He summarises this argument succinctly:
Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4), a disregard for God's law and disobedience to it. But the law cannot be broken with impunity. Sinners therefore incur the penalty of their law-breaking. They cannot simply be let off. The law must be upheld, its dignity defended and its just penalties paid. The law is thereby 'satisfied'.The strength of this argument is that it recognises the justice or righteousness of God – in that His law is right and true demands an appropriate punishment.
A convenient illustration of the argument is often cited in the story of Daniel (Chapter 6), where King Darius is tricked into issuing a decree that no-one was to pray to any god or man other than the king for a period of 30 days. Having the law written down made it binding 'in accordance with the laws of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.' When Daniel is revealed as a transgressor the king searches for a way that he might evade the punishment of the lion's den, but is reminded by his advisors that 'according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no edict that the king issues can be changed.'
Stott goes on to say:
Many are the preachers (myself among them) who have used this story to highlight the divine dilemma. Darius respected Daniel and laboured long and hard to find some way of saving him, but the law must take its course and not be tampered with. So God loves us sinners and longs to save us, but cannot do so by violating the law which has justly condemned us. Hence the cross, in which the penalty of the law was paid and its sanctity vindicated.This argument gains strength by comparison with our constitutional monarchies in which the King or Queen, like their people, are subject to the laws of the land and must submit to the law when it is proclaimed. In the case of human sin it is claimed that God is bound to allow and uphold the just penalty for the violation of the Divine law.
Now there is Biblical warrant for this kind of language. In Galatians 3 Paul quotes Deuteronomy to show that every lawbreaker is cursed, and then goes on to claim that 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.' (Gal 3:10,13) Stott goes on to say that "if Paul was not afraid to use an impersonal phrase like 'the curse of the law', then we should not be to either."
Stott reminds us that 'satisfying the law' was found among the early church fathers like Tertullian, who was the first to use legal terms like 'merit' and 'satisfaction' with regard to the Christian's relationship with God. The fourth century Fathers Hilary and Ambrose went further when hey expounded texts such as Romans 3:13 in terms of the Roman public law. The reformers of the sixteenth century took this further again. They rightly emphasised the importance of Christ's obedience to the law for our salvation, speaking of his active obedience (during his earthly life) and passive obedience (bearing the penalty of the law by his death). Whether or not these terms are accurate, they point us to the significance of Christ's of Christ's obedience to the law in both life and death.
Yet the question remains as to whether the idea of 'satisfying the law' does justice to Christ's work on the cross. We cannot imagine, for example, that God gets himself in the bind of King Darius where he is trapped into obeying his own law. Nor can we say that there is some mechanical requirement that breaking a Divine law must result in punishment. As Stott says: "The real reason why disobedience of God's moral laws brings condemnation is not that God is their prisoner, but that he is their creator."
We must remember that the law of God is an expression of his character and being, and his moral being is always self-consistent. Quoting Nathaniel Dimock, Stott concludes: "Whatever is due to the law is due to the law because it is the law of God, and is due therefore to God himself."
While it is true that the Bible teaches that disobedience of God's law deserves punishment, the concept of 'satisfaction' is requires a more relational subject. Consideration of whether it is the law that is satisfied pushes us to consider whether it is God himself that must ultimately be satisfied.