unbelief of the doctrines of the gospel. No obedience or suffering of sinful men can satisfy God’s justice or meet the claims of His law. The true doctrine of God’s Word teaches us that Christ alone has fully satisfied for the sins of all who will believe in Him. God’s dealings with those who are justified by faith in Christ no longer have a penal character; for when the guilt of sin is forgiven, the whole punishment due to it is also remitted.
How thankful we should be for the purity of the gospel, which the Reformers so earnestly contended for, at such great cost, and which their successors handed down to us. And how we should pray continually for the complete downfall of the Romanist system and the emancipation of multitudes of its deluded followers.
Rev A W MacColl
[Article from Free Presbyterian Magazine, April 2023.]