Atonement in the New Testament. The Gospels.
WE now come to the New Testament. We have already carried
its doctrine with us in the interpretation of the Old; for our object has been,
not to trace the gradual unfolding of the truth from age to age, but to get as
completely as possible for our souls that truth, as Scripture, now complete, as
a whole presents it to us. Thus we have already anticipated much of what would
otherwise now come before us. Yet we shall find, if the Lord only open our eyes
to it, abundance of what is of unfailing interest for us, and that the
substance here goes beyond all the shadows of the past.
In the Gospels, however, the doctrine of atonement is but little developed. We have instead the unspeakably precious work which wrought it. The Acts also, while devoted to the history of the effects of its accomplishment, speaks little directly of the atonement itself. It is not till we come to Pauls writings that we find this fully entered into, and its results for us declared. He is the one raised up to give us the full gospel message, as well as the truth of the Church, of both of which he is in a special sense the "minister" (Col. i. 23,25).
The gospel of John, however, more than all the rest together, does dwell upon the meaning of the cross; and here it is mostly the Lord Himself who declares it to us. Johns is, in a fuller sense than the others, the Christian gospel; and in it, we may say, we enter into that holiest of which they see but the vail rent at the end; while for John, the glory typified by that of the tabernacle of old shines out all through.* It is necessary, then, to show how this is possible, man at the same time being fully shown out for what he is by the light in which he stands. Before we speak of this, we must take up, however, the "synoptic" gospels, and briefly examine their testimony.
*John i. 14, where "dwelt" should be, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "tabernacled" it is a plain reference to the glory of old.
Their direct teaching is scanty indeed. The Lords own declaration that "the Son of Man . . . . came to give His life a ransom for many," and that His blood was "shed for many," is given in all; Luke indeed changing this last into "shed for you," and Matthew adding, "for the remission of sins." The doctrine of atonement is quite plain here, however little enlarged on. Luke gives us beside how, after His resurrection, He appears to the two on the way to Emmaus, and reproves them for their unbelief of all that the prophets had spoken, adding, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." Afterward, to the eleven He says, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, beginning at Jerusalem."
When we look more deeply at the work presented in these three gospels, we find in them respectively, as I have elsewhere shown, the features of the trespass, sin, and peace-offerings respectively. The trespass-offering unites with Matthews gospel of the kingdom as being the governmental aspect of atonement - the reparation for injury rather than judgment for sin; yet this in its Godward side reaches of necessity to the vindication of the holiness of His nature, so that Matthew and Mark alike give the forsaking of God. But while the three gospels show the rending of the vail, and the holiest opened, Matthew alone shows the meeting of death for us, the graves giving up their dead; for death is governmental infliction, and so belongs to Matthews theme. So, evidently, does that view of the cross which is found in the two parables of the kingdom, the treasure and the pearl, where the work is looked at as a governmental exchange - a purchase: "went and sold all that He had and bought it."
Mark, while it has the forsaking of God also - the characteristic features of the sin-offering - omits these governmental features. It is the Son of God in the glory of His voluntary humiliation, obedient even unto death, glorifying God at His own personal cost - as the bullock is the highest grade of the sin-offering - but therefore glorified of God in consequence, so that He ascends to the right hand of God (xvi. 19). But His humiliation is most absolute. He does not, as in Matthew, "dismiss His spirit" (xxvii. 50, Gr.), as One that had power to retain it, but, in true sin-offering character, "expires" (chap. xv. 37, Gr.). Even in His cry upon the cross there is a note of difference which is significant. He says, not "Eli," - literally, although it be a name of God, "My Strength," - but "Eloi," "My God."*
*1n the twenty-second psalm it is "Eli," not "Eloi," but I think it clear that the latter, in this connection, is the deeper word.
So the results of the cross are characteristically different in Mark from Matthew. It is not a commission given to disciple into the kingdom, but to preach the gospel, with power over the enemy and over the consequences of sin accompanying the simple believing in this precious word.
In Luke, the peace-offering character is everywhere plain, as it is in the cross most manifestly. It needs scarcely comment. The Lords cry is "Father;" and He openly assures a dying thief of a place with Him in paradise. But further exposition would belong rather to a sketch of the gospels than of the doctrine of atonement, and it has been given elsewhere.
The gospel of John introduces a subject in the Old Testament unrevealed - eternal life. Personally, the Lord was this, and among men the light of men. But this only disclosed the truth of their condition. The world - and the Jews in this light were only part of the world, - lay in a darkness which no light merely could reach, for it was the darkness of death; but a spiritual death of sin which not even life alone could reach. Guilt must also be met. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone," are our Lords words. Life must spring for man out of an atoning death. The water of cleansing and the blood of expiation must come out of the side of a dead Christ. The Spirit thus bears record that "God has given to us eternal life."
The first word as to atonement in the gospel of John is in the Baptists testimony: "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." This is the broad general view of Christs work and its effect. By and by, a "new" earth - not another earth, but the earth made new as to its condition, - will be eternally the abode of righteousness (2 Pet. iii. 13). To us, how wonderful a condition for this world, which for nearly six thousand years has been the abode of sin, to be the abode of everlasting righteousness! What will have accomplished this? The precious sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Every inhabitant of that new earth will be one redeemed by the blood of Christ, and secured eternally by its value. Sin will be completely banished. Its memory only will remain, to give full melody to the praises of the saints.
But who is this Lamb of God? "This is He," says the Baptist, "of whom I said, After me corneth a Man which is preferred before me, for He was before me." After in time as a man, yet the One inhabiting eternity! It is God Himself who is at the cost of redemption, and that when not power merely could redeem, but only blood! Therefore a man, incarnate, to be in meek surrender of Himself a Lamb slain. This is what is of moral value to fill the earth with righteousness, and to lift to heaven also those made members of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Ghost (i. 33).
In the next case, the need of man has just been fully exposed in the Lords words to Nicodemus. He must be born again, as Ezekiel had already witnessed; although not able to declare the full truth and magnitude of this work of God in man. But One was come from heaven to declare it, Son of Man on earth, yet still in heaven. Nor only to declare it, but to make this work possible; for "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
The imperative necessity of atonement is here affirmed. The Son of Man must be lifted up, and faith in Him be the way of everlasting life. The type of the brazen serpent shows in what character "lifted up;" for Moses serpent clearly represented that by which the people in the wilderness were perishing. At bottom, for them as for men in general this was sin, the poison of the old serpent, which has corrupted the nature of every one born of flesh. For this, "made sin," Christ was "lifted up" - offered to God a sacrifice - that men might have, by faith in Him thus offered, not a restoration of mere natural life, but one spiritual and eternal.
But again we are assured of who it is effects the sacrifice. Not only it must be One who as Son of Man could be lifted up, but "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It is not only the Son of Man, lifted up to God, but the Son of God in the full reality of this, the eternal Son, the only begotten, sent down, Gods gift, from God.
Thus eternal life is ours who believe. The character, privileges, and accompaniments of which are detailed for us in the chapters that follow. The sixth chapter shows it to us as a life enjoyed in dependence, lived by faith, maintained by the meat given by the Son of Man - meat which endures to everlasting life, as long as the life itself does. But this meat is the bread from heaven, and the bread is His flesh, which He gives for the life of the world. But this involves His death, - blood shedding; so that "except ye have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and drank His blood, ye have no life in you; he that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life - abideth in Me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth Me, he also shall live because of Me." (vv. 53, 54, 56, 57.)
We must notice a difference here which neither the revised nor the common version makes apparent. The first expression - "have eaten" "have drunk" - speaks of once partaking, the others of continuous. The once having eaten and drunk insures eternal life, but it is maintained as a practical life of faith by continuous eating and drinking. It is a life dependent though eternal, and what communicates it sustains it also.
The tenth chapter presents the Lord as the Shepherd of the sheep, giving His life for them, in perfect freedom, and yet as fulfilling the commandment of the Father. He is thus able to give a reason for the Fathers love (v. 17), and they are saved, have eternal life, and can never perish, nor any pluck them out of His hand. In the twelfth chapter, again, He compares His death to that of a corn of wheat which dies to produce fruit; but I pass on to consider the character of the closing chapters.
Here, what is a feature every where, is just this voluntariness of self-surrender which the tenth chapter has declared. No one takes His life from Him: the men sent to take Him fall to the ground before Him, and while giving Himself up, secures the safety of His followers by an authoritative word. To Pilate, He declares His kingdom founded on the truth, and which every true soul would recognize; while the authority of the governor over Him existed but by divine permission for a special purpose. Upon the cross, there is no darkness and no weakness. He declares His thirst, to fulfill one final scripture, then announces the perfect accomplishment of His work, and delivers up His own spirit to the Father. The soldiers errand doubly fulfills the prescient word of God, who on the one hand guards the body of His holy One from mutilation, while on the other giving to man the threefold witness of completed atonement. All this speaks of the offering for acceptance (Lev. i. 3, 4, R. V.), the voluntary burnt-offering.
To this the account of the resurrection answers also perfectly. Relationship established, the corn of wheat having died to bring forth fruit, the Lord owns His "brethren," ascending to His and (thus) their Father, His and their God. He assures them of peace, the fruit of His work (xx. 19, 20); of their new-creation place in connection with Himself, last Adam (v. 21; comp. Gen. ii. 7, 1 Cor. xv. 45), and of their qualification therefore to "receive the Holy Ghost." All this is the testimony of perfect acceptance in the value of His completed work.
The Acts, while speaking throughout of the fruits of atonement, give little of the doctrine of the work itself. We may therefore pass it over. I am aware of no new aspect in which it is presented to us in it.
Go To Chapter Eighteen
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