Question: I was listening to the TBC radio program entitled “What a Sovereign God Cannot Do.” On the program, Dave said that God could not pardon us until Christ paid the penalty. I agree with that, but what about the pardon that a president can grant a criminal? Is it unjust for a president to pardon the criminal even though the penalty has not been paid? I have heard [commentators] compare God’s pardon of us with a presidential pardon of a criminal, but how can they be the same when in the case of Christ our penalty has been paid by Him, but in the case of a presidential pardon, no penalty has been paid?
Response: The analogy of a president pardoning a criminal of his crime is a poor example to compare with the pardon of Christ. The president pardons an individual (as you point out) with no payment for the crime, whereas our penalty was paid in full by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
The president who pardons a clear criminal is certainly being merciful to that individual, but his mercy cannot be compared to the Lord, whose mercy not only pardoned the criminal, but also paid for his sin. No president has ever put himself in the place of the criminal to satisfy justice as Christ placed Himself in the place of hopeless sinners who could not pay their penalty. The mercy of the Lord goes far beyond that exercised in a presidential pardon.
Simply put, a presidential pardon of an individual is insufficient to serve as an illustration of the “once for all” sacrifice of Christ.