The Penalty in its Inner Meaning.
But we have now to look more particularly at the penalty
which the Lord endured for us. Penalty we have seen it was, and true
substitution; Christ dying, not upon occasion merely of our sins, but bearing
them in His own body on the tree - our iniquities laid upon Him, so that He
calls them "Mine." No words could express more plainly a real substitution.
We have seen too that in the penalty upon man there were two parts, separable at least, if not in fact separated: the wrath of God upon sin, and death, not the second, but what came in at the beginning through sin; and that both parts He endured.
Death has its power in this, that it is the removal of the sin-ruined creature out of the place for which he was created. "Sin has reigned in death," as the expression is in Romans v. 21. It is mans destruction by the judgment of God, as being already self-destroyed.
But the death he dies is not the death of Sadducean materialism, but one in which the sinner abides under the judgment to which it has consigned him. It is a condition of darkness - outer darkness - for God has finally and forever withdrawn Himself. It is torment in the flame of necessary anger against sin. These are the elements of a judgment which will not be altered in character, when in the resurrection of judgment the dead stand before the great white throne to receive the discriminate awards of the day of manifestation.
Unspeakably solemn is it to consider that the holy and beloved Son of God, Himself knowing no sin, yet as "made sin for us," entered into that awful darkness, and was tried by the fire of Gods wrath against it. So indeed it was. He was the Substitute under our penalty; and endured the penalty. Ours it was of course, not His; but He endured it, and endured it as the necessity of holiness, to set His people free.
But there is a point here it is important to guard, and which, guarded, will go far to preserve us from some excesses which people have gone into with regard to substitution. We must not confuse the Lords standing in our place to take for us our dreadful due, with any calculation, essentially lowering as it is to the very righteousness which it is meant to uphold, of so much suffering for so much sin. In the day of final award it is indeed said that "the dead" are "judged out of the things which are written in the books, according to their works" (Rev. xx. 13), and this it is, no doubt, that has been carried back as a principle to the day of atonement. It has been argued that if our iniquities were laid upon Him, if He bare our sins in His body, then these must all have been counted up and weighed, and He must have suffered so much for each one. In this case it is plain we have just so many sins absolutely provided for, and no others. It is a limited atonement of the most rigid kind, and of which it would be impossible to use the language of the apostle, "A propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (i Jn.2 2). For if the sins of the world had been after this manner provided for, no one could be lost, or judged again for what in Him had received its judgment. And this is very far from the truth of Scripture.
A propitiation for the sins of the world means nothing less than such a provision made for them that if the whole world turned to God through Christ, it would find in Him a complete Saviour. But if sins needed thus to be individually taken into account and settled, this would not be true; if they had been thus settled, they could not in any case come up in the day of judgment; and this is what some hold - that men will be judged for nothing but for the refusal of grace in Christ: but this is entirely hopeless to prove from Scripture, which declares they shall be "judged according to their works," and that "every one shall receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. v. 10). And, as the Preacher says, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
"A propitiation for the sins of the whole world" does not, then, mean such an individual settlement of sins, nor is this needed in order for salvation. Can it, then, be needed for "our sins" any more than for the sins of the whole world? Can we make propitiation in the one case have a meaning which it has not in the other? This is surely impossible to suppose in the Word of God. Its faithfulness refuses absolutely all chameleon colours.
The sufficiency of atonement for the whole world we must absolutely receive, or give up Scripture. It will not suffer us to say that this is an elect world, for the "whole world" is not elect; and here, the "ours" distinguishes believers from this world, not includes them in it. Propitiation, then, (or atonement - it is the same word,) is for all; and it is the same thing for all: not as actually availing, of course, but as fully available. It has no limit to its value within the limits of the human race.
Of how that which is available for all avails for any, and how far it avails, I propose to consider in another chapter. Here, I go no farther than this, that the Lord standing in the place of men took the very penalty under which they were - died, and was made a curse: the value of which must be measured by the infinite value of Him who did this, and the perfection of an obedience so beyond all price.
We are not, therefore, called upon to measure what is measureless, or to conceive of so many sins, or those of so many sinners, weighed out to be atoned for by a particular amount of suffering. Such a commercial idea (as it has been rightly called) of the Lords wondrous work is an essential degradation of it, - not a high, but a low estimate of the requirements of absolute holiness which were to be met thereby. It is not that God must have so much suffering for so much sin, but that His holiness necessitates displeasure proportioned to the evil which awakes it. So even in the final judgment. The deeds done in the body become the manifestation* of the person upon whom the judgment of God rests correspondingly, but forever rests; not because, as people have wrongly conceived, the sin itself is necessarily worthy of eternal punishment, but because the sinner remains eternally with the character which his life manifests.
*"We must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ" is the true rendering of 2 Corinthians v. 30.
The error is therefore plain of making the atonement
consist in the endurance of so much agony, as if God could measure out that to
the holy Sufferer; whereas, beyond all our conception as was the agony endured,
the reality and efficacy of atonement lay in the solemn seal thus put upon the
divine estimate of sin, when Gods own beloved Son stooped Himself to
endure its dreadful penalty.
That He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree," and that God "laid upon Him the iniquity of us all," - these and such like passages which declare a real imputation of our sins to Christ remain in all their solemn yet precious meaning for us. It was for these sins of ours He suffered, and this suffering of His is that which alone removes them from us, and removes them entirely: how perfectly, we shall see more as we proceed. He was the true Sin-bearer - our Substitute under penalty, as we have seen. He could not have been this had not our sins been laid on Him; but I turn from this, which will come up before us again, to look at another question in connection with the penalty itself.
In what we have been seeing lately, it will be noted that of necessity it would seem it is rather wrath-bearing than death we have been dwelling on; and it may be asked, If all this be true, what part exactly in the penalty has death, then? If wrath could be exhausted by the Lord before dying, if He could emerge from the darkness into the light, and in peace say once more "Father" before he died - what need, then, even of dying? Was death for Him the wages of sin which He had taken?
And it is undeniable that there has been a tendency two ways, according as one class of texts or the other has been dwelt upon, to make all atonement consist in wrath-bearing, or - far more commonly - all consist in dying. Yet both are plainly unscriptural, as we have sufficiently seen. What we want is to realize the relation of these two parts to each other - to find the due place of each in the Lords blessed work. We have been looking at the meaning of wrath-bearing of late; and it does raise the necessary question, Why, then, His death? Granting, as we must, the necessity of it according to Scripture, yet why this necessity?
The answer is plain only in the realization of a truth which has been overlooked, conspicuous as it is, by the mass of those who have occupied themselves with the interpretation of Scripture: the setting aside of the failed first man and the old creation, to bring in blessing under another head and on another and higher plane altogether.
As already said, the solemnity of death lies in this, that it is the removal of man as failed out of the scene of his failure - the solemn sentence upon him as unfitted for the place for which he was created. The lower creatures, indeed, have never sinned - are incapable of it - yet they die; and men plead, therefore, that death is natural. But they cannot persuade themselves, whose whole nature cries out against it. The scriptural account is, "The wages of sin is death;" and thus, "man, being in honour, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. xlix. 12).
Yes, the beasts do perish. Intended for nothing but a temporary purpose, they enjoy life while it lasts, without a sorrow for the past or a fear for the future. But man is not a beast: he is the offspring of God, meant to know and enjoy communion with Him forever; and his being levelled to the beasts is the sign of a moral, a spiritual ruin, in which he has forgotten God, and levelled himself to them. He, like them, passes away and is not found; his place knows him no more forever. But not like them, for he has "thoughts" that perish with him, unfulfilled plans and purposes, affections which cling to what they cannot hold, a dread upon his soul which presages a hereafter such as the beast dreads not and desires not, because it has not: "The dust returns to the earth as it was, but the spirit returns to God that gave it."
Such is death for man; and being such, it is the wages of sin. Man in it, as the creature which God made for Adams paradise, perishes forever, - is set entirely aside. Nor do I forget resurrection when I say so. Resurrection does not restore him to this. Jobs words are absolutely true here, without bringing in the God-dishonouring thought of annihilation in any wise: "As the cloud is consumed, and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more: he shall return no more to his house; neither shall his place know him any more." Gods grace may give him another and a better thing, but it does not reverse the first judgment.
And thus it is that when the Lord takes death for man He takes it as affirming Gods sentence upon man, by which the old creation is set aside forever. Let this be well observed, that whereas the wrath of God upon sin, in being undergone by Christ, is removed (the effect of atonement is removal), it is not so with a sentence by which the first man is set aside: if the Lord take this, it must be, not to bring him back, but to affirm his setting aside. The effect of wrath-bearing is to put away wrath; but the effect of the Lords dying is that with His death the old creation is confirmed as passing away - is set aside fully, not restored.
This is the direct force of 2 Corinthians v 14-17, not well given in our common version: "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then all died [or, have died]; and for all He died, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again. Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, [it is] new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
This is an important passage, and needs attentive consideration. It is a positive statement of the meaning of Christs death as dying for all, - these "all" being expressly shown not to be limited to "those who live," who are distinguished from them as a class in the latter part of the fourteenth verse.
It is directly affirmed, then, of all, that if Christ died for them, all died. Our common version has it, "then were all dead," - making it a spiritual state; but the Greek will not admit of this, and the sense also is quite different. The point is as to what Christs death proves men to have been under as sentence, not in as state; for He came under our sentence as sinners, but not into our state of sin. He died, then, for all; and so all have died. Before God, the world is judged and passed; as the Lord Himself said of the cross, "Now is the judgment of this world" (Jno. xii. 31). It is not a judgment executed, of course: none could suppose that; but it is a judgment pronounced; and a judgment pronounced is with God as it were executed, so sure and irreversible is it. If Christ, then, died for all, all died. Sentence is not taken away by this, but affirmed.
And this meaning is clearly proved by what follows in Corinthians - "wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh." This is the simple and necessary result (for faith, not for sight): if all have died, they are in the flesh no longer; we walk amid a world where men are either alive in Christ or but as it were dead men. But not only so: "yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." Even Christ has not taken up again the life which He laid down. He has not returned (that is,) to His former state upon earth. That is over; and the Christ we know is One who is in resurrection in the glory of God. An immeasurably higher condition, you say. Surely it is; but the former one is passed away, and passed away in that which affirmed Gods sentence upon it. Where, then, are we who live? In Christ; and "if any man be in Christ, it is new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
Thus the sense of the passage is plain and perspicuous. And the meaning of the Lords taking of death is very clearly set forth. Atonement does not restore the old Adam condition, but affirms its judgment and setting aside. For those saved by it, the darkness of distance from God who is light is passed with the darkness upon the cross. It is thus the gospel of Luke, which gives especially the effects of the work of Christ for the conscience, connects them: "And it was about the sixth hour; and there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour; and the sun was darkened, and the vail of the temple was rent in the midst." The vail meant darkness, in which God dwelled for man; its rending means that "God is in the light" (1 Jn i. 7).
But With His death the apostle Matthew takes especial care to connect what in fact did not occur till after His resurrection: "And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." The answer to His death is resurrection; not the recommencement of the old Adam life, which is finally and forever set aside.
Thus those alive in Christ are dead with Him also, and as it is specifically stated, "dead to sin," "dead to law," "dead to the elements of the world" - to all that makes it up, - and "not in the flesh." But to that we must return hereafter: our present subject closes here.
Go To Chapter 24
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