What Christ Suffered in Atonement.
WE have finished our brief review of the direct scripture
texts. It remains to look at the doctrine as a whole which they declare.
And here, while my purpose is in no wise controversy, it is hardly possible, and I think not desirable, to forget the different views obtaining among professing Christians. They differ, in fact, widely: for as atonement is the very heart of divine truth, so it sympathizes with every part of it; and there can be no material deviation from the doctrine of Scripture without its being accompanied by a correspondingly defective or distorted view of this central one.
I do not propose to give examples now, although we shall find many, no doubt, before we reach the close of these papers. The simplest course seems to be to take up the doctrine as the Word presents it to us, and then compare it point by point, so far as may seem to be profitable, with other views.
That there was a deep necessity for atonement the Lord Himself declares: "The Son of Man must be lifted up." No debate as to this can be admitted therefore. It is a thing to be received by faith alone. And this necessity has its ground in the divine nature, as the truth of reconciliation, as we have seen, most strongly declares. "Things in heaven and things in earth" needed thus to be reconciled. Universalism goes wrong entirely here, in substituting persons for things: but the fallen angels are expressly stated to be not those for whom Christs work was wrought: "He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold" (Heb. ii. i6, marg.). But of things in the heavens it is said, "It was necessary that the patterns of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Heb. ix. 12). It was in Gods sight therefore, as Eliphaz says, the heavens were not clean, and that on account, of course, of the sin of the angels. Gods nature therefore - His holiness - demanded the atonement, and thus only could even the heavens be reconciled. How much more, then, as to fallen man!
As plainly it is declared in these very scriptures by what alone atonement could be made. "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. ix. 22). This is only the echo, somewhat emphasized, of the statement of the law itself (Lev. xvii. 11): "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul."
Clearly it is death therefore - a sacrificial death - by which atonement is effected. The shedding of blood means, not merely death, but a violent death; and only such, and that of a designated victim, could provide the altar with what availed before God. No suffering in life could at all take the place of this, or be included in it: these two things are wholly different. As it was death that had come in upon man through sin, so it is death alone by which his condition is met and deliverance found for him. For those under death, death the penalty must be endured.
It is plain, then, at once that Gods way of atonement is not by any mere "substitute for penalty," as many say, but by the endurance of the penalty itself. But this is much more manifest when we consider what is involved in death as the due of sin. For, as the mark upon a fallen creature, it is the sign of a changed relationship with God the Creator; and, if it be not the end of all, it is (except mercy interpose,) the definitive introduction to a state of judgment which must abide as long as that which provoked it abides.
From this we must distinguish indeed the judgment of the great white throne, when every thing is made fully manifest, and the unsaved "dead are judged according to their works" (Rev. xx. 12). This is at a time when death is ended and over, although ended for these only by a "resurrection of judgment" (Jno. v. 29, Gk.). But in the meanwhile, the Lords picture of the rich man, in hades, with brethren yet alive upon the earth, assures us of torment already endured there in the flame of Gods wrath (Luke xvi.). To this distinction we shall have yet to return: it is sufficient to draw attention to it here.
Death, then, (for the unsaved) introduces into a fixed state of judgment: fixed because the sinful condition which calls it forth is fixed. And of this, death itself is the sign; for it is the removal of the fallen creature out of the place for which he was created, as unfit to remain there. Death therefore itself preaches of a penalty beyond itself.
Was this, then, part of the penalty upon man which atonement was to meet and remove for the saved? If so, it is necessarily a much heavier part. And if Gods way of atonement be not by a "substitute for penalty" but by the endurance of the actual penalty itself, then the cross must be the bearing of wrath as well as death, and this must be I emphasized correspondingly in Scripture. And this is in fact the case.
At first sight, indeed, it is not apparent; nay, the appearance is all the other way. "Blood," "death," as we have seen, are insisted on; and as the one need exclusively, we might at first conclude. And the general belief of Christians has been full and clear as to Christs dying for our sins, much vaguer or less certain as wrath-bearing. But there is a reason for this character of scripture testimony. Death is, as is plain, the plain mark which God has attached to sin, and His wisdom is apparent in it. It brings the sense of judgment home to the hearts and consciences of carnal men, incapable of receiving any more spiritual appeal. God deals in it with men without faith, too blind to see the things unseen naturally, too far away to know the misery of distance. Hence the great public testimony dwells on that which all can feel. Who knows not the awful feeling of that which wrenches from our grasp, and in the most unexpected times and ways, the objects of our dearest affections, and sends us out at last from all the scene and things with which we are acquainted - out, alone, out of the world, naked as we came into it, but now conscious of our nakedness, and with our conscience preaching of the things beyond? Hence all through the law, as I have elsewhere dwelt upon,* it is death that is taken up, reasoned of, pressed home upon men. Even the text used almost universally in another sense than that intended, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," speaks not explicitly of the second death, but of the first, but of thus dying in ones sins indeed, and the future under the dread shadow of this. But upon this it needs not to enter here.
*Facts and Theories as to a Future State," chap. xxiii: "The Ministry of Death."
The sacrifices necessarily bear a similar testimony. The death thus pressed on men as the penalty of sin is that which the atoning victim bears, and bears away its sting. This is not all, but it is what is prominent; and even when we come to the New Testament, the style of testimony remains, although it is now in speech from which all obscurity is removed. The plain facts, external and manifest to all, are most insisted on - that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. xv. 3,4).
Faith, with a more earnest look, discovers more. The death of the cross, was it no more than other death? That, the contemplation of which wrung the Lords soul with agony, was it physical suffering merely, or a martyrs lot? The forsaking of God, which He deprecated yet endured, was it simply the being left in the hands of His enemies, or a deeper reality?
These questions admit but of one answer. The death of the cross had its inner significance, not in being the punishment of a slave or of a criminal, though both of these it was, but a death of curse according to the law; and there was in this a design of God in our behalf. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. iii. 13, 14). Surely it is a great mistake which some have made, to suppose that this curse from God is exhausted in the mere fact of the hanging on a tree. This is only the outward sign of it in fact, the reality consisting in the attitude of God toward Him who hung there. Nor, if this be the reality, could it be imagined that this should have significance only for Israel, as those only under the law. In fact, the Gentiles are directly stated here to be partakers of the blessing flowing from this marvellous humiliation of our Lord. Here, nothing else than wrath-bearing can fulfill the meaning - terrible as it is - of being "made a curse."
Nor could physical suffering, nor persecution of enemies, have forced from Him the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, or been the cup He pleaded not to drink. Many a martyr, strengthened by divine grace, has drunk such a cup, if that were all.
And the forsaking of God, - the very words of the blessed Sufferer guide us to that twenty-second psalm, in which prophetically it is all explained; the depths of His heart are told out here into the anointed ear of faith, and we find indeed that which is the one exception in all Gods ways with the righteous. "Our fathers trusted in Thee; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them; they cried unto Thee, and were delivered; they trusted in Thee, and were not forsaken: but I am a worm, and no man!" Then all the long agony is described by One with no callousness, keenly alive and sensitive to it all; while yet from it all He turns to Him on whom from the womb He had been cast, to deprecate the one sorrow far beyond all others: "Be not far from Me!" - " But be not Thou far from Me, O Lord! Oh, my Strength! haste Thee to help Me!"
There is no question that can justly arise as to whose are these words. David certainly himself had no experiences such as these. The bones out of joint, the piercing of hands and feet, the parting of His garments and casting lots upon His vesture, and then the blessing flowing out even to the ends of the earth when finally He is heard, - all this assures us beyond the possibility of doubt as to who really speaks. If we turn to the types we see in the sin-offering, in the victim burned without the camp, and upon the ground without an altar - figures of which we have already seen the meaning - the shadow of all this; while at the cross itself the three hours of darkness was its answering shadow. God, who is Light, had withdrawn; but the result is for us a rent vail, darkness forever removed, and God in the light for us forever.
In Hebrews, finally, we have the emphatic assurance that only the blood of those victims burnt without the camp was brought into the sanctuary - that is, fully into the presence of God - for sin; and that Jesus, therefore, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate: yet another significant token of the same solemn truth.
Thus the penalty upon men is fully borne. It is not a substitute for a penalty that is found in all this, but the actual penalty itself endured. True substitution on the Lords part is seen, as everywhere witnessed throughout the Word: the iniquity of all His people so laid upon Him that He can say, as in the fortieth psalm He does say, "Mine iniquities." Standing thus as representing them, a true sin-bearer, Gods face is hidden from Him. As in the hundred and second psalm, which is again His voice, where He cries, "Because of Thine indignation and wrath, because Thou hast taken Me up and cast Me down.
It is on the cross, and on the cross alone, that He bears sin, as the apostle says, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. ii 24). It has been attempted to prove that this should be rendered "carried our sins up to the tree," and the new version gives this as an alternative in the margin. This has been fully investigated by another,* and I do not propose to enter upon it. Every translation that I am aware of gives at least the preference to the common version; and the doctrine of Scripture admits of no other construction. Contrast the Lords words in the twenty-second psalm, "Thou hearest not," with those at the grave of Lazarus, "I knew that Thou hearest Me always" (Jno. xi. 42); or, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" with those elsewhere, "And He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always the things that please Him" (Jno. viii. 29). Who cannot see here the infinite difference? If hearing and not hearing, forsaking and not forsaking, are but the same thing, or can consist together, then words have no longer any meaning. The cross is thus distinguished from all the Lords sufferings beside as the place where "He was made sin for us who knew no sin," and He who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and that cannot look at sin," turned away His face from the Sin-bearer.
*"The Bearing of 1 Peter ii. 24." (J. N. Darby; now to be found in Vol. viii. of his Collected Writings.)
The distinction between "offering" and "offering up" in connection with the sacrifices is here of importance. These are different words in the original, and different thoughts. The latter is the same as the word "bare" in the passage in Peter, and it is found similarly in Heb. ix. 28: "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;" where indeed both words are found. It occurs again in Heb. vii. 27, twice: "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the peoples; for this He did once, when He offered up Himself." It is found again, chap. xiii. 15: "By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually;" in Jas. ii. 22, "When he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar;" and again in 1 Pet. ii. 5, "To offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." The second word, in much the most common use, speaks simply of "presenting," and is thus applied to "gifts" as well as "sacrifices." It is the common word for "offering" as simple presentation, while the former one is that used for offering in the fire upon the altar.
Now in the passover we find that the lamb was to be killed the fourteenth day of the month at even, having been kept up first four days, being taken on the tenth day. In these typical ordinances all was significant, the numbers as all else; and they will be found in full accordance with what we find as to the Lord. His life on earth divides into three parts also: thirty years in private, (the Lamb not taken;) between three and four years of public ministry, (the Lamb taken, but not slain) and then the suffering of the cross. The ten days mark the first period as that of His own personal responsibility as man. It is for this reason we have but the very briefest notice of Him in all that time. At the close, he comes forth from His retirement to take up the work for which He had come into the world. He is baptized of John in Jordan, the river of death, to fulfill all righteousness, Himself the only One upon whom death had absolutely no claim. There the Spirit of God seals Him in testimony to His perfection as man, while the Fathers voice bears public witness to Him as His beloved Son. He has thus offered Himself for the sacrifice, and the Baptist owns Him as the "Lamb of God" (Jno. i. 29, 36.)
But the "four days" are yet to run before He is offered up; and this number speaks of "proving" now not in private capacity, but in His fitness for the blessed work He has undertaken to perform. Accordingly this time begins with the temptation in the wilderness, and the whole course of it is of what He calls afterward His "temptations" (Luke xxii. 28). But all demands upon Him are only the means of displaying His glorious perfections. It is this which abides for us now in those four gospels which have stamped upon our hearts the image of a Saviour. But in them we find therefore, not One under the judgment of God upon sin, (how dark a cloud would that be over so bright a picture!) but One speaking the Fathers words, doing the Fathers works, in communion with and manifesting the Father.
Finally, in the garden He delivers Himself up, and is led as a lamb to the slaughter; on the cross iniquities are laid upon Him, and this is marked by the supernatural darkness so misinterpreted by the mass of Christians. Before and after this we hear Him saying, "Father;" in it He says but "My God." Out of it He comes to fulfill what still remains by giving up His spirit to the Father; and dying with the declaration of the complete accomplishment of His work, the blood and water, in answer to the soldiers spear, show expiation and purification to be now both provided - mans need to be fully met.
Go To Chapter 23
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