Giant of the Bible


Redemption and Atonement.

WE now come to look at the efficacy of atonement - that is to say, its connection with redemption. For redemption is not, in Scripture, what it is for many, a thing accomplished for the whole world. No passage which hints at this even can be produced from the Word. Redemption was, for Israel, the breaking of Pharaoh’s yoke. The redemption of our body is accomplished in resurrection (Rom. viii. 23). "We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. i. 7). Such statements sufficiently show us that redemption is an accomplished deliverance, - that it involves, not a salvable state, but a salvation, which the world as a whole never knows. And redemption is "through His blood" shed in atonement: it is that in which the proper efficacy of atonement is declared. "Not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (i Pet. i. i8, iv).

A difficulty which has divided Christians comes in here. If redemption is by atonement, and atonement - the "propitiation" of 1 John ii. 2, - is for the whole world, how is it that in fact all are not redeemed? The answer to which is given by some that atonement is only conditionally efficacious, and this is plainly the only possible one if such texts as that just cited are accepted in their natural sense. The alternative is only to explain, as all strict Calvinists do, the "world," as simply the elect among Jews and Gentiles. But this is not what "the whole world" means. What would the very persons who urge this think, if when the same apostle in the same epistle says, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness," a similar limitation were maintained? "We" and "the whole world" are no more contrasted in the one case than "ours" and "of the whole world" are in the other. Or again when Paul declares that "whatsoever the law saith it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth might be stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God," if it were contended that this meant any thing less than all men, who would admit it?

Take 1 Tim. ii. 1-6 as another statement. Prayer is enjoined for all men, for God our Saviour "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." Here, the "all men" must be consistently interpreted throughout.

So the gospel which Paul preached to the Corinthians was that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. xv. 3), as the doctrine of his second epistle is that "He died for all" (v 14). Only on this ground, indeed, could the gospel be sent out, as it confessedly is, to "every creature," or could it be spoken of as "the grace of God which bringeth salvation to all" (Ti. ii. 11).

Only a provision actually made for all could fulfill the fair meaning of such texts as these, and we may not bring into them any doctrine of election, to limit them. They are the testimony of the desire of God’s heart for all. They are the assurance that if men die unsaved, the responsibility of their ruin is with themselves alone. They are the encouragement to implicit confidence in a love that welcomes, and has title to welcome, all who come by Christ to God.

But while these texts seem very clear, and the sufficiency and applicability of the atonement are in words allowed by some who contest even the meaning of them, there are others which to many occasion difficulty in regard to a "propitiation for the sins of the whole world." These are the texts which speak of substitution in the strict sense.

Substitution is not found as a term in Scripture, but the fact of it is abundantly found. Every victim whose blood was shed in atonement for the sin of him who offered it was a real substitute for the offerer. It has been objected that the word for "substitution" does not occur in connection with the Levitical sacrifices or the Lord’s work; but that the "Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for anti - instead of, many" is said in both Matthew and Mark, while in i Tim. ii. 6 we have the word antiguton - a ransom-price. But, as I have said, the doctrine is there where the term is not. If the Lord were "made a curse for us," how could this be but as representing us? If He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree," what else was this but substitution? And there is much of similar language elsewhere, as we shall see. In fact, the difficulty of which I have spoken arises from the way it is everywhere pressed that our Lord’s work for us was of true substitutionary character.

For while, in a certain sense, the Lord might be said to be a ransom in place of all, it is evident that where faith is not and while it is not the ransom is as if it were not. And there are expressions thus as to the sacrifice which to faith and only faith could apply. Take one from Isaiah liii: "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Here, faith speaks, and the words are surely not true of any other than believers. But then comes the difficulty: was there, then, when Christ died, some special work needed and undergone for the sins of believers?

The same question might be asked, perhaps even more pointedly, with regard to i Pet. ii. 24: "Who Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree." For this "bearing" surely speaks of the removal of them from before God’s sight. Would it be possible, then, to say of the world that He bare their sins in His body on the tree? Surely not, or they would most certainly be saved. He could not have borne their sins and they yet have to bear them. A strict and proper substitution assuredly necessitates the removal of responsibility from the one for whom the substitute assumes it. It results, therefore, that a substitute for the world the Lord was not.

And the language of Scripture is everywhere in accord with this. It does speak of propitiation for the sins of the whole world: it does not speak of their sins being "laid on" or "borne" by Christ. These two things have been confounded on the one hand, and made into a doctrine of limited atonement, or of substitution for all. On the other, where the distinction has been noticed, it has been taken to imply that on the cross there was a work for all and a special work for the elect beside - a double atonement, as it were; that it was a propitiation for all, a substitution for the elect. In other words, the Arminian atonement and the Calvinistic atonement are both considered true, and to be found together in the work of Christ. But this leads to much confusion and misreading of Scripture, much manifest opposition to it.

It has led some to speak of salvation as a thing wrought out eighteen hundred years ago, - not simply the blessed work which saves, but actual salvation. Faith serves as a telescope to see what existed before we saw it, and what it had nothing to do therefore with producing. The sins of believers were thus dealt with and removed before they were committed, and people find peace by faith, but are not justified by it. All this is in complete opposition to the Word; yet it is a just consequence of the doctrine of a substitution for the elect, and their sins borne when the Lord Jesus died.

Yet He did bear their sins upon the tree, and Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all. "Ours"? Whose, then, and how does this differ from the doctrine just repudiated? The answer is very simple. These words are the language of faith - of believers; and of believers as such only is it true. He bare the sins of believers on the tree, and this is equivalent to what we have been saying - that the efficacy of atonement is conditional. It is conditioned upon faith, and His bearing the sins of believers is a complete negative of universalism in all its phases. Only their sins are borne, although the atonement is for the sins of the whole world; and the duty and responsibility of faith are therefore to be pressed on every creature. The sins of believers were really borne eighteen hundred years ago; but only when men become believers are their sins borne, therefore. The very man who today believes, and whose sins were borne eighteen hundred years ago, not only could not say yesterday that his sins were borne, but they were really not borne yesterday, although the work was done eighteen hundred years ago. But it was done for believers, and only today is he a believer. The work of atonement only now has its proper efficacy for him: he is justified by faith.

All this is perfectly simple. It is transparently so! What has clouded and disfigured it? On the one hand, the importing into it the doctrine of election, which is never done in Scripture; on the other, the thought that our iniquity being laid upon the Lord meant the putting away of so much sin for so much suffering - so many actual sins of just so many persons being provided for, and no other. But this would make propitiation for the world impossible, and destroy, as we have seen, if consistently followed out, justification by faith. The simple meaning of the texts appealed to involves no such difficulty.

The Lord Jesus, then, was the Substitute for believers, and thus made propitiation for the sins of the world, its efficacy being conditioned upon faith. He stood as the Representative of a class, not a fixed number of individuals, - of a people to whom men are invited and besought to join themselves, the value of the atonement being more than sufficient and available for all who come. The responsibility of coming really rests, where Scripture always places it, upon men themselves.

Now, if it be asked, What is the issue of this invitation? Do any become of the number of His people really except in virtue of a divine work wrought sovereignly in their souls? it is true, none do so. "To as many as received Him, to them gave He right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jno. i. 12, 13). Such is the decisive statement of Scripture. Men are born again to be children of God; and the new birth is not of man’s will: the moment we speak of it, we speak of that which assures us that man’s will is wholly adverse. For to be born again is never a thing put upon man as what he is responsible for: it is, in its very nature, outside of this. And "Ye must be born again" is the distinct affirmation that on the ground of responsibility all is over. "How often would I . . . ! and ye would not," is the Lord’s lament over Israel; and it is true of man in nature every where. Terrible it is to realize it, but it is true.

Man is bidden to repent and believe the gospel. There is no lack of abundant evidence. It is the condemnation, that "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." They refuse the evidence that convicts them, and refuse the grace that would save them. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." That he needs to be born again shows that God must work sovereignly, or the whole world perish. So it is quickening from the dead and new creation. These terms all witness to the utter ruin of man, as they do to the omnipotent grace of God in conversion.

These terms speak all of a new life conferred, and with this life the condition required in order to efficacious atonement is accomplished; there is "justification of life" (Rom. v. 18) - justification attaching to the life possessed. The last Adam is made a quickening Spirit (1 Cor. xv. 45), after having gone down to death and come up out of it; and the life He gives brings those who receive it into a new creation, of which He is the Representative-Head. To these He is Kinsman-Redeemer, according to the type (Lev. xxv. 48). The new relationship is their security and entrance into full blessing, to which His work is now their absolute title.

It is here that election does come in; not to limit the provision, nor to restrict in any wise the grace that bids and welcomes all, but to secure the blessing of those who otherwise would refuse and forfeit it as the rest do. The grace to all is not narrowed by the "grace upon grace" to many. The universal offer means and is based on a universal provision, and a provision of exactly the same character for all alike, in which God testifies that He hath "no pleasure in the death of him that dieth," but "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." It may be asked, as it has been asked, Of what avail is a provision for all which saves not one additional to the elect number? The answer which Scripture would give is, "What if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith [or faithfulness] of God without effect? God forbid." The salvation of men is from God; the damnation of men is from themselves. This all the pleadings, warnings, offers of God affirm. And grace refused is still grace, and to be proclaimed to His praise.

The last Adam is thus the Representative-Head of His people, as in His atoning work He was their Substitute before God. "Upon the seed of Abraham" - that is, believers - "He layeth hold." This affirms the work to be for all, conditionally upon faith; and for believers unconditionally. "The righteousness of God is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all; and upon - or over," rather, as a shield or sheltering roof, - "all them that believe."
Go To Chapter Twenty Five

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